I love film, I really do. But like most things you love in your life, sometimes those you take for granted become neglected, you depend on them being there so you try a little less and with the pressures of modern life, they can fall to the backburner. So this year I thought the unthinkable for me, I was not going to do a review of my favourite films of the year, my poor blog has seen less writing over the last 12 months than ever before and my passion for film has taken a battering, I began to feel like Llewyn Davies where the universe is trying to get him to give up the one thing he loves. Sometimes it is easier to try and ignore the thing you are most passionate about because acknowledging it brings pain when you are not able to do it more. But then one night over dinner with one of my dear friends, she asked me when I would be doing my review of the year, I was taken aback, mostly due to the fact that I didn’t think anybody really read this (I’m not trying for a sympathy vote here) and that it was just one more end of year list to be glanced and forgotten. I told her I wasn’t sure I would write one this year but when she said that she used my review as a tool to choose what films she would then watch. I was, to say the least, touched and a little teary (I had a cocktail with dinner so I blame that) and I thought, if just one person reads my review, and that may well be true, and then gone out and discovered films to watch as a result then I had done my job. So Helen this is for you and in a way for me, as even though I may not be doing the thing I love most in the world all of the time, I should still give it the love and attention that it warrants. It may just be a list of the year’s best films but to me, what it represents, means so much more, it signifies the times this year that I have been able to spend time with one of the greatest loves of my life, the cinema and that is something I should not take for granted.
15) Logan Lucky (directed by Steven Sodenbergh)
Steven Sodenbergh continues to have the best post retirement career of a director, who really never retired in the first place, with his hillbilly heist Logan Lucky. Somewhat overlooked at the box office , there is much to enjoy in this assemble piece that deserves another reprieve. Blue collar worker Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) is laid off from his construction job due to an existing condition so he devises a plan to pull a job during the NASCAR Coca Cola 600 race. Enlisting his brother Clyde (Adam Driver) who lost an arm in Iraq and his straight talking sister (Riley Keough) they set out on a job that is not fuelled by greed but by necessity, Jimmy merely wants to provide for his daughter and he represents the fatalities that have befallen many workers in the current American economic climate. Sodenbergh peppers his film with nods to this changing landscape, where jobs are scarce and the divide between the have and have nots grows wider everyday but he also injects verve and his trademark crime caper pizazz so the proceedings are not weighed down. Riffing on his previous films, a clever in joke describes the resulting heist as Oceans 7/11, Logan Lucky has some familiar beats but also a great sleight of hand pay off, aided and abetted by a uniformly excellent cast. But the films real ace in the hole comes in the form of a certain James Bond, the magnificently monikered Joe Bang, a bombs disposal expert played by with giddy aplomb and bleach blonde hair by Daniel Craig. Though he is incarcerated in the film, Craig seems to be relishing the opportunity to shake off the shackles of 007 and has the time of his life playing the egg loving mischievous inmate, giving us a reminder of what a great character actor he can be and he alone, is enough reason to give this shaggy heist story a spin.
14) Thor Ragnarok (directed by Taika Waititi)
Taika Waititi has said that nobody leaves the cinema with a smile on their face anymore and so it appears that he is on a crusade to bring back the fun and cheekiness to multiplexes, for which he has succeeded with his previous films What we do in the Shadows and last year’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople. And now he brings his unique blend of Kiwi quirk and abundant humour to the superhero world, managing to have his cake and eat it by delivering a stonking blockbuster Marvel movie but one that is overflowing with charm and oddball goofiness. Chris Hemsworth gets not only to flex his muscles but also his comedic chops in the most bonkers outing for an Avenger yet. Struck out of Asgard by his long lost evil sister Hela (a minxy Cate Blanchett), Thor must first escape the day glo planet of Sakaar where he is forced into gladiatorial combat with the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and then assemble a rag tag crew to get back to his homeland and save his people. This plotline allows Thor and the Hulk to play out an off kilter buddy movie, with Hemsworth and Ruffalo bouncing off each other in a way that is so fun, you wish for a spin-off of just these characters. They are also aided by the feisty but boozy badass Valkyrie (a fabulous Tessa Thompson) and estranged brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston ramping up the devilish side that must is so fun to play). Jeff Goldblum meanwhile camps it up as The Grandmaster of Sakaar in a role never more suited to his acting style and Waititi himself steals every scene he is in as the talking rock Korg whose revolution failed due to a lack of pamphlets. The film is awash with retro/future design that recalls the style of Flash Gordon and whizzes of electro beats which all enhance the playful edge that the franchise has so welcomingly taken. Quite simply just about the most fun you can have at the cinema this year.
13) Good Time (directed by the Safdie Brothers)
A film that pulsates like a beating heart, the Safdie brother’s crime caper grabs you from the outset and doesn’t let go through its frenetic, exhilarating running time. After a bumbled bank robbery lands his mentally ill brother in prison, Connie (Robert Pattinson) spends a frantic night trying to free him before he is sent to Riker’s Island. Using every ounce of hustle and quick wits that seep from every fibre of his being, Connie lunges from each new desperate scenario with breakneck gusto which leads to dangerous consequences. Throbbing with an intense electro soundtrack, the film pounds with a forceful nature, the high stakes of each decision leaving the viewer on tenterhooks and causing repercussions for everyone Connie scams or crosses paths with. The camera veers through the long long night with off the cuff verve; at times shot with obtuse close ups, documentary style vigour and a delinquent aesthetic. Scenes are saturated in neon hues and the streets become an additional character, vibrant, unrelenting and in a constant state of motion. Pattison, who surely has shaken off the teen heartthrob moniker and is now just seen as the great character actor he is, turns in another stellar performance as Connie, he is impulsive, often repulsive but never anything but mesmerising. As he fires from each hairbrained plan to the next, often with surprising dark humour, his motives for his brother’s safety and release keep the viewer as the passenger on his crazy delirious journey. The Safdie Brothers have created one hell of a calling card to Hollywood, evoking the 70s new wave and New York crime dramas but also feeling vibrantly fresh, one that is impossible not to get carried along by.
12) Logan (directed by James Mangold)
There was a worry at one point that Logan the film would not live up to Logan the trailer, such was the goose bump inducing trailer with its haunting use of Johnny Cash’s afflicted cover of Hurt. But the trailer merely paved the way for James Mangold’s meditation on the superhero movie, enhancing its sense of melancholy. The film wears its influences on its sleeve, particularly classic western Shane, which is referenced by Charles Xavier in one scene and thematically it feels akin to the John Ford era as Hugh Jackman’s Logan is living a self exiled life in Mexico. But what looms largest over the film is the burden of time, even more threatening than the government stooges that infiltrate Logan’s safe haven and this is what sets it apart from the comic book stylistics of the previous X-Men outings. This is the first time we see superheroes age, we see Logan’s body ravaged and unable to heal itself as quickly and we see Xavier, now frail and wheelchair bound, riddled with medication to keep his mind afloat and to keep his powers in order. They are relics of a past time, a stark realisation that the world will not always be saved. There is still action to this story however and the arrival of a new mutant, a young girl and the first in decades, gives Logan the vigour to have one final show down to lead her to safety and gives Mangold the chance to inject some ferocious violence to the scenes. In fact it was at the insistence of Jackman that the film was more adult and brutal than the studio would usually allow and he offered to lower his actor’s fee to secure that the film was made how they wanted it to. It was a gamble that paid off, a fitting and realistic farewell to Jackman’s biggest character and it is all the better, and sadder, for it.
11) The Beguiled (directed by Sofia Coppola)
Sofia Coppola returned triumphantly to the screen off the back of her best director win at Cannes with a Southern pot boiling melodrama. As the Civil war rages on, a wounded Yankee soldier (Colin Farrell) is found in the grounds of a ladies’ seminary and is taken into their refuge to be nursed back to health. But at what first seems like paradise to Corporal McBurney, being cared for and fawned over by beautiful young women, his presence begins to stir dangerous rivalries and set a course of irrevocable consequences. Coppola has always been a director who creates mood and The Beguiled is no different, shooting on film and using her trademark dreamy cinematography, the seeping of gauzy light filters into their world of starch upper collars and southern belle decorum. The air is thick with repressed desire, a clinging heat that threatens to engulf and destroy the microcosm that the ladies have built in their isolation from the outside world, evoking shades of Black Narcissus whose remotely stationed nuns begin to question their vows of celibacy upon the arrival of a government worker. The cast embody their characters beautifully with Nicole Kidman sharing the screen again with Farrell this year to great effect, this time as the headmistress of the girls whilst Kirsten Dunst is the heart and heartbroken of the film whose prim teacher is tempted by the promise to escape with McBurney. Though the film’s best moments occur when the ensemble comes together, the interaction used through subtle airs and graces and telling glances speaks volumes of their internal cravings. A candlelight dinner scene in particular, where the girls fawn over McBurney and try to outdo each over an apple pie is a master class in thinly concealed jealousy and proves that Coppola has lost none of her bite and sly humour and whose cinematic output is always welcome at the table.
10) God’s Own Country (directed by Francis Lee)
Dubbed the ‘Yorkshire Brokeback Mountain’ upon its release, director Francis Lee’s debut film carves its own path of poetic subtlety and yearning heartache. Young farmer Johnny is stuck in both his daily grind of life and a succession of meaningless hook ups with local lads in the village (where a night out in Bradford is seen as glamorous). When Romanian migrant worker Gheorghe comes to help on the farm, Johnny’s world is turned upside down and awakes a longing for change in his life that refuses to be neglected anymore. There is a real sense of beauty to Gods Own Country, where the smallest acts (Gheorghe offering his gloves to Johnny atop the cold landscape, keeping a newborn lamb warm during the harsh conditions) reveal the heart and fragility of life. Newcomers John O’ Connor and Alec Secareanu both impress, with O’Connor’s Johnny starting as an insular young man unable to convey emotion and go beyond the motions of his stilted life. His transformation when Gheorghe pierces his dispirited bubble is agonisingly nuanced, his hesitance to let his barriers fully down leads to a heart stopping showdown, where Johnny’s inability to convey his heart’s desire may lose him the one thing he truly wants. Alec Secareanu meanwhile creates captivating warmth as Gheorghe and a relationship to truly root for. They say that it’s grim up north but Lee brings lyricism and grace to his surroundings and tenderness to a way of life that is often unforgiving and stuck in the past. But ultimately his greatest strength is creating an understated majesty to two men traversing the rugged terrain of love.
9) Star Wars- The Last Jedi (directed by Rian Johnson)
They say that some of the best films are those that divide us and this certainly seems to be true of Rian Johnson’s instalment into the Star Wars saga, with critics hailing it one of the best additions to the sci fi universe but many fans up in arms with the direction it has taken. Whilst Abrams produced a crowd pleasing greatest hits with The Force Awakens, Johnson goes down the Empire Strikes Back route with something darker and more fractured. This allows one of the films greatest strengths to come to the forefront with the inner (and outer) turmoil of Kylo Ren as he battles between power of the First Order and the redemption of the resistance and showcases Adam Driver’s complex and riveting portrayal of an intriguingly flawed character. There is also the conflict of Daisy Ridley’s Rey who is struggling to find her place and how to control the force that has awakened in her, with a reluctant to say the least teacher in Hamill’s jaded Skywalker. But it’s not all doom and gloom in the galaxy and Johnson injects some wit, furry delights (hello Porgs!) and verve into the proceedings, allowing more screen time for the charismatic Oscar Isaac and the welcome addition of spunky new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). He also allows time to tug at the nostalgic heartstrings with the return of a certain green wise one, thankfully in his original guise and not a soulless CGI incarnation and a scene between Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher takes on a deeper poignancy. The Last Jedi manages to seep the old into something new, with bold strokes and battle scenes that take on an operatic ambience, with striking hues of red and white. It takes the saga into unchartered territories, one that may struggle where to go next but will be all the more exciting for it.
8) Call me by your name (directed by Luca Guadagnino)
Director Luca Guadagnino made an even bigger splash with his third film in his ‘desire’ trilogy which left critics in raptures and ending up on the top of many best of year poll lists and it is easy to see why. The film casts a seductive spell and plays out like the best summer you never had, in the landscape of 1980s Italy with a coming of age and coming of passion drama. 17 year old American-Italian Elio (Timothée Chalamet) spends his days rather precociously in and around his parent’s villa, reading, transcribing music and hanging out with the local kids. But the arrival of American intern Oliver (Armie Hammer) who has come to Italy to assist his professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) Elio’s charmed life suddenly is awakened with a desire which will change him forever. A film that is a feast for the senses, Call me by your name is draped in visual splendour and a burgeoning palatable sensuality that by the time Elio and Oliver kiss you are almost left breathless with anticipation. Filled with tender moments, where the slightest touch sends ripples that will last a lifetime in their hearts, it is anchored by tremendous performances from Chalamet and Hammer who convince in their passion and break your heart with their wordless final embrace. Though the pair keep their romance a secret, it is not perceived because of a fear of Elio’s parents reaction, in fact in the film’s most affecting scene Elio’s father shares a moment with his son full of compassion and understanding. He tells Elio that he envies him and that he should find pleasure in the grief as the love between him and Oliver is something so rare. Stuhlbarg’s delivery is so delicately beautiful but carries a weight and wisdom of words that many would have longed to hear from their own father. It also sets up the final scene of the film to be loaded with bittersweet heartbreak; a lingering shot of Elio’s face signifies the end of a beautiful summer and the enormity of the emotions that have spoken their name.
7) Moonlight (directed by Barry Jenkins)
With Moonlight director Barry Jenkins delivered something truly special and genre defying, a film of immediate relevance but also of startling beauty. Its chronicle of a young black man growing up in Miami details three defining periods in his life(know through the chapters as ‘Little’ ‘Chiron’ and ‘Black’) and is portrayed by a trio of outstanding actors who all bring verve and soul to their depictions. The film traverses the myriad representations from a scrawny bullied boy to imbalanced teen to a bulked, gold grilled man but all carry the same desire that goes unspoken. What is remarkable about Jenkins’ film is how he swerves the traditional method that may be used to present a narrative whose nature is rooted in poverty, drugs and gritty streets and instead of using a gritty realism, he saturates his film in sheens of colour and dreamlike elegance. Hues of blue bath the screen, enhancing the recurrent theme of water that peppers the chapters; it represents the constant flow of this boy’s life, how his soul is swept through the ever changing waves and how his sexuality is simmering on the surface. Alongside the stunning cinematography, the use of music elevates Moonlight favouring an operatic score, filled with yearning strings and afflicted piano that transcend its setting. Scenes of Little being abandoned by his crack riddled mother (a blistering Naomie Harris) to Chiron erupting to his high school tormentor take on a higher plain by its crescendo of sound and stirring visual palette and the film builds to an aching symphony of love and longing. Moonlight may be remembered by those who have not seen it for its blundered Oscar glory however its legacy is there to behold and to admire, within its resplendent frames.
6) The Killing of a Sacred Deer (directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)
Cinema’s leading purveyor of feel bad cinema Yorgos Lanthimos returned with his second English Language film and reteamed with his Lobster star Colin Farrell for a deeply disturbing morality tale. Farrell plays Dr Steven Murphy, a cardiovascular surgeon who conducts an ill advised relationship with a young boy named Martin (an eerily good Barry Keoghan), the son of one of his former patients. As Martin’s behaviour becomes increasingly sinister, Steven’s idyllic life is shattered beyond recognition and he has to make an unspeakable sacrifice. Lanthimos’ previous films appear to live in their own universe and The Killing of a Sacred Deer is no different, he has created his own genre where rules and logic barely register and are inconsequential. He also creates a dialogue that is jarring and whose matter of fact nature brings a sense of comicalness to the proceedings, to break up the engulfing bleakness. And boy is it bleak with the film posing an abhorrent situation that has no other outcome than utter destruction; its journey to its shocking climax carries an almost unbearable sense of dread, heightened by its obtrusive and imposing score. Lanthimos’ cast sell the premise with conviction, something that may crumble in lesser hands with Farrell continuing his career reinvigoration, Nicole Kidman bringing an icy determination and Keoghan is the revelation, his previous incarnation as the sweet boy in Dunkirk is obliterated with his menacing compelling turn. The film asks many questions, notably where will Lanthimos go next and how much more can he put his audience through? Whatever it may be, there are many film lovers, myself included, who are ready to take that voyage, no matter how dark and twisted the path may be.
5) The Handmaiden (directed by Park Chan Wook)
Park Chan Wook delivers a tantalising adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel The Fingersmith transporting the Victorian setting to 1930s Korea with the tale of a con man and pickpocket who embark on an elaborate plot to seduce and dupe a countess out of her inheritance. But things are not as they seem and the film becomes a serpentine puzzle of who is conning who. By retelling the same events of the narrative but from different angles, it creates a devilishly tricksy journey for the audience , keeping us on our delighted toes. As you can expect from the director of Oldboy, Chan Wook’s proclivities for exposing peoples twisted persuasions continues as he weaves in a disturbing subplot of fetish book reading and tentacle keeping and involves one of cinema’s creepiest uncles. The film itself is a stunning visual feast for the eyes, where every frame is brimming with intrigue and dripping in seduction with captivating performances by its two leading ladies Kim Min-hee (whose face I found mesmerising) and Kim Tae-ri. They run the gauntlet of emotions- victim, predator, innocent, conniving, duplicitous yet romantic and it is impossible to take your eyes off them. One scene in particular involving a tooth and a thimble becomes so loaded with sexual tension that it is almost too much to take. It also sums up the feeling of watching The Handmaiden, it is a heightened giddy rush, best consumed in the all the glory of the director’s cut, to bask in its sumptuous erotic melodrama and be consumed by its wicked wicked charm.
4) Get Out (directed by Jordan Peele)
A massive hit for Blumhouse (alongside M Night’s triumphant return Split) and something of a horror phenomenon, director Jordan Peele made audiences turn out in their droves and squirm in more ways than one by delivering one of the year’s most talked about and most critically acclaimed. Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a young black man getting ready to meet his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for the first time, whilst we hear the sound of Childish Gambino’s lyrics ‘stay woke’ in the background, a subtle warning to what lies ahead. Her parents seem pleasant enough, though they are somewhat overly keen to present themselves as progressive and open, awkwardly throwing in their support of Obama in clanging fashion. But alarm bells start to ring, the air is filled with a tense unease, the black employees of the house carry feigned upbeat expressions and Rose’s mother is quick to jump on the opportunity to hypnotise Chris. As the real intentions of the family weekend transpire, Peele exposes horror not just in the actions, but in the attitudes of white liberal America, something that is never more timely and present in the times of Trump et al, exposing the uncomfortable undercurrent that lies behind the white picket fences and freshly cut lawns. But what makes the film so outstanding is that it stakes its social commentary into a wildly entertaining film, full of tension, scares and with its ‘sunken place’ creates a terrifying evil, worse than any recent monster or serial killer. The film also carries some well timed humour, Peele drawing on his comedic background to counterbalance the mounting dread that builds with every scene. Get Out never forgets to satisfy the audience with a thrilling cinematic ride, you may just get a little more woke by the end of the journey.
3) La La Land (directed by Damien Chazelle)
And so as the Hollywood dust has settled we can look back at cinema’s tempestuous love affair with La La Land. It burst onto the screen in January to beat away the winter blues and won over audiences with its golden age nostalgia and snappy tunes. But it faced an inevitable backlash, becoming the easy target for critic bashing and its time at the Oscars was marred by that infamous presenting cock up. Upon revisiting the film, La La Land still holds up to the test, its Technicolor pizzazz lights up the screen in a wash of delightful dance numbers and spirited singing. Ryan Gosling infuses his struggling jazz pianist with the right levels of charm and cynicism whilst Emma Stone nabbed her way to Oscar glory with her portrayal of an aspiring actress, still in love with idea of Hollywood but brow beaten by a string of failed audiences. Their romance plays out amidst the city of stars but the bittersweet reality of following your heart means theirs may break in the process and the smitten audience have to swallow a melancholy pill. La La Land is a true delight for movie lovers, old and new, yeah the haters are gonna hate but here’s to the ones who dream.
2) The Florida Project (directed by Sean Baker)
Piercing through the winter winds and transporting us to a sun soaked backdrop was director Sean Baker’s second feature, this time swapping Tangerines for the oranges of Florida. Though this was no holiday destination and instead showed us the lives of the inhabitants of a purple hazed motel, living in the shadows of the commercial utopia of Disneyland. The film focuses on six year old Moonee and her spirited mother Halley as they live by the skin of their teeth each week, just managing to scrap together rent money to stay in the motel. Moonee’s days are filled with joy and adventures as she creates mischief with her friends in a fantasy filled world, the motel’s names of Magic Castle and Futureland and the vivid colours of the surrounding buildings enhancing the childlike microcosm. But as Moonee plays within this absorbing universe, Halley struggles to keep her daughters fantasy from crushing down around them and the reality of their situation threatens their insulted existence. Sharing a slither of DNA with Andrea Arnold’s American Honey where those living on America’s poverty line cultivate their own world out of the world that doesn’t want them, The Florida Project manages to find heart and verve out of this desperate situation. The film is brimming with vibrancy and feels alive and in a constant state of motion, the innocence of childhood is infectious, reminding us of a time when life was one big playground and wonder could be found in the simplest of pursuits. Newcomers Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince play mother and daughter with natural ease and bucket loads of naturalistic charm whilst cinematic stalwart Willem Defoe delivers one of his best performances. He is quietly devastating as the motel manager whose everyday annoyances with his tenants give way to a warmth and compassion as he becomes protector to Halley and Moonee despite their wayward behaviour. Baker’s film allows us a warm snapshot back into the world from a child’s point of view, and in our jaded and troubled times, however fleeting that may be, like the passing of one great summer, it is a thing of wonder to behold.
1) A Ghost Story (directed by David Lowery)
On paper, the premise for A Ghost Story sounds like it really shouldn’t work- A recently departed Casey Affleck is cloaked in a bed sheet (though some people may welcome this) and wanders around his former life and watches over his widow (Rooney Mara). But director David Lowery transforms the childlike demeanour of a crude Halloween costume and makes it into something incredibly soulful. As Casey’s ghost traverses time, the film encapsulates the devastating feelings of loneliness and loss and what happens when a loved one finally moves on and it manages to convey some much emotion from a sheet with two eyeholes. It also contains one of the year’s best scenes as Mara’s widow eats a pie in an extended shot that epitomises the numb, brutal nature of grief. Set to a swelling tear jerking soundtrack, the film navigates through life’s heavy themes, the ebbs and flows of humanity are captured with simple but wholly effective scenes. Its narrative builds and builds to a sweeping, heart bursting abrupt conclusion that stays long after the credits have ended and leaves A Ghost Story lingering in your thoughts for days after. Every now and then a part of the film will pierce into your subconscious and make your soul ache, its stark visuals act as a reminder about how precious and flitting life is. Quite simply I could not shake this film from my mind and nothing else affected me as much at the cinema this year. Truly haunting.