Either I had been watching too much great TV last year, traveling from place to place, or became more selective in which films deserved my pounds/euros, but I didn’t spend a whole lot of time at the cinema in 2016 (and if I did, it was to catch repertory delights such as The Sting or The Exorcist on 35mm). My main bulk of cinemagoing was during an 11-day stint covering the BFI’s 60th London Film Festival, which had some absolute winners, a few letdowns, and only one true stinker (#1 on this list) but, as of writing, the majority of them have yet to be released in the UK, otherwise they would have claimed the entire Top 10 films of 2016. To avoid combining my lists of 2016 favourites with festival only releases, these are films that I saw in 2016, that I loved, but have yet to be released UK-wide.
A quick note: this list comes a bit later in the month than intended (by 3 weeks, at least), so there were three genuinely amazing pieces of cinema that I would have included, but have since been released this January: A Monster Calls, La La Land and Manchester by the Sea. All three of them are seriously brilliant and well worth your time.
With that said, here are my Top 5 films soon to be released (between February and May 2017), and six upcoming from the rest of the year that most tickle my interest.
5. Free Fire
Whether or not you’re a fan of his films, ranging from the demented cult-horror Kill List, to last year’s barefaced decadent socio-political High-Rise, Ben Wheatley could never be called lazy. With Free Fire, Wheatley has crafted his most accessible film to date, and one that is a joyful, action-crammed ride from start to finish. Joining forces with co-writer and spouse Amy Jump, their high-concept chamber piece features a wealth of great talent, from recently appointed Best Actress (for her affecting turn in Room) Brie Larson, regular Wheatley contributor Michael Smiley, the smouldering Cillian Murphy, and Sharlto Copley on particularly fine form. It’s the very definition of a high-concept midnight movie, a boisterous, non-stop actioner with an abundance of wit, some moments of ick for those that like their action with a bit of bloodshed, and a fantastic attention to sound and costume. Whilst it may suffer toward its final act, Wheatley has definitely hit the jackpot with this one.
Short review here.
To be released 31st March
4. Toni Erdmann
Toni Erdmann is completely undefinable. Is it an estranged family drama? a slapstick visual comedy? a bizarre mid-life romance? It’s a reverberant yes to all three, but it manages to be so much more than that. Adding layer upon layer to its visual and articulated jokes, drawn-out punchlines ultimately become uncomfortable as the father-daughter story reaches a natural stalemate. Their relationship is seemingly void of affection, though it’s not for want of trying: Winifred (Peter Simonischek) tries so desperately to reconnect with his uptight daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller) that he takes on a wildly curious persona (the titular Toni Erdmann) to ingratiate himself into her fast-paced career as her life coach. On paper, it’s hardly an unfamiliar formula, but Maren Ade’s dedication to the joke is consistently uplifting, yet dispiriting in this familiarity. Clocking in shy of 3 hours, Toni Erdmann‘s length, steely characters and repetition (those fake teeth are amusing every time they’re dusted off from Winifred’s top-pocket) isn’t for everyone, but for those with the patience for this subtle, restrained comedy, there’s constant enjoyment to be had in its sharp-tongued humour and its commitment to the characters. Toni Erdmann may sound like something you’ve seen before but, I promise you, it’s quite the opposite.
Short review here.
To be released 3rd February.
3. Certain Women
In a modest, dusty, American town, the lives of four women intersect in small, but life-changing ways: Laura Dern’s lawyer attempting to diffuse a hostage situation, Michelle Williams’ probing a sandstone trader for a deal, and Kristen Stewart’s headstrong teacher finding sparse companionship with a lonely ranch hand, played with a softness by Lily Gladstone. Kelly Reichardt is known for her compassion and recognition to muted Americana, and with Certain Women, she has once again given reverence to humanity through a gentle, quietly appealing paean to the homespun nature of Cascadia. Held up by three amazing and honest performances (and one a little too mechanical for my tastes), Reichardt’s latest is for those who prefer their cinema to be ordinary, composed, and serene.
Short review here.
To be released 3rd March
It’s nearing two decades since Paul Verhoeven’s last true great film (I’m talking Starship Troopers, obviously) and, with this year’s Elle, the master of antagonism and bedfellow of controversy has (alongside Philippe Djian’s novel and David Birke’s screenplay) constructed a rape-revenge thriller that walks an intensely fine line between exploitation and black comedy to exceptional effect. Isabelle Huppert stars as the monikered ‘Her’, a dedicated head of a video-game company whose command over bullshit in her male dominated industry fills her life with a hilariously dry cynicism that plucks the ire of those around her. Even after a brutal, typically Verhoeven sexual assault (which is underpinned with a genuine laugh-out-loud sting of exasperation from Huppert), Michele’s fatigue at life is ever-present, expressed through every glance and tut with consummate perfection. Huppert is incredibly magnetic to watch, and her articulation of her situation is authentically amusing. Elle is shocking but never gratuitous; horrifying but never grotesque, and its twists and curves will have you guessing to its very final moments.
Short review here.
To be released 10th March.
1. The Handmaiden
Imagine this, if you can: a 19th-century riff on a Victorian England-era novel, with a psychosexual Ocean’s 11-style caper and a sapphic enigma thrown in. It’s incredibly sexy, not solely because of its overly erotic scenes of lesbian sex, but also because of its sumptuous cinematography and its richly suggestive script. Park Chan-Wook goes back to his native tongue after his American detour with Stoker, and has manipulated the 2002 novel to his keen sensibilities, meticulously staging and blocking each scene with his debauched, anarchic style. The Handmaiden is dazzlingly serpentine: just when you think you have a grasp on what’s going on, the curtain is pulled to reveal another, even more peculiar layer that flips the film on its head and demands you reconsider what you’ve already seen. It’s a truly fascinating film and one that absolutely requires a second viewing.
Short review here.
To be released 14th April
2017 Most Anticipated:
My most anticipated of 2017 are those that pique my curiosity above all other upcoming releases. Sure, there are some big studio films this year that could be great, but getting excited about a giant spectacle film has time and again proven fruitless, so it’s down to those smaller, more compelling films from genre directors to garner my interest. Unfortunately, all of them are still awaiting a release date, but all have been scheduled for some time this year.
Ever since Duncan Jones burst onto the scene with one of the most confident debuts in recent memory, he’s been a director to watch, and whether you liked or loathed his following outputs there’s absolutely no denying how assuredly brilliant Moon was. I happen to be a defender of Source Code – the Groundhog Day meets 12 Monkeys time-puzzler – that so many people seemed to give bad press toward, but it was unquestionably a step in the opposite direction when he had originally announced that his Moon follow-up was to be the mystery-neo-noir with a mute protagonist: the succinctly titled Mute. Currently in post-production, Mute will star Alexander Skarsgård as the close-mouthed bartender who goes up against future Berlin’s gangsters to find his missing romance. Skarsgård (whose real talents are yet to be proven) is joined by the intense Justin Theroux (whose talents have been proven time again in the peerless HBO doom-and-gloom drama The Leftovers) and the ever watchable Paul Rudd as he tracks down his lost love in the city’s dark, neon underbelly. It could go either way, but here’s hoping it strikes the balance of the thrilling heights of his breakthrough as well as the pulpiness of his second.
5. A Ghost Story
The recently release Manchester by the Sea is already set to be one of the best films of 2017, and that’s in no small part to Casey Affleck’s stunningly heart-wrenching performance as a man dealing with the fallout of an unconscionably tragic event. Starring in David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, Affleck haunts the house he used to inhabit as his wife, played by the hypnotic Rooney Mara, copes with his death. If the mere inclusion of this duo wasn’t enough to interest you, then perhaps the fact that the two of them have already established a beautifully realised on-screen relationship in Lowery’s own elegy to American New Wave of the 1970s, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. Hopefully, this will be as beautiful, if not more so, than that.
4. Wind River
Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario, Hell or High Water), Wind River stars Elisabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner (as an FBI agent and game tracker respectively) who investigate a murder on a Native American reservation. What sets this apart from this humdrum synopsis is Sheridan’s approach to telling isolated stories that tear local surroundings apart: Sicario took a uniquely gritty perspective on the war on drugs, and Hell or High Water was an energetic domestic drama surrounded by gorgeously shot Neo-western bursts of violence. Wind River could very well become the third success for Sheridan – who also directs – as it’ll potentially take a story we’ve seen countless times and spin it on its head. Not to mention the score will be composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, so at the very least the film will look and sound magnificent.
Alex Garland has been a treasured writer ever since his first novel – The Beach – was released to widespread acclaim in 1996. Six years later, he wrote the screenplay to one of the freshest zombie horrors just as the genre was turning stale (28 Days Later), to teaming up with Danny Boyle for celestial thriller Sunshine, and also writing the much-loved berserk actioner Dredd. It wasn’t until 2015 that his name was truly cast in the spotlight with his fascinating directing debut, Ex Machina: a clever, indelible A.I. sci-fi that pushed the limits of its small scale ideas ahead of outright spectacle with near-perfect results. Like a genre piece in a similar vein to Jules Verne’s exploratory adventures and H. G. Wells’ Darwinian expeditions, Garland’s second feature in the director’s chair is Annihilation (based on Jeff VanderMeer’s first-in-a-trilogy novel). Details may be scant, but the mere inclusion of its primary cast (Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh), its IMDb synopsis “A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply” and his name on the bill is enough to get hyped. I’m currently half way into reading Annihilation, and though it’s a frosty, almost inaccessibly emotionless story so far, that’s more than enough to get excited to see how Garland’s vision combines with VanderMeer’s sinister expedition into Area X.
Sounding like a furiously contemporised version of Harvey smashed together with the director’s own brilliant monster movie The Host, Bong Joon-ho’s “40% American, 60% South Korean” creature-feature Okja could very well be the most entertaining film of the year. The mischevious director is known for his attention to detail as well as his fondness for dark comedy, and both of these things lend a certain level of anticipation to the story of a young girl trying to protect her best friend – a gargantuan monster – from the clutches of a major corporation. If the cast is anything to go by, there’ll be scene-upon-scene of intense, blackly comic humour from Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano, as well as hefty support in the form of Tilda Swinton and Giancarlo Esposito. Little is known who will be on Okja’s side and who will be working for the multi-million dollar bad guys (if indeed they are the bad guys), but either way, as far as set images go, tongues will be placed firmly in cheeks, and hopefully The Host will be given a worthy successor.
1. Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Fashion Project
Paul Thomas Anderson tackles the 1950s fashion industry with Daniel Day-Lewis, together for the first time in 10 years since There Will Be Blood. That’s pretty much all the details that have been given about this, but that’s just about enough information to get officially excited.
As for the tentpole releases this year, there are some that are definitely worth getting excited for, even though they come with a level of apprehension that all major studio releases come with. These are: Kong: Skull Island (a film that seems interesting if only for the incredible cast, but the one sheets and teaser images have been nothing short of persuading); Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (hopefully continue on the strength of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but this time with an even better director – Looper‘s Rian Johnson – at the helm); The Fate of the Furious (will no doubt going to be more of the same, but when that same has been so gloriously entertaining for the past three instalments, that’s no bad thing); Spider-Man: Homecoming (with his small cameo in Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland already shows he’s the best Spider-Man yet); The Mummy (any Tom Cruise film is a must-see, and taking the classic horror with a more serious vibe and star’s skilled professionalism to action gets my vote).
BFSR Award illustration header by cal.con.
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