With contributions from: Sam Inglis, Maddy Fry, Wyndham Pain, Christopher Marchant and Jim Mackney
How to Talk to Girls at Parties
John Cameron Mitchell’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s sci-fi coming of age story got a critical hammering and a low key release, but not only will I stump for it, I think it will develop a dedicated, and deserved, cult following.
Elle Fanning plays an alien who is, for the first time, in human form. She connects with a punk kid named Enn and falls into his scene as she learns to be more human and she and Enn begin to fall for each other. The love story and the humour both connected with me, but it’s Fanning’s typically subtle and detailed performance that powers the film. Watch the way she moves, becoming notably less stiff as she adjusts to human form, and the way she reacts to things around her: the sheer joy of exploration that she exudes. Tonally, the film may or may not be for you, but the climax and its coda got me genuinely choked up, and I defy you to tell me that Fanning is anything less than great in it. SI
This British drama, set in a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, impressed me at the 2017 London Film Festival and retained all of its angry power on a second viewing when it opened this year. Daniel Kokotajlo draws on personal experience to tell the story of a family – a mother and two daughters who she has raised in the church – who are deeply impacted when the older sister gets pregnant and is shunned by the congregation. This is affecting enough, but for me it was the story of the younger daughter, whose life was saved by a blood transfusion minutes after she was born, and the guilt she carries from that, that really got under the skin.
While he hasn’t made a campaigning film, you can feel Kokotajlo’s rage at the choices JW membership forces on this family in every frame of this beautifully composed and exceptionally powerful debut. SI
Crystal Moselle found the stars of her latest film on the New York subway, when she got talking to a couple of the girls from the Skate Kitchen skateboarding crew. Around them, with the documentary authenticity of her previous film, The Wolfpack, Moselle spins an entirely convincing coming of age tale about female friendship and how it can be tested by other relationships.
Playing a fictionalised version of herself, it is lead Rachelle Vinberg who shows the most screen charisma, but all of the young women seem just as natural in the many scenes of them simply spending time together – going to parties, smoking weed or just goofing off at the skate park – as they do when showing off their stunts and tricks. This is a hangout movie in the best sense; we get to know this group, to enjoy and root for them and their friendship. I don’t doubt that a lot of audiences of their age will recognise themselves, and then go out and buy their first board. SI
Oh, for the days when satire about the far right felt laughably quaint. Spike Lee’s hilarious and disturbing (and true) tale of the African-American policeman in 1970s Colorado who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan by, believe it or not, pretending to be white, has outrage pouring off the screen, but avoids being too worthy. Stellar performances from John David Washington and Adam Driver, coupled with horrifying images from the Charlottesville protests, make for a chilling parable that somehow keeps its tongue in its cheek in all the right moments. MF
The Spy Gone North
For those fans of Le Carre who loved the BBC’s adaptation of The Night Manager but were disappointed by The Little Drummer Girl, The Spy Gone North provides the fix, with an East Asian twist. The story of a South Korean who finds himself in a Kafkaesque play-off between his government and their northern neighbours during the mid-1990s was a gem of this year’s London Film Festival, adding a new shade to the palate of espionage dramas. Park Seouk-Young (codename ‘Black Venus’) wrestles with friendship, integrity and Kim Jong Il’s dog as he teases out intelligence on the North’s nuclear weapons programme. The stakes are high and the plotting labyrinthine, but the individual spy’s predicament is always centre stage. MF
Winner of the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, The Square is a daring and satirical critique of the contemporary art world and elite society. Ruben Östlund’s film moves between shock and hilarity, showing that gallery curators can be as clueless about art as the rest of us. Above all it is fascinating to see a world and group of individuals desperately trying to avoid embarrassment and hold their entitled lives together. WP
Bringing an epic scale and grandeur to everyday activities, The Guardians is one of the most beautifully observed and emotionally rich films to ever centre around the First World War. Xavier Beauvois’s drama takes place away from the front and focuses instead on the women who are left to attend France’s farmland. The result is that the less immediate impacts of the war are highlighted and allusions to technological and social advancements are made. The world around them is due to change and the life they have always know is about to come to an end. WP
Steve McQueen’s film dives into a Chicago criminal underworld, focusing on four widows of gangsters attempting to save themselves by taking on what would have been their husband’s final job. This was an ambitious and thematically grounded plot with a number of pulsating action set-pieces, while also standing out from a typically male-led genre and the masculine world these female protagonists inhabit. There are also standout performances across the board, most notably Elizabeth Debecki as the kept woman who learns to fight for herself, and the gleefully sociopathic Daniel Kaluyya. McQueen has resisted comparisons to The Wire, but rarely elsewhere have I seen as effective a portrayal of the immorality that can corrupt from the top to the bottom of a social ladder. CM
There is often talk of underrepresented figures in cinema, yet few figures are more overlooked than the poor of Latin America, often invisible even to their own employers, in the case of Roma a middle-class family in Mexico City. Director Alfonso Cuaron has approached this story with intensity and a profound level of compassion. There is clearly an understanding of the differences that privilege can provide, and also the weight of the burden that so many women must silently carry. Visually this is a work of technical mastery and high production values that merited a cinema viewing, and I am a little disappointed in Netflix for restricting that opportunity. CM
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards, released way back in January, is still my favourite film of the year, with only Leave No Trace coming close but Billboards pips it on the line. Martin McDonagh mines the familiar themes in his work in Billboards… – family, death, anger, unclear forgiveness – and does so here to great effect due to tethering the main storyline to McDormand’s, Mildred. The film’s central premise of how do you cope with grief when it entirely consumes you is a question that is nearly impossible to unpick, thankfully McDonagh and McDormand have delivered a film that goes someway to answering it. JM
Mission Impossible: Fallout
Tom Cruise has played Ethan Hunt since 1996. 22 years and six films later we arrive at the finest of them all, Mission: Impossible – Fallout. This was the standout action film of the year and a film that knew where its treasure was buried, and director, Chris McQuarrie did an excellent job of delivering on all of the action sequences. The standout set piece involved some terrific close-quarter martial arts in a men’s bathroom where Cavill, Cruise and Liang Yang smash the living daylights out of each other along with most of the room. I had the most fun in the cinema all year watching MIF and have subsequently counted down the days to the beginning of December to own it forever on Blu-ray, an unexpected gem of a film. JM