10. A Star Is Born (dir. Bradley Cooper)
In a year in which we were gifted with so much strikingly original cinema, from The Favourite to First Reformed, few, perhaps, expected the fourth incarnation of this most classic of Hollywood tales to turn out quite so stunningly. Yet, Bradley Cooper’s take on the sudden emergence of one star and the chaotic downfall of another is made with such care and such urgency that it manages to resonate to a far greater extent than some of the versions it took inspiration from. The excellence of this old melodrama made anew, though, is not solely the product of Cooper’s vision – Lady Gaga’s work as Ally, the fledgling talent taken under the wing of Cooper’s Jackson Maine is revelatory. The facial expression alone she wears as she departs from us in the film’s final moments is enough to deem her an emotional powerhouse – she is as sensational as the fictional star she emulates. A Star Is Born serves as both a welcome, if devastating, vision of a beloved story and a jumping point from which Cooper and Gaga can form their career-bests and trigger the new ascent of their own, established stars.
9. Disobedience (dir. Sebastian Lelio)
Last year, Sebastian Lelio thrust himself right onto the centre stage of bold, independent cinema when he made A Fantastic Woman – a brilliant, explosive exposure of the rage and pain that came from a trans woman subjected to months’ worth of discrimination in the wake of a great less. With Disobedience, he continued to convey a clear knack for grappling with the portrayals of marginalised women, as he adapted Naomi Alderman’s unassuming story of sexual transgression in an Orthodox Jewish community. The disobedience in question at the heart of Lelio’s first venture into the English language is that of Ronit (Rachel Weisz) and Esti (Rachel McAdams – in the most mature performance of her life); who were lovers in their girlhoods and are something of pariahs in their adult years. The two find themselves drawn together once again after years of repressed longing, where their passion often provides the only bright spot in the muted greys of North London skies, and attempt to negotiate the tentative relationship between faith and sexuality. Both actresses are extraordinary, but it is McAdams who is the richest in her depiction of a woman denied the right to choose – and starved of that which incites the deepest of emotions in her. Her performance is quietly miraculous. Disobedience is a layered, delicately crafted look at the intersection between religious duty, freedom, and desire – one which begs to be revisited again and again, just to see what nuances can be found with each fresh viewing.
8. You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsay)
The narrative at the centre of Lynne Ramsay’s lyrical, brutal study of a hitman is not necessarily one that has not been explored before. Stories of damaged mercenaries, particularly those sent to rescue teenage girls, are not uncommon – and yet, Ramsay managed to create something entirely original, and unusually beautiful in its execution, with You Were Never Really Here. By mining the depths of depression and trauma carried by Joaquin Phoenix’s Joe as he doles out daily acts of extreme violence with precision, Ramsay is able to explore the psyche of a man riddled with PTSD and haunted by ghosts unseen, in a manner so visually poetic that it makes You Were Never Really Here – an archetypal crime thriller, by all usual standards – distinctly unique. Never have bloody fantasies of violence been captured quite so gracefully or with such tenderness. This is both a necessary examination of trauma and a gorgeous, aching poem – made up of contemplations on life’s intertwinement with constant suffering.
7. Vox Lux (dir. Brady Corbet)
From one mediation on bloodshed and childhood trauma to another – although, this one is notably more infused with intentionally vapid pop music than You Were Never Really Here – Brady Corbet’s second feature is as divisive as can be. Vox Lux describes itself as a 21st century portrait and, true to its word, it is about as modern as depictions of a popstar and their meteoric rise to fame – and subsequent dealings with stardom – get. Natalie Portman is the subject of Corbet’s portrait, the deeply paradoxical, deeply agonised Celeste; whose egotism is as entertaining as it is frustrating, yet whose pain, carried over from adolescence, is palpable and always threatening to consume. In Vox Lux, there are choreographed dance sequences performed before hoards of teenage fans. There are bold outfits inspired by the iconography of Madonna and Bjork. There are blood-splattered hallways and beaches. There are moments for which no biopic, no piece on the triumphs and ills of fame, can prepare us. Rather, it is best to venture into Vox Lux with no preparation and to allow yourself to be swallowed whole by its cynical approach to modernity, idol-worship, violence, and the construction of the self.
6. Lean On Pete (dir. Andrew Haigh)
Back in June, I wrote about how Lean On Pete served as a new, honest form of the American road movie – that most quintessential aspect of American cinema, in which heroes journeyed towards freedom with only the wind at their tail. Lean On Pete offered a challenge to the idea often perpetuated in such films, that in the vast plains of the open country lay a wealth of opportunities, by presenting to us the relentless devastations lashed upon Charley (Charlie Plummer) as he travels into the heart of mid-west poverty. You can find my review here, in which I handed out praise to Haigh for joining Andrea Arnold in the attempt to convey the true nature of despair found on those wide, open American roads.
5. Thoroughbreds (dir. Cory Finley)
Hell, as was once purported in Jennifer’s Body, is a teenage girl – or, at least, so Cory Finley theorises in his brilliantly executed look at the limits to which girls can push each other in their youths. A succinct, tightly controlled look at the unsettling capabilities of two girls (Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy) and their needs to combat their adolescent boredom, Thoroughbreds works as a far more disturbing Cruel Intentions – in which the characters force one another to explore the very edges of their limitations, albeit with much subtlety with regards to sexual tension than that found in Cruel Intentions. Finley’s debut is a perfect exercise in directorial control and a fine showcase for the budding talents of Cooke and Taylor-Joy; both of whom seem unflinchingly comfortable in diving into their detached sides – making them two of the most intriguing actors to keep looking out for.
4. Roma (dir. Alfonso Cuarón)
A masterpiece constructed of life’s smallest and slowest moments, rather than epic proportions, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma was arguably the most personal piece of cinema released this year. Crafted in dedication to the women that shaped Cuarón in his childhood, this is a masterful exploration of a woman’s pain and her dogged determination to simply acknowledge her suffering as something which she must take with her, as she continues to care for those around her – if she is to carry on against life’s tides of cruelties. I gathered my thoughts on Roma here, following my initial viewing at London Film Festival back in October, as I let Cuarón’s sympathy to soak over me.
3. The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
In Yorgos Lanthimos’ sharpest and tenderest work to date, we were given three of the finest female performances of the year in the form of Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, and Emma Stone as three experts in manipulation and power struggles found at the centre of a royal court. Lanthimos administers his trademark mixture of the macabre and absurdist humour to the reign of Queen Anne in The Favourite, as he allows Stone, Weisz, and Colman to seduce, deceive, and outwit one another in a bizarre comedy laced with tragedy that begins to take a grip of us before the final shot has faded. I wrote about The Favourite for Screen Queens earlier this year, and since, have only longed to revel again in the re-watches it invites.
2. Suspiria (dir. Luca Guadagnino)
‘I am She’ – and with three words, a moment in horror cinema that will surely be revered was born, as Luca Guadagnino’s new envisioning of Dario Argento’s classic dive into witchcraft and womanhood cast a transformative spell from which one could not break free, at least not for weeks after viewing. Suspiria is the kind of film that cannot be shaken – whether it is liked or not, it begs to be responded to, to be considered and written about for years to come. In their elongated journey towards carnality and the grasping of feminine power beyond our wildest dreams, Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton entice us through magnetic dance, knowing glances, and the spilling of blood so freely that the entire screen is drenched crimson at one point. While not to the tastes of all, Suspiria is surely one of the boldest, and unashamedly strangest, pieces to come from a filmmaker such as Guadagnino – who is often far more versed in portrayals of love so intense it triggers physical pain. Bold, wryly self-aware in its more humorous moments, and spellbinding in its terror, Suspiria should be viewed as both an exemplary manner in which to pay homage to an iconic part of the horror canon and a unique imagining of a story – of witches and their rituals – interpreted many a time before.
1. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (dir. Desiree Akhavan)
Desiree Akhavan’s subtle, quietly constructed resistance towards the ideology spat out by conversion therapy may not have been this year’s grandest film, nor its most melodramatic or largest in scale, but it was the noblest. It is filled with moments of love, shared not always between romantic partners but often between the teenagers forced to reside under the poison of ‘God’s Promise’ – a centre dedicated to ‘correcting’ the supposed failures of these kids. The Miseducation of Cameron Post will serve, I suspect, as a point of solace and refuge for any young person seeking comfort when they feel that their lack of straightness is isolating – for those moments, of alienation, of societal rejection, will come. When they do, however, and they will, the titular Cameron’s (Chloe Grace Moretz) story, the soothing nature of her friendship with her fellow disciples, Sasha Lane’s and Forest Goodluck’s Jane and Adam, will be there to provide reassurance where it may not otherwise be found. The essay I wrote on Akhavan’s loving salve to the wounds of social rejection is the piece of work I am most proud to have written this year – and serves as my own response to a film I will never be able to thank enough for providing all that my fifteen-year-old self would have given the world for. It should come as no surprise, then, to anyone that The Miseducation of Cameron Post is my most cherished, and most personal, film of the year – a masterwork in the understanding of queer adolescence.
by Hannah Ryan
Hannah lives in Cardiff and is into female protagonists, visually pleasing movies and Star Wars. Her favourite films include Pan’s Labyrinth, Casino Royale and Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy. She generally prefers dogs to people and you can find her talking endlessly about films at @_hannahryan on Twitter.
Categories: Anything and Everything