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MM’s Favourite Films Of 2017 (Scott Bates)

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At the beginning of 2017 I told myself I’d try to see everything I could on the big screen – as you might expect, this of course didn’t work out and there were plenty of films I ended up missing out on.

However, there were still plenty I did get to see – including most of my “must-sees”. I’m not sure quite how many cinema visits I made this year (especially when factoring in press and festival screenings), but of what I saw, these 10 were easily the stand-outs:

10. Jackie – Dir. Pablo Larrain

Natalie Portman’s tremendous portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in the wake of her husband’s assassination was by far my favourite performance of last awards season, and completely deserved the Best Actress gong that of course went to Emma Stone for La La Land. Although the film as a whole feels a bit structurally weak, Portman’s performance is easily one of the most invested leads of the decade, helping elevate the film head and shoulders above other similar historical biopics. The cinematography, by Stephane Fontaine, is also nothing short of breathtaking.

9. Beach Rats – Dir. Eliza Hittman

This low-key, low-budget story of toxic masculinity has been one of the surprises of the year for me – an intimate, intense delve into the life of a young man (21 year old Brit Harris Dickinson, in a breakout performance) struggling with his sexuality, his family life and his friendships against the backdrop of a Brooklyn summer. Underseen on release, Hittman’s sophomore feature deserves much wider exposure – it’s the kind of film 2017’s young men need.

8. The Death Of Stalin – Dir. Armando Iannucci

Alan Partridge creator Iannucci’s satire about the fearsome leader’s sudden death and the power struggle between his underlings in the aftermath manages to skilfully mine plentiful laughs out of a difficult subject matter. Material that might have gone haywire in the hands of a lesser talent is here comic gold, led by a brilliant starry cast including Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Palin, Paddy Considine and a scene-stealing Jason Isaacs, who absolutely revels in his role for every second he’s on screen.

7. Detroit – Dir. Kathryn Bigelow

Winner of the Best Director Oscar in 2010 for her Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker, Bigelow here turns her attention to the 1967 Detroit riots, in particular the Algiers motel siege, which makes for one of the most intense cinematic experiences of the year. Will Poulter’s brutal, racist cop and Anthony Mackie as one of the innocents caught up in the raid are both fantastic, and Bigelow’s assured and shocking, but never exploitative, direction delivers a timely, thought-provoking film that’s (sadly) as relevant today as the events it portrays were fifty years ago.

6. In Between – Dir. Mayasloun Hamoud

This Tel Aviv-set story of cross-cultural friendship was another of the year’s surprises for me – intelligent, engaging and funny, with some of the most genuine female characters to grace cinema screens in years. Each character given her own narrative, the film’s three leads have a real spark that fictional friends rarely do. Hamoud directs with confidence, refusing to shy away from the struggles the characters face – one scene in particular is difficult to watch – but always remaining on their side.

5. Manchester By The Sea – Dir. Kenneth Lonergan

Playwright-turned-filmmaker Lonergan’s talky, emotional drama about a distant janitor returning to his hometown to care for his teenage nephew after his brother dies was a favourite of last awards season, winning Casey Affleck a Best Actor Oscar and racking up numerous other wins and nominations along the way, including a well-deserved Supporting Actor Oscar nom for Lucas Hedges as the grieving nephew. This is a brilliant example of a film where a great screenplay and great performances work together to create, in my opinion, an instant classic.

4. Thelma – Dir. Joachim Trier

I watched Norwegian director Trier’s supernatural drama early one morning, ready to interview Trier and his leading actress Eili Harboe in the afternoon, and was completely knocked for six. Telekinetic powers, young love and hidden family secrets break genres and taboos as university student Harboe falls for her new friend Kaya Wilkins, something she believes her strict religious upbringing forbids, but soon realises she has much bigger things to be afraid of. A true original in every sense.

3. It Comes At Night – Dir. Trey Edward Shults

With only the micro-budget indie Krishna under his belt prior, Shults breaks into the big leagues with this horror thriller about the most human of fears – other people. Set in a post-apocalyptic American woodland, Joel Edgerton and Carmen Ejogo find themselves seemingly menaced by an unseen antagonist after taking in desperate young couple Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough. Edgerton and Ejogo’s teen son is the one who first senses the threat, but before long it’s too late. Never overdoing the jump-scares or gore, Shults proves himself to be a fantastic talent in genre cinema – I highly anticipate whatever he does next.

2. The Salesman – Dir. Asghar Farhadi

After much publicity regarding Farhadi’s inability to attend the Oscars due to Trump’s travel ban, his brilliantly gripping moral drama won Best Foreign Film – and deservedly so. Telling the story of a couple whose move into a new apartment sets in motion of chain of events neither of them could have anticipated, Farhadi sends the audience on a tense rollercoaster ride to rival any mainstream Hollywood thriller. A masterful work, and one that should become a classic of Middle Eastern cinema.

1. Wind River – Dir. Taylor Sheridan

Sicario and Hell Or High Water proved Sheridan to be an excellent crime thriller screenwriter – here he cements his reputation as he writes and directs this story of a hunter (Jeremy Renner) and an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) tracking a rapist on an Indian reservation in the Alaskan wilds. Renner and Olsen both give career-best performances in a thriller that delivers both character-driven drama and edge-of-the-seat action with a final third that, for me, ranks up there with the best climaxes of the decade. This is a rare example of something that can be enjoyed by arthouse and mainstream audiences – a sign of a genuinely great film.

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How Casinos Can Improve a Movie

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When it comes to movie themes, you got them all. From war movies to romance films, there is something for everybody. However, the gamble theme is not often present but some casino scenes really mattered. For example, the roulette ball in Casablanca that landed on 22 two times, all this was possible thanks to the rigged roulette. 

Another example is found in the movie 21. This movie is mainly made after a book called Bringing Down the House and just like the movie, it’s about a group of students “robbing” a casino playing Blackjack. Actually, the robbing process consists in one person taking a seat at a Blackjack table and that person just counts the cards. After a while, their friend joins knowing which cards were already played. As expected, they get caught and the action begins.  

Daniel Craig and Casino Royale 

If it’s not already obvious, these examples cannot go further without mentioning Daniel Craig starring as a MI6 agent in the movie Casino Royale. This movie was not like any other James Bond films. Firstly, the new actor had blond hair and blue eyes. This new look was not welcome at all especially for die hard 007 fans. Daniel Craig had nothing in common with the previous agents such as Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan. Moreover, back in 2005, right before the Casino Royale release, many fans were sure that Daniel will ruin the series. In fact, Casino Royale ended up being one of the best James Bond movies ever.  

After all, some changes were needed so the movie can have a fresh feeling. If we got used to every James Bond movie starting with the same scene, Casino Royale made it different. Until then, every single film started with a gun barrel sequence in which James walks in a white room, he turns, then fires and the blood drips down the screen. In the new 007 film, the movie starts with a black and white scene and at the end of this sequence, when we think that its first victim is dead, Daniel turns around then fires and we have the first gun barrel scene.  

As an illustration on the movie name, there are three poker scenes that make this film better. The first one has a well made old-fashion feel that is mainly made through the dissolve process. This technique was usually seen in the 80s and is a post-process film editing that makes the transition from one image to another.  

The second poker game is when Le Chiffre destroys James. Right after this game, there is a sequence that lets the agent sit alone on the table with nothing left, making the MI6 agent more natural. This is a high contrast with all the old cliché movies where James Bond was invincible. Further, Daniel gets poisoned by Le Chiffre but the secret agent survives by using the defibrillator from his car. Then he comes back and says ”I’m sorry, that last hand, killed me”.   

Like I said, casinos can be a good way to improve a movie. Also, land-based casinos suffered many changes over the years. Like most casinos that are now using online and mobile platforms. For about 400 years, casinos were just ”gamble houses”, but now they adopted new technologies. The most important change was of course, the online platforms which made it possible to enjoy casino games from the comfort of our house.  

For few years know, these virtual gamble houses started to show up everywhere. Moreover, there is a new online British casino called Admiral Casino and has a wide variety of fruit machines. In addition, their app is present on the App Store and you can now play slots like Sizzling Hot and Golden Sevens. Both games have 5 reels and are made by Novomatic. As has been noted, casinos made their contributions in many areas and now, thanks to the mobile technology they can be taken in your pocket. 

 

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Sequels Deliver at the Box Office

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Jurassic World was a gigantic hit in 2015, in fact, at a worldwide gross of $1,671,713,208 it remains the 5th highest grossing film of all time just behind Infinity War and The Force Awakens. That’s impressive for any franchise, let alone one long considered extinct. 

With its sequel, Fallen Kingdom, currently dominating the box office, it is worth looking at just how well sequels tend to do, the mixed fortunes they find themselves in, the biggest success stories and some considerably embarrassing failures. 

Fallen Kingdom hasn’t been a big hit with the critics (51% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to 71% for the first film) but this evolution of the series has still resonated with audiences, currently sitting at $932,387,335 and very likely to pass the hallowed billion dollar mark in the next week or so. A billion dollars is nothing to be sniffed at but there is still every chance the studio will consider it something of a failure that it was unable to eclipse its predecessor. 

A few other franchises worth examining; 

Fast and Furious 

A franchise that rose from the ashes of almost going straight to DVD, with the 7th installment staking its claim in the big leagues, ironically 7th highest of all time, but when Fate of the Furious came just two years later, it made close to $300 million less. Is that audiences simply getting sick of cars doing ridiculous things, or something else? Fast 7 was unfortunately bolstered by the death of star Paul Walker, giving it increased media attention. 

Star Wars 

As previously mentioned, The Force Awakens is one of the biggest box office hits of all time, and whether or not it will be unseated in third place by Infinity War is almost too close to call but it will be incredibly close. 

But it terms of diminishing returns, The Last Jedi made over $700 million less than The Force Awakens. Why is that? The answer for this one is pretty simple, The Force Awakens was such a huge, once in a generation event, that it wasn’t going to happen a second time. Not that The Last Jedi’s box office is low, it sits at 11th of all time. 

But Star Wars has a different problem, it is now a series that digresses from the main saga and moved into spin off territory. Rogue One was a big hit, being a member of the billion dollar club, but Solo, a film plagued with production troubles, has really struggled, pulling in a fairly weak $368,879,115. The blame for this lies in the release window, with Infinity War still making good change, and Deadpool the week before, Solo hit in the middle of one of the most crowded summers in recent memory, with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom snapping quickly at its heels. 

What is considered a success or a failure in these terms anyway? It’s hard to know for sure. Sony’s second attempt at the Spider-Man franchise (Amazing Spider-Man if you find all these Spider-People confusing) was a decent hit, and the sequel only made $50 million less but was considered such a failure by Sony that they ended up handing the character back to Marvel. Which we can all agree was the right thing to do. But just $50 million was enough to make them wonder, not the other $650 million it made. Sequels are expected to make more money. 

Now, one last point. The highest grossing film of all time?  

Avatar. $2,787,965,087.  

That will probably never be beaten. Avatar 2 has a release date of December 18th 2020. Will it come anywhere close to the first film? This seems unlikely. Or maybe not, James Cameron should never be counted out, he might very well end up with the top 3 highest grossing films of all time. Or will Star Wars Episode 9, which goes into production this week, come back with a bang and topple Cameron’s big blue cat people? 

Only time, and a lot of money, will tell. 

 

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Cinema FOMO

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FOMO; the fear of missing out. Defined in 2015 by the Oxford English Dictionary as, ‘anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media’.

It’s true that in our online, digitally driven world, FOMO is thriving on a global scale, however that doesn’t mean it’s a new phenomenon. Throughout cinematic history, audiences have craved a shared experience, using quotes and characters as shorthand in their own conversations. No-one wants to be left out of the discussion.

Even in this technological age, the world’s leading film magazine Empire, remains an important and relevant source in the world of film journalism and with its much-loved features and interviews with Hollywood’s A-List, you can avoid serious FOMO by joining their subscription service today, meaning you’ll never miss a review or important update from the world of film.

When the teaser trailer for Black Panther landed, it was viewed 89 million times in just 24 hours. It was the most tweeted about movie in 2017 (before it was even released) and has gone on to become the most tweeted about film ever made. People wanted to be a part of the #BlackPanther and #Wakanda phenomenon and Twitter gave them the community they desired, adding in Q&A specials and a Black Panther custom emoji.

But what about before the dawn of Twitter? Back in the dark depths of 1999, a little film called The Blair Witch Project dropped. Using the internet, online forums went mad with leaked rumours about a film created from the found footage of three missing filmmakers. The accompanying website presented credible back stories and realistic style news interviews. Missing person leaflets were also distributed to enhance the story. (Spoiler alert; if you don’t already know, it was all entirely fictional). At the time however, this clever and original marketing fed directly in to our FOMO receptors.

But what if we take social media and the internet out of the equation. Do we travel back to a pre FOMO time? The truth? Absolutely not, so you can put the DeLorean away.

Back in 1961, Alfred Hitchcock released Psycho. Whilst his reputation was already established, this was a self financed film, so a lot was riding on its success. He made the decision not to screen for critics first, meaning audiences got to see the film at the same time, with no preconceptions. He refused cast interviews and to pump curiosity, issued an edict that nobody would be allowed in to cinemas after the picture began. Would you want to be the only one not to know what was happening inside the Bates Motel? Absolutely not. People flocked, queues stretching around the block to ensure they experienced this new cinematic milestone. Quite simply, FOMO struck again.

In truth, it’s an innate human desire to want to belong and regardless of marketing, it doesn’t get much better than sharing the joy of a cinematic experience with friends.

 

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