Best Films of 2017: 10-1
10. The Handmaiden
With stunning set locations and gorgeous costume design, Park Chan-wook’s deliciously twisty and beautifully made romantic thriller is a real cinematic sight to behold. Based upon Sarah Waters’ novel “Fingersmith”, the Korean’s latest is a multi-layered mystery with a wavering narrative which keeps you gripped and guessing right until the end. Featuring recognisable elements from his previous work on the excellent Vengeance trilogy, The Handmaiden may not be Chan-wook’s boldest movie to date, but boy is it his most richest and bewilderingly erotic.
9. Get Out
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut in the form of Get Out is a crowd pleasing black comedy horror which dwells into social commentary regarding notions of racism within the heart of the white picket fenced home of the Armitage family. With a standout leading performance by Daniel Kaluuya, rib-tickling gags and an underlying narrative regarding a very particular medical operation, Peele’s movie balances the mix between comedy and horror flawlessly, and with enough B-movie elements and exploitation gore to make the whole experience more than rewarding, Get Out solidifies Peele as yet another interesting young director to keep tabs on.
Hated by most, loved by a minority, Darren Aronofsky’s jaw-dropping psychological horror is part Funny Games, part Rosemary’s Baby, and with a career best performance from leading star Jennifer Lawrence, mother! is a brutal and nihilistic allegorical work of excellence which is as tough to watch at times as it is completely and utterly bonkers in a fashion which makes the final act of Black Swan look like a Mike Leigh movie. For those who can stomach the movie’s polarising subject matter and the evasive camera work of long term Aronofsky collaborator, Matthew Libatique, mother! is Aronofsky at his most creative best.
Directed by big screen debutante Julia Ducournau, Raw is an intelligently written and brilliantly acted coming of age drama with a central narrative which focuses on leading star Garance Marillier’s hereditary and new found lust for human flesh which materialises after a particularly strange university ritual. With a number of scenes which feature genuinely shocking ultra violent imagery and an underlying black comedic tone which gives the movie a somewhat kooky, subversive feel to it, Raw is yet another superb debut for a filmmaker with, excuse the pun, exquisite raw talent.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest and most loyal Stephen King adaptations to hit the big screen, Andy Muschietti’s live action take on the novelist’s best story to date is an outstanding mix of spine-tingling horror, creature feature adventure and coming of age drama which matches the tone and feel of King’s writing to an uncanny tee. With Bill Skarsgård giving the most iconic performance of his entire career as the malevolent and undeniably haunting image of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, It manages to not only measure its’ horror elements to a genre pleasing effective degree but features too the greatest ensemble cast of young actors in years. With Muschietti on course to direct Chapter Two, the concluding half of King’s tale is indeed in the safest of filmmaking hands.
5. Manchester By The Sea
With a leading performance from Casey Affleck which can only be regarded as one of the most deserved Oscar winning roles in recent history as the grieving and emotionally unstable Lee Chandler, Kenneth Lonergan’s low-key masterpiece is a character study of brilliant proportions. Charged by a narrative which is as gut-wrenchingly powerful as it is flawlessly written, Manchester By The Sea might not seem the flashiest film on the surface, but with each and every player at the top of their respective game, Lonergan’s movie works on a level of relatability and subtlety which is rare to find in the current cinematic climate.
Recipient of the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, Barry Jenkins’ lucid and dreamlike tale of one man’s journey from youth to manhood is a dramatic work of unprecedented proportions featuring superbly understated supporting performances from both Oscar winner Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris. With a jukebox soundtrack and stunning cinematography, Jenkin’s independant delight is hard to shake off even after repeat viewings, and for a director so young in years and filmic back catalogue, Moonlight is an impressive work of cinematic art.
After tackling space, spies and Batman, Christopher Nolan takes his enviable talents to Dunkirk, a spectacular, IMAX-fuelled masterpiece which favours the use of practical design over digital effects, sound and image over dialogue and an impressively handled three act structure reminiscent of the time-bending narrative of Nolan’s previous work on Memento. With scenes which evoke a wide spectrum of emotions throughout its’ note perfect runtime, Nolan’s movie is a tense and taut war epic unlike anything seen before on the big screen and whilst it is indeed best course of action to devour the spectacle on the largest backdrop you can find thanks to Nolan’s personal fondness of the mighty IMAX, Dunkirk is not the first masterpiece to come from Nolan and I’m sure it won’t be his last.
2. Blade Runner 2049
A sequel to the greatest science fiction movie of all time needed to be something special, and in the hands of Arrival director Denis Villeneuve there was little doubting it wouldn’t be, but what we have with Blade Runner 2049 however is a movie which surpasses even the highest of anticipation, a beautifully bold and emotionally riveting masterpiece of sound, spectacle and art house wonder which rewrites the rule book for what it means to be a big budget production. With Villeneuve not only paying homage to Ridley Scott’s original in a more than respectable fashion but adding his own distinguishable DNA to the mix, the flawless work of Roger Deakins, Hans Zimmer and leading stars Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford result in Blade Runner 2049 being a deserved science fiction masterpiece in its’ own right and one which will stand the test of time in a fashion similar to its’ equally masterful predecessor.
1. La La Land
Following up on Black Ribbon’s best movie of 2015 in the form of Whiplash, Damien Chazelle’s beautifully romantic and stunningly swooning musical drama is a cinematic wonder of enigmatic proportions. With a cross of paths between the doe eyed dreamer figure of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s eccentric and passionate jazz extraordinaire, the narrative moves from the charming first acquaintance to a sombre, heartbreaking concluding act which is just a masterclass in flawless and natural filmmaking ability. The songs are sumptuous, the editing silky smooth and the location design a dreamlike ode to the history of Hollywood, La La Land isn’t just a masterpiece, it’s Black Ribbon’s film of the year and deservedly so.
“You’ll Float Too…”
Following in the footsteps of The Dark Tower earlier this year, the release of It is of course yet another cinematic adaptation of a novel from horror aficionado Stephen King and similarly is a story of which I have read from top to bottom, a particular strain when considering its’ mammoth 1400 plus page count, and whilst many regard the 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry with high esteem, there is no doubting its’ staggered weariness since its’ release, particularly in regards to the cheap effects and corny dialogue which encompassed much of television serials for that particular period in time. With Mama director Andy Muschietti steadying the ship and King’s blessings showered over its’ production, the time for a contemporary adaptation of arguably King’s most iconic novel has been highly anticipated since the first murmurings of its’ release were afoot, and with the film following the natural course of a plain sailing narrative by focusing primarily on the story of the children and leaving the elder’s tales until the sequel, It has the capacity to be up there with the best King adaptations to date. With a script which is as faithful to the source material as perhaps practically possible, Muschetti has effectively managed to craft a crowd-pleasing modern day horror classic, one which combines the fearlessness of youth with rib-tickling comedy and of course, the underlying element of utmost terror, one which is amalgamated within the form of a simply terrifying incarnation of King’s most disturbing creation thus far.
Switching the 1950’s era of the novel to the late 1980’s, a period of time consisting of cinemas showing A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and sounds of The Cult and The Cure, It begins in the horrific, iconic fashion of the source material, using the death of Georgie Denbrough as effective characterisation for both brother Bill and Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise, and whilst the death of a minor is always difficult to portray upon the big screen, Muschietti’s decision to act strictly within the confines of the film’s highly deserved 15 rating is both shocking and ballsy, but too a decision which ultimately benefits the sadistic and murderous nature of the film’s titular villain, and with Skarsgård’s portrayal of Pennywise carrying the fearful threat which made the character so powerful within the novel, each and every time his character appears on-screen either in clown form or the many other disguises depicted, the fundamental uncertainty of clowns which I believe resonates in almost everyone is absolutely and undeniably terrifying. With minimalistic, subverted facial twitches, surrealist voice cues and the bonus of added digital effects, the world has finally found the definitive portrayal of Pennywise, and although Tim Curry’s performance will always be admired by many of a certain ilk, Skarsgård’s interpretation is the character I totally envisioned when reading the novel and from a person who tends not to fall under the spell of jump scares, Skarsgård’s Pennywise managed to both fill me with terror and make me check my pants after a collection of effectively maneuvered horror set pieces.
In regards to both members and enemies of the Losers Club, casting director Rich Delia is arguably the real hero of the movie, accumulating an ensemble cast of primarily youth-inflicted, un-established talent which transcribes on-screen as pretty much perfect in terms of each respective character’s transition from paper to screen, and whilst the depth of characterisation prevalent in the novel was always impossible to fit into a two hour movie, Muschietti manages to direct each individual with enough vigour and charm to establish themselves as wholly believable and empathetic. Whether it be the sadistic parenting of both Beverly Marsh and lead bully Henry Bowers or the overbearing figure of Eddie Kaspbrak’s anxious mother, the development of the characters has the desired effect whenever they are placed in a position of peril, and even though from reading the novel I was aware of where each of the character’s narrative threads was heading, the channeling of the brilliantly constructed cast makes the horror elements much more effective. In a sentence, you’ll scare because you care. Whilst the threat of Pennywise does lesser slightly come the concluding battle between forces both good and evil in the surroundings of Derry’s less than attractive sewering system and the CGI construction of particular monsters not being as effective as the titular leading character, Muschietti’s movie is a masterclass of how to transition a story from page to screen, and whilst It is only part one of the story to come, the culmination of a superbly intertwined genre-swapping narrative, a perfectly moulded cast and an unparallelled faithfulness to the novel, Muschietti’s film is not only a marvel of modern horror cinema, but it redefines how Hollywood should be treating its’ horror-loving audience. See you in 27 years.