Best of Year (2017) – Film

moonlight-poster-lgA very good year but not quite vintage. There were quite a few films that fell into the 70-80% bracket (including the best Australian film, Lion, and best animated feature, Loving Vincent) but 12 films comfortably headed the list, with the top three significantly clear of the rest of the field.

My top 10 films of the year (God’s Own Country and the best documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, just missed out) are:

10: Detroit
9: The Salesman
8: The King’s Choice
7: Land of Mine
6: Baby Driver
5: Blade Runner 2049
4: Insyriated
3: Manchester by the Sea
2: Dunkirk
1: Moonlight

Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit was a distressing powerhouse, an immersive experience of police brutality and racism during the 1967 riots. The film boasted an excellent ensemble cast although I singled out Will Poulter as the police officer in charge in my top five male performances of the year.

The second film by director Asghar Fahardi to win the Best Film in a Foreign Language Oscar (the first was the magnificent A Separation), The Salesman is a surprisingly quiet narrative as a teacher looks to discover the identity of the person who assaulted his wife in their new home.

Based on historical fact, King Haakon VII of Norway is forced to make a decision that will impact on his country and millions of lives. It’s April 1940 and Nazi Germany has invaded under the pretext of protection from aggressive Allied Forces. The King’s Choice is whether to accept their protection – or declare war.

2017 was a good year for Scandinavian films – the Danish Land of Mine also features in the top 10 as young German POWs are forced to clear the land mines from the beaches immediately following the end of World War II.

An unexpectedly huge box-office hit, Baby Driver with Ansel Elgort as the ubercool getaway driver, is entertaining with a capital ‘e’ with a blast of a soundtrack. But following accusations of inappropriate sexual behaviour, Baby Driver could well be the last time we see Kevin Spacey on the big screen.

The original was one of the coolest sci-fi films of its generation. Thirty years later a sequel was finally released – and its one of the coolest sci-fi films of its generation. Blade Runner 2049 – thanks to its director Denis Villeneuve and the superb cinematography of veteran Roger Deakins – is a cerebral spectacle and makes my top five films of the year.

The shattering Lebanese/Belgian Insyriated is in fourth. My pick of films seen at the Melbourne International Film Festival, headed by Hiam Abbass (the female performance of the year), the claustrophobic drama finds a middle-class Syrian family (and a couple of neighbours) holed up in their Damascus apartment as civil war rages around the streets.

Casey Affleck may well have won all the awards (including my vote for best actor of the year), but the cast and creatives of Manchester by the Sea certainly picked up their own accolades. Emotionally destroyed by tragedy, Affleck returns to his hometown following the death of his older brother where he needs to face his demons to find closure.

Visually stunning, Dunkirk is a film of few words with its emotional sweep and visceral beauty and a jigsaw of narratives, separate but creating a cohesive whole as 300,000 British, French and Belgian soldiers are rescued from the beaches of northern France.

But top of my list – and Oscar winner for best film – is Moonlight. Yet another indie ensemble piece (it was a good year!), small in scale, ambitious in scope, Moonlight is a minor masterpiece, pure melancholic poetry. What a turn up for the books when it beat La La Land to best film!

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‘Borg vs McEnroe’

 

largeposterThe rivalry between the ice-cool Bjorn Borg and volatile John McEnroe dominated tennis headlines in the late 70s/early 80s. Not interested in anything but being the best, Borg retired from tennis at the age of just 26 when the American replaced him as world number one in 1981.

But not before, in 1980, Borg won his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, beating McEnroe in five sets in what is regarded as the greatest final ever seen at the All-England club. Borg McEnroe is centred round the 1980 tournament as pressure mounts on Borg to make history.

Sverrir Gudnason (Blowfly Park, Original) is appropriately cool and emotionless as Borg – and his likeness to the Swede is uncanny. Wedding plans (to Romanian tennis player Mariana Simionescu) and Wimbledon preparations do not go hand-in-hand, adding to the pressure. An emerging McEnroe (a wonderful supporting role from Shia LeBeouf – Transformers, Lawless) has his own points to prove – to both his family and the tennis world in general.

Mixing flashbacks to both men’s childhoods (interestingly Borg was a wilful and volatile teenage tennis player) with current relationship issues both on and off the court, director  Janus Metz (Armadillo, Fra Thailand til Thy)  brings his documentary aesthetic to ultimately let the tennis and the final itself speak for the film. Overheads, close-ups, cropping add to the excitement, making up for a somewhat oversimplified and stodgy off-court narrative.

(It makes for an interesting accompaniment with the 60s-set Battles of the Sexes)

Rating: 58%

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‘Land of Mine’

under_sandetOscar-nominated Danish film, Land of Mine is the riveting story of a group of young German POWs forced to clear a beach of thousands of buried landmines.

Based on true events where thousands of (mostly teenage) German POWs lost their lives in the immediate months following the end of World War II clearing landmines, director Martin Zandvliet (Applause, Teddy Bear) focuses on a small group under the watch of an angry Danish sergeant (Roland Moller – A Hijacking, Northwest).

Avoiding excess melodrama or grandstanding, the stark economy of dialogue and action result in concern for each of the boys whilst understanding the anger of the Danes towards what they represent. Beautifully photographed with understated performances, Land of Mine is a deeply moving anti-war film full of chilling suspense.

Rating: 82%