With the first hours of 2018 almost upon us, it seems like a good time to take a moment to reflect on the year that was in cinema, and the best things that I got a chance to see over the last 12 months.
It’s an interesting time for movies. Advances in TVs and home cinema have somewhat lessened the value of the big screen experience – why pay to go to the movies when you can get much the same experience by staying in the comfort of your own home?
This is not a new phenomenon, of course, it’s been this way for the last five or so years, but it seems like 2017, more than any other year, saw studios putting all of their focus on big budget movies – those which are able to provide an experience that you can’t re-create at home. Which has seen arthouse films losing out.
Many of those directors who would be making more niche hits are now shifting across to Netflix and other providers, giving us TV shows like Stranger Things, which may once have been a breakthrough indie film. Yet at the same time, while smaller productions seem have been getting less exposure, a recent raft of disappointing big-budget films may herald a new wave of creative, inventive cinema, and force production houses to re-think their creative process.
That, I think, has been somewhat exemplified in the top films I’ve seen. Here’s my top five from the past year.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Technically, Arrival came out in 2016, but I only caught it early in January, and even now, it stands out as one of the best films I’ve seen in recent times.
I’ve written about how much I love Denis Villeneuve’s work before, with both Enemy and Prisoners being stand outs (Enemy is far more divisive, but it’s one my favourite movies ever). Arrival showcases the best of his abilities, with an intriguing story (based on a short story called ‘Story of Your Life’ by Ted Chiang) which enables Villeneuve to shift his narrative structure for the biggest emotional impact.
Directed by Greta Gerwig
There’s a lot of hype around this film, and it’s totally justified. Lady Bird is a reminder of how great cinema can be, of the emotional impact of the medium.
The film tells a simple story, but captures each key moment in a relatable, intimate, and affectionate way, which invites the audience in to share the experience – an experience which everyone can relate to on some level. A must-see that likely won’t be playing in your local Hoyts.
Directed by Craig Gillespie
I have to admit, I would not have picked Margot Robbie to become the force she has developed into. Not only is her performance stand out in this film, but she also co-produced, further building her brand.
Everyone knows the story of Tonya Harding on some level, which, if anything, makes it more difficult for I, Tonya to succeed, because you know where it’s headed. But Gillespie’s direction – which reminded me of how Andrew Dominik approached ‘Chopper’ in many ways – elevates it, and along with Robbie’s performance, makes it a stand out.
Directed by Patty Jenkins
After seeing Wonder Woman, my first response was that they should give all the superhero movies to Jenkins. The pacing, story and development is exactly what a big-budget blockbuster should be.
Sure, it’s a Hollywood movie, so it sticks to familiar beats, but Wonder Woman has succeeded where so many other Marvel/DC movies have fallen short. In a year of major disappointments on this front, Wonder Woman stands out – the major producers should be taking notes.
Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
Again, with so many big studios falling short in the narrative elements of their films, Pixar shows us what good storytelling is all about.
In fact, Pixar have got the process so down-pat that you pretty much expect it, but still, Coco manages to remain fresh, and highly relevant, despite following the familiar Hero’s Journey structure which has been Disney’s staple.
Those are the ones that stood out most for me this year – though admittedly I haven’t caught everything I would have liked (I haven’t seen ‘The Shape of Water’, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ or ‘Get Out’, all of which have been highly praised and I have been meaning to check out). But even so, the films I have seen have highlighted to me that there are new sparks of life within the cinema landscape, that deserve attention beyond the mainstream sequels and prequels and adaptations. The positive to those films falling short is that it’ll provide more opportunity for new voices, while the expansion of alternative platforms will also enable greater opportunities for good, original stories.