One of 2017’s biggest surprises, “Jawbone” is Thomas Q. Napper first feature film as a director, after helming a few shorts, a documentary about Los Angeles’ district Skid Row and being a second unit director for many of Joe Wright’s films including “Darkest Hour,” “Atonement” or “Pride and Prejudice”
“Jawbone” follows Jimmy McCabe, a former youth boxing champion from London who is at a low point in his life. He struggles with money, he has no family, he’s become an alcoholic and, in a scene reminiscent of recent Palme d’Or winner “I, Daniel Blake,” he’s fighting the local authorities who are about to leave him without a home. His only way out turns out to be his former boxing coach Ben (Ray Winstone) and cornerman Eddie (Michael Smiley), who help him train for an unlicensed boxing match that could give him enough money to solve his problems.
“Jawbone” is a dark, violent and claustrophobic film which deserves a place among the best boxing films of the 21st century.
7. T2 Trainspotting
The sequel to the 1996 cult film “Trainspotting” was released just one year ago. Despite the positive reviews it received from critics and the cult status of the original film, “T2 Trainspotting” went off the radar shortly after its release.
Twenty years after “Trainspotting,” original director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge returned to the world Scottish writer Irvine Welsh created in his homonymous novel and its follow-up “Porno.” Unlike the first film, “T2 Trainspotting” doesn’t follow Welsh’s work so close, being just loosely based on “Porno.”
The four leads – Mark (Ewan McGregor), Sickboy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) – are all back for this film. Now a 46-year-old man, Renton returns from Amsterdam to his home in Edinburgh, where he meets his old friends and has to confront Bagbie, who has just escaped prison.
As expected, the four men are still struggling well into their adulthood and their lifestyles are far from good, but they have matured and that is best shown in Renton’s mid-film speech which resembles his “choose life” monologue from the original film, but is adapted to modern times.
Apart from Renton’s famous monologue, the film references “Trainspotting” in other ways, making use of clips and music from the original film. However, the film is still its own thing. Nostalgia is good unless there’s too much of it, and “T2 Trainspotting” understands this, being not just a great sequel, but also a great standalone film. With an exciting screenplay, lots of style and energy plus four well-constructed lead characters, “T2 Trainspotting” is as much a throwback in time as it is a glance into the future.
6. The Death of Stalin
Armando Iannucci’s latest black comedy follows the power struggles that ensued in the Soviet Union after Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953. Among those trying to take control are Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), the chief of the Soviet security Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), and Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi). Jason Isaacs also stars as Red Army Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov.
One of the greatest comedies of 2017, “The Death of Stalin” manages to approach the most serious matters and show them to the world in a whole new light. Who would have thought that the fearsome Stalin and the hectic days after his death would make for such a comical film?
5. Paddington 2
A sequel should take everything that worked in the original film and improves on it. However, most of the time, this doesn’t happen. But then comes “Paddington 2,” the sequel to 2014’s first live-action adaptation of Paddington’s stories and one of 2017’s best-reviewed films.
The new film finds the English-speaking bear settled with his new family, the Browns. When soon to be 100-year-old Aunt Lucy’s birthday approaches, Paddington starts looking for the perfect gift. After he decides to buy a rare book from Mr. Gruber’s antique shop, he takes all sorts of jobs trying to make some money. However, the book is stolen and Paddington is wrongfully accused. It’s up to his family to unmask the thief and prove Paddington’s innocence.
“Paddington 2” sees the return of original cast members Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters and Jim Broadbent, but also welcomes some new faces, including Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson. Just like its predecessor, it’s a great family adventure film, joyful and full of heart.
4. God’s Own Country
There are not many 2017 films as human as “God’s Own Country.” The love story between Johnny, a young sheep farmer from Yorkshire and Gheorghe, a Romanian migrant who gets a job at the farm, makes for one of the most raw and most emotional films of last year.
While not complex plot-wise, “God’s Own Country” impresses through its sense of realism. Of course, the lack of soundtrack, the natural look of the cinematography and the seamless editing of the film all contribute to the film’s realism, but the main reason why everything works is the strong chemistry between its two leads, Johnny and Gheorghe, played superbly by Josh O’Connor (whose performance earned him a British Independent Film Award for Best Actor) and Romanian actor Alec Secăreanu. Not to be overlooked are Gemma Jones’ and Ian Hart’s subtle yet effective performances.
The renowned English actors play supporting roles as Johnny’s grandmother and father and, although not getting much screen time, they still shine in their roles.
Somewhere between “Lady Bird” and “Blue Jasmine,” last year’s “Daphne” is a film that seems familiar, but Emily Beecham shines as the homonymous protagonist, giving a performance which ought to be a career breakthrough. Moreover, the screenplay is well constructed, filled with unexpected moments and well-written dialogue that is both fun and witty.
Daphne is a 31-year-old Londoner who has somewhat of a pre-midlife crisis, but she is completely oblivious to it. She doesn’t give a damn, she has an unstable character and she is uninterested in any form of human relationship, always mocking everyone around her. Overall, she seems like the most unapproachable person ever, but you can’t help but like her.
There is an impression that her persona is just a facade, that there must be something more to her. That’s why she often finds herself surrounded by men who – to her surprise – aren’t just interested in sex, but say they want more. She is a mystery and everyone wants to get to break the wall she’s built around her.
Is there really more to Daphne than meets the eye? The film doesn’t give a definite answer, but ends on a hopeful note. The image turns black, the Velvet Underground’s “I Found a Reason” starts playing, and chances are you’ll find yourself smiling at the screen.
If there is one 2017 British film that needs more public attention, that is “Daphne.” And a sequel too, please.
2. Darkest Hour
Joe Wright’s film about Winston Churchill is what you’d call a character-driven drama or, to be more accurate, a Gary Oldman-driven drama. The political counterpart of Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour” is not a bad film by any means, but its plot and mise-en-scène are nothing unprecedented.
If it weren’t for Oldman, it would have been just an average semi-biographical film about Churchill. And you can’t say there aren’t enough of them out there when you have dozens of actors who have portrayed the British Bulldog on screen, including Brendan Gleeson, Michael Gambon, John Lithgow, Timothy Spall or – in a less acclaimed 2017 film simply called “Churchill” – Brian Cox.
But Oldman’s performance tops them all. This has been said plenty of times and it might sound exaggerated, but in “Darkest Hour” Oldman doesn’t play Churchill, he is Churchill.
Roles such as Dracula in Francis Ford Coppola’s film with the same name, Mason Verger in “Hannibal,” Stansfield in “Léon: The Professional” or Ludwig van Beethoven in “Immortal Beloved” have proven Oldman to be what you’d call a chameleonic actor, but even so, not many would have thought that he’d be the best choice to portray Churchill in a film about his first years as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. However, Oldman’s talent plus Kazuhiro Tsuji’s phenomenal makeup and prosthetics (Tsuji came out of retirement for this film) have brought Churchill to life.
After winning a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama and considering how great his performance has been, Oldman winning the Best Actor Oscar this year should be granted.
Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” throws you right in the middle of World War II, in the days surrounding the famous evacuation of the same name. The amount of work that was put in the making of this film are tremendous, but the results are equally satisfying. “Dunkirk” doesn’t feel like a film, but like the real deal. It’s like Nolan and his crew teleported back in 1940 and captured history on screen.
Several people criticized the film for lacking empathy. In other words, “Dunkirk” misses a protagonist, the characters are one-dimensional and thus you can’t get to care for them. But they got it wrong. The protagonist of “Dunkirk” is you, the viewer, who for nearly two hours will know how it feels being part of one of the most significant historical events of the last century.
“Dunkirk” is a huge accomplishment which will surely achieve the status of a cinematic masterpiece in the years to come.