As we reach the mid-point of our cinematic journey through 2017, we take our annual look back at the first six months of the year, to review what we think are the best six films we have seen so far. The Academy Awards always make it such a tough decision with the depth in quality they bring but happily they haven’t stolen the show completely this year. So, in no particular order, here we go…
La La Land
Damien Chazelle’s follow up to the dark and brooding Whiplash kicks our list off. Much hyped and anticipated due to its director and leading stars; Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. La La Land offers up a light and breezier look at the pursuit of one’s dreams, as opposed to playing drums for hours until your hands start to bleed. La La Land is a perfect dose of entertainment that tells its story using the Hollywood musical as its device, but doesn’t cross over to the bland or schmaltzy tropes of the musical genre as a whole. The songs and set pieces all have a place in this film, and are not simply thrown in to bulk the run-time out. Even more impressive is the fact that Gosling and Stone performed live, and spent months in preparation for their roles. What we get is a stunningly beautiful and heartwarming tale that manages to tell a deeply rich and powerful story. At once a treat for the eyes that lingers on as a treat for the mind afterwards.
Jordan Peele’s debut directorial effort was released to critical acclaim earlier this year, arriving at an odd time for a horror release and pulled together on a shoe-string budget. Get Out is a breath of fresh air for contemporary horror that offers a daunting and foreboding rise in tension as it slowly creeps towards a bloody third act. Chris (Daniel Kaluya) takes a trip into the country with his new girlfriend to meet her parents, and discovers along the way that his ethnicity may be the driving force behind the trip. What he uncovers upon arrival is a devastatingly hideous network of people, and that he may not be safe after all as the film goes on to deal with the themes of race, hypnosis, possession and lobotomy. What Peele does is turn the ‘cabin in the woods’ idea on its head by bringing his character into the home of affluent white people and juxtaposes that with an insane plot and a wicked sense of humour. Get Out is incredibly sharp in its composition and will surely act as a calling card for both Peele and Kaluya, we await their next project with much anticipation.
Manchester By The Sea
“Probably one of the saddest movies you will ever see”, is pretty much the perfect one line review you could hope to write for this film. Casey Affleck helms the devastating Manchester By The Sea, which finally nabbed him that much deserved Oscar Award win for Best Actor earlier this year. His performance, as well as Michelle Williams’s, drags this hulking tale of loss and depression along and overwhelms you with emotion at every turn. Kenneth Lonergan has provided us with a modern masterpiece of film-making that really draws its strength from his prowess as a writer. Unlike other films that ran for awards this year, Manchester By The Sea uses its script as its bedrock. You’ll find little in the way of set-pieces or artistic cinematography, but what you do have is a socio-realist tale that grabs you and takes hold from the opening minutes. And even in the moments where it reaches its darkest moments, all it inspires you to do as a viewer is appreciate what you have and cherish the people you care for. Its main message is really one of hope, if you can get past the floods of tears you will definitely be brought to when viewing this film.
Hugh Jackman’s performance as Wolverine throughout the X-Men franchise has really now served to book end the comic book movie genre and its dominance of cinema across the last two decades. Arriving on our screens in X-Men in the distant year of 2000, Logan has grown on screen as his audience has grown with him. If comic book films were largely aimed at a younger audience to begin with, they are now moving into much more adult themes when we consider the success of Deadpool in particular. Wolverine even managed to summarise how studios failed to react properly to the emergence of Marvel in the ridiculous X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Logan is Jackman’s final appearance as the clawed anti-hero and he goes out in a furious and unflinching battle of survival. Leaning heavily on the source material of Old Man Logan and using it’s R-Rating to maximum effect, this is the film we all wanted to see when we were ten tears old and watched the X-Men cartoons on Fox Kids. That film couldn’t be made back then when comic book movies were about weirdos in spandex, and were only stories ‘nerds’ would watch. We had to grow up first to finally experience what a film about this character should truly be. It’ll be interesting to see where comic book movies go without Wolverine, but they won’t be the same.
You’d like to hope that Moonlight is remembered for the genius piece of film-making that it is, as opposed to being the subject of all the Academy Awards controversy it attracted. Barry Jenkins’ Best Picture winner is a knockout punch of a tale that focuses on ideals of sexuality and familial bonds. We follow the life of Chiron, a young black homosexual man, through three chapters in his life each focusing on a different phase of his youth and adolescence; starting out around the age of ten in Little, then into his high-school years in Chiron, finally rounding things up in his early twenties in the final chapter entitled Black. Chiron suffers throughout as he not only has to deal with his Mother’s drug abuse, but also with his sexual preferences which see him isolated and bullied for being homosexual. As the film progresses we see how he deals with both of these issues and how they shape his life as he gets older.
Moonlight is a visual delight, shot in majestic fashion, and is fully deserving of its Awards recognition.
Ben Wheatley’s latest cult nasty is probably his most comprehensive and professional film to date. Featuring an all-star roster of a cast which includes; Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer. The film revolves around a gun deal gone wrong as two gangs descend into chaos from what was supposed to be a peaceful, if yet tense, transaction. Free Fire uses its single location to mass effect, as a shoot out of epic proportions ensues between the crowd of criminals. Bullets and blood are the only currency that changes hands however, and the film quickly shifts into the bloody and gore filled realms we expect from a Wheatley film (it’s no Kill List though) and ends with a hilarious admission that all of this death may have been a big waste of time.
So that’s a wrap for our Must See Movies yearly review until December, below are some films that we feel deserve honourable mentions, it’s been a really good year for films so far and it was hard to narrow the list down to just six!
click on the film title to see our review: