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We are closing in on the top spot for the HeadStuff Film writers’ Best Movies of 2017. If you haven’t caught our picks for #20 to #11 check it out here. Let’s jump back in with our Top Ten.
#10 Annihilation – Dir. Alex Garland
Ever had a dream that’s mutated into a nightmare before refracting back into a dream? That’s what watching Annihilation is like. At once beautiful and disturbing, Alex Garland’s romantic, iridescent sci-fi landscape painting burrows deep into many issues. On the surface grief, self-destruction and depression boil. Beneath lies a primordial ooze filled with questions that Annihilation offers no easy answers to. “Why are we here?” shifts into “What will we become?”
Annihilation’s component parts from Natalie Portman’s cathartic performance to Ben Salisbury’s creeping, throbbing score make up a fractal, metamorphic whole that pulses and breathes. Andrew Carroll
#9 Tully – Dir. Jason Reitman
The fourth collaboration of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, and the second to also feature the ever wonderful Charlize Theron. An exploration of parenthood, getting older and reminiscing on your early twenties. Like anything Cody writes, it’s ostensibly a drama but with frequent comedic flourishes and a hugely sympathetic performance from Theron. It’s not a film that shies away from the uglier realities of motherhood or a stagnating relationship and yet, grounded by Theron, is consistently delightful. In fact, it almost does too good of a job investing you in the relationship between Theron’s Marlo and Mackenzie Davis’ titular Tully so that when the (subtly telegraphed and cleverly built-towards) rug-pull is finally enacted, it’s an emotionally devastating blow. Definitely more melancholic than feel-good but relentlessly charming throughout. It may not make you ever want kids, but you’ll want to be wine-mom friends with Marlo. Richard Drumm
#8 A Star is Born – Dir. Bradley Cooper
The best mainstream movie musical in years, Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut is like a fantastic ballad – electrifying, beautiful and powerful.
The story of a fading country singer (Cooper) and his relationship with a rising pop star (Lady Gaga), A Star is Born 2018 – the third American remake of the 1937 original of the same name – had no right being as fresh and authentic as it was. This was down to two things. Firstly, Gaga as the lead was stellar casting. Not only is she such a charismatic performer but her character is so inextricably linked to her persona – a nightclub singer of French ballads who overnight exploded to stardom.
Secondly was Cooper’s co-writing and directing. Weaving in autobiographical elements like his tinnitus and Gaga’s public dislike of her nose to the script; shooting scenes in live environments with real singing; allowing actors to improvise – these elements combined captured real-live wire energy. Not only did they make the film’s musical moments hit all that harder, it made the whirlwind romance between Gaga’s Ally and Cooper’s Jackson more thrilling at its highs and tragic in its lows. Stephen Porzio
#7 Phantom Thread – Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
Phantom Thread, set in 1950s London, follows the relationship between tailor, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps). The basic plot doesn’t sound like much, but it wouldn’t be an Anderson film if there weren’t some twisted undertones. Phantom Thread slowly presents a sado-masochistic relationship between its lead characters in a way that leaves the audience shocked at the edge of their seats, all set against the backdrop of luxury and couture fashion in post-war Britain.
Anderson teases his viewers with glimpses into the lives of his heroes without fully divulging all the information they want. Who is Alma really? And exactly what is going on with Reynolds? The cherry on top of this fantastic film is Anderson’s decision to team up again with Johnny Greenwood for a film score so romantic and heart-swelling, you won’t soon forget it. Although many would argue that Phantom Thread was hard done by in this year’s Oscars, it would appear that Anderson’s latest won’t be leaving memories of its viewers any time soon – much like all his other films. If you have not yet seen Phantom Thread, I cannot recommend it enough. And if you have, remember to be careful of who prepares your mushroom omelette. Or maybe you don’t care. Aoife Ellis Bagnall
#6 Suspiria – Dir. Luca Guadagnino
This is not a remake. It’s an epic expansion to the 1977 classic about a ballet dancer whose school is a witches’ coven.
Set in 70s divided Berlin, Suspiria 2018 is filled with towering columns and brooding buildings – resembling a beautiful prison. Its mise-en-scene – including gorgeous, snowy exteriors – adds a tactile quality, reinforcing writer David Kajganich’s promise that his Suspiria would feel real as possible. Unlike the original, we understand the witches’ operation – using ballet dances as incantations, hypnotising nosy policemen.
The unsettling atmosphere builds on the film’s thematic question – what’s it like to live in the shadow of the Holocaust – with the coven a manifestation of fears it could happen again. As our heroine (Dakota Johnson) asks: “Why is everyone so ready to think the worst is over?”
This could be academic if it wasn’t for the elderly Dr Klemperer (not Tilda Swinton *wink*). Sensing something fishy is happening, he investigates as the last time he didn’t trust his gut, his wife wound up in a concentration camp. He is a warm heart in this cold, evil world.
Like Blade Runner 2049, a half-hour could be cut from Suspiria’s 150-minute running time. But why in Mother Suspirium’s name would you want to. Stephen Porzio
#5 First Reformed – Dir. Paul Schrader
Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader hasn’t really had much attention from critics and audiences since 2002’s Auto Focus. His masterpiece of morbid discomfort First Reformed proves however that we need him far more than he needs us. Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Ernst Toller is a man smart enough to see the impending ecological disaster but ignorant enough to think we’ll do something about it.
The aspect ratio is so tight it’s claustrophobic and the chilly, stark images of wintry New York state are so icy you can feel their breath. This is a final scream into deaf ears, a violent, screeching plea for humanity in the face of a brick wall of apathy. Mark Conroy
#4 Cold War – Dir. Pawel Pawlikowski
Cold War is a miracle of movie. With a 90-minute epic, writer/director Pavel Pawlikowski manages to elegantly cram a lifetime’s worth of romance within a 1950’s Europe desperate to rebuild after the trauma of tearing itself apart. The tempestuous affair between travelling musicians Zuzanna and Wiktor is the film’s aching heart and a savage indictment of having any emotions at all. Pawlikowski will cradle you warmly before chewing you up and spitting you out and you will pay him the price of admission to do it.
The irresistible, monochromatic cinematography is cinema at its most visually compelling and breathtakingly picturesque. Some of the most striking images of 2018 can be found in the frosty, cold snapped hills of rural Poland, in the nocturnal glow of a beatnik’s Parisian apartment, in the grand vista of a Berlin playhouse or just in the wry, softly-lit smile from Joanna Kulig. The poignant, traditional polish music proves as moving as the story itself and will have you singing “ya ya ya” come next shower.
Like so many great films that deal with a nation’s cultural niches, Cold War invites us into a world so foreign yet makes it so inviting. Did I mention it’s just 85 minutes? In 2013, Pawlikowski gave us the devasting knockout Ida. For him to make one masterpiece about post-war Poland is no small feat, but for him to make two is, like I said, something of a miracle. Mark Conroy
#3 Mission Impossible: Fallout – Dir. Christopher McQuarrie
The only thing more surprising than the fact that this franchise is still going, or that Tom Cruise hasn’t yet successfully killed himself while making one of these, is that they somehow keep getting better. Given that this entry is objectively too long, it is also quite impressive how well-paced and consistently engaging it is (once you get past the pre-titles setup/info dump). But of course the real reason this sixth film in a two decade old series is ranking so high for everyone this year is its breathtakingly insane adherence to practical stunt work by both the crew generally and Cruise specifically.
The more you look into the production and its various hurdles (Cruise shattering his ankle, Moustache-Gate, the fact that McQuarrie didn’t have anything like a finished script and was actively sorting out the story/structure as they were shooting it, etc.), it’s a minor miracle that a studio allowed them to make a film like this, let alone a staggering achievement that such a solid film emerged. Probably the best entry in the series, the most viscerally thrilling and exhilarating action film of the year, and almost certainly the most impressive technical accomplishment since Fury Road. Richard Drumm
#2 Sorry to Bother You – Dir. Boots Riley
Boots Riley’s debut is the best piece of Marxist agitprop you’re likely to have seen in the last twelve months.
Lakeith Stanfield’s Cassius, AKA ‘Cash’ succeeds in his call centre job by adopting a white voice (courtesy of David Cross). Soon he’s in the big leagues, selling modern day slavery until a very… unique moral dilemma falls into his lap at a coke fuelled party. Riley coats his critique of capitalism in enough slapstick comedy, absurdist visuals and great performances (including Armie Hammer as a platonically perfect bro-entrepreneur villain) that you’re never at risk of feeling that you’re reading a Chomsky essay.
Not that this is, in any way, a subtle movie. After all, it features a scene involving white party guests with zero problem singing the N word right back at Cash after he’s been press ganged into being their entertainment. Rather, it’s proof that you don’t always need subtlety if you have charm and smarts; two things that this film has in abundance. It’s a gleeful, angry, exhilarating time. The fact that we’re in an era where 90 per cent of satire seems limited to wealthy liberals calling Donald Trump a big, gay baby only helps make Sorry to Bother You extra refreshing. Ged Murray
#1 You Were Never Really Here – Dir. Lynne Ramsay
Tale as old as time, Beauty and the Beast…
You Were Never Really Here has plenty of beastly moments in its tale of Joaquin Phoenix’s hitman Joe out to save a senator’s daughter from child prostitution. But it has plenty of beauty in its lean, economic 90 minutes. As fleeting and ephemeral as these moments might be they make for some of the starkest shots in 2018. An ethereal water burial. A song shared between killer and victim. A bath house filled with men shrouded in towels; as ghostly as Joe’s traumatic memories.
You Were Never Really Here is about trauma. It’s John Wick with all of the pain and less of the bloodshed but that only makes it feel more violent. Lynne Ramsay’s sharp, slicing cuts to Joe’s childhood or the moments of trauma in his later life feel like a raw nerve being plucked. Phoenix’s performance as the hulking, wounded Joe is breath-taking but so too is Ekaterina Samsonov as his charge, Nina.
You Were Never Really Here is ostensibly a film about rescuing people from bad situations but it posits the heart-breaking question: What if there was no one left to rescue? Andrew Carroll