30 December 2017

Mark's Top 10 Films Of 2017

Well, it was a good year for movies, at least. In fact, in terms of genre films, it's been absolutely exceptional, making it harder to condense this annual list down into a top 10. As I said before last year's list, this kind of thing is only ever a snapshot of where we are at the time of writing, and frankly, the choice of excellent films that I really loved this year didn't make it any easier.

For every crime movie, there's a Logan Lucky. a Good Time or a I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore that didn't quite make it. For every horror film, there's a Gerald's Game or an It, (but categorically not a Dark Tower.) There's sci-fi, but there's no Last Jedi, which may be the most invested I've ever been in Star Wars, and I didn't manage to squeeze in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2Wonder Woman, My Life As A Courgette, My Cousin RachelDunkirk or The Killing Of A Sacred Deer either.

See, I just sneakily named twelve great movies from this year that didn't even make the proper list. But here's another list, not ranked, but (mostly) ordered alphabetically, of the ones I really loved this year. Other than that, they're all based on UK release dates, so if you've already seen The Shape Of Water, do us a favour and don't go on about it until we get it, in February. They're my favourites, but who's to say they're not also the best?

Baby Driver
Edgar Wright // 15 // 112 mins // UK/USA
"Your name is Baby? B-A-B-Y Baby?"

Having road-tested the premise on his video for Mint Royale's Blue Song, Edgar Wright's fifth film is the closest he has ever come to the full-blown musical he's still destined to make one day. Ansel Elgort is Baby, the prodigious getaway driver who drives to his own soundtrack and longs to get away from it all with his sweetheart Debora, (Lily James) but finds his "one last job" is stymied by a menagerie of accomplices and fuck-ups played by Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Eiza González and Flea.

It's not Wright's best film as a writer, but it's the peak of his craft as a director. It makes the list because it's the most uniquely exhilarating time I've had in a cinema all year. It's so good, you won't even mind that it's a film about a young man doing something he doesn't want to do at the behest of Kevin Spacey, whose performance had me genuinely excited about future collaborations with Wright earlier in the year, before the other shoe dropped. So, fuck you, Kevin Spacey, but watch Baby Driver anyway.

The Big Sick
Michael Showalter // 15 // 120 mins // USA
"Loving someone this much sucks."

This year's best romantic comedy is based on a true story. That combination could have been a recipe for disaster but there's a remarkable amount of easy charm in The Big Sick. Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon are both screenwriters and characters in this re-telling of their unusual courtship, which was difficult due to the expectations of his Pakistani family and her falling ill and being put into an induced coma.

Nanjiani plays himself, getting a much deserved breakthrough role that earned him a memorable hosting spot on Saturday Night Live later in the year, but Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are equally well cast in this striking romcom. I wrote a lot more about The Big Sick for Den Of Geek's writers top 10 list, so it only remains to emphasise that the 9/11 joke is still really, really funny.

Colossal
Nacho Vigalondo // 15 // 109 mins // Canada/USA/Spain/South Korea
"I got really melodramatic, didn't I?"

The incomprehensible hatred for Anne Hathaway since her Oscar win is a bandwagon that's easily crushed underfoot by her turn in Colossal, a high concept comedy drama that also turned out to be one of 2017's best and weirdest sci-fi movies. Hathaway plays Gloria, an alcoholic writer who spirals back to her hometown after a nasty breakup and discovers that her self-destructive behaviour is having a very real destructive effect on downtown Seoul, in the form of a massive kaiju that inexplicably mirrors her every move.

There's a lot of fun in the lo-fi personal angle on a kaiju movie, but writer-director Nacho Vigalondo gets much more personal than you would expect. In particular, Jason Sudeikis' ego-free turn as a "nice guy" complicates the magical realism to disturbingly dramatic effect and there's just the right balance between the emotional city-stomping and the ground level story. Hathaway reportedly made this movie after watching Ben Wheatley's A Field In England and loving it so much that she told her agent to send her the next script that he didn't understand, and she might want to continue that project lottery to see what other gems it may yield.

The Death Of Stalin
Armando Iannucci // 15 // 106 mins // UK/France
"Smile, shake hands and try not to call them cunts."

Declared "an unfriendly act by the British intellectual class" by Russian politicians, Armando Iannucci bears as much of the irreverent Monty Python movies as it does In The Loop. The Death Of Stalin is based on both a graphic novel and the truly grim aftermath of Joseph Stalin's death in 1953. The surviving members of the Presidium convene to mourn their leader (an Alan Sugar-like Adrian Mcloughlin) and to try and wrest power from one another, in completely incompatible dialects.

It's just as hilariously profane as you'd expect, but Iannucci has assembled an enviable comic ensemble, including Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Paul Whitehouse and Michael Palin, and they're all on top form. Perhaps best of all are Rupert Friend, who's hilarious every time he enters a scene as Stalin's large adult son, and Jason Isaacs, (hello!) playing General Zhukov as Jim Bowen in full military regalia, but it's truly a collective effort to make this pitch black comedy sing.

Get Out
Jordan Peele // 15 // 104 mins // USA/Japan
"GET OUT!"

If you've yet to catch up with Get Out, you're missing out on the film that defines the year, which isn't something any of us would usually expect from a low budget Blumhouse flick. Jordan Peele (of Key and Peele fame) showed off his cineaste chops in last year's Keanu, a Michael Mann/John Woo actioner about a man and his kitten, but his directorial debut is an astonishingly fully formed social horror movie that recalls the paranoid cinema of the 1970s.

It starts with Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) asking his girlfriend (Alison Williams) if her parents know he's black, ahead of meeting them at their house in the country, and what follows is a thought-provoking and genuinely terrifying ordeal. Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are marvellous as the insidiously liberal parents, but it's Betty Gabriel's restrained performance that really unsettles you before and after everything hits the fan. It's as important as it is entertaining - a bonafide crowd-pleaser that just so happens to be the movie of the moment. An instant American classic.

Moonlight
Barry Jenkins // 15 // 111 mins // USA
"My name is Chiron, people call me Little."

Simply, the coming-of-age movie that may ruin you for all other coming-of-age movies. There's beauty in every single frame of Barry Jenkins' Moonlight, which charts the life of a young gay black man at different stages of his life, going by different names - Little, (Alex Hibbert) Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and Black, (Trevante Rhodes) as he grows up in the projects in Miami. Growing up, his life is shaped by his drug-addicted mother, (Naomie Harris) a dealer who serves as an unlikely father figure (Mahershala Ali) and his classmate Kevin (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome and AndrĂ© Holland.)

On a purely sensory level, it's a completely overwhelming film that leaves you both tearful and breathless. The tremendous grace with which it unfolds is truly remarkable given how it has such a clearly delineated three-act structure and so many big moments. It's beautifully shot by cinematographer James Laxton, magnificently scored by Nicholas Britell and of course, well acted all around. It is a truly deserving Best Picture winner, which makes it doubly embarrassing that it will forever be tethered to that other fucking movie...

Okja

Bong Joon-ho // 15 // 120 mins // South Korea/USA
"It's all edible, except the squeal."

As much as I wish I had got to see this movie in a cinema, there's no better argument for Netflix's mode of distributing films to the masses than the widespread availability of Okja, which plays like an Amblin film made by and for maniacs. Given how Bong Joon-ho's last film was the criminally still-unreleased Snowpiercer, (double fuck you, Harvey Weinstein) it's inarguably for the best that anyone with a Netflix account can watch it.

It's basically E.T, but young Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) is best friends with the title character, a genetically engineered super pig that's so lovable, everybody literally wants to eat her up. Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal give certifiably insane performances, contributing to the overall feeling of this being a one-off, even if you can see its influences. The magical, heart-pounding first hour gives way to a more contemplative second half, but the overall effect is really something.

Raw
Julia Ducornau // 18 // 99 mins // France/Belgium/Italy
"It's not like she had a boyfriend. And then we had our first kiss. And I understood."

Speaking of truly singular works of foreign cinema, Raw is the absolutely blinding debut from writer-director Julia Ducornau. It's the sort of movie that you have to see twice just to make sure it wasn't just a really entertaining nightmare, if not to share it with other people, and that's exactly what I did over a weekend back in April.

It's an extremely visceral college movie, following vegetarian veterinary student Justine (Garance Marillier) as a bizarre hazing ritual and the bad influence of her older sister (Ella Rumpf) bring about a startling awakening in her. It's an eclectic film, blending alluring chaos and itchy claustrophobia in a genre-bending oddity that precisely needles the viewer for both laughs and gasps, right up to the final unforgettable scene. You'll cringe, you'll cackle, you won't believe your eyes.

Their Finest
Lone Scherfig // 12 // 117 mins // UK/Sweden
"Don't confuse facts with truth, and, for Christ's sake, don't let either of them get in the way of the story."

Yeah, I know everyone else's list has Dunkirk on it, but for my money, this year's best movie about the evacuation was The Nancy Starling, the troubled production at the heart of Lone Scherfig's Their Finest. Gemma Arterton plays Catrin, the Welsh copywriter brought in to write the dialogue for female characters alongside the embittered Buckley, (Sam Claflin) trying to turn around a film with "authenticity, optimism and a dog", in the face of the Ministry of Information's demands for a transatlantic morale boost and the fragile ego of supporting actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy.)

This film is very fine indeed, earning its emotional payoffs through character, rather than wringing for quaint historical pathos. Gaby Chiappe's script uses the "Keep Calm & Carry On" mentality as a story that those tasked with entertaining a nation under bombardment can lean on, but doesn't buy into the nostalgia. It doesn't use the premise to score anachronistic points either, firmly showing that the opportunities afforded to people like Catrin and Hilliard, in absence of young men to take them, were hard to accept gladly when it meant there was such suffering at home and elsewhere. It's the ideal home front counterpoint to Christopher Nolan's time-bending epic - a hugely enjoyable love letter to the stories we tell ourselves in order to persevere, and it's funny and sad in all the right places.

Paddington 2
Paul King // PG // 103 mins // UK/France/USA
"Aunt Lucy says if we're kind and polite, then all will be right."

I know I said these weren't ranked, but Paddington 2 is number one anyway. It just is. The first Paddington once seemed like an impossible act to follow, but Paul King's sequel is a more self-assured film, dispensing with the little cliches and music cues that the original sometimes leant upon in its weaker moments, and gloriously doing its own thing.

What's stunning is the way in which King and his co-writer Simon Farnaby somehow manage to scale up the sequel while telling a smaller and simpler story - the world's nicest bear wants to buy a birthday present for his aunt Lucy's 100th birthday. Granted, Paddington's plans are complicated by local acting legend and master of disguise Phoenix Buchanan (a never funnier Hugh Grant) framing him for a dastardly crime, but the film is effortlessly charming and exciting, however relatively small the stakes.

More than that, it's just bloody lovely. The prison subplot that sees Paddington transform a bunch of hardened (if family friendly) cons led by Brendan Gleeson's conflicted chef, Knuckles McGinty, into a community of polite baking enthusiasts is as heartwarming as it is hysterical. Among the returning characters, Sally Hawkins remains utterly adorable as Mrs. Brown, at once a surrogate mother to the little bear and a fearless high-diving adventurer who drives the case for justice.

We needed Paddington when it arrived in 2014, and with everything that's happened since, we really, really, really need Paddington 2 right now. With a hero who lands somewhere between Captain America and Frank Spencer, and an ambition that's almost peerless in British cinema right now, it's the most delightful and most uplifting film since... well, the original. One of these, released every couple of years forever, would be just fine by me.

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If you need to catch up on some of these films, Okja is currently streaming on Netflix and most of the rest are available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD now. Paddington 2 is still in cinemas and The Death Of Stalin arrives on home entertainment in 2018.

I don't use this blog much any more, but if you can find more of my entertainment-related writings on Den of Geek and Vodzilla, or follow me on Letterboxd.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next December, be nice to each other and don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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