John Preston selects his best films of 2017.
In no particular order, John Preston selects his Top 10 films of 2017
Seems a long time ago that I saw this on a very big screen in Leicester Square and Natalie Portman’s hollow and cracked Jackie was beamed out into the auditorium. Pablo Larrain created an art-house model for his film based on the American icon which was still moving and relatable but also stranded in a visceral sound design and score by Mica Levi. Dominant reds, pinks and whites only highlight the shock of the assassination which is revisited in a ghostly, gruesome second shot here which truly chills whilst Natalie Portman is chillingly sublime throughout.
The most joyous film I’ve seen this year was down to the exuberant performances of its two leading actors Bria Vinai and the 7 year old Brooklynn Prince as Moonee. The Florida Project is the hysterical, shocking tale of a childhood and the loss of innocence over one long, hot summer. The audience’s inbuilt desire to judge is tested and in doing this makes you as guilty as the parent who treats her child like the adult that she is far from being. The divisive, break in style ending was unexpected and surreal and an homage to Sean Baker’s previous film Tangerine and this, his sixth, is a day-glo, big hearted and thoughtful sugar rush.
Gotta Light and What Is Your Name, Twin Peak’s final episode, were both portions of David Lynch’s 18- hour film shown on TV in hourly chunks. These 2 episodes could play as a 2-hour film and are not reliant on any traditional or familiar TV tropes in any shape or form whatsoever. Whereas Gotta Light (part 8) is a near wordless, surreal black and white Peaks backstory of the evil that men do, What Is Your Name? is quite possibly, terrifyingly, set in ‘our’ world. The final seconds bend the narrative all the way to the pilot episode of the show from 1989 and leave you feeling haunted, disoriented and bereft for a very long time.
Park Chan-wook’s best film in a long while, The Handmaiden is probably what you would expect from the director of such densely, colour saturated, visually opulent and hyper-stylised films. His tenth film is also cohesive, relatively spare story telling whose deceptive protagonists have you rooting for them right up until the outrageous and glorious ending. Even Sarah Waters approved of the adaptation of her erotically provocative book from 2002, Fingersmith, and the decision to relocate it to Korea at the time of Japanese colonial rule. A raucous and decadent delight indeed.
Maybe it’s best to come to this film without prior knowledge of the book or previous operatic readings. I say that as ignorance of the source material appears to result in a better appreciation of William Oldroyd’s film, others who have read the book of which this is based seem generally less fond of Florence Pugh’s performance whereas I thought it miraculous and unexpected. Selfish, bullied, bored and far more than dangerous than anyone could have imagined, Pugh plays the part like a WAG doing costume drama of the highest and most exquisite order.
There are no talking heads just the film director telling tales of his life whilst spending time in his art studio. Like his films, and his latest work is not referred to here at all, Lynch frustratingly holds back on key facts that have made him the artist and person that he is today. Time spent in Philadelphia as a young artist was a main influence in his work but it’s the story about his childhood in suburbs that intrigue more, one recounting in particular is haunting and clearly significant but just as the details of the incident are about to be revealed Lynch says that he can’t talk about. A stylish and absorbing portrait by lead director Jon Nguyen.
A Haneke film is always something of a punishment, the director wants us to stare down the injustices of life and the consequences of our own actions that have resulted in these: we are all implicated. The shocks contained in films such as Hidden and The White Ribbon are violent and often at odds with the central narrative, hence the force of horror in watching them suddenly play at. Happy End is not as serious as either of those films and may mark a minor change in tone for Haneke which is welcome and also unexpected. Violence is still very much a theme here but then it needs to be, privacy is at stake for us all now and Happy End looks at the repercussions of lives lived online.
2015’s Lobster was a perversely surreal and funny English language debut for the Greek director Yorgis Lanthimos and Colin Farrell returns with his second in this fantasy tale of revenge and sacrifice. Nicole Kidman and in particular the young boy demanding at least his pound of flesh, Barry Keoghan as Martin, are as fantastic as Farrell whose performance as a superstar surgeon is a stylised and inspired portrait of extreme angst hidden behind a clenched jaw. Lanthimos turns gothic at the very end but the lead up to it convincingly ensures we have bought into the film’s audacious conceit and ambitions.
Olivier Assayas Kristen Stewart-led companion piece to the excellent Clouds of Sils Maria from 2014 is a genre-blurring curio that raises many questions that are left only partially answered. Part ghost-story, thriller and melodrama, Stewart shines in the lead role of a woman who is trying to establish an independent identity for herself that balances her personal passions with the mundanity of trying to earn a living. As a psychic she believes she can communicate with her dead brother but sometimes it’s unclear as to what, or who, she has made a connection too. Personal Shopper is sometimes frightening but the film is more than just horror and offers instead a meditation on grief.
Paul McGuigan has made a somewhat old-fashioned British film about the little known Oscar winner, Gloria Grahame. Played by Annette Bening with Jamie Bell brilliant as her passionate Liverpudlian younger lover and Julie Waters as his mother, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is sentimental certainly, but McGuigan uses storytelling techniques and cinematic arches that are fresh and exciting. Gloria Grahame was always an outsider, she certainly refused to play the movie star game, and her reliance and love for a family that was not blood will ring true for many. The disco dancing scene between the two leads alone is a one of the best scenes I’ve witnessed this year.