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Film as an emotional lifeboat
As is traditional at this time, Slarek looks back the year that has just closed, has his usual political rant, explains why he missed so many key movies, and picks twenty of the film and TV titles that he enjoyed the most in 2017.
 

It's become something of a tradition in these end-of-year round-ups for me to go off on a rant about what has pissed me off and what has impacted on my life during the course of the preceding twelve months, but to do so this year in any meaningful detail would probably take me all the way to 2019. I'll thus try to keep it as brief as possible.

Politically, 2017 played out like the biggest car crash in recent memory. The year started badly enough, but it really began to crumble midway through when our robot of a prime minister cynically called a snap election for the sole aim of giving her the absolute authority she doubtless craved, and in one of the year's only real highs, it blew up in her face. She should have been booted but just refuses to go, and although claiming there's no money to deal with the country's criminally increasing levels of poverty and homelessness, or to prevent the NHS from sliding into chaos, she nevertheless was able to find £1 billion to pay for the allegiance of a party of religious fundamentalists with past terrorist connections in order to keep her job. Since then, this government of heartless fuckwits has gone from one self-created disaster to the next, and looks set to make a complete pig's ear of a withdrawal from Europe that wouldn't be taking place at all if some of her own worst ministers and the tabloid newspapers that so rabidly support them had not told so many outright lies in the first place.

That said, even this all pales when compared to what's been unfolding in the US of A, as the worst and dumbest president in American history regularly sets new records for how many outright lies he can tell, how many campaign promises he can do an about-face on, how many countries, world leaders and ethnic groups he can offend and alienate, how many American citizens he is prepared to plunge into poverty to stuff yet more riches into his and his donors' pockets, how openly corrupt and simultaneously infantile he can be, how many stupid tweets he can send… The list just goes on and on, and it's an insanely long one – I could take any one of those points and write page after page of evidenced detail to back up my words, but I really don't need to, as so many others have been doing such a stout job of cataloguing this political catastrophe in such damning detail, and the evidence is all in plain sight for everyone but the zealots and those benefitting from his actions to see.

Of course, as anyone who has been keeping up with the intermittent blogs I've been posting in recent months will be aware, my own personal life has taken something of a downward turn. Early in 2017, my mother's already shaky health took a serious downward slide, and her condition has deteriorated to the point where she is now completely dependent on myself and my sister 24 hours a day. My sister has given up everything to become her prime carer and probably hasn't had a full night's sleep in months, and to give her regular breaks I take over each evening and for a good part of each weekend. It's a commitment we've both made willingly, but which has inevitably had a major impact on both of our lives. Neither of us can travel far from home lest we have to be called back for an emergency (these do happen), and days or evenings out are largely a thing of the past. The situation has continued to deteriorate, but slowly and uncertainly – we genuinely don't know how things will play out from one day to the next, and when all you are really able to do is try and keep the often severe levels of pain under control, there is a physical and emotional price to be paid.

I have chosen to be uncharacteristically open about all this not to elicit sympathy (though I'll say a special thanks to those who have been so supportive), but to provide a concrete reason why the site had begun stuttering so badly during the second half of the year, and why so many planned and even promised reviews were not posted. I still have a day job (I was made redundant in September, but landed another, less creative position at the same institution), and with my weekends and evenings now committed to a higher cause, so to speak, I have for some months been unable to do what we as film fans tend to take for granted, to see films on the big screen, and even the time I have left to watch movies on my home cinema setup is now severely restricted. For a while, I did seriously consider shutting down the site, and over the Christmas period hit a sizeable wall of despondency, albeit one that I have since begun to smash through. As I said in my blog, even in stressful times I find watching and writing about films genuinely therapeutic, and do know that when he finds the time (he's a busy fellow), my fellow scribe Camus feels the same way. I am also fully aware that the current situation is not a permanent one, and that sometime in the coming year I will find myself in a position to seriously reinvigorate my commitment to Cine Outsider and even expand the range of its content. I just don't want to contemplate the human cost of being able to do so right at the moment.

All of this means that I did not see anything like the number of films last year that anyone running a film review web site really should have, and the omissions include a good many titles that others have championed as some of the year's finest. I thus did not feel qualified to make an authoritative list of what I considered to be the best films of the year, as so many of those I would likely have included in other circumstances would be curiously absent. Then again, this is not exactly a new thing for me. Each year, I usually preface my selection with the qualifier that I've not yet seen some of the films that should be on the list because the film society I co-run is not screening them until the new year, and I'm usually holding off until then in order to watch them on the big screen (for the past few months, however, I've not been able to make it to the film society screenings either). But this year, there were even more titles that I wanted to see but have yet to catch than ever before, including Blade Runner 2049 (which I want to see so much that it hurts), Call Me by Your Name, Colossal, The Death of Stalin, The Disaster Artist, Dunkirk, The Florida Project, A Ghost Story, Graduation, I Am Not a Witch, I Am Not Your Negro (which I'm seeing next week), The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Moonlight, mother!, Mountain and Personal Shopper, to name but a few. I have a feeling next year's list is going to be the longest yet.

I've thus instead chosen to simply pick 20 (had too many for 10, not quite enough for 30) film and TV titles that I have particularly enjoyed and admired during the course of last year. Blu-ray releases, streaming services and distributors' online screeners have proved a real boon to someone who is essentially housebound, and while I think we can all agree that the cinema is still the best venue to watch any movie, when your choices are narrowed, a solid home cinema system – where no-one is fiddling with their mobile phone, eating loudly or talking through the film – comes in a decent second. As I said, what follows is too incomplete to count as a ‘best of' list (a term I dislike anyway for what is always a personal opinion), but there are still a handful of titles here that have been celebrated as such by others, including one that appears to be on every list I've seen (and for which I make no apologies for including here). I'll also give a second shout for one film that is absent from this pick, Park Chan-wook's superb The Handmaiden, which although was released in the UK in 2017, was actually on my 2016 list, as I caught it at a festival screening that year.

So here they are, 20 very personal picks from 2017. As usual, I've put them in alphabetical order, as I dislike ranking titles against one another. Having said that, if I had to pick a favourite for the year, it just happens to be the last one on this list. And what do you know, it's not a movie…

And in case you're wondering, my pick of favourite disc releases from 2017 will follow in a few days.

the list

 

Catfight

Catfight

This is one of those films that I'm not even going to try to sell you as one of the year's best, but that makes it onto this list because it came into my life at just the right moment and did not play out quite as the pre-publicity had led me to believe it would. It's also darkly outrageous fun. The set-up is simple. Anne Heche and Sandra Oh play Ashley and Veronica, two women whose bitter but long-suppressed rivalry explodes at a swish event organised by Veronica's husband, resulting in a violent fist-fight that changes the course of both women's lives. It's the manner in which this conflict impacts on the life trajectories of both women that caught me by surprise and that undercuts the comedy with something considerably darker, while the destructive nature of this long-held grudge also serves as a potent metaphor for the stupidity of avoidable war. Heche and Oh are terrific in the lead roles and really go for it in the fights, which are some of the most jarringly brutal I can readily recall.

 

Clash

Clash

Taking inspiration (well, maybe) from Samuel Moaz's claustrophobic Lebanon, Mohamed Diab's ambitious and beautifully executed study of the deep divisions in modern Egyptian society is set entirely in the back of a police van over the course of a single day during a period of social upheaval in 2013. Pro-military activists are inadvertently bundled into the van with Muslim Brotherhood protestors, pitting the two sides against each other in what plays out as a microcosm of the societal conflict unfolding outside of the vehicle, while an American-Egyptian journalist attempting to surreptitiously record events finds himself a target of distrust and anger from both sides. Riveting as a character drama, eye-opening in its social politics and heart-pounding in the sometimes terrifyingly realistic background detail, it's an important and cinematically extraordinary work that deserves to be far more widely seen than I'm betting it has been.

Blu-ray review >>

 

The Eyes of My Mother

The Eyes of My Mother

One of the few times in a long while I've been hooked even by the film's poster, the debut feature from Nicolas Pesce was also one of the most stylish but consistent discomforting films I watched all year. Filmed in scope and steely monochrome, it tells the story of Francisca over three periods of her life, following her from childhood to young adulthood. If this sounds like a standard coming-of-age tale then you're in for a jolt, one that happens early in the film when Francisca's mother, a former surgeon, is violently murdered and her father beats and imprisons the culprit in the barn on their isolated farm, where she cares for him after cutting out his eyes and severing his larynx. How's that cute coming-of-age journey sounding now. There's not a moment in the film where I felt remotely at ease, and as the third act began was genuinely doing battle with an overpowering sense of dread. Gorgeously shot, directed with admirable control and subtlety and compellingly performed, it bodes well for Pearce's follow-up feature, Piercing, which frankly sounds as if it's going to be every bit as disturbing.

Film review >>

 

Ex Libris: New York Public Library

Ex-Libris: New York Public Library

A three-hour-plus documentary on the New York Public Library may sound like a grind and a half to get through, but in the hands of veteran documentarian Frederick Wiseman (he was 87 at the time of the film's completion), this proved to be one of the most unexpectedly compelling and educational film experiences of my year. Just as well, really, as having secured my London Film Festival press accreditation, this was the only film I got to see before personal circumstances put the lid soundly on further travel plans for the year. As well as opening my eyes to the sheer number of branches and wide ranges of services offered by this long-standing and highly valued institution, it prompted an appreciation of just what we all stand to lose as libraries on both sides of the Atlantic fall victim to cutbacks in order to financially reward those who would probably never stoop to using them in the first place. The film has yet to secure a UK release, so I'd keep your eye out for a TV screening.

London Film Festival review >>

 

David Thewlis and associates in Fargo

Fargo – Season 3

Having included season 1 and 2 of Fargo – Noah Hawley's unexpectedly creative riff on one of the Coen Brothers' most admired films – I was convinced four episodes in to the third series that this time around it wasn't going to make the cut. It's not that there was anything wrong with what unfolded (though I'll admit I'm not a fan of washed-out colour schemes), it's just that the series didn't grab me as instantly and completely as its predecessors, despite an engaging dual role for Ewan McGregor, entertaining support from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Carrie Coon, Olivia Sandoval and Boardwalk Empire's Michael Stuhlbarg, and an extraordinary villainous turn from David Thewlis. Before the series even reached its halfway mark, however, this all changed, as the twists kicked in, the bodies piled up, a key character was unexpectedly killed, and another underwent a thrilling transformation from badly beaten victim to take-no-shit aggressor, aided by a completely unexpected but beautifully timed link to season 1. There's been no concrete news of a fourth series yet, and while it will be a shame if this is where it all ends, if it does we can perhaps console ourselves with the knowledge that the show did not experience a quality drop during its run.

 

Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out

Get Out

Yes, I'm fully aware that comedy actor turned director Jordan Peele's debut feature has been on just about everybody's pick of 2017 list, but there are bloody good reasons for this. A brilliantly conceived and executed socio-political horror, its potent racial subtext really couldn't have been more perfectly timed. Young black photographer Chris Washington (a terrific performance from London-born Daniel Kaluuya) accompanies his white girlfriend Rose to meet her family and stay a few days with them at their country house. Although Chris is cheerily welcomed, something is clearly not quite right here, from the oddly mannered behaviour of black housekeeper and gardener Georgina and Walter, to the peculiar comments directed at him by the primarily white guests at a garden party. It all unfolds sublimely, teasing you with small bites of unsettling but non-specific strangeness that invite you to unravel a mystery that still catches you by surprise, and it certainly earns its horror credentials in its nail-biting final act.

 

Julian Dennison and Sam Neill in Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Before being handed the reins to the $180 million superhero epic, Thor Ragnarok, Taika Waititi continued his run of inspired indie delights begun with Boy and What We Do in the Shadows with this delightful and superbly developed comedy-drama. Troubled kid Ricky is placed in foster care with the relentlessly cheery Bella and the perennially surly Hec at their isolated farmhouse. When tragedy strikes, Hec and Ricky head off into the woods, where an accident allows a bond to form between the two, who have unwittingly become the target for a police manhunt. Central to what makes Hunt for the Wilderpeople so entrancing is Waititi's low-key direction and the delightfully fractious chemistry between young Julian Dennison as Ricky and a superb Sam Neill as the grouchy Hec, and the effortless manner in which the film shifts from touching drama to character comedy without missing a beat. Housebound's Rima Te Wiata is a jovial joy as Bella, and Oscar Kightley has some of my favourite moments as Officer Andy. "We're offering ten thousand dollars to anyone who can capture them, dead or alive," he publicly announces, then quickly adding, "Oh. Alive. They should be alive."

 

Elijah Wood and Melanie Lynskey in I Don't feel at Home in This World Anymore

I Don't Feel at Home in This World Any More

Actor Macon Blair's directorial debut is one of those Netflix-produced, indie-toned films that I would probably not have caught or even heard of had I not been pointed in its direction by a savvy friend (it was also he who introduced me to Hunt for the Wilderpeople – cheers, Bill). After being burgled and receiving no help from the police, depressed Ruth becomes determined to track down the culprits herself, a task in which she is assisted by her oddball neighbour, Tony. A low-key drama with blackly comic overtones and an unexpectedly tense climax, this is one of those rare films that doesn't play out to any expectations you're likely to have, and is engagingly quirky without overplaying the oddball factor. An exquisitely judged central performance from Heavenly Creatures' Melanie Lynskey as Ruth is backed by a strong supporting cast, including an almost unrecognisable Elijah Wood as Tony and, in a small but hilarious role, Christine Woods as cheerfully drunk trophy wife Meredith Rumack.

 

Joel Edgerton and Christopher Abbott in It Comes at Night

It Comes at Night

The second feature from Krisha writer-director Trey Edward Shults is a compelling and intermittently nail-biting, slow-burn study of paranoia and the extremes to which the bonds of family can be pushed. It begins disquietingly with three individuals muttering reassuring words through their gasmasks to a sick and elderly man, whom they then carry out into the woods and execute and whose body they then burn. We are left to work out for ourselves over the course of the film's first half-hour that the world has been devastated by a lethal virus and that the small family unit of parents Paul and Sarah and their teenage son Travis have holed up in an isolated house deep in the woodland, and that they were forced to kill Sarah's father when he became infected. When a man attempts to break into the house one night, apparently in search of water for his own family, Paul and Sarah confront and capture him, but eventually invite him and his family to move in with them. But can these two families really trust each other and successfully co-exist within the confines of this tightly enclosed environment? Some finely judged performances and Shults' precision direction ground the situation in uncomfortably cold reality, and an almost constant sense of unspecified menace is created by cinematographer Drew Daniels' use of drifting camera movies and practical lighting and composer Brian McOmber's ominous score.

 

Ellie Kendrick in The Levelling

The Levelling

A few years ago, I photographed an independent feature for the other lead writer on this site, one in which a woman is prompted by the death of a loved one to travel to the English farmhouse home of someone with whom she has a familial connection, where initial friction between the two eventually leads to the uncovering of the troubled truth behind the death in question (the film in question is Kelling Brae, is listed on IMDb here). Aware that that this was also the setup for Hope Dickson Leach's debut feature, I approached it with an understandable degree of apprehension. Was this film that had been attracting so much acclaim going to play to me like a re-tread of a film in which I had a personal investment but has still not had the release it deserves? I needn't have worried, as these largely superficial similarities aside, The Levelling proved to be a quietly riveting work in its own right. Dickson Leach's low-key direction and her own thoughtfully structured script, coupled with Nanu Segal's naturalistic lighting camerawork and a pair of superb lead performances from Ellie Kendrick and David Troughton, made this one of the most gripping dramas I saw all year. So given the acclaim, how about a wider release for Kelling Brae? Anyone?

 

Samantha Robinson in The Love Witch

The Love Witch

Interviewed at the British Film Institute in October and asked about films he'd recently seen and enjoyed, David Fincher had this to say: "I saw The Love Witch recently, which is one of the fucking coolest and weirdest movies in a long time." He's not wrong. I can pretty much guarantee you won't see another film that looks or feels anything like Anne Blier's extraordinary second feature, one so visually steeped in Technicolor 1960s cinema that it's genuinely hard to believe it is a recent work at all and not a rediscovered and lovingly restored lost film from the period. The story revolves a modern-day witch whose uses potions to prompt men to fall in love with her, none of whom come up to her exacting standards. A winning blend of Hammer-esque camp and eye-popping imagery, it has a pleasingly dark underbelly and a sly feminist subtext, and boasts a captivating central performance from Samantha Robinson.

Blu-ray review >>

 

Alessandra Mastronardi and Aziz Ansari in Master of None

Master of None – Season 2

A number of stand-up comedians have appeared in comedy-drama series of their own creation, but few have been as oddly and entrancingly true-to-life as Master of None, co-created and co-written (with Alan Yang) by Aziz Ansari, who also stars. I came late to the first series and quickly became hooked, but the second series built on its predecessor's strengths to sometimes bewitching effect. Ansari plays Dev, a 30-year-old New York-based actor who just can't seem to find the happiness he's looking for as he copes with disappointment and dissatisfaction in both his work and his personal life. At the end of series one, he made the snap decision to move to Italy to study pasta making, and rather than pick up the story after his return to New York, series two spends two enchanting episodes in Italy, the first playing out as a pastiche of Bicycle Thieves. A key story of the second series is Dev's friendship with and deep attraction to Francesca, the daughter of the Italian pasta maker with whom he trained, and it's in its handling of this that the series is at its most emotionally affecting, absolutely nailing the heartache that comes with being in love with a special someone who has already committed herself to another. The scene in which the two engage in an improvised dance in Dev's kitchen is one of the magical I saw all year (and it really needs the build-up, so don't just hunt out that sequence on YouTube), and Ansari and Yang's increased confidence in season 2 can be measured by the episode New York, I Love You, which effectively puts the central story on hold to tell intersecting stories about the lives of a number of New Yorkers not directly connected to the main story thread.

 

Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff in Mindhunter

Mindhunter

OK, I'll admit I was fired up for this one from the moment I first read about it. It almost sounded too good to be true, a 70s-set drama detailing the early work of the FBI's first criminal profilers whose first two and final two episodes were to be directed by David Fincher (who also executive produced with Charlize Theron). The very day it became available on Netflix (who co-funded it), I watched the first episode and became instantly and utterly hooked, and despite the restrictions on my free time, I watched the rest of the series over the course of the following two days. The thing is, after a violent and attention-grabbing opening, Mindhunter boasts little in the way of physical action or dramatic incident, being built instead around a series of interactions and conversations. But the tone set by Fincher and maintained by directors Asif Kapadia (The Warrior, Amy), Tobias Lindholm (A Hijacking, A War) and Andrew Douglas (Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, U Want Me 2 Kill Him?) assured that this plays as compellingly as any TV or film thriller. It helps that it has such fine lead performances from Jonathan Groff and (especially) Holt McCallany as FBI profiling pioneers Holden Ford and Bill Tench, and Hannah Gross as forensic researcher Wendy Carr. All three are based directly on real-world figures, as are the serial killers they interview in the course of their research, the creepiest of whom is the polite and soft-spoken Edmund Kemper, played with disturbing authenticity (you can find comparison videos online) by Cameron Britton. A second series has already by commissioned and if the rumours are true, is likely to be even more disturbing. I can hardly wait.

 

An Seo Hyun in Okja

Okja

Complaints flew at Cannes about the fact that the latest feature from Memories of Murder, The Host and Snowpiercer director Bong Joon Ho was funded by Netflix (and as you've probably gathered, there's more than one Netflix production on this list), but that takes nothing away from the fact that this is easily one of the finest films released on any format this year. The story revolves round the efforts of farmer's granddaughter Mija to protect a genetically created giant super-pig that she helped to raise from the sinister intentions of the giant food conglomerate responsible for the its creation. A beautifully structured and executed work, Okja effortlessly shifts between captivating drama, joyous character comedy, thoughtful social politics and scenes that will genuinely break your heart. Tilda Swinton is delicious as both evil corporate monster Lucy Mirando and her even more ruthless sister Nancy, Paul Dano delights as warm-hearted animal rights activist Jay, young An Seo Hyun is just terrific as the fiercely determined Mija, and I didn't even recognise Jake Gyllenhaal at first as hyperactive naturalist Johnny Wilcox. It's a joyously realised film that scores on every level, and is peppered with moments that prompted me to break out in the widest of smiles, none more so than the year's most sublime use (and it had competition here) of John Denver's Annie's Song.

 

Alice Lowe in Prevenge

Prevenge

We've been fans of Alice Lowe for some time at Outsider, particularly for her roles in Ben Wheatley's Sightseers and the too often unsung TV comedy series, This is Jinsy, but this year she upped her game by writing, directing and starring in the blackly comic horror film, Prevenge. Lowe plays Ruth, a recently bereaved and heavily pregnant woman who embarks on a killing spree at the behest of her unborn child, with whom she believes she is able to converse. Made on a low budget over the course of just two weeks, Prevenge is a jet-black blend of horror and comedy that doesn't stint on either, with the laugh-out-loud moments undercut (no pun intended, but I'll run with it anyway) by some no-holds-barred violence and the occasional uneasy feeling that this is not the product of Ruth's imagination. By the way, that's not prosthetic make-up on Ruth – Lowe was actually pregnant when the film was made, and I'm guessing there's a sizeable essay of analysis to be written on that alone.

 

Garance Marillier in Raw

Raw

The best body horror film since Antiviral and the first film to make me yelp out loud since Dans ma peau, Raw seemed almost to come out of nowhere. The debut feature from French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, Raw is simultaneously a coming-of-age drama, a tale of sibling bonding and rivalry, and a cannibalistic horror movie. Garance Marillier is excellent as Justine, a virginal vegetarian just entering her first year at a prestigious veterinary school at which her rebellious sister is in the senior year. Along with all the new intake, she has to undergo a series of unpleasant initiation rituals, including being soaked in animal blood and being forced to eat a piece of raw rabbit liver, after which she starts to develop increasingly alarming carnivorous cravings. Her gradual transformation is impeccably handled, and is so intertwined with the evolving story of her shifting relationship with her sister and her sexual awakening that it becomes a discomfortingly organic component of both. Be ready to wince (there's a very specific reason that you won't be chewing your fingernails through this one), but the story development, direction and performances still make this a compelling and satisfying ride.

 

Triendl Reina is Tag

Tag

The most mind-battering feature film I watched all year, this 2015 work from Sion Sono (he of Love Exposure, Cold Fish and Land of Hope) finally landed a UK cinema, Blu-ray and DVD release from Eureka Entertainment in 2017. The tone is set by the what-the-fuck? opening scene, as a journey being undertaken by a coachload of cheery schoolgirls is brought a sudden and spectacularly violent end when the top of the vehicle is torn off and most of the passengers are cut in half by an unseen force. Spared only because she was bending down to pick up a pencil when the incident occurred, sole survivor Mitsuko flees for her life, only to find herself repeatedly shifting identity and being transported to new locations and situations, in each of which she ultimately has to fight for her life. A prize to anyone who can work out what the hell is happening to Mitsuko before in the intriguing and gender-political climactic reveal, and while the journey will make your head repeatedly spin, the sheer strangeness of the mystery and unbridled energy of Sono's direction make for consistently gripping if intermittently trippy viewing.

 

Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek in Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann

It took me a while to catch up with Maren Ade's widely acclaimed comedy-drama, by when it had already made its way on to several pick-of-the-year lists, and even then I spent the first hour or so wondering quite why it was held in such high regard. It's not a film that grabs you from its opening scene or one peppered with show-stopping scenes and quotable dialogue, but one that gradually pulls you in and whose emotional effect creeps slowly up on you. And Toni Erdmann is not in a hurry, never rushing scenes that are more effective when left to play out in real time, resulting in a film that runs for over two-and-a-half hours but never feels draggy or overlong. The story revolves around practical joker father Winfried (enchantingly played by Austrian actor Peter Simonischek) and his attempts to reconnect with his hard-working and business-minded daughter Ines (a fearless Sandra Hüller) by posing as the bedraggled and toothy life coach of the title. There's no ‘wow' factor to the film, but it charms nonetheless in the honesty of its observations – both in the personal interactions and the matter-of-fact nature of Ines's business dealings – and the sometimes unexpected manner in which the wall Ines has thrown up between her and her father begins to crumble, which comes to a head in an extraordinary birthday party sequence, one that borders on the surreal but which sees that barrier finally tumble to genuinely moving effect. Alternately funny, touching and cringe-inducing (despite her frosty demeanour, it's hard not to imagine what it must be like to be in Ines's shoes at times), the film has already been earmarked for an American remake, with Jack Nicholson rumoured to be coming out of retirement to play the title role. Once again, I'm happy with the original, thanks.

 

After the shooting starts in Tower

Tower

Tower is a film that initially flew under my radar and that I only discovered by chance and was absolutely blown away by when I saw it. The events of 1 August 1966, when a gunman began shooting at passers-by from the University of Texas clock tower, are recounted here exclusively from the viewpoint of a number of the survivors and witnesses. Told through a combination of archival footage and animation, the film carefully avoids glamorising the killer (who despite his notoriety, is never named here) to instead provide a sometimes gut-wrenching insight into what it must have been like to be caught up in this appalling incident. The use of animation allows director Keith Maitland to recreate actions and encounters so movingly described in spoken testimony in a manner that would may well have proved unpalatable had they been done as live action, and the technique never distances us from the moving recollections. It's an utterly captivating, beautifully executed and enlightening work that really does deserve to be more widely seen.

 

Kyle McLachlan and Al Strobel in Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks – The Return

I found it hard to contain my excitement at the news that not only was Twin Peaks returning after a 26-year break, but that David Lynch would be directing every episode after what I had become convinced was a permanent retirement from film. Then my personal politics got in the way in the shape of my refusal to watch anything on Sky TV (not that I've got access to Sky TV anyway), meaning that I had to read all the excited tweets posted as the series unfolded, knowing that I wouldn't be able to see what these people were enthusing about until the series made its way onto Blu-ray. Fortunately for me and this list, that happened in November courtesy of Universal Pictures, and in viewing the film first on physical media, with its excellent transfers, Dolby True-HD sound and special features, I rather think it was worth the wait. Having carefully avoided reading detailed write-ups of the series, I was genuinely gobsmacked by what unfolded before me, which was more a mind-bending riff on the original series than the straightforward follow-up that I'm sure many were anticipating. Then again, who could have accurately anticipated this? Sure, there were problems during the show's production – at one point Lynch walked and only came back when the budget that he and his collaborator Mark Frost needed to realise their vision was finally agreed on – but not since the heady days of 1960s TV arts programming have visionary artists been given such leeway to blend offbeat drama with avant-garde experimentation. In many ways, Twin Peaks – The Return (as it came to be known) serves as an 18-part summation of Lynch's artistic career, including his more recent painting and sculpture work (and even his acting – his performance as FBI director Gordon Cole here is first-rate), and full bloody marks to Showtime for allowing him and Frost to push the envelope as far as they did. And they really pushed that envelope, notoriously in episode 3, which is devoted primarily to Cooper's surrealistic escape from The Black Lodge and harked back to the experimentation of Lynch's early short films, and episode 8, which transports us back to 1945 and puts all recognisable concepts of drama on hold for a brain-battering mini-movie gallery piece about the atomic bomb. There's so much going on in this extraordinary series that I could write a sizeable essay on each episode – it's startling, challenging, artistically thrilling and insanely inventive, but also gripping, deeply moving and sometimes hilariously funny, and at no point anywhere in the entire series can you predict with any confidence where it will go next. It's a genuine televisual masterpiece that demonstrates just what can be done with the format when genuinely gifted and visionary artists are given the freedom they need by moneymen willing to take the necessary risks. I absolutely loved it.

Previous annual reviews:
2003 [Camus / Slarek]
2004: Documentaries [Slarek]
2004: Films [Slarek]
2004: DVDs [Slarek]
2005: Films [Slarek]
2005: DVDs [Slarek]
2006 [Camus]
2006 [CNash]
2006 [Slarek]
2007 [Camus]
2007 [Slarek]
2007 [Lord Summerisle]
2008 [Slarek]
2009 [L.K. Weston]
2009 [Slarek]
2010 [L.K. Weston]
2010 [Slarek]
2011 [L.K. Weston]
2011 [Slarek]
2012 [Slarek]
2012 [Timothy E. RAW]
2013 [Slarek]
2014 [Slarek]
2015: Films [Slarek]
2015: Discs [Slarek]
2016: Films [Slarek]
2016: Discs [Slarek]

article posted
4 January 2018

See all of Slarek's reviews and articles