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My Best Films of 2017 So Far - 6 Month Review

As is now a famous Philhelm Scream tradition (ie. I’ve done it once before, last year), approaching the half-way point of the calendar year feels a suitable time to take stock and rank some films. After what was an incredible strong Oscar year, there’s a good showing of the nominees here seeing as each received a January release here in the UK. Fingers crossed July – Dec is just as good!

0. Hidden Figures

I thought it was a bit of a shame Hidden Figures (along with 2016's Hell or High Water) slipped under the best Picture radar a bit this year, while the incredibly dull Lion (2017) and Dev Patel’s hair seemed to get a lot more coverage. The story of the first ever black female employee at NASA, and the struggles she faced to get there was told really well. It’s a proper fist pump of a story, and doesn’t get too bogged down in the boring number crunching that it could so easily have done. The leading trio of Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe and Octavia Spencer are each brilliant, so likeable you can’t help but cheer every calculator button push. It may be playing for the Oscar black/female representation backlash, and plays those cards a little too heavy handedly at times, it was never enough to jar for me.
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9. Get Out

Although Get Out fell short of the immense build up it received upon release for me, I think I would enjoy it more second time around with the pressure off. You could easily view this as a straight forward horror and it would tick every box (with some great humour thrown in for good measure). You don’t have to look too hard though to see Jordan Peele shining a bright light on interracial relationships and current underlying racial prejudice. In my review I mentioned how I would have preferred it had finished with the Night of the Living Dead (1968) ending it hinted at, but that’s just me.
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8. Free Fire

I can’t decide how I feel about Ben Wheatley. As good as it was to look at I completely disengaged with High Rise (2015) about 2 thirds in (and I did well to last that long), yet Kill List (2011) is one of my favourite ever horrors. Free Fire has a wicked sense of physical and verbal humour, quickly dropping the world’s most inept criminals in a warehouse shootout after a botched gun trade deal. The cast is great (Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley were particularly funny), and Wheatley does a great job in moving his pieces quickly without you ever losing track of where each one is. It’s manic and ridiculous, but completely original and absolutely my sense of humour.
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7. Wonder Woman

While Logan gets special marks for doing something completely unexpected with it’s superhero narrative, Wonder Woman did a brilliant job at reminding me why superhero movies can be great when they’re done well. The nods to previous classics such as Superman (1978) helped, but there is an uplifting feel to Wonder Woman that I think would be very difficult not to embrace. It’s refreshing to see a female superhero lead, so it’s a relief that it turned out as well (and successful) as it did. While a supposed female empowerment movie could easily have taken a cop-out and male-bashed it’s way through the run time, Wonder Woman merely placed both on the same level (Chris Pine is just as key a part to the story) and made it’s lead kick ass.
Suddenly little girls have a superhero they can easily empathise and connect with. And that bit in No Man’s Land….. unreal. Great video on the simple, but effective use of colour in that scene as well as the rest of Wonder Woman in comparison to the rest of the drab DC Universe can been right here:

6. Logan

The second answer to my issue with superhero films and their constant unoriginality was Hugh Jackman’s 62nd(ish) outing as Edward Scissorhands. Following the massive success of Deadpool (2016), Logan was given the higher age rating the character warranted. With that came every way of killing someone with claws you could think of, and Patrick Stewart dropping F-bombs like it’s Green Room (2015) all over again. All that is well and good (and there certainly is something cathartic finally being able to watch Wolverine slash and swear like he should), but instead of resting on those laurels, James Mangold thankfully decided to tell a story we haven’t seen before: what happens when superheroes grow old. Logan’s powers are in decline, he’s aching, scarred and (even more) cranky. Add in a budding relationship with the terrifying Laura (Dafne Keen), and Logan served up an emotional pay-off I was completely unprepared for.
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5. Hacksaw Ridge

I didn’t get Silence at all, but thankfully Andrew Garfield put that right with Hacksaw Ridge not long after. Previous misdemeanours meant Mel Gibson was never realistically in with a shout of the Academy Award for Best Director, but the job he did in placing you front and centre of the horrors of war was absolutely incredible. The first half, and it’s almost dreamlike/picture postcard quality has grates on me the more I think about it, but it’s successful in making the contrast to it’s second and third acts all the more startling. The army training base scenes are funny, and push Garfield’s character physically, and mentally, as well as testing his religious beliefs and desire to avoid violence in favour of helping people to their limit. The final act is a hard watch at times, so grim is the violence of battle. As long as that battle goes on for, it never falls in to the trap of feeling overlong or gratuitous though, and I could feel myself gripping the chair as it played out. Sometimes the true stories are harder to believe, and had this been entirely fictional I think I would have been rolling my eyes at certain points. Instead, I was completely swept away.
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4. Manchester By The Sea

As much as I would like to go in to films blind, it was impossible to avoid the buzz around Casey Affleck’s performance in Manchester By the Sea. He was in the process of sweeping up most awards in his wake by the time we caught the film, and was a dead cert to win the Academy Award. It’s strange then when you begin the story you’re left with a low key start where Affleck’s clearly broken character shuffles from one handyman job to the next, gets blind drunk, and is rude to almost everyone he meets. It isn’t until it’s revealed why he is a shell of his former self that suddenly this performance makes complete sense, and you absolutely get it. Affleck’s anguish is bubbling underneath throughout the whole film. He’s tormented, and has to face the demon’s that left him in this state when he’s forced to return to his home town to deal with the passing of his brother. For Manchester By The Sea, the beauty is in the smaller details – people knock things over and bump in to things – it’s a real world with real people, and watching them deal with the struggles they face with tears, humour, anger and bitterness is heart-breaking and hypnotising in equal measure.
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3. Moonlight

I’ll be interested to watch it a second time having listened to Bret Easton Ellis’ eloquent blasting of the film’s censored portrayal of gay relationships (although I often feel Ellis often wants films that he wants without any compromise). Despite that, Moonlight is a fascinating insight in to the difficulty of a young black boy coming to terms with who he is in an extremely masculine and often traumatic environment, and it’s a story that’s very delicately told. Each of the three actors that play Chiron across the film’s three acts are brilliant, and the supporting cast of André Holland, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe (who I may be in love with a bit) and Academy Award Winner Mahershala Ali put in note perfect performances so good they would often demand a film of their own. Moonlight immerses you in it’s world that you forget it isn’t real and that you’re looking in on someone’s life - I can’t wait to see what Barry Jenkins goes on to do next. There aren’t many perfect films, but Moonlight may just be one.
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2. La La Land

As pleased as I was that Moonlight won the Academy Award (eventually), La La Land will be the DVD I will be reaching for more often. Damien Chazelle had already created one of my favourite films of the last few years (and one of Charlotte’s all-time favourites) in Whiplash (2014).  When you throw in the Gosling/Stone chemistry from one of my absolute feel good films, along with a trailer that promised spectacular visuals and teased us with epic songs, then my expectations were certainly high going in to see it. La La Land managed to exceed those with a clever combination of genre references and subversion. The ending may not be to everyone’s taste, but that bad taste left in your mouth is a result of the standard stories we have been fed for so many years, and the subsequent expectations we have of our movies of that ilk. Films that challenge and play on those expectations make a brave decision to do so, and it worked so well here. There’s a heavy dose of realism and cynicism dropped in the middle of a cinematic vision of LA and Hollywood, and I was glad it wasn’t some straight forward musical romance. I’ve lost count to the number of times I’ve listened to that soundtrack too. It frustrates me that it eventually received the backlash it did when the immediate fanfare began to die down, and I hope it’s remembered as ‘that one that thought it had won.’
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1. Baby Driver

This is a bit of a ballsy choice seeing as I only saw this last week and it’s only been released in the UK for a couple of days. It may be that I’m still riding that joyous wave of brilliantly blended music and action sequences, and I’m already looking to book a second viewing to see if it stands up twice over.

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Even if it isn’t quite the same second time round (and I really doubt that is the case), it says a lot of the impression Edgar Wright’s car chase/bank heist/romance/music video movie made on me in that one viewing that it’s topped a list of films in which we had one of the strongest Academy Award lineups in years. It’s not without it’s flaws (however few), but this isn’t supposed to be a list of which of the films this year was the most perfect. How can you ever compare this film and the reaction you get jumping along to every tune to the gut-wrenching experience of watching Manchester By The Sea? I just know that I had an absolute ball watching Baby Driver, and I cannot wait to see it a second time, and then loads more times at home when it’s out. When we’re forever moaning about getting bombarded with sequels, prequels, reboots, we should back that up by supporting a film dripping in originality. Baby’s Driver’s a thrill ride that put a huge grin on my face, and I can’t think why that wouldn’t be the same for anyone else.


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