It’s been a funny old year for cinema. There have been extreme highs and lows; breathtaking pieces of craft to sleazy sex scandals. It’s a year when Hollywood really has had to take a good look at itself and, once and for all, accept that it has its demons. And, whilst there will be few question marks over certain films and actors, it hasn’t actually prevented another bumper year at the box office. We’ve seen everything from superheroes to Lego; war zones to killer clowns. A weekly (or, in some cases, twice weekly) trip to the cinema has still given me plenty to think about.
My Top 10 simply consists of films that I have seen. There are many – such as The Disaster Artist – that haven’t made the cut purely because I haven’t got around to seeing them yet. Genuinely missing out on a place by the tiniest fraction is Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and The Big Sick, all of which I absolutely adored. Whatever your thoughts are on my list, let me know in the comments below.
10. Death of Stalin
I think this was a film that many – critics and audiences alike – either loved or hated. Some thought it was horrific that Armando Iannucci had dared to inject some black humour into the life in Communist Russia, but it’s done is such a brilliant way that I have nothing but pure love for this film. It’s incredibly clever and witty, whilst making clear that life in a dictatorship is terrifying and bleak. It centres around the death of the Russian leader, and how his frantic cabinet stab each other in the back – sometimes literally – in a bid to assume his power. There’s a stellar cast, made up of the likes of Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin and Rupert Friend, and a razor sharp script.
9. The Lego Batman Movie
From the gravely serious to fun and nonsense, this film had me crying with laughter. I loved the voice work on this – particularly Michael Cera’s super enthusiastic Robin – and the wonderful allusions to Warner Brothers villains and the “real life” Batman franchise. One of the funniest things about it was the lack of sound effects; the characters simply said “knock knock” or “pachew pachew”. I thought this was a stroke of genius. It was over the top, colourful and blistering good fun. I loved it.
From the minute I saw the teaser for James Mangold’s Logan – complete with Johnny Cash soundtrack – I knew I was finally going to get the X Men movie I had been waiting for. It was violent and visceral, pretty much from the outset, in what is confirmed to have been Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine. It was so much more than another superhero movie though, it was about regrets, relationships and raw emotion. It’s easy to find yourself tearing up. The stand out scene, for me, was the one in the hotel room, with Logan slicing and dicing his way back to Xavier. Marco Beltrami’s score really adds to the action, pulsating along with the fight scenes and remaining sweetly in the background for the more emotional moments.
7. Hacksaw Ridge
Say what you like about Mel Gibson, everyone’s favourite mugshot knows how to direct a sweeping epic. Telling the true story of Desmond Doss, a pacifist sent to fight in World War Two, this is a deeply moving story of courage in your convictions. Andrew Garfield is incredible in the central role – how he missed out on the Oscar is beyond me. He conveys so much emotion, in a story that is already gripped with fear, fraternity and futility. Gibson creates a sweeping soundscape of war; you feel like you can actually hear planes sweeping overhead and bombs landing. It’s a challenging watch, fuelled by truly brilliant performances from Garfield, Hugo Weaving and Vince Vaughn.
6. Baby Driver
It’s so hard to categorise Edgar Wrights’ latest offering. Is it a heist drama? A romance? A musical? Baby Driver is almost like a loving tribute to each of these genres, held together by Ansel Elgort’s taciturn “Baby” and his love of good music. Every flick of the wrist, every gunshot, every step, every police siren is in flawless syncopation with the soundtrack. The film is peppered with typically dry Wright humour – and the ensemble cast, including Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal and Jamie Foxx, look effortlessly cool in their leather jackets and swag bags. This is a film that had me tapping my toes throughout and imparts even more joy on repeat viewings. Brilliant.
5. Get Out
Jordan Peele sure knows how to make audiences feel uncomfortable. There were so many scenes in his directorial debut. Get Out, that truly left me squirming. It’s a fascinating take on modern racism – even if it does all get a bit silly towards the end. You’re plunged into the action pretty quickly, so all the strange looks and unsettling behaviour are explained straight up, leaving you wondering just how in hell Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris is going to survive the run time. It’s an incredibly tense watch, that will leave you slightly on edge at all times. It’s not a film that’s laden with jump scares but, when they do happen, they certainly deliver maximum impact. Creepy, clever and a brilliant debut.
There are only about thirty seconds of peace and quiet in the film – the opening sequence – before you are plunged in to the heart of one of the most famous events in modern warfare. Christopher Nolan’s film allows you to almost smell the musty uniforms, feel the sea spray on your face, hear the bombs soar above your head. It’s a phenomenal visual and cinematic achievement, with virtually no CGI and next to no speech. It’s a film that’s not about words or heroic cliches; it’s about the fear in a young boy’s eyes when he sees another plane soar overhead or the trembling courage of a pilot who is willing to go down fighting. A visual and aural triumph that does not look back through rose tinted glasses.
3. War for the Planet of the Apes
The irony is, I find monkeys a bit scary. And yet, I was rooting for their survival over that of mankind in the last of the Apes trilogy (for now). Andy Serkis really has done a phenomenal job of bringing Caesar to life and creating a character that is every bit as human as you or I. Woody Harrelson pulls of a Colonel Hurtz-inspired performance and the scenes featuring his ape labour camps are truly upsetting. It’s a film that firmly places you, shoulder to shoulder, with Caesar and his family – not the humans. But it’s not all serious, as the introduction of Steve Zahn’s “bad ape” injects a little light humour into the proceedings. A tremendous conclusion to the trilogy.
This film … This film haunted me for weeks. Every time I closed my eyes I could see Bill Skarsgard’s slightly askew eyes, boring into my soul. But this isn’t just a horror in the conventional, slasher sense. There is a thorough plot line and well-developed characters, owing to the rich source material. It’s less mindless violence, more coming-of-age, psychological, adventure thriller – if that’s even a genre. Skarsgard’s central performance is so impactful. He is a maniac; ripening children to the point of absolute terror so that their flesh tastes better. What really got me was anytime he charged, full pelt, towards the camera, howling like a Banshee. I was squirming in my seat from start to finish and I can’t wait for the extended DVD release.
1. Hounds of Love
I can’t even begin to describe how much I both loved this film and will never be able to watch it again. It is utterly, utterly horrific. I left the cinema shaking. It is such a challenging watch – largely because most of the horror happens off screen and it is left to your own imagination as to what may have happened. Writer/director Ben Young’s feature debut breathes new life into the abduction horror genre and will leave you emotionally drained. The central performances, from Stephen Curry, Ashleigh Cummings and Emma Booth, are beyond tremendous. I truly hope that they get the recognition they deserve for committing to these characters, which cannot have been at all easy. The dark and depraved relationships at the heart of this film will really get you thinking, as your sympathies shift throughout. Hounds of Love won’t be for everyone; it is steadily paced and really unsettling, but it is a tremendously crafted piece of cinema. From the moment I saw this back in February, I knew nothing would be able to top it.