This has been a year of triumphs for African American actors and LGBT+ Cinema, of questionable remakes and of controversies from Affleck to Weinstein to Spacey, but from the remnants of 2017, a few special films have soared above the rest.
Call Me By Your Name (Director – Luca Guadagingo)
Like Moonlight and Carol, LGBT+ films of this decade have uniquely captured the essence of a particular place and time. Call Me By Your Name is a sepia polaroid of a 1980s Italian summer romance. It follows Elio, the son of a professor, and Oliver, the PhD student staying with Elio’s family for six weeks. The build up to their romance is achingly slow, like service in a Roman cafe. It’s a love story for the intellectuals: Elio transcribes Bach for the guitar and his parents read him 18th century German fairy tales. As the end of the summer looms forebodingly, you will weep for all the romances that were victims of their time and place. The acting is stellar, the Sufjan Stevens soundtrack is mesmerising, the cinematography of sun draped Lombardy is stunning: all the cinematic stars have aligned to create a masterpiece.
Handsome Devil – (Director – John Butler)
Handsome Devil is inherently timeless; it could be set in 1987 or 2017. It’s not a story of homophobia past, rather it portrays prejudiced that are still alive and kicking in Irish society today. Self-proclaimed outsider Ned is traipsing through life in his rugby obsessed secondary school, keeping his head down, until he gets stuck with new kid Conor as a roommate. The two boys strike up a friendship with English teacher Mr. Sherry: a trio of outsiders. At the height of the film, Conor calls Mr. Sherry out on his hypocrisy: he preaches individuality to his students while adhering the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ atmosphere of the school. He repeats, in earnest, that things do get better, but his repetition heartbreakingly blurs the line between trying to convince Conor or himself. Much like Sing Street, the films message to do away with homogony is nothing new, but its importance in the Irish context cannot be overstated.
Get Out – (Director – Jordan Peele)
Get out is a horror film for the Trump era. Chris, an African American man, is going to meet his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time. Chris is understandably nervous, but with every person Chris encounters – the cop who pulls them over, the black neighbour who doesn’t know how to fistbump – he falls further into a state of fear. Writer-Director Jordan Peele offers up a sublimely horrifying meditation on race in America. This is a masterclass in cinematic metaphors, from Missy hypnotising people with her silver spoon to Chris blocking his ears with bits of cotton. Get Out is a delicately layered and endlessly provocative film, that leaves the audience with one main message: racism does not always wear a white hood and brandish a torch, sometimes it looks just like you and me. And sometimes it wants to look exactly like Chris.
The Big Sick – (Director Michael Showalter)
This autobiographical film was a sleeper hit. Even upon viewing, it’s sneaky. It waits until you’re a third of the way through before it fakes a yawn and slips it’s arm around your shoulder; without realising, what you thought was a simple romcom has sauntered its way into your heart. The plot seems simple: Kumail meets Emily. Kumail likes Emily. Kumail fights with Emily because his parents don’t approve of his relationship with a white girl. Usual romcom plotlines. Then, Emily gets sick. Suddenly, the film is not about the couple, but about Kumail’s relationship with Emily’s parents. It’s about the fervent efforts we make to bridge the generational gaps between ourselves and our parents. It’s hilarious social commentary on the lives of American immigrants. It’s a hot water bottle for the heart.
The Florida Project – (Director Sean Baker)
This film is a Floridian summer through the eyes of Moonee, a young girl living in a motel with her mother Halley. Moonee lives in blissful ignorance, unconcerned about the consequences of her actions and unaware of the ways in which her mother scrapes together their rent money. This film is equal parts joyous and devastating: a sobering depiction of American inequality. Their impoverished life is juxtapositioned with the manufactured glee of Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park that employees most of the area. Halley and Moonee’s relationship is one of unconditional love, but to the objective eye, Halley is not providing enough for her daughter. William Dafoe is particularly superb as Bobby the motel manager. His character acts as a surrogate for the audience; staggeringly aware of the entrenched poverty that his guests live in, but also helpless to change the system they stuck in.
Muireann O’Shea – Film Editor