The F*cking Aces Films of 2017

This is not a list of my personal favourite films of 2017 (That list is coming, not that it matters). But because there’s always more films than you can possibly justify putting into one list, and we like to be positive around here, these are the ones that I’ll still defend and champion a year from now. Whatever their flaws, their quirks and ambitions more than make up for it. 2017 was the year I learned to completely own my tastes, and to be more forgiving of flaws where I’d find them.

Tramps

Tramps

A film sadly destined to be buried in the avalanche of Netflix’s mostly disposable-to-terrible original* films, Tramps is an updated screwball comedy, refocused on the working classes who’d actually have to struggle with the consequential actions of the casts of genre classics such as Bringing Up Baby. It has all the laidback mood you’d expect from kitchen-sink budget indies, and that thematic thread is exceptionally well drawn without making the remotest fuss. The basic premise? When his brother lands in jail, Danny (Callum Turner) has to pick-up a briefcase and drop it off. But he screws it up, and so he and his one contact Ellie (Grace Van Patten) head upstate in search of the woman he gave it to. It’s winsome, sincere, and Van Patten and Turner have excellent chemistry; Tramps is full of the subtle onrush of falling for someone, suddenly.

*read: We bought this when we saw it at Sundance and decided to just not tell anybody.

 

Silence

SilenceMartin Scorcese doesn’t make movies that aren’t worth watching. It’s never a good sign if a film is released on New Year’s Day, as it’s usually forgotten by the end. Yet Silence is a meaty and gorgeously understated (and absolutely gorgeous) exploration of faith. There are no easy answers, only questions, and the more you learn about the story (hey, Portuguese Apostate Liam Neeson:  believing that no new faith can take root in Japan is a little ironic since Buddhism originated in India) the muddier the waters get. It’s an undertaking and a half to watch, but mesmerising and impossible to turn away from. Never sleep on Scorcese.

 

Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde

Guys, spy movies are historically the silliest things in the world. There are multiple, highly lucrative franchises about male power fantasies swanning through Europe, blowing things up, jumping from ridiculous heights, and beating up failing Western rule in critical self-flagellation (hello Jason Bourne!). Atomic Blonde leans into the silliness: it has a Berlin club lighting palette, a gleefully on-the-nose soundtrack, James McAvoy giving his second hammiest performance this year, and of course multiple all-too-clever scenes where opposing characters know something they think the other doesn’t know, or maybe they do, but we’re sure the hero will make it out alive. Meanwhile, Charlize Theron gifts us another ass-kicking, genre-elevating performance through multiple scenes of hardcore punishment, all setting a new standard for hand-to-hand combat in American action filmmaking. If 30% more summer films were this cool and honest, we’d all be happier.

 

The Beguiled

The Beguiled

You could fill a 100 pages with shots of sunlit weeping willows and candlelit murder dinners from The Beguiled. It’s sexy, propulsive, full of note-perfect performances, and overflowing with tension. Colin Farrell is in a groove of rocking the older seductor vibe, but proves here that such an artifice of politeness can be used to hide as much weakness as it did manipulation in Fantastic Beasts. Special mention too, in a stacked female cast, to breakout Oona Laurence.

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth

Speaking of gorgeous movies about women dealing with the physical and figurative structures trapping them. Lady Macbeth is so mean it makes The Beguiled look like 10

Things I Hate About You. Florence Pugh’s performance is simply sensational, with her methodical, hyper-internal Katherine drawing the much more open performances into her orbit, before this sympathetic woman turns savage. I can’t wait to revisit the heart-stoppingly cruel third-act so I can read all the different ways throughout that Pugh plays the simple image of Katherine sitting or standing with her hands clasped over impeccable dresses, her china-doll face belying an impossible iron will.

 

Kong Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island

I’d have this on any list about 2017 just to celebrate director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ vicious takedown of CinemaSins, and subsequent self-deprecating appearance on Honest Trailers. It helps that Kong: Skull Island, subtle though it isn’t with its inspirations, is one of the most gorgeous blockbusters this decade. The images of a giant ape using a boat propeller to beat up a skeletal cavern-crawling beastie, or using a helicopter to smash other helicopters, or watching those same crawlers munch on our party of expendable heroes in the midst of a green fog graveyard. Tom Hiddleston in a gas mask, with a katana, slicing up lil’ pterodactyls? Yeah, this movie fucking rules. Kong: Skull Island only makes sense in the cinema, and you can ask no more from a giant monster movie.

 

Their Finest

Their Finest

Spoilers

This is exactly what you think it is, but a lot better in the execution. A warm, playful, feminist-leaning nostalgic comedy about making movies in wartime Britain, with Bill Nighy? How could it possibly surprise you? Well Their Finest proves to be made of steel with a development that recontextualises the characters efforts to make a movie that inspires people: whilst on set after a bombing raid, writer Buckley (Sam Claflin) dies in a freak accident, the very second after he and writing partner Catrin (Gemma Arterton) finally confessed their mutual love. Suddenly, this warm film about making movies to lift spirits and mobilise people shows you what has been building the entire time: the movies are not enough. They can comfort, as Catrin finds out herself, but what really matters is showing up and doing the work. It’s a bold, cruel choice on the part of write Gaby Chiappe and director Lone Scherfig, but it’s what makes Their Finest significantly more memorable than its appearance.

 

 

Alien Covenant

Alien: Covenant

H.R. Giger’s creation is still the most terrifying movie creature in existence. But Ridley Scott, not content with adding to the species roster with the infinitely nasty Neomorph, makes Michael Fassbender’s David the hero of his own nihilistic, genocidal story. Characters and cardboard cutouts drop like flies here, and Scott’s having a blast using them to get inside the head of possibly the most exciting and disarming AI since Roy Batty. Sporting killer horror and action sequences, and the ever-valuable Katherine Waterston and Billy Crudup, Alien: Covenant is a gleeful Frankenstein melding of classic schlock and pretentious divergence.

 

A Cure For Wellness

Cure For Wellness

 

It’s been a year of great horror movies big and small, and the most exciting thing about it is how many times a studio-backed film with an insanely high budget swung hard for the fences, when it came to scares and subtext. And perhaps no film (except mother!) swung with more mania than A Cure For Wellness. Wonkily structured it may be (the batshit insane third act climax is actually somewhere in the fourth act), and barely bothering to hide the “in-plain-sight” danger by casting Jason Isaacs (with a none-more menacingly hammy performance), it’s nonetheless a riot of big, trippy spectacle, haunting sound and production design, and themes of decaying morality, amidst characters trying to live forever.

 

 

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand PlanetsValerian & The City Of A Thousand Planets

I’ve already written at length about why this rules, so in short: this was the biggest sugar rush of the summer blockbuster season. Sometimes overwhelming, often very silly and eye-rollingly hard to stomach, but it’ll also fill you with a giddy buzz unlike anything else this year.

 

Happy Death Day

Happy Death Day

Ditto in the case of this hyper crowd-pleasing slasher. Jessica Rothe is a star, and I’m going to remember the split-diopter shot and the baseball death transition for a long time, for their sheer visual fun. They’re not even close to all the moments director Christopher Landon makes a neatly premised slasher so much more original.

 

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Film Review: Happy Death Day

This article was first published to The Edge on October 29th 2017

Slashers do not want the Popular girls to live. No matter where the killer’s doing the stalking, the first one to die and “deserve” it is the bitch. Happy Death Day doesn’t just know this, it indulges us in this. But once its indulged you, you’ll find a subtle subversion of the trope, by getting straight to the core of why it exists: these movies believe we (a typically young audience) want this type of woman to die, because it’ll exonerate us from our own bad behaviour:

“If you sleep around, get drunk, lie to and disregard your friends, and show no regard for others, you will get what’s coming to you – violently.”

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Two creators, credit enough for one: Mother! & misogyny

This article was first published by The National Student on 28th September 2017

Mother! is the least “meh” movie of the year. 

I still can’t believe a major studio released this ever, let alone in 2017. Is it flawed? Yes. It’s drowned in metaphor, and its structure is designed in full-on worship of “film-as-allegory”. The subtext doesn’t just become text, it becomes a sledgehammer that smashes you in the face, and proceeds to ask, “do you get it?”*.

The setting and protagonist are scant of mundane details, to a difficult-to-relate-to degree, were it not for the permanent POV of Jennifer Lawrence’s protagonist. She and Javier Bardem’s ‘Him’ are not a warm and loving couple, but neither is it a screaming daggers relationship. The film is also not nearly as tense as it thinks it is, and as delightful as Michelle Pfeiffer’s scenes are, they’re hilariously awkward, not unnerving. Aronofsky doesn’t quite balance his Hitchcockian instincts with his jet-black streak of humour. And, the obscenely bananas finale is cruel beyond the exploitative. This is a horror movie for horror movies.

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Film Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circles

This article was first published to The Edge on 22nd September 2017

It’ll be a cliché by the time you read this, but if you disliked Kingsman: The Secret Service, you’ll probably hate The Golden Circle. What made that film so surprising upon its release cannot be replicated, because it was Matthew Vaughn going all in on button-pushing non-winking satire. Repeating the brazen opening, the church sequence, or Pomp and Circumstance fireworks would only have diminishing returns, no matter how laser-pointed the jokes were. The only way to make a sequel that lives up to that watermark is to do something that develops the characters in new directions. That requires a story as finely-tuned as the first’s, which is something The Golden Circle doesn’t even come close to having. Continue reading

Film Review: Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets

This article was first published to The Edge on 7th August 2017

The first thing that you should know about Luc Besson’s return to the space opera genre, two decades after The Fifth Element split critics and gained cult status, is that he hasn’t set out to do anything differently in Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets. This isn’t like any other major blockbuster released this year. In its structure, characters and imagination, Valerian does things differently. Its closest counterpart this year is, coincidentally, another Dane DeHaan starrer, Gore Verbinski’s A Cure For Wellness. They’re both apparently carte blanche films for eccentric directing talents, which end up as lopsided, thoroughly weird beasts. Continue reading

Review: Moonlight

This article was first published to The Edge on 13th February 2017

There’s a song that plays at the very beginning of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. Before anyone is seen, over the company credits only, we hear the refrain of Boris Gardiner’s ‘Every N****r Is a Star’. It’s a cut that’ll be familiar to anyone who heard Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, where it is also the very first thing the listener hears; the film the song originally came from, and its soundtrack album, were flops upon their initial release, but the power of Gardiner’s words has resonated long in underground music circles. Continue reading

Review: The Autopsy Of Jane Doe

This article was first published to The Edge on 31st January 2017

I’m by no means the person to ask about the history of horror in film, but you don’t have to be an expert to notice the subtext trend in the genre’s most recent successes. The Babadook is about depression and grief. The Witch is about fear of femininity and powers that a masculine worldview doesn’t understand. The Invitation, also about depression and grief. Last summer’s surprise hit Lights Out is concerned with the same, and the pain that families both hide and pass onto each generation. The Autopsy Of Jane Doe touches on all of these and more. It’s far from the best of the bunch, but it’s a punchy addition to the canon, bridging the gap between eerie chamber pieces like The Invitation, the atmospheric restraint of The Witch, and inevitably the more schlocky, booming crowd-pleaser tradition of Lights Out. It makes for a compelling, somewhat jarring stylistic and thematic cocktail. Continue reading

Film Review: American Honey

This article was originally published to The National Student on 10th October 2016

When Star (Sasha Lane) meets Jake (Shia LaBouef) he proposes that she join him and his friends in their work as a travelling magazine sales crew, in Andrea Arnold’s latest Cannes triumph. 

Their instant spark convinces her to abandon the broken and impoverished home life she leads in Kansas, and set out with the team. Under the watchful eye of the white trash queen bitch Krystal (Riley Keough), she travels the south and Midwest of America, selling subscriptions and experiencing a greater amount of life than she previously had. But as she pursues a relationship with Jake, her newfound freedom and family is placed in increasingly precarious situations.  Continue reading

Film Review: Nerve

This article was originally published to The National Student on 27th July 2016

★★★★☆

You’d be hard pressed to think of a film from the last year that opens with a scene more on-the-nose as Nerve.

NerveEmma Roberts’ Vee is procrastinating on her Macbook, Facebook stalking her high school’s football star, and listening to “sick choons” on Spotify. We see close ups of her cursor as it hovers over various icons; it waits temptingly over the “Like” button for her crush’s photo; we see her biting her lip, her facial movements tentative in extreme close-up; Vee gets a Facetime call from her best friend Sydney (Emily Meade). Continue reading