Film Mafia’s Top Ten of 2017

All films were released (with one exception, below) in Australian cinemas in 2017.

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10

HOUNDS OF LOVE – AUSTRALIAN FILM OF THE YEAR

A disappointing year in Australian cinema saw the only Oz entry at number 10 – highly unusual. As Justin Kurzel did with Snowtown, Ben Young has taken a tired genre and given it enormous life by applying intelligence, depth of character and just a damned fine script. Hounds of Love is not as “everything” as Snowtown – not as disturbing, not as bloody, not as brilliant – but it is another inspired and noble entry in Australian cinema’s rich ledger of suburban nightmares. In films like these, the villains wear thongs, and people get hurt while the sun brilliantly shines.

9

MOTHER!

Darren Aronofsky’s phantasmagoric fantasia on art, fame, success, religion, politics and the cult of celebrity erupts relentlessly and furiously. It is the angriest, most dynamic film I’ve seen this year, and probably the best film hailing from the US (although it seems to have been shot in Quebec). A fable or parable rather than a story centred in anything close to realism, utilising horror elements including an honest-to-goodness haunted house, mother! – the lower-case “m” and the exclamation mark are specific – is a wild and mesmerising ride, and should leave most engaged viewers with plenty to chew on. It is full of ideas.

8

THE SQUARE

Releasing in Australia March 2018, The Square has opened in the rest of the world and screened in multiple Australian festivals.

Ruben Östlund follows up his cringe-tension masterwork Force Majeure (which won Movieland Awards in 2014 for Best Film, Best Direction and Best Cinematography) with this Palmes D’Or-winning art world satire. At its best, it skims sublimely from scene to scene, arousing constant knowing humour, satirical appreciation and – Östlund’s speciality – ambiguous dread, before arriving at the scene of the year, in which Terry Notary, known primarily for motion-capture and particularly ape work in the vein of Andy Serkis, plays a performance artist with a particularly involving piece to present. Theatre actor Claes Bang makes a gigantic impression in the lead role of the curator of a contemporary art museum in Stockholm who may not be as cool as he looks; watch as he becomes a massive worldwide star (his spoken English, accented towards British, is perfect). Great fun.

7

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER – BRITISH FILM OF THE YEAR

Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer is gripping, creepy, intense and wholly original. It slots beautifully into 2017 as The Year Of Intelligent Horror; it is also, easily, one of the best films of the year. The film is thematically rich and pungent, looking deep into marriage, family, ethics, morals and trust. Most immediately, it asks that classic question, “What would you do to protect your family?” – but you’ve never seen it asked like this. Outstanding.

6

GET OUT 

Jordan Peele’s debut feature is a horror film without gore or jump-scares, a treatise on casual racism in America without being didactic or pointedly accusatory, and an intelligent and intense social satire without – or with very few – “jokes”, it feels closest in our immediate culture to an excellent American episode of Black Mirror, with a very American theme. Genres don’t so much collide as smoothly intertwine – copulate, even. And, like Black Mirror but unlike a lot of American “horror” cinema, everything has a point. This is a film with something to say, which uses pure entertainment to say it – which is its genius. You’re constantly too creeped out to realise you’re learning something.

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5

THE DISASTER ARTIST

Director James Franco’s The Disaster Artist is enormously proficient as a comedy – in terms of laughs out loud, it’s one of the funniest films I’ve seen in years – while also displaying epic chops as a faithful adaptation of an intriguing memoir, an odd-couple buddy movie, a Tale of Hollywood, and a meditation on ambition. It may very well be the most purely entertaining film of the year.

4

THE FLORIDA PROJECT – AMERICAN FILM OF THE YEAR

I’ve seen two of Baker’s previous features, Starlet (2012) and Tangerine (2015). Both were original, often very funny, and determinedly empathetic for their characters who lived in the margins of society. However, The Florida Project towers above them as a major, mature work, one of the very best films of 2017. Like Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Alexander Payne’s Election (1999) and Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight (1998), this is the big, confident, near-perfect film that delivers on a director’s enormous, already demonstrated, promise and potential.

3

PERSONAL SHOPPER

The movie is great value, because it’s at least three films in one: ghost story, American-in-Paris workplace drama and vaguely “Hitchcockian” thriller. We first meet Stewart’s character Maureen (such an intriguing, old-fashioned name for someone so young and hip; Stewart wears it beautifully, and a touch ironically) as she spends the night in a secluded house in order to see if it’s haunted. This scene, played straight – and with a ghost! – seems almost shockingly, literally “genre”; is Assayas really going there? The short answer is, he is, but he’s going other places too, and the movie keeps shifting gears with highly-engineered precision.

2

RAW – RUNNER UP FILM OF THE YEAR / FILM DEBUT OF THE YEAR 

Within its perverse take on coming-of-age, it examines peer pressure, burgeoning sexuality, academic tradition, accepted modes of living and social acceptance, while also being a mesmerising, totally compelling – and, yes, grisley – thrill ride. It’s high-octane, thrilling, compelling stuff that had me transfixed and excited. Director Julia Ducournau goes all-out with her imagery and use of a fantastically creepy score by Jim Williams, who scored Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England. She creates visual moments that immediately brand themselves onto your psyche and sequences that are simply unforgettable. The story, as it unfurls, simultaneously bears a sense of inevitability but is also constantly surprising, and packs a supremely satisfying climax.

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1

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME – FILM OF THE YEAR

This is a film that stays with you. Its mood, its heart and its characters have been tickling my brain since seeing it. It feels nourishing and generous, like a meal that was delicious and has turned out to have ongoing health benefits. It’s briefly altered my perception of the world, reminding me that there is decency out there, somewhere. And I daresay, if I was a gay teenager right now, or even just a teenager, this would be the movie I needed. It may be one of those films that change many thousands of young lives for the better. For many, it will become a favourite, a classic, even a life-saver. It is sublime.

What were yours? Your comments welcome in the Comments Section.

The Florida Project

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* * * * 1/2

Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is an enormously compassionate film; it is joyous and funny, incisive and surprising, and truly subversive. It manages to be furious about the state of affairs in the United States while never raising its voice nor venturing near any political imagery. It is sublime and must be seen.

I’ve seen two of Baker’s previous features, Starlet (2012) and Tangerine (2015). Both were original, often very funny, and determinedly empathetic for their characters who lived in the margins of society. However, The Florida Project towers above them as a major, mature work, one of the very best films of 2017. Like Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Alexander Payne’s Election (1999) and Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight (1998), this is the big, confident, near-perfect film that delivers on a director’s enormous, already demonstrated, promise and potential.

Ostensibly, it’s about life among the community – the residents and the manager – at The Magic Castle, a motel in Orlando, Florida, that sits geographically close, but socio-economically worlds apart, from Walt Disney World. Many of the residents are essentially permanent tenants, living week-to-week, barely scraping by; some American media outlets refer to people in this predicament as the “invisible homeless”, for, although they technically have shelter, it is impermanent, insecure, hanging by the Damocles Sword of the weekly “rent”. Our primary characters are six-year-old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and her single mother Halley (Bria Vinaite, who Baker found on Instagram, and who delivers an astonishing debut performance); as their life becomes subtly more precarious, they are watched over by the motel’s manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe), whose empathy and compassion make him an obvious stand-in for Baker himself.

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Baker and his cinematographer Alexis Zabe tell the story through the perspective of Moonee and her friends (the camera never once ‘looks down’ at these little wonders); the bold tacky colours and neglected flora of and around the series of motels and small businesses that make up their world are rendered as bright, joyous, delicious. For at least half the film, Baker – and we – are content to delight in the children’s exultant, unsupervised play; it is the beginning of summer, and their holiday stretches before them like an endless sunny paradise. Even if they can’t afford to go into the Magic Kingdom, they have the pools, the corridors, the laundry rooms, the ponds, and, of course, each other. This section of the film feels defiantly episodic and breezy, and is utterly delightful, and very funny.

But Baker has an incredibly precise schematic up his sleeve, and all the while, he is slowly, calmly and very deliberately layering in story elements that will build to a narrative we never saw coming. It is a superb display of directorial control, especially given that he was not only working with many “non-actors”, but, often, six-year old ones. Impressively, unlike Tangerine, which was famously shot on iPhones, The Florida Project is shot on film and utilises very formal, often symmetrical, highly structured locked-off shots, so it wasn’t as though Baker and Zabe were just letting the kids be kids and shooting whatever they did. These remarkable little thespians are hitting their marks and acting within the frame, yet bring endless moments of ecstatic spontaneity.

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Still, Baker and his cast and crew were flexible and agile enough to let their environment deliver them natural bounty: I can think of two scenes – one involving a rainbow and one some flamingos – that were obviously captured on the fly when opportunity knocked, and there may be more. Certainly, there are some astonishing sunsets that can’t have allowed for many takes, and Dafoe, the professional actor within this diverse young company, was obviously game to leap in and deliver at a moment’s notice. With the flamingos, he comes up with one of the film’s funniest lines, but with the kids, he truly lives within the moment, making every exchange full, rich and real. I have never loved him as an actor more.

As for little Brooklyn, it’s hard to sing her praises too much, and one shouldn’t. Like Quvenzhané Wallis is Beasts of the Southern Wild, Brooklyn is impeccable, the absolute heart and soul of the film, as astonishing find, a boundless life-force captured forever in a magical film. I hope she’s not dragged all over the red carpets, nor saddled with – as Wallis was – an Annie remake or the like. She’s Moonee in The Florida Project and always will be. One thing The Florida Project can teach us is that it’s vital that we let kids be kids.

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Sean Baker