Daniel Day-Lewis says he’s made his last film. By my count that’s three times since 2003 that he`s said as much, so I pay zero attention because he’s back in frequent collaborator Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterful Phantom Thread. If it is his last gig, what a way to go. The film follows a difficult and claustrophobic affair between a famous British women’s wear designer and a country inn waitress who becomes his muse and lover. After a time he becomes bored, and she reveals hidden depths and depravity in the way she re-ignites his passion. It’s not what you think. This mannered love story is excellent counterprogramming to the holiday fare cramming the theatres. Daniel Day-Lewis illustrates once more that he is in my opinion, the greatest actor of our time.
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What could be more bracing than a real life political thriller starring powerhouses Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks? Steven Spielberg’s The Post revisits the Pentagon Papers scandal from the perspective of Washington Post owner Kay Graham and her executive editor Ben Bradlee. In 1971, they challenged the Nixon White House’s order not to publish the papers detailing US troop movements in Vietnam since WWII that proved Lyndon Johnson lied about US involvement. Daniel Ellsberg, played by Mathew Rhys, provided the Post with the papers and the subsequent Watergate break-in of the DNC is said to have been part of an effort to discredit Ellsberg. Exciting stuff that has the same smell as today’s off kilter political climate and its dirty tricks. The film’s engrossing and the performances are superb.
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It’s been a pitiful news year but there was comfort, challenge, artistry, goodwill and entertainment at the movies. It wasn’t the greatest year by a long shot and there were some painful missteps, but as we’re starting 2018 with optimistic hearts, let’s concentrate on the good stuff, in alphabetical order:
A Ghost Story has us spy on a woman haunted by the ghost of her late husband as she mourns his loss and moves away. David Lowery’s vision is altogether something new and fresh, one of the most inventive and mostly improvised stories in the genre that touches on time travel, pie and abiding love. Events seem to move in real time. It’s heavy with heartbreaking nostalgia and the sense of loss. Directed and written by Lowery and starring Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck.
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A sensual love story about a boy and his father’s houseguest unfolds easily and often uncomfortably in Call Me By Your Name. Outstanding performances committed to the director’s unique vision and capped by Michael Stuhlbarg’s gut punch of a healing monologue. Directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer.
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The ice cold Dunkirk is technically brilliant and it can be seen on 70mm film! Its remove is interesting, opting to focus on the British national war effort versus intimate personal journeys. It’s visually arresting, haunting, stirring and important. Directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Kenneth Branagh, Barry Keoghan and Mark Rylance.
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The landmark horror Get Out is said by its creator to be a documentary on the black experience in America. This deflating lesson comes through as genre bending, riveting and singular. One of the year’s greatest, most audacious triumphs from a first time director Jordan Peele, best known as a comic actor, half of Key and Peele comedy duo. Written and directed by Peele and starring Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams.
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The Canadian gem Hello Destroyer is a spare and merciless stab in the back of our national sport, at a time when concussion awareness is starting to take hold. This one goes against our long held conviction that hockey must be played as we mark the toll a blow to the head causes a promising young player. Directed by Kevan Funk and starring Jared Abrahamson.
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Recalling the audacity of the 2012 doc Bestiaire are two films high on my list, the Turkish doc Kedi that follows feral cats through the streets of Istanbul and Do Donkeys Act? A glorious ode to the noisy beasts, with Willem Dafoe reading mystical poetry in voice over. Directed by Ceyda Torun and David Redmon with Ashley Sabin, respectively.
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No film threw us off balance like The Killing of a Sacred Deer. When children and teens must crawl, maniacal egos must be fulfilled, you can’t trust family and normal is thrown on the fire, well, you feel a certain twisted je ne sais quoi. Off balance. This is a heady and polarising experience. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and starring Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman and Barry Keoghan.
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So much love for this discomfiting coming-of-age comedy Lady Bird. Growing up is tough and mothers are just so annoying! And rarely has this time and state been so beautifully framed for us in ways that recall our own experiences and take us to new emotional places. Directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.
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The stunning Lady Macbeth will scare the polite right out of you; it’s about the treachery of lovers, set in an upper middle class 19th century English home where no footstep or whisper is silent and privacy does not exist. Our abused heroine is galvanized to do wicked things to survive in this tough, heart pounding and galling tale. Directed by William Oldroyd and starring Florence Pugh and Cosmo Jarvis.
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The chilling Russian drama Loveless shockingly deconstructs the idea of familial love. A child living in his parents’ upscale apartment copes with their incessant fighting by walking in the woods; they barely notice him as they focus on their mutual hatred. The tension is hard and tight. Directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev and starring Matvey Novikov, Maryana Spivak and Aleksey Rozin.
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Maudie, an Irish Canadian co-pro looks at a real hero, a disabled and enduring Maritimer who takes a chance on a man and lives a hard scrabble life but picks up a brush and paints out her vivid imaginings. Maude Lewis’ wonderful spirit is expressed in her colourful primitive paintings that made her an international art star. Stellar performances. Directed by Aisling Walsh and starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke.
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A museum art curator makes a series of bad decisions in the satirical Danish co-pro The Square that take the shine off his privileged lifestyle and reveal him for what he is. Again a child is at the receiving end of an adult’s emotional upheaval. A stunning performance art piece with a man–as-monkey mocks the insular art world with tragic consequences. Written and directed by Ruben Östlund and starring Claes Bang and Elisabeth Moss.
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A moody remake of an earlier film The Beguiled is set during the American Civil war in a private girls’ school where the inhabitants attempt to ignore what’s going on outside the gates. A wounded enemy solider appears, they take him in and a power struggle ensues. Violent feminism, horror and isolation are rarely this much fun. Directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst.
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The Florida Project glories in the adventures of childhood in an environment of abject poverty in the Sunshine State, just outside Disneyworld. A welfare motel, run by a kindly operator, is home for the eccentric, the poor and the illegal, but it’s not hell on earth. It’s a place of love and caring and getting through, one of the year’s most optimistic and enjoyable outings. Directed by Sean Baker and starring Brooklynn Prince, Willem Dafoe and Bria Vinaite.
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Frances McDormand is the bad ass of all time, as the mother of a girl who was raped and murdered and demands answers from the police after zero arrests. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a perfectly paced film about outsiderism and cronyism in a small town crisis. She makes fools of the inept police force that seems unwilling or unable to act. Directed by Martin McDonagh and co-starring Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson.
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War for the Planet of the Apes is a revelation, a genre film as unimaginably majestic and serious as it gets. Apes are at war and Cesar is weary but unwilling to allow his “people” to submit to the humans. Gravitas and entertainment in and an absorbing story, is one thing, and Andy Serkis’ charismatic Cesar is another, simply stunning. This concludes the trilogy but leaves me wanting more. Directed by Matt Reeves and starring Serkis and Woody Harrelson.
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Wind River was a happy surprise of summer ’17. Gifted actress Elizabeth Olson, the twins’ exceptionally talented sister, is the rock solid core of a compelling murder mystery set in the wintery wilds of a Utah Indian Reservation. The body of a barefoot young girl is found in a blizzard in remote spot hours from the nearest road; the ripple effect is felt throughout the community. It’s smart and riveting, a nerve-shattering noir. Taylor Sheridan wrote and directs, co-starring Jeremy Renner, Graham Greene and Gil Birmingham.
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Wonder Woman – Obvs. If I have to tell you why, then you must march right out and see it. Chances are you did because Wonder Woman is the highest grossing superhero origins film, DC film, and film directed by a woman. Directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot, the highest grossing female actor of 2017, Chris Pine and Robin Wright.
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A special shout out to Disney Nature’s latest doc Born in China, a breath taking portrait of animal families living in inhospitable far reaches of the country. Beautiful to look at, loaded with gripping drama and emotion, it takes us far away, whetting our curiosity about the world out there. Like its predecessors in the Disney Nature canon, it was criminally ignored by critics and voters who take these difficult-to-make and illuminating films for granted.
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by @annebrodie – BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI