Films of my Life – the best films of 2017

God's_Own_Country_(2017_film)

The best films of 2017.

Was 2017 a great year for movies? Well it wasn’t too shabby. I had sixteen 5* (or 5/5) movies this year, an average of more than one outstanding movie per month. I also enjoyed the variety and breadth of the movies on choice.

Here is my list of 5* movies, in the order I saw them;

  • La La Land
  • Moonlight
  • I am not your Negro
  • Your Name (from 2016)
  • Baby Driver
  • Dunkirk
  • Toni Erdmann
  • God’s Own Country
  • Detroit
  • It
  • Goodbye Christopher Robin
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • The Party
  • Paddington 2
  • The Red Turtle
  •  Mudbound (limited release and available on Netflix)

I loved everyone of these movies, and I recommend everyone to see them. But what were my favourites for 2017? In many respects it was “the year of the Gosling” with Ryan Gosling appearing twice on my list. Both of these movies are in my favourites;

Best Musical – La La Land

I love the sheer exuberance of this fantastic tribute to the classic Hollywood musical. Of course, a musical is only as good as the songs in it and La La Land has an abundance of riches in this respect. Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have excellent chemistry, and this compensates for any deficiencies in their singing and dancing!

Best documentary – I am not your Negro

I must confess that I was not familiar with the work and writing of James Baldwin before I saw this movie. I was also fortunate to see it in “Home” (the new centre for contemporary arts in Manchester)  with a discussion afterwards. It was clear from this discussion that the way black people were treated in the 1960s, especially in the USA,  still has resonance today. This is an incredibly powerful film that should be compulsory viewing in every school.

Best Foreign Language Film – Toni Erdmann 

This German film was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. In my opinion it should have won, as although I enjoyed “The Salesman”, it was not a patch on Toni Erdmann . The film is long for a satire/comedy but the performance of Peter Simonischek as a father who creates an alter ego; Life Coach Toni Erdmann, to allow him to reconnect with his daughter, is both very funny and very moving.

Best British Film – God’s Own Country

I saw this at the Thirsk Film Festival in August and you can read my thoughts here . Quite simply, it is a perfect movie with outstanding performances.

Best Sequel – Blade Runner 2049

Now this is how to make a sequel to a much loved and respected original; just wait 35 years and find a director who is prepared to pay homage to the original vision but also take it further. In fact all of the things that Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) got wrong (but “The Last Jedi” got right). Denis Villeneuve (Director of my favourite film of 2016) is the perfect choice to create a sequel that is every bit as imaginative as the original. It is also the second of my top choices to star Ryan Gosling

Best Comedy – Paddington 2

If you ever need cheering up, then this is the movie for you. I thought the first Paddington movie was excellent, but this  is even better with outstanding slapstick and visual gags, along with great combinations from just about every British Thespian. Simply, hilarious.

Best Animated Film – The Red Turtle

This European-Japanese collaboration has virtually no dialogue, and is a fable for adults and children. The animation is simple but beautiful, as is the central premise.

So there you have it. In my opinion, 2017 was a great year for movies. So what will 2018 have for us?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Films of My Life – The Thirsk Film Festival August 2017

The Thirsk Film Festival ran over the August Bank Holiday weekend (25-28 August) 2017. The theme for the festival was “Yorkshire”, with each movie being either made or set or both, in Yorkshire. In this edition of my “Films of my life” blog, I will review each of the 13 movies scheduled to be shown at the festival.

Friday evening

It_Shouldn't_Happen_to_a_Vet_UK_posterThe festival opened, appropriately enough, with “It Shouldn’t Happen To a Vet” (1976) based on the life and books of local vet, James Herriot. So, what better way to kick off the festival, than with a film set in Thirsk?

I vaguely remember going to see this movie in the spring / summer of 1976 and at the time Herriot was one of the biggest selling authors in the UK (and very popular in the US). I spent a lot of that summer staying with my aunt, uncle and cousins at their caravan near Thirsk. It was a very hot summer (the year of the drought) and as I read some of Heriot’s books and played in the sun, I fell in love with the North Yorkshire countryside he described. It is so different to Tyneside. It was no surprise to me that I eventually settled here

We could only see a digital copy of the VHS source (as the rights-holder has died) because the Ritz is a non-profit organisation. Even though the presentation was not up to 4K standards of 2017, the charm of the movie shone through.

Rating:      Movie (3/5) – Charming. Old fashioned but funny

Yorkshireness (5/5) – Stunning Dales locations and “real” North Yorkshire  farmer characterisation

Saturday

The first full day of the festival kicked off with a childhood favourite of my wife, Gill (and many others) The Railway Children (1970). I remembered it mostly as the one 70s movie where Jenny Agutter keeps her clothes on!

Movie: 4/5 – A children’s classic, but very much a child’s perspective

Yorkshireness: 7/10 – Beautiful West Yorkshire locations and supporting characters

My summer of loveNext was My Summer of Love (2004)

I saw this movie on its release and I remember it well. Emily Blunt is excellent in one of her first movies in this coming-of-age film, but newcomer Helen Cross really stands out, There relationship feel genuine and the Calderdale locations remind me of the 7 years we lived there.

Movie: 4/5 -An affecting coming of age movie

Yorkshireness: 5/10 – Wonderful Yorkshire locations but the characters could come from anywhere.

This was followed by the classic Kes (1969), which was shown in a beautiful, restored presentation.

Movie: 5/5 –  Melancholic story. The school scenes are a vivid reminder of the time

Yorkshireness: 10/10 – Authentic people in a real, but now gone (mining), community.

Next was perennial favourite (recently produced as a stage play) Calendar Girls (2004). . The first half about making the calendar is excellent, but the second half about promoting it in Hollywood may be true but feels like it is there to attract an American audience.

Movie: 3/5 – Funny and moving, especially in the first half

Yorkshireness: 7/10 – Beautiful Skipton locations but we only really see the WI and their husbands

“God’s Own Country” is the perfect companion to “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet”, covering the same people but in a very different way.

God's_Own_Country_(2017_film)Lastly, there was a première – God’s Own Country (2017) – yet to go on general release. I really enjoyed this moving film about the loneliness of being a Hill farmer. The performances are superb and the locations are both bleak and beautiful, but this film feels incredibly authentic. Definitely a film of the year for me, and one I would like to see again when it goes on general release.”God’s Own Country” is the perfect companion to “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet”, covering the same people but in a very different way. They bookend the same situations, but the is when’re the similarity ends

Movie: 5/5 – Affecting, realistic depiction of hill farming life in Yorkshire. Great performances.

Yorkshireness: 10/10 – Grim and beautiful, the (North?) Yorkshire locations are superb and the characters are genuine Yorkshire – good and bad attitudes

Sunday

Billy Liar (1963) kicked off the third day of the festival. At the risk of heresy, I think this movie is overrated. Imaginative and funny in parts certainly, but the character arc of Billy is poor, so there is little justification for his actions. Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian shares my disappointment for the same reasons.

Movie: 2/5 – Imaginative but unsatisfying

Yorkshireness: 10/10 – This is a Northern kitchen-sink drama set around Leeds. However, the characters come across as proper Yorkshire

Next we had Brassed Off (1996) another film I haven’t seen in a long time, but one that represents its time and place perfectly – 1990s Yorkshire and the death throes of the mining industry.

Movie: 4/5 – realistic characters, but the anti-Thatcher politics may upset some

Yorkshireness: 10/10 – from the small mindedness to the sense of community, this is another authentic portrayal of a Northern mining town

A Private Function (1984) also captures a sense of time and place – this time it is post-war austerity Yorkshire. The portrayal of class prejudice and social ambition may be of its time (1947), but there are also some genuine people to be found amongst the pigs.

Movie: 4/5 – Very funny in parts, with Liz Smith in a career making role

Yorkshireness: 5/10 – Apart from the accents, I’m sure that this story could have been set anywhere in post-war Britain

Inbred only represents real Yorkshire if the the pub (The Slaughtered Lamb) in “An American Werewolf In London” was an accurate description of Yorkshire folk! It is? Ok…

Inbred-2011-Movie-Poster-version1

Inbred (2011) was certainly something different. Professionally made but on a low budget, it was a funny, gross, gory tale of North Yorkshire folk in the Vale of York. The scenery was beautiful, even if the gore was not. The visual effects were top notch.

Movie: 3/5 – Good if you like body horror. Think “The (Cleveland) Hills Have Eyes” meets Deliverance near Sutton Bank.

Yorkshireness: 1/5 – Inbred only represents real Yorkshire if the the pub (The Slaughtered Lamb) in “An American Werewolf In London” was an accurate description of Yorkshire folk! It is? OK then perhaps 4/5 is a fairer score.

Monday

Monday started with Leon The Pig Farmer (1992), a film I’d not seen before, but had heard great things about.  It may have been acceptable when it was made, but 25 years on it seems to treat the Jewish community in a most stereotypical (almost racist) way. I felt quite uncomfortable.

Movie: 2/5

Yorkshireness: 5/10 – Leon’s “biological” father is played by  Brian Glover, and he has a pig farm in Yorkshire. That’s about it.

2012-10-3WutheringUKDVDCoverThe Full Monty (1997) didn’t happen due to technical problems, but the Festival ended on a real high with Andrea Arnold’s raw take on the Emily Brontë classic, Wuthering Heights (2011) . For me, this is the best adaptation of the story I have seen, capturing the bleak beauty of the Yorkshire Moors (Swaledale standing in for Haworth) but the emotional essence of the tragic love affair shines through.

Movie: 5/5 – Emotionally raw, cinematically bleak

Yorkshireness: 10/10 – Gives a real sense of how difficult life must have been living on the Yorkshire moors at that time.

 

So there you have it, three days of mostly excellent Yorkshire themed movies. The highlights for me were:

  • God’s Own Country
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Kes

A great festival.