Last year, I started a new system of writing down every film I saw. It’s a fun thing to do, and interesting when you look back at the end of the year. It also helps me judge what my favourite films were, and for a bit of fun, I’m going to list my top ten. This article will contain numbers #10 to #6, and the follow-up will be my top five.
Note: This will be a list based on UK release dates, so the likes of La La Land are eligible.
#10 – War for the Planet of the Apes
The modern Planet of the Apes trilogy is a triumph, both technically and in storytelling. Matt Reeves, who directed the second film (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), returned for the final chapter, and gave a satisfying resolution to the arc of Caesar (Andy Serkis). Picking up as apes and humans have engaged in war, Woody Harrelson plays the Colonel, a desperate human who provokes Caesar into action. There are really powerful themes at work here, questioning how you’d deal with the imminent destruction of your species. This film isn’t higher on this list because it doesn’t quite deliver on the scale front – the majority of the climax of this film happens in one location, dampening the impact of it supposedly deciding the resolution of this war.
#9 – Wonder
Wonder (based on the 2012 R.J. Palcio novel) seemingly came out of nowhere to steal some box office share from the underperforming Justice League. This film mainly markets itself around the main character August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), who has a major facial disfigurement. You’d expect the film to be focused on the issues that would cause for him – however, the film instead goes further, switching to the perspectives of the people who know him as well. For example, seeing how his sister Olivia “Via” Pullman (Izabela Vidovic), has her life affected is interesting. How those connected are affected is often not touched upon enough when talking about these topics. Elements of how Auggie sees his life change do admittedly become a little convenient and too good to be true, but the sweetness and overriding message win out in the end.
#8 – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Frankly, it baffles me that some people dislike this movie, or even hate it. The Finn and Rose aside on Canto Bight aside, The Last Jedi is a fast-paced chase film which never lets itself become predictable. The two storylines, one on the Rebel ship and another with Rey and Luke Skywalker, build to a particular moment (you’ll know it if you’ve seen it) where the film kicks into hyperdrive – quite literally – and delivers a final act which is, frankly, stunning. If The Force Awakens did what was necessary to bring Star Wars back, leaning on the things we already liked about the series, then The Last Jedi does what is necessary to keep it relevant and exciting.
#7 – Hacksaw Ridge
Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a man who commits to the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” yet nevertheless commits to being a part of the World War II effort as a medic. Director Mel Gibson gives an accurately brutal set-up of Doss being humiliated and despised amongst his fellow soldiers, before constructing a second half which presents the horror of war with striking ferocity. As Doss finds himself performing an act of heroics to save the men who once mocked him, we are subjected to a visual and audio firestorm in between quieter character moments; seeing this in the cinemas was relentless on the senses, but necessary to make a compelling payoff. Garfield puts in a brilliantly believable performance as the lead, helping us buy into the character of Desmond Doss and his mindset.
#6 – Wonder Woman
What a delight of a film. Wonder Woman may be the first film that saw me pay the price of admission three times at the cinema, and it was so worth it. Patty Jenkins deserves enormous credit for directing such a culturally important realisation of Diana Prince on the big screen, giving us a new beacon of hope amongst the many missteps of the DC film universe. The island of Themyscira and the lore around it was presented with wonderful care, but that’s only the start. As our lead navigates her way through World War I, Gal Gadot does a phenomenal job at portraying the joint naivety and power of Wonder Woman, with Chris Pine as the idea foil as Captain Steve Trevor. The No Man’s Land sequence is probably my favourite scene of the entire year – it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it – with the conversation of humanity between Diana and Steve not far behind. The ending indulges a little too much in the action, but it’s hard to be too critical when the whole package is as joyous as this.
Watch out for part 2, which is coming soon, to find out my picks for the top 5 films of the year!