This has been another banner year for Hollywood, and while there have been the usual crop of mediocre and bad films that are better left ignored, there have also been a number of great films that continue to give us a reason to go to the theatres, while also setting new standards for the art of story-telling and stretching the very boundaries of cinema itself.
As we near the end of this year, the time has come to celebrate the best, and vilify the worst that 2017 has offered!
Darren Aronofsky is no stranger to exploring strange and exceedingly bewildering stories. Look no further than his enigmatic debut feature Pi or 2010’s Black Swan. But even for him,mother! is a new high in terms of sheer craziness and bewilderment.
It’s highly likely that you won’t be able to understand exactly what is going on for the majority of the run-time, and even when you do, the metaphorical side of the narrative might strike you as hokey or on-the-nose. But that doesn’t change the fact that you simply can’t turn your eyes away from what’s happening on screen. The whole thing unfolds like a nightmarish fever dream and keeps nagging at you with its constant spiralling sense of tension, till you have no choice but to submit to the madness. The claustrophobic and intense nature of the filmmaking – especially the abundance of extreme close-ups – is at times akin to a couple of walls closing in.
It doesn’t surprise me that Mother! is the most divisive film to come out this year, as some of its narrative choices are increasingly left-field and bound to offend a number of people. But it’s also hard to argue against the notion that as a pure and unadulterated experience, it is simply unforgettable, hauntingly beautiful and unmatched by anything that has come out in recent years.
4. Good Time
Anybody who knew Robert Pattinson as the stone-faced, pale-skinned vampire from the widely-maligned Twilight series got a stark reality check in the form of Good Time, the latest film from the up-and-coming sibling duo of Josh and Benny Safdie and arguably the surprise of the year for me.
Pattinson, almost unrecognisable in the scruffy goatee and bleached blonde hair, turns in the best performance of his career thus far as Connie, a man on the run who sinks deeper and deeper under the weight of his own bad decisions on a cold winter night in New York. And as the film escalates and oscillates at an increasingly unrelenting tempo, you can’t help but sit back and embrace the chaos. The entire thing moves at a break-neck pace, amplified by the fact that its gorgeous cinematography immerses you in a neon-lit New York night while the dizzying synth soundtrack keeps buzzing in your head long after the film is over.
The credit of course goes to the Safdies who directed this film with a distinct visceral edge, and perhaps even greater credit to them for writing a role for Pattinson where he is able showcase an authenticity and a range never before seen in his work.
In Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine, a role he inarguably immortalised over the span of 16 years, director James Mangold turned in the very anti-thesis of a super-hero movie withLogan, a film that not only serves as a fitting send-off for Jackman, but also doubles as a gritty and violent neo-western, envisioning a future so dark that it feels almost completely detached from the X-Men universe.
For all the blood that spills and all the flesh that gets ripped through, there is also something deeply melancholic about Logan, because Mangold is interested in exploring this story as a character study more than anything else. The fact that Logan is a shadow of his former self, surviving in what seems like a dystopian future adds to that. It’s his relationships with Dafne Keen’s Laura and Patrick Stewart’s Professor X though where the film finds its true heart and soul and infuses the narrative with a sense of hope that often seems lost on it.
It’s also worth noting that in his swansong performance as Wolverine, Jackman truly gives it his all; turning a once indestructible mutant into a battle-weary man living on the edge of mortality. If there was ever a film that broke the comic book movie mold and transcended it, this was it.
2. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
For years, Noah Baumbach has been one of the most underrated filmmakers around whose style has that terrific balance between comedic wittiness and tragedy, of which you don’t see enough of in films or filmmakers these days. With The Meyerowitz Stories, he serves up his best work yet, a film that offers a look at the dysfunctional Meyerowitz family led by the patriarch faded-artist father Harold (Dustin Hoffman), his two sons Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matthew (Ben Stiller) and his daughter Jean (Elizabeth Marvel).
The most astonishing thing for me is how mature, humane, emotional and funny this film is – sometimes simultaneously – which isn’t surprising considering this is ultimately about the abrasive influence parents can often times have on their children and the strife that it in-turn creates between siblings. It’s also worth mentioning that Sandler is absolutely brilliant in this film, stealing every scene from Stiller and Hoffman. Above all, the credit goes to Baumbach, who builds a genuinely affecting narrative that makes you embrace its imperfect characters while always giving you a reason to laugh along with a most profound sense of catharsis.
Very few films these days have the ability to redefine the very experience of watching a film on the big screen. But then again, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk isn’t just any other film; it’s a monumental cinematic achievement that simultaneously feels both grand and intimate, and immerses the viewer in every single frame. Nolan takes the famous Dunkirk evacuation of 1940 that took place during the early days of World War II, and presents an epic tale of survival against all odds set across the land, the sea and the sky.
Every element in the film feels like it’s there for a reason; exposition and dialogue aren’t needed so they are almost completely dispensed with in favour of immersive aesthetics and Hans Zimmer’s phenomenal original soundtrack, which almost feels like a character of its own. And while the actors all turn in impressive performances, it’s important to note that the characters they play are there to showcase a sense of feeling that defines the very nature of war. Courage, fear, benevolence, sacrifice, cowardice, grit, terror can all be seen on faces of the soldiers in this film.
It’s somewhat remarkable how a film attempting to channel something so elemental can end up achieving something so epic, but that’s exactly what Nolan manages to achieve withDunkirk. You simply cannot escape its energy or evade its unyielding force. It’s cinema at its purest, and unquestionably the best film of 2017.