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2017 was a great year for film with stand out big screen success such as Get Out and Blade Runner 2049, a plethora of supermovies like Logan and Thor: Ragnarok and indie instant-classics like A Ghost Story and The Florida Project. Not only that you didn’t even have to leave your house to enjoy quality this year as Netflix provided home comforts with Okja and I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore.
All those mentioned above featured in the HeadStuff Film Writers picks for the Best Movies of 2017. The movies below however may have slipped under your radar; Here is Part One of the best movies you missed from 2017.
I Am Not Your Negro Dir. Raoul Peck
Commercial films dealing with CGI-soaked, spandexed superheroes have the tendency to distort the landscape of film as a medium for expressing sincere social messages concerning the well-being or ill-health of our civility as Americans. Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary exploring James Baldwin’s unfinished memoir, Remember This House; his personal recollections of and relationships with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The film is a tapestry of images and short clips, some of which I have seen, many of which I had never seen before. I was in Philadelphia when I saw it and it sent me out into the city with inspired nervousness, a sense of unfinished-ness to myself. Many films attempt to leave you with a vicarious wholeness from the film’s own insistence toward resolution of conflict. I Am Not Your Negro, in a very poignant gesture for the current racial climate in America, disallowed me the comfort of comfort. For that very reason, it may have been ignored by many top ten lists for 2017 movies, but it is certainly one of the most important works in the past year. For its relevance. For its truth to power. Nick Hilbourn
Toni Erdmann Dir. Maren Ade
You WILL know about this film very soon. On seeing it, Jack Nicholson surprised everyone by marching into Paramount offices (in a bathrobe, I imagine, possibly with a golf club) and demanded that they snap up the remake rights so he could come out of retirement and star in it. But please – while Lena Dunham works away on that script – do yourself a massive favour and watch the original. Maren Ade’s film is magic – by turns breathtakingly weird, awkwardly hilarious and emotionally overwhelming.
Winfried, an old practical joker living in rural Germany, decides to visit his daughter, Ines, in Romania. When he arrives, she struggles to slot him into her “schedule” and speaks to him only in corporate-speak. Ignored and hurt, he goes to leave but then has a splendid idea – he’ll don a fake wig and goofy teeth and adopt the persona ‘Toni Erdmann’ to disrupt her life in a series of escalating pranks. What follows is a great wanderly movie that rambles from hilarious scenes to thoughts on globalisation, yet is always rooted in a very true relationship between a father and daughter.
If you are not a mess by the end of it, donate your heart and tear ducts to science so that after your death we can understand this strange anomaly. Tom Rowley
Wind River Dir. Taylor Sheridan
Wind River is a gem of a movie, the surprise of 2017 for me. Though positive word of mouth preceded it, I wasn’t ready for just how good this gritty, tense modern western was, but also how full of emotion it was too.
Though I believe Jeremy Renner has lost his way recently through his flirtations with Marvel, he treats us to one of his best performances here. Playing Cory Lambert, a Wyoming hunter mourning the loss of his eldest child and the breakdown of his marriage, he finds himself drawn into a murder investigation when a young woman is found dead in the snow on an Indian Reservation called Wind River. His understated and nuanced turn as Cory is magnificent, blending seamlessly into a strong ensemble cast including Elizabeth Olson as Federal agent Jane Banner, Graham Greene, Gil Birmingham and Jon Bernthal.
Birmingham excels as the father of the murdered girl, mixing his grief and anger into his request of Cory that he avenge his daughter. Where Jane is the federal law, Cory serves up his own version of frontier justice, exemplified in the final act and one of the most satisfying conclusions in recent years.
Wind River is a compelling watch and as much a social commentary as it is an engaging thriller, dissecting race and grief as well as highlighting the places and people forgotten about in American society. If you missed Wind River on the big screen, then I honestly implore you to seek it out on the smaller one. You will not be disappointed. Graham Connors
Good Time Dir. Benny & Josh Safdie
Child/teenage stars generally don’t do this. They develop a serious drug habit, appear on ironic t-shirts, restrict their film appearances to self-referential cameos and, if they’re really big, get away with murder. I can’t think of any former teen heartthrob that would have a go at inhabiting Connie, the unrelenting fuck up at the heart of Good Time, but then I can’t think of a heartthrob so eager to shed his former skin like Robert Pattinson.
Normally in a film that’s this unrelentingly bleak you’d expect a main character that gives the audience something to root for, a sliver of light. The Safdie brothers instead gave us a character so scuzzy that I needed to take a shower shortly after the credits rolled. When Connie invites himself into the home a teenage girl that might have had been on Team Edward a few years ago, your skin starts to crawl in awful anticipation of what’s going to happen, gurning to the most vicious digital nightmare soundtrack this side of Aphex Twin.
In terms of sheer vision, nobody’s having more fun desecrating their former self than Robert Pattinson. Within this gleeful destruction, he is showing yet again why he’s one of his generation’s singular talents. Adam Duke
Lady Macbeth Dir. William Oldroyd
What begins as a Victorian period piece mutates into a thriller equally indebted to Hitchcock and Haneke in an astonishing filmmaking debut for theatre director William Oldroyd. Florence Pugh stars as Katherine, a poor woman who is sold to the rich Alexander (Paul Hilton) for the purpose of marriage. Cruel, impotent and a drunk, Alexander makes his wife’s life hell. In doing so, he creates a monster in Katherine. With the help of her lover, Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis), a man who works on Alexander’s land, she exacts revenge upon her husband, hurting more lives in the process.
Lady Macbeth deserves praise for a number of reasons. While British historical cinema tends to be more heritage-focused, idealising a time when England was a colonial power, Alice Birch’s script highlights how women were often oppressed during this period. It’s also a very effective parable about if one is treated poorly by their society, they will in turn become cruel. Oldroyd subtly hints at future developments in the narrative. He contrasts Katherine’s bright blue dress with the dull colours of her household, establishing her as a non-conforming force. Birch’s screenplay is light on exposition, however, the real stand-out is Florence Pugh. The audience is always aware of the changes Katherine is undergoing just from the actress’ incredibly expressively face. Stephen Porzio
Brawl in Cell Block 99 Dir. S. Craig Zahler
If you’ve seen or read the gruesome likes of director/novelist’s S. Craig Zahler’s other work such as Bone Tomahawk, then you know exactly what to expect with Brawl in Cell Block 99. Limbs are snapped, faces are beaten in and heads are ripped from shoulders. Remember the elevator scene in Drive where the guts (no apologies for the pun) of the violence were left mostly to the imagination? Nothing like that happens here. Zahler puts every detail onscreen revelling in the grindhouse roots of this obscenely violent, self-assured prison drama.
What is unexpected is quite how affecting Vince Vaughn is in the lead role. He rises above all the face shredding and flesh pulping to give the best performance of his career. His stoicism, rage and sadness all combine into a performance complimented by Jennifer Carpenter’s stern resilience and Don Johnson’s Amnesty International-defying cruelty. Even so, the grimy brick corridors, Nazi-esque guards and one-note gangsters will leave you feeling like you need to scrape the shit off the disc once it’s out of the tray. Brawl in Cell Block 99 left me wanting a shower after watching it, in a good way. Andrew Carroll
The Love Witch Dir. Anna Biller
Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is one of the most delightfully esoteric movies of the past several years; a wildly colourful, groovy 60’s throwback, a B-Horror pastiche and a hilarious skewering of how gender has us all tied up in knots.
We follow the titular Love Witch, Elaine, as she moves into a California town and sets out to catch a man. She hopes to ensnare a mate by cooking up potions, taking sex magic and parlaying it into ‘love magic’. The movie has plenty of barbs for the male characters in Elaine’s life, both the horny dudes who are revolted by menstrual blood elixirs and her magical male mentor; a creepy older libertine who seems to be from the ‘baby give it up’ school of women’s lib. However it never loses sight of the fact that Elaine is wonderfully crazy herself. A very funny moment involves her trying to open up a lover emotionally only to think ‘Jesus, what a pussy’ when he’s reduced from new age Lothario to a weeping mess before her.
The humour is complemented by wonderful visuals. The attention to period detail goes beyond mere camp. Biller did much of the production design herself and the labour of love pays off. Almost every new scene brings an obsessively kitschy piece of decor, occult fashion or some fresh, spectacular hat. It’s an unashamedly ‘girly’, feminine aesthetic.
While at times it sticks a little too closely to its inspiration (did she really need to recreate the uneven pace of hippie-sploitation?) The Love Witch is gorgeous, funny and as cutting as a dagger to the heart. Ged Murray