In spite of knowing the outcome of Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash) and his taut telling of the historic moment teases out every thrill, tension and suspense.
Somber, claustrophobic and with a focus on the men and their families (a controlled, nuanced Ryan Gosling – La La Land, Drive – as Armstrong, a riveting, scene-stealing Claire Foy – Unsane, TV’s The Crown – as his wife, Janet), First Man is intimate and deeply humane. But it is also a technical tour de force, with particular reference to the editing by Tom Cross (La La Land, Whiplash), and a likely swag of behind-the-scenes Oscar nominations.
Proving that nothing in the Middle East is straightforward, writer/director Ziad Doueiri (The Attack, Lila Says) has produced a powerful feature where a Lebanese Christian (an angry Adel Karam – Caramel, Where Do We Go Now?) takes a Palestinian refugee (a quietly nuanced Kamel el Basha – Love, Theft and Other Entanglements) to court for assault.
It’s highly political as what starts as a seemingly minor issue escalates as memories of events from the civil war come to the fore. It may lack subtly in its telling and is a tad overlong but The Insult remains an enthralling insight into conflict and potential reconciliation.
The Insult was nominated for the 2017 Best Film in a Foreign Language Oscar (it lost out to Chile’s A Fantastic Woman).
An oddity – an intriguing yet clinically told love story as two apparent opposites meet and against all odds become involved.
According to the workers on the shop floor at the abattoir, the new stand-offish quality controller, Maria (Alexandra Borbely, winner of Best Actress at the European Film Awards), follows the rules too closely. The Finance Director (Geza Morcsanyi – at 65 making his acting debut) looks on bemused. But then the two discover they have exactly the same dreams…
Amid gruesome slaughterhouse scenes, this intimate, challenging narrative moves slowly as the two come to understand each other.
Alongside a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Ildiko Enyedi’s film won the Berlin Golden Bear and best film awards at Sydney, Portland, Mumbai and Sofia film festivals.
Stark yet rivetingly sincere, the latest feature from Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan, Elena) is feel bad in extremis.
As a Leningrad couple look to divorce, so their 12 year-old son, caught in the vindictive and argumentative maelstrom, disappears.
It’s a devastating drama, with Aleksey Rozin (Leviathan, Elena) and newcomer Maryana Spivak superbly nuanced as the couple in a feature that is never afraid to allow scenes to slowly unfold in all its dour yet heightened banality. A layered slow burn, Loveless is another of Zvyagintsev’s desolate commentaries on contemporary Russian society.
One of the best films of the year so far.
Life on the margins – and director Sean Baker (Tangerines, Starlet) immerses us in the everyday of six year-old Moonee and her friends.
Newcomer Brooklynn Prince is sensational as the street-savvy kid smart-arsing her way round the run-down motel blocks on the outskirts of Disneyland. Heavily-tattooed mom, Bria Vinaite, hustles cheap perfume, knock-off Disney passes and, eventually, herself to make ends meet. As motel-manager, Willem Defoe (Spider Man, John Wick) can only look-on with a sense of powerless hopelessness.
Baker gives us magic in the mundane, a voyeuristic experience of brattish behaviour (by adults and children alike) that highlights the cycle of poverty and crime. The Florida Project unfolds quietly in a series of non-judgemental, semi-observational vignettes that focus on character rather than didactic commentary. The result is warm, humorous but ultimately tragic.
Ultimately uncomfortable watching as director Ruben Ostland (Force Majeure, Involuntary) presents a heady mix of odd social commentary along with moments of crazed subversion.
Arrogant gallery curator Claes Bang (The Bridge, Rule #1) finds himself in deep schtick both professionally and personally as a result of a distraction during the negotiations of a controversial new exhibition.
But what on paper appears to be a linear narrative is anything but as commentary on lack of social awareness or care is troweled on thick and fast in scene after scene. Subversive, anarchic, occasionally brilliant, overstuffed with ideas but a film that could have benefitted from being 105 minutes long instead of 152. Inexplicably, The Square was presented with the 2017 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, this timely Chilean drama, focussed around a stellar central performance by transgender actress Daniela Vega (The Guest), explores grief and prejudice in modern-day Santiago.
With the sudden death of her older partner, Orlando, Marina finds herself ostracised by his grieving family, including threats of violence from Orlando’s adult son. But what prevents the latest from Sebastian Leilo (Gloria, Disobedience) slipping into oversimplified or overtly emotional political melodrama is the multilayered performance from Vega. As Marina, she is as steady as a rock, a history of violence and prejudice hidden behind her knowing, fathomless gaze.
Warm and quirky, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a coming-of-age narrative as 17 year-old Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson struggles to come to terms with living in Sacramento, California rather than New York.
As Lady Bird, Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Brooklyn) nails it as the eccentric, generous yet ultimately self-centred teenager determined to get what she wants – even if it pits her against her loving but exasperated mom (a superb Laurie Metcalf – Stop-Loss, Fun With Dick and Jane), a supportive dad (Tracy Letts – The Big Short, August: Orange County) and school friends.
Personal and honest, Lady Bird is a lightweight gem.
Interesting story solidly told and performed (you’d expect nothing else from Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and director Spielberg) yet somewhat dramatically inert.
As secret documents of clandestine American involvement in Vietnamese politics from the 1940s onwards come to light, The Washington Post owner (Streep) and editor (Hanks) must decide whether to play safe or risk contempt of court and publish.
Pre-empting Watergate and All the President’s Men, arguably the best of the investigative political journalism genre, The Post comes across as a feature where Streep, Hanks and Spielberg, whilst engaging in lots of freedom of the press and women’s position in society conversations, hardly overstretched themselves.
Like the clothes produced at the House of Woodcock, Paul Thomas Anderson’s (There Will Be Blood, The Master) latest is distinguished, stylish and classy.
Set in 1950s London, Daniel Day Lewis (My Left Foot, There Will Be Blood) is designer to European royalty and the aristocracy. A lover of women but a confirmed bachelor set in his ways, his head is turned by Alma (Vicky Krieps – Das Zimmermaedchen Lynn, Hanna), a waitress working in a hotel in Yorkshire. Elevating Alma to a stylish beauty, the London home ruled over by sister Cyril (Lesley Manville – Another Year, Mr Turner), is soon challenged by a young woman determined to be more than merely decoration.
A gorgeous period drama that slips and slides into obscurity as intent is not always clear, Phantom Thread remains a beguiling character study of three determined personalities, as controlled and clipped as post-war English manners.