No Oscars talk this year, no Oscars watching, no Oscars coverage. I would rather talk about my personal favourite films of last year. This is part two, as I shared a few other preferences last November (although I am sure there are still many worthy movies I have not yet had the chance to watch).
But first, I would like to take something out of the way. Lady Bird is one of the films of 2017 I was most looking forward to. But it did not reach my expectations. It’s a good coming-of-age film, but I didn’t find the story that original, nor Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut extraordinary or Saoirse Ronan’s performance her best. The praise for this movie is really overboard. The film industry has suddenly become so concerned with genre diversity, feminine rights and all sorts of discrimination issues that what is politically correct has become much more important than talent and artistic expression.
“Phantom Thread” | Annapurna Pictures
Two of my readers have recently made remarks about my cynicism and outspoken writing when it comes to this kind of subjects. One of them was not reproachful, just a stating of facts. But the other one was. I always appreciate the feedback from my readers and I am motivated by our conversations, and as much as I want this to be a positive platform where I can share only things that inspire me creatively and in the way I live my life, I can not block out my disapproval and even criticism of certain things.
And let me make myself clear. I do not criticise artists and films. I don’t review movies, and I certainly do not review movies I don’t like. I am not a film critic and I wouldn’t want to be one. I love movies too much. I like to talk (endlessly) about movies, and especially about movies that I love. But everything that is happening in the media regarding the film industry long ago stopped being objective. And let me tell you something else. It was also long ago that I took the decision to separate the artist from the person. I do not believe an artist’s work should be censored in any way based solely on his/her private behaviour and life. The discussion is long and I respect both pro and against opinions. But the hypocrisy of Hollywood and the manipulation of information has reached such high levels that taking everything that is said in the press for granted is nothing less than stupidity.
Therefore, I just can not keep sharing good-vibe things with you while ignoring the ugly that’s lying under Hollywood’s sudden call for equality and etiquette. Even if I have chosen not to succumb to the news in the media, that doesn’t mean I am not paying attention. And I don’t like what I see. I don’t want to generalize, but at a time when outrage and diatribe are substitutes for analysis, this looks more like shameless opportunism from the part of some and of certain movements who exploit the social networks frenzy in order to look good and render justice expeditiously.
So, yes, I think it is my duty to express my point of view quite frankly. Culture is one of the most precious things a person can have. I do not like it to serve any interest but people’s own interest. Don’t let the media and social media do the thinking for you. Watch movies with an open mind. Think by yourself.
“The Other Side of Hope” | Sputnik, Oy Bufo Ab, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen
The Other Side of Hope (Finland)
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Regretfully, this is the first film by Aki Kaurismäki that I have seen. But I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that his is an unmistakable filmmaking style. Minimalistic production design, straight-faced narration, wry humour. The Other Side of Hope is both a tragedy and a comedy. It is about the Syrian refugee crisis and immigration, but it is placed in Finland, a background that proves much more resourceful in the hands of a talented filmmaker. Because this film is ultimately a declaration of faith in people. Social criticism is suffused with humanity and empathy. It is a clear-eyed response to one of the most stringent current global issues and the film’s message can reach and touch a far wider audience than a harsh documentary ever could. Yes, this is the power of cinema.
Kaurismäki’s approach to the subject much reminds me about John Cassavetes, who in the book Cassavetes on Cassavetes said: “We must take a more positive stand in making motion pictures, and have a few more laughs, and treat life with a little more hope. […] I believe in people. […] Is life about horror? Or is it about those few moments we have? I would like to say that my life has some meaning.”
“Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” | Blueprint Pictures, Film 4, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (UK/USA)
Director: Martin McDonagh
Sometimes the reality is this: faced with unimaginable loss and injustice, you want to take things in your own hands. You want to make your own justice. It happens in real life. I am asking you, the reader, to take these words as a fully discerning person. And it requires the same discerning quality, and empathy when none would seem deserved, to truly appreciate this film. It is a rough meditation on the true nature of loss, grief and vengeance. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is a bleak, fearlessly unapologetic, pitch-black comedy. It is superbly acted and McDonagh’s incendiary, often hilarious screenplay plays beautifully on Frances McDormand — her monologue to a local priest is worth a round of applause alone. Sam Rockwell’s Dixon’s arc is remarkable, seemingly-impossible yet completely plausible, and Woody Harrelson delivers the kind of understated performance that unfortunately so often goes unrewarded to the benefit of showy and transformative roles. This film surprises until the very end and there’s nothing I love more when watching a movie.
And there is one more thing: I am asking you to disregard all the accolades this film has won this awards season. They have started to work against it because we are so used to seeing the less worthy films gain undeserved recognition that you might fall in the trap of putting Three Billboards in that category. It’s way above it. I have read criticism towards McDormand, her role being belittled because her character is racist, violent, a bad example. I honestly could not believe I was actually reading those words. Where is this going? We should simply disregard or ban all the films and characters in the history of cinema that are not politically correct? Where is the artistic expression? Where is the freedom of expression, period? I am sorry, but these arguments are plain bullshit.
“Detroit” | Annapurna Pictures
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Detroit is a film that recreates one of the darkest chapters in the American history. Kathryn Bigelow delivers her usual clean, raw, pertinent, scrutinizing, unsentimental look at the 1967 Detroit street riots and the Algiers Motel Incident that resulted in the deaths of three black men at the hands of white police officers, later tried and acquitted. I want to stress out the documentary-like intimacy quality of this film. It’s unpredictable, it feels real, it’s like a shot of what the participants to the Algiers Motel Incident felt. But I think the most important thing to take away from Bigelow’s latest picture is not the emotional experience (and I assure you it is a strong experience which leaves you shocked and outraged and which provokes reflection and reactions), but the fact that these are historical facts. This did happen, and, what’s even worse, this is still very much part of the cruel reality in America.
Forget about Get Out (I do not understand the hype about that film). This is the movie every American should see. “This is America” reads on the poster of Detroit. Unfortunately for the entire world, so it is. Why this film is so great is because it informs and urges to dialogue and maybe even to change.
“Afterimage” | Akson Studio
Director: Andrzej Wajda
Afterimage premiered in fact in 2016 at the Toronto Film Festival, but it was released in cinemas in 2017, so I will include it here. Especially that it’s such a good film. Isn’t it amazing how Andrezj Wajda made his debut with a great film, A Generation, and ended it with another great movie, Afterimage?
Boguslaw Linda plays Wladyslaw Strzeminski, Poland’s most renowned painter, who was also a theoretician. The film begins with a witty, visually arresting scene, showing Strzeminski in his apartment about to paint when his white canvas, then the whole room, suddenly turns red. A giant banner celebrating Stalin has been hanged in front of his window. He rips a hole in it with one of his crutches (he has lost an arm and a leg in World War I) to let in the daylight, committing an infraction that’s only the beginning of his troubles with authority. This single sequence brilliantly sets the tone for the entire film, a grim, clear-eyed portrayal of the predations of Stalinism, as well as a vivid, passionate look at the importance of the autonomity of the artist, of art as an individual way of seeing rather than a reproduction of a collectively agreed-upon reality.
“Phantom Thread” | Annapurna Pictures
Phantom Thread (USA)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
This is a film created out of sheer love of cinema and storytelling. In a time when there is so much pressure to make socially- or politically-charged movies, it feels truly wonderful to watch a great film that captures your imagination, that captures your interest through its own story and through its characters alone, without any ulterior motives or messages. I admire Paul Thomas Anderson for keeping it in the artistic field and for doing such a fine job at it.
Phantom Thread is a classic, it is beautiful to look at, absorbing, thrilling, mysterious, a little dark, with a Hitchcockian vibe but retaining its own originality, with touches of humour and black humour. It’s about dedication, perfectionism, love, co-dependency, obsession. It makes you keep asking questions and the answers it does provide (because it does not answer all the questions it raises and that’s part of its fascinating beauty) take you by surprise. And those final moments and lines are the kind of open ending that so often make a film great. Because everyone interprets it in its own way. I wrote much more in detail about Phantom Thread here.