Film

My top 5 movies of 2017

Another year is nearly over (the ever increasing passage of time isn’t scary…no, not at all…), and what a great year it’s been for film. From big blockbusters to weirder more subversive films, I can’t remember the last time so many great movies came out in one year.

So, I’ve decided to pick my top 5 movies of 2017 (beware a few spoilers), just because I love every single one of them!

5) Okja

Bong Joon-Ho’s Netflix movie is a slightly off-beat play on the usual Disney-sounding set-up of a girl and her pig. But Okja is NOT a Disney movie. As wonderful as it is to see the cute CGI creation running through the forest playing with her friend, it’s a disarming moment before the film takes a descent into hell for its final act and we get to see the absolute horrors of the slaughterhouse. To watch a cute super-pig who looks exactly like Okja take a bolt gun to the head is really quite affecting – there’s something so off-balancing about a Disney-like creation going through real life trauma.

Okja isn’t perfect but it’s a movie with balls. The horrors that happen to these poor creatures isn’t done by evil entities, but by big corporations looking to satisfy our desires. In that way, all us meat-eaters are complicit and, really, responsible for the horrendous mistreatment of such beautiful animals. Don’t be surprised if you feel a tinge of guilt when you next tuck into a sausage.

But the movie isn’t preachy (not that I think there would be anything particularly wrong with preaching on this topic.) The animal rights activists are portrayed as weird at best, prone to strange and violent tendencies. And the ending is less an optimistic statement about saving the world, and more a simple personal victory, as the lead goes back to live happily with her pig. It’s almost as if we can live with animals and treat them like family members, and yet be indifferent to the suffering of thousands of other creatures equally deserving of our protection…

 

4) Guardians Of The Galaxy 2

What a year it’s been for Marvel. Three out of three for 2017, with each movie largely achieving what it set out to do. Some may say that Thor Ragnorok was the standout, with director Taika Waititi’s distinct brand of irreverent humour giving the weakest Marvel property one of the best Marvel movies.

But for me, Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 is still my favourite. In fact, I stand by my post earlier this year that it’s my favourite Marvel movie so far. It brings everything I loved from the first one back, the wacky sense of humour, the awesome soundtrack and sincere emotion, but tells a deeper story. There’s a surprisingly effective exploration of familial abuse, and how Nebula blames her favoured sister for her childhood suffering before realising it is her father, the abuser, who should be at the end of her wrath.

Sure, Ragnarok might be the better flowing movie, but Guardians 2 is the first Marvel movie to truly make me feel (well, beyond a vague sense of ‘this is awesome.’) As Rocket, a frickin’ CGI racoon, has an emotional coming of age story, realising he can be, and is in fact, loved, his watery eyes stare out at fireworks for a Ravager’s funeral, all to the soundtrack of Cat Stevens ‘Father and Son.’ I’m not gonna lie…I cried.

 

3) Mother!

If the recent Star Wars film has been somewhat divisive, it ain’t got shit on Mother! It’s one of the few films to get the F Cinemascore, the worst audience reaction a movie can have. And yeah, let’s be honest, no-one’s gonna ‘like’ this film – you’re either going to totally dig what it’s doing, or you’re going to hate it. I happen to be one of the people who love it.

If you’re familiar with any of Aronovsky’s previous work, you know you’re going to get something a bit weird, but even by his standards this is pretty bat-shit. Advertised as a home-invasion movie, Mother! is actually much stranger. People catch on at different times but slowly you’ll realise that it’s a retelling of the opening chapters of Genesis (and, perhaps, a little beyond).

As a Philosophy/Theology graduate, this is clearly of immediate interest to me, but such obvious symbolism could just end up as pretentious posturing (I mean there’s literally a scene where two brothers fight, for no discernible reason, before one kills the other. Obvious symbolism is obvious!) But what gives it power is the film feels like a primal scream, an existential cry, about the destructive nature of humanity. This isn’t the ‘humans can be bad’ cliché, it’s a full acknowledgment of how we’re a consuming, destructive disease, incapable of much more than destroying. There’s a scene where Javier Bardem (representing God) tells Jennifer Lawrence (Mother Earth) that the people need saving, and she’s like ‘Are you fucking crazy?!’ Mother! suggests we may not be worthy of forgiveness.

But the way Bardem’s character is so indifferent towards his wife’s suffering is also deeply disturbing. No matter how much pain she is caused, he always makes excuses for everybody. He seems not to care for her at all. And, in perhaps the film’s most disturbing moment, he finally takes her baby and hands it to the mob who do what humans always do…they consume it. Why does he care so much about the people? Well they’re in utter awe of him. They worship him.

Shit man, this movie is blasphemous as hell…and I adore it!

 

2) Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Well this was a very nice surprise! I’m a huge Star Wars fan, in fact it’s the reason I fell in love with cinema, so I have a special kind of emotional attachment to the franchise. But when 2015’s The Force Awakens came out, I was a little dubious of the franchise’s future. Sure, TFA was a charming enough reminder of why we enjoyed Star Wars in the first place but it was so insular looking that I really wasn’t sure that Star Wars was relevant to modern cinema-goers.

So it’s my pleasure to report that The Last Jedi isn’t good, it isn’t great…it’s a fucking masterpiece! It’s a deep, thematically-rich, progressive and often subversive film made by a genuinely talented auteur. Remixing moments from the original trilogy to, at times, genuinely shocking affect, it marks a distinct break from simply worshiping the movies of the past.

It’s also the most human of all Star Wars movies. You really believe in the characters, their relationships, their struggles and their inner-demons. No-one in The Last Jedi is perfect, everybody can make a mistake…but that’s okay, the movie reassures us. We learn most from our failures. Mark Hamill kills it as an older guilt-ridden Luke Skywalker, but the standout has to be Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. If everybody else is giving it exactly what they need to, Driver is going above and beyond. He’s utterly captivating in every scene, totally believable both as a terrifying monster and as a vulnerable young boy who has simply lost his way. The very fact he has done so much terrible stuff yet remains bizarrely sympathetic is a real testament to Driver’s performance.

And the film is packed with interesting themes about life, about storytelling and the meta-narrative of Star Wars itself. It argues that Star Wars and the characters within need to move on from the past. The history of the Jedi, Luke reminds us, is a history of failure. Should it all be burnt down then? No, that’s Kylo’s way. But to be a Jedi has to come to mean something different. It can’t be simply falling back into arrogance and hubris (there’s so much meat here that’s begging for a full dissection in relation to its exploration of progressive religion.)

And that’s just one of the themes. The movie also explores what it means to be a hero, the dangers of becoming a legend and even has time to throw some shade at the 1% who actually benefit from the continuing cycle of war.

Sure, some fans have reacted with disdain to this new direction (not surprising, really, when the movie’s message is basically ‘all that shit you obsess over, it needs to change to survive’), but I have no doubt this movie will eventually be viewed as one of the greatest of the series, and just a great work in its own right. Don’t get me wrong, the decisions it makes are risky – even Hamill himself has admitted he didn’t agree with the direction they took Luke, especially at first. But great art is birthed from this creative tussling. This is a Disney tentpole movie taking big storytelling risks…can we just celebrate that for a moment?!

Some of the fan complaints seem the result of a generation raised on Cinema Sins, as if that kind of plot nit-picking is actual film criticism, as opposed to stupid, misinformed garbage that totally overlooks character, theme and story for the first quick dig it can get in. If they did one for ‘Goldilocks and The Three Bears’, you know they’d be like “Bears have a house. Ding!”

But when the movie itself has bore out such thoughtful think pieces, like the way the movie refocuses Star Wars, the necessary disappointment of epilogues and how it has created one of the most compelling villains in modern cinema, I’m happy to ignore the initial fan whining.

It is precisely because of the risk taking and the thematic depth Rian Johnson brings to the movie that it significantly transcends everything Marvel has done so far, and is at least the best Star Wars film since Empire…if not the best one ever.

It’s everything I could have wanted a Star Wars movie to be, and it’s a genuinely fantastic shock to see a Star Wars movie representing the best of populist blockbuster movies again.

 

1. La La Land

This didn’t arrive in the UK until January 2017, which is why this beautiful film makes this list’s top spot. Those who read my review know I adore this movie – if it’s possible to be in love with a film, I am. Ryan Gosling’s charm and Emma Stone’s…everything, make this movie an absolute pleasure and one of the best cinema experiences of all time.

The tunes are catchy, the direction and cinematography gorgeous, the acting sublime – this movie really is joy encapsulated. There’s not a moment of shame for being a good old-fashioned musical, and nor should there be!

But what makes La La Land really special is it goes beyond simply telling a love story.  In fact, one of the comments about the new Star Wars movies is they go beyond the happy ending, to the inevitable struggles that continue to be faced after the credits have rolled. In much the same way, La La Land has a moment in the middle where you could stop it and you’d have had a fantastic romantic story.

But the second half of the film goes beyond that happy ending and explores the real strains put upon, what looks like initially, a fairy-tale romance. And, in the end, they don’t end up together. There’s a brutal melancholic sadness that these two people’s lives aren’t destined to be aligned forever, but it also brings home a relatable truth. Just because something doesn’t last forever, doesn’t mean it wasn’t real or important. For a moment, they really were the centre of each other’s worlds.

 

 

And so that’s my list, folks. What a great year for movies it has been. I also think it’s interesting that in times of uncertainly and anxiety (Brexit and the awful Trump administration), art seems to become that bit more impactful. This might simply be because it has greater meaning or it could well be the art itself is reacting. There’s something more powerful about fighting space fascists when real-life Nazis are beginning to become a new norm, inspired by inflammatory remarks from the US President.

And it’s not just in the darker movies this reaction can be seen. It’s been noted that musicals are often at their most popular at times of hardship. The escapism they offer becomes invaluable. Just an interesting observation.

Thankyou for reading, and I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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