We’re just over the halfway point of the year, so what better time to reveal the five best films released in the UK so far? It’s been something of a mixed year, with a phenomenal awards season followed by a rather quite stretch. Certain films that I assumed would easily crack the top 5 (T2 Trainspotting, Get Out) ended up being minor disappoints (to me, anyway), while a few unassuming films turned out to be among my favourites of the year. As with every year, there have been some terrific releases in 2017. Here are the best of the bunch:
*Note: I haven’t seen every major release of the year so far, so if you think I’m missing a modern classic, it’s likely that I haven’t got round to it yet. Looking at you, Logan.*
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki (Dir. Juho Kuosmanen)
The Salesman (Dir. Afgar Fahadi)
The Fits (Dir. Anna Rose Holmer)
La La Land (Dir. Damien Chazelle)
Jackie (Dir. Pablo Larrain)
Moonlight (Dir. Barry Jenkins)
The surprise winner of Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight has come a long way from its humble start as a low budget indie about three chapters in the life of Chiron, a black gay boy growing up in America.
Jenkins’ confident direction and the beautiful cinematography enhanced the feeling of a waking dream spanning two decades, but Moonlight is very much an actor’s showcase; Naomi Harris gives a terrific performance as Chiron’s crack-addicted Mother, while Mahershala Ali deservedly won an Oscar for his sensitive performance as a patriarchal drug dealer.
At what point does an art film become shlock? The Eyes of My Mother, Nicolas Pesce’s hideously unpleasant debut feature, is clearly aiming for the arthouse crowd; filmed in stark black-and-white, the film is too slow and uncompromising to reach mainstream horror fans. However, the levels of gore and psychological torture on display have mostly been seen in torture porn and New French Extremity, meaning only the most hardened arthouse fan could sit through it. Despite some interesting imagery and a unique style, The Eyes of My Mother won’t quite satisfy either audience.
Having made a name for herself starring in low-budget black comedies like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Sightseers, it’s only fitting that Alice Lowe’s directorial debut Prevenge follows a similar strand of broad humour and bloody mayhem. Written by and starring Lowe as Ruth, a heavily-pregnant woman whose unborn baby convinces her to go on a killing spree, Prevenge isn’t as consistent as her previous work, but a few memorable setpieces and Lowe’s wonderfully deadpan performance keep it entertaining.
In this semi-regular feature, I discuss some of the best films which had low box office earnings, found little audience, or have otherwise been forgotten about over time.
Despite dominating the lives of teenagers for over a decade, very few films have focused on ‘the youtube generation’. Apart from a few teen comedies that show the funny side of public humiliation, or BBC-lite teen dramas that show the dark side of public humiliation, cinema has lacked genuine insight into how the world has changed, and is changing, in the face of anybody being able to access every known video available, from cute kittens and vlogs to execution footage and hardcore pornography.
Antonio Campos’ 2008 debut Afterschool attempts to confront the issue head on. The film is a troubling character study focusing on a lonely teenage boy at a boarding school, and the disturbing event he witnesses. Trying to find honesty in a world of pretence, Afterschool examines the psychological and sociological effects of having cameras constantly ready to invade your personal life.
Laura Palmer’s promise came true. Twenty-five years since coffee loving FBI agent Dale Cooper was trapped in the Black Lodge by evil spirit BOB, David Lynch’s beloved cult mystery Twin Peaks has returned to television screens. With Lynch directing all eighteen episodes and much of the original cast returning to their most iconic roles, Twin Peaks: The Return certainly isn’t a nostalgic cash-in. Four episodes have been released so far – were they worth the wait?
Some films demand to be scrutinised; intricate films with difficult plots, hidden details, and perception-altering twists are often watched and re-watched constantly by fans desperate to discover the film’s real meaning. On the surface, David Lynch’s 2001 magnum opus Mulholland Drive is such a film. Its dreamlike structure is disorientating, asking audiences to notice subtle hints and clues to uncover the true meaning of the film’s non-linear plot. However, despite the film growing more meaningful with every watch, viewers don’t need to take notes to feel the atmosphere of Mulholland Drive. Like a beautiful drug trip, the film works best when you simply allow it to wash over you, taking you on a journey into the unknown.
Sensual isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think of South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook. After all, this is the director behind such brutal films as Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, and Stoker. It’s surprising, then, to see his latest film The Handmaiden, the story of an orphan sent to work for a mysterious heiress, is a romantic period drama, focusing on forbidden love, restrained emotions, and genuinely erotic moments of intimacy. At least, it is for the first ten minutes.
Should a biopic about Christine Chubbuck exist? Many believe the story of the young news anchor who shot herself live on air in 1974 should never be made, out of respect for the dead. A recent documentary, Kate Plays Christine, focused on the very topic, concluding that making a film about Chubbuck could only be exploitative. However, in Antonio Campos’ hands, Christine is a moving, troubling story that never feels at all exploitative, mostly due to the career best work of Rebecca Hall in the title role.