2017: Best of, 10-1

Click here for my 2017 Watchlist and Guilty Pleasures, here for my Worst List 24-11, here for my Best List 23-11 and here for my Worst List 10-1.

Let’s finish this off with the best films I saw released in Ireland in 2017. Starting with:

10. I am Not Your Negro

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This powerful documentary recites an unpublished manuscript from James Baldwin, a Civil Rights activist and contemporary of Dr. King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. Read by Samuel L. Jackson, it is a powerful reflection of Baldwin’s relationship with the Civil Rights Movement, his having lived much longer than a lot of his peers and leaders of the movement, his struggles with his sexuality and his questioning how far America has come since then.
What I love about I am Not Your Negro is that it’s not afraid to question America’s current positions when it comes to racial rights. Deliberately editing contemporary footage of racist protesting in black and white alongside other hate rallies of the past, Raoul Peck not only gives us an honest and fitting tribute to Baldwin entirely in his own words, it reflects on how Baldwin’s America is not too dissimilar from present day. It’s the memoirs of a man long grown tired and jaded from having seen the long-term aftermath of his actions, but never feels hopeless or downplays exactly what so many people died for in the name of equality.
An incredibly strong and fascinatingly told doc., Baldwin’s words are as necessary now as they ever have been.

9. It Comes at Night

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A horror film where the true horror isn’t what’s lurking in the shadows, it’s what’s lurking in your own head.
This got a pretty hard time due to the pretty misleading advertising it got, but that doesn’t stop it from being a wonderfully directed, tense as hell horror. The cast do great being confined together in this intentionally claustrophobic abode (another great outing from Joel Edgerton, makes up for him being in Bright). This is only Trey Edward Shuls second feature, and he has proven already to be an absolute master of tension. Every frame of this keeps you on edge, and really gets under your skin like any great horror story should. You begin to really connect with the characters’ paranoia, frustration and unending sense of dread, and the way things escalate until we get to the satisfying conclusion.
It Comes at Night is just perfectly executed story, and it’s a shame people didn’t get to appreciate it thanks to a rather poor marketing campaign. I hope people will give it another shot and realise just how excellently told and intense it is. Good horror can make you afraid of the dark. Great horror can make you afraid of yourself. It Comes at Night is great horror.

8. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Martin McDonagh has such an adept understanding of character. He can make even the most loathsome one human.
Everything about this movie is perfect, it just works. I love the commentary on small-town mentalities, racial profiling, police brutality and the consequences of trying to find justice. I love that the disgusting racist cops are made look incredibly human and layered and you get legitimately invested in their stories. I love that every scene leads into the next and there’s a great progression from one to another. I love that every actor stands out in their own way-I want all of them to be celebrated. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell do career best work, and I’m reminded rather painfully that Hollywood doesn’t hire Frances McDormand for whatever reason (my other favourite actress performance, btw). It’s a story about the frustrating inactivity that permeates our society, and while it’s bleak and hard to watch at times, you never feel weighed down by the main character and her struggle, a lot of it because she’s so brazen and in-your-face about her wants. The reveal of the billboards is fantastically placed, I love the final conversation, the scene in the barn, the violent scene at the billboard office, the fire. There’s so many great moments exposing the ignorance and humanity that kills such a local community and leaves it muted.
As I’m writing this, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is gearing up for a release in cinemas in Ireland. Please, please go check it out. Cinema rarely gets as cinematic as this is.

7. Call Me by Your Name

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What a sensual and inviting experience, watching a young man discover his burgeoning sexuality in 1980s Italy. While a lot of gay-themed romance films are deeply tragic affairs, and this one is not without it’s sad elements, Call Me by Your Name differs from this by being an honest and forthright exploration of growing up and the different challenges and experiences that entails.
Timothée Chalamet and Arnie Hammer are spellbinding as our lead couple, with a very watchable and believable chemistry. While they initially start off as an ‘opposites attract’-type pairing, it’s used to break down the rather obstinate barriers the younger man has held up and helps them both discover a world of beauty and fulfillment. The cinematography absolutely helps with this-there’s just a warm, natural feel to this imagery and pace that you almost feel like you’re taking a holiday yourself, discovering the burgeoning experience of life. Luca Guadagnino has a great talent for absorbing his audience into these world of tranquil bliss while never making it feel without challenge, conflict or underlying unease.
It has probably my favourite singular scene in a movie (all I’ll say is ‘father’), it has loose editing knowing exactly when to lose you in a moment and reel you back out. I absolutely adore the fact that the ‘score’ is primarily taken up by two songs by Sufjan Stevens, and both are used perfectly and really evoke the mood the film is going for. Call Me By Your Name is such a great experience, making you feel like you’ve explored something while still feeling right at home in a new world.

6. The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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Hey-ey, speaking of immersing you in a world! And believe me when I say this one is far from comforting. Yorgos Lanthimos is one of our greatest living directors. After only seeing two of his movies (this and The Lobster), I can attest to that. Even if you don’t like his work, you cannot deny that the place he puts you in is entirely by design and unlike anything you’ve ever really experience in cinema. The Killing of a Sacred Deer starts off…with a disturbing overture involving open heart surgery, but continues with a deceptively simple set-up, albeit a little off-kilter. The unrealistic dialogue and strange character actions makes things just a little bit too unnatural, and when the inevitable ball drops, holy shit do things go crazy and go crazy on.
While the cast are all great, including Colin Farrell returning to work with Lanthimos and one of the best performances from Nicole Kidman in years, it’s absolute star is Irish actor Barry Keoghan. Quite possibly my favourite male performance all year, he embodies everything this film is aiming for: deceptive normality hiding a twisted truth. Another star is the editing, everything in this film ebbs and flows exactly to the cadence of how it wants you to feel. Everything has this static detachment from it as if we are the surgeons carving into what’s making it rot. It really gives you a beautiful insight of these characters and how they reflect on the damaged world they occupy.  One of the most surreal, challenging and subtly terrifying films I’ve seen all year, The Killing of a Sacred Deer will make you question so many things you hold to be true once the credits roll. And isn’t that what all great cinema should?

5. The Red Turtle

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This one I think it’s better to discover on your own. It’s an absolute masterpiece about discovery and mystery, and what it means to survive, so it would almost be appropriate to go in blind!
The story follows a man who is left shipwrecked and is confronted by a giant red turtle. To go any further than that would give away some of the bigger elements of the narrative, so all I will say is that this is one of the most beautifully animated movies I’ve seen in years. Co-produced by Studio Ghibli, there are some amazing textures and manages to strike out at you despite its muted colour palette; you really feel every action and movement displayed. Like Killing, it has a somewhat distant cinematography so you feel more like an omniscient viewer of the main character’s fate rather than being there with him. It’s told entirely without dialogue, and how emotional and moving it is is both down to the excellent animation and my absolute favourite score of the year.
A modern day fairytale told in a striking and extremely moving way, The Red Turtle is the best animated feature of the year for pushing the art form in a way I haven’t seen in a while-showing more with less.

4. Loveless

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Here is a film that makes you wonder what is the point of marriage, but also wonder what is the point in living in the world in the way we do. It’s a dreary, existentially draining dance through trying to find a way to care, and I absolutely love nearly every single minute of it.
Andrey Zvyagintsev’s exploration of a couple at the end of their marriage forced to look for their missing son together constructs the perfect dance of miseries and longing to escape  affixed into in all our lives, be we married or not. The pure bliss the couple find in other lover’s arms is always permeated with the question of whether that would make them happy in the long term or not, and it’s the crux of the drama that the answer may be maybe we’ve designed this life to never find it. It’s a bleak and really not very comforting message, but the entire thing is offset with excellent character writing from our protagonists. Neither of them are very likeable, at all, but they are well drawn and three dimensional enough to make them human and interesting, you really feel the weight of their shit and judge nearly every action they make, especially with how detached they are from finding their missing kid.
Framing all of this is some beautifully cold cinematography, both in framing and setting due to it being around wintertime. We are fully put in the dark here, both with the characters’ mental state and the tragedy of their own self-made path. Pushing this is the constant display of social media and technology distracting them from real problems they face. It’s subtle enough not to be preachy, but pointed enough to show that we use technology as an escape from everything, even with them implementing social media campaigns in an almost vain attempt to find their son.
It’s probably the most depressing fucking things I’ve watched all year, but it speaks so much for the human experience that I can’t help but recommend it. It’s gorgeous misery and I hope you enjoy every aching minute of it.

3. mother!

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Mr. Aronofsky! So good to have you back after that excursion into terrible. Though, hey, another religious flick.
This movie fared a lot of controversy, like another horror film on this list It Comes at Night, but not for terrible advertising. No, nobody really knew how to grasp this, and I get it. I mean, they’re wrong, but I get it. It’s audacious, melodramatic, ridiculously unsubtle and has moments of unintentional hilarity that really hurt its marker of a horror. And yet, this was one of the most affecting and terrifying experiences I’ve had in the cinema all year. This freaked the fuck out of me, with its bizarre setting, incredibly claustrophobic feel, the odd way the story progressed and how we’re practically so close to Jennifer Lawrence’s face we’re nearly in her nostrils. And I loved that, I loved that a movie had that kind of effect on me. I even love the imagery it provides-it allows this to be a darker and much more explorative story about the way we treat our figures of worship and the dangers of the male gaze. The (mostly) minimal cast are great, I am reminded once again just how fantastic an actor Jennifer Lawrence can be once she gets a script she cares about. The setting is small and isolated, but varied enough to not allow the film to be visually boring and things keep on popping up to change our perspective and how the house itself is viewed.
It’s not for everyone, and maybe it can hurt itself in places for how out there and in your face it can be. But for the experience I got, the emotions I felt, and the story I manged to gleam from it, I absolutely got my money’s worth. My faovurite horror this year from one of my favourite filmmakers, and may it leave its mark and seriously horrify people anew. And hey, look, religious film I love.

2. Moonlight

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It’s hard to sum up just how much this story moved me. No matter what your sexuality is, it’s impossible not to relate to Chiron. We need more stories like this one.
We follow the life of Chiron Harris at three different stages of it while he remains closeted to the rough area he grew up in. The depiction and discussion of masculinity is  refreshing, and Chiron may be the best character in cinema all year. I’d say  best performance, just broken up into three different actors. They all do a great job blending this character into one, as well as the actors playing his love interest Kevin. Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae and Mahershala Ali also give excellent supporting parts.
There’s such a great colour palette here-striking the mood when the mood is right. I love the recurring theme of water and how it defines Chiron’s life at different stages. I love that we get a great insight into his mother’s hardships without the movie making her either a monster or a victim, just Chiron being one of her poisonous circumstances. Similarly, his father figure in Mahershala Ali is far from an amazing peraon, but he’s sweet and worldly and genuinely cares about the kid. It’s challenging and rough, but also warm and intimate, sometimes feeling like that at the same time. It really knows how to play with the audience’s emotions and has a great handle on subtlety and excellent blocking. Also the final line kills me.
Moonlight is a frank  discussion about growing up with toxic ideals controlling and stopping you from living. Every movie can benefit from Moonlight’s honesty and moving depiction of a person getting broken without ever losing hope that there is something better under the light of dark.

1. Blade Runner 2049

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This was one of my most anticipated movies of 2017. Denis Villeneuve managed to do the impossible with it . He matched my expectations, he exceeded them, and I legitimately am questioning whether or not this was better than the 1982 classic.
Blade Runner 2049 takes the most universal themes of the original and applies them to a more contemporary story. It’s lush and amazing cinematography by Roger Deakens provides us with a world stunning but well-lived, expanding on this world but never losing sight as to what exactly makes it function. Ryan Gosling feels like a fully formed character, way more than Deckard-his arc is wholly satisfying and leads to an excellent conclusion. This is science fiction at is most intelligent and challenging-we explore what it means to be human in a world overrun by technology. What our place is in all of this? Are we just slave to our desires, or does this life mean more for us? Were we ever going to accomplish more than the supposed purpose we’re fitted for? Do we even want to answer these questions? What does it mean to exist?
Laying tribute to the old while being something entirely it’s own, I love the usage of Deckard and how they keep the mysteries around him under wraps (one of Harrison Ford’s best performances too).  It also has standout acting from Robin Wright, Sylvia Hoeks and Ana de Armas. I love how the world reflects on contemporary society in a way that lines up perfectly with the original, it’s a masterfully told, really interesting story with twists that reward your patience. It’s a boldly constructed, epic yet intimate escape from reality while also painfully reminding us how we live. It moved me, challenged me, confused me, perplexed me, disgusted me, made me laugh, made me think, and even got me a little teary eyed by the end.
Blade Runner 2049: a triumph in taking a risky project and doing everything you can with it, and my favourite movie of 2017. Why haven’t you seen it if you haven’t? Why aren’t you watching it again?

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