Our Top 10 begins right here, so let’s not waste any more time…
10 – CALL ME BY YOUR NAME/GOD’S OWN COUNTRY
The first (and, I assure you, only) tie on this list is of two movies that despite different set-ups and backgrounds, work toward similar goals with shared nuance and deserve to be featured together as a double-bill.
It may seem a little condescending to feature two movies about gay romance in the same spot on this list, but both Call Me By Your Name and God’s Own Country are noteworthy because of their remarkable approach to this kind of love that help make them stand out amongst other films of this type. For instance, Call Me By Your Name is a period piece about a young man (expertly played by certain future star Timothée Chalamet) who, through his growing lust for Armie Hammer’s older and attractive Oliver, learns more about his own sense of self-worth at a time in his life where he is mostly uncertain of what kind of man he wants to be; God’s Own Country, meanwhile, is a more contemporary piece about an underachiever who also finds himself more and more attracted to a male counterpart and in doing so learns to be a generally better person when he’s not partaking in self-destructive tendencies. Both of them, as different as they may seem, are about self-acceptance and how their sexualities carefully nudge them in the right direction, instead of dominating the argument and becoming too much of a focal point.
Not once in either film is their sexuality called into question or ridiculed by antagonistic forces; contrarily, it is encouraged and accepted with a warm embrace, particularly in Call Me By Your Name where Chalamet’s social and cultural family are seen as genuinely happy that their son is starting to find his place in the world (a statement reinforced by a powerful monologue delivered by Michael Stuhlbarg near the end of the film). Likewise, in God’s Own Country, those around the main character have much more important issues to worry about than their offspring’s attraction to the same sex, like the fact that one of them is prone to strokes or that extra help is needed to ensure their farm is kept afloat. In a much lesser pair of hands on either film, once found out they would be the subject of homophobic lecturing by concerned guardians or angry family members, but again that never happens, which is not only refreshing but gives it a far more optimistic view on gay romance than any I’ve really seen in the past few years.
Above all that, though, they are both excellent movies. Luca Guadagnino’s breathtaking exploration of 80s Italy makes you feel like you’ve gone on a wonderful holiday to an absolutely beautiful part of the world, and is filled with great acting and quiet character moments that really make everything feel natural and completely without a care in the world. Meanwhile, debut filmmaker Josh O’Connor has made a very intimate and at times provocative character study about two lost souls coming together and who, over time, go through trials and tribulations brought upon by their respective personalities, which only reinforce how right they are for each other.
Either one makes for prime viewing, but if you can then I would highly recommend watching both of them in a double-bill, because only then will you be getting two great romance movies that somehow work wonders together in showing the positive side to gay love…
9 – THE LOST CITY OF Z
Not many people ended up seeing this one in the cinema – it grossed $17 million worldwide against a $30 million budget – which is a serious shame because this is a truly special film that needs to be seen by a lot more people, especially those complaining about how they just don’t make big grand epics like the olden days anymore.
James Gray, who to the best of my knowledge FINALLY got one of his films released internationally, embodies the filmmaking spirit of Michael Cimino and Apocalypse Now-era Francis Ford Coppola for his masterful and expertly crafted tale of the adventures of famed explorer Percy Fawcett, including his never-ending pursuit of what remains of an ancient civilisation in the Amazon, and leading up to his mysterious disappearance in 1925. Filled with some of the most gorgeous cinematography of the year, tightly wound performances from everyone including wonderful leading man Charlie Hunnam and even a fine supporting role for Robert Pattinson (who, between this and Good Time, has really come into his own as a performer this year), and a truly haunting musical score that really makes it feel like old-school Hollywood, it’s a pure filmmaking marvel that makes for fantastic viewing no matter what screen you end up watching it on.
Like the most challenging of epics, this one requires a lot of patience and understanding from the audience, which may be tricky given that this is a slow-burn that also has a running time of nearly two-and-a-half hours, but if you stick with it even when it may seem like it’s going so slow, you will be seriously rewarded with the distinction of bearing witness to an absolutely outstanding piece of art, one that gives you strong characters, a compelling story, and emotional depth that writer-director Gray delivers without forcing it down your throat.
If you did miss this in the cinema, then you are highly advised to seek it out on home video and watch it with the best surround sound and picture quality you can find, because this is as beautifully theatrical as movies can get…
8 – LOGAN
After seventeen years of playing one of the most popular X-Men to ever grace the comic-book universe, Hugh Jackman finally bowed out this year in a movie that not only gave his Wolverine the most perfect send-off, but also gave us a truly powerful, compelling, and most importantly adult film that neatly complimented everything that is truly great about the character.
This was unlike any previous X-Men or Wolverine movie before it: bleak, sweary, and extremely gory, it was the movie audiences had desperately wanted to see for years, so what better time to finally give it to them just as Jackman leaves the role for good? The gamble paid off, as it was a fantastic showcase for Jackman, who has never been better in this role, as well as fellow franchise veteran Patrick Stewart who gave us a very different take on Professor X, and ferocious newcomer Dafne Keen who without saying a whole lot stole entire scenes from her far more experienced co-stars.
It took the character as well as the X-Men mythos into some unexpected but entirely mature directions, even to places considered way too dark and depressing even for an adult-oriented superhero movie, but it always found a way back to the heart of what makes Wolverine so beloved by fans, and what made Jackman so utterly perfect whenever he inhabited him on-screen. Whoever they end up casting in the eventual reboot of the X-Men series – which, given the recent Disney-Fox merger, is surely all but confirmed – they will have seriously large shoes (and claws) to fill.
Hugh Jackman picked the right time, and certainly the right movie, to leave his most notable role for the very last time…
7 – T2 TRAINSPOTTING
With all the unnecessary sequels to cult movies coming out over the last few years, none left quite as huge an impact as Danny Boyle’s long-awaited return to the lives of Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie, which managed to achieve the impossible by not just being a worthy follow-up to its 21-year-old predecessor, but through its exploration of these characters two decades on and how they are reflecting on times they both cherish and feel embarrassed by, it may even be far more poignant.
Boyle, writer John Hodge, and original cast members Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle all return for this fascinating movie that really takes the time to show how all these characters we enjoyed in the first one, have slowly turned into tragic figures that are haunted by their drug-addled pasts, and want to desperately atone for their many, many mistakes, even if it means creating a whole new bunch of problems to replace them. This leads to plenty of fun, funny, and often heartbreaking scenes where these characters confront their biggest insecurities, as well as the numerous ghosts of their pasts that have only grown more powerful in the two decades that have gone by.
Through careful direction and writing on Boyle and Hodge’s respective parts, not to mention brilliantly layered performances by the lead quartet – Bremner’s Spud, in particular, is probably the most likable heroin junkie in movie history, and it mostly comes from the actor’s lovable energy and genuine good nature – this is a sequel that dives deep into the consequences of their actions from twenty years ago, and delivers a much more thoughtful and emotional sequel that also never loses sight of what made the original so popular in the first place.
It’s a movie that doesn’t need drugs to give off a pretty good high…
6 – BLADE RUNNER 2049
With Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner constantly being hailed as one of the greatest movies of that genre ever made, the pressure was on for Denis Villeneuve to make a follow-up 35 years in the making that could stand extraordinarily well alongside that classic as well as quite comfortably on its own as a luxuriant piece of sci-fi.
Luckily, this is Denis Villeneuve we’re talking about, and the French-Canadian filmmaker managed to certify his newfound reputation as a new modern master of cinema by delivering an excellent and visually groundbreaking film that made it worth the wait.
It re-introduced the futuristic world of Los Angeles as one that’s fallen further into neon-drenched depravity with replicants and humans still struggling to co-exist in already hostile conditions, and thanks to Roger Deakins’ absolutely stellar cinematography it looked absolutely amazing while doing so (seriously, Deakins NEEDS to get his long-overdue Oscar for this, or there’s little justice in the world). Villeneuve was at the top of his game here as well, directing scenes with beautiful restraint and intellectual storytelling that took a simple Pinocchio story – that of Ryan Gosling’s replicant K desiring to feel far more human than he is – and turned it into a grand epic where every single shot felt necessary and without heavy baggage.
Everything from the visuals to the score to the acting – including from Gosling and a returning Harrison Ford who, despite not showing up until the second half, delivers some of his strongest work in years – really felt like we had returned to the world that Ridley Scott introduced all those years ago, and like the original it seems to have gotten a hell of a lot better over time…