Friday, 7 July 2017

The Best Films of 2017 So Far


After a slow start, 2016 eventually became a pretty great year for cinema. 2017 hasn't held back so far though, delivering a solid handful of brilliant films already - and we're only at the midway point. Going by UK release, here's an alphabetised look at some of the very best we've been treated to thus far.

Honourable Mentions:
- Miss Sloane
- Lady Macbeth
- John Wick: Chapter 2
- Logan
- Their Finest

Baby Driver
Fuelled with kineticism and revving its engine so aggressively it borders on dangerous, Edgar Wright's Baby Driver should collapse into a pit of despair at some point in its final act - but it never does. It finds a style in its opening act, and it sticks with it through to the end. It's a richly detailed film, one that will undoubtedly improve given endless rewatches. With not one weak link in its first rate cast and an impressively fleshed out character roster, Baby Driver is Edgar Wright unleashed - I challenge you to have more fun with any other film this year. You just can't beat it.

Full review here.

Elle
Snubbed of a Best Foreign Language Film nomination at this year's Oscars, perhaps Paul Verhoeven's Elle is just too daring for some. Telling the story of a rape victim trying to identify her attacker, what begins as a conventional revenge tale soon transitions into something infinitely darker, filled with deep seated questions about human morality and our willingness to indulge in liberation. Isabelle Huppert gives one of the year's strongest performances as Michèle, a character as complex as she is questionable. You won't agree with everything she says and does - especially in the film's bold, button-pushing final act - but she'll have you on the edge of your seat for every second she occupies the frame.

Get Out
In just his directorial debut, Jordan Peele crafted a name for himself with the brilliant Get Out. A bold premise is executed masterfully, scarcely letting up on the tension and infusing itself with some of the year's best comedic moments. Perhaps the best thing about Get Out, though, is the way it tackles its subject matter. The film is focused on racism but refuses to be defined by it, taking on the theme in bold new ways so as not to feel tired before it can even begin. Peele's script is ingenious in the way it presents casual racism, his final act is fantastically twisted but it also feels like a natural progression for the film to follow. Get Out is the horror film of the year so far, and I'd put good money on it staying that way too.

Full review here.

Hacksaw Ridge
Should a film trying to make a point for non-violence really be this violent? Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge argues hell yes. It's thematically heavy handed, and its first half never seems to clench its fist around the ideas it's circling, but Hacksaw Ridge eventually explodes into a frenzy of grim, un-softened violence. Made up of exceptional editing work and terrifyingly good sound mixing, the film's war set pieces are truly unforgettable - they're as technically impressive as they are mentally scarring. Hacksaw Ridge might be a muddled film in terms of what it's trying to say and do, but there's no denying the technical craftsmanship on display here. Unflinching in its brutality, for better or for worse - but mostly for better.

Full review here.

Jackie
The biopic is a genre of film that rarely surprises. They tell true stories in mostly conventional ways, leaving little room for innovation or any real identity. Enter Pablo Larraín's Jackie, a film so intrusively intimate and gut-wrenchingly sad it feels like it shouldn't be about a real woman, a real moment in history. Anchored by Natalie Portman's transcendental performance as the titular character, Jackie is heart stopping in its commitment to the close up - the camera is frequently held so tightly around Portman's face and set to such haunting music that the film threatens to lean away from biopic and land straight in horror territory. Jackie's command of tone is excellent though, never abandoning its unique visual style nor its elegant narrative structure. It's a biopic for the ages.

Full review here.

La La Land
La La Land might just be the most perfectly imperfect film of the decade. There are issues scattered around, that's for certain. A handful of clunky dialogue here, a thinly sketched but frustratingly important character there. But, quite frankly, who cares? When you have a film so vividly beautiful, so rich with heart and soul and life, led by two unforgettable performances, why should some dodgy dialogue and one misjudged character ruin things? Damien Chazelle's second feature is an astonishing film, stunning in its visual artistry and even more breathtaking in its emotional power. The final epilogue sequence is a film moment for the ages - if it ever gets forgotten, the future won't know what it's missing.

Full review here.

Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck is phenomenal in Manchester by the Sea, there's no doubting that, but the film's real triumph is Kenneth Lonergan's script. This film is relentlessly sad, almost overly so, but Lonergan's screenplay is effortless in how it tells such a devastating story. Flashbacks surface at just the right moment, humour adds some much needed levity whenever the film threatens to feel top heavy. The dialogue is raw and honest and heartbreaking, a much-appraised sequence of Lee and Randi speaking in the street after their divorce is unforgettable - the pair talk over each other and still fail to come to an understanding, even if we understand both of them. You don't just want everything to turn out okay in Lonergan's film, you need it to.

Full review here.

Moonlight
The current holder of the Best Picture Oscar, Moonlight is an exquisitely drawn and deeply felt film through and through. Dividing his narrative into three sections to take on the coming of age story, Barry Jenkins' refuses to shy away from pushing Moonlight in some pretty bold directions. Its score is mesmerising, and its performances even more so, but Moonlight's biggest strength is the simplicity of its story and the room it allows for genuine characterisation. Chiron himself may come across as a closed door, but it's the way he responds and reacts to those around him that help us form our impression of him as we watch him grow up. Moonlight peaks in its middle act, which finds Chiron as a teenager first exploring his sexuality. Time itself seems to stop as he and his friend Kevin share that intimate moment on the beach, a moment so ambitious yet so simple - and beautifully executed. 

Full review here.

Personal Shopper
Part ghost story, part character study, part suspense thriller and part murder mystery - I'll confess to having no idea how to label Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper, but I know for certain that it is brilliant. Kristen Stewart gives a career defining performance here, embodying her character in revolutionary ways - even when the film goes wordless for a good twenty minute stretch, Stewart's physical acting is exemplary. Personal Shopper refuses to be boxed in, building to a final act unwilling to answer every question it raises in favour of a more abstract, open ended conclusion. The film is consistently tense and its atmospheric work might be the best of the year thus far, but it's Stewart herself that takes a great film and turns it into a masterful one. If it isn't the best performance of the year come December, I'll eat the very laptop on which I'm typing this sentence.

Full review here.

Raw
Likely to be snubbed of a Foreign Language Feature nomination at next year's Oscars - much like Elle this year - Raw is my favourite film of the year so far. It's beautifully directed and stunningly acted, but what really draws me into the world of this film is the way it takes such a well worn premise and adapts it into something cinema hasn't really seen before. Julia Ducournau's script is astonishingly clever in how it toys with conventions, the way it takes familiar characters and twists them into something unheard of. Raw is dark and grim and violent, but there's an abnormal beauty at its core, a simple tale of two sisters trying to survive in a world that doesn't understand them, a world in which they don't fit. The coming of age story has had plenty of great entries over the last few years, but Raw is the only one I've seen to also take on cannibalism and violent paint sex. Unforgettable in every sense of the word.

Full review here.

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