Here we are, at the end of another year. 2017, for all its bad and its good, is gone.
As we head into 2018, Father Gore looks back a year filled with some spectacular cinema. In fact it was hard to whittle this list down to an acceptable number; 35 felt as good as it gets with so much magnificence from which to choose.
Just a note – these are going by release dates here in Canada, in case anyone’s curious. So without too much more of a ramble, here are Father Gore’s 35 favourite films from 2017.
Let Father Gore know YOUR favourite films of the year in the comments.
Thelma and one of my top favourites of 2017, Raw, would make a killer double feature. They’re two different films with different premises, also with similar threads running through them about love, family, repressed desire, sexual awakening, and sacrifice.
Perhaps a major reason why I loved this is because Joachim Trier (Reprise, Oslo, August 31st) doesn’t normally take on this type of story. Sure, at the bottom of Thelma is one big metaphor about the dangers and damage of repressing one’s own sexuality and personality. But it’s the way in which Trier uses a supernatural element in his story that’s so compelling. Not a reinvention of the wheel, though Thelma is daring, in its own ways.
The lead performance of Eili Harboe is the centrepiece: emotional, subdued, quietly powerful where it counts. She conveys so much of the difficulty of a young person’s confrontation of themselves with such ease, without having to go over the top in her portrayal of the character where other actors might feel inclined to let loose. Harboe keeps the titular character from becoming a stereotype, of any kind. Her talents serve the film well, I look forward to seeing her in more sooner than later.
In a way I never expected, Thelma kept me on the edge of my seat. At times it is beautiful, the imagery breathtaking. At others it descends into real life terror and luscious, dark symbolism. Just a rich story with equally rich characters, one that will entrance you, bewilder you, maybe even freak you out now and then.
34) The Untamed
Amat Escalante’s newest film is like a cross between Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession and “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft set in the Mexican countryside. In a cabin through the woods live an older couple, and something… else. Several people become intertwined in the lives of the couple, as well as their slimy house guest. And it all started when a meteorite crashed to Earth.
There’s no sense trying to explain the plot, not even in slight details. The Untamed touches on everything from repressed desire and sexual liberation to the homophobia and violence which marks small town life, and so much in between. So much human drama lying at the edges of a supernatural horror-mystery, which is in part why the film works, it doesn’t solely stick to its strangeness.
Make no mistake, the strange elements are a huge part. You’ll find the bits of eroticism give way to a gross-out exploitation show nine times out of ten. Yet behind it all are important ideas about human nature, sexuality, and the line between pain and pleasure. Escalante is a fierce filmmaker, whose willingness to be daring is on display for every last minute of the film’s 98-minute runtime.
When I saw Pariah it was evident Dee Rees is a confident, compelling filmmaker. Her style is pervasive, now that I’ve seen Mudbound there’s no doubt it remains so across genres. Whereas Pariah tackled a more contemporary set of themes, Mudbound examines themes which are old and new alike.
The story involves two men, one white, one black, returning from World War II, who come home to Mississippi and discover nothing much has changed there. Blacks are still mistreated; just because they’re war heroes doesn’t mean they can start using the front door or sitting up front in the bus. Moreover, both men deal with the horrors of war (PTSD before it was labelled as such or taken seriously as opposed to treated as some fault) only to find there is just as much horror, albeit in different forms, back on the farms of the American South.
Mudbound is profound, it is a poignant look at race relations and hate, particularly how the latter taints every last little thing in a person’s life should they resign themselves to an existence hinging on hatred. The final shot is so beautiful, a ray of hope in such a dirty, ugly, painful world.
Rees ought to be nominated for Best Director, as should Mary J. Blige get a nomination for Best Actress. Also, in an age where we need more representation across the board, having such a stellar Netflix film directed, co-written, shot, edited, and scored by women (+ co-written by two black writers) is absolutely wonderful.
Only recently saw Cristian Mungiu’s uncompromising 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. After that I wanted to see whatever else he directs or writes. Although the subject matter and themes here are far less intense, Graduation still tugs hard at the heart’s weary strings. Surely part of the film has to do with Romanian culture, the wants of an older generation versus those of a new one. Most importantly, Mungiu takes a hard look at the role of the parent in the parent-child dynamic.
The image of a broken window opens the film. And though every viewer can take this as they will, as well as the similar recurring image later on, the shattered glass without a visible culprit is Mungiu’s device of chaos – this image tells us life is random, its chaotic lack of any real pattern(s) is unpredictable, what we can’t do is try to control that chaos; all we can do is deal with the aftermath and the mess.
More than that Graduation examines moral and societal decay on a microcosmic level of the family, where we watch a father struggle with how to best help his daughter navigate life when high school’s just above over. An intricately plotted, emotional film that surprised me at every turn.
31) The Lure
We’ve all been there, dying to watch a horror-comedy about deadly sirens(/mermaids) who get a gig at a burlesque show, and there’s just NOT ENOUGH films in the sub-genre, right?
Well, Agnieszka Smoczynska has done us all a solid with The Lure.
On a list that does include Darren Aronofsky’s mother! and the erotic grossness of The Untamed, somehow The Lure manages to give it a run for its money for the strangest piece of cinema here. Won’t spoil another word of the plot. Go in blind. You may come out the other side hating what you’ve seen, or you could wind up finding a hidden treasure. There are parts I found where the pacing lagged, though overall this is a tight, weird, wonderful gem that’s largely been ignored by some writers whom I expected would’ve latched onto this film.
Judge for yourself. One thing’s certain: you’re not going to see another film like this one, it is a wholly unique cinematic experience. And a damn beautiful looking/sounding one, too!
Opening with what proves to be tragic, prophetic imagery, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s latest film Loveless is a devastating view into a culture of apathy. I don’t Russian culture or society well enough to talk about anything allegorical. However, this isn’t solely a Russian film, in that the themes and emotions dredged out of this story are universal.
The film depicts a loveless marriage between a man and a woman, who have little time for anyone but themselves, including their twelve-year-old boy. When the kid goes missing suddenly, the parents are forced to search for him together. From the opening shots, Loveless is bleak, and there’s a mystery wrapping up the second half that’s all encompassing. What Zvyagintsev does best is explore the characters, specifically the parents.
What we see might be an allegory for attitudes in Russian society, judging by other views I’ve read. That’s not all, though. The film becomes an allegory for the weight of decisions made by parents on their children, how it weighs on them, and what that does not just to the marriage but to the kids. Sort of antithetical view re: parent-child relationships to Graduation.
Maybe the top quote to take the wind out of your gut from 2017: “I was afraid to get the abortion, I was afraid to keep it.” Zvyagintsev delivers another unflinchingly honest, realist view of human nature, for better or worse.
There’s a morbid delight about Spoor that’s not immediately evident. Quirk upon quirk, the film builds. So many themes are tied into one tale: ageism, astrology and fate, misogyny, the connection (or lack of connection) between humans and nature, the revenge of the animal world upon people, man-made law v. natural law, political corruption. It all builds into a truly unique piece of cinema.
Agnieszka Holland directed, with a helping hand from daughter Kasia Adamik, and co-wrote Spoor. I’ve seen a lot of her work, and though she’s done lots of good film and television alike (favourite picks: Europa Europa and her three episodes of The Wire), this is my favourite. Based on the novel Drive Your Plough Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, the story centres on an old woman named Janina Duszejko (Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka) in the Klodzko Valley where dead bodies are turning up under mysterious circumstances. She claims to know who the murderer is, though because she’s labelled as eccentric, or almost the classic misogynist label of hysteric, nobody believes a word of what she says.
When Hollywood acts like they can’t produce great films with roles for older actors or actresses I want to slap them across the mouth and tell them to watch stuff like Spoor. This is an inspired, darkly funny, weird movie, filled with crime, mystery, and a drop or two of allegory. The directing and writing are fine tuned. What’s most memorable is the performance of Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka, whose talents are undeniable in this strong role. Even if you aren’t totally aligned with the character’s views on animal rights, Mandat-Grabka pulls you close to the woman, makes you understand her, never once letting go.
28) The Transfiguration
We’re dealing more and more with toxic masculinity these days, which is great, and one of the areas within its framework that needs dealing with is mental illness, as well as how hypermasculine men deal with it (or rather their lack of ability to deal with it). And though The Transfiguration is more than just a discussion on these topics, within its story’s webbing there is deep look at black male mental health.
Milo (Eric Ruffin) is a young kid who lives with his brother; their mother passed away some time ago. They live in a bit of a rough spot, where the local criminals and other kids give Milo a hard time for being sensitive, withdrawn. When Milo befriends a young girl named Sophie (Chloe Levine) whose life is fraught with its own brutality, he finds a kindred spirit. But how will she react when she finds out he’s a vampire? Or, thinks he’s one, anyway.
You can take your own thoughts away from the story and its plot. Director-writer Michael O’Shea presents us with a vision of mental illness that straddles the supernatural, possibly, yet never loses sight of the humanity at stake in its characters. A tender, occasionally bloody, dark little film. At the top of the heap as far as 2017 horror is concerned, too.
Father Gore’s full review available here.
27) The Florida Project
When I expected The Florida Project to dive very hard into its partly gritty subject matter, director-writer Sean Baker veered off in different directions, threading together an emotionally complex story about lost souls caught between a class divide.
Set in a motel in Florida, just outside Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, a bunch of kids live with their mostly down and out parents on welfare. Motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) helps many of them by being lenient on rent, when he’s able to be, at least. He also takes on a role of father figure to most of the kids roaming the motel grounds, looking out for them, as much as possible.
I truly saw this descending into a much darker place than where it ended up by the finale. That’s not to say Baker’s film is a rosy glow of optimism, because that it certainly is not. However, there’s a dreamy beauty in this story, hiding behind all the greasy, bleak moments.
And those final shots in the park? They took my breath away. No matter what would actually happen in the story of these children’s lives these fleeting dream-like seconds take the viewer to another world.
Father Gore’s full review here.
26) Dig Two Graves
Covering this for Film Inquiry, I’d never heard of it until they sent me a digital screener. Dig Two Graves could’ve easily slipped past me this year. Forever grateful it didn’t, because there are so many surprises in this little film it is a wonderful treat.
What’s so interesting immediately about Dig Two Graves is that we start from a conflicted perspective, after the cover-up of some gruesome murders in 1947 leads us up to the late ’70s, where themes re: sins of our past come back to bear upon the present. And when a girl’s brother goes missing, presumed dead, she heads off on a surreal journey towards turning back time.
This is a great modern Southern Gothic, one that balances along a sharp edge between reality and fantasy. The viewer’s never sure until the finale what exactly is happening, so much of the film’s slim 85 minutes are twisty, mysterious, moody. Samantha Isler and Ted Levine each give solid performances. What thrills most is a mix of emotionally charged drama and magic realism portrayed throughout the various imagery director Hunter Adams conjures up. This one probably didn’t fall on many other year end lists, if any at all, and that’s a crime. As of this writing, Dig Two Graves is available on Netflix; no excuse not to check it out if you have a subscription! Fascinating indie film, ought not be ignored.
Father Gore’s full review for Film Inquiry available here.
25) Free Fire
Not sure there was a movie with more fun flowing in its veins during 2017 than Free Fire. Everybody’s come to expect a good deal of heaviness from Ben Wheatley. They forget his sense of humour, evident from Down Terrace to Sightseers; even Kill List is laced with the odd dark chuckle.
No surprise that Free Fire – despite being about a desperate shootout between opposing groups of gangsters all caught in a standoff at a secluded warehouse – is pretty fookin’ cheeky. A throwback sort of flick, calling to mind ensemble casts from the 1970s and those pictures of the same era involving an action scenario taking place in one claustrophobic setting. Except the chaos is turned up to 11. The performances are all top notch, particularly those of Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Jack Reynor, and Brie Larson. Try not letting your brain get in the way, because Wheatley’s not asking anybody to have anything else other than a load of fun.
This is a knock ’em down, drag ’em out action-comedy that’s got a bunch of characters, all with their own stories, their own lives. In between the gunfire, it’s a blast watching them interact.
24) The Blackcoat’s Daughter
I saw the Oz Perkins-directed I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House before getting the chance to see The Blackcoat’s Daughter (a.k.a February); genuinely loved it. For all the nebulous mystery, horror, beauty of the former, the latter is the better of the two, in my honest opinion. Because not only is there also that beautiful direction by Perkins, there are a couple intense performances from Kiernan Shipka and Emma Roberts, plus the story is twisting, turning, and spectacularly frightening in the most subdued sense. The Blackcoat’s Daughter creeps up on you gradually, as Perkins winds us through an intricate little story of two different women on a similar journey.
And if Home Alone didn’t make you upset enough as a kid about the furnace room in your house, Perkins gives us a nightmarish boiler room in the college where the film is mostly set that may haunt your dreams a while.
There’s so much to love, and saying too much more will only spoil things inadvertently. Just see it, take the chance. This one took a long while to release, not sure why. Top notch horror with excellent characters and a story that’ll hypnotise.
Father Gore’s full review available here.
23) Trespass Against Us
What’s most exciting about Trespass Against Us – amongst the family criminal drama playing out – is how it fuses together a bunch of familiar elements we’ve all seen before in various films, and in addition gives us compelling action sequences depicting a series of robberies unlike any you’ve seen before. It’s like Heat, transposed into the fields of South West England.
Brendan Gleeson and Michael Fassbender star as a father-son pair in a long time criminal family. When the son wants to get free, so his own family doesn’t have to live in a caravan in the woods barely reaping the benefits of their work, the father isn’t too happy.
As mentioned already, Trespass Against Us has many familiar pieces, it isn’t attempting to innovate in terms of story, nor narrative of any kind. It’s all about the performances of Fassbender and Gleeson, as well as the thrilling adrenaline of the robbery scenes that lift this film above so many others of its ilk. There’s an electric air to this folk crime story. Wait until you see Fassbender flying through Gloucestershire, electronic score pumping (courtesy of The Chemical Brothers), cops more often than not right behind him as he and his family of thieves taunt them every step of the way. One of the best crime films of the past several years, definitely in 2017.
22) Lady Macbeth
John Waters posits that Lady Macbeth is like the antithesis of Get Out, where the smug white liberals are the ones who do win in the end. And y’know, that’s sort of a great description.
Lady Macbeth is set in the 19th century, focused on a woman married off to a man nearly twice her age. She suffers through their marriage, his impotency, and soon takes up an affair with a worker from the stables. But this is not starcrossed lovers territory, nor is it the tale of burning love hoping to be free. This is the story of an oppressed, abused woman trying to shrug off the patriarchy, and instead of doing that she mostly just destroys everything around her.
What gets me about this film is the relentless cruelty. There are no graphic images, even in the most desperate moments of the story. The brilliant power of William Oldroyd’s film, based on the story “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” by Nikolai Leskov, is in the way he pulls us into one part of the story, then dumps us into the brutally emotional, violent story at its heart.
I love Breaking Bad, it gave Bryan Cranston the much needed shot of adrenaline his dramatic career needed. He was a good actor before that, but not enough people realised that. Since the AMC show finished, Cranston’s had several chances to further demonstrate his acting chops, not the least of which is director-writer Robin Swicord’s Wakefield.
Partly based on the the Nathaniel Hawthorne story of the same name, more so based on E.L. Doctorow’s “Wakefield” inspired by Hawthorne, Swicord crafts a film that’s infinitely clever in its simplicity. Without spoiling, the plot entails Cranston’s character becoming fed up with life, retreating to the room above his garage to spy on his life from the outside in, discovering much about himself and his wife (Jennifer Garner) in the process.
This is a great story on its own. It further operates on an allegorical level, where we can view the protagonist as an immature male, blaming much of the woe in his life on his wife, and having to step back from the world in order to see his own misogyny. There’s plenty more stuffed into Swicord’s brilliant little screenplay. See it for yourself. This might not have landed on anyone else’s Best of 2017 list, however, it’s been on mine since the minute I finished watching it earlier in the year.
Father Gore’s full review for Film Inquiry available here.
20) Blade Runner 2049
Just on the cinematography and filmmaking techniques alone of Roger Deakins + Denis Villeneuve, Blade Runner 2049 is a triumph. There’s a look, an atmosphere, a tone speaking directly back to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Even in the wide, distant establishing shots we see beautifully crafted cinema at play. Villeneuve speaks back to the original film, and also carves out his own niche, using his own style to evoke new + old tech-noir vibes. Not many sequels long after the fact are able to replicate bits of what made the first film so great while not being bound to it entirely. Villeneuve was the perfect director to take on the task of this sequel.
While not everyone was happy, for various reasons, Father Gore finds Blade Runner 2049 as mysterious, thrilling, and visually stunning as its predecessor with its own original flavour to boot. It’s a whole package, with the visuals, the score, the acting, everything wrapped together with such expertise I find it very difficult not to enjoy the film thoroughly. Exceeded all my expectations. Cannot wait to see it again, and again, and again.
19) The Villainess
The Villainess begins with six or seven minutes of some of the best action post-2000, including the best first-person POV fight sequence on film to date, just like being lost in a video game with someone else holding the controller. Brutal, chaotic, tense. Afterwards there’s a bit of ominous plot building, and another gorgeous sequence that feels like one long tracking shot going through various sets. Just a spectacular start to a movie.
It was back and forth for this spot between this and The Foreigner. Although I love the latest Jackie Chan vehicle, especially for its drama, The Villainess is a more impressive work based on the action sequences involved. Great Korean filmmaking that operates on adrenaline, every step of the way.
Kim Ok-bin does amazing work in the lead role, she can pull off the action star persona just as well as any of the dramatic stuff. If the film didn’t have such a strong lead it might not have ended up this interesting. More than anything, Jung Byung-gil directs The Villainess with a brutal, rapid magic you won’t soon forget. Buckle up, because this one’s a wild and violent ride.
Oh, if there were an award for 2017’s Most Dangerous Film, Nocturama would slay any other competition. Made at a unique time in modern history, Bertrand Bonello’s latest is an exercise in chilling tension that speaks to the misguided nature of rebellion, no matter from what side it comes. However, don’t expect any answers; herein lay only questions.
Nocturama doesn’t posit any big statements on the nature of terrorism, and nor should it, either. What Bonello has done is present an interesting examination of confused ideals, through the eyes of a group of multiracial rebels who’ve chosen to carry out an extensive bombing attack on the city of Paris; afterwards, they retreat to a shopping mall to wait out the aftermath. Similar to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, the mall here is a symbol of materialism and capitalism, one from which people cannot stray. Interesting that these rebels, fed up with Parisian society, never make it far from capitalist imagery.
I totally understand the frustration of some viewers after taking in Nocturama. If you’re hoping there’ll be answers or a better perspective on terrorism than we’ve seen on film so far, you’re out of luck. Bonello isn’t interested in providing answers to the problems associated with terrorism. He shows us a group of people who are confused and angry, aiming their rebellion at society as a whole because they’ve got no clue of where else to aim it. Particularly, Bonello sheds the fanaticism of religion, getting at the dark heart of what terrorist acts encompass: human brutality. God, angels, Heaven, Hell, these are fantastical concepts made up by man, just like violence is committed by men.
That is the point of Nocturama. For all the symbols and the flag waving and the religious hatred and everything else the media has wrapped up into terrorism, at the centre of the whirlwind is always man, human beings, something we too often forget. Luckily Bonello’s here to remind us.
Father Gore’s full review available here.
17) Good Time
There’s so much to admire about Good Time, hard to know where to begin.
What’s to say?
Beautifully filmed. Full of black comedy, existential pain and reckoning. Robert Pattinson, once again post-Twilight, proves that he’s a damn fine actor with plenty of talent, capable of taking on a gamut of roles; hope to see him do more great things in the near future.
But above all else, Good Time is the story of an unlikable protagonist, Connie (Pattinson), but one whom we’re fated to follow, all so that we can see what will happen to his brother, Nick (Benny Safdie), who suffers from mental illness.
Don’t want to say too much, for fear of spoiling anything. A major reason why this is on the list: this film’s final scene is perhaps the one which had the most impact on me throughout the year, because we watch so much carelessness and selfishness disguised as care for most of the story only to end on an actual message of hope, despite what a conventional narrative might dictate. Truly a cinematic gem. Between this and Heaven Knows What, the Safdie brothers are making magic, and I’m ready for more.
16) The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Yorgos Lanthimos is a wildly interesting filmmaker. While I didn’t dig Dogtooth the fact remains it’s unique. Then there’s Alps and The Lobster, both of which I loved, for different reasons. After his last film, I knew whatever Lanthimos did next was going to be on top of my to-watch list.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer deserves all the parallels to Kubrick it’s gotten, yet it is Lanthimos, his style, his absurd humour, through and through. In the same way as Kubrick approached many of his subjects, Lanthimos likewise takes us through this story in a clinical, absurdist fashion. Although that doesn’t mean there’s no emotional core. In fact, there’s a raw and weird mix of emotion that’s downright captivating.
The Lobster wasn’t a happy go lucky picnic, not in the slightest. The Killing of a Sacred Deer strikes with even more existential horror. When the finale rolls around the viewer is left gasping for just a single bit of air, anything to sneak a breath after such vast stretches of suffocating tension.
15) Dave Made a Maze
Dave Made a Maze is one of 2017’s more unique offerings. After Dave (Nick Thune) makes a cardboard maze in his apartment, fearing he’ll never create anything lasting or important, his girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) and a few others get trapped in the maze after it comes alive.
There’s a lot to love about this little indie. Everyone’s having fun acting. The directing from Bill Watterson is inspired and full of zany energy. The story is unique enough to carry the whole film, so it’s a nice addition that the acting and directing are on par with Watterson and Steven Sears’ screenplay.
What’s most lovable about Dave Made a Maze is its commentary on being an artist, on its toll for both the artist and the people in that artist’s life. It is the story of many. Anyone who does anything artistic will totally relate to Dave, and will also want to give him a kick in the ass, too. This is such a fun film it’s hard to believe more people aren’t raving about it!
Father Gore’s full review available here.
14) Without Name
A couple years ago I snatched up a copy of Lorcan Finnegan’s short film Foxes for, literally, under a dollar via Google Play. It was a really interesting little story, great visuals. I knew whatever debut feature Finnegan gave us down the road would be worth seeking out.
Without Name, on the surface, seems like just a bit of supernatural, almost folk horror. Dig deeper. The screenplay by Garret Shanley evokes themes of man v. nature, but it also delves into man’s relationship with woman. There’s plenty psychological, psychedelic horror to go around. At the top of the heap are ideas about how man mistreats Mother Nature and the gender of woman, epitomised in the struggle of Eric (Alan McKenna), a land surveyor working in an ancient forest who discovers things about himself, about the forest, he never imagined possible.
Go in without much more of a plot explanation. This is such a treat. Also includes one of the most true-to-life mushroom trip scenes in any movie I’ve ever seen; coming from a man who, a decade ago, was a connoisseur of the magic fungi.
Father Gore’s full review available here.
13) I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.
After Murder Party and Blue Ruin, I was ready to watch anything Macon Blair had to offer. Even better when his debut feature film as director got snatched up hot out of the pan by Netflix.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. is a mouthful of a title, and one hell of a darkly funny film. After Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) is robbed, she sets out on a one-woman mission to serve herself justice. Along the way she meets Tony (Elijah Wood) who shares her passion for fighting injustice. If only it were all so easy.
This turned into something I didn’t expect, which is a trait in films I love – when a story feels as if it’s headed one way, then pivots another. Wood and Lynskey are so great together, though the latter steals the show with a strong performance. Best of all, Blair’s writing and directing are on point. His screenplay speaks directly to a world we’re living in now, one many of us compassionate, sensible people don’t seem to understand a whole lot anymore. Just like Ruth and Tony, we’ve got to keep fighting, even if things get messy. Because nobody else is going to fight for us.
Father Gore’s full review available here.
12) Alien: Covenant
Yeah, I get it – lots of people are mad at Ridley Scott, they hated Alien: Covenant. Me, I already felt Prometheus was treated unfairly, so fuck me, right?
As a John Milton scholar, Alien: Covenant and themes introduced in Prometheus intrigue me, to no end. Lots of people go for the Frankenstein connection, but guess where Mary Shelley’s initial inspirations cropped up? John Milton’s Paradise Lost. And that’s where so much of the themes in this film re: creation come from, straight out of Milton. Considering this film was titled Alien: Paradise Lost for a time before Scott changed it, the connections are more than obvious.
David (Michael Fassbender) is so fascinating because he is the creation cast off by his creator, just as Satan was cast out of Heaven by God in Milton’s epic poem. Watching the next step of his journey here, after Prometheus, is exciting, albeit in a dark way. We’re seeing the threads that lead to Alien. Moreover, and better still, we’re seeing Scott lay out his ideas about the universe behind his 1979 classic, as well as Prometheus. He’s world building, which is so intriguing because he’s building on a world we already know, one he began creating decades ago.
Add to that a kick ass xenomorph, half-Javier Botet in a suit and half-CGI, Katherine Waterston in the strong lead, there is SO MUCH to love here. Father Gore doesn’t give a shit what anyone says about that.
Father Gore’s full review on the John Milton connections available here.
11) Most Beautiful Island
Nothing could’ve prepared me for this one – a taut, tense little drama that verges on thriller, Most Beautiful Island (produced by Glass Eye Pix/Larry Fessenden) depicts the immigrant experience most people in North American society aren’t willing to admit exists, on the fringes, at the periphery of our collective vision.
A woman called Luciana (director and writer Ana Asensio) is living in New York, undocumented, trying to survive on whatever jobs are available to her. When she gets a job that seems too good to be true, it sort of is, and she must face a night of unexpected tension straight out of a nightmare.
What I love about Asensio’s film is that it could’ve easily fallen into exploitation, and gotten much more brutal, graphic, all sorts of ugly. Instead, Asensio sticks to equally ugly territory, delivering her story and its plot in such a way it is fresh, even to the viewer who thinks they’ve seen it all. Even more excellent is the fact Asensio pulls quadruple duties as actor, director, writer, and producer, making this a tour-de-force in front of and behind the camera. She is a talent not to be missed. This 80-minute film packs as much punch as some that are over two hours long.
Father Gore’s full review of this amazing little film right here.
10) Beach Rats
I loved Moonlight, its beauty knows no bounds, and this year Call Me By Your Name brought out similar gorgeousness, both in terms of filmmaking and also in theme. Not taking anything away from either of those important, impressive films, the similarly themed Beach Rats affected me even more than either of them.
Eliza Hittman’s beautifully shot film centres on a young guy named Frankie (Harris Dickinson) who teeters on the edges of sexuality. During the day he lusts after a girl, Simone (Madeline Weinstein), when they hang out at the beach. At night, he talks to older men on a gay hookup chat, meeting some of them for drugs and sex. Eventually, Frankie’s two lives collide, and what he chooses to do then will decide the sort of man he’ll be from then on.
Honestly, I’m not comparing Beach Rats to the aforementioned films. It’s simply that this film struck a sort of contemporary chord with me. A gay film doesn’t have to end in heartache, destructive behaviour, death, tragedy, yet at the same time there are so many struggles for young queer people that it’s hard to ignore those difficulties. Without being exploitative, just as Barry Jenkins and Luca Guadagnino did with their respective films, Hittman navigates the touchy subject matter with grace while never avoiding any of the treacherous waters, either.
9) Get Out
Soon as I heard Jordan Peele was shooting a horror-thriller, I was on board. The guy’s a fan of film, he’s funny, and he’s smart. That could only mean something special. He did not disappoint in the least.
Get Out comes hard at race relations in 2017 America. But not only that, it’s a solid, creepy, intense thriller with all the makings of classic horror. No denying its most striking qualities are the way the screenplay tackles casual white liberal racism, exposing the underbelly of whites who claim they’re not racist while doing their own brand of damage to black people. Peele knows America, he knows where the country is in the current day, and the prescience of its story becomes deeper given the sociopolitical state of the U.S. after its 2016 election.
There is no hype about this film; the praise, it’s all true. This will go down as a classic of 21st-century American cinema.
Father Gore’s full review available here.
8) Shot Caller
Talk about not expecting much from a film only to get a huge return in utter enjoyment! Shot Caller looked, to me, like Felon before it: a Ric Roman Waugh-directed action-drama about the tough realities of prison. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it didn’t seem like there was much more behind it.
Lord, was I ever wrong. In a day and age where neo-Nazis are in the news every other day, Shot Caller examines the white men caught up in gangs who are still within reach; not the guys who were bred in hate, bred FOR hate, but the guys who end up in prison for a horrific mistake, only to be sucked into gang life with few choices left to them. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau stars as a man who gets into an accident while driving drunk, kills his best friend, then faces a brutal stretch in prison. There, he finds it’s either get raped, get killed, or join with your colour. He ends up in a white nationalist gang, linked in blood from inside those walls to the outside world post-release on parole. But it’s the intricacies of this story that are worth watching, all the pain, the terror of the protagonist, forced into an impossible world out of an impossible situation.
I’m not advocating we have to start understanding neo-Nazis. Fuck those people to death. What we DO need to start doing is giving up on the binary way we see the world, so many of us. We either agree or don’t agree, love or hate, people are totally unwilling, too often, to see the grey areas. Those grey areas are where Waugh shines a light, and Shot Caller pulls not a single punch in showing all the darkness in the white hot rage seething through the prison gates.
7) Creep 2
Father Gore, for those who frequent the site, is no stranger to found footage horror. Love it. When done right there’s so much potential. The first Creep was a combination of good acting + good storytelling + a proper use of the found footage format. I enjoyed every second of it, and within the first few days of release I’d watched the film a handful of times. It was creepy, tense, and funny at times.
Creep 2 is even better. It takes everything terrifying about the first one – mainly, Mark Duplass as the ever identity shifting serial killer – and combines it with an excellently written/played character for him to face, Sara (played by the incomparable Desiree Akhavan in a fearless performance).
Where the first one left off, Creep 2 catapults us further into the life of this eerie man. At its heart, this burgeoning franchise is about our oversharing culture today in the Age of Internet, the quest for meaning and for like minds, no matter how dangerous, and much more. Patrick Brice and Duplass have done great work.
Honestly, since this came out (on my birthday, no less) I’ve watched it every couple weeks. Barely a day goes by I don’t think about that wonderful, devious last shot.
6) Super Dark Times
Opening Super Dark Times is the image of a deer having bust through a school’s window, tracking blood into a classroom. It’s a brutal symbol of death colliding with youth. More so, it’s an image signifying the end of childhood and the entrance into adolescence, marked by violence. Similar to how young girls receive their period, a bloody initiation into becoming a woman, boys are often indoctrinated into a hypermasculine, violent vision of what it is to be a man, so the deer’s presence is perfectly appropriate.
The film is a super dark look at adolescence and the confused feelings going on in young boys as they enter adolescence, looking towards adult life beyond that. Everything is shrouded in mystery and a bleak, dreamy atmosphere. All the young people in the film are great, which makes the story and its plot even more exciting(ly morbid) to behold. The chaos that unfolds throughout is a real spectacle, I honestly wasn’t sure exactly where everything was headed. In the end we get a wild story, but one that’s important.
Super Dark Times dives into the deranged development of a boy whose process of growing up has been hijacked by normal feelings, only how he deals with them becomes a terrifying ordeal for him and the best friend trying to save him from going over the deep end.
And, my top five most favourite of what 2017 had to offer are:
5) I, Tonya
I remember when the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan incident occurred, it was all that filled the news cycle, from day to day. What I, Tonya does best is give us a glimpse into the life of a woman most of us knew solely from the tabloids and the monologue jokes of late night TV hosts.
With an energy reminiscent of a Casino and Goodfellas era Scorsese, the smooth camera movements and pop music use of an early Paul Thomas Anderson, director Craig Gillespie runs through the life and career of Ms. Harding, right up to and directly after the infamous whack heard around the world. It’s an exciting, darkly comedic romp through a world of ill-prepared criminality even dumber than that of the two mismatched hitmen in Fargo.
You have to see it. One of the more refreshing bits of American cinema in 2017.
4) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
In a year marred – and rightfully so – by sexual assault allegations across all industries, particularly Hollywood, Martin McDonagh’s latest film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri comes at just the right moment. Frances McDormand stars as a mother fed up waiting for the rusty wheels of justice to turn at their own pace in the wake of her daughter’s brutal rape and murder. So, she takes it upon herself to purchase the three titular billboards at the edge of town, and start pushing the local cops, led by Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) who’s busy keeping racist powder keg Dixon (Sam Rockwell) on a leash while juggling the rest of his duties.
A film about rape, murder, injustice ought not be so funny, yet it is, because what else would you ever expect from McDonagh? It’s the perfect mix. The subjects, while satirised and skewed in the expected fashion, are treated with delicacy. And the message is not always entirely what you’d imagine, which isn’t bad. On top of speaking about injustice, McDonagh, sceptical as he is about humanity, shows us that change is possible, even if the fate of real life is all too often chaos and sorrow.
3) Hounds of Love
Movies about kidnapping and abduction can get heavy into exploitation. Without becoming exploitative writer-director Ben Young makes Hounds of Love, into a tension packed thriller that feels almost like a horror chamber drama.
The film tells the tale of Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) who gets picked up by John and Evelyn (Stephen Curry & Emma Booth), a serial killing couple in Perth, Australia. Vicki is chained to a bed and experiences horrific torture of all varieties. Her only hope is to turn the couple against one another using the already shaky power dynamics as leverage.
On the surface this is seems like a gratuitous bit of horror with some drama mixed in, when it’s first and foremost a psychological horror made mostly of disturbing drama. John’s misogyny and his treatment of his wife Evelyn becomes amplified when young Vicki is thrown into their midst. The film examines how misogyny is ingrained in many abused women, such as Evelyn, who then go on to perpetuate it against other women, like she does to Vicki. The whole plot hinges on the power of abused women, one way or another. Young’s film is real life scary, mirroring actual cases of abduction. All three performances at the centre are powerful, a showcase of talent; if I had to pick, I’d say Emma Booth is the top of the tops, too.
Father Gore’s full review available here.
Julia Ducournau’s debut feature film Raw hits like a ton of bricks, hard enough to splinter your teeth and a few bones. Transgressive fiction and films don’t necessary sit well with everybody. This is a horror film, to the core. It’s also a heavy drama about the price of love and of family, about what is normal and what is not, so even those who aren’t totally horror-inclined can enjoy it.
All that being said, it’s not for the faint of heart. I’m a seasoned horror hound, I don’t find anything here too difficult to – pardon the pun – swallow. However, I can definitely see why a few scenes would test the limits of certain people. For me, it’s a perfectly horrifying film mixing a searing personal drama with the main concept of cannibalism.
Raw is a powerhouse, from start to finish. But it is the final shot, that last image with which Ducournau leaves us that sort of drives home the film’s ultimate thesis, when you realise the strength, and maybe the at times psychosis, of love. Regardless of whether you dig horror like myself, Raw won’t leave your mind any time soon. It’s been months upon months since I’ve seen it, and every week the final scenes flashes behind my eyes. Transfixing human terror, to say the least.
Father Gore’s full review available here.
Darren Aronofsky certainly pissed a lot of film goers off with mother! and it’s easily one of the most divisive pieces of American cinema of the 21st century. For me, it’s a surrealist masterpiece, an allegory wrapped in a metaphor. From how it was filmed to how it looks post-production, Aronofsky offered both his cast and his audience a wild ride.
I’ve seen a bunch of critics, both amateur and professional, complain about the director-writer offering up too much of what HE intended as the meaning for the film. To that I say: authorial intent doesn’t mean shit. Especially when watching something this weird, surreal, experimental, you shouldn’t assume to just go by what the director says is the way to interpret the story. Aside from that, personally, I find the various allegorical ways of interpreting mother! are interesting, explained by Aronofsky or not.
Best thing about this film is the energy. At all times it feels like there’s magic happening, or that the unexpected is about to explode; sometimes, it really does explode. There’s Biblical allegory, there’s parallels between mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Mother Nature, as well as between Him (Bardem) and God. There’s so, so much to mine from Aronofsky’s madness. If you don’t see it, that’s fine.
mother! remains my favourite cinematic experience out of all of 2017. That’s saying something, in a damn fine year for film.
Father Gore’s full review of this insane masterpiece available here.