Director: Greta Gerwig
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, Timothee Chalamet, Odeya Rush, Jordan Rodrigues, Marielle Scott
It is always great when a potent new cinematic voice announces themselves, but as a female, millenial voice Greta Gerwig’s arrival is particularly timely. Then again, ‘arrival’ may be misleading. Over the last decade Gerwig has established herself as a significant figure in the American independent film scene as an actress and screenwriter, first through her involvement in the emerging Mumblecore movement, and more recently through her collaborations with writer-director Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha, Mistress America). However, the confidence and maturity of her first solo effort as writer-director, Lady Bird, has seen it transcend its indie status and capture a level of deserved attention that has previously alluded her.
Christine McPherson (Saoirse Ronan), who prefers to go by Lady Bird, is a senior at Immaculate Heart Catholic girls school in Sacramento who dreams of escaping the city for an east coast college, ”where culture is.” Continue reading
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg
Steven Spielberg once suggested that if someone can tell him an idea in a single sentence, it will make a pretty good movie. In the case of Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, that sentence would be “A mute cleaning lady falls in love with a fish monster.” It’s an unusual sentence, and its an unusual film: a Cold War noir, fairytale romance to be precise. But you know what, Spielberg was right. It’s a pretty good movie.
Elisa (Sally Hawkins) lives in a small Baltimore apartment, upstairs from a cinema. She is mute and lives on her own, but she is not alone. She spends her time watching old musicals on television with her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), a closeted gay artist, and works as a cleaner at a military aerospace research facility with the irrepressible Zelda (Octavia Spencer), who fortunately does enough talking for the both of them. Continue reading
Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, Caleb Landry Jones, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes
An accomplished playwright and director for the stage with an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short, Irishman Martin McDonagh announced himself as a filmmaking talent to watch in 2008 with his brilliant debut feature In Bruges. However, his third and latest film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, takes him to a whole new level. A darkly comedic kick in the guts, this exploration of grief, anger, vengeance, but also forgiveness, is a firecracker of a movie that will make you sit up and take notice. Three Billboards is McDonagh’s best work and appears to be the frontrunner in this year’s Oscar race.
Outside Ebbing, Missouri (a fictional town), a trio of dilapidated, old billboards sit on a road rarely used since the arrival of the highway. Local woman Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) walks into the town advertising agency and, after rudimentary inquiries about what can and cannot be said on a billboard, puts a $5000 downpayment on the three billboards for a year. In simple black lettering on a red background they are to read: “Raped while dying,” “And still no arrests,” “How come, Chief Willoughby?” Continue reading
10. The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola)
Sofia Coppola won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for her adaptation of Thomas P Cullinan’s novel, taking his tale of a man entering a world of women and bringing a distinctively female perspective, making for a different movie to Don Siegel’s 1971 version. A story about an injured Union soldier who takes shelter among the women of a small Virginian seminary during the Civil War, The Beguiled is part melodrama and part psychosexual thriller with just a dash of black comedy. An entrancing film, its tone is constantly shifting as we wonder who is manipulating who and watch a paradise become a prison. Full review.
9. Spider-Man: Homecoming (John Watts)
The superhero movie continues to be the blockbuster form of the moment and 2017 offered up three good ones: Spider-Man: Homecoming, Logan and Wonder Woman. Logan was the most audacious, Wonder Woman was the most important, but for mine Spider-Man: Homecoming was the best blockbuster of the year. Part superhero movie, part John Hughes high school drama, it is energetic, funny and exuberant, and unlike Thor: Ragnarok (which I was not as high on as many others), did not sacrifice genuine emotion to get its laughs. It even has a good villain, long the achilles heel of the Marvel movies. After finally striking a deal with Sony Pictures, Marvel Studios didn’t waste the opportunity once they got their hands back on their number one commodity. Full review.
8. Baby Driver (Edgar Wright)
Edgar Wright’s stylistically ambitious action/heist/music video Baby Driver is the coolest film of 2017. More than just a film with a killer soundtrack, Wright used the music as a key structural element of his movie. Allowing songs to play out in their entirety, he choreographed the action to the soundtrack. While such meticulous planning could have made the film feel mechanical, it doesn’t. Rather the whole thing feels like a dance. While somewhat lacking at a human, character level, it is an exhilarating film experience. In light of recent revelations, though, it will be interesting to see if the presence of Kevin Spacey in the cast has any impact on Baby Driver’s replay value. Full review.
7. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
This year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture was an intimate, nuanced coming-of-age film which marked a massive step forward for the presence of LGBTQI cinema in the mainstream. A complex exploration of African-American masculinity and adolescent homosexuality, Moonlight tells the story of its lead character at three specific points in his young life, using a different actor to portray each stage with each actor bringing something distinct to their manifestation of the character. With a visual beauty that is not common for social realist drama and some very strong performances (most notably Mahershala Ali’s Oscar winning turn as drug dealer and mentor Juan), Barry Jenkins has taken a queer, black story, which you would assume to be niche, and made it universal. Full review.
6. mother! (Darren Aronofsky)
This is probably my most controversial selection because a lot of people hated this film, and I mean properly hated it. However, I don’t think I thought about a film this year as much as I thought about mother!. Darren Aronofsky’s allegory for the relationship between humanity, nature and the creator is a challenging and confronting piece of art that is intended to elicit a strong reaction. The very definition of a film that is ‘not for everyone,’ mother! will frustrate and disgust you, making you equal parts uncomfortable and angry. But whether you love it or hate it, you will think about it and you will want to talk about it. Full review.
5. The Big Sick (Michael Showalter)
First-time screenwriters and married couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon drew on the true story of their own unconventional courtship to create the year’s best romantic comedy. Nanjiani, a stand-up comedian best known for his role in Silicon Valley, plays himself, reliving the experience of his new girlfriend (with Zoe Kazan portaying Gordon) being placed in an induced coma while his traditional Pakistani family were unaware he was seeing a white girl. With its unique scenario and examination of the migrant experience, The Big Sick takes a genre that is often derided for being a bit formulaic and makes it insightful and personal while still being incredibly entertaining. There are also some very good supporting performances from Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents. Full review.
4. Silence (Martin Scorsese)
While films like The Departed, Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street have seen Martin Scorsese enjoying the most commercially successful period of his celebrated career, Silence is his most unashamedly uncommercial film in decades. Based on the novel by Shusaku Endo about Jesuit missionaries in imperial Japan (which Scorsese first read back in 1989), it is a long, slow and challenging meditation on questions of faith and doubt. Scorsese’s Catholic upbringing has always been one of the primary influences on his filmmaking, and Silence is a good companion piece to his earlier wrestles with faith in The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. Thanks to Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography and Dante Ferretti’s production design, it is also one of the most beautiful looking films of the year. Full review.
3. La La Land (Damien Chazelle)
While thanks to Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty and the team from Price Waterhouse Coopers La La Land is destined to be immortalised in trivia competitions as the only film to be incorrectly awarded Best Picture as the Oscars, that should not detract from how wonderful a film it is in its own right. After its haul of 14 Oscar nominations it is easy to forget how risky a proposition this film was. There hadn’t been an original musical of any significance come out of Hollywood since Newsies in 1992. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling may not be the world’s most polished singers and dancers but they share great onscreen chemistry, and with Damien Chazelle’s flair for directing with music and Justin Hurwitz’s fantastic score, La La Land was a joyous piece of uplifting, escapist entertainment. Full review.
2. Get Out (Jordan Peele)
Get Out was the film which came out of nowhere to become the cinematic talking point of early 2017 and remains the best reviewed film of the year. On the fiftieth anniversary of Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Get Out borrows that central premise – a white girl bringing her black boyfriend home to meet her unknowing family – but takes it in an entirely different, and far creepier, direction. Written and directed by Jordan Peele, best known as one half of the sketch comedy duo Key & Peele, Get Out functions simultaneously as a top-shelf piece of horror cinema and a sharp, zeitgeisty piece of social commentary. Full review.
1. I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck)
A surprise pick for number one as I doubt it is featuring on many such lists, but I saw this documentary at the Sydney Film Festival this year and it blew me away. I Am Not Your Negro brings to life author, intellectual and activist James Baldwin’s unrealised book ‘Remember this House,’ a personal account of his experience of the murders of his three friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Using archival footage of Baldwin, plus excerpts from the treatment for the unpublished work unrecognisably performed by Samuel L. Jackson, Raoul Peck tells the whole story in Baldwin’s distinctive voice. A great thinker, Baldwin was speaking hard truths in the 1960s which remain hard truths today. If you can find it, see it. Full review.
The Next Best (alphabetical): Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve), Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan), Happy End (Michael Haneke), Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi), Logan (James Mangold), Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson), The Teacher (Jan Hrebejk), War for the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves), Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins)
The Worst Movie of the Year:
Rough Night (Lucia Aniello)
Oh, how I wanted this to be good. We are in somewhat of a golden period of screen comediennes, and while dude-bros might kick up a stink about which is the appropriate gender for busting ghosts, there have been some really good female driven comedies in recent years. But Rough Night set its gender-flipping sights on a sub-genre – the massive party/night out that goes horribly wrong – which largely produces terrible films so, true to form, it is too. It even caused a small controversy, outraging the sex industry for its characters’ flippant reaction to the death of a stripper. As fate would have it, the similarly themed Girls Trip came out shortly after and received much better reviews.
By Duncan McLean
Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, Jharrel Jerome, Andre Holland
Queer cinema has for a long time existed on the peripheries of the mainstream, in the independent and arthouse sectors, catering to what was seen as a niche audience. In recent times we have started to see this change and Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight is an important stepping stone in that process. While Jenkins is not himself gay, his film, which is based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unproduced short play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, has a sense of authenticity to it. It feels true to itself and its protagonist, and this year became the first LGBTQI themed film to be awarded Best Picture by the Academy. Attempting to describe Moonlight requires lots of in- words. It is intimate. It is internal. It is introspective. It is introverted. It is also extraordinary. Continue reading
Director: Raoul Peck
Starring: James Baldwin, Samuel L. Jackson
In 1979, author, intellectual and activist James Baldwin wrote a thirty page treatment for a book to be called ‘Remember this House.’ It was going to be his personal account, describing his experience of the murders of his three friends and fellow civil rights champions, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. However Baldwin ultimately couldn’t bring himself to write the book and he passed away in 1987 having never returned to it. Using Baldwin’s own words, Raoul Peck’s Oscar nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro sets about trying to bring this unrealised work to life.
While Baldwin is the film’s principal character, I Am Not Your Negro is not a biography. Peck does not concern himself with delivering names, dates, milestones and achievements. If you come into this film without a great knowledge of who Baldwin was and what he did (and as a thirty-something Australian I confess to being far from an expert), you are not going to come out of the film with all of those questions answered. But you will come out with the desire to learn more, because what the film does emphatically show you of Baldwin was that he was a towering mind, a great thinker and powerful debater. Continue reading
Director: Theodore Melfi
Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali
There is something romantic about the Space Race. The sheer ambition of it. Literally shooting for the moon. Particularly today when politics seems so petty the aspirational nature of it is appealing. Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures tells the true story of three unsung heroes working behind the scenes at NASA, using this moment of heroic scientific progress to reveal equally heroic social progress.
It is 1961, and in Langley, Virginia, NASA’s engineers are deep into planning the Mercury mission that will see John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth. But these are still analogue times. The ‘computers’ that the engineers use to do their calculations are people, predominantly women, seen effectively as mathematical clerical workers. Among these computers are Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae). While the work they do is critical to the success of the Mercury mission, they still live in a segregated world Continue reading