Connect with us
BestMovies2017 BestMovies2017

Film

The Best Movies of 2017

Published

on

It’s not easy coming up with a list of the ten best movies of any year, let alone one as rich in worthies as 2017. Still, nothing gets a good film debate going like a ranking, and so we here at Goomba Stomp have finalized* our picks for the cream of 2017’s crop. We’ve covered a ton of films this year, from major theatrical releases to the plethora of film festivals, like Sundance, TIFF, and Fantasia, so there were some tough choices to be made. No list is perfect of course, and there will always be some disagreements, but in the end this list is a fairly accurate reflection of our staff favorites. Enjoy, and if you haven’t seen some of the film’s below, what are you waiting for?!

*In case you’re wondering, the content and order was determined by polling our Sordid Cinema staff writers, then compiling the data by assigning points depending on a film’s rank within each personal list. Rest assured, it’s a highly scientific process that delivers solid, unbiased results.

Editor’s Note: While it is impossible for our writers to see every movie released this year, I felt we should mention that although we are all huge fans of Paul Thomas Anderson, none of us have had the chance to yet see Phantom Thread, since it has not yet been released where we reside. 

***

the-shape-of-water1

10 (Tie) – The Shape of Water

For years, a distinction has existed between the English language and Spanish language films of Guillermo del Toro. The American works are either direct adaptations of comic books (Hellboy, Blade II), or so outlandish that they might as well have been (Pacific Rim, Mimic). The Spanish and Mexican films are more austere films that combine del Toro’s love of the macabre and the fantastic with an unabashed sense of love. With his newest film, The Shape of Water, del Toro has managed to synthesize his impulses to create one of his most satisfying works to date.

The ever-charming Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, a mute woman who works on the night-shift cleaning staff of a government research center in the midst of the Cold War. Zelda (Octavia Spencer) is her only friend among the janitors, as well as her sign language interpreter to the rest of the world. When Elisa comes across a mysterious amphibian man (del Toro regular Doug Jones) who is being experimented on by the malicious Strickland (a gloriously over-the-top Michael Shannon), she at first feels compassion, then desire.

A lesser filmmaker would have portrayed Elisa as a tragic figure robbed of her voice, but del Toro and co-screenwriter Vanessa Taylor wisely depict a woman perfectly at ease with her life — she has all the voice she needs, but it’s up to others to listen. Hawkins is augmented by a fantastic cast, including an excellent (if small) role from Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me by Your Name).

Del Toro was inspired to make The Shape of Water because of his childhood disappointment with Creature from the Black Lagoon, in which an inter-species love story is cut short by bloodthirsty humans. His new film works as a corrective, and his passion is evident (he depicts Baltimore in the early 1960s with as much love and care as he does the amphibian man). The Shape of Water is a fairy tale, and like the best fairy tales, it reminds us of our own childhood wonder and hope. (Brian Marks)

10 (Tie) – Baby Driver

Like every Edgar Wright movie, the director’s latest feature takes a ludicrous concept and runs wild with it. Six movies into his career, he delivers a wildly energetic movie that not only entertains from start to finish, but follows its own set of rules without ever losing focus on what matters the most: characters. The result is brilliant, an unexpected mishmash of genres that shouldn’t blend so well together, but does. Baby Driver is the director’s most ambitious work to date — a wildly successful romantic heist comedy fueled by a killer soundtrack.

Here Wright’s use of music has a reason to exist, since the titular character needs his melodies for practical reasons. After surviving a traumatic car crash in childhood (killing his parents), Baby is left with permanent tinnitus, and in order to counteract this condition, he scores his everyday life. Baby Driver has it all: non-stop action, comedy, suspense, romance, a star-making performance from Ansel Elgort, and all the twists and turns of a classic heist movie. Credit Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss for the razor-sharp editing, and Bill Pope for his luscious photography! This is Hollywood craftsmanship of the highest order. (Ricky D)

mother!

10 (Tie) – mother!

Darren Aronofsky’s mother! is quite possibly the most controversial film of 2017. Many critics called it the worst movie of the year, while others who sung its praise defended the film tooth and nail. Awash in both religious and contemporary political imagery, Darren Aronofsky’s allusive film opens itself to a number of allegorical readings, and depending on what you take away, you’ll either love it or hate it. The press release promised a home-invasion thriller “about love, devotion, and sacrifice,” and in several interviews Aronofsky referenced climate change, war, famine and how awful humans not only treat each other, but the planet we live on. It’s also a surreal, feverish nightmare about relationships and the creative process centered around a dysfunctional couple.

The film is all this and more, but in my eyes mother! is first and foremost a horror film, and like any good horror film, it’s one that gets a rise out of you — makes your palms sweat, your eyes widen, your jaw drop, and your hands grip on tight to the armrest. It’s a piece of taboo-breaking cinematic insanity, and something you’re sure not to forget. And like all great horror movies, it’s a movie that grabs your attention and dares you to look away. (Ricky D)

IT-Movie

9 – It

Stephen King’s 1986 magnum opus about a deranged murdering clown named Pennywise who haunts the children of Derry, Maine has now been adapted twice, to varying degrees of success. The latest adaptation, which lingered for a half-decade in pre-production, represents the first time It has been brought to the big screen (the first was a television mini-series) and it’s among the best Stephen King adaptations ever made — not because it is scary (because, truthfully, it isn’t), but because director Andrés Muschietti’s vision is extremely funny, entertaining, and most importantly, heartwarming. At 135 minutes, It covers only the childhood half of the book, saving the adult portion for the upcoming sequel, set 27 years later. The decision to split the movie in two was a wise move on the part of the studio, as it allows the filmmakers more time to flesh out both the story and the large cast of characters. As with Stand By Me, another Stephen King adaptation, what sets It apart from most modern Hollywood horror films is the stellar cast. In fact, the best parts of It have nothing to do with the cackling manifestations of the murderous Pennywise, but with the camaraderie, bickering, and curiosity among these kids, who unlike many on-screen teenagers, actually seem like real kids.

It is far from a perfect film, but the underlying allegory of these characters facing their deepest fears as they enter adulthood gives the movie emotional weight — and regardless of if we get to know these characters or not, It is a chilling examination of what it’s like to grow up living in fear, be it the onset of puberty, or something deeper and far more disturbing, such as neglect, abuse, discrimination, poverty, and/or violence. In fact, the film’s true villains — older kids like Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), and adults like Beverly’s abusive father or Eddie’s controlling mother — are monstrous themselves. Of course, this is still a horror movie, and when the children begin to disappear, our group of young heroes is faced with their biggest inner demons when they square off against Pennywise, whose history of murder and violence dates back for centuries. Emerging from the long shadow of Tim Curry (whose interpretation of Pennywise is the biggest highlight of the TV mini-series) is Bill Skarsgard who does a marvelous job stepping in as the creepy, dancing clown with outsize yellow teeth, a high-pitched squeak of a voice, and a knack for terrifying kids. Thanks to the combination of these performances and Muschietti’s direction, It is not only one of the best movies of 2017, but one of the best horror movies ever made. (Ricky D)

blade-runner-2049

8 – Blade Runner 2049

Though coming off a bit more replicant than human, Denis Villeneuve’s gorgeous and mesmerizing vision of the near future couldn’t help but stand out from from its 2017 peers. Making a sequel to one of cinema’s all-time science fiction masterpieces must have been a daunting task, but Blade Runner 2049 does an admirable job picking up where Deckard left off, even if it doesn’t quite meet its predecessors lofty ambitions. Set 30 years later, 2049 follows Ryan Gosling’s K as he slowly uncovers a secret about the nature of replicants that may change the world. Along the way there is a bit of mystery, smatterings of existentialist philosophy, and a smorgasbord of visuals to feast one’s eyes upon.

The extraordinary sights and sounds of Blade Runner 2049 are more than enough to sustain the film through its methodical approach. Villeneuve, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and a talented team of art designers have outdone themselves, painting a rich, colorful world of decay, the oppressive gloom masked by orange sandstorms and holographic neon billboards. This is not the gritty Los Angeles of the original; a slick veneer projects surface beauty, but it doesn’t take long for the rotten insides to stink. Special mention must also be made of Hans Zimmer’s pulsing score, a mix of synthesizers and what sound like revving engines — it’s a sensory experience like almost no other in recent memory. The potency of the story will probably fade, but the images and ambiance will likely stick. Blade Runner 2049 may not quite reach for the sci-fi stars, but it certainly shines like one. (Patrick Murphy)

7 – The Florida Project

The Florida Project continues director Sean Baker’s realistic depiction of the unfortunate, but with a heartfelt look at the way our futures are shaped. The film pushes Brooklynn Prince into the limelight as another child star that hopefully maintains the same bravado throughout her career that she embodies in this. All the while, Baker captures the innocence of a child, as well as the factors that influence the person they’ll become — and whether that’s a good or bad result is up to you. Anchored by a brilliant performance by Willem Dafoe as a motel owner reining in a community of the lower class and less fortunate, The Florida Project shows the depravity and the goodness that can be found within the cracks of society. Utilizing bright colors in frequently ignored locations gives the film its sense of hope, where it would otherwise be easy to grab hold of desperation and let it drag you to your lowest lows.

While the film is primarily focused on Brooklynn Prince’s character and how she spends her days, the greatest impact comes from how her mother’s actions and behaviors influence and affect her daughter. You learn to dread the moments spent with the mom, but realize that decisions she makes are born out of a place of perceived desperation. And at the same time, you learn to love the relationship between the mom and daughter because it’s pure and real. The complications exist within their lives, but they power through them, even if it means dragging each other through the mud to get to the endpoint. The Florida Project mines the mother-daughter relationship for those brief moments that are relatable. It lets you care about its characters without having to like them, in a situation that is sometimes difficult to find joy within. The movie then caps itself off with one of the happiest tearjerker moments of the year, which is why it stands as Sean Baker’s most fully realized film. (Christopher Cross)

GOOD-TIME

6 – Good Time

Good Time had the best score of the year — that’s not debatable. Brooklyn composer Oneohtrix Point Never amplifies both the grime and the tension of the Safdie Brothers’ film, supplying a droning, screeching backdrop that is both tripped out and deathly urgent. Which makes sense; Good Time, and Robert Pattinson’s performance specifically, has a druggy unreality that seems tailored to the Adderall generation. It is purely energetic, propulsive, and unrelenting.

Not that Connie, Pattinson’s idiot-savant wannabe bank robber, would know anything about drugs. A defining wrinkle of the character is his inflated sense of superiority, the way that —for instance, after botching a bank robbery — Connie will lecture others about behavioral standards. He is, in actuality, a completely unlikable character, beyond even his pretensions. He is toxic, dragging his disabled brother into criminal schemes and preying on anyone he can to avoid the consequences of those schemes when they inevitably fail. This is who the Safdie’s align us with, asking us to stay with Connie has he spirals downward into the New York City night. If not truly pleasurable, the film is compelling in the way that a high wire act mixed with a car accident would be compelling.

Pattinson meets the bar set by Oneohtrix Point Never, transforming his lithe physicality into something more jagged. His movements lack grace and veer toward the arbitrary; he either can’t or won’t sit still. His face fills the frame throughout much of the movie, allowing us to see every dumb new idea dawn in his eyes as he hatches them. Good Time is the realization of the Safdie Brothers’ sensibilities, but it flows through Pattinson, who encapsulates the film’s live-wire energy with his performance.

There were bigger films, more optimistic films, more rousing films, and films with more to say than Good Time in 2017, but the Safdies’ movie, more than any other in the year — Dunkirk included — moved me to the literal edge of my seat early and refused to relent. It is experiential; you live through Good Time, rather than watching it. (Michael Haigis)

call-me-by-your-name

5 – Call Me By Your Name

Director Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name stirs the senses, breathing life into first love and heartbreak. Timothée Chalamet (Miss Stevens) is Elio, a young man adrift in the summer of 1983, before Oliver (Armie Hammer of The Social Network) comes to intern for his professor father (Michael Stuhlbarg) in Italy. The film’s playful decadence flows with an enchanting ease, as well as an enveloping score that brings us into the moment. Chalamet whips the teasing, temptation, and frustration of early flirtations into a mesmerizing enthusiasm, while Hammer’s assertive charm knocks down the audience’s guard. A knowing intimacy creeps into their interactions, and Elio’s interest transforms into confusion, euphoria, borrowed time, and inevitable heartbreak. Chalamet’s eager affection and dynamic emotional articulation define the movie, drawing us ever further into a world that briefly belongs to them.

Hammer and Chalamet expertly channel two men magnetically drawn to one another, lost in the physical and mental freedom of youth that is yet to be completely tethered to commitment or expectations. They are shown to be deliberate, intellectual, and aware of the complexity of their feelings for one another — traits not readily associated with romance. Call Me By Your Name embraces the fervor of an insatiable sexual pull, while skillfully honing in on what makes Elio and Oliver’s relationship something special. As Elio’s father, Stuhlbarg vividly delivers tender insights that are as uplifting as they are wrenching. Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash) lovingly builds a serious film about meaningful attraction and the tenuous control we have over circumstance. (Lane Scarberry)

lady-bird-film

4 – Lady Bird

Portraits of youthful aspiration rarely come so authentic and honest as the sometimes touching, often funny, and always charming Lady Bird. Set in the Sacramento of her teenage youth, Greta Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story contains the types of off-beat observations and unflattering comic scenarios she has written into previous leading roles, but never has this offbeat “character” worked so well; perhaps because this time it isn’t Gerwig performing it. That task instead belongs to Saorise Ronan, who goes beyond merely doing her best Gerwig impression, and crafts a bitingly sharp version of an aspiring young artist who deeply believes herself to be something greater than what she currently is — or may even be capable of.

All of the buoyant energy and awkward ugliness of formative years are on display, from the social politics of high school to the ever-increasing urge to break free from the cage of parental control. Lady Bird (as she has pretentiously dubbed herself) can be both magnetic and repulsive in a span of seconds, but Ronan plays scenes of selfishness and egotism with the same matter-of-fact approach as those when she is more considerate of others, and the frankness captivates — even when eliciting winces. Writer-director Gerwig beautifully takes advantage with a script that unveils poignant yearning and tender nostalgia cloaked in quirky wit and uncomfortably real confrontation, while wisely shooting in a straightforward manner that doesn’t draw attention away with shallow indie flash. Bold, brave, and never less than sincere, Lady Bird hits all the right notes without compromising its own song — one of the most melodious of the year. (Patrick Murphy)

Logan-best-movies-2017

3 – Logan

A melancholic treatise on aging is not what one would expect from any corner of the cinematic comic book canon, let alone from a property with the Marvel logo preceding it, but James Mangold’s Logan is just that, a modern day Western that takes a lens to one of the most iconic action heroes of all time. Hugh Jackman’s last go-around as the near-immortal mutant with generations of pain and suffering caked on his metallic claws finds the loner unburdened by the X-Men (a freak accident wiped them and mutant kind out), and burdened with caring for an ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart, providing a giant performance of confusion and intimacy). Logan’s will to live is minuscule until a chance encounter brings him close to Laura (Dafne Keene), a mutant child with remarkable skills of her own.

Liberated from universe building and a 4-quadrant marketing mandate, the film is almost overwhelming in its violence (the farm sequence is expert in its mounting horrific tension), while providing a profound look at how wanton killing dilutes a person’s soul. In part, it’s a meta-commentary on the X-Men and comic book films themselves, deconstructing how heroes are made, remembered and forgotten in broad strokes, rarely allowed to have the complexities that we mortals ponder day to day. Logan is the anti-comic book film — patient, meticulous, and not eager to please. It’s a heavy experience where the stabs make you cringe, the blood runs a little too real, and the notion of the next chapter is not etched in ink. Logan reminds us that our favorite things end, and that finality can be its own reward. (Shane Ramirez)

Dunkirk-best-movies-2017

2 – Dunkirk

No film in 2017 captured the pure magic of cinema better than Christopher Nolan’s exquisitely crafted thriller about the evacuation of the British and other Allied forces from the French coast during World War II. Dunkirk jettisons many of the storytelling crutches so many war movies have come to rely on, replacing those blunt philosophical speeches and manufactured character moments with the kind of exacting visuals and visceral sound design that communicate precisely everything an audience needs to know about the terror depicted. Not a minute is wasted in exposition; the images tell the tale, taking the medium back to its roots. Through pictures Nolan builds an army of genuine people, their mouths ominously silent, but their eyes and actions instantly relating volumes. His frame then constricts their freedom (and ours), ramping up unease by showing us packed lines of men desperate to escape, crammed onto piers just waiting, looking out to the vast ocean of blue skies and open water that offers something so close, yet so far.

Once it has us wound up, Dunkirk yanks on the thread, unspooling in a furious assembly of bullet pops, swooping dogfights, and fiery sea battles, all working in harmony to support each other. Rarely have I felt so utterly helpless in response to something so simple as the whine of an airplane engine, but Nolan pulls the strings perfectly, effortlessly navigating the peaks and valleys of tension and release. That he does this without a more traditional dialogue-heavy script is especially impressive — a reminder of how affecting cinema can be in its purest form. Dunkirk pushes the action genre forward by looking back, a triumph of filmmaking that dares to believe in the core fundamentals of movies. (Patrick Murphy)

1 – Get Out

In the great annals of horror movie history, there are plenty of examples of backward, racist Southerners being used to amp up the terror in otherwise unremarkable places like small towns or nice Suburban neighborhoods. Get Out seeks to utilize this same strategy, but in a different way. By making the racist bad guys liberals who genuinely think they’re doing a service to the black community, Get Out supplants the idea that racism only exists on the right — or in the South — and forces wearers of the “Good Guy Badge” to take a closer look at their reflection.

With stand-out performances from Daniel Kaluuya (Black Mirror), Allison Williams (Girls), and Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich), Get Out is a surprisingly tight suspense-thriller that ratchets up the tension with great success throughout the entirety of its swift run time.

From Jordan Peele of all people (best known for his sketch comedy series, co-created with Keegan-Michael Key), a film like Get Out is a genuine surprise, and one that has been welcomed by audiences and critics almost unanimously. These kinds of new takes on racism as a plot device — and the place of the horror canon in general — are just what the genre needs every few years to remind folks that there’s still new ground waiting to be uncovered in this well-worn world of recurring horror tropes. (Mike Worby)

Advertisement
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Patrick

    December 30, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    Am I the only one who thought Get Out was totally mediocre? I mean, it was a good filmmaking debut with a clever premise, but I can’t for the life of me see why it has received so much attention.

    • grimrook

      December 31, 2017 at 6:06 am

      its highly over rated

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

TIFF

TIFF 2019: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ Pleads for Love and Laughter Amidst Hatred

‘Jojo Rabbit’ brings Waititi’s signature humor to a coming-of-age movie about growing up as a youth in Nazi Germany.

Published

on

Jojo Rabbit

After directing Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi probably got carte blanche to do whatever he wanted in Hollywood. Already signed on to do Thor: Love and Thunder, the New Zealand director decided to do something almost no other director would probably consider: making a comedy about Hitler. That would be the reductive elevator pitch, which is how many will approach the film when it is officially released, but Jojo Rabbit is hardly that. Instead, Waititi satirizes hate itself, as well as all the ridiculously extreme convictions people have that hold the world back from being peaceful. It’s all done with that signature Waititi charm that makes the film a joyous mix of entertaining dialogue and lovable characters.

The hardest thing to get past in Jojo Rabbit is its initial premise. Set during World War II, just as Germany is on the cusp of defeat, the film follows ten-year-old Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) as he begins his training to be a part of Hitler’s army. After he is sent home from a Nazi bootcamp, he discovers a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in his house, and is forced to help hide her or risk his mother (Scarlett Johansson) being murdered by the Gestapo. His blind fanaticism to Hitler and his ideals puts Jojo in a precarious situation that is only further made tense by the presence of his imaginary friend, Adolph Hitler (played with Chaplin-esque exuberance by Waititi).

Jojo Rabbit

It would be easy to write off Jojo Rabbit as a farce if based on its initial set up. Easily reminiscent of the director’s first coming-of-age film, Boy, there’s a level of quirk that will likely aggravate audiences unwilling to give the premise the time of day. Hitler is not played off as menacing — he’s played off as a joke. The entire Nazi regiment is filled with cartoonishly evil devotees to Hitler, as well as naive children that join the army as last-ditch draftees. It’s easy to see these portrayals as mere jokes, but the screenplay doesn’t ever feel like it’s one hundred percent about showing Nazis as bad; instead, it goes even broader to show that hate itself is bad and worthless, by using Nazi Germany and Hitler as target practice.

Setting Jojo up as the main character, the film breaks down his staunch hatred of the Jewish race by forcing him to confront his beliefs and what they mean to the world around him. How his fanaticism affects his mother, or how it has suddenly forced him out of being a child, all contributes to Jojo as a character being torn down inch-by-inch by the love surrounding him. Jojo’s mother, Rosie, is worn out by the war and simply wants it to end, while Sam Rockwell’s Captain Klenzendorf seems at odds with the ideals of the Hitler regime, and now acts as a high-ranking officer with a very lazy devotion to the fuhrer. 

Klezendorf and Rosie are characters that always exist within Waititi’s films. Klezendorf substitutes as a father-like figure to Jojo, as his own father continues to fight the war in Italy. He tries to provide guidance and love to the child while Rosie struggles to deal with Jojo’s blind devotion to Hitler — who also acts as a father-figure to the young boy. Jojo Rabbit explores how propaganda and hateful rhetoric can shape the youth into hateful people without the years spent open to the world around them. It’s an ambitious extension upon Waititi’s prior coming-of-age tales, which tend to show how negligence can affect a child’s upbringing.

Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit is also one of the funniest movies of the year — not because it makes fun of Hitler and Nazi Germany (though those jokes are also gold), but because it takes aim at every form of hatred. Waititi only has sympathy for those who have the potential to love, and so he doesn’t just make everyone the subject of ridicule, but focuses on those characters who bring it on themselves. A dedicated SS officer will be ridiculed to the high heavens because he just wants to capture and kill traitors and the Jewish people; it’s the price paid for being a jerk, and Waititi simply has no time to defend every character’s actions.

Jojo Rabbit isn’t here to simply say that a time period and a certain person was bad. Waititi is making a claim that many have already made: there is too much hate in this world, so why not be a little nicer? Opening with a German version of The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” there’s a constant nagging at the oppressors of the film to be a little nicer and maybe open up to another point of view. Easily the most audacious film in the director’s filmography, Jojo Rabbit successfully balances the quirky humor of Waititi’s his previous efforts with a dark subject matter. The result is a movie that not only will make audiences laugh, but will have them valuing the importance of laughter and niceties in a hate-fueled time.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – September 15

Continue Reading

Film

‘Nefarious’ Shows Passion For The Home Invasion Genre

Published

on

From creative horror fiend Richard Rowntree comes his newest venture, a home invasion film titled Nefarious. The Dogged director and his crew have found an angle to take on the genre to make it feel fresh and lively.

Nefarious follows a few different people in the same small town, from four roommates in trouble with a considerable debt to the wrong people, to a special needs man named Clive who has won a considerable sum of money in the lottery. The film follows multiple sides of the story as they develop, with the violent and ill-tempered Darren at the helm of the intruders. With desperation leading him and his thugs to the house of Clive and his brother, Marcus, these intruders find they’ve gotten into something so much bigger than they thought.

Nefarious kicks off with the first of many interrogation room asides that allude to the events of the film. Soon the plot gets rolling, and the story begins to be pieced together. These interrogation room scenes place characters against a pitch-black backdrop, giving off a bit of a surrealist and dreamlike vibe, and some of the most impressive shots — particularly a scene with the two detectives looking through a two-way mirror — come from this setting. The intro runs a bit long, but continues the surrealist lean, with shaky visuals ranging from violent to erotic to strange shots of different individuals.

Nefarious - Interrogation
Lou being interrogated in the dark expanse.

Whilst Nefarious is a low budget horror experience, it makes use of what it has very well. The cinematography is fantastic, with varied camera angles and creative framing, along with an attention to colour and lighting. There’s a marked step up in the lighting department from Richard Rowntree’s previous offering; Dogged did use what they had well, but with Nefarious it feels like there’s more mastery over it.

On the technical side, everything comes together nicely, not ever feeling cheap or like it’s cutting corners. In fact, the gore and action — which doesn’t really rear its head until the denouement — is quite effectively done. The one exception is a slightly stilted jab with a crowbar to end a character’s life, but it doesn’t hinder the scene at all. The sets are also incredibly well put together, feeling realistic (perhaps due to filming in real houses and locations), and one particular secret room is all the right kinds of terrifying and disturbing.

Meanwhile, the music doesn’t particularly standout on its own, but the distorted bassy beat backdropping a few scenes fits incredibly well with the tone. There’s also an off-kilter element to the soundtrack that helps keep the viewer on edge.

Nefarious - Fridge
Gross and off-putting, just how you want your frozen viscera.

The acting isn’t stellar across the board, but for the most part it’s quite impressive, with performances from Gregory A. Smith as Clive, Toby Wynn-Davies as Marcus, and Buck Braithwaite as Darren shining. Nadia Lamin also puts in a solid performance as the conflicted Lou, and there’s even a cameo from the director himself as the taxi driver.

By the time the denouement is reached, Nefarious reveals a twist more complex than one would first think. Whilst it’s foreshadowed thoroughly enough to see coming, the weight and scope still come as a surprise, and the exposed extra layers of secrecy keep us on our toes. This finale is built to fantastically, culminating in a whirlwind of brutal and sadistic action, but it does get a bit muddied by those multiple twists overlapping each other, which can make it a bit less impactful. Regardless, the great imagery, execution, and pacing through the final confrontation creates a solid finishing point for Nefarious.

Nefarious defies its budget and shows us a refreshing approach to the home invasion genre, whilst allowing itself to grow outside of it as well. There are a few hitches here and there, but nothing that takes away from an otherwise excellent and thrilling ride. The ending alone is worth the watch, though the buildup is captivating as well. Now with two full-length competent horror films under his belt, I’m looking forward to seeing what angle of the genre Richard Rowntree explores next.

Continue Reading

TIFF

TIFF 2019: The Piercing ‘Marriage Story’ Is a Festival Standout

Noah Baumbach’s newest drama is a searing portrait of a marriage dissolving, and his best film to date.

Published

on

Marriage Story

In 2010, director Noah Baumbach began divorce proceedings with his now ex-wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh. The divorce was finalized three years later, and since then Baumbach has been in a relationship with actor and director (and occasional collaborator) Greta Gerwig. It’s impossible to view his newest film, Marriage Story, without taking into account his own dissolved marriage; this is a searching, seething work of recriminations and longing that pits two all–too–human parents against each other, and invites the audience to not only imagine which bits of psychic trauma are his own, but also to consider our own relationships, successful or not.

Marriage Story stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as Nicole and Charlie, a married couple living in New York City with their young son Henry. The film opens with a montage as Nicole recites the things she most loves about her husband, from the way he can cook and doesn’t mind waking up with their son, to his skill as a theater director. In turn, Charlie narrates his favorite aspects of Nicole, his regular lead actor. There are plenty of opportunities for tears here, but the unguarded emotions of these confessions might get them started right from the beginning. But just as they finish reciting these traits, we’re brought back to reality; these confessions were things that they had written down to read to each other as a kind of peace offering at the start of their mediation following a separation that has led up to their divorce. But Nicole doesn’t like what she has written — or at least doesn’t want Charlie to hear it. And if she won’t go, then it’s not really fair for him to read his. So neither tells each other what they most admire in the other, and instead stop seeing the mediator.

It’s the first strike in Nicole and Charlie’s mutually assured destruction agreement. Though they initially plan on avoiding using lawyers, Nicole gets tipped off to a well-regarded attorney (a funny and ice-cold Laura Dern) who advises her to take a maximalist position in order to ensure she gets half of everything she wants — at the very least. Once she has a lawyer, Charlie tries out a variety of legal counsels (a soothing Alan Alda and a fiery Ray Liotta), but the real conflict comes down to location; Nicole has taken Henry to Los Angeles while she films a pilot, and wants to stay even after it’s finished. Charlie, however, thought they would move back to New York. Each escalation in the feud necessitates an opposing reaction, and the two are driven further and further apart, even as they try to stay close for the sake of their son.

Marriage Story

Baumbach has admitted that some details of the film are based on his own divorce, but he’s also said he interviewed many of his friends who divorced around the same time, as well as lawyers and judges involved in divorce cases. In some ways, Marriage Story isn’t just a portrait of a couple separating, but a primer on divorce court that far surpasses something like Kramer vs. Kramer, which was out of date even in 1979. The film is also an opportunity to observe two of the best living actors at the top of their game. Johansson and Driver have a knack for finding the sweet spot between un-actorly naturalism and the stylistic ticks that we recognize as compelling acting. It gives us a sense that these people were actually a family, and really cared for each other. Baumbach’s script helps; it’s maybe his best writing ever, filled with so many painfully open moments, yet leavened with just the right amount of humor. He’s also as fair as he could be, and neither parent comes off as too saintly or self-centered.

Marriage Story ends in a circle of sorts with the discovery of Nicole’s notes about Charlie’s best qualities. Their marriage was effectively over before the film even started, but I kept thinking back to that lovely introductory scene. How might their journey to divorce progressed if they had the courage to speak openly to each other in that one moment? Perhaps something might have been better. Marriage Story doesn’t harbor any of those romantic illusions, however; once it’s over, it’s over.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – September 15

Continue Reading

TIFF

TIFF 2019: Terrence Malick Puts Faith Front and Center in ‘A Hidden Life’

Terrence Malick makes a glorious return to scripted films with this searing portrait of faith at all costs.

Published

on

A Hidden Life

Terrence Malick is back! Or maybe he never went anywhere. Those propositions have divided critics who either see everything he directed after 2011’s The Tree of Life as failures, or who find his subsequent cinematic experiments to be vital additions to his oeuvre. I tend to fall into the latter category, having considerable affection for To the Wonder, Knight of Cups, and Song to Song, which seems like a transition of sorts back to the more tightly scripted narrative films he made up through The Tree of Life. Now, with A Hidden Life, Malick returns to his favorite subjects: religion, morality, family. It may not be a return to form per se, but it’s top-notch Malick, and already one of this year’s best films.

A Hidden Life is inspired by the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who was executed after he refused to swear allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Jägerstätter is played by August Diehl, best known to American audiences as the lead Nazi in the bar shootout in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. We first see him tending to his crops in the hilly town of St. Radegund, far above the clouds. (The film was originally titled Radegund before Malick settled on A Hidden Life, which is derived from a line in George Eliot’s Middlemarch.) He lives with his wife, Franziska (Valerie Pachner), and their three young daughters. Malick and his new cinematographer, Jörg Widmer, film the Austrian landscape with some of the lushest greens ever depicted on film, and Franz’s whole family spends plenty of time frolicking in the beautiful surroundings (though he has significantly toned down the frolicking now that he’s working with a tighter script).

Franz first receives military training sometime after the rise of the Nazis but before the start of the Second World War. While there, he befriends a fellow soldier named Waldlan (Transit’s Franz Rogowski), whom he will fortuitously meet again years later. Through the luck of a deferment for farmers, he’s able to return home to his village, but his anti-war, anti-Nazi stances make him an enemy of the other villagers. Malick doesn’t go out of his way to construct contemporary parallels in A Hidden Life, but viewers might breathe a sigh of recognition at the way some of the villagers so whole-heartedly adopt cruel, ugly sentiments once they’re presented aloud by a compelling leader. By 1943, Franz’s deferment ends, at which point his unwillingness to serve sends him on a path to the guillotine.

A Hidden Life

Malick depicts Franz not as a saint looking to serve as an example for others, but merely a man concerned with good and evil. He’s told by multiple figures that no one knows of his principled stand, and that it won’t have any meaningful impact on the Nazi war effort. But he’s not looking to be a hero — just to do the right thing. Diehl’s expressive face is often contorted into anguished looks as he wrestles with his decision. His moral position opens his wife and children up to harassment and even assault from other villagers, and his death will leave them barely able to care for their crops and livestock. Though A Hidden Life is primarily Franz’s story, there are plenty of lovely scenes with Franziska at home, both with her children and with her sister, who lives with the family.

The contours of Franz’s story are understandably inspiring, and it’s not surprising that he was beatified in 2007. (Pope Benedict XVI made regular Sunday walks to St. Radegund as a child.) Malick’s films have always had elements of the religious and the divine, but this is his first film to expressly examine a character’s journey of faith. His camera has always been pointing toward the heavens, into the sun; and when he wasn’t looking up, Malick was looking for the holy closer to us, in the tiny, innocent creatures that populate our world. Now he’s kept his camera pointed straight ahead and found holiness in man himself.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – September 15

?
Continue Reading

TIFF

TIFF 2019: Benson and Moorhead Bend Time in the Psychedelic ‘Synchronic’

Trippy visuals and historical context ground this ambitious science fiction film.

Published

on

Synchronic

Bringing together trippy science fiction and the grit of New Orleans, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead continue their streak of grounded genre-fare with Synchronic. With another exploration into concepts of time and reality, Synchronic plays out like a cross between Martin Scorsese’s Bringing out the Dead and Shane Carruth’s Primer. Though not as nuanced in its characters as previous entires in their filmography, Benson and Moorhead provide another delight for genre fans, and a compelling idea that never gets too far out of their grasp, despite its ambitiousness.

Focused on two paramedics, Synchronic finds Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) driving through New Orleans and stumbling upon several drug overdoses in the city. The only connection between the overdoses is that all of the victims took a new designer drug called Synchronic. As the incidents start piling up, the two become entangled in the mystery of the drug’s effects after Dennis’ teenage daughter (Ally Ioannides) takes it and goes missing. While Dennis tries to find his daughter, Steve takes it upon himself to learn what exactly Synchronic does to the user, which ultimately leads to the film’s surreal and genre-bending narrative.

Tensions between the two escalate as Dennis contends with his failing marriage, which is only made worse when their daughter disappears, while Steve hides a terminal illness that leads him to experiment with Synchronic. As an isolated alcoholic who is dying, Mackie is probably the best he’s ever been in a role that doesn’t really offer him much in terms of character development but still puts him in situations where his charisma brings magnitudes. Hefty amounts of emotional baggage are dropped on him, and he does a significant job elevating the material. Meanwhile, Dornan continues to be bland, and his chemistry with Mackie feels forced every time they banter. In fact, almost all of the emotion in Synchronic comes up short because of this lack of chemistry and Dornan’s poor acting.

Despite that, Synchronic is enjoyable because of where its science fiction concept is willing to reach. The visuals are otherworldly as different time periods blend into each other, and Benson and Moorhead continue to show what can be done on a modest budget. While the film’s trippy concept is explored thoroughly enough, there are facets that desire extrapolation, such as the personal ramifications of taking the drug — which isn’t explored, despite drugs with hallucinatory and psychedelic effects tending to take the user into account. Instead the drug here has the same effect on everyone, with any deviations dictated by external factors. However, the film casually explores Steve’s character within the guise of this, making for a riveting — but not all that deep — look at the past to see how much better things are now.

Synchronic doesn’t quite live up to the neat package that The Endless was, but Benson and Moorhead pare down the scope of the film in order to keep it neater and more controllable. Otherwise, not only would it have been a messy venture, but the dull characters would deny any thrills. Thankfully, Mackie does wonders in a very subdued emotional performance that complements the visually arresting imagery. Synchronic is a solid genre flick that will keep Benson and Moorhead on the rise in the genre community, and will satisfy fans of a psychedelic premise rooted in the real world.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – September 15

Continue Reading
Freelance Film Writers

Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Indie Game reviewers.

Learn more by clicking here.

Advertisement

Trending

67 Shares
Share
Tweet
Reddit
Pin