Manchester by the Sea

Film Bouquets 2017

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All things considered, 2017 was a pretty good year for film – so much so that we’ve decided to award twelve bouquets – and it still means leaving out some excellent movies. Here, in order of release, are our favourite films of 2017.

Manchester By the Sea

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This bleakly brilliant film got the new year off to a great start. Powered by superb central performances by Casey Affleck and (especially) Michelle Williams, it was a stern viewer indeed who didn’t find themselves reduced to floods of tears.

Moonlight

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An affecting coming-of-age movie chronicling the life of a young black man as he gradually came to terms with his own sexuality, this film, of course, beat La La Land to the best movie Oscar in unforgettable style. It absolutely deserved its success.

Get Out

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A ‘social thriller’ that, despite it’s serious message, enjoyed a lightness of touch that made it a joy to watch. There were shades of The Stepford Wives and this witty calling card from director Jordan Peele suggested that cinema had found a hot new talent.

The Handmaiden: Director’s Cut

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Park Chan-wook’s masterpiece, loosely based on Sarah Water’s novel, Fingersmith, took us into the Korea of the 1930s and kept us spellbound for nearly three hours. Lush cinematography, a genuine sense of eroticism and fine performances from an ensemble cast – what’s not to like?

The Red Turtle

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This stunning animation from Michael Dudok de Wit, co-produced by Japan’s Studio Ghibli,  exemplified the best artistic traditions of east and west – a beautiful allegory about life and love and relationships. A delight to watch and a story that we couldn’t stop thinking about.

Baby Driver

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Edgar Wright’s adrenaline-fuelled chase movie ticked all the right boxes – a great soundtrack, breathless pacing and an intriguing central character in Ansel Elgort’s titular hero. It all added up to an unforgettable movie experience.

God’s Own Country

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This extraordinarily accomplished debut by writer/director Francis Lee played like ‘Brokeback Yorkshire’ but had enough brio to be heralded in its own right. Beak and brutal, it told the story of two farm hands slowly coming to terms with their growing love for each other. Magnificent stuff.

Mother!

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Darren Aronfsky’s absurd fantasy alienated as many viewers as it delighted, but we found ourselves well and truly hooked. From Jennifer Lawrence’s great central performance to the film’s bruising finale, this was definitely a film not to be missed – and one of the year’s most discussed films.

Blade Runner 2049

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We waited thirty years for a sequel to Ridley Scott’s infamous film and I’m glad to say it was worth the wait – a superior slice of dystopian cinema that dutifully referenced the original whilst adding some innovative ideas of its own. Denis Villeneauve handled the director’s reins expertly and Hans Zimmer’s score was also memorable.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

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Another piece of eerie weirdness from director Yorgos Lanthimos, this film also managed to divide audiences, but for us it was a fascinating tale, expertly told and one that kept us hooked to the final, heart-stopping scene. A unique cinematic experience.

Paddington 2

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Yes, really! The sequel to the equally accomplished Paddington was an object lesson in how to effortlessly please every single member of an audience. Charming, funny and – at one key point – heartbreaking, this also featured a scene-stealing turn from Hugh Grant.

The Florida Project

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Think ‘Ken Loach does Disney’ and you’re halfway there. Sean Baker’s delightful film might just have been our favourite of 2017, a moving story about the tragic underbelly of life in contemporary America. Brooklyn Prince’s performance as six-year-old Moonee announced the arrival of a precocious new talent.

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

Manchester by the Sea

 

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Manchester by the Sea is a bleakly brilliant film, far more original and affecting than either the trailer or a synopsis can convey. The plot is fairly conventional fodder: Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is tasked with caring for his nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), after the boy’s father dies. Lee is not really cut out for the job, and their relationship is fraught with problems, which they have to work to overcome. So far, so ordinary. But there is a rare honesty in the telling of this tale that renders it both raw and authentic, making it one of the most compelling films I have ever seen.

Casey Affleck is extraordinary. He’s closed, inarticulate and conflicted, a reserved, introverted man who’s called upon to fulfil a role he simply can’t take on. There is real pain in his performance, despite its understatement. The gradual revelation of his past trauma is beautifully handled by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, whose script is clearly a gift for the actors in this film.

Michelle Williams, as Lee’s ex-wife Randi, is as exemplary as you’d expect; she only appears in a handful of scenes, but her final conversation with Lee is utterly heartbreaking, without ever straying into sentimentality or sensationalism. And Lucas Hedges, as Patrick, acquits himself well too, absolutely convincing as the grief-stricken, selfish, but ultimately decent teen.

The setting plays a huge part in this movie: the wintry colours of Manchester reflecting the apparent coolness of its residents. The eventual thaw is slow and slight. The cinematography is beautiful, capturing those cold blues and greys with icy precision.

We loved Manchester by the Sea. Do try to catch it; it’d be a real shame to miss this one.

5 stars

Susan Singfield