Friday, April 06, 2018

My Favourite Films of 2017 [5 to 1]

Part one here!

05. The Florida Project

The less affluent underbelly of Disneyland Florida’s sunny surroundings is depicted with affection and humanity by Sean Baker, who follows 6-year-old Moonee through her adventures at the bright lilac motel where she lives with her mother.

Devoid of the conventional beginning – middle – end story arc that most movies have, The Florida Project’s camera casually wanders along with its protagonists. Moonee and her friends, Scooty and Jancey are as you’d expect unsupervised 6-year-olds to be: shrieking, mischievous, naughty.

Being from a low economic strata, they also have street-smarts that far transcend their young ages as they demonstrate resourcefulness to procure ice cream and help their parents make money. In lesser hands, these rugrats would be intolerable, but Baker both cares for and sympathises with their plight.

He is aided by a terrific Willem Dafoe as ‘Bobby’, the motel owner who has to contend with watchfully guarding the kids (a scene where Bobby scares off a potential paedophile reveals just how much he cares for their wellbeing) whilst not letting his kind heart allow him to be made a mug of (the kids’ parents are often late on their rent payments).

The audience are gently reminded that whilst the characters in The Florida Project’s actions may not be our own modus operandi, they are merely people trying to do the best they can with the hand life has dealt them.

This is epitomised in the relationship between Moonee (Brooklynn Prince, full of energy and child-like wonder) and her mother Haley (Bria Vinaite).

In many ways, Haley is a bad parent, from her irresponsibility, to her colourful language, to her refusal to discipline her daughter. The latter act of the film sees her resort to some questionable methods of getting paid (one scene has imagery that recalls another A24 film, Moonlight).

But Haley’s one redeeming feature as a mum is the boundless love she has for her daughter, and this is thumbnailed effectively in the relaxed, authentic chemistry that Vinaite and Prince share.

Despite everything, I wanted Haley and Moonee to stay together, and the fact that this seemed unlikely largely due to circumstance, is a sad fact of life that Baker subtly – and pertinently – shines a light on.

04. The Shape of Water

Even though Guillermo del Toro and Alexandre Desplat stole Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer’s Oscars, respectively (and probably respectfully), I still really like the film they committed the theft with; a swooning, melancholy homage to classic Hollywood and which celebrates love in all its shapes and sizes.

Thus, in the pantheon of unjust Oscar wins, The Shape of Water barely registers, especially with the likes of Emma Stone beating Isabelle Huppert and JLaw beating Emmanuelle Riva.

Sally Hawkins plays Eliza, a mute cleaning lady who discovers the government are holding captive an amphibious sea creature known as ‘The Asset’. Through gradual communication, the two form an unusual but strong bond. She grows to love him and seeks to free him from his oppressive captors, headed by the sadistic Strickland (Michael Shannon), who bullies Eliza about her disability yet is also attracted to her because she can’t speak (Freud would have a field day with that one!)

Eliza is aided in her mission by her gay best friend Miles and African-American co-worker Zelda, two characters who are also on the receiving end of discrimination. Yet, encouragingly, their pluck and integrity prevail over adversity and the bigots, as they help Eliza protect ‘The Asset’.

Watching Eliza interact with, and fall in love with the enigmatic fish-creature (played excellently by regular GdT collaborator Doug Jones) is a dreamy experience, all the while underscored by jeopardy, knowing that their fledgling romance could be cut short any moment by the brutish government figures.

Carrying the unique romance/thriller-hybrid on her thin shoulders, is a superlative Sally Hawkins. Early scenes in The Shape of Water hint at her character's carnal instincts (Eliza is shown Chalamet-ing herself in the bath, not once, but twice), but like all good performers, Hawkins doesn't reveal every element of Eliza's personality straight away.

The more surprising aspects of the character - her bravery, compassion and the way she recognises herself in 'The Asset' are slowly teased out, and Hawkins does this effectively through just her eyes, and the expressive way she does sign language.

A minor work compared to GdT’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth, but an intoxicating time at the cinema nonetheless.

03. The Killing of a Sacred Deer

A modern-day Greek tragedy told through the twisted lens of Yorgos Lanthimos, The Killing of a Sacred Deer sees Colin Farrell’s celebrated surgeon Steven Murphy, a man with the picture-perfect family, having his life upended by a dead-eyed teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan) seeking retribution for the death of his own father.

Martin tells Steven that he must choose one out of his wife, daughter or son to die, otherwise Martin will do the honours and kill all of them off in the most painful manner imaginable. Told you it was dark.

As per Lanthimos’ other films, the characters in The Killing of a Sacred Deer speak in clipped cadences, and the absurd dialogue utterly surreal, yet delivered with the straightest of faces by the talented cast featuring Farrell, Nicole Kidman, rising star Raffey Cassidy (a pretty Mancunian teenager) and an amusing cameo by Alicia Silverstone.

But the star of the show is Barry Keoghan. Any sympathy you might have had for him as the angelic ‘George’ in Dunkirk instantly evaporates when faced with his stone-cold villainy here.

His visceral, teeth-in-flesh physicality, deadpan line-readings and dedication to going to hell and back in order to serve Steven a slice of karma is something to behold, and, based on the ease with which Keoghan has played two characters on polar opposites of the morality spectrum in this and Dunkirk, I have no doubt the Irishman will go far.

The film’s absurdist/dark comedy overtones are most potent in the film’s climactic scene. Without giving too much away, let’s just say it involves Farrell, a blindfold and a shotgun as he takes perhaps the most unscientific route to the cruel ‘Sophie’s Choice’-type decision that Keoghan’s character has blighted him with.

Watching the scene, I didn’t know whether to laugh, flinch, cry or run away. And that is the singular marvel of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, a disquieting and unforgettable portrait of untruthful masculinity and the kismet it incurs.

02. Coco

Pixar’s latest invention portrays ‘El Día de los Muertos’ (The Day of the Dead) in Mexico, and a little boy Miguel, who, desperate to become a guitarist (rather than the path his family have pre-determined for him of being a cobbler), pinches a guitar from a famous singer at the graveyard. In doing so, he gets transferred into the after world.

Coco juggles conveying how one’s family believe they have the person’s best interests at heart, whilst celebrating individuality, creativity, an a person being true to their dreams, and the tension between these two principles.

An expert voice cast, featuring established Latino actors Gael García Bernal and Benjamin Bratt giving astute, humourous performances. Anthony Gonzalez is note-perfect as the spirited protagonist, perfectly conveying his character’s bravery, fight and love of music. The young Mexican actor gives such heartfelt line-readings as Miguel, that he bought me to tears at several points in the film.

As with all Pixar films, Coco is exquisitely drawn and designed. Rich reds, oranges and purples saturate our screen in the underworld, and every skeleton there is amusingly rendered to resemble the human who lived in their body. And Miguel's Disney-wide eyes and adorable mannerisms (such as the way he sticks his tongue out when focusing on playing the guitar) make him fully human, fully identifiable.

Unsurprisingly, given music is so integral to the film, the score to Coco is exquisite. Michael Giacchino, who scored Pixar's The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Up, inflects this film with infectious Mexican motifs that tie in wonderfully with the plot and visuals.

The emotional payoff of the film is strongest in the film’s Oscar-winning song, ‘Remember Me’. Penned by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who gave us the now iconic ‘Let It Go’ (favourite Disney song ever, just saying), the tune is song-writing genius in how the seemingly simple lyrics reveal more emotional layers than an onion, as the plot develops.

And the closing 5 minutes, where the relevance of the film’s title is established, had my eyes leaking more than the full running time of Inside Out did, combined. 

Moving, charming, different and funny, Pixar have struck gold again.

01. ??? [Spoiler alert – it’s the war movie with the twinks]

So, my write-up for this entry was so lengthy and gushy that it ate up this entire document, so I think I shall dedicate an entire blog post to it! Although it’s worlds apart from my favourite film of 2016, Moonlight, one thing my favourite film of 2017 does share with Moonlight is its triptych structure, and I wanna do justice to all three parts in a separate post.

Another similarity between my favourite film of 2017 and Moonlight was that it won three Oscars (although Moonlight’s Oscars were in better categories. Thank GOD it beat that LLL bollocks), and campaigning for my film earlier this year was hella fun. So until the film review drops, indulge yourself with these entries about the film, if you haven’t already:

Huh, I fangirled hard for this film! I shall drop my review of it this weekend, then next week I’ll post my film awards for 2017, and that’ll tie up my blogging of 2017 movies nicely!

For now, keep yourself entertained with this atmospheric opening to Justice League, which is an interesting one because it’s directed by and produced by two of the producers of my 10th favourite film of 2017, (Wonder Woman), husband and wife Zack and Deborah Snyder, and also exec-produced by Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas (also husband and wife).

Thus, Justice League is the cool nexus between the beginning of my ten favourite films of 2017 list to the end!

This movie’s cast, tho! Zack Snyder must really like Amy Adams to give her third billing, given her role in this film wasn't that big.


BIGfootASH said...

Interesting top 5 that has promoted me to watch two films I have not seen! Love some of the perspectives, particulary on the Florida project. GdTs Shape of Water did as much for me as Pacific Rim - not a huge amount. The problem for me was the 'big bad' of the film didn't convince me; I mean, even the most 'evil' ("I will find him!") man would surely have some fascination for a man-fish. The hatred of said man-fish didn't seem real in the universe of this film. Then again, I'm no film afficianado

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