Top 17 Films Of 2017

#17. Landline

#16. Wind River

#15. The Florida Project

#14. I Am Not Your Negro

#13. Kedi

#12. The Work

#11. The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Maki

#10. Beach Rats

DIR. Eliza Hittman. Starring: Harris Dickinson, Madeline Weinstein, Kate Hodge

A moody and soulful portrait of teenage sexuality, world’s away from the lavish sultriness of Call Me By Your Name, and yet just as vital in its depiction of the tempestuous waters of adolescence. Set in the machismo world of Brooklyn, a young man (British newcomer Dickinson) grapples with urges of a more prohibited nature one somnolent summer. Whilst the plot might seem similar to and outdone by Moonlight, the gauzy, grainy visuals and penetrating sense of melancholy and menace will have you gripped from the off, and leave you haunted.

#9. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore

DIR. Macon Blair. Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood

This under-hyped Netflix release from Macon Blair (best known for his bug-eyed and blunderingly brutal performance in Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin) was a winning combination of suspense, absurdity and snakes. Like 40s era screwball comedy mashed up with the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple.

#8. A Ghost Story

DIR. David Lowery. Starring: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck

 

David Lowery serves up big metaphysical themes and existential plight in this intimate and melancholic tale of love lost too soon. With its mesmeric cinematography (shot in a 1:33 ratio), muted performances and entrancing soundtrack, this is pensive, lyrical, plaintive and audacious cinema.

#7. Good Time

DIR. Josh & Benny Safdie. Starring: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Robert Pattinson transforms as a twitchy criminal on-the-run in this heady, propulsive, bad-feeling-brewing thriller from the Safdie brothers that keeps the unexpected twists coming whilst never losing its sense of pathos and heart.

#6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

DIR. Martin McDonagh. Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell

Has Frances McDormand ever not been good? Irrespective of your opinion, she’s abrasively brilliant in Martin McDonagh’s third and best feature as a short-tempered small-town mother squaring up to the hapless authorities that have yet to convict her daughter’s murderer. With a raft of idiosyncratic characters (Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Peter Dinklage among them) of varying moral dubiety and common sense, it is by turns tragic, brutal and uproariously funny (if you like your comedy carbon black). Also makes a case for Caleb Landry-Jones as 2017’s MVP (see also The Florida Project and Get Out).

#5. Raw

DIR. Julia Ducournau. Starring: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella

A potent coming-of-ager that depicts its female protagonist’s burgeoning hungers with such an unwavering, carnal intensity that you might mistake your desire to look away for distaste. But savour the subtext and there’s a lot to feast upon.

#4. God Own’s Country

DIR. Francis Lee. Starring: Josh O’Connor, Alec Secareanu, Gemma Jones

A salty, muddy, bloody and extremely sexy love story set on a Yorkshire farm. Inevitably its been compared to Brokeback Mountain, but this is less anguished than Ang Lee’s decades-sprawling affair. The love between these young farmer Johnny and Romanian farm hand Gheorghe is allowed its moments of tenderness, domesticity and hope.

#3. The Handmaiden

DIR. Park Chan-wook. Starring: Kim Tae-ri, Ha Jung-woo, Kim Min-hee

Spell-binding to behold, this labyrinthine erotic thriller is a return to form for South Korean director Park Chan-wook.  One third of the way through this triptych structured maze of desire, deceit and despotism, a twist announced itself so gobsmackingly and so brilliantly, I was literally shunted to the edge of my seat, where I remained for the next two thirds of the film. Rarely is a film so long, so tightly-coiled and exacting in its execution. A work of artistic genius.

#2. Lady Bird

DIR. Greta Gerwig. Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracey Letts, Lucas Hedges

Greta Gerwig has made a film as kind-hearted, insightful, hilarious and offbeat as the woman herself. Lady Bird might announce herself on screen with the wallop of body hitting road as she exits her mother’s car in transit to escape a heated conversation, but this is a quieter and more astute film than this initial, almost slapstick moment suggests. It’s uproariously funny and wickedly wry, poignantly wise in ways that Lady Bird just isn’t yet and about the pains of growing up and fleeing the nest, it gets so much so very right. (The moment after Lady Bird loses her virginity is of particular, and spectacular sagacity).

#1. Call Me By Your Name

DIR. Luca Guadagnino. Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlbarg

An undulating, irrepressibly romantic film that brought heat and jouissance to a bleak midwinter reality. I was swept up by the sunshine, soaring music and sensitivity to the ecstasy and turmoil of young love. As gorgeous to look at as it is to experience. Chalamet is a big discovery for Hollywood, long may they give him roles as peachy as Elio. Full review here.

Friday Recommendations

First-time female directors, emails that haven’t been leaked and an interview with Rebecca Solnit. It’s time for another Friday of recommendations!

  1. TIME have conducted a special report on ground/record/glass-ceiling-breaking women and it’s well worth your, well, time.
  2. Ann Friedman interviews Kate and Laura Mulleavy, of Rodarte fame, about their debut feature film Woodshock.
  3. This whole creative conceit is pretty cool. Thread.co invite/host email-based conversations between awesome people such as Jenny Slate, Vince Staples and Adam Scott.
  4. Jon Sopel, BBC’s North America editor recaps his experience of reporting on Trump’s presidency. And though he seems a bit caught up in the intoxicating maelstrom of it all, he is scathing with regard to the lunacy of the current POTUS. It’s also very honest about the fact that the madness is unlikely to end soon.
  5. Having experienced virtual reality for the first time this week at the Open City Documentary Festival, I have a new appreciation for it as an art form, as discussed in this New Statesmen piece on the artists exploring VR’s cavernous, dazzling and multi-dimensional possibilities.
  6. Find a way to see God’s Own Country please. It’s tender and terse, bleak and beautiful and quite frankly one of the best British films I have ever seen.
  7. A24 have released a trailer for Greta Gerwig’s hotly anticipated directorial debut, Lady Bird, featuring the ever-brilliant Saoirse Ronan. It looks angsty and awkward and very amusing.
  8. I have been reading Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist, a short and sweet ‘how-to guide’ for being a creative in the 21st century, and considering I stole this blog post series from his weekly newsletter, I figured I’d better link to his brilliant website.
  9. See if you can spot Christian Bale in this series of portraits from Vanity Fair, taken at the 2017 Telluride Film Festival.
  10. And finally, an interview in which Rebecca Solnit talks paying her dues, living frugally and the various forms of violence against women.

Review: Lost River

With Ryan Gosling attached as it’s director, Lost River, previously title ‘How to Catch a Monster’, was always going to be enveloped by a certain level of expectation. The star of Blue Valentine, The Notebook, Place Beyond The Pines and Drive had a lot to live up to, and when the film premiered at Cannes the general mood was one of disappointment.

Released in cinemas and on VOD today in the UK, the buzz ignites once again and this time around the reception seems to be more generous. If not entirely coherent or consistent, at the very least, Lost River is a phatasmagorical adventure you’ll want to bear witness to.

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Gosling’s debut explores the turbulent journey of Bones (Iain De Caestecker), a young man who’s family is on the brink of eviction, whose mother (Christina Hendricks) is doing everything she can to pay the bills and who is pursued by a post-apocalyptic, microphone-brandishing tyrant named Bully (Matt Smith).

lost-river-trailer-christina-hendricksIt begins drenched in nostalgia, with dappled lighting, a lullaby song and meadows indicating the innocence of childhood dreams. An innocence which quickly gives way to a nightmarish vision of corruption. As the camera careens past abandoned homes and decaying neighbourhoods, weaving through scenes of violence, despair and destruction, Gosling injects the fabric of the film with bright neon colours, pulsating synth music, and fairytale imagery.

The result is something as visually arresting as it is atmospherically rich, evoking the 1955 cult classic Night of the Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum. Both have a sinister glow, intertwining thriller and fantasy elements to create something idiosyncratic, film noirish, avante garde, dream-like, expressionistic and strange.

Early on, I felt that the jaunty camera movement and lighting gave the film a transient, watery texture; an intention seemingly confirmed in Saoirse Ronan’s Rat alluding to the town being “underwater”. Yet other directorial decisions felt unfounded or merely distracting. The editing is at times unnecessarily jumpy, whilst at other times incredibly meandering. There’s a very keen sense that Gosling is trying to show all of his visionary skills in one film, and it consequently suffers from a chaotic, erratic tone.

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Gosling is clearly a cinophile; absorbing and integrating a composite of influences and aesthetics into his ambitious debut. It has the eeriness of Lynch, the bizarreness of Malick, the flashiness of Spring Breakers, the neo-noir essence of Refn, and infuses the same desolate whimsicality as last year’s Beasts of a Southern Wild, all whilst invoking a sense of uniqueness. But this imagistic assemblage is also the film’s downfall; with the overarching stylisation coming so prominently to the fore it threatens to derail the narrative.

be783e9951e22422217984336f84d412_cannes-2014_4The characters are a colourful menagerie of villains, vagrants and victims. Christina Hendricks as single mother Billy does a great job of centring the film emotionally; a task the other ‘lead’ Caestecker in his detached delivery doesn’t quite manage. Ben Mendelsohn and Eva Mendes meanwhile provide provocative cameos as both owner and star of a grotesque horror-themed nightclub Billy becomes embroiled in. Mendelsohn particularly elevates every scene he is in, oozing with a malicious lust and giving Michael Jackson a run for his money in the ‘moves’ department.

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Yet, for all the fleeting shots of brilliance – and there are plenty – alongside Gosling’s tendency to hone in on his actor’s face and let their expressions do the talking, there is a distinct lack of depth, motivation or grit to any of his creations. They are as desultory as the names they are given. Intriguing but utterly random.

Ostensibly, it tackles the Detroit foreclosure crisis and the damaging effect of the fiscal crisis on an already impoverished community. And it does so with sensitivity and an understanding that its residents are trapped in a nightmarish bubble – a theme lent authenticity by the presence of actual Detroiters – where bankruptcy, eviction and collapse ominously threaten. This portentous atmosphere looms throughout, frequently bubbling to the surface in macabre (and often random) exchanges. However, there’s something incomplete and unrefined about the film as a whole.

Lost River‘s strength like in its visual audacity and ability to conjure up a hallucinatory landscape, whilst  the phosporescent lighting and eclectic sound design are particularly reminiscent of Drive, (in a good way). It’s deviation from traditional narrative structures however won’t satiate everyone’s palate and there’s definitely a need for more substance behind the style.

Ultimately, Ryan Gosling continues to cast audiences under a spell, even from behind the camera and he shows great artistic potential as a director, but the overriding niggle is that his story got as lost as the river.

Verdict: Mesmerising, frustrating and bold. Gosling has splashed his cinematic canvas with as many colours as he could find, and it makes for a coruscating experience. Let’s hope his follow-up has just as much panache, but a little less abstraction. 

PS. I saw the actual Ryan Gosling and Matt Smith at a live Q+A hosted by Ritzy Picturehouse, and certainly hearing about Gosling’s intentions and inspirations for the film gave me an appreciation for it that might otherwise have been lacking. Then again, he did make eye contact with me, so I might have just been swayed by that.

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