Not long now until 2018 will be knocking on the door, it’s now time to reflect on what was 2017. Today our writer Zach Roddis shares his views and his best Top 10 Films of 2017. Some you may agree with, some you won’t, others may puzzle you. The greatest thing about film, theres something for everyone and that’s why no two Top Lists will be the same.
’20th Century Women’
It is 1979 and the post-punk music scene is splintered with fans of Black Flag hating on fans of the art-punk band Talking Heads. Jamie (Lucas Zumann) is 15 and is raised by his mother (Annette Bening) and two other women – best friend Julie (Elle Fanning) and lodger Abbie (Greta Gerwig). The film is, in part, about mental health and the struggles in the communication of emotion. It reflects upon the socio-economic situations of the time. Mike Mills uses fast-paced montage and footage taken from ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ (an experimental film from the 80’s depicting the manmade world). The ensemble cast bounces off each other naturally. Bening goes on to make an altogether different performance in ‘Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool’, released later in 2017.
A deserved Oscar win for the three chapter narrative completing ‘Moonlight’. The Barry Jenkins picture tells us the story of Chiron, with a different actor in the lead role for each act. At first, we see him as a 9-year-old nicknamed Little (Alex Hibbert). As his mother (Naomie Harris) struggles with drugs he looks to strangers as father figures. Then we see Chiron as a teenager (Ashton Sanders). He continues to be isolated in school, and he begins to discover his sexuality. As an adult, he is referred to as Black (Trevante Rhodes) and has continued repressed identity. The film is an exploration of the self, the changing perceptions of the life of a young black man growing up in crime ridden Miami. The cinematography is superb. At different points, the lead plunges his head into a full sink or stares out to sea. The ice cold blues fill the screen, leaving a vivid and harsh outlook on the rest of the film. [review]
‘It’s Only The End of the World’
Xavier Dolan makes films that have a constant urgency about them. I highly recommend watching all of his filmography starting with 2009’s ‘I Killed My Mother’. There are certain trends that he redelivers at times – characters that have an unapologetic anger or drive toward resolution, late 90’s / early 00’s nostalgic pop music, and a distinct visual style focussed on the introspection of the lead character. ‘It’s Only The End of the World’ shows us a family meal, with certain tensions bubbling under the pleasantries of conversation. Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) returns home after twelve years away, as he intends to tell the rest of the family that he is dying. Having been adapted from the Jean-Luc Lagarce play, the extended blocks of dialogue are a departure from Dolan’s other screenwriting, yet the use of close-up helps us understand the full gravity of the situation. [review]
The most compelling part of Ben Wheatley’s ‘Free Fire’ is that it keeps your attention in spite of the single warehouse location. The ensemble cast (Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, et al) rendezvous to negotiate a gun deal, but things don’t go completely to plan. The gun fire is quite frankly relentless, and in turn there are belly laughs to dismiss some of the tension. The characters are forced to roll around on the floor to avoid being shot dead. The dirt is convincing, and a welcome departure from some of the more squeaky clean action sequences of recent years. This was also the first of many films to use John Denver in it’s soundtrack this year, an odd trend that would follow into ‘Alien Covenant’, ‘Okja’, and ‘Logan Lucky’. [review]
Vegetarianism and veganism had strong representation this year. Simon Amstell’s mock documentary ‘Carnage’ looked to a future where it is abnormal to eat animal products. Elsewhere, ‘Okja’ on Netflix has narrative focussed on animal rights activists (more on that later). Here, the eating of meat is shown in the extreme. Justine (Garance Marillier) is at vet school, and after experiencing severe hazing rituals she develops cannibal tendencies. Someone sat next to me in the cinema was eating chocolate during this film… how? I will never know. It’s a bit graphic to say the least.[review]
‘Heal the Living’
A collage of three narratives linked through a heart transplant. Some of the visuals in Katell Quillevere’s ‘Heal The Living’ are staggering. The sequences involving the waves of previous scenes engulfing the world of the film are realised with flair and imagination. The Alexandre Desplat score is fitting. The cast as a whole bring about a youthful energy at first, and then a reflection on the existential. Despite some obvious issues in multi-narrative cinema, I thought that ‘Heal the Living’ is actually cohesive and poignant.[review]
Written by Bong Joon Ho and Jon Ronson, ‘Okja’ is the tale of an evil multi-national company who genetically modify pigs for the large scale production of meat. One such animals is Okja (of the title) who has been in the care of young Mija (An Seo Hyun). The large animal is taken by the multi-national, whose CEO (Tilda Swinton) has made hugely different plans. The film has real humour, yet also a warm heart. Netflix have been criticised a lot this year for their reluctance to screen films in cinemas. The online streaming service have produced to some interesting titles though, including ‘Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond’, ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’, and indeed ‘Okja’.
‘Call Me By Your Name’
A complex love story between set during a picturesque Italian summer. Based on the Andre Aciman novel, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is directed by Luca Guadagino (‘A Bigger Splash’, ‘I Am Love’). Oliver (Armie Hammer), is a 24 year old American visiting the north of Italy as an academic intern. Elio (Timothee Chalamet) is 17 and spends his time reading paperback novels and transcribing sheet music. Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a leading professor in Greco-Roman culture. At first Elio and Oliver’s relationship is jarring, in the opening scenes it is clear that Elio can’t stand Oliver’s casual American conversational phrase “later!” …after some time though, the two negotiate a closer relationship. The two leads are convincing and reveal the emotions of the characters with a kind of honesty. The original songs on the soundtrack from Sufjan Stevens underpin the tender reverence in the film. Stuhlbarg’s monologue at the end of the film is outstanding. A fine moment in contemporary cinema.
From the same director as ‘Louder Than Bombs’, Joachim Trier’s new film ‘Thelma’ is concerned with the supernatural within the context of a first year student and her sexual awakening. Thelma (Eili Harboe) has strict Christian parents – she doesn’t drink, and her introduction to student lifestyle is one that arrives in shocking and unknown territory. The visual effects are bold. There’s an extreme use of strobe lighting. As the third chapter of the film opens up, there are extended dream sequences and a unique parallel editing technique. Trier goes from strength to strength. [review]
‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’
Some people love it, some people hate it… ‘The Last Jedi’ for me was a welcome romp through a twisted narrative that nobody had predicted. Some of the performances are truly fantastic. Mark Hamill’s Skywalker is surprisingly sharp. Laura Dern is introduced as Admiral Holdo, who quite frankly commands the most tense scene of the film. Adam Driver is brilliant as the conflicted Kylo Ren. There are cutesy moments from the puffin-like porg creatures, but it is not quite Jar Jar-level irritating. A couple of moments with the BB-8 droid don’t quite add up – but I’m really struggling to find anything else wrong with this. ‘The Last Jedi’ has a knowing humour, and a narrative that justifies the 2.5-hour duration. For me, it is the best of the most recent three (‘Rogue One’ and ‘The Force Awakens’ following release date).