GFT Blog: The Best of 2017


2017 has been another great year of cinema. With a wealth of fantastic film to choose from, the GFT Team talk about their favourites from the past 12 months. 

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Sitting in the cinema after watching I Am Not Your Negro, with the audience filing out, I could hear snippets of whispered conversations. Clichéd mutterings of “Makes you think dunnit” and “It’s such a massive problem in America isn’t it?”, “powerful stuff”. Clichéd yes, but I can’t deny their validity. I sat in Cinema 2, unable to really move at first. The film had stirred my emotions and anchored my body. So mightily compelling is Raoul Peck’s film, and James Baldwin’s words, that I’m struggling even now, the best part of a year on, to articulate how good this film is and how much I’ve thought about it since. Suffice it to say, this is the best documentary of the year, and the most revealing study of race relations in America that I’ve seen in a long time. James Baldwin’s unfinished book was titled Remember This House. I certainly will.

Gavin Crosby
Digital & Design Coordinator 

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This is Trey Edward Shults’ second film. I loved his 2015 debut, Krisha, in which an estranged would-be matriarch reunites with her family, and their issues mount into a crescendo of tension. It Comes at Night represents a move into horror, but builds tension in a very similar way to Krisha, favouring rising anxiety over typical horror conventions. Its central family have isolated themselves from the spread of a deadly disease. The film opens with the death of a spore-covered grandfather, confronting the family with harsh practicalities in the face of devastating loss. As a younger family joins the house, Shults explores the paranoia and dark behaviour that mingle with friendship in desperate circumstances. For me, this realistic portrayal of tribalism is more arresting than any demons or monsters could be.

Sandra Kinahan
GSFF Assistant

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In a not-so-subtle way of squeezing in my other favourite films of the year, my top pick shared a little of - but didn't quite match - the ballsy audacity of La La Land, the fragile humanity of Only The Living, the joyful heart of My Life As An Courgette, the risk-taking swagger of Blade Runner 2049 and the idiosyncratic mayhem of Twin Peaks: The Return (hey, if it's good enough for Sight & Sound AND Matt Lloyd). But still, The Handmaiden was my #1 because it surpassed my exceptionally-high expectations of director Park and delivered everything I hoped it would be. Thanks also to long-time collaborator/cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon (who was also behind the lens on the thrilling remake of It this year), this is a gorgeous adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, seamlessly substituting the themes of class in Victorian London with the intricacies of early 20th century Japanese-Korean relations – personal and political. In addition, it's playful, twisted, funny (unexpectedly so) and sexy to the point of awkward kinkiness. Park's best film since Oldboy? Most definitely. (For the record, the extended cut is the version to watch - rarely has 168 minutes flown by quicker.)

David Gattens
Finance/Commercial Director

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Get Out is the best genre film I have seen in years. I was already a fan of writer/director Jordan Peele's comedy career, and now with Get Out he has shown what an outstanding film talent he is. The film is completely of its time, taking a stance on race relations in the US, with incredible screenwriting which also weaves in Peele's knack for comedy. My first viewing of the film was also made more memorable in that I saw it in Houston, Texas with a very loud American crowd, and I can't way to see what Jordan Peele comes up with next. Oh, and the film also features one of my favourite up-and-coming actors, Lakeith Stanfield. 

Maija Hietala
Industry Coordinator

Get Out screens at GFT in January.

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Where did this one come from? And more to the point, where did it go? Jenny Gage’s intimate portrait of teenage abandon and the loss of youth came and went without much of a wimper from critics and audiences. A criminal oversight, as coming-of-age documentary All This Panic is just as heartbreaking and inspirational as Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Following a group of Brooklyn teenagers from various ethnicities and socio-economical backgrounds, we observe their lives over the course of 3 years, experiencing hearts being broken, hearts that can heal and hearts that cannot. Girls becoming women, but the underlying joy, fear, hatred and adoration these people live through are human stories, which all can understand and relate to. The complexity of these emotions are beautifully realised by Jenny Gage, crafting a stunning and beautiful film which somehow makes sense of one of the most complex stages of human development. An absolute dream. 

Iain Canning
Festival Coordinator

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Directed by Maysaloun Hamoud, In Between tells a story of three Palestinian women living in Tel Aviv. Laila, a lawyer whose ideas about marriage and relationships are far from being conservative, shares an apartment with Selma, a DJ who is forced to hide her homosexuality from her own family. The pair are soon joined by Nour, a hijab-wearing extremely traditional girl engaged to be married.  Even though it seems like Laila and Selma have nothing in common with their new flatmate, it soon turns out to be quite the opposite. Trapped between a male-dominated, traditional society and the modern world, the three women face difficulties and prejudices every day because of their gender, religion, sexual orientation and even the language they speak. This heart-breaking and powerful piece gives a voice to Palestinian women who do not agree with the conservative way of thinking still present in their country and is a definite must-see of 2017. 

Alicja Tokarska
GFT Front of House

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This year, Sean Baker followed his trailblazing 2015 film Tangerine (you know, the one made on iPhone 5) with The Florida Project, a heartfelt, moving and revealing look at America’s ‘hidden homeless’ (families who live below the poverty line and exist day-to-day in cheap motels); zeroing in on the young families who reside just outside Disney World in Florida. Despite the weighty issues, Baker balances the darkness with lashings of bright relief, thanks in part to the sunny location and bright purple motel, but mainly due to a buoyant performance by 7-year old newcomer Brooklyn Prince as Moonee. As with Tangerine, Baker offers a uniquely humanist view of an unseen society, one filled with ample laughter to go along with the tears, and one that is relatable to anyone regardless of age, location or class. I would also be remiss if I did not mention Willem Dafoe’s potentially career-best turn as motel manager Bobby, which will presumably see him take home some awards at the start of next year. 

Sean Greenhorn
Programme Manager

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Featuring one of the coldest movie openings I can remember, Elle put me on edge right from the start. Then it kept me there, squirming for the next two hours. Isabelle Huppert plays Michèle who, after suffering a shocking and violent attack, proceeds to go about her daily business apparently unaffected by the incident. Director Paul Verhoeven’s fondness for injecting dark humour into his films is well known. With Elle the emphasis was less on the humour, more on the dark. That’s not to say it didn’t have its moments, more that you were never sure if it was the right time to laugh. Michèle’s honesty and frankness makes for many an awkward moment yet she remains strangely unknowable throughout. As an audience we expect her trauma to surface in a form we can readily digest. The fact that it doesn’t is what makes this film so memorable for me.

Tony Harris
Volunteer Coordinator

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I was so overwhelmed by Luca Guadagnino’s sun-drenched masterpiece Call Me By Your Name that it is easily my film of the year. Based on Andre Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, the film is an affecting story of first love. Surprising myself, I found this slow-burning romance as gripping as any edge-of-your-seat thriller; it follows a brief but meaningful romance between 17-year-old Elio (relative newcomer Timothée Chalamet) and 20-something Oliver (Armie Hammer) during the summer of 1983 in Northern Italy. Guadagnino's film intelligently explores the different ways people process complex feelings – Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) has a beautiful monologue in particular, where he tells his son, “to feel nothing, so as not to feel anything, is a terrible waste.” With stunning cinematography evoking that Italian sunshine, and a mesmerising score featuring two new songs by Sufjan Stevens (written especially for the film), Call Me By Your Name is a lyrical, funny, aching love story that everyone should watch – again and again. Later.

Margaret Smith
Marketing & Press Coordinator 

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For many people, Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! will not trouble their top film of the year list, and to be honest I completely understand why. Mother! is not for everyone. It is a dark, claustrophobic nightmare of a film, with a final third as grim and shocking as I’ve seen for a long time. But the reason it is my film of the year is because of just how strongly the powerful images have stayed with me many months after watching it. Rarely does a film have the kind of impact where I actually felt I was enduring the same frustration as the main protagonist. To be clear, I don’t think of this as a film to be enjoyed, and I’m not sure I would even recommend it to most people… but I was captivated for every moment and can’t wait for its Blu-ray release so I can endure it all over again. 

Bryan Wilson
Finance Officer

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The Love Witch from Anna Biller was definitely my film of the year – it’s a real shame that more people did not get a chance to see… It’s is a technicolour treat, with retro stylings, and starring (well, introducing) the brilliantly sultry Samantha Robinson as Elaine in the titular role. Her outrageously anachronistic costumes and makeup are mesmerising, and this along with the amazingly OTT production design make this one of my favourite films of recent years visually. I’ve never been too averse to style over content. However, it’s also a clever feminist film reversing some of the standard cinematic genre conventions as Elaine seduces and dismisses a series of gormless suitors. The film was designed, produced, written and directed by Biller – a truly incredible achievement - you need to give this a watch.  Thanks to The Final Girls for bringing this film to GFT. 

Rachel Fiddes
Festival Manager

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Heal the Living has been described as a ‘medical procedural’, which probably goes some way to explaining why so few people have seen it. While that description is technically accurate – the story centres around a heart transplant that becomes possible in the wake of a young boy’s tragic death – it fails to communicate the fact that the film is nothing short of a profound meditation on what it means to be alive. Writer and director Katell Quillévéré masterfully handles an excellent ensemble cast, in which there is no main character, but each one is fully-formed and clearly represents a life off-screen that we are just getting a hint of. This is truly exceptional filmmaking - such concision, such brilliant characterisation, such exquisite attention to detail. It is about living and dying in very profound and meaningful ways, and pushes a viewer to really consider what life is all about.

Paul Gallagher
Marketing Manager

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Okay, so I might get some grief from colleagues for this, but the most cinematic experience of 2017 didn’t appear on the big screen. Unquestionably it has to be Agent Dale Cooper's jubilant return – albeit delayed until the penultimate episode – to the home of damn fine coffee and cherry pie, beautiful Douglas firs and unspeakable horror. Eighteen part series ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ was by no means perfect, but unlike this year's other return to the world of a much admired classic - Blade Runner 2049 - David Lynch and Mark Frost were not afraid to take risks with the original’s perceived legacy. The result was more nuanced and challenging than any of us could have hoped for, and more true to David Lynch’s development as a filmmaker in the intervening quarter-century. It was also achingly sad, an elegy to so many brilliant ageing actors, some of them since lost to us. Episode eight stands out as a truly audacious sixty minutes of television, and Lynch’s finest vision of pure evil since Fire Walk With Me. Got a light? 

Matt Lloyd
GSFF Director

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Masterfully framed with an almost dreamlike quality, Pablo Larraín’s Jackie stars Natalie Portman as First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband's infamous assassination in 1963. There is a lot to like about Larrain's distant biopic; Portman's career-best performance-within-a-performance; both the grandeur and isolation embedded in the lingering shots of the White House; John Hurt; and a score from one of the most individualistic recent film composers, Mica Levi, whose work proves integrally off-kilter in tapping into Jackie Kennedy's state of mind following such an unimaginably tragic and surreal experience.  

Danny Hoffmann
Marketing & Engagement Assistant

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Plenty of more qualified and more relevant voices have spoken about Moonlight in a much more insightful and eloquent way than I’ll ever be able to, especially when it comes to the communities and characters it brings to the screen. So rather than rambling on about how brilliant, vulnerable, poetic a film this is, and the hundreds of superlatives I’d like to use for the performances, the direction, the colours, textures, sound, music,… I’ll just go with this: Believe the hype. It’s one of my favourite films in years and it’d be a challenge to overstate its importance. 

Sanne Jehoul
GSFF Coordinator & Programmer 

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Ben Wheatley seems to be on a general trend of making his movies ever so slightly more accessible with each release. Free Fire is by far his most, dare I say it, conventional film: a fairly straight-forward shoot-'em-up ensues after an illegal gun deal goes wrong, initiated by an unanticipated act of revenge and fuelled by distrust on the part of the majority involved. That’s not to say it's not got flashes of Wheatley darkness to it – anyone who has seen Kill List or Sightseers will completely understand that when he goes dark, he goes dark – and these moments predominantly come out in the last twenty minutes of carnage. What I hadn't really expected from this was how incredibly funny it is! There are some great put-downs and one-liners in this, mostly delivered in a dead-pan style that just makes it funnier. The dialogue is great with engaging performances from all of the cast. I highly recommend this! 

James
GFT Front of House

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In a world full of noise - and at times pointless noise at that - I found a welcome sanctuary when viewing The Red Turtle. The Red Turtle is an animated fantasy drama film from Studio Ghibli, co-written and directed by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit and produced by Toshio Suzuki from Japan. They have created a beautifully poignant and wordless tale of a man stranded on a desert island. The aesthetic is rich, a mixture of analogue and digital animation and is fused perfectly with an evocative score. This film is so rich in the language of what it means to be human, in all its melancholic swirl; you find yourself stranded and so you try to build a raft and when that fails, you try, and you try again. Each and every detail, from the side stepping family of crabs to the flailing flippers of the upturned turtle erupted emotion in me. I felt, I clutched and explored time with this lonesome man. I travelled through his dreams and wept at what he found and lost. Ever hopeful, I was left reminded that I can do well on my own island too.

Jodie Wilkinson
Public Engagement Coordinator

Special mentions go to: Blade Runner 2049, A Ghost Story, The Salesman, La La Land, My Life As A Courgette, God's Own Country


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