So I know I said I wasn’t gonna do this shit. And I know I was totally going to finish Movie Madness brackets, but then something happened, and it’s pretty simple to be honest. I started writing the post for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them vs Assassin’s Creed and I hit a wall with it. Because, to be honest, I don’t really give a shit about Fantastic Beasts. It wasn’t like Suicide Squad where I was super pissed off about how shitty it was, and it wasn’t like Gods of Egypt which is literally one of the worst films I’ve ever watched half of before walking out. It was just… fine. And it’s impossible to be passionate about fine. So here’s a top ten list, mostly made up of films not in the Movie Madness brackets, because that’s just sort of the way these things go, isn’t it? And yes, I’m aware it’s halfway through February.
10. I, Daniel Blake
I, Daniel Blake is a difficult film to watch. And that’s saying something given that I saw it in the same year I watched Son of Saul. The truth is, I, Daniel Blake is a very angry film, and for good reason. It manages to perfectly capture how dehumanising it can feel to be on benefits. And walking into a job centre to claim a bare minimum amount of money while being made to feel guilty about not having a job. It’s a situation I hope to never find myself in again, and this film captures exactly why. It’s all kept aloft with cinéma-vérité style direction from Ken Loach and very naturalistic performances from leads Dave Johns and Hayley Squires. It’s not one I’ll return to very often because it’s such a hard watch, but it’s one I’ll carry with me and keep thinking about for a long time to come.
Well now, here’s a surprise. I suppose it shouldn’t be, given how much I enjoyed both Prisoners and Sicario, but Denis Villeneuve has crafted a truly thoughtful sci-fi movie with Arrival (with help of course from a brilliant screenplay by Eric Heisserer). The idea of the language we understand and speak altering the way we perceive the world around us is an idea that’s been explored before, but Arrival really goes for it, with some reveals that left me utterly reeling in the cinema. And it doesn’t hurt that the production design is immaculate. Possibly some of the best looking sci-fi in terms of design since Blade Runner. If nothing else, it’s convinced me that Blade Runner 2049 is in solid hands.
At the time of its release, High-Rise felt like a weird ethereal documentary from an alternate world wherein the world had fully embraced Thatcher-like conservatism and all the richest isolated themselves in a tower to escape the lower classes and their problems, only to still separate themselves into haves and have lesses and create an apocalypse within their mini isolationist society. Now in a post-Brexit post-Trump world, it feels like it could have come from the not so distant future. But if the world truly is circling the drain, at least Portishead are there to offer a nice soundtrack while we all go down.
Creed is now the best Rocky film. Hands down. And the true strength of it is that everyone has something to do. The villain of the piece Pretty Ricky Conlan isn’t a champion looking for an easy win, he’s a guy with a big ego who made a mistake and wants one last huge fight before he goes to prison. Bianca isn’t just a love interest, she’s a musician with a disease that’s slowly taking her hearing away. Rocky isn’t just training up a new kid, he’s helping the legacy of his best friend. And Adonis Creed isn’t just an up and comer with something to prove, he also has a huge name to live up to. The fights feel physical, but it’s the emotional impact of the out of ring scenes that are really staggering.
6. Everybody Wants Some!!
Everybody Wants Some is like the anti-Boyhood. Whereas that took place over twelve years, this takes place over three days. In fact, it hews closer to Dazed and Confused than any film Linklater has done since, but it also confirms his talent for creating two hour stories where essentially nothing happens but they’re still totally engrossing. Honestly, the biggest compliment I can pay Everybody Wants Some is that when I was in uni, I ran with totally the opposite crowd than the one the film depicts, but the bond between characters was strong enough that it made me feel like I could be friends with any of them.
5. Nocturnal Animals
Where the fuck did this come from? I apparently missed the boat on A Single Man because holy shit Tom Ford is a genius. He’s David Lynch in west Texas and Nocturnal Animals is metafiction Blue Velvet. I guess we’ve known for a while Jake Gyllenhaal is great, but Aaron Taylor Johnson chews his way through some scenery as a Frank Booth like psychopath and there’s nothing more masculine than Michael Shannon playing a no nonsense cop. But it might be Amy Adams who really steals the show, managing to make sitting and reading a book in adorably large glasses look absorbing on the big screen. Literally my only problem with the film is that the blu ray release isn’t for another month and I don’t want to wait that long to dive back into it.
4. The Neon Demon
And speaking of David Lynch, here we have Nic Winding Refn taking on Mulholland Drive and transplanting it onto the modern modelling industry. Which is admittedly partially unfair, there’s also a fair amount of Eyes Wide Shut and even Un Chien Andalou in here too. But perhaps my favourite thing about the whole flick is that after two hours of women being relentlessly catty and violent and all sorts of fucked up towards each other, Refn had the gall to dedicate it to his wife right as the end credits roll. It was so unexpected I started cackling out loud in the cinema.
3. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
I mean, what’s left to say about Star Wars at this point. I’m reasonably sure now that Disney know what they’re doing with the franchise, and even though there were points where I could literally feel myself being pandered to as a fan (did we really need a cameo from Dr Evazan and Ponda Baba) I still loved the whole thing. The final half hour or so is a huge three pronged action sequence that possibly manages to top the third act of Return of the Jedi and then they manage to follow it with a sequence that’s simultaneously fist pumpingly great and straight out of a horror flick. It’s all good stuff, and I enjoyed myself immensely. But not enough to name a Star Wars film my number one twice in a row.
2. Green Room
Green Room is a down and dirty mean tense action flick. It’s Assault on Precinct 13 with punks and nazis. I’ve said it before but Blue Ruin was good enough that Jeremy Saulnier could have cashed his chips in to make anything he wanted; he could be riding high on Marvel money by now, but instead he chose to make an 18 rated blood soaked tight 90 minute siege film. And the result is incredible. I’m convinced Patrick Stewart has never been as good as he is here, eating up the screen as terrifyingly calm villain Darcy. And Anton Yelchin is just so damn likeable, proving yet again that he clearly had a bright future ahead of him had his life not been cut tragically short by a freak accident. I love pretty much everything about Green Room and in any other year it would have been my number one. But it was just beaten to the punch by…
1. The Witch
How is this a directorial debut? Just, how? It’s so confident in itself. Where other films might shy away from the idea of being all in an older dialect of English, The Witch embraces it, even casting child actors capable of sounding natural while speaking it. And where other films would capitulate to the modern horror dynamic of quiet quiet bang jump scares, The Witch is having none of that, preferring instead the old school approach of building an atmosphere of dread and despair. It’s all helped along by the decision to shoot in 1.66:1 letterbox format, giving the whole thing a sense of verticality. In the forest scenes, the trees seem impossibly tall, and there could be anything lurking just off camera at any time. The Witch is not only one of the best horror films of recent years, it’s one of the best films of recent years full stop. In a year that gave us the other nine films on this list as well as stuff that didn’t quite make it like Midnight Special, Hell or High Water, The Nice Guys, The Jungle Book, The Conjuring 2 and many others, The Witch stands head and shoulders above. What a year. What a film.
And for those interested, here’s a quick look at how Movie Madness turned out if I had managed to finish something for once…
And quickly, I’m going to do a quick look at the 2017 releases and take a guess at my top ten list for the end of the year. Without commentary, because this is starting to sound like I just enjoy the sound of my own voice… or the grammar of my own sentences. I don’t know. Anyway…
10. La La Land
8. It Comes at Night
7. Free Fire
6. The Handmaiden
5. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
4. John Wick: Chapter 2
3. Fast & Furious 8
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
1. Blade Runner 2049