Sunday 31 December 2017

GREG KLYMKIW'S BEST FILMS OF 2017 presented in alphabetical order - By Greg Klymkiw

Greg Klymkiw selects
(in alphabetical order)

Women are knocking genre cinema out of the park this year and turning it topsy turvy in all the right ways. Marianna Palka's provocatively titled Bitch is a savage feminist satire that's as creepy as it is funny and it takes the kind of unexpected narrative turns that are not only aesthetically tantalizing, but yield the kind of original and utterly uncompromising work that restores one's faith in cinema. Stranger even still, is that it slowly develops into a deeply moving tale of redemption as a philandering, mean-spirited husband is faced with huge challenges when his loyal, long-suffering wife turns into a "dog". Most Beautiful Island, is a terrific debut feature from Writer-director-Star Ana Asensio that captures the lonely, desperate lives of illegal "aliens" in New York with an indelible sense of observation that borders on Neo-realism. The final half of the picture, once Luciana enters the secret, horrifying dangerous world where illegal aliens are used as pawns for the rich in a deadly game, is unbearably suspenseful. Asensio paces these sequences with a creepy-crawly slow burn and it's impossible to sit still. Squirming is the order of the day for anyone watching this section of the film.

From Aircraft Pictures and director Nora Twomey comes The Breadwinner, a harrowing, thrilling and inspiring film (blessed with a great screenplay adaptation by Anita Doron) of the young adult novel by Deborah Ellis in which a young girl in Afghanistan must pose as a boy in order to help her family when their patriarchal head is imprisoned. The suspense during the final third is almost unbearable. This is one of the best animated feature films I've seen in years.

Director Chris Kelly serves up compulsive viewing as he employs a Direct Cinema approach by training his cameras on Venerable Loun Sovath, Toul Srey Pov and Tepp Vanny - three activists fighting against the corruption of the Cambodian Government. Yes, the film is not without uplifting moments, but the cumulative effect is sheer devastation and some very harsh realities that elicit copious tears.

As events unfurl, this tale of a mother and son dealing with grief comes at us with a meticulous pace and plenty of cerebral mind-blowing explosions of visual fireworks. Director Seth A. Smith eventually unleashes all-out, drawer-filling scares and in one delicious set piece, the kind of sickening visceral splatter that horror aficionados will love. It's always lovely seeing a quiet, intelligent horror film that channels the energies and artistry of RKO's master of atmospheric chills Val Lewton (The Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Seventh Victim, The Body Snatcher).

Director Gore (The Ring) Verbinski delivers one of the strangest pieces of gothic shenanigans in long time as a young corporate executive is sent on a bizarre mission to a mysterious wellness clinic in the Swiss Alps so he can obtain a signature from his company's CEO. What he discovers is sheer creepy-crawly terror. Stylish, indulgent and endowed with an effective slow-burn pace, this feels like a Hammer Horror movie as directed by Michael Cimino on lithium.

In Darkest Hour, director Joe Wright expertly weaves the tale of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the early days of WWII - from his appointment as PM and through to his historical "we shall fight on the beaches" speech to parliament. Gary Oldman plays the irascible orator with verve and passion. In many ways, Oldman is the movie. The film is little more than war propaganda, but it's first-rate war propaganda and the fictional sequence involving old Winnie riding the London Underground is insanely, gloriously stirring and moving. His performance overall, moved me to tears.

I do so enjoy entering a frigid cinematic icebox to revel in the spectacle of a parent and adult child acrimoniously slashing away at each other. Boudewijn Koole's extraordinary film is a magnificent new entry into this time-honoured/tested/proven dramatic tradition and serves up plenty of roiling bitterness amidst aching convulsions twixt a Mother and Daughter in the icy climes of rural Norway. Lots of sex, death and ice-fishing for good measure.

Based on the memoir by actor Greg Sestero, director-leading-man James Franco and co-star (his real-life brother Dave Franco) take us into similar territory Tim Burton occupied with his glorious biopic Ed Wood. Here we get the strangely moving, heartfelt and often hilarious tale of Tommy Wiseau, the "auteur" who made The Room (often considered the best bad movie ever made). I still haven't seen Wiseau's film, but it hasn't been an impediment to my thorough enjoyment of Franco's film.

David Redmon and Ashley Sabin train their cameras upon living beings that have been abused and subjected to appalling inhumanity. We follow the film's four-legged subjects from their admittance to the heavenly refuges of donkey sanctuaries, then through a variety of medical/grooming procedures, eventually their daily lives and finally, the peace of what will be their existence until they leave this Earth. Astonishing Direct Cinema images are accompanied by poetic narration, beautifully delivered by Willem Dafoe.

Though this is not a period piece, its aesthetic feels gloriously in line with the existential angst (primarily of the male persuasion) that so defined the cinema of the 70s. This first feature from Finland by Teemu Nikki is the deeply shocking, insanely romantic, sickeningly horrifying, bleakly/blackly funny and often graceful tale of a car mechanic who moonlights as a discount pet euthanizer. It's a revenge picture. It's a love story. And yes, it is hallucinogenically original.

Two elder statesmen of American Cinema did some of their greatest work in 2017. Paul Schrader knocks it out of the park with this compulsive psycho-thriller about an alcoholic priest (Ethan Hawke - never better) haunted by his son's death, obsessed with a young widow (Amanda Seyfried) and facing a deep crisis of faith. Imagine Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light crossed with Robert Bresson's Diary of a Country Priest and Schrader's own classic screenplay for Taxi Driver. Chillingly austere. David Lynch pulled off this seemingly impossible task - he return to the Twin Peaks world of his legendary Mark Frost collaboration and did so with mind blowing style, compulsive narrative aplomb and sheer avant-garde experimentation. It's technically a TV series, but in reality, it's an 18-hour-long feature film - so much so I wish he'd release it on Blu-Ray as one long movie sans closing credits (though including the closing visuals for each and every "episode").

A sleazy motel in Florida, just outside Walt Disney World, a precocious, vibrant little girl, her drug addicted hustler single Mom and a kindly caretaker (played by Willem Dafoe no less) are the backdrop and characters in Sean (Tangerine) Baker's magical ode to childhood amidst squalor. A gloriously original film that both soars and breaks your heart.

Crime was the indie order of the day in 2017. A bank heist goes horribly wrong. Two brothers are on the run. One gets caught, the other doesn't. The free bro begins a mad odyssey into an underworld of danger and violence to spring his incarcerated bro from the hoosegow. We never know where it's all going to go, but every turn it takes shocks, surprises and keeps us jacked. The Safdie Brothers write and direct within inches of their lives. The whole cast knocks us on our collective asses, but Robert (Twilight) Pattinson soars in ways most actors merely dream of. Though director Ryan Prows is clearly in Quentin Tarantino's debt with Lowlife, he wisely places most of the emphasis upon mad, wildly operatic melodrama. The movie is as moving as it is grittily shocking and deeply, darkly funny. Luchadores, those glorious masked wrestlers of Mexico are emblematic of all that is good and evil - heroes and villains to the common man, performing great feats of gymnastic warfare in the ring and dazzlingly costumed in ancient Aztec tradition. Set against a sleazy crime backdrop, we follow the adventures of wrestler El Monstruo who works as a strong-arm for an evil gringo gangster who kidnaps illegal "aliens" to use in the underground organ harvesting trade.

Most viewers want things served up simply. They won't get that with Hope. Alan Zweig's sequel to Hurt continues the story of fallen Canadian Hero Steve Fonyo who survives the hell of a home invasion assault and decides to enter rehab. The director bravely keeps the cameras rolling as Fonyo somewhat petulantly puts some major juju upon Zweig. Fonyo makes it clear he's only doing rehab for the film. He expects the film (and filmmaker) to provide him with what he needs. What he gets is so much more. What we, the audience get, is the light (albeit murky) of redemption and a movie of dogged, gritty artistry. With There is a House Here, Zweig takes us on a journey into the lives and land of those who live in the country's most isolated, Northern regions. With Tatanniq Idlout (Inuk rock star Lucie Idlout) as his tour guide, Alan Zweig seeks answers to questions he has about the Third World conditions in his own country. This is a film about seeking answers, about learning something its filmmaker wants to know, and in so doing, casting the glow of illumination upon us all - forcing us to confront how little we know about anything and how life (and filmmaking/art), should indeed always be about exploration.

Standup comic Louis C.K. writes, directs and stars in this gorgeously photographed (in monochrome no less) love letter to Woody Allen's Manhattan that finally lives and breathes on its own steam. This portrait of a father's relationship with his teenage daughter (and her affair with a man 50+ years her senior) is so piquant and moving that the tears it elicits from viewers are alternately due to laughter and the movie's deep emotional core.

Last Men in Aleppo is a thrilling, exciting, terrifying, sad, sickening, brave, brilliant and deeply moving documentary portrait by Feras Fayyad of Syria's "White Helmets" - firemen, paramedics and other rescue workers who volunteer (with their very lives in many cases), to search through the carnage of fresh bomb strikes in the city of Aleppo to save those still breathing and to retrieve the remains of those who are dead. Adhering with considerable rigour to the style of Cinéma Direct, it follows two primary subjects as they plunge into the chasm of a living Hell. We not only fear for the lives of everyone onscreen, but the filmmakers. This is film artistry of the highest order.

Icelandic screenwriter-Director Ása Helga Hjörleifsdótirr adapts the Guðbergur Bergsson novel with taste, restraint and artistry of a very high order. A nine-year-old girl, living in state-imposed exile at her aunt and uncle's remote rural farm after a shoplifting conviction in the city, is a story so exquisitely, delicately unveiled that it confounds all expectations one might have of both coming-of-age and fish-out-of-water tales. Surrounded by fields, meadows and rugged, imposing mountains, these are wide open spaces that feel horrifically claustrophic. The film's tiny dollops of magical realism are perfect punctuation points to an experience that is as strangely creepy as it is deeply and profoundly moving.

Two terrific documentary features directed by two guys named Charles. Charles Officer's new film is shot in a Cinéma Direct style, but with plenty of exquisitely moving poetic sequences. Unarmed Verses follows 12-year-old Francine Valentine, a sweet, smart and talented young lady living in Villaways, an isolated community housing project in Toronto that is on the verge of decimation. This is a very important film about home, community and how, in this modern world, it's on the verge of extinction. Charles Wilkinson has made some of the most important documentaries ever wrought on the subject of the environment (Peace Out, Haida Gwaii: On the Edge of the World). His new film is, on one hand, a history of the great west coast Canadian city, and on the other, a powerful exploration of a housing crisis that's forcing people into homelessness and displacement.

Grief is the subject of the extraordinary feature-length debut by Bas Devos, a film that is indelibly infused with the delicate beauty and subtlety of everything its title, Violet, represents. Devos takes us on the haunting journey of a frail adolescent as he wends his way through a mourning process that is filled with such sadness and confusion that the film is as unbearable as it is compulsively relentless in its exploration of loss. The filmmaker wisely employs the standard-frame Academy ratio, used to such astonishing effect in Son of Saul by Laszlo Nemes. This is cinematic storytelling in its most powerful, evocative form. Devos uses image to express emotion, but to also evoke it within us.

In What Will People Say, the teenage daughter of hard-working immigrants living in Oslo, is at odds with her fundamentalist family, then kidnapped and shipped to Pakistan where she is to be "trained" to be dutiful. This is an extremely promising debut feature for actress/art director Iram Haq. Replete with glorious cultural details and stirring family drama, Haq layers her film with a myriad of complexities beneath a solidly simple coat hanger. It is a movie as filled with joy, love and sheer humanity as it is with chilling, suspenseful tension.

Saturday 30 December 2017

GREG KLYMKIW'S TEN BEST SHORT FILMS OF 2017 in alphabetical order - By Greg Klymkiw

I saw over 100 short films this past year.

These are my 10 favourites from 2017.

Greg Klymkiw selects
(in alphabetical order)

Lasha Mowchun's moving, poetic and playful documentary about climate change.

Dane Clark & Linsey Stewart's sweetly, enchantingly melancholy romantic pas de deux.

Dominic Etienne Simard's gorgeous, bittersweet (mostly) monochrome life journey.

Rhayne Vermette's experimental bio-doc is an exquisite two-by-four to the senses.

Milos Mitrovic & Conor Sweeney's creepy duo of low-fi Homer Simpson madness.

Phillip Barker demonstrates angling with one visual jaw-dropper after another.

John Ainslie's grim, scary thriller is a creepy throat-catcher of a very high order.

Matthew Rankin's glorious, dreamy ode to Nikola Tesla soars like no other.

Torill Kove's lovely and simple animated tale about the threads that bind us all.

Chandler Levack's compulsive slice of life builds cleverly to glorious musical 3rd act.