Film is the rabbit hole of life. It is a labyrinth of truth and lies, a broken mirror that distorts our fantasies, a dealer of dreams and desires. It is who we are…
The Film Ireland family look back on who they were in 2017 and pick out their highlights – and some lowlights – from the year in film.
You can see the top 10 here
2. The Florida Project
3. A Ghost Story
4. Blade Runner 2046
5. I Am Not a Witch
Blade Runner 2049
A brutal, beautiful spectacle that revels in teasing out its hard-to-answer questions. With lovingly textured cinematography from Roger Deakins and a bold story that brazenly declares the individual unimportant. Blade Runner 2049 is perhaps the greatest science fiction film ever made.
A horror-comedy that pulls no punches in its take on white liberalism, white supremacy and even white eugenics. Daniel Kaluuya bleeds subtle pathos that becomes brave strength in the film’s chilling climax. A brave, clever and passionate film from Jordan Peele that looks toward a better future while fearing the present and never forgetting the past.
John Wick Chapter 2
Keanu Reeves’ unstoppable hitman ratchets up the violence and style for the sequel. Influences from Thai to Cantonese to American action cinema are all there but director Chad Stahelski makes them gel in one of film’s most absurd, crunching and tenacious sequels ever. Come for the lighting, stay for the museum shoot-out.
A hard-to-stomach crime-drama dressed up as a snowy Western. Debuting as director from his own script Taylor Sheridan winds tension as tightly as Villeneuve and Mackenzie did in Sicario and Hell or High Water. A stark film with landscapes as monumental as the grief that enshrouds its characters.
At heart it’s a superhero film but all the scar tissue and grit surrounding the film’s core make up for it. The most violent and visceral of the current superhero crop, Logan’s performances from one-line to break-out star Dafne Keen make it a compelling and heart-breaking family-drama as much as it is an American epic.
Worst of 2017
When a film hits all its structural and technical components on the money little can go wrong you would think. Not so with writer, director and star Dax Shepard’s passion project. Taking a property that has little nostalgic good will even in its home state and liberally smearing jokes that are like something a six-year-old with no understanding of set-ups or punchlines would come up with. Gross, criminal and negligent misuse of stars like Michael Pena and Kristen Bell just make Shepard’s attempt at resurrecting a barely-remembered action-comedy all the more confusing and unforgivable.
An unexpected gem. Nolan is at his best when the dialogue is sparse and irrelevant, and the action is intense and intelligent. Despite the OTT “our boys” ending, it’s a film bound for the top ten war films of all time list.
3. Paddington 2
The first Paddington was one of the best kids films I’ve seen in the last 10 years, and Paddington 2 was nearly better. Looks like it could be following in the footsteps of the Toy Story Trilogy.
2. The Death Of Stalin
Iannucci’s sharp political satire gets a Soviet makeover, to amazing results. Both brutally funny and brutally brutal, the film not only leaves us in stitches but counting our lucky stars we live in an era without Stalinistic totalitarianism… and makes us hope it stays that way.
1. The Florida Project
Ken Loach meets John Waters in one of the finest films of the last few years. Real, raw Mike Leigh-like life captured on film with an unexpectedly captivating performance from Willem Dafoe. This is real filmmaking, in the era of special FX, overdone editing and CGI, Sean Baker gives us hope that the doctrine of real drama and great filmmaking being about acting, characters, atmosphere and heart, is not dead.
Worst Films of the year.
Blade Runner 2049 – bloated, too long and without any captivating performances. La La Land – Blah Blah Bland. Free Fire – cliched and a nice safe kick to touch shoot-em-up, with poor editing and performances. Clash – feels like a drawn out stage play to bore the masses. Handsome Devil – generic story, message and dialogue (“If you spend your whole life being someone else, who’s gonna be you?!?!).
I’m really hoping no one tries to psychoanalyse me after seeing my top 5 from this year: it is veeery horror-heavy. Possibly unreasonably so. Still, I’ve had my fun and that’s all that matters.
A pity that Paul Verhoeven’s Elle came out early in 2017 as it feels eerily prescient with the advent of the #metoo movement. One of the oddest things is what Elle was being advertised for – a business woman is attacked and raped in her own home – is almost a side story in the film’s wider exploration of the exploitation of women and their work. In other words, the film’s home invasion plot is rendered quite tame in the grand scheme of things. This is not a criticism, and instead a sick realisation that, just as Elle shrugs off the rape, in a lot of ways it’s just par for the course for many women. Yes, THAT is what makes it so terrifying.
Following on from my praise of Spotlight last year, I feel like something of an Oscar shill (when in reality I just really like films with the word “light” in their title). Yet here we are. Not only is it a powerhouse of amazing performances with a wonderful soundtrack, it’s an incredibly cathartic film experience (and yes, I include the hit-him-with-a-chair sequence in that). What pushes Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight over the edge is one of the most brave and devastating concluding moments imaginable. The kind of film that makes everything hurt, in the best way possible.
It feels like Get Out has already solidified its place in film history, what with the amount of critical discussion it has generated. It’s kind of hard to believe it’s been out for less than a year: while it would be unfair to claim that Get Out was solely responsible for the renaissance in horror, it’s fair to say Jordan Peele has been a big factor in horror being recognised anew for its potential. Peele also successfully brings his comedic chops to the film and it’s often hard to know whether to scream or laugh with many of the performances treading a fine line between horror and comedy.
There are valid criticisms to be made of Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit. It’s probably too long, and we are ultimately getting another white point of view of black history: in particular, historical inaccuracies regarding some of the characters is troubling. However, it was also one of my most visceral film experiences of 2017. Thanks to extremely impressive performances and masterful cinematography, at times it becomes almost painful to watch. Furthermore, Detroit’s sickening culmination is so unbelievable and yet inevitable – so horrifying and surreal – I still suspect that Detroit might secretly be the year’s most ingenious macabre comedy. And it’s had some seriously stiff competition, particularly considering the year that’s in it.
Better Watch Out
I have found a new staple for my annual Christmas watch. Better Watch Out starts off well enough, as a smart, quippy little festive horror movie, but ultimately morphs into something much more formidable and intelligent. Not only is it an excellent genre film, using both the potentials and limitations of the home invasion narrative to create something rather innovative, it also brings a surprising amount of nuance to what have now become stock characters. Part When A Stranger Calls, part Funny Games, and of course many parts Home Alone, director Chris Peckover has created a truly chilling horror which challenges many preconceived notions of the home invasion narrative.
The Edge of Seventeen
While by no stretch of the imagination the worst film of the year, Kelly Fremon Craig’s The Edge of Seventeen was such a disappointment in light of its potential. Considering it’s a female-directed, female-starring film about err, femaleness, the amount of internalised misogyny dripping off the screen was shocking. Thank goodness for brothers, sons and male teachers. How else would girls and women be reminded of their numerous shortcomings? I strongly hope that Stevie Nicks does not endorse its message.
Twin Peaks: The Return
Is this a cheat entry? Absolutely. But if Sight and Sound and Cahiers du Cinema can include it in their top 2 of the year, I can put it in as 1. After a decade of nothing new – cinematically speaking, he did release two albums amongst other things – Lynch’s self-described 18-hour film was an embarrassment of riches. Wrong-footing everyone with a vague marketing campaign designed to evoke the very worst of modern reboot culture, the epic was ultimately an unflinching evisceration of nostalgia, backwards-looking rose-tinting and attempts to recapture the past. Frequently funny, consistently unnerving and oppressively atmospheric, The Return was a swirling miasma of everything Lynch had made before, reconstituted and repurposed to destroy any preconceived notions of what television could be and remind everyone else what art-house cinema should be. An astonishing triple (arguably quadruple) central performance from MacLachlan and the existence of episode 8 alone would be enough to qualify it but taken as a whole, few examples of any medium could hope to match it in the near future.
There’s no need to justify this, you know why it’s here. But due to Irish release schedules, this last-year movie is technically a this-year movie.
No one has become a bigger Nolan-sceptic in recent years than me. The trailers for this were boring and drowning in the staples of dull-Nolan; vagueness and unearned smug, brooding portent. I also don’t find much to interest me in war films. Imagine my surprise when this film came screaming into a 70mm screening like one its own terrifying plans. Stripping the war film to its essence to see a group of scared, largely children, flee from faceless death was as exhilarating as it was legitimately terrifying. The gorgeous cinematography of the dogfights and near unbearable tension of Zimmer’s score alone justified the 70mm. Trite a phrase as it may be, this truly was a return to true cinema.
Speaking of needing to put a twist on a war film to make it interesting…
Literal decades have been spent telling us they’d never make a WW film because no one would watch it and no studio would let anyone make an actual film rather than another in the litany of embarrassing female led superhero films. Here we are; a full-blooded war film, a traditional and optimistic superhero movie and a financial success the likes of which no one expected. Gal Gadot continues to be a hell of a find, it’s a relief to see a DC film smash through the wall of grim-dark macho insecurity and who knew letting a woman direct a major blockbuster would lead to something a bit different and refreshingly free of male-gaze action scenes. It’s almost as if female directors have been unduly denied access to such blockbusters for no good reason for decades.
Quite the list of cinematic sacrilege this is becoming, first a TV show and now a Netflix original, straight-to-streaming film? In any case, in a year of simultaneously middling horror and (for the most part) very strong Stephen King adaptations, this film stood out in both categories. A low-key, largely single location horror/thriller, in which Carla Gugino delivers an all-encompassing central performance with a commitment and ease that doesn’t even seem aware of the fact that entire film rests on her quite literally immobile shoulders. Aside from excellent pacing, the aforementioned performance and an atmosphere of escalating terror, it was unquestionably one of the more effective horrors of the year on both a body-horror and genuine creepiness front. Not a second of it wasted, little in the way of CGI and a film that left you wanting to sleep with the light on for a while afterwards.
La La Land
A joyful appreciation of jazz music; an absolute masterpiece, one that I hope will someday be up there with some of the greatest musicals ever made. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are electric together, their chemistry totally believable. The musical numbers are great and the tap dancing is reminiscent of Singing in the Rain. One of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time.
A brilliant debut to the Marvel Cinematic Universe by director Taika Waititi. A comedic and fresh take on the Thor. It’s loud, colourful and gives a new facet to already beloved characters.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Rian Johnson hits the mark with episode VIII of the Star Wars I would nearly argue it’s the best one yet, and really nostalgic of the original movies from the ’70s and ’80s. Suspenseful, action-packed, character driven – a real powerhouse of a movie that ticks every box.
A vicious and emotional story of the few surviving mutants left. An indie take on the X-men series, it was definitely the best Wolverine film made, and a top-notch performance from Hugh Jackman. It was risk to take Wolverine in a new direction, and it was a gamble that really paid off.
Beauty and the Beast
Beautifully created, the CGI was amazing, and the musical numbers were brilliantly performed. It was fun and humorous, honouring the original cartoon, while still leaving its own stamp, giving a modern take on a childhood favourite by bringing in the topics of feminism and homosexuality.
The five films of 2017 that have hung around the old grey matter (in no particular order) are
The Other Side of Hope
Aki Kaurismäki’s off-centre tale of refugees and no hopers. Two men meet, one a refugee trying to find asylum, the other a man who has left his alcoholic wife and makes a wild attempt at succeeding in the restaurant business. What follows is a unique tale of humanity and great humour with a fairy-tale ending that can only happen in the movies.
A three-hour tale of a practical joker father trying to connect with his serious business-woman daughter. Unpredictable, painful, funny and filled with a similar eschewed look at humanity that Kaurismäki might be proud of.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2
Didn’t float everyone’s boat this year but it’s eccentric take on the fantasy/superhero world with a dose of sitcom put a smile on my face. The spectacle was fine but it was the character moments that amused the most. It also managed to sneak in the chirpiest massacre into a 12A film and no one seemed to notice. Favourite line – “Look at me I’m Mary Poppins”.
Provided us with Christopher Nolan’s take on Britain’s great escape from the beaches of France. Many reviewers saw a Brexit metaphor in the proceedings, historical purists were upset by its lack of facts. For me, it was an existential presentation of the absurdities of war. It’s lack of a true cathartic vindication to its events being its strongest point.
A giddy delight, managing to tightrope walk between parody and seriousness. At times it was in danger of shooting itself in the foot with its knowing cheekiness but the sheer fun of it all and solid performances made it probably the funniest superhero film since Marvel started making these things. It also featured the most dialogue to come out of the Hulk so far – that might not mean much to many but to those who care…
1. Twin Peaks: The Return
Maybe a controversial pick but David Lynch’s self-professed 18-hour TV film is irrefutably the most strikingly original and fascinating examples of an auteur working without constraints or studio fiddling in years. A spit in the eye to pointless nostalgia baiting reboots and perhaps the great American surrealist’s greatest work to date. No spoilers but episode 8 may well be the most incredible hour of television ever produced. Following up the wrongly maligned masterpiece Fire Walk with Me was no simple task but The Return will easily be the most discussed and dissected work of art from 2017 for me.
2. Lady Macbeth
Brutally undermarketed Lady Macbeth channels the spirit of the Brontë sisters and delivers a hauntingly bleak tale of repression, ambition, sexuality and morality. Florence Pugh delivers a stunning performance as the lady of the house and her transformation from victim to victimiser is unforgettable.
3. The Florida Project
Films from a child’s POV can be brutally nauseating but Sean Baker’s Florida Project succeeds through it’s wonderfully unrestrained child performers and empathetic understanding of the outcasts who populate the Magic Kingdom motel. Willem Dafoe delivers a career best performance as the establishments owner, a tough but fair defender of his downtrodden flock.
Pretentious or profound? Biblical or farcical? Debates rage on over Arronofsky’s latest work but for the sheer lunacy and ambition of the film it cannot be doubted that mother! is one of the most interesting mainstream releases this year. An impressive A-list cast stage a visceral allegory on the nature of creation and in doing so deliver a cinematic experience that made this viewer nauseous and incredibly anxious… in the best possible way.
Bouncing back after a disastrous step into science-fiction, Christopher Nolan delivered a World War 2 film that finally broke from the mould Saving Private Ryan established in 1998. Focusing on a larger picture of the Dunkirk evacuation rather than the usual attempts at tear-jerking and callous attention seeking gore (I’m looking at you Hacksaw Ridge) Nolan shows his strengths whilst wisely avoiding his usual weaknesses.
Honourable mentions: War for the Planet of the Apes and The Last Jedi demonstrated how to retain artistic principle within the confines of a big budget blockbuster. A Monster Calls was the antithesis of the usual manure doled out as children’s films and T2 Trainspotting was a beautifully realised portrait of mid-life crises and an overall more nuanced and powerful film than the original. Also Logan Lucky reminded me how much I missed Steven Soderbergh and John Wick Chapter 2 provided some great action set pieces.
Turkey of the Year
Ghost in the Shell
A fascinatingly dull film. Within the first five minutes I had lost all interest in the events of the picture and instead began thinking about Scarlett Johansson’s haircut for the remainder of the film. Despite being a remake of a cartoon there was nothing animated about this mess.
Jordan Peele takes a break from comedy with his directorial debut, which he also wrote the screenplay for. Despite Get Out being nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of Comedy or Musical, the film is anything but. Unnerving throughout, with a particularly strong performance from Daniel Kaluuya in the lead role, Get Out offers social commentary on racism and the horrors it breeds, both past and ever-present.
Set on the remote Wind River Reservation in Wyoming following the mysterious death of a young Native American woman, this film is a difficult but excellent watch. Writer-director Taylor Sheridan once again captures the essence of isolation, desperation and grief equally present in his screenplays for Sicario (2015) and Hell or High Water (2016). This film excels in its character studies, with a strong cast all-around, and in the careful construction of its solemn, defeated atmosphere, with a pervasive sense of being simultaneously trapped by and cast aside from society and justice on the reservation.
Deftly blending comedy with serious subject matter and plenty of surprises, director Atsuko Hirayanagi achieves a great deal in her first feature film. Oh Lucy! tells the story of a lonely, middle-aged Japanese woman (Shinobu Terajima) who embarks on an unexpected adventure when her English tutor (Josh Hartnett) suddenly leaves Tokyo. Offering an exploration of identity—both in crisis and at different levels of performance—this film takes you on a journey along with its titular character.
Taking social satire to new (much smaller) heights, writer-director Alexander Payne tackles environmental unsustainability with the novel approach of “downsizing” the population—shrinking humans to a height of four inches to reduce consumption and the harm we do to our environment. Motivations for “downsizing” are not always altruistic, however, and, as a microcosm of society, the downsized population faces the same capitalist motivations, class struggles and rampant consumerism as its larger counterpart. Particularly humorous performances from Cristoph Waltz and Hong Chau offer quite a bit of levity in this film that takes a close look at human behaviour and moral implications.
A superhero road movie of sorts, Logan delivers an emotional punch as it tackles issues of aging and the marginalisation of a community (in this case of mutants) to the point of near-extinction. In his last turn as Wolverine, Hugh Jackman gives an outstanding performance that balances the character’s strengths with his vulnerabilities. The film is gritty and full of action, but its quieter moments are equally powerful.
I also want to give special mention to Ladybird and Moonlight, both excellent films which I have not included in my list solely because of the timing of their release (the first I have not yet been able to see in Ireland and the second I would technically class as a 2016 film) but that are equally worthy of being on it.
It currently seems that it will be overlooked during the impending awards season, yet Dunkirk was a technical masterpiece and a true feat of cinematic excellence. I sat in awe and sheer suspense of what was happening before my eyes, especially in 70mm, and this was always going to be my number one film of 2017. Christopher Nolan did not let me down.
Call Me by Your Name
This film has stuck in my mind since seeing it and I truly loved every minute spent in the immersive Italian countryside in the 1980s with Elio’s coming-of-age story. A lot of deserved praise has gone to Michael Stuhlbarg’s speech, but my main highlight was Timothée Chalamet’s fireplace credits scene, which was another emotional suckerpunch. The Sufjan Stevens songs were another highlight, as well as The Psychedelic Furs allowing for Armie Hammer’s dancing.
Initial fears about one of my favourite film’s legacy were calmed after seeing the return of Renton and the gang. This was always going to be a tricky film to convert into a sequel, yet Danny Boyle managed a successful conversion. T2 Trainspotting includes subtle homages to the original and doesn’t strive to be a carbon copy of Trainspotting. Its middle-aged characters live out their middle-aged anxieties and this film acknowledges that fact in a film that I thoroughly enjoyed as much as its predecessor.
In a film that includes lots of humour, as well as serious issues such as sexual assault, Isabelle Huppert offers a performance that I admired. The film’s plot is a difficult subject to approach cinematically and Paul Verhoeven could not have created this film without its leading actor. Huppert drives the character’s arc past the toxic masculine and patriarchal forces and her acting powerfully demonstrates the agency of the titular character and her strong femininity.
Twin Peaks: The Return
Yes, it’s technically a television series, I understand that. However, this series was a cinematic experience which David Lynch previously described as one large script that happened to be segmented into eighteen episodes, or parts, in this case. Personally, the series felt like a thematic continuation of Lynch’s oeuvre and especially Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, rather than the original two seasons, and I intend on arguing for its cinematic qualities, as well as its televisual qualities.
Very Honourable Mentions: The Florida Project, A Ghost Story, Get Out, Handsome Devil, mother!, A Monster Calls.
1. It Comes at Night
Offered us a dark suffocating atmosphere of sheer paranoia that’s befitting for the current ideological rift between left and right.
2. Bladerunner 2049
The most potent visionary sequel I’ve ever seen. If Denis Villeneuve is a hero for the times, then Blade Runner is a mantra to live by.
3. The Beguiled
Sofia Coppola’s remake is a nail-biting tragedy, ripe with tension and a fervent dark sexuality.
4. The Lost City of Z
One of the absolute hidden gems this year.
5. Lady Macbeth
An intoxicating sinister tale, Hitchcock meets Wuthering Heights.
A satirical dark comedy meets psychological thriller that holds a mirror to the bleaker corners of society. It is the story of Chris, brilliantly played by Daniel Kaluuya, who is setting out to meet his girlfriend’s family for the first time. This is a terrifying ordeal at the best times but Chris’ story takes a horrific turn filled with suspense, emotion and humour. It is my top film of the year because of the unique and disturbing way that writer-director Jordan Peele explores racism.
A Ghost Story
It’s not often we walk away from a film and say, “Well… I’ve never seen anything like that before”. In contemporary filmmaking, originality should be treasured and A Ghost Story is certainly original. For that reason, it definitely makes my list of best films of 2017. The film is much more effective if I don’t say too much about it. It is essentially a story of love, loss and longing that is haunting but not the sense of a traditional ghost story.
Song of Granite
Song of Granite is a unique Irish language biopic that merges documentary and drama filmmaking. Set against a raw sounding soundtrack of traditional Irish music and shot in black and white this film is an immersive look into an Ireland of the past and the life of one of the countries great sean-nós singers Joe Heaney. The reason why this film makes my top five is that, while it was not the most energetic or entertaining film this year, it certainly was one of the most artistic and daring. Furthermore, it left a resonating impression on me that turned an initial feeling of indifference into a great appreciation for the film and a new found interest in sean-nós music!
The Disaster Artist
The Disaster Artist is a biopic based on the 2013 non-fiction book of the same name. The book was written by Greg Sestero, who, in 2003, worked on the now iconic cult classic The Room. The Room is a film famous for being terrible and The Disaster Artist is a film that tells the behind-the-scenes story. The film has a comedy dream team cast with James Franco pulling off a hugely impressive transformation into Tommy Wiseau the writer-director and star of The Room. This film is a huge treat for anyone who has a soft spot for Wiseau’s masterpiece but will still please those unfamiliar with the original work.
With a disappointing run of superhero movies in recent times, Wonder Woman was a huge step in right direction for the genre. This film had a lot of problems and was in many ways a disappointment but it still makes my top 5 list because of how it made me feel. It was not the feminist masterpiece I had hoped it to be but seeing a badass female superhero save the day was still a thrill and a cinematic experience that will stay with me. In addition, the stunning visuals and period set design and costuming made this an entertaining and enjoyable film that is just right for watching on a big screen with popcorn and a large soda.
The best in the Wolverine series with a break through performance by Dafne Keen as X-23. Her and Logan make for a great team with echoes of the movie Leon. Nice balance of action and drama and it was genuinely emotional and moving.
A great first feature by Jordan Peele, better known for his comedy sketch show Key and Peele. A perfect blend of horror and comedy. It’s genuinely scary when it needs to be and also very funny too. Also unique in its dealings with the race issue and seeing the world from that characters point of view.
While I agree the clown was not as creepy or as scary as the original Penny Wise played by Tim Curry, the performances of the kids were so good that I got lost in the story. Set in 1989 it also plays into the nostalgia vibe that’s become popular with Stranger Things.
Such an original concept and Edger Wright’s camerawork and choreography is a joy to watch. Again, a charming lead performance sells it. Though his relationship with his girlfriend didn’t quite click for me, it’s not enough to ruin the film.
Set in 19 Century rural England about a young bride sold into marriage. Great use of a single location and a fantastic lead perforamce by Florence Pugh. You’ll relish in her mischief and contempt for her new husband.
Blade Runner 2049
A visual feast with a plot that takes genuinely surprising turns, this long awaited follow-up has issues but also enough substance to linger in the mind after the credits have finished.
A fascinating documentary providing an insight into the lives of our feline friends, it is a joy to watch and a refreshing shift of perspective from our constant human-centric world point of view.
A chilling thriller that succeeds in embracing the paranormal without swerving into jump-scare territory, Kristen Stewart shines in one of her best ever performances. A ghost story for the modern age.
A sophisticated and sincerely heartfelt Western that strikes at the centre of one of comics’ most enduring characters, Hugh Jackman says farewell with an Oscar-worthy performance that will touch even the most cynical of cinema-goers.
Together Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot rose above the mess of the wider DCEU and the dismal box-office predictions from the press to prove that, yes, female superheroes can not only hold a film on their own, but also outdo many of their male counterparts. Funny, earnest and action-packed, the film plays like good old fashioned romp with distinctly contemporary feel.
Honourable Mentions: Paddington 2, It, Get Out, Call Me By Your Name, mother!
Based on the true story of what occurred during the Detroit riots in 1967, white police officers hold a group of young black men hostage while they search for a gun that doesn’t exist. You don’t want to believe it’s based on a true story because it’s so traumatising. The handheld camera heightens the overwhelming tension that leaves you shaking by the end of the film. Detroit is guaranteed to make you angry about institutionalised racism, about who has the power. There are problems, such as a white crew who seem unaccustomed to lighting black actors, and a lack of black women represented (where the black women at?), but it resonates with you and will keep you hooked to the last second. You’ll need to talk to someone once it’s over.
Retired Winfried tries to reunite with his career-driven daughter, Ines, by wearing a wig and false teeth and pretending to be her life coach. It sounds absurd, and it is. But it’s smart, funny, sensitive. Winfried slowly brings Ines out of her shell and encourages her to be more spontaneous. The running time is long, but if you’re looking for a story you haven’t seen before, you won’t be disappointed.
I Am Not Your Negro
A documentary based on an unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin. Samuel L. Jackson narrates how Baldwin moved back to America from Paris not because he was homesick for anything American, but because he wanted to “pay his dues”. The film investigates issues such as black fatherhood in cinema, the number of young black men and women murdered by police, and coming to terms with your skin colour in a mixture of documentary footage and chilling slideshows.
I Am Not Your Negro argues that America doesn’t know what to do with the black population now that they don’t pick cotton, and the film tries to find worth in the black body in a nation that has inflicted horrible pain on them for centuries. The film culminates in recent Black Lives Matter protests, with Kendrick Lamar’s powerful ‘Blacker the Berry’ playing over the credits. Watch and learn.
In Canada, 1976, teenage Kit runs away from home to live with his artistic mother. His girlfriend Alice, goes with him, hoping to lose her virginity. They go to find Kit’s mother, but end up finding themselves (with the help of his imaginary friend, Andy Warhol). It’s a touching coming-of-age story, with laugh out loud moments and a stellar cast. Beautifully shot in black and white, Julia Sarah Stone, who plays Alice, is destined to go far. Unfortunately, it was only shown during the IFI Open Day, but it is definitely worth tracking down.
A Monster Calls
Based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, and brought to fruition by Patrick Ness, a 12-year-old boy is visited by a tree monster at midnight. The tree comes every night to help Conor (Lewis MacDougall) deal with emotions about his mother’s terminal cancer. MacDougall is a strong actor, able to bring vulnerability, sincerity and intensity to the role as necessary. A story about a child who has to grow up too soon, Conor calls the monster because he needs to learn to be brave, to face his fears, to deal with bullies, and with death. A Monster Calls is a tearjerker more likely to satisfy adults than children.
Ailbhe O’ Reilly
It is hard to know whose side to be on in this claustrophobic drama. Your allegiance changes back and forth throughout this engaging drama, but one thing is for sure Florence Pugh is terrifyingly absorbing and a fantastic new talent.
A scary film with a twist that makes you question how you see the goodie and baddie roles in films. A fantasticly entertaining reflection of the political landscape in the US in particular.
La La Land
I watched this modern classic during a dreary January and the film has the power to do what all good classics do – it brings you out of your reality and delivers what we all need from the cinema experience – escapism. Nearly a year on and I still enjoy the songs, so that’s must be a sign of the a great film.
Ingrid Goes West
Similar to Get Out, Ingrid Goes West captured some of the embarrassing flaws of our generation – our obsession with social media and, in particular, our fake life we live through this lens and the intense desire to be “liked”. Aubrey Plaza is hilarious as the slightly mad Ingrid who worms her way into a L.A. socialites life, also well played by Elizabeth Olsen, to disastrous consequences.
My last choice was a film that did not get as recognized as it should have this year. Subtle and emotionally performances by Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner who tell an important story about the Native American community and the female members of this communities experiences. Intense, beautifully shot in a gorgeous setting and a story that stays with you.
Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s brilliant novel is an unfortunate casualty of audience apathy. A deliberately paced film that never felt slow, Silence does not offer easy answers to its viewer in its meditations on the possibility of reconciling faith with brutality. It is a truly thoughtful, challenging film that I still think about often nearly a year after its release.
Killing of a Sacred Deer
It is a rare film that can be called truly unpredictable. Killing of a Sacred Deer, at least for me, earned such praise. Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow up to The Lobster manages to mix an abundance of genres that I’m apprehensive to name for fear of ruining even a small piece of the film for those who haven’t seen it. If you’ve the stomach for something more than a bit horrifying, do yourself and watch the film before someone spoils anything.
I can’t say I’ve had an experience in a cinema this year quite like Dunkirk. In most films you might have the chance to divert your attention away from the screen every now and again, even if only for a few seconds. Dunkirk’s grand visuals and overpowering score (thanks again, Hans Zimmer) commanded my attention throughout its run-time. It was a film that left me exhausted by its end, a true mark of success for a film like this.
When looking at the critical reaction to Moonlight, a film that has received praise after accolade after praise, it might be easy to assume it is overrated. However, director Barry Jenkins won yet another adoring acolyte of his eminently powerful film when I finally got around to watching it earlier this year. It is a movie that pulls you into its world, a world of great performances and beautiful visual compositions that do not exist for their own sake, but instead serve, as does every element of the film, to bring you into the experience of its characters; these broken, conflicted, beautiful characters who find breakage, conflict, and beauty all around them.
It has been over a month since I saw November and I still can’t even start to get my head around it or figure out quite how I feel about it. Suffice to say, however, it is the most unique film I have seen this year. Going into this movie, one must simply let go of any and all preconceived notions of logic and go along with the winding, unwieldy story. That it does this so ably is a testament to Rainer Sarnet’s confusing, strange, overwhelming, and, above all, beautiful vision.
1. The Florida Project
2. Wind River
3. The Drummer and the Keeper
4. Ingrid Goes West
5. Beauty and the Beast
Emer Reynolds’ documentary is a timely reminder of our place in the world and in the universe. Charting the Voyager mission and celebrating the furthest distance a man-made object has ever travelled, this film is an eye-opening voyage into the unknown for most. It serves as a celebration of both NASA and human ingenuity. Its domestic premiere was thrown away lightly in a graveyard slot on TV. This is the film we should be watching as a nation on Christmas Day. Or New Year’s Day. Or every day.
What was the last really important horror film? Not important in terms of genre. Just important. Get Out is actually about something but never fails to be engaging, thrilling and naturally – considering the comedic chops of its’ creator – it is infused with the darkest hue of humour. It’s a case of metaphor and high-concept premise being much stronger than depicting actual events. The enormity of the realisation of what that silent auction actually is; is rightfully devastating and chilling.
Taylor Sheridan was clearly paying attention on set as his other scripts were being filmed. After handing over Sicario and Hell or High Water, it was fascinating that he kept this icy thriller for his directorial debut.
At first glance, it’s not as showy as his other work as Jeremy Renner and Mary Elizabeth Olsen team up to track a killer in modern-day Indian territory. The film has a slow fuse and casts a compelling spell in the choking cloying whiteness of the landscape. With precious few films for grown-ups getting into cinemas anymore, this felt like a work of rare intelligence. I found it moving and in its climatic scenes it moved me to the edge of my seat.
A busy year for both Handmaids and Handmaidens. This was an English novel transplanted to South Korea with surprisingly brilliant results. A swirling dark sensual confection of steamy scheming and betrayal. Impossible to follow but so ravishing, it’s impossible to resist too.
Oh yes. The most fun at the cinema award. And who thought Thor 3 would be such a beacon for the way forward for superhero films. Clearly benefitting from the narrower focus of just Thor and the Hulk in the main, this was heroic, daft and heroically daft. Undercutting his character’s innate hubris, Hemsworth is great company as he loses his hammer but doesn’t lose his way. Featuring more Kiwis than one might expect in deep space, this was a hoot.
Wonder Woman and Happy Death Day
DC finally craft a decent film and Gal Gadot soars. She alone couldn’t save a shabby Justice League but she needs to fly solo for a while. Maybe World War 2 and Nazis next? But can DC show the wit to not rush their only ace? The latter is just another micro-budget Blumhouse juggernaut that reworked Groundhog Day as a comedy horror and quietly accumulated major bank with no stars and no bother.
Free Fire and John Wick 2
Balletic gun violence only exists in movies. It isn’t fun in real life and right now it’s not fun in movies either. I’m all for a simple premise but stretching one action scene across 100 minutes is just tiresome in the extreme. Firing blanks on both fronts.
Worst film of the year
A film that proved Darren has never watched Life of Brian. If he had he wouldn’t have bother inflicting this on the world. His ‘oh so clever’ parable could have used the same stock footage of J-Law looking stunned at the arrival of each visitor. From its circuitous short film cliché ending to its highfalutin philosophising, let’s remember this is a film that actually invited us to watch paint dry at one point.
1. Blade Runner 2049
One of the most ambitious blockbusters ever released, Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to the Ridley Scott classic not only stood up to the original, it may have surpassed it. Taking the best elements of its predecessor but forking its own distinct path to explore Dickian themes on the unreliability of memories and dreams, 2049’s whopping 163-minute running time felt wholly earned. The slow but hypnotic pace was intoxicating. Meanwhile, I could have watched Ryan Gosling brood in the most realistic and sublime sci-fi environments ever put on screen (God bless DOP Roger Deakins) for another four hours.
As jet-black a movie as seemingly possible, the legendary Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct) returned to the silver screen this year with Elle. Isabelle Huppert stars as a woman who, after being raped, decides to find and confront her attacker all by herself. What follows is both a disturbing exploration of sadomasochism, trauma and society’s fixation with violence against women as well as the darkest of comedies about a woman trying to juggle her high-class career and chaotic home life as she comes to terms with her assault. It’s transgressive, consistently surprising and feels at any moment like it could become horrendously offensive. Yet, Huppert’s Oscar-nominated, multi-layered and complex performance keeps it afloat. She makes her character comic, infuriating, strong and tragic, all in equal measure – a post-feminist hero for the ages.
3. The Handmaiden
Under the guise of a period drama, Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy) made one of the most riotously entertaining, funny and sexiest thrillers of the year. A tale of betrayal and seduction in 1930’s Korean high society, The Handmaiden is the most successful film in recent memory to channel the spirit of Hitchcock’s best work. Over the course of the drama, we see characters’ desires for each other slowly enhancing through voyeuristic glimpses and stolen touches, eventually being unleashed in unexpected fits of pleasure. All the while, Chan-Wook swaps between character POV’s, casting information we previously took as given into doubt as scenes are replayed from different perspectives. The result is a movie that tantalises while keeping viewers on their toes right up until the moment it reveals its endgame. Here all the pieces of the narrative jigsaw come together, and one realises that Chan-Wook for 145 minutes has been setting the stage for our female heroes to vanquish their male oppressors. Terrific stuff.
4. Get Out
A near-perfect horror-thriller, Get Out is a roller-coaster ride that moves from a dread-induced Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, to a hilarious satire, to a mind-twisting sensory experience, and finally to an action-packed finale with such ease. Much of this success is down to comedian and first-time writer-director Jordan Peele’s script. It really – through sharp dialogue and layered symbolism – conveys the awkwardness of underlying, hidden racism, a bigotry that has mutated from burning crosses to something subtler in a post-Obama world.
5. Free Fire
Those tired of heroes facing CGI hordes should do themselves the favour of seeking out the latest from the frequently fantastic Ben Wheatley. Essentially a ninety-minute shoot out after a gun-deal gone wrong in a warehouse in ’70s Boston, the movie is an exercise in bringing action back to its grittier, more intimate origins where the viewer felt every punch. The ensemble cast and soundtrack bring such a swagger. Meanwhile, one could easily make a case the film is actually about the horrors of toxic masculinity and gun violence. Trap a group of guys in a warehouse with an endless supply of guns and ammo, soon bullets will fly – even when there are so many chances to walk away peacefully.
The magisterial Isabelle Huppert gives one of her greatest ever performances in Paul Verhoeven’s acidic, misanthropic, complex and disturbing thriller.
2. Toni Erdmann
Maren Ade’s richly observational and ultimately very sad comedy drama stands out as an utterly singular and evocative piece of work.
A superb performance by Rebecca Hall is the centre of Antonio Campos’ deeply disquieting and sympathetic portrait of Christine Chubbuck.
4. Good Time
Powered by Oneothrix Point Never’s sensational score, this electrifying thriller combines terrific formal adventurous with rich characterisation and humanity.
Cristian Mungui’s insidious, fiercely intelligent and all too relevant tale of corruption confirms his status as a consistently uncompromising modern auteur.
Honourable Mentions: Happy End, Suntan, The Eyes of My Mother, Raw, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Personal Shopper, Get Out, Ingrid Goes West.
Also, while not strictly a film, special mention has to be made to Twin Peaks: The Return. David Lynch’s return to the moving image after a decade away was as subversive, beautiful and original as anyone could have possibly hoped for it to be.
The Florida Project
A Ghost Story
Unlike anything I’ve seen all year, David Lowery’s elegant meditation on grief gorging through time proves both subtle and bold in equal measure.
Moving deftly between flickers of absurdity and pain the film’s minimalist approach appears simple but never simplistic. Its tender score like blossoming bruises, seeps into the frame whose tight and rounded edges seem to usher us through scenes of forgotten home-movies as if held captive to memory’s carousel.
Call Me By Your Name
A charming chemistry coupled with an exquisite sense of time and place. Luca Guadagnino latest film is a quietly radical love story which floats on a breeze of sensual delight.
It Comes at Night
Patient and precise. Trey Edward Shults’ second feature curdles with festering paranoia and explores elusive truth making it the perfect cinematic post mortem on Trump’s America.
The Safdie brother’s neon odyssey brims with wonderful performances, pulsating sights and sounds while exploring the politics of race in a way that seems both provocative and poignant.
Only Frederick Wiseman could make a 3-hour film about the New York library system so engrossing. Now 87, Wiseman is still peeling back institutions to unearth something utterly profound. His camera lingers in corners, reshaping libraries into havens of cultural exchange.
Honorable mentions: Cameraperson, Body and Soul, Get Out
5. The Farthest
I was lucky enough to interview Emer Reynolds, the director of ADIFF Audience Award winner The Farthest (here). That’s not why I chose The Farthest. I chose this uplifting documentary on NASA’s Voyager programme because it is an Irish film with a global consciousness and an assured understanding of cinematic storytelling. The Farthest brings a mind-blowing achievement of science to a wider audience with a strong mix of visual effects, archive footage and a gender-balanced range of great interview subjects. Processing the implications of the farthest human-made objects from Earth with this celebration of humanity’s potential is well worth doing. Watch on the biggest screen you can find.
Again, watch Dunkirk on the biggest screen you can find. This is very much a cinematic experience, immersing the audience in a gripping survival story inspired by true events. The 70mm format has been pioneered to stunning effect in Christopher Nolan’s visceral recreation of a war-defining moment in World War II. By structuring the narrative with three different timelines of varying length, Nolan isn’t just calling attention to the grammar of cinema. Framing the action from different perspectives highlights how one’s subjective vantage point effects your experience of war. One nice addition would have been an extra minute of screen-time titled “4. The Rearguard – One Minute” to show the sacrifice French soldiers made at Dunkirk.
I’m not really into musicals but Damien Chazelle is such a great filmmaker and I think… Sorry. It’s actually Moonlight, not La La Land. There was some kind of mix-up but it’s Moonlight. The Oscar for Best Picture going to Moonlight is an example of a good decision from the Academy. Three actors seamlessly portray the shocking transformation at the centre of the film. The visuals are beautiful and often edited with a skilfully disorienting effect. The music weaves from rap to Mozart as tender sexuality and toxic masculinity are painfully contrasted through knockout performances. The Academy was also right to recognise in particular Naomie Harris with a nomination and Mahershala Ali with an Oscar.
2. Mr. Robot (Season 3)
Watching Twin Peaks exhausts my brain so I have yet to finish it. The visionary David Lynch has been recognised with leading film publications placing the TV show Twin Peaks in Films of the Year lists. Since words don’t matter any more, I shall honour the superb work of Mr. Robot showrunner Sam Esmail. Rami Malek and Portia Doubleday deserve all acting awards. The thrilling real-time episode “Runtime Error” holds on one continuous take. “Don’t Delete Me” was another bold risk, to have a slow episode on mental health and its moving impact pays off beautifully. Eerie images of creeping American fascism feel uncomfortably real in the background of a season that got better and better. Mr. Robot will be remembered as an important reflection of our time and the issues we faced.
1. Loving Vincent
My film of the year is a masterpiece made from thousands of masterpieces. Each frame of Loving Vincent was hand-painted in the style of Vincent Van Gogh in a wildly impractical form of feature filmmaking that will never be replicated. This forms a powerful tribute to Van Gogh’s work, as if defiantly life-affirming against the mental illness that drove him to suicide. It is enthralling to see such a shimmeringly beautiful animation style unfold on a big screen to Clint Mansell’s stirring score. A strong cast of actors imbued with moving compassion play real-life subjects of Van Gogh’s paintings investigating mysteries around the circumstances of his death. Not many films have me crying in the first ten minutes. This special experience is not to be missed by anyone who cares for art or film.