Normally I would do a list (usually a top 10) at the end of the year, celebrating my favourite films. Unfortunately, due to a lack of finances, I’ve not been able to visit the cinema regularly over the last few months, and I’ve missed a number of films I wanted to see. It’s possible that none of them will make this list, but I can’t put a list out until I have. I may well do one in the Spring if my finances improve, and/or these films find their way onto Netflix.
For now, here are five films released this year that I thoroughly recommend.
Sing Street (Ireland, John Carney)
I can’t remember ever having left the cinema with such a feeling of joy. I might be a miserable cynical bastard, but even I am not immune to the feel-good magic of Sing Street. John Carney’s quasi-musical, a follow up to his Folk/Gypsy musical smash Once, centres around a teenage boy forced to move to a rough school in Dublin while his parents enter financial and marriage troubles. To ease his misery of being there, he forms a band in order to impress a girl and explores different 80s musical trends with the help of his older brother, a music aficionado.
The film is quite similar to The Commitments, except it trades Soul for Rock and instead of being largely focused around friendship and band dynamics, also incorporates a coming-of-age tale against a backdrop of poverty and insecurity in 80s Dublin. Funnily enough, Maria Doyle Kennedy’s first major film role was in The Commitments; she plays the mother in Sing Street.
It’s laugh-out-loud funny in many places, emotional and sincere in others. The music and tips of the hat to 70s and 80s Rock are tongue in cheek, but also actually really quite good. No reasons to not see this film.
High-Rise (UK, Ben Wheatley)
Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s seminal novel is, in my opinion, on Kubrick levels of book-to-screen adaptations. Indeed, the film is very reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange, in terms of its bleakness, visual horror and truly nasty characters.
In an alternate 1970s (or a future imagined in the 70s) a new initiative has been launched – a high-rise tower that can house its own micro society. The working class live on the lower floors and have poorer amenities. The ruling class live on the top floor and seldom need to venture downstairs. But as such hierarchical societies do in real-life, it’s not long before it tears itself apart.
The performances are excellent. Tom Hiddlestone has already proved himself as a leading man, and was a sound choice to anchor the story, but the best performances come from Luke Evans, who plays Richard Wilder, a working class father puts in a perfect performance of disillusionment and rebellion, but ineffectual also, and he succumbs to his anger many times. Jeremy Irons plays the polar opposite of Wilder; Royal, the founder of the high-rise; who dislikes the inequality, but does little to prevent it. Elisabeth Moss playes Helen Wilder, Richard’s wife, who is one of the real victims of this class war – the only person who seems to genuinely think about other people, especially her children.
The visuals are sumptuous, every frame is a painting – the aforementioned future imagined in the 70s vibe is done perfectly. The film plays around with various themes of morality and nihilism. One of its defining moments is when Laing (Hiddlestone) announces that ‘Wilder may just be the most sane man in this building’ shortly before Wilder rapes another character. The film had a profoundly thought-provoking effect on me, I hope it will do you too.
The Brand New Testament (Belgium, Jaco Van Dormael)
What I like about The Brand New Testament is that it takes the piss out of everything, no matter how dark, and yet it manages to find humour in these terrible situations without being crass or insensitive.
The premise of the film is that God is an angry man that lives in Brussels with his wife and daughter (Jesus obviously having died many years ago.) He is abusive to his wife and daughter and the daughter decides to stand up with him, messing with his computer and then running away. This results in everyone being texted the time and date of their death. Some people go mad, some people try to achieve their life’s ambition in the time they have left, some knowing they can’t die decide to cheat death in increasingly audacious ways and some people feel that they have wasted their lives and that they don’t have enough time to make amends. Meanwhile, the Daughter decides to gather six more disciples to make it a joint collection of 18 between her and her brother. The reason for this is that their mother’s favourite number is 18 as that’s how many players a baseball team has.
The plot is bonkers and the film just runs with it in increasingly hilarious but also endearingly profound ways. Sure if you don’t speak French then you will have to watch it with subtitles, but I don’t and did respectively and still managed to find it rip-roaringly funny.
Midnight Special (USA, Jeff Nichols)
A great low-budget sci-fi. In a year when films like Independence Day completely miss the mark, it’s fantastic to see a conceptual and thought-provoking film that is left interpretative.
A boy (Alton) and his father (Roy) are fugitives on the run across the US with the help of Roy’s friend, Lucas. Alton has supernatural powers that perplex everyone. Roy rescued him from a religious cult who saw him as vessel of God’s messages, but they are also tracked by the FBI who, as one might expect, see the potential of using Alton as a weapon. Roy, Lucas and the boy’s mother, Sarah seem to be the only one’s interested in Alton’s wellbeing and must bring him to a place where Alton can find the answers to his powers.
The film is mysterious and thrilling, being mostly shot at night, leading to intriguing plot development. The film also begs a second viewing as knowing how the plot resolves sheds new light on what’s going on, and you can debate the significance of it all until you’re blue.
The acting is great, especially Jaeden Liberher’s performance as Alton. Seeing a good child performance is rare, and speaks of great direction and connection between the cast as well as the kid’s talent.
HyperNormalisation (UK, Adam Curtis)
Finally, a much more serious entry on this list. If you live outside of the UK, you may not be able to watch it as it’s only on BBC Iplayer as far as I’m aware. Adam Curtis is becoming a British equivalent to Michael Moore.
HyperNormalisation explores the relationship between the West and the Middle East as well as how the politicians and leaders interact with each other; how insane events are so commonplace that we accept them without question. The film also goes into Donald Trump’s affairs quite a bit, and turns out to be quite prescient as the documentary came out before the Presidential Election.
It’s not an easy watch, but it’s incredibly interesting. For me, I found that I already knew a lot of the facts and themes that the documentary tries to educate the viewer on, but putting them in context was necessary to see just how far removed today’s political culture is from social reality.
Films I want to see…
As I stated earlier, there are tons of films I’ve missed out on that I want to see and might make it onto a best films of the year list. This article is only here to discuss some important films. So if you’re upset that I didn’t talk about your favourite film, below are the ones that I want to watch before making a definite decision. If you’ve seen a film that’s not above or below, please recommend it to me @HartlessMusic
PS: I have seen 13th, Hail Caesar, Captain America: Civil War and 10 Cloverfield Lane; all of which I thought were fantastic, but I didn’t have as much to say about them as the above five.
Where To Invade Next, Arrival, The Boy And The Beast, The Witch, The Meddler, Green Room, Hell Or High Water, Nice Guys, Lights Out, The Childhood Of A Leader, Tower, Moonlight, Doctor Strange, Nocturnal Animals, The Handmaiden and The Invitation.