18/12/2017

Thoughts On's 50 Best Films Of 2017 Pt. 1



We are nearing the end of the year, and so this is the time in which a plethora of videos and blog posts go up listing the top ten, or the best, films of the past year. I can't say that I don't like these lists, and I often use them around January to begin catching up on the films I miss. However, I have no interest in compiling a top ten of films that have come out this year; I simply haven't seen enough movies to feel confident in putting a list down. What we are going to do, however, is list some of the best films that we covered on the blog this year - and one or two may be from 2017.

So far this year, we've put out 362 posts, and most of these would have been on movies (a fair few would have been blog news, etc.). Added to this, however, we have covered 329 films for the End Of The Week Shorts. These will form two separate lists: this one for longer form reviews and another for the shorts. I won't be listing every single movie that I think is brilliant as to keep things somewhat brief, and I won't be listing movies that were first covered on the blog in 2016. Instead, I will be listing some of the films I personally found/find to be great and that I covered this year as a Quick Thoughts or Thoughts On post. The titles are merely listed earliest to latest and this is largely an opportunity for you to maybe read a few posts that you may have missed throughout the year.

For an interactive version of this list on letterboxd, click here. If you remember a film we covered during the year that should be on the list, comment below. That said, let's jump into things...



One of my absolute favourite Lanthimos films that most explicitly captures his cerebrally absurd world and character building.


A brilliant blend of gut-wrenching drama and surreal comedy, Boogie Nights is probably Wahlberg's best film and certainly one of the best films about the porn industry ever made.


A musical done well captures the true magic of Hollywood cinema, and despite a weak opening and only satisfactory dance numbers, La La Land, with the musical, exudes some of the purest Hollywood magic conceivable.


One of the best alternative contemporary Indian films I've seen, The Lunchbox is a beautifully subdued drama that I won't be forgetting for a long time.


Devastatingly powerful, Kes struck many chords deep within me; truly one of the best coming-of-age dramas out there.


Possibly my favourite Bergman picture, Cries and Whispers is as haunting as it is intimate and as powerful as it is mesmerising.


Probably my first contact with stand-up comedy, Eddie Murphy's Raw had an immense impact on me and still has me in painful fits of laughter.


Editing doesn't come much more visceral or awe-inspiring than what is on display in Tscherkassky's experimental found footage horror show; it's just about as thought provoking as the name Tscherkassky is difficult to read (CHER-KASS-KEY... I think).


I still stand by it: my favourite superhero movie.


To me, Rocky is a romantic drama before anything else, and that is why I love this movie. ADRIAAAAAAN!!


I still feel as if I can remember every single scene; brilliantly dark and masterfully structured, The Handmaiden is one of the best designed mysteries I've seen in an awful long time.


So often heralded as one of the all-time great documentaries, Crumb in no way fails to impress. The only way I could imagine this being any more precise would be if Herzog directed it.


A visual masterpiece from one of the greatest silent filmmakers, The Last Laugh is a silent film that has you wonder what could have been if sound came in just a decade or two later.


Jane is way up there as one of my all-time favourite Disney characters. As musically energetic and powerful and taut as animated films get, I buzz at the thought of Tarzan.


A short that makes you love film history and inspires you to continue searching its crevices: A film from Austria's first movie studio that solely produced erotic pictures.


When you hear 'pre-code', it's all to easy to think of subdued horrors and cheeky romances; Her Man wears its liberties on its sleeve and certainly delivers.


I have to take a breath when thinking of this film. A quintessential contemporary European drama that hits hard... very hard.


Transcendent of words, Au Hasard Balthazar is truly one of the best film's ever made: simply staggering.


I won't say I love Tarkovsky yet another time on the blog...


Devilish in its layering of subtext, Onibaba is a precise allegorical dissection of a post-WWII society like one you've probably never seen before.


A film that sucks the air out of the room and leaves you gasping in a vacuum of conflict and dissonance, A Woman Under The Influence is an overwhelming character study that leaves you writhing in discomfort and melancholy.


Questioning religion is difficult, as is handling dire familial tragedy, but, with genuity and maturity, The Broken Circle Breakdown brilliantly manages theme and character like few other films like it.


Like Bresson, Dreyer makes films that are simply transcendent of explanation. Day Of Wrath is palpable, austere and a rare example of a period-drama that doesn't scream 'period-drama', rather embodies its world to only tell a story - and a great one at that.

    

This is how contemporary Hollywood should be remembered--will be remembered. Collectively, this is a masterpiece and a new touchstone of film history.


Taking the term 'talking picture' to its extremes, Linklater provides liquid gold with few impurities; a film I can never imagine tiring of.


That is the first 25 of the 50 best films that we covered on this blog in 2017. Tomorrow we will conclude this list, but, for now, what are your favourite posts/films from the year? Did I miss anything?

Thanks for reading.

17/12/2017

End Of The Week Shorts #36



Today's shorts: Fifty (2015), Jawbone (2017), The Warriors (1979), High and Low (1963), Dunkirk (2017), Dhobi Ghat (2011), Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), Moor (2015)



For the most part, Fifty is an urban melodrama about dissatisfied rich people, reality T.V, cheating, sour friendships, broken family relations, getting old, etc. As meaningless and depthless as all of this is, it is rather entertaining. As the ever intensifying drama continually bumps up gears, it is then hard to disengage the narrative and stop enjoying its slight absurdity. This is because of ok performances, amusing writing and competent direction. However, as we move into the final act of this narrative, some heavy and dark themes are raised. And suffice to say, they aren't treated with the caution and respect needed. This pushes Fifty beyond entertaining melodrama and into ridiculousness, leaving it more meaningless than it needed to be.



Whilst Jawbone doesn't present anything particularly new or original, it takes a realist approach to the dumps-to-triumphs story, capturing highly believable characters and some genuine snapshots of life. Our protagonist is played pretty well, but Ray Winstone as the archetypal gruff, but warm-hearted, Londoner that we've all seen before steals the best scenes. Aesthetically, this is a crisp movie; it bears the realist independent style that, again, we would have all seen before, but really steps up its game in the boxing sequences where a slow shutter speed is put to great impressionistic use in conjuncture with a circulating, loose camera and some sharp-edged editing. 
All in all, this is a solid movie. It's far from a masterpiece, but it's worth the watch.



The Warriors is a movie about the fall of an anarchist state leading to the dissolution of corrupt and malevolent childishness in a persecuted gang and the consequential forming of genuine relationships within it. There is then a strange sense of romance and naivety embedded into this film that leaves it an allegory about the coming of age of troublesome city kids caught up in urban chaos; from industrial darkness, they see light and manage to survive another day in the city. 
Whilst I quite like this narrative drive, there is no denying that this is a very clunky movie in regards to direction, editing, writing and acting. The Warriors has its positives and negatives; it's a pretty good movie.



Meticulous, and so air-tight, but simultaneously morally ambiguous, and so wide open, High and Low is a tremendous journey film about sacrifice and meaning. In such, this film is constantly asking its characters what they are willing to sacrifice (what they should sacrifice) and why. There is then a constant conflict between personal security - material, physical and psychological - and transcendent harmony - a sense of security that we can only feel when we are sure we are following the right moral pathway in a life of potential suffering. 
So, though this presents itself as a precise mystery-thriller, do not go into High and Low blind to subtext. There is so much more to uncover beneath its surface. Highly recommended.



The only positive thing I can care to say about Dunkirk is that it is shot well. Beyond that fact, Nolan constructs a film that plays like an-out-of-tune guitar with one old, grimy string; it doesn't sound at all good, but it exists on a flat plane and so there is no chance of being struck by any real discord. The editing is drab, the writing is heartless, the performances are unengaging, the direction is mundane, the sound design is satisfactory and the cinematic space has no personality. For 100 or so minutes I felt like I was watching clouds skate across the sky on a miserable, overcast day. 
Thoroughly unimpressive - though I can't say I was expecting much. I didn't know I was this little of a fan of Nolan.



Pleasantly captivating, Dhobi Ghat is a film that explores abstract, fleeting and recurrent relationships in conjuncture with art (and so this film has some ties to Aamir Khan's Taare Zameen Par). 
Whilst this is structured and shot beautifully, there are many weak figures that lessen the quality of this narrative with both their presence and performances. Moreover, even in the main roles, we find weaknesses in character construction. Because of sometimes shaky writing and acting, the poetic nature of this film then fluctuates between being genuine and seeming rather empty. So, despite the fact that I was fully immersed in this narrative and was struck by some intimate sequences, I can't help but note the faults in this film. Imperfect, but watchable.



Rife with everything that the name Michael Bay connotes, Transformers: The Last Knight is a blend of some of the greatest production values you can find in all of cinema and, simultaneously, some of the cheapest cinematic techniques that the form bears. Whilst I won't say that this movie is horrifically made, I will just again say that this is a Michael Bay movie and we should all know what that means. 
That said, I loved this movie. I never mention this - and have at times implied the contrary - but I actually like all of the Transformers films. In a sense, yes, they are very bad. However, for a vast set of reasons, I enjoy and admire this film series - and ever more increasingly as each film comes out. As absurd as this sounds, it's the truth. And with that out of the bag, I'll some day soon have a lot of explaining to do.



I found a little bit of trouble in following Moor's plot, but, with help from my girlfriend, managed to work my way through this despite some terrible subtitles. 
This is a film both about corruption in rural Pakistan that is thematically linked to generational rifts between sons, fathers, mothers and the land through an intricately designed plot driven by the incredibly significant symbol of the train. Incredibly shot and edited, Moor is highly evocative but can sometimes fail to immerse you into the narrative and dramaturgy because of its complexity. Nonetheless, with a second watch, I feel that Moor would be far more striking. After this first watch, all I can then emphasise is the technical and aesthetic wonder of Moor.





Previous post:

My Neighbors The Yamadas - Cartoon Expressionism, Subdued Impressionism & Innocent Surrealism

Next post:

Thoughts On's 50 Best Films Of 2017 Pt. 1

More from me:

amazon.com/author/danielslack

15/12/2017

My Neighbours The Yamadas - Cartoon Expressionism, Subdued Impressionism & Innocent Surrealism

Thoughts On: My Neighbours The Yamadas (Hōhokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun, 1999)


Episodes of family life via the Yamadas.


My Neighbours The Yamadas is a beautifully self-contained film. Considering that this had to follow the behemoth that is Princess Mononoke and was to be proceeded by one of Ghilbi's most iconic films, Spirited Away, it is both unsurprising and fitting that this film is one of Ghibli's most unconventional and subdued. We see this on a technical - this is the first fully digital Ghibli film - and a narrative level. In essence, this is a comedic montage that pulls episodes from lives of the Yamadas to paint a portrait of the chaos and trouble that is family life. With optimistic overtones, My Neighbours The Yamadas is ultimately, as it, itself, suggests, a film about acceptance keeping families together. With this basic truth projected quite directly, this is a film that does not need much analysis at a narrative level, but is nonetheless an easily overlooked gem that any Ghibli fan should see.

Though the content of this film's narrative doesn't inspire an essay, its form on the other hand evokes some interesting avenues of thought. Within My Neighbours The Yamadas, we have a spectrum of impressionism, expressionism and surrealism encapsulated by comedy. This spectrum is easily recognised as stories are, in essence, all about perspective and space. This is crucial in terms of cinema because a camera itself becomes an eye of sorts, an eye that sees a story unfold as well as constructs specific spaces in which a story is framed. A story, as simultaneously seen and constructed by a camera, will then be presented as a reflection of either the world or the perceiver.


Cinema's eye, the camera, can attempt to effect the space that it presents to an audience to as minor a degree as possible. Instead of creating a space, a camera attempting to project realism then attempts to preserve a space. Thus, a realist aesthetic is one that views the world without inflection; the presence of the perceiver is masked by the presence of latent space.


The eye of cinema can see a space constructed. What we thus see with expressionism is the world around the perceiver - the camera - being used to project inner psychology. An expressionist aesthetic is then one in which the world is manipulated through set-design, lighting, make-up, costumes, etc.


Still embracing the fact that cinema is a perceived construction, a cinematic eye can focus its attention on the act of perceiving as opposed to construction. We now then step into the realm of impressionism where inner psychology isn't projected by a space, rather it is implied through the manipulation of perspective. The impressionist aesthetic is then defined by the emphasis of, and the search of meaning in, the perceiver through formal techniques: montage, double exposure, lens covers, shutter speed manipulation, etc.


Combining cinema's ability to manipulate its constructions and its own eye, we find surrealism. Surrealism is impressionism in that it plays with form to give a sense of what it means to be a perciever as well as expressionism in that spaces are constructed to emphasise that you are in the domain of the constructed. With surrealism we then step into the body of cinema; we step beyond its constructing hands and beyond its perceiving eye and into its mind that simultaneously imagines and effects, that simultaneously perceives and builds a world. The surrealist aesthetic is then a subconscious one.

From realism to expressionism to impressionism to surrealism we a spectrum that forms the basic boundaries of cinema's abilities to work with the world it captures before a camera and the imagination it projects from behind the camera; space fully defines realism and perception fully defines surrealism whilst expressionism and impressionism deal with inflections of both.

Whilst narrative cinematic spaces function in specific pockets of this spectrum, animation is slightly removed from this mode of thought. Animation, because it does not have the same access to reality that motion picture photography does, cannot reach the same extremes of realism that we see in traditional cinema. However, because the fundamental basis of cinema and animation are different, we see an equal expression of this on the other extreme of the spectrum. Animation can, aesthetically, push far deeper into the subconscious through surrealism than live action because it does not have a basis in material reality. Let us then take a moment to recognise this with a set of comparisons.

Here we have live action realism vs. animated (CGI) realism:



The difference between these two modes often concerns content; animated realism allows you to tell fantasy or sci-fi stories with strong verisimilitude whilst live action realism allows you to project drama that is almost indistinguishable from real life; instead of telling a story about a Nazi invasion with non-professional actors who would have lived through occupation mere months ago, using animated realism stories about the possible rise of apes and fall of humanity can be told.

Live action expressionism vs. animated expressionism:



Animated expressionism is far closer to surrealism than live action expressionism for the fact that the animated space is completely free. With reference to Linklater's Waking Life, this couldn't be more obvious: he shoots a live action film and digitally paints over the near-realism to project bold emotions and themes through every major element of the frame. In noirs like The Third Man, which are heavily expressionistic, we rarely see subjects being manipulated to great degrees (this is often reserved for expressionist horror films). Instead, through lighting - the manipulation of how subjects and sets appear - drama is imbued into the frame.

Live action impressionism vs. animated impressionism:



Again, the freedom of animation distinguishes it greatly from live action. Whilst live action impressionism is heavily dependent on technical effects, animators often work impressionism into a frame. In Bambi, for instance, mark making is used to give the sense and atmosphere of the woods. In Napoleon, impressionism is used psychologically and manifested with a plethora of boundary-pushing techniques. It is in fact quite rare to see impressionism projected in any other way than formally and psychologically in live action. Live action impressionism is heavily bound to the perceiving eye of cinema whilst animated impressionism can prove a crucial, much-used technique in capturing a setting--a background--without unsettling the frame; for example, the most detailed figures will be centralised by un-detailed backgrounds or figures.

Live action surrealism vs. animated impressionism:



A key difference between animated surrealism and live action surrealism is the function of metamorphosis. Animated surrealism is often very fluid and bound to the animator's line, as in the tremendous dream sequence from Dumbo. In such, we see figures shift shape and so capture the immaterialism of the subconscious within a stable frame. On the other hand, live action surrealism can be very dependent on montage. This is of course because it is incredibly difficult to simulate metamorphosis like that seen in Dumbo in a physical space without assistance from some form of animation: stop-motion, cel animation or GGI. Because of the limitations of live action surrealism, time is often made a key motif; we move through space in accordance to a question of when? and how? Conversely, animated surrealism asks where? and how? by projecting impossible change in one block of time, often abstract of quantification; whilst there is a distinct chronology to the scene from Spellbound - this happens, then this, then this - Dumbo is driven by music and so the sequence moves through time irrespective of segmentation - a lot just happens, there are no truly distinguished sequences or sets of time as everything flows.

Having explored some of the characteristics of the perception-construction spectrum of moving imagery, we can turn to My Neighbours The Yamadas to not only see some great examples of expressionism, surrealism and impressionism, but further complicate our classification system.


The majority of My Neighbours The Yamadas is stylised expressionistically. We see this above with the character design; the focus of animation is on the manipulation of space and bodies to evoke emotion. Thus, all of the figures within this film are often portrayed as caricatures with their design connoting personality and describing their emotions. The expression put on display here is then almost a form of melodrama in that it is bound to rhythm and flow - there is a sense of visual music in watching characters emote - and the purpose of this is, of course, to emphatically project subtext (and, notably, to a degree that subtext becomes mere text by virtue of its clarity).


Because the expressionism of this film is so often tied to character design - to caricature - there emerges a specific cartoon expressionism. The cartoon often revels in the fact that it is nonsensical, but uses human emotion and its audience's perception to cry out that these are alive figures. Cartoon animation is then a melodramatic approach to creating a subject; not only is contrivance accepted, but so is the need for musical emphasis that forces us to consider drawings as conscious beings.


It must be noted that the cartoon expressionism of My Neighbours The Yamadas is often tied to the impressionism of the backgrounds. As with Only Yesterday, Takahata designs frames that are restricted by negative space - white emptiness on the edge of the frame. This centralises the eye onto characters, but also impresses an idea of a city with short hand details. In the shot above, for example, it does not matter where in town the family is; it does not matter if they are next to a busy road, if there are passerbys, if its a hot day, a windy day, etc. All that matters is that they are behind or in front of a store with a photo booth. We then get an impression of what it is like to be the Yamadas in this moment in time: the photo in their hands is all that matters; they aren't thinking of the weather, the specific store they are at, etc. Interestingly, the father is most removed from this sequence with his back to the focal points of details: he's thinking about food. Thus, he is not only bound to the nothingness of the scene through his position of the frame, but the streaming light further de-colourises him, emphasising his distance from the family and attraction to something else - anything else - outside of the frame. This is in fact a motif of the film, and so the father is often bound to isolated spaces. We see this in this scene here:



In this scene where he has just be rejected by his son, we see that he is entranced in a world made up of only he and a wall - the wall subtly symbolic of his son who he can't get through to. His mother recognises his frustration and so sees him throwing the ball into a void. Impressionistically, we are then told, via mise en scène, that the father is frustrated and trapped in pointlessness here.


With much of that said, the expressionism of this film is bound to the line - which is what 'cartoon expressionism' should connote. Thus, colour rarely comes to be significant player in expressing or impressing the subtext of a scene. This is almost always done through what a line represents. And so, in a way, the expressionism on display is tied to surrealism ever so slightly in that metamorphosis - the changing of solid teeth from straight to curvy, for example - is bound to the expression of character.


There are only a handful of distinctly impressionistic sequences in this film. Most commonly, we get wide exterior shots like this. However, this signifies the very light use of impressionism in this film that primarily dilutes the expressionism. Impressionism throughout My Neighbours The Yamadas is often used to fill negative space, it very rarely projects subtext positively; it doesn't strike you. The subdued nature of impressionism in this film is largely signified by the lack of colour and, more importantly, the lack of texture. Without colour and texture, the form of a scene is implied, but not its content. As a result, we get the slight impression of an environment, but we're rarely visually signalled what it feels like to be within it; the rain in the scene above is a somewhat uncommon example of being informed what it is like to be in a situation - both in a market on a rainy day and emerging from demoralisation as the father, having been met by his family, is.


Here, we have a more striking example of impression in which we see reality portrayed through visual implication: impressionism. There is then no attempt to fully detail figures - to capture a realist style - only the motion and caricatures that suggest that this is a baseball game.



The best example of impressionism in this film, however, is certainly this scene where we see figures drawn with greater realism and the setting made heavier by a stronger detailing of texture. All of this combined with shading and higher contrast lighting imbues this sequence with greater intensity, giving the impression of danger and fear in the suddenly humanised father; we feel the potential for consequence and the real world as an encroaching threat.


My favourite stylistic approach of My Neighbours The Yamadas has to be the surrealism. This is a kind of surrealism that functions much like that in Dumbo, but it has one core difference: it is innocent. Surrealism is often utilised to show the dark depths of human sexuality, fear, weakness and brutality. And this is often how we think of the subconscious; a dark and dubious place. But, embodying the subconscious of a child, My Neighbours The Yamadas grants us access to a world of free association imagination; a harmless world without darkness, instead, innocence. And as simplistic as this approach is, I began to appreciate it ever more as this narrative maintains a positive tone; never does this become a dark drama. And this is something that Ghibli often manage quite well. Even in Grave Of The Fireflies, one of the darkest and most grim Ghibli films, there is an innocence that the animators manage to hold on to. And that innocence feels incredibly genuine to me as children, both in this and Grave Of The Fireflies, are accepted as children. So, whether naturally or with encouragement, children often manage to stay children in Ghibli films, and without grand narrative arcs certainly comes a genuity embedded in realism. So, the final complication that I'll pick up on is that the surrealism of My Neighbours The Yamadas is actually grounded in some sense of psychological realism; surrealism projects truth in character, and such is its power.

There is certainly much more to be debated and said about the stylistics of My Neighbours The Yamadas. For instance, we could ask how comedy as a genre impacts the functionality of impressionism, surrealism, etc. However, having delved into some detail on the classification and description of stylistic approaches in this film, I'll leave things with you. So, have you seen this film? What are your thoughts on its approaches and styles?

< Previous     post in the series     Next >






Previous post:

The Rhythm Of My Life - Beat Of Coincidence

Next post:

End Of The Week Shorts #36

More from me:

amazon.com/author/danielslack