We’re more than halfway through the year now and right in the middle of blockbuster season. Dunkirk and War of the Planet of the Apes are killing it at the box office at the moment and we’ve already had a swathe of superhero movies, with Thor: Ragnorak still on the way.
It seems like as good a time as any to reflect on the movie releases of the year so far and rank some of our favourites*
**This list is based purely on films the writer has seen and on how much they were enjoyed at the time**
The story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose arrest for interracial marriage in 1960s Virginia began a legal battle that would end with the Supreme Court’s historic 1967 decision.
Loving had a very timely release at the beginning of this year, coinciding neatly with what many would refer to as the catalyst for racial prejudices in the United States. Both Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton give winning performances, Negga’s subtle restraint acting as a smooth counterbalance to Edgerton’s simple gruffness.
While Loving isn’t an earth-shattering film, in terms of either style or content, it does bear a powerfully optimistic, yet simple message which is neatly summarized in its title. With so much hate in the world at the moment, it’s important to reflect on the merits of pure love.
- It Comes At Night
Secure within a desolate home as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, a man has established a tenuous domestic order with his wife and son, but this will soon be put to test when a desperate young family arrives seeking refuge.
An arguably misleading film in both its title and marketing, It Comes At Night seems like a straight up horror film from the get go. Set during an unspecified apocalypse, we spend all our time in claustrophobic close-quarters with a family struggling to survive.
Instead of the typical jump n’ shock of most horror films however, we’re treated to a slow burn in an atmosphere so thick, you could cut it with a spoon. Very little happens throughout the running time, but it builds tension masterfully through ambiguity and deception. The kind of film that makes you question if the shapes moving in the background are just tree branches, or something much more sinister.
- Wonder Woman
Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained warrior. When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, she leaves home to fight a war, discovering her full powers and true destiny.
Batman and Superman might have had a pretty wobbly start in the DC Universe, but much like the end of their previous shared film, Wonder Woman has jumped in at the last moment to save their collective hides. Not since Blackadder Goes Forth has a climb over the trenches elicited such powerful emotions.
It’s a huge relief that the film has done as well as it did, especially compared to Batman Vs. Superman, as it seems to have been the slap in the face studios needed with regards to their approach to female-led superhero films. Maybe there’ll come a time when, instead of asking whether a female superhero movie can ‘work’, we can point at these two examples and question “Do MALE superhero movies work?”
- Lady MacBeth
Set in 19th century rural England, a young bride who has been sold into marriage to a middle-aged man discovers an unstoppable desire within herself as she enters into an affair with a worker on her estate.
Period dramas that dabble in horror are the best kind, in my opinion. There’s something particularly liberating about seeing characters who have been crippled by societal expectations break out to satisfy their own carnal desires with bloody results. This is the central appeal of Lady MacBeth, but also what makes it such an uncomfortable watch.
Main character Katherine straddles a razor thin line between sympathetic and wholly unlikable. She forces us to constantly reassess our relationship with her, questioning whether she’s a victim or a villain. Possibly the greatest strength the film has is, if we do conclude she’s a villain, it’s impossible to do so without adding the footnote that it’s only because society made her that way.
When a young vegetarian undergoes a carnivorous hazing ritual at vet school, an unbidden taste for meat begins to grow in her.
Some films are perfect for watching with a bit of popcorn, but Raw is not one of those films. In fact, eating ANYTHING while watching this is something you would do entirely at your own risk. Riding the ever-growing wave of French horror films, Raw is a particularly visceral exploration of young womanhood, lightly seasoned with unflinching cannibalism.
This is a film with genuine heart and, depending on your sensibilities; you can either take that figuratively or literally. Coming of age films are typically quite emotional but that’s something that’s only apparent here if you can step back and appreciate it, away from all of the blood.
- Baby Driver
After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.
Finding a soundtrack that suits the action taking place onscreen is a tricky grape to peel, but syncing that soundtrack up with the action so that it’s utterly seamless is like trying to crack a coconut open with your elbows. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what Edgar Wright did in his latest action/comedy/romance/heist movie thing. It’s impressive enough, just for the action and endearing performance from lead star Ansel Elgort, but it’s the sensational stunts fuelled by the adrenaline of bouncy classics that make it so unique. You can rant about The Fast and the Furious 8 all you like, this is the chase movie people will still be talking about in ten years.
A successful businesswoman gets caught up in a game of cat and mouse as she tracks down the unknown man who raped her.
You might be thinking there are an alarming number of films here with incredibly grim themes, which in turn might make you wonder what sort of psychopath I must be for enjoying them. No film justifies those thoughts better than Elle.
In my defence, what fascinates about Elle is the almost impossible strength portrayed by its star, Elizabeth Huppert. Continuing her life almost as if nothing has happened, and developing an almost causal relationship with her attacker, it raises some very interesting questions in the fields of feminism and rape culture. It might not have the answers, but the fact that it raises these questions at all make it a brave stand out.
Gloria is an out-of-work party girl forced to leave her life in New York City, and move back home. When reports surface that a giant creature is destroying Seoul, she gradually comes to the realization that she is somehow connected to this phenomenon.
Imagine if Pacific Rim had emotional depth and complexity… Colossal sometimes feels like it considered this hypothetical, but then ran so far with it that it almost forgot to include the giant robots and monsters. Taking something as crowd-pleasing as a giant kaiju attacking a city and infusing it with some deeply emotional and troublesome subject matter, director Nacho Vigalondo presents us with a rare treat. A surprising film that takes a turn you genuinely wouldn’t expect, it explores serious and relatable issues through the medium of the fantastic. And speaking of fantastic, this is worth seeing just for Jason Sudekis’ impressive performance, a far cry from the likable schlub act he usually coasts by with, and notably complex.
- Get Out
It’s time for a young African American to meet with his white girlfriend’s parents for a weekend in their secluded estate in the woods, but before long, the friendly and polite ambience will give way to a nightmare.
While Colossal delicately prods at sensitive issues with the toe of a sci-fi space boot, Get Out ironically goes All-In with a pickup truck loaded with horror tropes and chainsaws. Racism has been no stranger to horror over the years. It’s a genre that has explored the discourse, sometimes unintentionally, with varying degrees of success and scrutiny. What makes Get Out distinctive is how adeptly it explores the more subtle, everyday racism experienced in contemporary society. It’s an uncomfortable watch at times, especially during the dinner party scenes, but it’s one of those rare films that you know is succeeding the more uncomfortable it is to experience. It’s a success story most directors can only dream of, made all the more impressive by the fact that this was Jordan Peele’s directorial debut.
- John Wick: Chapter 2
After returning to the criminal underworld to repay a debt, John Wick discovers that a large bounty has been put on his life.
I’ll bet Keanu Reeves was very upset that he wasn’t allowed to use the ‘Reloaded’ subtitle for this movie when it is arguably a better fit than it was for the Matrix. It is very easy to dismiss John Wick as a big dumb action franchise. After all, that’s exactly how it wants you to feel. Guns, explosions and the introduction of ‘car-fu’, how could this possibly be considered art?
The answer is as simple as the film itself: it’s just very well made. The afore-mentioned ‘car-fu’ is an electrifying intro. An underground tunnel shootout is made so much more satisfying because we see the preparation that went into it about ten minutes prior. And a public sniping match with silenced pistols in a crowded subway station is especially brilliant, perhaps because we’ve seen nothing like it before. In a business saturated with meaningless sequels, it’s gratifying to see one that doesn’t feel like a pointless re-tread.