Everyone’s story is worth telling. Some stories are grand and meant to spark a conversation, as Ava DuVernay beautifully showed us this week with Jay Z’s latest “Family Feud”. Others are quieter, take place behind closed doors and insist on what is extraordinary within the ordinary (“Certain Women”). Thank you for looking back at this year in film with me, as I go into my personal highlights, which will include discoveries from previous years as well.
Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
How can I not start with this painfully moving coming of age story and Best Picture winner? What will always stay with me are those last few shots of Trevante Rhodes after he reveals that he hasn’t let anyone touch him and his muscly body since his first and only romantic experience as a teenager. Behind that tough-looking face are years of pain and fear, and the length of those shots is fitting, as we don’t dare look away for fear of missing even the smallest movement. The people in Chiron’s life are all precisely crafted and contribute to the heart that’s grown inside him.
Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)
You can find my review here, in which I praise the closeness between the actress Kristen Stewart and her director, who leaves her all the space she needs within the frame. To me, Stewart is a force who does not settle for anything less than the truth. Her intensity makes her perfect for the screen. Personal Shopper explores the power that our phones and texts have over us, in the particular context of grief in this film.
Call me by your name (Luca Guadagnino)
I believe the first reason I love this film so much is its multilingualism, as I explained in this interview. The family and guests portrayed in this coming of age love story set in the summer in Northern Italy speak French, Italian, English and even German. This reality is one which I know personally, and I relish it if it appears to me on screen. The Italian sunshine, heat and landscapes as well as statuesque bodies in Guadagnino’s 132 minutes of film are also a pleasurable factor, especially when the film is seen on a rainy London evening. The monologue between Elio and his father is a rare moment of cinema.
Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
I will never stop raving of this gut punch of a film, a portrait of contemporary Russia and its sordid view of the future, brought forward by its main characters who become so imprisoned in their mistake that they refuse to love or understand each other. The suffocating atmosphere created by the director and his cinematographer as well as its scary universality make it a masterpiece.
Miss Sloane (Steve Madden)
Jessica Chastain has been and remains my role model in terms of her career and personal choices. Not a film of hers comes out without me seeing it, which means I will actually watch an X-Men movie next year! In 2017, she played leads in Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife, Aaron Sorkin’s recently released Molly’s Game (already receiving awards buzz) and Steve Madden’s Miss Sloane, a political thriller set in the gun lobby world. I particularly enjoyed the fast pace of the script, its subject, the film’s acting ensemble (comprised of the wonderful John Lithgow and Alison Pill amongst others) and the secretive and flawed character that Chastain portrays. She never misses a beat, always thinks one step ahead (“of the opposition”), as Molly Bloom also does in Sorkin’s film, and the actress therefore proves once again that she can handle any role that passes her desk. Awesome is the word.
And now, for the older work I discovered during 2017.
This year, I finally discovered PT Anderson with Magnolia (1999) and The Master (2012). This is quite a bold statement, but the director may have opened my eyes up even more to the vastness of this world, more specifically the damaged psyches of some individuals, whether they are addicted to cocaine after suffering abuse or returning from World War II. The claustrophobia created by the tighter and tighter rhythm between the multiple characters’ scenes in Magnolia makes the rain of frogs an even more terrifying experience. In The Master, Freddie’s rage and violence in the department store he works for and one male soldier after the next having sex with a model made of sand on a faraway beach will stay with me for a long time.
Downfall / Der Untergang (2004, Oliver Hirschbiegel)
Let me tell you one thing: this film is not about Hitler. In fact, Hitler dies and the war ends long before the film actually does. To me, the film is about the people around him, those who worked with him, worshipped him, and especially in that German Spring of 1945, had no other reason to live than under him. What we see are individuals, like Eva Braun, Magda Goebbels, and Traudl Junge (Hitler’s secretary) living in a bunker and only rarely seeing the light of day, only to drown themselves in alcoholic oblivion when they do. When the war ends, we are faced with the future, the question of hope and especially of responsibility. This film shattered me.
20th century women (2016, Mike Mills)
Mike Mills’ delicate and calm story of a mother who asks two other women to help raise her son is a moving and universal story of family and friendship. This is the kind of story that is extraordinary in its ordinariness, if one just stops and listens. We don’t always express our fears and hopes, but actors in films do, and this is where we see ourselves. We need more of these stories.
That is all for today! Please comment below if you agree or disagree with my choices. Happy new year 2018!