So, here I am again at the end of another year (well, a couple of months beyond the end of another year, but never mind). I’ve been posting during the past week about the best films I’ve seen during 2017 (for a general overview of the year click here and for a list of my 20 favourite documentaries click here) and below is a list of my 50 favourite feature films. The only criteria applied is that they were released in the UK during 2017, either in cinemas or on streaming services. This means that certain movies that appeared in US cinemas – and on many critics’ lists – in 2016 are included here (e.g. Manchester By The Sea, La La Land, Moonlight), and that certain well-received US releases from 2017 like Lady Bird are not included here, as they are 2018 UK releases. Got it? Good!

Note: At the time of writing I’m yet to catch up with a few releases from 2017 that I think may have a chance of being somewhere in this top 50, including The Death Of Stalin, After The Storm, The Disaster Artist, A Silent Voice, Hotel Salvation, Professor Marston And The Wonder Women, Happy End and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer; should any of those make it in at a later date I’ll re-order everything accordingly. (Also, I’m not sure whether it’s worth stating, but I’ve seen over 230 2017 releases at the time of making this list.) Oh, and spare a thought for the ‘nearly’ films that ended up just outside of the this top 50, all of which I’d recommend seeing. They include Back To Burgundy, Land Of Mine, The Other Side Of Hope, My Happy Family, The Fits, The Levelling, A Man Called Ove, Fences, Wind River, The Red Turtle and First They Killed My Father.


Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky

50. Logan Lucky (Soderbergh): A rather endearing robbery caper set in West Virginia against the backdrop of a popular NASCAR race. It has a lot going for it, not least the rather entertaining and eminently likeable cast, which includes Riley Keogh, Adam Driver and Channing Tatum as the three Logan siblings, who must carry out a heist while the race is on and the small matter of a family curse hangs over their heads. It’s an entertaining, light-hearted way to pass a couple of hours.

49. The Founder (Hancock): An unusual biopic about Ray Kroc, the man who ‘joined’ McDonald’s and transformed it into the world’s biggest fast-food franchise. It’s unusual in the sense that it spends the first hour setting Michael Keaton’s Kroc up as a nice guy, a dreamer with a vision and a man with the will and belief to see it through; the second half, however, systematically destroys his character, emphasising his single-minded ruthlessness in sidelining the real founders, Richard and Maurice McDonald, as well as his first wife Ethel. It appears to be celebrating an American institution yet also undermining it, faintly criticising the business practices and moral decisions that transpire as it grows to a certain size.

48. I Am Not Madame Bovary (Xiaogang): A Chinese film about Li Xuelian (Fan Bingbing), whose attempts to overturn a court’s decision against her bring frustration and cause more and more headaches for officials as time passes. Much of it is intriguingly presented in a circular format – deliberately recalling traditional Chinese art – though occasionally it does change briefly to a square.

47. I Am Not A Witch (Nyoni): An impressive tragicomic debut feature by Rungano Nyoni about a young girl who is accused of being a witch in Zambia and sentenced to a kind of slave labour camp with other accused women, before later being exploited by a government official. It starts out as a coruscating satire, with a number of absurdly funny scenes (or scenes that just seem plainly absurd, at least to my eyes, unfamiliar as I am with the subject matter and the country of Zambia more generally), though Nyoni gradually takes the film into a darker place, and the final act – in which there is much less dialogue – is strikingly solemn.

46. My Life As A Courgette (Barras): Warm-hearted and thoughtful animation about French kids in a care home. Doesn’t skate around issues and it’s all the better for its frankness and openness.


Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country

45. God’s Own Country (Lee): This debut feature by Francis Lee seems to me to be the pick of the recent rural-set English dramas (Hope Dickson Leach’s The Levelling missed out on my top 50, though not by much). It’s a queer love story involving the English son of a farmer and a Romanian farmhand, set against the backdrop of the southern Yorkshire Dales, and although it shares certain plot points with Brokeback Mountain this is very much a Brexit-era British film that deals with immigration and racism, the new world causing friction as it rubs up against the old world, and includes the kind of rolling pastureland that occasionally steals the show (but is often kept out of focus with tight, close-up camerawork focusing on leads Alec Secareanu and Josh O’Connor). Ian Hart and Gemma Jones provide good support.

44. Harmonium (Fukada): A small home features prominently in this Japanese family drama, in which an ex-con goes to live and work with a man who we later discover is indebted to him, as a result of an unseen act carried out years beforehand. At first the style and the setting bring to mind Ozu, or perhaps in terms of modern directors Koreeda, but this is no slice of everyday life, and it becomes a much darker film that helps to distance it from the work of others. It’s split into two parts; the first, leading up to two terrible events, is suffused with dread, the second – set years later – a suffocating sadness and a sense that a new character’s genuine attempt to put things right is just going to lead somewhere very dark indeed. Good performances all round.

43. The Big Sick (Showalter): The breakthrough comedy hit of the summer, Michael Showalter’s Apatow-produced The Big Sick was written by comedian Kumail Nanjiani (who stars as himself) and writer Emily Gordon (also Nanjiani’s wife), a version of whom is played in the film by Zoe Kazan, an actor I always enjoy watching and who tends to bring a certain edgy charm to romantic movies (I’m thinking of her self-penned Ruby Sparks, primarily). It’s a sharp, funny comedy that mines the couple’s meet-cute and the early stages of their relationship for chuckles really well, and gets plenty of laughs out of the comedy club circuit and Nanjiani’s Pakistani-American family life, too. The film loses some of its early momentum when Kazan’s character, here named Emily Gardner, falls into a coma, though this does also bring about the appearance of Holly Hunter and Ray Romano as Emily’s parents, both of whom are on terrific form. A funny movie with heart and soul.

42. The Beguiled (Coppola): I haven’t seen Don Siegel’s 1971 original, remade in 2017 by Sofia Coppola, but this newer piece certainly has a strong sense of time and place, like all her films – it’s set in and around a girls’ school during the American Civil War, and you can almost feel the oppressive, muggy air and the heat emanating from the swampland surrounding the establishment. It also establishes its characters well, such as three of the women of various ages studying in and running the school (played by Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fanning, none of whom put a foot wrong), as well as the wounded Union Army soldier that they discover and take in (a terrifically oily Colin Farrell). The film looks and sounds beautiful, as you would expect from Coppola, and watching the three main women – who have different roles within the school, as defined by their ages, but who all end up desiring the same thing – as their closed-off, carefully-maintained environment is turned upside-down by this sudden male presence is compelling, particularly during the second half.

41. Suntan (Papadimitropoulos): I was impressed by the performance of Makis Papadimitriou in Athina Rachel Tsangari comedy-drama Chevalier, which came out in 2016, and here he delivers another impressive turn as Kostis, a middle-aged doctor whose behaviour becomes increasingly pathetic and unhinged after he takes up a new post on an unnamed Greek resort island. Both films deconstruct the behaviour of men, though where Chevalier drew laughs from its depiction of absurd male competitiveness Suntan gradually turns into a much darker affair.


Antonio Campos’ Christine

40. Christine (Campos): The main question surrounding this biopic – which depicts a brief period in the life of Florida TV reporter Christine Chubbuck, ending with a shocking recreation of her on-screen suicide – is whether it should have been made at all; or, put another way, why bring up this sad event if all you’re really doing is reigniting the age-old ethical arguments surrounding the “if it bleeds, it leads” edict of TV news reportage? Whatever you think, at least it’s a strong, evenly-paced work that recreates the period well enough, and is sympathetic towards the character of Chubbuck, played with deft skill by Rebecca Hall, who should at the very east have been nominated for an Oscar. Tracy Letts and J. Smith-Cameron are also very good in supporting roles.

39. Mother! (Aronofsky): A flawed but ambitious Mother Earth parable that has a slow build up (which I liked) to a chaotically over-the-top final act (which I liked less). Clearly the entire cast and crew got behind the director, and for that reason I think it just about works for me, much in the same way Ben Wheatley’s High Rise, which has a similarly crazy final third, worked for me last year. But fuck you, pretentious director, you’re getting a bloody capital ‘M’ on this blog.

38. Get Out (Peele): This whip-smart Stepford Wives, Society or Invasion Of The Body Snatchers-style horror about race that effectively satirised white, middle class liberal American attitudes towards black people, while also providing the audience with an occasionally comic ride and plenty of thrills. I liked Daniel Kaluuya as photographer Chris, the guy who must spend a weekend in the company of the wealthy family of his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), and I very much enjoyed the awkwardness of Chris’s first encounters with his other half’s nearest and dearest. The movie delivers its key message succinctly and cleverly while also highlighting the fact that in real life black Americans who go missing do not receive anything like the level of attention afforded white Americans in the same predicament. It’s also a lot of fun.

37. Frantz (Ozon): François Ozon’s latest is a sombre tale set between Quedlinburg, Germany and Paris after the end of the First World War, and apparently a remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby, which I’m afraid I haven’t seen. Part mystery, part romance, part social drama, it’s handsomely shot in black and white by Pascal Marti, who won the César for Best Cinematography in 2017, while the tone and subject matter feels concomitant with Ozon’s other work as well as, occasionally, Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon.

36. Detroit (Bigelow): I wish this were higher up, as in dramatising the Algiers Motel incident of 1967 the first hour of Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit offers tense, gripping filmmaking of the highest quality. Sadly this leads to a top-heavy work; detailing the aftermath and telling us what happened next to the people involved is absolutely necessary, but the interviews and courtroom scenes that follow are muted and the film meanders slowly to a finish.


Aisling Walsh’s Maudie

35. Maudie (Walsh): Tender, warm portrait of the Canadian painter Maud Lewis, who lived in and worked out of a small shack in Nova Scotia for much of the 20th century. She is played here by Sally Hawkins, whose intense physical performance is informed by the artist’s struggles with rheumatoid arthritis, though there’s much more to Hawkins’ work here than contortions and pained expressions. The film concentrates less on her art and more on her relationship with husband Everett (Ethan Hawke). A lovely soundtrack adds to a warm viewing experience.

34. The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Mäki (Kuosmanen): Very much an anti-boxing movie (though it’s not, for clarity’s sake, anti-boxing per se). In real life Mäki was a very successful amateur Finnish boxer, competing in the Olympics before later turning professional. He fought Davey Moore in Finland for the World Featherweight Title in 1962, only to lose in two rounds, and this beautiful black and white film by Juho Kuosmanen is set during the run-up to that bout, as well as its immediate aftermath. Really, though, the film is about the relationship between shy, unassuming Mäki (Jarkko Lahti) and his girlfriend Raija Jänkä (played with a huge dose of warm-hearted charm by Finnish singer-turned-actor Oona Airola). It’s a light, entertaining film and the hand-held camerawork and boxing gym locations bringing to mind Shane Meadows’ low-key debut TwentyFourSeven, though the images here are crisper. I thought I was done with boxing movies, which often seem to have turned into parodies of themselves of late, but this is a gem that quickly disarms anyone who mistakenly approaches it with weary cynicism.

33. Jackie (Larrain): While this Jackie Kennedy biopic is not without its problems, it’s still a dizzyingly intense and striking imagination of life within the White House as lived by Jackie-O before and after the death of JFK; it creates a good sense of what it might be like to be in the middle of a media whirl, to be completely unanchored after the killing of a loved one, and to have to find precious time to mourn while also being expected to fulfil certain ongoing obligations. Natalie Portman is really good here and the soundtrack by Mica Levi is excellent, helping to set both tone and pace.

32. Loving (Nichols): The quietly-told tale of a landmark court case, anchored by two impressive lead performances (Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton as Mildred and Richard Loving, who fought Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law). It’s a film that takes plenty of time to explore the couple’s deep love for one another, as well as their individual reactions as their case escalates through the courts. I think it’s a film that will be forgotten about by many as time passes, which is a shame.

31. Logan (Mangold): It was nice to see superhero films moving in a slightly different direction last year, particularly with regard to the gender of a main protagonist and a director (Wonder Woman), but also the greater emphasis on humour elsewhere (Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming). However Logan‘s the 2017 release that really seemed to stand out from the pack to me and go against the grain, despite the fact that its seriousness and the focus on a character who has appeared many times before on the big screen probably counted against it in the eyes of many amateur and professional critics. The action was stripped back and bone-crunchingly violent, the dialogue sweary and sparse, and it was great to see Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine at his baddest after all these years. The western influences were presented a little clumsily at times, but at least this was unusual.


Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body And Soul

30. On Body And Soul (Enyedi): Ildikó Enyedi’s first film for nine years mixes absolutely beautiful shots of a shared dream, in which deer stalk one another in a frozen woodland, with a drama about the complicated relationship that develops between the two dreamers in question, who are also workers in a Hungarian abbatoir. One is a taciturn man (Géza Morcsányi), the other a woman with Asperger’s (Alexandra Borbély), and the quiet, peaceful aura created by these two characters is punctured occasionally by startling imagery.

29. Marjorie Prime (Almereyda): A low-key, slow and satisfying drama set 40 or 50 years into the future, at a point when technological developments have enabled humans to live with holographic representations of deceased loved ones, all of which are able to learn and become more realistic the more that they are conversed with. The film grapples with its themes and ideas – memory repression, misremembered or edited history, AI in the future, to name but a few – in a way that I found pleasing, and the overall effect is, I suppose, a little bit of Blade Runner 2049 crossed with a little bit of Black Mirror crossed with a little bit of Robot And Frank, even though it’s also much, much subtler and calmer and reflective than the combination of such works might suggest. Also – nice to see Tim Robbins and Geena Davis again.

28. The Salesman (Farhadi): The title of Asghar Farhadi’s latest Oscar-winning drama refers to Arthur Miller’s play Death Of A Salesman, of which we see snippets (rehearsals, and then later, performances). Some of Miller’s themes feed into this film’s overarching narrative, which concerns two of the actors in the play, Emad and Rana, a married couple; on the face of it they have a good, solid relationship, though the opening prologue – in which their apartment building is evacuated before it begins to collapse – hints at problems to come. Farhadi regulars Shahab Hosseini (A Separation) and Taraneh Alidoosti (About Elly) do particularly well in the lead roles, delivering convincing performances that mostly make you believe in their characters, their decisions and their actions.

27. The Handmaiden (Park): A twisty three-parter, effectively starting out as an elaborate, class- and race-focused period con movie and then – typically of Park – turning into something quite different indeed: a film that easily shifts back and forth from its central queer (and often explicitly-rendered) love story to psychosexual drama and even twisted revenge thriller. It’s a committed, fast-paced affair, but my suspicions that this Korean director is always trying too hard to dazzle his audience with spectacle simply won’t go away.

26. Graduation (Mungiu): Cristian Mungiu’s latest drama sees a chain of events unfold after a promising student (Maria-Victoria Dragus) is attacked outside her school, an incident that affects her ability to perform in a crucial exam with a scholarship to the University of Cambridge riding on the outcome. Out of this horrible situation comes a cautionary tale about corruption and the calling in of favours within modern Romanian society. It has an excellent script by Mungiu and there’s a really impressive ensemble performance at its heart. Bleak and downbeat, but also sincere and thoughtful.


Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected)

25. The Meyerowitz Stories (New And Selected) (Baumbach): More Upper East Side shenanigens from Noah Baumbach, who has managed to wring the first excellent performance out of Adam Sandler in many a year. It’s basically an anthology film about one family, as hinted at by the title, and I think the best praise I can give is that I wanted to see more of nearly every character after it finished. Elizabeth Marvel and Ben Stiller also impress.

24. In Between (Hamoud): Three female flatmates in Tel Aviv face struggles for independence, equality, acceptance and tolerance within a patriarchal, conservative society. It’s a well-written, well-acted, sharp piece of drama.

23. Paddington 2 (King): Really great fun from the first moment to the very last, with a wonderfully self-effacing turn by Hugh Grant as the villain. It incorporates animated sequences in a lovely way, puts forward simple, positive messages and it’s probably as good as the first Paddington… perhaps even better.

22. Mudbound (Rees): That still-fairly-rare occurrence… a high-quality Netflix feature film (see also The Meyerowitz Stories, above). There are really good performances across the board here, including Mary J. Blige’s Oscar-nominated supporting turn as a farmworker, Garrett Hedlund’s troubled veteran and Carey Mulligan’s love-torn city girl, as well as stunning photography by Rachel Morrison (again Oscar-nominated) that seems to simultaneously highlight the bleakness and toughness of the land in Mississippi while also capturing serene beauty of its sunsets. The story is powerful.

21. A Quiet Passion (Davies): Cynthia Nixon excels as the acerbic, witty and forward-thinking American poet Emily Dickinson in this biopic from Terence Davies. Using just one (admittedly fairly large) location, it looks great (thanks to the wonderful period production design), and it’s often very funny, with Dickinson’s superbly caustic zingers arriving regularly throughout. There’s heart and soul in there too.


Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women

20. 20th Century Women (Mills): One of the things I like best about this film by Thumbsucker director Mike Mills is that it switches its focus so skilfully between its characters, so on the one hand you get passages that feel very much like a typical coming of age film with a teenage boy as the centre of the known universe, and then others that concentrate more on the life of Annette Bening’s matriarch; in fact all of the main characters are well-drawn and get plenty of time on screen. There are some creative montages and retro special effects to denote the late-70s California setting, too.

19. Lady Macbeth (Oldroyd): This chilling debut film by William Oldroyd is loosely based on Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov and contains a star-making turn by Florence Pugh as Katherine, a scheming young woman rebelling against the older men she has been forced to live with: one her cruel, miserable husband Alexander (Paul Hilton), the other her cruel, miserable father-in-law Boris (Christopher Fairbank). Alice Birch’s screenplay is very impressive and Ari Wegner’s cinematography emphasises the austerity of the house.

18. Slack Bay (Dumont): Bruno Dumont’s black comedies mix slapstick and farce with cutting social commentary, gruesome acts and the otherworldy bleakness of the north of France, and I guess they’re not for everyone but from what I’ve seen I like the mish-mash very much. This tale of tourists going missing while holidaying on the Normandy coast includes a pair of bungling detectives and hilarious turns from Fabrice Luchini and Juliette Binoche, who play a wealthy brother and sister.

17. Aquarius (Filho): Impressive, thoughtful and unhurried Brazilian drama by Kleber Mendonça Filho, notable for its excellent central performance by Sônia Braga as Dona Clara, a retired music critic, cancer survivor, widow and mother, and also the last resident of the titular beachside block of flats in Recife. The story is about gentrification, and greed, but the film is also a reflection on time and (a particular) space, subtly exploring family relationships, individualism and memory.

16. Call Me By Your Name (Guadagnino): I didn’t fall for this romantic drama as much as some viewers seemed to (it’s the most swooned-over release of 2017, for sure), but I still liked and appreciated it very much; a tender, gay love story that’s perhaps a bit reticent about actual sex (hey, why show that when you could show lovely meals in the late-afternoon Italian sun, eh?), it features a really good breakthrough performance by Timothée Chalamet and has a nice, woozy charm. Do you judge a love story by the way you feel about the outcome at the end? I sometimes do, and if I don’t care about what has happened to the characters I don’t think it’s a particularly successful film; not the case here – the end is emotionally hard-hitting.


Julia Ducournau’s Raw

15. Raw (Ducournau): Raw is a visceral, highly-stylised European horror that doffs its cap regularly to Italian giallo, both in terms of the bloody, over-the-top, exploitation-style violence it contains and the lurid colours employed on occasion, which are cleverly incorporated into the plot and the production design so that the film also manages to retain a certain sense of realism, at least in terms of its setting. Events that transpire, and the way that they are depicted at times, are way more out there. A great, gruesome debut.

14. Toni Erdmann (Ade): A bittersweet and keenly-observed comedy with two terrific protagonists that uses the comedy of embarrassment really well. I think I under-appreciated it at the time of viewing, partly because I’d expected so much after all the hype, and the more I thought about its comic set-pieces afterwards the more I warmed to it. Two really great performances by Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek to enjoy as well.

13. Elle (Verhoeven): It’s a tonally-mixed but very compelling movie, in which Isabelle Huppert’s commanding performance holds everything together; her apparent ease at portraying coldness-mixed-with-resilience makes her the perfect fit for the role. It’s clear that her Dutch director/collaborater shows no sign of entering into a tamer, late-life period, as this is among his most brutal, violent and unsettling work, at times, yet it also contains scenes that are among his most drily witty.

12. The Florida Project (Baker): There are excellent performances here, and a sugary, colourful look that captures perfectly the way that the pastels of the Walt Disney World Resort seep beyond its boundaries and across the Floridian businesses that surround it and rely to a certain degree on it. The setting is a hotel where many of the residents (single mothers and their children, predominantly) are apparently fighting to stay just above the poverty line and keep a roof over their heads. Baker’s film is sympathetic and non-judgmental, but it doesn’t shy away from showing the consequences of a certain character’s actions either. It effortlessly slips from presenting this candy-coloured world from a child’s point of view to the points of view of the stressed adults who inhabit it.

11. Certain Women (Reichardt): A film that is partly about three faltering relationships: between a lawyer and her client; between a woman and her family as they set about building a dream home; and between a young law teacher and a ranch hand student.
The scene in which a truck rolls off the road is one of the saddest, most heartbreaking cinematic images I’ve seen for quite some time, but there’s a mournfulness seeping in throughout this movie, perhaps reflected most by the snowy, barren Montana landscape.


Katell Quillévéré‘s Heal The Living

10. Heal The Living (Quillévéré): The narrative in this excellent new film by Katell Quillévéré, written by Quillévéré and Gilles Taurand, drifts from one character to another, all of whom are linked together in some way by a dying patient in a hospital and his heart. There are excellent performances and some very persuasive sequences that indicate the strange state that exists between dreams and reality, which are beautifully shot by Tom Harari. There’s also a really lovely soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat that contemplates the images and the delicate nature of the film. A moving, well-considered, subtle study of life, death, grief and hope.

9. Personal Shopper (Assayas): A difficult film to pin down, as it comfortably slips between genres without much in the way of fuss. It is on the one hand an existential drama largely set within the fashion industry and the celebrity world, though it’s apparent from the off that Assayas wishes to deglamorise fashion, or at least the purchasing of it (if not the actual act of wearing). It’s also a chiller, a genuinely unnerving ghost story and a psychosexual thriller that leaves its fantastical phenomena mostly unexplained – we see and ‘hear’ the same things that Maureen hears, but even by the end it’s still unclear whether we’re supposed to believe in these interactions or judge Kristen Stewart’s character as someone who is a) able to communicate with the dead or b) coming apart at the seams. Fun to pick apart, and it’s a superb central performance by Stewart.

8. Silence (Scorsese): Martin Scorsese’s rumination on belief and persecution includes two good actors in the lead roles whose careers are still very much in the early stages, and I’m not sure either is really suited to the role of a 17th century Jesuit priest or is quite able to carry the weight of such a film at the present moment. I just wish there were a couple of great turns here; as it is the two leads are overshadowed by Yōsuke Kubozuka, who is excellent in a smaller role as translator/guide-turned-betrayer Kichijiro. It certainly looks very good – lots of lavish images from Rodrigo Prieto – and Thelma Schoonmaker is of course an excellent editor who has been at the peak of her powers for as long as her illustrious collaborator. The subject matter of faith – familiar to long-term Scorsese fans – and long running time evidently put plenty of people off, which is a shame.

7. La La Land (Chazelle): This celebrated musical is equal parts miserably relentless, tentatively hopeful, brilliantly effervescent and quietly resigned, just like the four seasons it uses for its structure, and even though it’s basically selling a lie it’s no hardship to sit back and let Chazelle and co flog it to you one more time, with feeling; I’ve tired of Hollywood’s endless celebrating of itself in the past, but I have to admit I can turn a blind eye (and even enjoy myself) when it’s trying to entertain you as hard as it does here, and though it’s easy to be cynical about the success of the characters in terms of achieving their goals, it is at least delivered with a welcome underlying note of sadness. Considering that no other characters beyond those portrayed by the two leads are developed in any meaningful way, and that the film’s running time extends beyond two hours, Gosling and Stone do a terrific job.

6. A Ghost Story (Lowery): An emotionally stirring, striking and heartfelt study of a ghost who is trapped in the house in which he once lived, while corporeal, and who is himself traumatised by the arrival of new residents and haunted by the slowly-disappearing memories of his life. Its appeal lies in its mystery, its otherness, and what the director does here with space and time is very impressive indeed. It grabbed me from the off and it delivers on its intriguing premise.


Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049

5. Blade Runner 2049 (Villeneuve): This is an excellent science-fiction film that smartly takes ideas and themes from the original Blade Runner in new directions, and also retains certain aspects of the look, soundtrack and feel of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece while also feeling very much like Villeneuve’s own vision. It also keeps the sense of bleakness and the lack of hope you associate with film noir – a key influence on the first film – but dispenses with the idea of fun, oddball characters and creations, which I think works pretty well. No smiles to be had here.

4. Manchester By The Sea (Lonergan): This awards season contender from Kenneth Lonergan is a strong, intelligent and superbly-acted drama. It deals with grief in an intelligent fashion, refusing to bend to convention by offering a silver lining or some sort of redemption for anyone at the end of a tough and chilly-looking two hours (it’s snowy and cold in a number of flashbacks, as well as the scenes set in the present day). It’s also filled with interesting characters who have been written with nuance by someone who understands people (as opposed to someone who just knows how to write people in movies) — there are contradictions in terms of the behaviour of nearly everyone in this story, whether they’re going through periods of intense change in their lives or have recently been through them and are still struggling to adapt on the other side, and Lonergan has rendered all of them believable, whether they are central to the story or drop out of it for long periods. It’s a film with a heavy heart, but there are alleviating laughs to be found, as well as strong editing by Jennifer Lame, which manages to fuse the daydreamed reminiscences with the present very well indeed.

3. Good Time (Safdie, Safdie): A great, wild ride of a New York movie by the Safdie brothers, one that channels the scuzz of Scorsese’s sleazy, lowlife-ridden streets in the 1970s and also the on-the-hoof indie spirit of Cassavetes in equal measure. Robert Pattinson is excellent as Connie Nikas, a morally bankrupt small time hustler whose attempt at a bank robbery with the help of his younger, mentally-challenged brother Nick (Ben Safdie, co-director) goes spectacularly wrong, kicking off a chain of events that take place over the course of one night. A dizzying mix of lysergic visuals, kinetic energy, great acting and Oneohtrix Point Never’s pulsing score.

2. Dunkirk (Nolan): Christopher Nolan’s 100-minute-long film is effectively one very long, very tense sequence that builds and builds towards a particularly thrilling finale. I was gripped throughout and felt for the first time in a long time that I was watching a blockbuster worthy of the name. Dunkirk is much more than just an extended, bravura action sequence, though; it has Mark Rylance’s kind-faced performance and Tom Hardy’s narrowing eyebrows; the otherness of the icy Channel and the miserable rain-swept beach; Harry Styles’ unexpectedly effective panic and Hans Zimmer’s apt metronomic score. There’s a lot here to enjoy.


Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight

1. Moonlight (Jenkins): This is a beautiful, heartfelt and superbly-acted film that in my opinion fully deserved its Oscar wins (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay), and I say that despite thoroughly enjoying other contenders. Moonlight flows so well through its three parts that you barely notice the introduction of different, older actors to play the main character (‘Little’, ‘Chiron’ and ‘Black’, depending on the period of his life shown), and as so many critics and fans have pointed out it was refreshing to see such a nuanced, thoughtful take on black, gay, American, male sexuality in mainstream cinema (because let’s be clear…although an indie film shot for less than $2m this was propelled into the big leagues as a result of its critical success). Emotionally resonating – because even given my own distance from the material as a white, straight, English man there’s enough universally-understood sadness and longing pulsing through the film for anyone to grasp hold of – and with gorgeous Floridian cinematography by James Laxton (who, a year ago, was probably best known for lensing some of Kevin Smith’s recent box office bombs), I’d struggle to name a better film released since I began blogging four or five years ago. Elegant and enthralling.

Here is a list of my 20 favourite documentaries of 2017, which is the second post of my three-part round-up of last year (click here for the first bit). The simple criteria is that the films were officially released in the UK during 2017 in cinemas, shown on streaming services or screened on TV.

MoMA_Machines_STILL 6-1.jpg

Rahul Jain’s Machines

20. Machines (Jain): Rahul Jain’s artful piece shows – in some depth – the workers and workings of a textile factory in Gujarat, India.

19. Lost In France (McCann): In the late 1990s several bands on Glasgow’s Chemikal Underground label played a festival in a small French town together, and they return for this doc, older and possibly slightly wiser; it’s a charming and nostalgic trip down memory lane with the key figures offering plenty of anecdotes and reminiscences.

18. Heroin(e) (Sheldon): A very good short-ish film about the effects of heroin on Huntington, West Virginia, where use of the drug (and related criminal activity) is widespread.

17. An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power (Cohen, Shenk): A documentary that describes Al Gore’s apparently tireless efforts with regard to tackling climate change during the past decade, following the success of earlier film An Inconvenient Truth. It looks closely at natural disasters befalling the world, particularly catastrophic flooding, provides a snapshot of Gore’s work relating to the Paris Accord – the film was updated in the wake of Trump’s decision to pull the US’s support earlier this year – and spends time with the former VP as he passionately promotes solar powered energy.

16. I Called Him Morgan (Collin): Engaging release about the brilliant but under-appreciated jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan, who was shot and killed by his wife Helen in a club in 1972 at the young age of 33. It feels standard to begin with, as talking heads lament the loss of a prodigious talent and share stories about live performances and other events. However, as it approaches the subject of Morgan’s death, director Kasper Collin’s film becomes more and more interested in the life of Helen, and it kind of turns into a documentary about her life, which is every bit as fascinating as Lee’s. It’s complemented by wintry images of New York and, unsurprisingly, an excellent soundtrack.


Katharine Round’s The Divide

15. The Divide (Round): A fascinating film by Katherine Round that explores the vast (and increasing) gaps between the rich and poor in the United States and the UK, using seven subjects as case studies.

14. Trophy (Schwarz, Clusiau): There is a very even-handed approach to the emotive subject matter (big game trophy hunting): for all the sickening images of rich American holidaymakers standing over the magnificent lions, tigers and other animals they have paid considerable amounts of money to slaughter in the name of sport, there are also compellingly-put arguments that highlight the amount of money that such tourism brings into South Africa (the country that features the most here), and how in turn that money is subsequently spent on certain conservation projects or how it is used to combat the illegal, unchecked poaching of, say, rhinos and elephants. That said, although Trophy shows us how arguments for or against hunting are not quite as black and white as many of us might think they are, ultimately the witless, arrogant utterances of several hunters here – including one religious nutjob – ensured that my pre-existing views on the matter were well and truly cemented by the end.

13. Risk (Poitras): Laura Poitras’ latest documentary is a study of WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, the Australian programmer who has been holed up in the Ecuador Embassy in London for the past five years. She ended up re-cutting the work, though, into Risk’s more critical presentation of Assange as a flawed character; a move that was triggered in part by some of his own on-screen comments about women and partly, as Poitras acknowledges via her candid voiceover, in the wake of her own brief affair with activist and Assange supporter Jacob Applebaum, who was publicly accused of abusing women in 2016. Some reviewers have criticised Poitras for entering into an affair with one of the subjects of the film, though the version released in 2017 seems balanced and honest to me, mostly as a result of her own commentary.

12. Five Came Back (Bouzerau): Netflix’s short, illuminating series explores the careers of five important Hollywood filmmakers – Frank Capra, William Wyler, George Stevens, John Ford and John Huston – during the Second World War, as they helped with the US war effort. It’s fascinating to explore the stories behind films as diverse as William Wyler’s propaganda drama Mrs Miniver and Ford’s documentary The Battle Of Midway, and there’s lots of insightful commentary from the select band of interviewees (Steven Spielberg, Paul Greengrass, Guillermo del Toro, Lawrence Kasdan, Francis Ford Coppola). Meryl Streep narrates. A follow-up focusing on the army careers of the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable would be great.

11. Kedi (Torun): A pleasant and often jauntily-scored ramble through the streets of Istanbul with a number of the city’s cats as the focus (though the film becomes just as much about the ordinary people who look out for the cats and care for them). Occasionally insightful, very restful and a good lesson for the majority of the rest of the world on how cities and residents of cities can be tolerant of and kind towards stray animals.


Kitty Green’s Casting JonBenet

10. Casting JonBenet (Green): Kitty Green’s Netflix documentary about the 1996 death of six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey in her Boulder, Colorado family home is an unusual affair: it seeks the opinion on events from a number of actors, who are all auditioning to play (or who are eventually cast as) JonBenét, or members of her family and other people who were involved in the subsequent unsolved investigation.

9. LoveTrue (Har’el): Director Alma Har’el ruminates on modern love in this superbly edited documentary, which follows the lives of three American families (in Hawaii, Alaska and New York) as they go through some form of relationship upheavel. In Hawaii we follow William, a surfer who is struggling to come to terms with the fact that he is not the biological father of his son; in New York Har’el explores the reactions of seven siblings after their parents separate in the wake of an extra-marital affair; and, in Alaska, Blake works as a stripper while seemingly in a stable relationship with partner Joel, though financial strains and the nature of her job eventually cause problems for the couple. It’s interesting to see how people cope differently with loss and disappointment, and although on occasion the trio of stories become sad to watch, there are more than a few notes of optimism by the end… and there’s a commendably non-judgemental stance towards the people who welcomed the director and her cameras into their lives.

8. Zero Days (Gibney): A film that sheds light on the process of cyberwarfare and, in doing so, confirms that we’re all absolutely fucked.

7. I Am Not Your Negro (Peck): Raoul Peck’s Academy Award-nominated documentary concerns the life and times of writer, critic and activist James Baldwin, and is based partly on his unfinished manuscript Remember This House. The film gets to grips with Baldwin’s life (at least the mainly public-facing side of it), and his observations on and role within the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, occasionally underscoring his words with modern footage of the Black Lives Matter Movement. It’s a powerful piece that is put together very well by Peck and his editor Alexandra Strauss, who weave in archive news depicting racism towards black people, racist TV and film footage and Baldwin’s 1960s TV interviews, conducted with largely clueless white hosts who are sadly struggling to understand what all the noise is about. A restrained and low key Samuel L Jackson narrates.

6. Tower (Maitland): Keith Maitland’s gripping account of the 1966 shootings at the University of Texas, in which 15 people died (including the shooter, Charles Whitman, who had earlier murdered his wife and his mother). It blends rotoscoped dramatisations of events with numerous eyewitness accounts and newsreel footage that was shot on the day, and the looseness of the animation technique and the vibrant colours used seem apt when applied to a mid-1960s American campus – a politically-explosive place within a conservative state, for sure, but also somewhere right on the cusp of the hippie, psychedelic era. Maitland’s documentary captures the chaos of the morning as well as a film could possibly hope to, and the rotoscoping never once comes across as being a gimmick, which I had feared when I first heard about its use. If anything, when we eventually see the real footage of the survivors as they are today, near the end of the film, the fact that images of their faces have been withheld for so long seems to make their appearances doubly powerful and moving. This is inventive, effective storytelling.


Yance Ford’s Strong Island

5. Strong Island (Ford): A moving, powerful documentary by Yance Ford about the murder of his brother William Jr – who was shot dead during an argument at a gas station in Long Island in the 1990s – as well as the subsequent investigation, which Ford argues was not as thorough as it should have been and has as a result caused the family much anguish during the interim years. Ford often appears, speaking directly to the camera about how he feels and spelling out exactly why he feels the way he does, his face filling the majority of the screen; it’s a powerful technique that adds to the overall righteousness and anger of the piece, while appearances by other members of the Ford family are equally saddening, and maddening.

4. City Of Ghosts (Heineman): A harrowing film by Matthew Heineman, who has followed up the acclaimed drug trade reportage of Cartel Land with a piece that relies more heavily on footage captured by other people. City Of Ghosts details the dangerous work being carried out by the Syrian citizen journalists of Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, who have been reporting on the atrocities being committed by ISIS in their homeland for the past few years. Many of these journalists and their family members have been threatened, arrested or executed by ISIS, and the film mostly follows a half dozen who have made it out of the country (to Turkey, though they all eventually end up in Germany) and tries to understand the stressful circumstances in which they must carry out their normal lives. It’s a fascinating watch that lurches from the relative calm of the journalists’ new lives (which do involve protests with the far right but also marriage, and childbirth) with the sickening footage that captures public executions, warnings and the indoctrination of children in Raqqa.

3. The Work (McLeary, Aldous): This fascinating fly-on-the-wall documentary is made up almost entirely of footage shot during a four-day group therapy session within Folsom State Prison. The programme involves incarcerated inmates – including several current and former gang members serving multiple life sentences – and members of the general public, who are apparently admitted after a strict vetting process that involves the input of prisoners (though there is not much information given on the procedural aspects of the whole affair, despite brief use of title cards). What happens is surprising – a very confrontational, testosterone-fuelled series of sessions that include plenty of primal screams and physical contact as the participants work through a variety of issues (though, it must be said, several seem to revolve around long-standing problems with their fathers). It’s utterly compelling to watch, and clearly of considerable benefit to those who take part.

2. Cameraperson (Johnson): A moving memoir of cinematographer Kirsten Johnson’s career behind the lens to date, reflecting on the places she has been, the people she has met, her relationships with collaborators and the way in which her life has changed as a result of her work.


Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War

1. The Vietnam War (Burns, Novick): A thorough, informative TV series by Ken Burns and Lynne Novick, who combine archive footage and interviews with an excellent soundtrack – which balances Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s score with obvious but expensively-licensed late 60s/early 70s hits – and some stunning still photography. I appreciated the attempts to depict a balanced view of events, with talking-head screen time divided equally between American and Vietnamese survivors of the war. Frequently moving, with facts presented clearly and simply. (I should note that I watched the 10-hour BBC edit, rather than the 18-hour PBS original.)

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First of all, thanks to anyone who read The Last Picture Blog during 2017. I appreciate that this round-up of the year is a bit late, and that most bloggers published their ‘end-of-year’ lists and whatnot a while ago, but I’ve only just caught up in terms of posting about the films I watched in December, and it seemed like I should wait until doing that before trying to write a summary post of the year.

Prior to 2017 I used this blog to write a little more in-depth about each film that I watched, but I don’t have as much spare time on my hands these days, and at the start of the year I decided to make some changes. The main decision, and the first thing that I did, was to delete the existing archive so that the only content you could see related to films that I watched during the current year. That means that after I’ve posted a few round-ups this week (my favourite documentaries of 2017 and my favourite features of 2017 will follow in separate posts) I’ll delete everything on the blog again and move on to 2018. Hopefully that’s clear, but don’t worry if it doesn’t make any sense… the world will keep on turning, after all.

Oh, and one further thing: I’m using Letterboxd’s excellent stats service for this update. You can find me here, if you happen to be on Letterboxd yourself, and if you’re not, I can highly recommend it.

General viewing habits

Apparently I watched a total of 426 films in 2017, though that does include shorts and a fair number of silent pictures, which of course tend to be much shorter than the feature lengths we are used to today. Total time spent watching films was 769.2 hours, or roughly 32 days, or just over a month, depending on the period of time you like the best (though it’s not wholly accurate, as I don’t sit through credits in their entirety). As you’ve probably guessed from that number, I tend to watch a film most evenings, either at home or in one of our two local cinemas (there’s a multiplex about five minutes’ drive from where I live, as well as a smaller arthouse cinema that tends to get new releases a couple of months later than everywhere else). On top of that I might watch a film during the day before/during/after work, if time allows. Unfortunately that means I split these viewings into half-an-hour before work, 50 minutes to an hour during my lunch break, and half-an-hour after work, which is sacrilege in the mind of some people but I don’t mind breaking movies up and I tend to watch the things that I’m not so bothered about that way anyway; anything I really care about I’ll see at home, uninterrupted, or in a cinema. Occasionally I’ll have a blow-out weekend and watch between 9 and 12 films over the course of three days, too. My wife, thankfully, is very understanding.

Of those 426 films I watched just one of them three times (Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning Moonlight, which I saw twice in the cinema and once at home), and two of them twice (Manchester By The Sea and Dunkirk, both seen at the cinema once and at home once). I mostly watched American films, and dramas, although apparently I sat through 92 comedies in total. That’s absolutely news to me.

The most-watched actors were Ewan McGregor and Samuel L Jackson (8 times each), which I’m sad to say is partly because I decided to re-watch the Star Wars prequels last autumn to see if they were as bad as I remember them being (they were worse, as it happens). After that comes Georges Méliès (7 times, mostly during an exhibition about his life and work in Cadiz) and a variety of other male stars with 6 viewings (Joel Edgerton, Tom Cruise, Adam Driver, Anthony Daniels and Michael Fassbender. I watched Marion Cotillard act in five different films, and even though they were a mixed bag, she was good in all of them apart from Assassin’s Creed. There’s absolutely nothing good about Assassin’s Creed. #

In terms of directors, I watched 12 films by Méliès, 5 by Agnès Varda (all excellent), 5 by silent film pioneer Alice Guy and 4 apiece by the Lumières, Charlie Chaplin and George Lucas (American Graffiti, as well as those dastardly prequels).

Notable viewings

I’m going to publish separate ‘favourites’ lists for 2017 UK releases, but I thought I’d finish off this post with a list of older (i.e. pre-2017) films that made a strong impression on me in one way or another when I saw them for the first time. (They’re ordered simply by date watched.) I rated all of these films as 4, 4.5 or 5 out of 5 on Letterboxd, which basically means I’d recommend all of them. Those that were part of my ‘Blind Spots’ list for 2017 (i.e. recognised classics I needed to get round to watching for the first time) are marked with an asterisk, while several were watched as part of a film studies distance learning course that I enrolled in with the University of Exeter.

The Seventh Seal (Bergman, 1957)
On The Waterfront (Kazan, 1954)
Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, 2012)
Margaret (Lonergan, 2011)
Scenes From A Marriage (Bergman, 1973)
The Four Troublesome Heads (Méliès, 1898)
Seven Samurai* (Kurosawa, 1954)
The Man With The Golden Arm (Preminger, 1955)
On The Town (Donen, Kelly, 1949)
Volver (Almodóvar, 2006)
Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922)
Fish Tank (Arnold, 2009)
L’Avventura* (Antonioni, 1960)
Great Expectations (Lean, 1946)
A Wedding (Altman, 1978)
Suspiria* (Argento, 1977)
Songs From The Second Floor (Andersson, 2000)
Beau Travail (Denis, 1999)
Cléo from 5 to 7 (Varda, 1962)
The Human Beast (Renoir, 1938)
Cinema Paradiso (Tornatore, 1988)
To Kill A Mockingbird (Mulligan, 1962)
In A Lonely Place* (Ray, 1950)
Un Chien Andalou (Buñuel, 1929)
The House Is Black (Farrokhzad, 1963)
Harold And Maude (Ashby, 1971)
The Bridges Of Madison County (Eastwood, 1995)
Limelight (Chaplin, 1952)
The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg* (Demy, 1964)
Let The Right One In (Alfredson, 2008)
The Man With The Rubber Head (Méliès, 1901)
The Melomaniac (Méliès, 1903)
Atonement (Wright, 2007)
M*A*S*H (Altman, 1970)
The Third Man (Reed, 1949)
Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans* (Murnau, 1927)
Le Bonheur (Varda, 1965)
The Selfish Giant (Barnard, 2013)
Blue Is The Warmest Colour (Kechiche, 2013)
La Strada (Fellini, 1954)
The Sting* (Hill, 1973)
One More Time With Feeling (Dominik, 2016)
Lourdes (Hausner, 2009)
Anvil! The Story Of Anvil (Gervasi, 2008)
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind* (Spielberg, 1977)
The Gleaners & I (Varda, 2000)
You, The Living (Andersson, 2007)
Meek’s Cutoff* (Reichardt, 2010)
Philomena (Frears, 2013)
Eraserhead (Lynch, 1977)
The Gold Rush (Chaplin, 1925)
Plein Soleil (Clément, 1960)
PlayTime (Tati, 1967)
The Story Of Film: An Odyssey (Cousins, 2011)
Barry Lyndon* (Kubrick, 1975)
Woman On The Run (Foster, 1950)
The Square (Noujaim, 2013)
Tokyo Drifter (Suzuki, 1966)
8 1/2* (Fellini, 1963)
Schindler’s List (Spielberg, 1993)
The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (Yates, 1973)
Man With A Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929)

As I look back on this I realise there are a hell of a lot that I’d like to watch again, and if I was to pick five absolute favourites from the list I’d probably say The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, PlayTime, Barry Lyndon, On The Waterfront and Schindler’s List were the ones that made the biggest impression. Anyway, that’s all from me for now, I’ll be back in a couple of days with my Top 20 documentaries of 2017.


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Watched: 31 December

This awards season contender is a story of stuttering love involving a half-Italian, half-American teenager (Elio, 17, played by Timothée Chalamet) and an older American student (Oliver, 24, played by the very-much-not-24 Armie Hammer), set in Italy in the early 1980s – though unfortunately I didn’t quite connect with it as passionately as many of its fans have; by which I mean that I liked, rather than fell head-over-heels for, this film.

It’s based on André Aciman’s novel, which has been elegantly adapted for the screen by James Ivory, and director Luca Guadagnino has form with regard to tales of complicated romances in sun-kissed, idyllic southern European settings – to the point you can almost smell the olive groves and lemon trees that are dotted around the landscape in his films; his previous feature A Bigger Splash was set on the island of Lampedusa, while characters in 2009’s I Am Love sporadically left the city of Milan for passionate affairs in the surrounding countryside.

Most of the action takes place at the house owned by Elio’s parents, or the surrounding village, but there’s a brief excursion to Rome that jars a little, perhaps deliberately so – it certainly comes at a key point in the timeline of the romance. At the house, Elio’s mother (competently played by Amira Casar) does not get to affect the story too much, though his academic father (Michael Stuhlbarg) has more of an influence over the prevailing mood of the film, particularly during its standout latter stages. Their residence is large, and given that it’s summer the characters spend their evenings outside, enjoying convivial feasts that also feature friends and neighbours before Elio, Oliver and Elio’s girlfriend Marzia (Esther Garrel) move on to local discos. It’s here – inhibitions and self-control removed by alcohol – that we begin to see the strength of Elio’s feelings for Oliver, whose stay with the family is only temporary; and perhaps there are early hints that the feeling is mutual. We also hear for the first time (though not the last) The Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way – an uplifting 80s hit that Oliver seems to enjoy more than just about everyone else, and it courses through the film alongside a few notable Eurodisco hits and Sufjan Stevens’ brittle original score. Stevens has been Oscar nominated for his song Mystery Of Love, but Love My Way is absolutely the defining tune of this film, becoming a kind of rallying call for one young gay man, at least.

A love story stands or falls on the performances of its leads, and although I’m yet to make up my mind on Hammer (I suspect he is an actor with limitations, but good directors keep casting him and, in fairness, he is good here), the ace up the film’s sleeve is the performance by Chalamet, who is superb from his first scene until the very last one – an emotional gut punch which plays out rather well during the end credits. His Elio is a confident but bookish teenager, privately anxious (or perhaps simply hesitant) about revealing his own sexual identity, and experiencing certain feelings (I assume) for the first time as he negotiates that tricky first love. Elio is the beating heart of the film and a completely believable character, and I think Chalamet deserves all of the praise and awards season-related bunkum that he has come his way.

For some reason I feel the need to state my slight preference for A Bigger Splash; I just think there’s a little more to that piece than meets the eye, though undoubtedly it’s brasher and more attention-seeking than Call Me By Your Name. This more-celebrated effort is obviously very good, though, and is a very classy piece of work, for sure. (****)

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Watched: 29 December

I watched a couple of long Ken Burns / Lynne Novack documentaries over the Christmas and New Year period and needed some light relief. Bright is not the worst film of 2017, as some critics suggested upon its Netflix debut, but this is not a particularly impressive effort by David Ayer either. There is – like Alien Nation before it – an attempt to blend the buddy cop action thriller with a completely different genre (in this case fantasy), and the premise is intriguing enough, but despite the gimmicky use of orc characters and the like it’s still just a collection of cop movie cliches and nondescript action sequences. And every time that I watch Will Smith in less-serious roles these days he seems to struggle; he certainly labours through long periods of this uninspired movie. (**)

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Rewatched: 26 December

Here’s what I thought when I first watched Dunkirk in the cinema last summer…

In a way Christopher Nolan’s critically-acclaimed and much-loved Dunkirk is the logical conclusion of ‘set piece’-oriented blockbuster filmmaking, because even though he has three stories of varying length playing out concurrently (and edited together superbly) in this WWII-set drama, his 100-minute-long film is effectively one very long, very tense sequence that builds and builds towards a particularly thrilling finale. That’s an awful prospect for us to consider with the future in mind, because lesser directors will try to pull off something similar and will fail, but in this case I was gripped throughout and felt for the first time in a long time that I was watching a blockbuster worthy of the name. Anyway, just to be clear, Dunkirk is also much more than just an extended, bravura action sequence; it has Mark Rylance’s kind-faced performance and Tom Hardy’s narrowing eyebrows; the otherness of the icy Channel and the miserable rain-swept beach; Harry Styles’ unexpectedly effective panic and Hans Zimmer’s apt metronomic score. There’s a lot here to enjoy.

With regard to the soundtrack, during the upbeat nature of the finale (some of which doesn’t quite sit right, such as Kenneth Branagh’s clunky delivery of the line “Hope”), I did really love how the composer incorporated Elgar’s Nimrod. That was beautiful and I was surprised to find myself fighting back tears and feeling a degree of pride; it is quite something to imagine at this point a granddad or other loved one making their way back from France – sans musical accompaniment – and it’s something that is bound to affect many people. I certainly don’t understand why anyone would sneer at or look down on such a reaction in other cinemagoers, should they experience the film differently. Anyway, I think Dunkirk is a superb technical achievement and an extremely effective way of playing around with narrative threads; and it’s also one of the finest war films since Saving Private Ryan, if not the finest. (*****)

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Watched: 26 December

There’s nothing particularly original about this thriller, in which an Australian backpacker is held captive by a sadistic teacher in Berlin, but it did hold my attention throughout and I think the performances are sound. Once Clare (Teresa Palmer) is trapped inside the ultra-secure apartment owned by Andi (Max Riemelt) it’s just a matter of sitting through the hour or so in which he has complete control over her until she begins to get the upper hand; you know it’s coming, but at least when it happens it feels satisfying, a bit like the escape in Room. (***)