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!

Advertisements

Best of Year (2017) – Male Performance

mbts_27111-e14852560476521My review of films released in Australia continues with my top five male performances.

As with female performances, there were a limited number of stand-outs – and looking through films seen in the year made me aware that many of the highlights were ensemble pieces (Moonlight, Dunkirk, Danish film Land of Mine etc).

But my top five male performances for 2017 are:

5: Hugh Jackman: Logan
4: Josh O’Connor: God’s Own Country
3: Will Poulter: Detroit
2: James McAvoy: Split
1: Casey Affleck: Manchester by the Sea

Number five is something of a surprise – it was a toss up between Jackman and Joel Edgerton in Loving. But in his final appearance as Wolverine, Jackman introduced a level of humanity and vulnerability to a character who, in previous films, was something of a two-dimensional superhero.

Set in Yorkshire, God’s Own Country was described as an English Brokeback Mountain, and lonely, isolated Josh O’Connor was suitably dour and monosyllabic prior to the arrival of the Romanian casual labour, Gheorghe.

Whilst Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit was very much an ensemble piece, there was no ignoring that Will Poulter as the devastatingly sadistic white supremacist police officer and murderous psychopath was the stand-out.

A multiple personality disorder provides James McAvoy with a dream series of roles in Split – ranging from a nerdish nine year-old Hedwig, the reasoned Barry (a fashion designer) through to the menacing Patricia and disturbing Dennis. It’s a role McAvoy deserves to gain more accolades.

But it’s the quiet, nuanced Oscar-winning performance by Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea that gets my final vote.

‘A Ghost Story’

a-ghost-storyA potentially pretentious existential narrative somehow works, in spite of its repetition and slow scene building. The result is a mesmerising exploration of life, love and loss that is lyrical, poetic and hypnotic.

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) is killed in a car accident, leaving Rooney Mara (Carol, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) to grieve for her loss. Affleck returns as a sheet-shrouded ghost.

Haunting rather than scary, writer/director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) plays with the stereotypical haunted house story, producing an accessible, graceful film that, in 92 minutes, never outstays its welcome.

 Rating: 71%

‘Manchester by the Sea’

ff75b81baaf98d36793dd79b5ecc98d9c3965def4b9e26bc0acaea6caa233f6d-1Grief and pain are persistent throughout this powerfully tender family drama, small in setting, broad in scope.

Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James, Interstellar) returns to Manchester, Massachussets on the death of his brother to a 16 year old nephew left alone and demons from the past. It’s an emotional powerhouse of a film (throw in an operatic soundtrack that adds rather than manipulates) as Affleck looks for some kind of redemption via emotional recovery.

An ensemble piece, Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine) are superb supports but a haunting Casey Affleck is truly authentic in this nuanced, understated performance.

Quietly devastating.

Rating: 88%

‘Triple 9’

triple9Starting with a violent bank job and police chase, Triple 9 is hardly original (and in its early stages, somewhat confusing). But what unfolds is a gritty and atmospheric storyline of corruption, bent cops and the Russian mafia.

Director John Hillcoat (Lawless, The Proposition) continues to explore the male world of loyalties and sudden violence, with an impressive cast queueing to play against type – Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Secret in their Eyes), Anthony Mackie (The Avengers, The Adjustment Bureau) and a wonderfully blousy Kate Winslet (The Reader, Titanic) as a Russian mob leader.

But it’s the quiet dignity of Casey Affleck that provides the focus to a film that is considerably better than its story. Hillcoat just needs the right material to become huge.

Rating: 60%

‘The Finest Hours’

TheFinestHoursTheatricalPosterEngaging and at times compelling, The Finest Hours is an old-fashioned tale of heroism on the high seas whilst family, friends and love interest await anxiously on land.

In spite of its subject, helmed by Chris Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night), The Finest Hours is a surprisingly quiet, character-driven drama. The reluctant heroes – a quiet, against character Chris Pine (Star Trek, Unstoppable) and the ridiculously underrated Casey Affleck (The Assassination of Jesse James, Interstellar) – are stoic in their actions to save lives.

Shamelessly manipulative it may be, but The Finest Hours is based on a true 1952 event  – and its sentimentality and old-fashionedness works perfectly in its telling.

Rating: 62%