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Top 10 Films of 2017: Ushers’ Choice

You may think you’ve seen a lot of films this year but no one sees more new releases than our Ushers. They rip your tickets, guide you to your seat when you’re running late and never miss a premiere, Q&A or film festival here at HOME. With the year coming to an end, here’s their top 10 films of 2017…

1. Moonlight

This year’s winner is a standout by far, both for its quiet emotional power and for the sheer margin by which it outstripped all competition. For those who only know it for its dramatic win at the Oscars, Moonlight follows Chiron growing up in a deprived neighbourhood of Miami at three key stages in his life. It’s a film about race, queerness, poverty and masculinity, but really this is a film about finding out who you are, who you want to become and the time it takes to get you there. This immensely personal coming-of-age story from Barry Jenkins tale sees Little, as he is known now, insular, neglected and starting to grasp the reality of his mother’s drug addiction as his bullies taunt him at school.

As a teenager, Chiron’s relationship with his mother is all but broken and he struggles to find an escape from overwhelming anguish. Desperate for change, he chooses a new direction for his life, where we meet his adult self. Black, as he’s now known, is successful at first glance but still as isolated as ever, when his past catches up with him to challenge his progress. Throughout it feels as if we are floating through Chiron’s life; the wandering camera shots and frequent sound of waves immerse you in his environment. This with the lush colour and striking score feels like laying in water — calming when you feel supported and safe, all-encompassing and devastatingly powerful when not. We are challenged by some of the choices Chiron makes in order to feel more stable, to find a place for himself, but such is the staggeringly consistent performance from all three actors (who incidentally, never met one another during filming) that this leaves us still invested in him and hoping he can find acceptance within himself.

This film is a phenomenal depiction of human strength at its gentlest. The moments that drive our connection to the characters and put the power in their betrayals often appear most strongly in quiet moments — Juan teaching Little to swim, Kevin’s hand stroking sand on the beach, Paula staring straight into the camera. We see betrayal in almost every character, but also redemption, and the conflict that causes. Moonlight doesn’t provide answers to these contradictions; these are real, complex people who make difficult choices. This is a must-see for anyone who hasn’t yet — it’s a classic in the making.

– Rosemary Millbank

2. The Handmaiden

Lesbian films are few and far between in mainstream cinema, especially ones that show genuine queer relationships and themes. Last year Carol was the go to lesbian film and this year we have the equally brilliant The Handmaiden. Ever since the 2012 release of Blue is the Warmest Colour (which received many complaints from actual queer people and also the actresses who had to endure shooting a sex scene for 14 days) male directors have been attempting to churn out their own ideas of what wlw relationships should look like on the big screen. However, The Handmaiden directed by Park Chan-wook has shown us that depicting female queer experiences can be achievable without being completely blinded by the male gaze.

Based loosely on Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, Park transforms the source material from Victorian England to 1930s Korea under Japanese occupation. Here he displays deception, revenge and love in 3 distinct chapters. Set largely in a secluded mansion Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), a charismatic Korean pickpocket, goes to work for Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a very wealthy and beautiful Japanese woman, so that she can convince Lady Hideko to marry con-man “Count Fujiwara” (Ha Jung-woo). After the marriage, Fujiwara plans to admit Hideko to an insane asylum and grant Sook-hee a share of the money. It should be an easy scam, since Hideko’s only other marriage prospect is her abusive disgusting uncle, Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong), but things change when Hideko and Sook-hee fall in love.

Exquisite cinematography accompanies magnetic acting to create a truly intoxicating work of art. The film is full of twists, turns and excitement and although it has its problems, is clearly a step in the right direction for lesbian cinema, at least for the films directed by men.

– Yinka Ranger

3. My Life As a Courgette 

After a life changing event, Courgette — a boy of little words yet a big imagination — ends up being moved into a children’s home. A fight with one of the boys from the home leads them both to the head office to explain their actions. This encounter makes these two opposing characters realise that they have more in common than they first realised. Throughout the film, we explore the complex emotions that young children can feel and how the strength of friendship can hugely fill the space of neglect.

– Bella Watson

4. The Florida Project 

The Florida Project is a story of family, friendship and community. The story is set on the fringes of Disneyland’s tourist district where poverty thrives and the inhabitants live in rundown motels with names such as ‘Magic Castle’ and ‘Futureland’. But as we can see from the outset these places are anything but magical and seem to hold very little for the future. Our protagonist in the story, Moony, played by Brooklyn Prince, is a six-year-old girl who is enjoying the summer break along with her friends Scooty and Jancey. They spend their time scamming for ice cream and trying to avoid the motel manager Bobby played by Willem Defoe, who is having a hard time keeping the Magic Castle up to a decent living standard. The Florida Project is the most compassionate gem of 2017 and should not be missed.

– Kieran Healy

5. Lady Macbeth 

William Oldroyd’s Lady Macbeth is a bold departure from the classic telling of the much-loved Shakespearean tragedy (Macbeth) from which it is founded. Connecting us with the pivotal character in the original play, this film grapples with the circumstances that would make one such Lady Macbeth develop in a most stark way. A striking early shot of a blue-gowned Lady Macbeth on a regal sofa — a shot later repeated as the iconography of this film — impresses a sense of foreboding. We feel Lady Macbeth to be an awkward addition to this rigid household. Certainly, she is not going to assume the submissive role of marital duty, which her father-in-law dictates in her husband’s absence.

As she assumes her new positioning in upholding this tiring residence, Lady Macbeth soon claims the time of her husband’s leave to her whim. Through our leading lady, we confront power dynamics, rebellion and the bold quality of female desire; the timely theme which necessitates this particular adaptation. Deliberate minimalism provides the disconcerting environment which provokes the inevitably dark progression of the tale. A cold and worn environment and colour palette lend to a sparse, unsettling tone. The purposefully bare soundscape allows for echoing footsteps and the prominent ticking of the clock to press discomfort within the scenes. It is a directorial triumph that a film so restrained can have such a total grip on its viewer, giving little relief through its pacing. An insistence on transcending traditional cues and period aesthetics gives an edge, which draws you in closely and sustains intrigue.

Notably the characters, more than timeless in their essence, would be apt for a contemporary setting. Florence Pugh makes every action of her protagonist role feel resolute and unapologetic. Whilst we are horrified by the dark turns of events unfolding, we are never to understand her motivations, rather we are to experience the bleak conditions through which her drastic actions present. Lady Macbeth is not a likable character, yet Pugh’s portrayal takes her determined nature and makes it awe-inspiring. In this way, Shakespeare’s characterisation is effectively enhanced. Every moment intimate, absorbing and unnerving in equal measure, this film leaves a lasting impression and demonstrates the value in renewing a classic.

– Nirmala Patel

6. The Killing of a Sacred Deer 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Yorgos Lanthimos’ follow up to the hugely popular and entirely unique The Lobster, is much more than just a gripping psychological horror film, though it is horrifying. It’s a metaphorical, thought-provoking and sophisticated mediation on personal guilt, regret and revenge, and the impact these factors have both on mental health and on those we love.

– Hussain Ussaili

7. Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan’s masterful, elegiac tale of grief and regret, is by far the film that had the greatest emotional impact on me this year. Both heartbreakingly profound and uncompromisingly authentic, it follows the trials of a reclusive Boston janitor who, after his brother’s sudden death, is appointed reluctant guardian to his defiant 16-year-old nephew and so forced to confront an unresolved and deeply traumatic past. In spite of some initial conflict and a whole lot of mutual resistance, the two forge an engrossing, unlikely bond through their shared loss (or losses, rather, for they are numerous and unrelenting).

Lonergan’s third feature as director is truly skilfully constructed — comprising elegant cinematography, a haunting classical score and effective, compelling use of frequent flashbacks — and richly populated by exquisitely drawn, convincingly flawed characters. Indeed, much of the film’s power lies not in that which is shared before the audience, but in the gravity of all that passes unsaid, and its startlingly realistic demonstration of just how these sentiments of unspeakable guilt or overdue forgiveness are often manifest in more circuitous ways — some destructive, some cathartic, but always painfully, inescapably truthful. There are superb performances too, particularly from relative newcomer Lucas Hedges who gives an impressively nuanced turn as the gruff yet always sympathetic Patrick.

Crucially, for all its poignancy and weighty subject matter, the film is littered with brilliant flashes of humour. This juxtaposition of the misery of human suffering and the wonder of human resilience represents a reoccurring theme; though bleak and unforgiving, the film, much like its snowy New England setting, is also entirely beautiful, graceful even, yet devastating. Not for the faint-hearted, Manchester by the Sea is a harrowing but bracing and ultimately rewarding watch; a moving exploration of both the universality of loss and the quiet dignity of survival.

– Nuala Shaar

8. Toni Erdmann 

Conscious yet endearing, large, lovable but heartbroken. Meet Toni Erdmann — a father prepared to go the lengths of tears, laughter and joy, in this dark, most relevant comedy, to remove the modern world veil which engulfs the daughter he yearns for. In doing so, he hopes that she may come to realise that it’s a thin line between living to work and working to live, with time revealing itself as a most precious commodity.

– Hussain Ussaili

9. Call Me by Your Name

After each time I see Call Me by Your Name I sit there willing it to start over again, for my life to now be a loop of this film, so I can watch Oliver (Armie Hammer) and Elio (Timothée Chalamet) flirt, spat and come together over and over again. 2017 was a particularly good year for films about queer and gay men and Call Me by Your Name was the idyllic vision I needed, a queer utopia set in the past. Everyone is beautiful, it’s set in Italy in the summer, AIDS is not mentioned and nobody is homophobic at all. The characters, like the film-making, are non-judgemental and take everything and everyone as they come.

Oliver and Elio both have relationships with women, but even abandoned girlfriends don’t cause scenes or upset the film in any way. All of the film’s drama is emotional, focused on the relationship between Elio and Oliver, in all its tentative, nervy glory. They tease their way together, each keen to make a connection but unwilling to leave themselves open and vulnerable by an outright declaration. This forces you to pay attention to the nuances of the characters’ behaviour, to each glance, pause, breath and to all the possible implications of every word. It’s a film that inspires you to cling to it, to feel what Oliver and Elio feel and to gratefully receive the advice on heartbreak from Elio’s father. I’ve seen it four times so far and it gets better each time; if you haven’t seen it yet then please do, it’s a wonder.

– Hazel Shaw

10. I Am Not a Witch

I usually love to going into a film without knowing what to expect, but with a title like I Am Not a Witch I was a little apprehensive. Would it be worthy? Would it be depressing? Would it paint Africans as ignorant and superstitious? I was delighted to have my preconceptions highlighted and examined or completely dispelled.

Despite being, in the director’s own words, a fairytale, I Am Not a Witch is rooted firmly in reality, as director Rungano Nyoni had spent time living in an African Witch camp to research the film. Her devotion to the authenticity of these women’s stories, combined with some stunning cinematography and a film with fantastic elements interwoven within the world of unlikely friendships, domestic squabbles and political manipulations, make this a truly riveting watch. The film is elevated by a majestic performance by its young lead Maggie Mulubwa. Maggie imbues the unfortunate, titular Shula with humour, defiance and quiet intensity and is a perfect antidote to the precocious tweens who generally inhabit Hollywood films. I Am Not a Witch will leave you moved and mesmerised in equal measure

– Esther Lisk-Carew

To find out what we have planned for 2018, visit our Cinema page.

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