Friday, 12 January 2018

Friday Five: Favourite Films of 2017

As always with this post there are caveats: I have to have seen the film; It has to have been released in 2017 in the country in which I was living; the films are listed in alphabetical order; I can have more than five if I want to; there will be honourable mentions.

7 Favourite Films of 2017:
  1. Dunkirk – A highly emotional triptych war film (directed by Christopher Nolan), which deliberately sections the action into land, sea and air. The set piece action shots are of a high calibre, the acting is superb (as one would expect from Kenneth Brannagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, and – perhaps more surprisingly –  Harry Styles), and the narrative presents well-known facts in a fresh and involving way; stirring and memorable but without being mawkish.
  2. Get Out – When a film addresses as many genres as this, it had better be good. Fortunately, due to sharp writing and tight direction by Jordan Peele, this is clear and conceivable, even when events take a turn for the weird and the film becomes unclassifiable – is it a social exposé, a hard-hitting satire, a supernatural thriller, a family drama, or an out-and-out horror? Despite some baroque developments the acting remains solid and controlled, with stellar performances from leads Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams, and the entire ensemble.
  3. Goodbye Christopher Robin – Having read Christopher Milne’s biographies and knowing the outcome of his experiences, I was still spellbound by the dramatic tension. Both actors playing the boy with the bear (Will Tilston and Alex Lawther) are brilliant, and Domhnall Gleeson convincingly portrays the anguish and dilemma of a man simultaneously trying to be a good author and father as A.A. Milne. Margot Robbie is the weakest link as the wife and mother, but Vikki Pepperdine provides an acting masterclass as the steadfast nanny, Betty.
  4. Loving Vincent Wow, this first ever fully-painted feature-length film is simply stunning. The artwork is incredible, although the pulsating swirly stuff, in the style of the great artist, gave me a headache. Part of the pleasure is the combination of Van Gogh’s art with the physical characteristics of the actors (Chris O’Dowd; Saoirse Ronan; Aidan Turner; Helen McCrory; John Sessions), which brings life to the animation. Structured along cold-case-crime lines with a postal worker’s son investigating the death of Vincent Van Gogh, the narrative is largely unimportant – as one of the characters says, ‘You want to know so much about his death, but what do you know of his life?’ This film practically throbs with vitality; the only wrong note being the use of someone else (Lianne Le Havas, apparently) mangling Don McLean’s perfectly decent Starry Starry Night over the credits. Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman have achieved something truly spectacular and decidedly different.
  5. My Cousin Rachel – The energy Rachel Weisz saves in not having to remember a stage name goes into a consummate performance – is she a scheming and manipulative killer, or just misunderstood? The film, directed by Roger Michell is suffused with gothic overtones and mysterious motives, leading to a lack of conclusion which is as stylistically satisfying as it was in the novel.
  6. Ôtez-moi d’un Doute (Just to Be Sure) – When the French do charming, they do it really well. This gentle comedy, directed by Carine Tardieu, examines the relationship between fathers and sons, and fatherless sons. With peerless acting on a refreshingly natural level (François Damiens; Cécile de France; Guy Marchand; André Wilms), it is a beautiful blend of comic moments and home truths. It asks the question, ‘Who’s your daddy?’ with more subtly than ribaldry and a touch of romance and pathos thrown in for good measure.
  7. T2 Trainspotting The gang are (sort of) back together as they are now middle-aged men who have either succeeded or not, much as you would expect from when we left them in a hotel in London (or walking off to flee the country in the case of Renton). The original film came at such a pivotal time in my life and carried so much influence, that all I really wanted was for this not to be shit. I needn’t have been so anxious. Thanks, Danny Boyle; you looked after my memories with just the right blend of new story and nostalgia. And Edinburgh still looks great.

Honourable Mentions:

Lady Macbeth – Never underestimate the passion of the mid-nineteenth-century wife. Director William Oldroyd ratchets up the atmospheric tension and takes full advantage of the value of silence as Florence Pugh demonstrates the dangers of repression. She is as mesmerising as she is manipulating in this very dark version of the Lady Chatterley role.

Passengers – There was much critical debate about the moral integrity of this film, but it was certainly entertaining. When a bloke (Chris Pratt) wakes up early on his intergalactic travel to a new planet, he awakes the best looking woman he can find (Jennifer Lawrence) to be his companion – although he knows they will never reach their destination. Of course things begin to malfunction with some great special effects (including a spectacular scene in a swimming pool). The only other character is a robotic barman (played with unctuous malignancy by Michael Sheen) and even when our main couple stop speaking to each other, the film remains engaging.

Swallows and Amazons – Those looking for a nostalgia trip to a childhood they never quite had could do a lot worse. Glorious scenery forms a backdrop to kids at play: sailing boats; camping on islands; inventing stories etc in more innocent times when the only people hanging out in the woods were decent charcoal burners. The children are all charmingly polite and well-behaved (as they apparently were in Olden Times) and the adults provide charismatic cameos.

Their Finest – Films about making films can be a little self-referential, but this take on trying to make a propaganda piece during the WWI evacuation of troops from Dunkirk is poignant and amusing. Bill Nighy is a fading lothario who can’t accept the fact that he is more ‘character actor’ than ‘leading man’, and Gemma Arterton is the young writer trying to break through into an industry where women’s dialogue is called ‘the slop’. Despite the superb attention to detail and the feeling that this is very much set in the 1940s, director Lone Scherfig suggests that gender boundaries are still much in evidence.

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