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From the groovy 60s throwback The Love Witch to the brutality of Brawl in Cell Block 99, Part One of the this here listicle has something for everybody. More of the same as The Best Movies You Missed in 2017 list continues here with Part Two:
Kedi Dir. Ceyda Torun
Kedi is the Turkish word for cat, and Kedi is a documentary from Turkish-American director Ceyda Torun about the street cats of Istanbul. Cat videos may seem like a tired Internet trope nowadays, but Kedi has a lot more going on than just cute kitties. (Though the kitties are definitely cute.)
A clever subversion of your expectations in the opening scenes sets the stage for a film that is all about freedom, family, and the impact of modernisation and population growth on an ancient city. Torun, however, resists the temptation to let her subtle social commentary overwhelm the movie. Instead she presents us the cats of the city and the people who involve themselves with them on equal footing. She shows us how these people who take care of the cats of the city are in turn taken care of by them, and how their lives are inextricably tied to these still half-wild creatures.
Cinematographers Alp Korfali and Charlie Wupperman give us shots that range from sweeping panoramic views of the city right down to cat eye level, making the city itself a character in the film. A dynamic soundtrack and an overwhelming sense of spiritual peace are the last two ingredients to make Kedi a masterpiece. Ciaran Conliffe
Personal Shopper Dir. Olivier Assayas
In 2014, writer-director Olivier Assayas made Clouds of Sils Maria which starred Kristen Stewart playing an assistant to Juliette Binoche’s famous actress. Assayas must have enjoyed working with the Twilight star as they reteamed for the thoroughly odd but hypnotic Personal Shopper. Stewart plays another helper to the famous, yet here, her character Maureen also moonlights as a spiritual medium. She is attempting to communicate with her deceased twin brother, who died from a heart defect from which she also suffers. Somewhere along the way, Maureen becomes entangled in a murder mystery and is stalked either by the killer or a ghost via text.
I know. This all sounds ludicrous. However, Kristen Stewart’s gloomy but incredibly naturalistic performance and Assayas’ mastery of mood manages to tie all these disparate threads together. Personal Shopper is less a horror, than a character study about a young woman unable to progress in her life due to grief. Despite the bizarre situations Maureen finds herself in, she appears as detached while communicating with the dead as she does shopping. In fact, she seems more interested in trying on clothes as a means of shedding her identity. That’s not to say the film isn’t eerie. An early scene set in a Victorian manor outside Paris adds some gothic creepiness. Meanwhile, a twenty-minute text correspondence between Maureen and what could be a ghost has no right being as hair-raising as it actually is. Stephen Porzio
The Lost City of Z Dir. James Gray
Starting off his career with gritty crime thrillers like We Own the Night but then segueing into a more classic cinematic tradition with The Immigrant, writer-director James Gray has earned plenty of acclaim. However, if there was ever proof the filmmaker should be considered among the very best in the industry, The Lost City of Z is it. Charlie Hunnam stars as Col. Percy Fawcett, a soldier attempting to break into the higher echelons of society. He is stymied in his efforts due to him being ‘unfortunate in his choice of ancestors’. However, Fawcett is given the chance to redeem his family name by leading an expedition into the Bolivian jungles, a place uncharted by ‘the white man’. There he hears tales of a mysterious ancient city filled with gold and becomes obsessed with finding it.
From the opening shot, Grey’s movie is never less than gorgeous, like if David Lean directed Fitzcarraldo (Fawcett even stumbles upon the opera in the jungle founded by the figure portrayed in Herzog’s movie). The themes of the film regarding class and gender divides are fascinating. Our central character in his youth is obsessed with his standing in society. However, in the jungle he comes to realise the so called ‘savages’ have more honour than the affluent in Britain. But while Fawcett comes to realise all people are born equal, he still will not let his strong, forward-thinking wife (a terrific Sienna Miller) accompany him on his missions, forcing her to stay in England to mind their children. Hunnam is brilliant, conveying a blend of inner-torment for abandoning his family but a relentless obsession to find Z. He is ably backed up by an unrecognisable Robert Pattinson as his right-hand man and Angus Macfadyen as a friend turned foe. Stephen Porzio
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women Dir. Angela Robinson
Focusing on the polyamorous relationship between professors Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall) and William (Luke Evans) Marston and their assistant Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman is a study on the importance of honesty, compassion and perseverance. Elizabeth and William first meet Olive at Radcliffe College, where she volunteers as an assistant for their research on the DISC theory of human interaction. From the beginning there is an overwhelming chemistry between the three, and despite the rocky results of a breakthrough with their lie detector, they soon open themselves up to their undeniable connection and embark on polyamorous relationship, one which inevitably inspires the legendary character of Wonder Woman.
The depiction of polyamory – and more specifically romantic love between women – is always a cause for potential concern, specifically when the interests of a male character are also involved. The concern is often over the potential for the female participants to be reduced to screens for sexual fantasy, stripped of autonomy and painted as two-dimensional candidates vying for the affection of the man. Gloriously, this is not the case in Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman; even the ambiguity of which professor the title refers to is wonderfully clever. The film is thoughtful, woven with care, and works to challenge both cinematic convention and social understandings. It is a celebration of a strong, revolutionary character, and, more importantly, the women who inspired her creation. Sadhbh Ní Bhroin
The Farthest Dir. Emer Reynolds
Documentary cinema is often a genre that flies under the radar and each year numerous works of brilliance go by unnoticed, 2016’s Weiner is perhaps one of the best films (of any genre) of the past 5 years, but few have actually watched it. In 2017 we were treated to another wonderful documentary, the story of one of the greatest feats and endeavours of science and mankind. The feat is the Voyager space probes, and the documentary is The Farthest.
Directed by Irishwoman Emer Reynolds, and produced by John Murray (Crossing the Line) & Clare Stronge, the documentary recounts the many great achievements of the Voyager Space Probes, launched in 1977, which took a looping tour of our solar system, filmed Jupiter up close and personal and then took off into outer space, becoming the first man made object to reach interstellar space in 2013.
While the structure and style of the film follow what many docs have done before (talking heads, archive footage, interviews), what makes this documentary so good is the questions it raises about the ideas of scientific exploration, the ideas of human endeavour, the idea that people can come together from all over the world and make something so fantastic and worthwhile that it’s meaning or reason can never be questioned. Now, horrifically, we live in a world where science and intelligence are under attack, where something like sending a probe off beyond our star system with a disc full of music and pictures of us mere humans, would be ridiculed. We are more than that, we can achieve wonders beyond our greatest dreams, Voyager and The Farthest proves that. Emer Reynolds sums it up quite astutely in an interview we did with her last year;
“my focus is always on the primal questions – why are we here, and how do we behave while we are here? If there are any ideas linking my work, it’s always a question of what it really means to be human.” Peter Morris
Catfight Dir. Onur Tukel
Starring Sandra Oh and Anne Heche, Catfight is a ridiculous little film that thematically deals with everything from cultural war profiteering, American foreign policy and the vacuity of modern, Western culture. It’s also a live action cartoon in which two very capable and respected actresses fight each other like they’re Saints Row characters in ever escalating and ridiculous brawls.
Clearly made on the budget, the film has the gleeful appeal of neat student film taken and stretched to its extreme as the physical action gets more outlandish and the societal commentary it’s all in service of, risks becoming a parody of itself. Mercifully it never does and the time-jump structure (the film moves ahead between fights as one of the women invariably ends up in a coma after each one) gives the whole affair an almost fairy-tale or fable quality.
The mounting nihilism and bleakness of the world in general and the charters’ lives in particular eventually bring the film crashing into a quiet, not entirely un-affecting climax but the real draw remains the shear enjoyable nonsense of the setup and execution. Richard Drumm
Creep 2 Dir. Patrick Kack-Brice
It’s crazy that, in 2017, one of the best films of the year turned out to be a found footage horror flick.
The 2014 original breathed new life into a dead subgenre my injecting an improvisational, mumblecore approach. The first film was unscripted and worked out from a ten page outline leading to a convincing sense that you’re watching a natural, uncomfortable and frightening series of exchanges. It also addressed the ‘why would you keep filming’ problem of the genre by making it about someone who’s job is to do just that. Finally, it milked Mark Duplass’ natural smug, creepiness to create an unlikely, iconic villain.
Creep 2 improves on the original in many ways. Mainly its protagonist, this time around, is more active and maybe as nuts as the villain. The sequel follows Sara, (Desiree Akhavan) a struggling documentarian looking for a real weirdo to profile. When she’s told by Aaron, a man in an isolated house, that he is a serial killer, rather than run she stays to prod and probe him to get the material she’s been searching for.
Aaron is, by this stage, a depressed murderer who’s in as much of a creative slump as Sara. They’re both trying to use one another for inspiration. Watching them coax and bullshit each other is tense, funny and awkward in equal measure.
Importantly, as good as it is, Creep 2 doesn’t hang about. It’s a lean 80 minute story that cuts to the chase as quickly as Aaron. This is definitely something to add to your Netflix queue if it happened to pass you by. Plus, Mark Duplass gets his lad out. Ged Murray