Joel Wilson’s Top 10 Film Experiences of 2017

We’d love to hear your favourite film experiences of 2017 and also your reactions to our list here, courtesy of our resident film geek Joel Wilson (we imagine that his number 1 may stir some conversation).

10. Burden (2016)

I began watching a documentary about Chris Burden, a North American artist I was completely unfamiliar with. Burden jumpstarted his career in the early 1970’s as a performance artist. Some of the art consisted of self-inflicted violence. Some of it was boring. In 1974 he spent twenty-two days lying on a triangular platform in the corner of an art gallery. Was this profound or facile? This film wasn’t convincing me either way.

I thought, ‘Alright, I’ll give the film 15 more minutes to see if it’ll grab me’. Well, next up Burden is caught in a narcissistic, self-destructive spiral. Really? A narcissistic, self-destructive artist? Yawn. We know where this is going. Overdoses and flattering obituaries, right?

Wrong. Suddenly the film does grab me. I sit up, chastened as Burden begins to confound my expectations. How? I don’t really want to spoil it for you.

9. Youth (2015)

I really enjoyed Paolo Sorrentino’s satire-flavoured epic The Great Beauty from 2013. I think I liked Youth even more. Both films depict men coming to terms with old age, regret and mortality.

Youth is set in a very swish hotel in the Alps. Two friends, played by Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, compare life notes. The dialogue is peppered with quips, pomposity and put-downs especially in the mouth of scene-stealing Jane Fonda.

If Youth was purely a cocktail of hubris and lazy luxury it probably would have left me cold. But in the big scenes the characters stare long and hard at who they truly are and it’s this honest self-reflection which packs a punch.

8. Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk is masterful. And it willfully contradicts current trends of blockbuster filmmaking. The framing is precise. The pace is unusual. The idea of showing the same event through three stories (land, sea and air) is elegant and well executed.

In every film the director is intentional about what you, the viewer, see and what you don’t. Here Christopher Nolan encourages you to empathize with the allied troops’ sense of invisible, impending doom by never allowing you to see the face of the enemy.

Nolan seems to be reminding other filmmakers, “This is how you create a sense of the epic – it’s in wide empty spaces, it’s in the anticipation, it’s in the tar-black sea at night, it’s in the understated acts of heroism, it’s what you don’t show.”

7. Manchester By The Sea (2016)

The Oscars are fuelled by hype (whether deserved or not) and some Oscar-winning films get overhyped. I assumed writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea would be one of those overhyped ones. I was wrong. Lonergan won an Academy Award for his original screenplay and now I understand why.

And Casey Affleck won the Oscar for Best Actor. My word, his performance is heavyweight. Scene after scene his character Lee drew new levels of empathy out of me. In the trailer he just looks moody. In the actual film he’s struggling just to stand under the strain of aching sorrow and regret.

In a recent interview Casey Affleck said: ‘I would do anything that Kenneth wants me to do, and I’d only say that about a few people in my life. I knew it would be hard work, but that’s the reason you’re an actor. If you’re a bricklayer, you don’t want to just show up at someone’s house and put a little row of bricks around their garden. You want to build a building. This felt like some heavy lifting. It was hard but satisfying work.’

6. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Embracing the Technicolor fun and melodrama of the Thor comics (with Kiwi wit and warmth) is a stroke of genius. Unlike the previous two Thor movies, this one is littered with memorable, quotable scenes. Throughout this multi-dimensional adventure, Thor manages to retain his gravitas and intensity despite the fact that he is the butt of much of the film’s laugh-out-loud comedy. Thor: Ragnarok is a rare thing; it genuinely celebrates virtue and heroism rather than simply harnessing them for the sake of a CGI action showdown.

5. The Meyerowitz Stories (2017)

I loved the writing. The stellar cast battle it out in lively, quick-witted and light-footed dialogue. Together the performances of Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Emma Thompson and Elizabeth Marvel bring a depth and affection to what could have easily been a dysfunctional-family-pity-party of a film. Instead The Meyerowitz Stories emanates hope. The editing is killer too.

4. Pina (2011)

Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost. Wim Wenders wisely tells the life story of German choreographer Pina Bausch by simply showing her work. This is a cinematic experience, which unwaveringly honours the art of dance and the raw beauty of dancers, young and old. There are no flashy camera tricks or speedy edits. The lion’s share of the film is devoted to dancers in their element wordlessly acting out comedies, tragedies, nightmares and dreams. Bausch’s own personality, her hopes, her hurts and her taste of the absurd are all on display. It’s breath taking.

3. Krisha (2015)

You root for a character and you hope beyond hope that things will work out for them and yet you’ve got a niggling sense that soon something will go wrong. Krisha is a wonderfully written and acted family drama. It made me fall deeper in love with low-budget filmmaking and it made me cry.

2. Arrival (2016)

Like in many, many films before, aliens arrive on earth and an elite team is sent to make contact. Isn’t Arrival just a variation on this set-up? Ah, no. From the distinctive melancholic opening of the narrative to the fantastically realized alien hieroglyphics to the mesmerizing twist, it becomes exceedingly clear that this is truly original, clever, confident filmmaking.

1. Mother! (2017)

Mother! was a movie I was dreading. Jonny Mellor insisted it would be rewarding and coaxed me to the cinema. I expected an awkward, excruciating 2 hours of weirdness and horror, but most of all I was expecting a mess. Mother! is overflowing with ideas and imagery but it is NOT a mess. It is an allegorical treasure trove inviting each audience member to discover their own compelling interpretation of this very surreal tale.

A couple’s plans for their new home and life together are thrown into chaos when uninvited guests, who appear to be Adam and Eve, show up on their doorstep. Yes, Mother! is puzzling, unsettling and truly horrifying at times (be warned!) but within a minute I was captivated. Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant as the increasingly persecuted protagonist. At one point she lets out this low, guttural howl of fury and it’s spellbinding.

Is this film a snapshot of director Darren Aronosky’s imagination or a damning critique of organized religion, the creative process, naïve faith, vanity, sexism, ecological irresponsibility, consumerism, abuse, idolatry and unconditional love? Umm…yes.

There’s few mainstream filmmakers brave enough to create something like this – an experimental film that gets wide distribution because of the big names, which compels some people to leave the cinema in a huff and compels others into long, colourful philosophical debates. In fact I can see myself unpacking this film with other film nerds for the rest of my natural life.

On an existential level I think God is using Mother! to point out my flaws and fears and reveal fresh aspects of his character. Wasn’t expecting that!

What were your favourite film experiences of the year?

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