My Top 10 Films of 2017

In July I posted a mid-year list, and you can read it here to compare how much it has changed in the last 6 months or so: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/26/my-mid-year-top-10-films-2017/.  This is a list for UK 2017 releases, so there may be one or two that were up for awards last year, but us Brits didn’t get to see them till a couple of months later.  It has been a good year for film, and I have managed to see 46 movies, whether in the cinema or on a smaller screen.  This list is my own personal choices – the films that I connected with the most.  It’s not necessarily a ‘best movies’ list, but an opinion piece, that should give you a sense of my own particular film tastes.  There are also films that I have sadly missed this year, which could have made the list (such as Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool).

 

  1. Good Time (November)

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This is like a contemporary New York set Shakespearian tragedy, with neon.  Nothing goes right for Robert Pattinson’s Connie Nikas as he races through a series of criminal mishaps.  This film is brilliantly paced and strikingly shot.  It moves fast, and a slight twist in the middle kicks it up a gear.  The frantic nature of the plot makes supremely watchable and Pattinson at the centre is really engaging.  His colourful performance matches the colourful film, though there’s no shortage of harsh or violent scenes.  Would recommend for anyone looking for a good, though ultimately wrenched, time.

 

  1. The Disaster Artist (December)

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The ‘so bad they’re good’ kinds of films have never been my thing, and so The Room has never pulled me in.  Perhaps this is why the film worked for me, because I saw it as wacky insight into a strange man and his strange film.  James Franco’s direction has been criticised by some, though I think he does an okay job at pulling this film together.  His performance is very comprehensive, and his brother Dave plays against him quite well.  More than anything, I found it warm, and comforting.  Overall it’s a pleasant film that can be universally enjoyed.

 

  1. Wind River (September)

Wind River - 70th Cannes Film Festival, France - 19 May 2017

When I saw this film in the cinema it utterly blew me away.  I found it so suspenseful and well directed.  It’s quite a tough movie with tough themes and director Taylor Sheridan handles them well.  There’s nothing remarkable about the film other than the way it’s told.  It’s a master-class in the pacing of a simple narrative and a strong American tale.  And has a twist that works to perfection.  Full review: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/09/20/wind-river-film-review/

 

  1. 20th Century Women (February)

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This film is gorgeous in every way.  It is purely acted, with some of the best chemistry between characters this year.  The cinematography is as simple as it is artistic, with every shot carefully put together.  All of the emotional beats land, resulting in a really honest picture.  It’s almost like a catalogue of a few different lives, something I’m interested by.  Like the Disaster Artist I can universally recommend it, and safely say the world is better because of its existence.

 

  1. Baby Driver (June)

Ansel Elgort;Jon Hamm;Jamie Foxx;Eiza Gonzalez

Edgar Wright is a curious director.  The Cornetto trilogy is fun, but really just remakes of lots of different films.  With this film he delves almost completely into originality with a gimmick that is joyous.  A soundtrack backing the entire film gives it’s a natural beat and flow.  The scenes inter-connect like a dance, and create an escapist feeling.  It’s exciting, and loveable – with believable performances at the centre.  In the cinema it was a visual and audio journey that yanked you along with it.  Full review: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/baby-driver-film-review/

 

  1. Call Me By Your Name (October)

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When this film came out it passed me by, and I’ve only seen it just recently.  Within the first few minutes I had instant connection to the films style, and setting.  It’s a nuanced tale – more interesting than a simple gay romance with deep touches on friendship and desire.  Armie Hammer does well in what can be seen as a brave performance (31 playing a 24 year old having sexual relations with a 17 year old who’s played by a 21 year old), and his chemistry with the young actor Timothee Chalmet is acutely present.  The film is gushingly watchable because of what surrounds them – intellect, history, a picturesque small Italian town, sun, open conversations and pretty people.  Its surroundings I’d like to visit.

 

  1. Manchester by the Sea (January)

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Almost perfect, this has become one of my most beloved films of the last few years.  I adore the subtleties of it, and the patience Kenneth Lonergan takes with the story.  Casey Affleck (despite possible personal issues) deserved the Oscar, as he’s desperately compelling in the film.  His character is real, and troubled with a past weighing him down.  Next to him is the young Lucas Hedges who is also a standout of the year.  The film deals with its themes with caution and is never crass about them.  It’s a movie that will age well, and be stuck in my mind for a good while longer.  Full review: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/manchester-by-the-sea-film-review/

 

  1. Free Fire (March)

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Definitely the most underrated film of the year, this is a messy film, but my kind of film.  It’s sharp and dirty, with a series of events that is heavy metal film-making.  The cast is brilliant, ranging from a democratic Brie Larson, a romantic Cillian Murphy, and an impossibly cool Armie Hammer.  These and the rest of the billing (including a hilarious Sharlto Copley) gel together in this small environment to give visceral action.  It’s transparent with its audience right up until the end, and has some of the most memorable moments of the year.  Often jarring, though always appealing this is a must watch for film fans.  Full review: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/free-fire-film-review/

 

  1. Blade Runner 2049 (October)

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Another pretty much perfect movie that is a breathtaking experience, with my favourite scene of the year in it (the sex scene).  Denis Villeneuve is probably the best director on the planet right now, and so I had high hopes going into this.  The original is a film that I equally love and hate – this sequel I just love.  On a visual level it’s a masterpiece, shot by the lighting genius Roger Deakins.  In terms of story it’s beautifully slow, and misdirecting.  There are some moments in this film that absolutely floored me, and I was left incredibly moved by the experience.  Piece on Blade Runner 2049 and death: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/10/08/blade-runner-2049-i-dont-want-to-die/

 

  1. Dunkirk (July)

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This film is a spectacle, and when I saw it in iMAX it was a cinema practice like no other.  Christopher Nolan is one of the greats of our time, and this is by far his best film.  He narrows his focus in to tell a story that needed telling.  It has emotional draw because of its subject matter, and he balances that well in the runtime.  The structure he uses really is an accomplishment in film-making and gives the film an arresting pace.  Coupled with a Hans Zimmer ticking soundtrack and you have a thriller of the highest form.  It’s a film that must be seen by everyone due to its importance to history, but mostly because it’s astonishing cinema.

 

Here’s 11-20 with points reviews based upon Presentation (P – look of the film), Performance (PA – the acting), Narrative (N – the story) and Effect (E – Did the film have an impact on me?)…

  1. T2: Trainspotting – P: 2.5/3, PA: 2.5/3, N: 2/3, E: 1/1 – Final Score: 8/10
  2. Logan – P: 2.5/3, PA: 3/3, N: 1.5/3, E: 1/1 – Final Score: 8/10
  3. The Death of Stalin – P: 2/3, PA: 3/3, N: 2.5/3, E: 0/1 – Final Score: 7.5/10
  4. John Wick: Chapter 2 – P: 3/3, PA: 2/3, N: 2/3, E: 1/1 – Final Score: 8/10
  5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi – P: 2.5/3, PA: 2.5/3, N: 1.5/3, E: 1/1 – Final Score: 7.5/10
  6. The Florida Project – P: 2/3, PA: 3/3, N: 2/3, E: 1/1 – Final Score: 8/10
  7. Silence – P: 3/3, PA: 2/3, N: 2/3, E: 1/1 – Final Score: 8/10
  8. Okja – P: 2.5/3, PA: 2/3, N: 3/3, E: 1/1 – Final Score: 8.5/10
  9. La La Land – P: 3/3, PA: 2.5/3, N: 2/3, E: 1/1 – Final Score: 8.5/10
  10. Nobody Speak: The Trials of the Free Press (Documentary) – Final Score: 8/10

 

I’m always open to hearing what other peoples top 10’s are!

Baby Driver – Film Review

Dripping sweat, aching feet and a gasp for breath.  A camera pummelling through a shopping centre.  Sounds of the pop waves around.  Tension and excitement.  Joy and desperation.  With these words I’m trying to portray the brilliance of Baby Driver.  The ebb and flow, and the pace of the film are a spectacle.  To write a review to replicate is not going to be easy because it’s difficult to describe a film that is so skin-wrenchingly entertaining, without getting too superlative.

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Atlanta, present day.  Ansel Elgort plays Baby: a young, talented getaway driver with a troubled past.  From this troubled past he carries tinnitus, and plays music continually through earphones to drone it out.  This gives him a natural beat to his life, but soon he realises there is no escape from this criminal world as crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) draws him in.

To discuss this film there has to be an acknowledgement of what makes it original, and standout.  This is of course the constant soundtrack that backs every scene, and the motion it creates with the camera.  Every moment has a carefully picked song to go with it, and they move intertwined together.  This gives the film its natural fast pace, and almost musical like timing.  The actors move with the music, and so does the action.  Baby, in particular, is stuck with the tune throughout and has a real kinetic energy with it.  The action also mirrors the music, as director Edgar Wright choreographs each shot to blend with the note behind it.  To say it is a effectively a two hour music video, would underplay the strengths of the film, however it is a major element of the runtime.  It creates segments of real exhilaration, yet also deeper feelings of anger and pain.  Wright does a wonderful job of using songs that piece scenes together, and power home certain junctures, whilst also allowing the film to play out.

Narrative wise, the plot uses the music to move along quickly.  The slower parts feel pushed by the soundtrack, and this makes them engaging without lulling on them for too long.  It has this scene hopping style, which means the story arcs are quick and seamlessly never ending.  From this, the film evolves an end for itself, an end that is inevitable.  The film shocks at times, and the last 45 minutes or so played out in a way that I wasn’t expecting.  Wright’s dialogue writing is poignantly like his previous work, but there’s an added sense of impetus when the longer monologues come.  He keeps with his similar quick, straight to the point style, and this can sometimes make the romantic moments too punchy.  Despite this, it works with the tone of the film and there’s a nuance between that poppy writing style and interesting conversations about love, escapism and hidden demons.  The hardened criminals in the film deliver these lines the best, and Wright gives them plenty of space to express their characters intentions.

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These hardened criminals are beautifully played by a host of scene stealing actors.  There is, early on, a deeply enraged Jon Bernthal, who gives us the first indication of what kind of world our protagonist is a part of.  Eiza Gonzales’ Darling is vivacious and worryingly terrifying.  Her relationship with Jon Hamm’s Buddy is as disturbing as it is likeable, and Hamm does a good job of holding together a tricky role as a damaged baddie as the film progresses.  Jamie Foxx as Bats is probably the highlight, as the disgruntled and clearly mentally deranged antagonist for Baby.  Wright gifts him the best lines, and he walks down the road of brutally horrifying and gripping to watch on screen.  These characters are reined in by Kevin Spacey’s Doc who controls most scenes by being strong in his tone and aggressive with his beliefs.  Together they form an excellent support to Baby’s story, as both guiders and obstacles.  They steal scenes from the young actor by being outlandish, which creates serious humour and threatening situations.

At the heart of the film, there is Lily James as diner waitress Debora, who catches the eye of our hero Baby.  She does a convincing job in probably the toughest role in the film.  Tough because she is a character who is there as a driving force for Baby.  Their relationship at first is cute, and timid, before developing quickly into a strange back and forth romance.  This bounce of lightning quick chemistry moulds well into the film, and though it’s a rushed love story, it didn’t feel added on.  Elgort is great at holding the camera, smouldering and delivering killer lines.  He has movie star written all over him, and he does well to keep the character present even when he is silent.  His contact with the music really is something to marvel at, as he has this ability to focus in on the little subtleties of each song.  Another character in this film has a massive impact, and it really surprised me, so I’m not going to mention them in this review and let you be surprised (and gut wrenched) too.

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Where this film shines as a great, is its connection with the audience through each scene.  Wright directs in a way that is fast and flashy, but has matured in this film as visionary kind of artist.  He is showcasing with every shot and with cinematographer Bill Pope, he manages to be creative with every movement.  The film has this super contemporary look to it, which is full of colour.  There are holding close-ups, and quick cuts, as well drawn out wide’s that allow you to soak in the action.  Wright stops at certain moments to allow revelling at the beauty of the scene and then suddenly throws you right back into it.  The editing is tightly done, and this brings the connection, as you feel a part of every scene.  Nothing feels too distant from you, with the relationship between the camera, the music and action being extremely close.  There is a foot chase in the film that is nothing short of breathtaking, and needs to be witnessed.

Overall, I can’t wait to see this film again.  I want to see the mix of the cinematography again, and enjoy the company of some truly memorable characters.  The film is a fiercely fun ride, but has real filmmaking clarity in what it is trying to achieve.  Edgar Wright has peaked here in a perfect execution of storytelling.  It feels like he has complete control of what he was trying to build here, and I cannot recommend it enough to anyone.  Wright, with this film, is a member of this new wave of exciting cinema, in the same vein as Jeremy Saulnier with Green Room and Ben Wheatley with Free Free.  Cool cinema that can be universally enjoyed but still break new ground.  They don’t have to be ultimately thoughtful; however they can be courageous and forge that wonderful emotion of being one with the film.  Baby Driver is a film that actualises visceral sensitivities in me, and that is a sign of a film that I will continue to love.

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