Moonlight

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

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Moonlight

17/02/17

Moonlight is a coming-of-age movie, chronicling the life of a young black man, and the problems he faces as he tries to forge his identity in the unforgiving environs of his Miami neighbourhood.

We first meet Chiron as ‘Little’ (Alex Hibbert). He is a quiet, introverted boy, preyed upon by bullies and neglected at home. Salvation comes in the unlikely form of Juan (Mahershala Ali), a local drug-dealer, who assumes a fatherly role in Little’s life, and whose softer side is a welcome nuance, so often missing from the cartoon villainy of on-screen criminals. He recognises Little’s vulnerability, and seeks to help him out: teaches him to swim, reassures the boy about his sexuality. He has a conscience too, and is clearly affected when Little’s mum (Naomie Harris) points out his responsibility for her neglectful parenting: he supplies the crack that renders her incapable. Hibbert’s performance is achingly good in this first third of the film: he doesn’t articulate his neediness, but its plain for all to see. He’s so full of hope and potential; we don’t want to witness his pain.

The second section of the film details Chiron’s teenage years, and Ashton Sanders takes over the lead role. It’s a seamless transition: this version of Chiron is less open, more furtive, but his neediness is just as naked as it ever was. He’s still being bullied, and Juan is no longer around – although he does still see Teresa (Janelle Monáe), Juan’s erstwhile girlfriend. He’s less confused about his sexuality, though just as incapable of expressing himself, and far too dependent on his one friend, Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). It’s difficult to watch this sweet young man harden himself against the outside world; heartbreaking to see his future narrowing before our eyes.

In his third and final incarnation, Chiron – now known as ‘Black’ – is played by Trevante Rhodes. His transformation is absolute: the events of the past have shaped him in Juan’s mould – clearly, he’s chosen to emulate the strongest, most positive male role-model in his life. He’s a trapper now, selling the very drugs that blighted his own youth. But he’s still Chiron, still kind and inarticulate, still just the same inside. But he’s taken control – sort of – and he’s no longer quite so vulnerable when he meets up with Kevin again.

This is an affecting movie, a personal tale so precisely told that it shines a light on a common ill. This is not just Chiron’s story – it is the story of so many boys. It articulates everything that Chiron can not. And if the ending feels abrupt (and it does; I was startled when the credits rolled), that’s the only criticism that I have of this fine piece of work.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield