As a caveat, I mention that this list is of the most memorable examples of cinema product seen in 2017-of course, there are many acclaimed high-profile films which have not yet had the privilege of release here in the UK (Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Shape of Water, The Square, BPM, Loveless) or under-the-radar films which may struggle for any significant distribution (All These Sleepless Nights, Foxtrot, Columbus) that could have very comfortably resided on the prominent end of the viewing spectrum if the chance had been available. Even without the presence of the aforementioned films, 2017 certainly was redolent with great experiences-no dearth of inspirational or stirring moments and images existed. In fact,they abounded. In alphabetical order, the first five:

The Beguiled 

A masterclass in sustained tension without once resorting to crude dramatics-instead embedding it in the very mood of the film-Sophia Coppola’s gender inversion of Clint Eastwood’s 1971 psychological thriller in which an injured Union soldier of the Civil War stumbles onto the grounds of an all-female boarding school, his presence unspooling and releasing a deep wellspring of repressed anger and sexuality, is a marvel of production design-you feel every drip of humidity, are acutely aware of each rustle of dress fabric within the hushed surroundings, each spasm of yearn and frustration from the characters uncomfortably immediate. To the film’s credit, Colin Farrell’s disruptive male energy is not demonised (outside of some ill-judged manipulative behaviour, the dynamics of which are not absent in any of the female players either), complicating the culminating actions taken by the house residents in regards to him. Instead the film becomes an even more intriguing study of an enclosed society’s inability to countenance any interloper disturbing a fragile economy of entrenched customs and rituals. Coppola keeps the frames tight and the shadows firm.


Once you get past the patently absurd high-concept plot, that a troubled alcoholic is somehow, while asleep, releasing a kaiju creature (Godzilla-like) to destructive effect in Seoul (an explanation is offered later in the film), the film’s deeper concerns emerge. After damaging her successful New York career and relationship, Gloria (a freewheeling Anne Hathaway) moves back to her hometown and takes a job as bartender at a local establishment, now run by a childhood friend , who, it steadily emerges, is even more troubled than she is, perhaps dangerously so (a creepy Jason Sudeikis, who sympathetically imbues the increasingly unsavoury Oscar with layers of desperately appalled consciousness ). Behaviour left untreated and ignored shades into concerning fissures of anger, resentment and self-loathing, constricting awareness and reason. Nacho Vigalondo has found a maverick way to study the destructive effects of self-hate, that often personal violence and mess may have far-reaching consequences. Gloria’s journey is to discover a way out of her vortex, saving both herself and the greater globe-and to rid herself of  a dysfunction so majestic it metamorphosises into a cumbersome creature run amok.

Call Me By Your Name 

In a gorgeous, sun-drenched Lombardy, Italy, 17-year-old Elio and the strapping American doctoral student who arrives to work as an intern for Elio’s professor father tease fixedly into one another’s orbit over the course of a summer, igniting a blinding flare of erotic and romantic entanglement, all-consuming and, unsurprisingly, ephemeral, leading to a heartbreak as extravagantly scaled as the passion which preceded it. As Elio, Timothee Chalamet is the film’s most precious asset, an astonishing preternatural performance in which every tremor and spasm of youth and first love is indelibly expressed in body language and gesture-Elio is at once delicate and strong, naive and wise, victim and victor. It’s clear that Elio, in his pursuit of love and passion, is leagues ahead of his partner (and parents), is capable of a bravery and dedication that far outstrips his circle. The astounding concluding held shot, of Elio tending to a fire, would tax the abilities of professional performers twice Chalamet’s age-in bruising close-up, you sense a character defining the sense of self that will carry him through the rest of his life, an individual coming of age before the eyes. A quick mention of God’s Own Country as well, a solid debut film from Francis Lee about a conflicted gay Yorkshire lad working on his infirm father’s sheep farm who begins a tentative relationship with a Romanian migrant worker who arrives to assist with seasonal tasks. Landscape very much determines character and behaviour in this realm, a degree of rigour and brusqueness ruling in a harsh, unforgiving space. What is refreshing in both film’s view of gay relationships is that the biggest impediments to the success of the involvement is not social convention but personal reticence (we are far removed from the environment defeating the leads of Brokeback Mountain). Progress: the tragic is not the inevitable outcome of gay pairings.

The Florida Project 

Director Sean Baker continues his compassionate studies of those living on the margins of American society with this examination of hardscrabble families trying their best to eke out dignified existences in housing originally built as hotels for the tourist trade to nearby Disney World (in distance about a mile away), which may as well be located on Mars as far as it has any meaning to these souls (the only good it serves is the moment the lead adult character is able to sell off a family package of resort tickets below cost to a gullible British tourist-most likely which he will be unable to claim-something which she’s been able to steal off a client). At one time these now dilapidated, slowly deteriorating spaces, with their tacky, colourful facades once promised  fanciful inclusion in the Disney dream (mere fairy dust)-the exhausted, enervated adults have long abandoned any pretence; it’s only the children (especially the resourceful, forthright Moonee) , earnest and not yet calloused, who are able to envision the environment as a playground of adventure, mischief and mystery, despite all evidence to the contrary. In its treacherous final moments, when the bad (in some cases, the only) choices of her mother bring crushing, sudden consequence to both the life of her and her child, the emotional severity letting loose a nearly banshee cry, it’s excruciating to watch-the nervy and startling final shot, a rush of hallucinatory jump-cuts, in which two little girls wilfully violate the parameters of the manufactured fantasy, leavens the preceding devastation and acts as a hearty kiss-off to the forces which would extinguish them, perhaps unrealistic but absolutely fitting. The paucity of the characters’ lives are revealed in casual observations (a conversation about the relative costs of pizza toppings, sneaked meals, sharing of one ice cream cone amongst a trio, for which they have had to panhandle, Moonee sent off for a bath during her mother’s appointments with men), and Baker does not cheapen his gaze with judgement or pity. The performances are collectively searing, raw souls bared on screen-Willem Dafoe projects a profound decency as the manager of the premises, well-worn but trying his best to look after his residents. Despite the catastrophe of tragedy at every turn, the film maintains the look and feel of a fairy tale, rejuvenated constantly by the bruising propulsion of people who defiantly continue to forcefully, rudely live life even in compromised circumstances.

A Ghost Story 

Single-handedly reclaiming the image of a ghost as a sheet-enshrouded figure from the oblivion and absurdity of cliche, this near-experimental meditation on grief and bereavement establishes its own universe of space and time. Casey Affleck’s deceased character, unable to quite let go of his earthly binds, haunts the fringes of his beloved’s life (Rooney Mara, stunned and brutalised by anguish) watching with impotent longing as the years advance, from her initial stages of profound sorrow to the inevitability of moving on past the pain, lost to the insistence of life. He is unable to move off the property, time expanding and compressing in regular sequence (one moment futuristic, then a sudden plummet into the 19th century), a constant presence through many seasons of upheaval, eruptive change and pain, witness to the constancy of natural process. It’s clear the most haunted character on screen is the ghost himself, unable to fathom the unfair, arbitrary conditions which brought him to this perplexed state-sadly, the sole peace to be had is perhaps when the distant loved one finally solves his or her feelings in regards to the lost partner, or perhaps when death finally claims those whose memory is the final tether on Earth. It’s metaphysical, spiritual, unique, uncompromising-the viewer must bring the self wholly to it, this quietly sustained aria of temporal melancholy.

In the next post, I’ll cover the final set of five films.









Much as Katharina Grosse was invited in early Autumn to take a spray-can to the walls of the main space of South London Gallery in an aggressively thrilling irruption of roiling waves of harsh colour (cunningly titled This Drove My Mother Up the Wall), so, too, has French artist Du Pasquier made the most of the encouragement to  transform the central rooms of the venerable Camden Arts Centre with playful lines and forms of architectural geometry. In both cases, the artist has broken free of the constrictions of canvas to utilise the spatial physics of the room itself to establish environment. Strips of brightly coloured paper run the course of the walls, wreaking frisky havoc with perceptions, while dimensional modular designs and structural ephemera float about the surfaces of the constructed rooms situated in the middle of the gallery, suggesting a cityscape the artifice of which is held as a principle. A friend likened moving through the space as being caught inside the mechanics of a video game (my own analogy would equate the experience to drifting through a pleasantly firing computer modem). Du Pasquier has built immersive domestic spaces within the middle rooms, plastering the walls with near-hallucinatory, rigorously patterned wallpaper, against which images of objects (bare insinuations of furnishings, cameras) thrust out with three dimensional force. A founding member of influential Milan-based  design group Memphis, Du Pasquier remains austerely focussed on form and function, which lends her work an interesting tension between the lively and steely, vivid in detail with curious cold-blooded undertones. She no doubt explodes the formalities and courtesies of the traditional negotiation of the gallery space. Other Rooms continues through 14 January




I defy anyone to emerge from this pop-up exhibition that renders an urban planning blueprint in the form of gingerbread buildings and city spaces constructed from sweets without a grin on the face and giddy ample warmth in the heart (on the day I attended the adults were just as enchanted as their young charges). Sponsored by design firm Tibbalds, a host of architectural agencies were tasked with creating sites for a cityscape broken into quarters, encompassing an Old Town, a tech-forward New Town, transport hub Energy Town and Eco Town, a district for sustainable and renewable programmes. As well as engaging on a level of pure aesthetic pleasure (and a source of olfactory rapture-upon entrance, a heady aroma of sugar and spice sends your senses spinning), the production invites a visitor to reflect upon those divergent structural elements that must somehow coalesce to create a harmonious, cohesive and stable urban environment, one that will thrive and continue to advance (a respect for the past but acknowledgement of need for continuous development). The individual buildings and public spaces are marvels of imagination and detail-gumdrops, icing, treacle, delicate spun sugar, wafers, berry whips, marshmallows are marshalled  to boisterous, awe-inspiring means to suggest materials and architectural aspects. There are factories, businesses, a bank, a stadium, mall, recycling centre, even an imposing castle on a hill, bridges linking the areas of the town. Between are lollipop and candy cane fields, parks with trees of meringue and jelly button gardens, bodies of water suggested in coloured sugar, sandscapes constructed of brown sugar-each step taken generates a new catch of breath. Within and without the spaces is an array of activity, from roof garden parties to open-air cinemas to hot-air balloon rides to construction sites to beachside bathing . The two titans (Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid) are granted their own room for their sector creations before a visitor walks into the main space with the central city sprawl. How on earth with the amount of excitable children who must have marauded through the exhibition these past few weeks, and the fairly narrow passageways around the tables, that several of the creations haven’t been compromised (or entirely lost) is a wonder. The opportunity to view this year’s city is dwindling, but keep this in mind for 2018, as it is an event that you miss at your peril-it plugs directly into the brain circuitry that regulates the centre of childlike delight. The challenge is in suppressing the (antisocial) impulse to consume it all. Gingerbread City is displayed through 22 December




If you should fancy an uncomplicated expedition well within London city limits (no prebooking train tickets needed, or any advance prep of any kind), the National Trust-run grounds of this 125-acre parklands and estate once owned by the Hatfield family is to be found a few minutes walk from the Morden tube stop at the very end of the Northern line. A quick jaunt along the high street, and a dash across a busy roadway, brings you to a passageway by which you may slip into the park (the main entrance is further up the road). Once inside, the sound and fury of the unabating traffic almost immediately recedes, and it is possible to believe yourself far removed from the city. In addition to the grand hall itself (now mainly used as a wedding venue) with its fronted lattice of ornamental bridges and congress of decoratively fashionable trees (yews, lime and chestnut, all carefully structured and considered as involves status), the grounds include the stables (and yards), mills, a cottage at one time a hunting lodge (eventually the residence of Hatfield’s bachelor son) and the buildings once devoted to tool and potting sheds and day stables (now repurposed as a garden centre and the park’s posh cafe named, appropriately, the Potting Shed), as well as sprawling meadows and wetlands. The river Wandle very lazily and haphazardly wanders its way through the landscape, and, although I visited a bit late in the season, in the spring and summer months the rose garden is a much-celebrated effusion of colour and scent, now being restored to the aesthetics of its 1920s origins. For the adventurous, a wander over the tram tracks in one direction leads to Merton Abbey Mills, a former textile factory abutting the Wandle (William Morris once housed his design and printing company on the site, hence the pub named in his honour), and originally the location of an Augustinian Priory built in the  early 12th century. On the property is the only waterwheel still in full operational order (which can be viewed on the weekend). The rest of the space is given over to crafts businesses and independent restaurants and boutiques, a mixed-use performance space and a bandstand which hosts musicians and a weekly open-air market. The ethos is alternative and quirky. In the other direction, and a heartily ambitious walk away (about three miles) is the pretty village of Carshalton, with its scenic high street and broad main square, encompassing Grove Park and the gorgeous broad Ponds, flanked on one side by the picturesque Greyhound hotel, once an 18th century coaching inn, and, although now extensively restored throughout the years, one of the only examples of its kind still in existence. Certainly an entire day’s worth of activity is to be had even if you shouldn’t stray too far from Morden Park itself, but you will emerge rich in experience and memory no matter how near or far you step, and you will feel refreshed and moored, ready again for the flash of London proper.





True to its title (For A Partnership Society), this sprawling, frequency-saturated showpiece is built around themes of collusion and collaboration-Mirza overlays concentrations and elaborations of sound and visual effect onto existing video, film and sonic artworks (and, in one case, the personal career biography of renowned Modernist designer-furniture, most prominently-Eileen Gray). Much of the work left me cold, admittedly, with its stark, fixated raptures of circuit boards, cables, LED systems, screens-perhaps the pieces would be most appreciated by mathematicians and scientists, who could tease out the moment of convergence between technology and human destiny, establishing patterns and methodology, a core program of belief structure as conversation between machine network and man, from computer board through to artistic, religious, political and sociological engagement. Dominated solely by cerebral approach, I grew quickly impatient with most of the works-the redemption for me arrived with a five-minute (the allowance given) immersion in Chamber for Endogenous DMT, effectively a variation on a sensory deprivation chamber, repurposed as an anechoic room, soundproofed (the walls a poetry of fluttering foam pieces), with a surprisingly comfortable soft grated floor that seems to open expansively beneath you. You have to work to find it (located on the mezzanine level, far back, barely conspicuous)- you are asked to put cumbersome objects in small storage lockers, rid pockets of debris, and are issued torches and pillows for the session. Mirza, in concert with researchers specialising in the study of psychotropics, has created this meditative space to experiment with the body’s ability to produce and trigger natural states of psychedelia (most specifically, the substance Dimethyltryptamine). By absenting all stimuli, sonic and visual, Mirza draws a participant profoundly into the Self, uniquely aware and not-aware simultaneously, a return to the womb, a gentle float. I can imagine how some may panic, especially those in thrall to the constant squall and clatter of contemporary culture, the immediacy of communication. The effects of the experience are quite stealthy-not until I was outside again, in the thick of the city, was I conscious of a shield of tranquillity and calm against the tide, which lingered throughout the rest of the afternoon. I don’t know if it stimulated (or simulated) a drug-like state, but it sure was a tremendous momentary tonic. After the vexing glitch and throb and flicker of the rest of the exhibition, restraint is restored, silence exalted. For a Partnership Society continues through 17 December