As Hollywood seems to increasingly struggle with a lack of originality, the first half of 2017 has seen the release of several films which offer an assurance that creativity can still be found within cinemas today.
We have reached the halfway point of the year and the first half of 2017 has seen a variety of films unleashed onto audiences. From progressive superhero blockbusters such as Patty Jenkins’s delightful Wonder Woman to the charming live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, 2017 has seen the release of some thoroughly enjoyable films. However, audiences continue to be offered lavish remakes, reboots, prequels and sequels of films which are based on already-established characters. Many people have noted the lack of originality and innovativeness of the films that are reaching audiences in cinemas today, particularly in multiplexes. Yet, reflecting on my five favourite films of the year so far, I have noticed that originality can still be found within contemporary cinema. It is however disheartening to realise that many of these films are not reaching mass audiences due to issues such as distribution. Three of my top five films are original stories with original scripts written by the directors of the film, whilst the other two are unique adaptations of previous literature that depict characters and tales rarely found on-screen. These five films are all brilliant in their own way, each proving that creativity and originality can be found within cinemas today. Undeniably, Hollywood is struggling to come up with fresh content, but that does not mean cinema as a whole is struggling. I hope audiences will continue to seek these films out as they are strong examples that creative films are still being made in 2017.
The Handmaiden is a highly erotic tale of greed and desire
Adapted from Sarah Waters’s novel, Fingersmith, the latest film by South Korean director Park Chan-Wook relocates Waters’ original tale from Victorian-era Britain to 1930s Japanese-occupied Korea. The Handmaiden is a highly erotic tale of greed and desire which sees a sly Count attempting to steal the riches of a beautiful heiress by hiring an experienced pickpocket to be her handmaiden. However, the Count’s plan is somewhat disturbed when the heiress and pickpocket develop feelings for one another and it becomes increasingly difficult to trust anyone involved. The Handmaiden is captivating, both visually and narratively, boasting stunning cinematography and sublime performances by its cast. From its screenplay full of twists to its gorgeous use of colour, the film is engaging throughout, despite its rather lengthy running time. The much-discussed love scenes between Lady Hideko and Sook-hee are breathtaking; they are extremely erotic, yet beautifully tender at the same time. The film can be simultaneously described as humorous, gruesome, sensual, and romantic. Carefully crafted and brilliantly executed, The Handmaiden is a cinematic masterpiece which is consistently mesmerising. Quite simply, it is a beautiful piece of film which deserves to be seen.
Director: Park Chan-wook
Run Time: 156 minutes
Country: South Korea
Starring: Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Kim Tae-ri, Cho Jing-woong
Released in UK: April 2017
La La Land
Chazelle’s musical is magical and lovingly crafted in every way
Following on from the terrifically tense Whiplash, Damien Chazelle provides the world with a much needed dose of optimism with La La Land, a musical romance set in modern-day Los Angeles. Mia is an aspiring actress who is temping as a waitress whilst she attends countless auditions. Sebastian is a struggling pianist who dreams of opening his own jazz club but is (reluctantly) making a living by playing Christmas songs and performing in an 80s cover band. These two dreamers come together and fall in love in the most spectacular way, with the film charting the pair’s tumultuous relationship as they chase their dreams. The film features two outstanding performances by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, one of the rare – if not, the only contemporary on-screen couple who possess the same chemistry found between classic Hollywood pairings such as Bogart and Bacall or Hepburn and Tracy. Chazelle’s musical is magical and lovingly crafted in every way. His passion and love for previous musicals is evident in every frame, with visual references being made to films such as Vincente Minnelli’s An American in Paris and Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. By the end of awards season, many took to criticising La La Land. Whilst the film is not perfect, many seemed to unfairly take aim at it simply because it had received several months of highly-publicised praise since its debut in Venice last August. However, from its dazzling cinematography, to its evocative score, to its exquisite use of colour; La La Land is a wonderfully-directed spectacle that is worthy of multiple viewings.
Director: Damien Chazelle
Run Time: 128 minutes
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt
Released in UK: January 2017
Jenkins’s film is extremely fresh and original, bringing a topic to screen that is rarely, if ever, seen
Thanks to one of the most embarrassing blunders in the history of the Oscars, Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight was catapulted into the spotlight. Yet, this tale of a young gay black man at multiple stages in his life is a film which deserves to be recognised for its achievements alone and not its dramatic Oscar win. Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue (written by Tarell Alvin McCraney – an honorary graduate of Warwick University), Moonlights centres on Chiron, beginning with his childhood in an impoverished neighbourhood of Miami and ending with his adulthood in Atlanta. The film is split into three parts with three different actors taking on the role of Chiron as he experiences the formation of his masculinity and the development of his homosexuality. Jenkins’s film is extremely fresh and original, bringing a topic to screen that is rarely, if ever, seen. Beautifully made, Moonlight features stunningly raw performances from the three actors playing its protagonist, as well as very strong supporting performances by Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, and Janelle Monáe. The film cogently tackles themes such as race, masculinity, and sexuality, in addition to being artistically rich without coming across as pretentious in any way. Moonlight features one of the year’s most powerful and affecting scenes in which an eight-year old Chiron asks his substitute father ‘What’s a faggot?’. The simplicity of the scene heightens its emotional impact as audiences are left to ponder how they would respond to such a question. Jenkins’ direction, along with the film’s use of silence and light result in a film which is subtle and poetic, but profoundly moving and affecting nonetheless. Moonlight is a progressive piece of cinema which needs to be seen by audiences across the world.
Director: Barry Jenkins
Run Time: 111 minutes
Starring: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harries, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe
Released in UK: February 2017
Wright’s script is consistently funny and the film boasts a strong cast
Last month saw the arrival of Baby Driver, the latest from Edgar Wright, the British director best known for films such as Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The plot appears deceitfully simple, focusing on Baby, a young getaway driver who constantly listens to music in an attempt to drown out the tinnitus he has as a result of a childhood accident. Baby is forced into working for Doc (a kingpin played brilliantly by a deadpan Kevin Spacey) and works alongside a variety of interesting characters, as well as befriending Debora, a young waitress working at a nearby diner (charmingly played by Lily James). Wright’s script is consistently funny and the film boasts a strong cast, as well as containing several spectacularly fun set pieces. However, it is its use of music which stands out (the film is even named after a song by Simon & Garfunkel). The soundtrack is instrumental to what makes Baby Driver such an electrifying film with Wright carefully handpicking songs to suit each scene and to express the changing mood of its central character. Likewise, Wright’s attention to detail is incredible and the soundtrack is just one aspect which displays his directorial skill. Akin to Chazelle, Wright’s love and passion for film is evident through his attention to detail and its references to previous films (one of the early scenes takes great inspiration from the infamous opening of Saturday Night Fever). By far, Baby Driver is one of the best summer blockbusters of recent years; it is a highly original cinematic thrill-ride which deserves to be witnessed on the big screen.
Director: Edgar Wright
Run Time: 113 minutes
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx
Released in UK: June 2017
Assayas adeptly handles the supernatural elements, refusing to patronise its characters or its audience
After collaborating with Kristen Stewart on his previous film, Clouds of Sils Maria, French director Olivier Assayas decided to write his next film specifically for the César award-winning actress. Personal Shopper is an engaging psychological thriller which sees Stewart playing Maureen, a young American working in Paris as a personal shopper. Maureen is dissatisfied with her job but remains in the country to try and contact the spirit of her dead twin brother. Undeniably, Stewart is integral to the film and she does not disappoint, delivering a captivating and nuanced performance. Maureen, like the film itself, is mysterious and deeply ambiguous, resulting in an interesting piece of cinema which grabs your interest and doesn’t let go. Assayas’s script successfully maintains tension throughout and skilfully riffs off horror film elements such as the deeply unsettling ‘Wanna play a game?’ trope found in films like Scream (the film contains a scene which features the most brilliant use of mobile phones and text messages in a film I have ever seen). Assayas adeptly handles the supernatural elements, refusing to patronise its characters or its audience. It is a film about the supernatural. It is a film about grief. It is a film which unapologetically asks more questions than it provides answers to. Personal Shopper is a thought-provoking film which people should seek out, if only for Kristen Stewart’s wonderful performance.
Director: Olivier Assayas
Run Time: 105 minutes
Country: France/Germany/Czech Republic
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Nora von Waldstätten, Anders Danielsen Lie, Sigrid Bouaziz, Ty Olwin
Released in UK: March 2017