My least favourite films of 2017

These are the ones that brought me least pleasure, or most annoyance, during the past 12 months. Some of them put me at odds with many of you, I know!

Click on the film title below for my original thoughts on each one.

Favourite films of the year coming up in the next post!

Number 5 – Assassin’s Creed

Silly. And I wonder if the wonderful Marion Cotillard just doesn’t work well in English.

Number 4 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Irritating. I am just not on board with this lot.

Number 3 – Lady Macbeth

Apparently this has some humour in it and the fact that I didn’t get that at all is probably why I was just glad when this was over.

Number 2 – Song to Song

More a visual art installation than a film.

Number 1 – The Circle

Could have been really interesting but some highly improbably choices on the part of Emma Watson’s character just made this terrible.

Assassin’s Creed

I’m so sad, I spent most of the time thinking that the apostrophe in the title is in the wrong place. Surely the creed is that of more than one assassin?

The fact that I had time to think this also probably tells you just how engaged I was with this film – answer is: not much.

I would probably say that if you have any clue at all about the world from which this has come, and in which it is set, you will no doubt have a much better time than I did. I tried really hard, but I just couldn’t get into it. I found it silly, and Jeremy Irons was silly too. And Marion Cotillard, what are you doing?!! Not only was this not (in my opinion) a suitable role for her, but she didn’t sell it at all. I don’t know if she just doesn’t work as well in English, or if it’s the collaboration with director Justin Kurzel (Macbeth) – not impressed.

I did like the sequences where the movements of modern day Fassbender and his ancient iteration are merged together in some of the action sequences – but what I loved most was the idea that Michael Fassbender grows up to be Brendan Gleeson. That was worth watching for.

La fille inconnue – The Unknown Girl

Just after seeing this movie, I read that directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne had originally intended to make this film with Marion Cotillard but it didn’t work so they made Two Days, One Night with her instead.

And intriguingly, having had two years to sort out The Unknown Girl, the two films have so many similarities it makes me wonder why they didn’t abandon the idea completely – this latest film is definitely the weaker and contains some contrivances which I struggled to accept.

Adèle Haenel plays earnest doctor Jenny Davin who is plagued by guilt when she learns that she failed to open her door to a young woman who is then found to have died nearby. This guilt drives her to seek the girl’s identity, presumably in an attempt to atone for her earlier (in)action.

For some reason, her position as doctor allows her to begin her own private investigation, and so she sets off door to door (I swear, some of the very same doors that Madame Cotillard knocked on) to seek answers. Quite how she has time to do this given her long list of patients and no receptionist to even check the patients through the door for her is not explained. Neither is the presence of her intern. At the start it feels like he – or their relationship – will have some importance, but his thread later in the storyline seems to have little purpose – it certainly doesn’t explain why Dr Davin behaves as she did, although I suspect this was the intention.

Not to be too down on The Unknown Girl; there are definitely some very interesting and tantalising thoughts bubbling below the surface. There are strains of an examination of class, given Jenny’s choice of work environment. There are the beginnings of a look at immigration or race relations in modern-day Belgium, and perhaps even a question as to how the police respond to these. And there are a couple of lovely moments of generosity of spirit, reminding us that most people are genuinely good and are just trying to get on with their lives.

But being honest, the film lacked the bite of the Dardennes’ previous release, and the similarities only serve to underline this.

A version of this post first appeared on www.filmdispenser.com

Juste la fin du monde – It’s Only the End of the World

This was the film I had built my entire (if short) London Film Festival experience around. As soon as I knew I was going to be in town on the evening of the UK premiere, I booked my ticket.

Director Xavier Dolan is currently one of my favourite directors. His films aren’t always easy to watch, but they are often daring, always intense, and highly emotional.

I’m also fascinated by him when he’s interviewed – he speaks so eloquently, passionately and confidently about his own film-making, rarely referencing other directors or films. It genuinely doesn’t appear to matter to him what others are doing. He’s also quick to speak out if he feels he or his work is being attacked, which has provoked some backlash and personal criticism as a result. I have always forgiven him thus far, yet his latest, Juste la fin du monde, was extremely divisive at Cannes this year – winning the Grand Prix (second jury choice), yes, but the announcement of this was booed by journalists – and Dolan had much to say about this. Several reviews effectively trashed it, yet others were full of praise. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

dolan-cropped
Léa Seydoux and Xavier Dolan at the BFI London Film Festival screening

Turns out, it was superb!

Dolan has assembled a stellar cast who are all on top form, even if not in roles you would imagine for them. Returning home after a 12 year absence, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) is waiting for the right time to share his news with his mother, brother and sister. Also there is his brother’s wife, whom he has never met but who seems to instantly understand him. They are both quiet outsiders among the quarrelsome family members.

Nathalie Baye’s mother, in her exaggerated make-up, cheerily tries to maintain a façade of familial togetherness, while Antoine (a magnificent Vincent Cassel) belligerently provokes both his wife and his brother across the dining table. He’s so obnoxious, and it’s only later that we get an inkling as to what’s been eating him for the last 12 years. Only an inkling though; it’s never totally spelled out. Léa Seydoux as the baby sister is eagerly awaiting the chance to have a mature relationship with the brother she’s missed for so long. And Marion Cotillard is the dowdiest you will ever see her – bullied and humiliated by her husband Antoine, her nervous speech patterns are excruciating, yet she shares a couple of extended moments with Louis where so much is conveyed between them without a word being spoken. For a film which is verbose, to say the least, these moments are the most powerful.

And this for me is the centre of the film. Louis is a playwright, he makes his living in words for thousands to hear, but for the duration of his visit he says very little. When the moments come to express himself, he backs down, chooses to say nothing, apologises. The rest of the family is also unable to express their true feelings, and so hide behind aggressive, defensive language which is the exact opposite of what they want to say. They are flawed human beings, difficult to spend time with, yet very real.

When it is fully released in the UK next year, I’ll be first in the queue for a re-watch, no doubt about it.

After the screening, Dolan was interviewed on stage by BFI’s Clare Stewart and it was such a treat to hear him speak about his film in person. He talked about transforming the script from stage to screen play, how this affected his decision to make use of the close up, and the lighting choices he made for the final scene. I wanted to sit for another hour and listen to him. Dolan is human, and he is not perfect. Neither are his films. But they are remarkable nevertheless, and I am an unapologetic admirer of both the man and his work.

 

Macbeth

I love Shakespeare, but I’m not a purist who insists that everything should be done as ‘written’ by Will himself. So it didn’t bother me that things had been ‘cut’ for the screenplay here – in fact, often it’s totally necessary to help a play make the successful move from stage to screen.

And with top class actors of the like of Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine and Sean Harris to work with, this should have been a walk in the park.

Yet I found this oddly lacking in emotion to the point where I was bored. The decision to bookend with battlefield scenes certainly allowed some stunning photography, I will give it that. But the crux of the story isn’t about the battlefield – it’s about power, and ambition, and the toll that can take on the mind. I didn’t feel anything more than a little unrest from Macbeth, and a chasm where the passion between Fassbender and Cotillard should have been.

Banquo’s young son Fleance had a puzzled expression on his face the entire time he was on screen. I was with him – I, too, had no idea why soliloquies were being delivered to boys, with the result that I was pulled out of the narrative.

People sometimes say they don’t like Shakespeare because they don’t understand the language. My feeling is that if the actors are delivering the lines properly, then you don’t even realise it’s odd. And though I know the story of Macbeth, I struggled to keep up with what was going on in this version because it seemed like the actors themselves didn’t have a handle on the language – in particular Fassbender and Cotillard, surprisingly. I don’t for one moment think that Fassbender can’t do Shakespeare – but I do think that whatever he thought he was doing, or had been asked to do, did not translate to the screen.

Dare I say it, the great man’s Scottish accent even slipped once or twice, and Marion Cotillard just seemed lost.

Don’t even get me started on the weird sisters …


 

Picks from Cannes 2015

No, I won’t be going unfortunately, but some of the films in this year’s line-up have been announced today and here are the ones that I’m particularly looking forward to once they are eventually released to mere mortals (probably next year, if we’re lucky).

The opening film is La Tête haute, directed by France’s Emmanuelle Bercot and featuring Catherine Deneuve. This will be the first time since 1987 that a film from a female director has opened the festival. It’s not in competition, however.

In no particular order then, here are the five I would be seeking out, if I were there:

Carol – dir Todd Haynes

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in an adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel. Todd Haynes has made some interesting films, including the beautiful Far from Heaven, and Patricia Highsmith can be relied upon for a great story.

The Lobster dir Yorgos Lanthimos

How about this: “a love story set in a dystopian future where single people are arrested and forced to find a mate within 45 days”. His earlier films Dogtooth and Alps are weirdly engaging, and with a cast including Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, and Olivia Colman, it’s a must.

Our Little Sister – dir Hirokazu Kore-eda

One of my favourite directors is back! This time with a family story of four sisters and their grandmother.

Macbeth dir Justin Kurzel

Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard do Shakespeare. All I need to know.

Mountains May Depart – dir Jia Zhangke

I’m a fan of his previous films 24 City and A Touch of Sin, so interested to see what he does next.

Deux jours, une nuit – Two Days, One Night

Poor old Marion Cotillard is about to return to work after a period of depression, only to discover that her colleagues have, under pressure, voted for a bonus instead of her return. She must channel all of what remains of her mental fortitude into visiting each of her colleagues over the weekend to persuade them – almost beg them – to forgo the bonus and vote for her to keep her job instead.

Watching Cotillard repeat her task was exhausting, but her portrayal of a person struggling with depression was pitch-perfect. The hardships facing some of her colleagues are revealed, and the whole story-line is as much a commentary on the situation of many low-paid workers and immigrants in Europe as it is on Sandra’s battle to retain her job.

It’s a film I’m certainly very glad I’ve seen, but that I would find very difficult to watch again.

 

De rouille et d’os – Rust and Bone

You know when everyone raves about a film and you just don’t get it? That.

I had been looking forward to this ever since its great reviews at Cannes, but I left the cinema feeling, well, a bit cheated to be honest. Maybe I was expecting a totally different film.

The story essentially charts the relationship of a woman readjusting to life after an horrendous accident,and a man struggling to engage emotionally with anyone, including his young son.

Whilst the performances are almost faultless (particularly Marion Cotillard), this was just far too sentimental, and the character metamorphoses were painted with such broad brushstrokes as to be positively cliché.

A huge disappointment, but props to the CGI team who chopped Marion Cotillard’s legs off so convincingly.