Phantom Thread: The perfect last film

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No Spoilers until there are. 

Daniel Day Lewis is inarguably the greatest living actor of this generation. Very few actors even come close to his level, at this point. His body of work is so remarkable, it’s actually unbelievable. Every single time the man has appeared on screen, he’s done something pathbreaking that has managed to carve it’s own space in cinema history. Yes, history. So what happened when he announced his retirement? Shock. Sadness. Bit of anger. Rage. More sadness. Anger. But between all this, the inability to get yourself to wait for his last film. Phantom Thread. 

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There will be blood (2007) was Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day Lewis’ last collaboration. Boy, what a film, what a performance. The film really made you question the conventional ideas of character motivation and how projecting that has no rule, whatsoever. Daniel Plainview is one of Daniel Day Lewis’ greatest ever characters. Even for a man with a career like his. Writing about this film will need another long piece, so let me not get into that. On to Phantom Thread. 

This film was already special because of it’s collaboration. Paul Thomas Anderson Directing. Daniel Day Lewis as the lead actor. Holy shit. Then we got to know about the retirement and it became far more special and also, emotional. There was a rough idea in my mind, about what to expect from this last collaboration. Having only watched the trailer and avoided every written piece about it, I clearly wanted to be thrown off guard. PT Anderson has done that to me and millions of others with almost every film. This time, I needed it more than ever. The argument of movie build up sometimes ruining a movie is often justified but mostly, it’s utter nonsense. If the film holds, the expectations you went in with should be rendered irrelevant. It’s the same reason why some films surprise us. About the entire world PT Anderson creates in Phantom Thread, what fascinates me a lot is how the idea that flows under this film would need such strong conviction and belief before creating this world in the first place. Anderson has quite candidly and jokingly spoken about how the idea came to him (when he was lying sick in his house one evening) but to actually take it forward and build all this (especially because it’s a period film) on the basis of one idea, that is nothing short of insane, requires a tremendous sense of confidence in one’s own storytelling. PT Anderson deserves to be applauded for that.

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The film is set in 1950s London and is centred around Reynolds Woodcock, a dressmaker who falls in love with a strong willed waitress, Alma. Woodcock is all about his work, his work and his work. There is nothing else his life has space for. Alma is a strong woman who wants him to herself. Reynolds works with his sister and is highly reputed as a dressmaker. He is obsessive about every inch or should I say, stitch.

SPOILERS

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Woodcock as a character is almost a license to be insane. In no manner does PT Anderson make it look like his obsessiveness is costing him. In his personal space, yes sure. But on the professional front, women would die to be in his dresses (literally). Woodcock, strangely enough, does want Alma around him and doesn’t want her around at the same time. He seems like a man who wants things happening around him or just people “existing” around him but not intruding with any of his work. Another way of looking at it is, he wants people around him who help him and give an impetus to his work. Nothing and no one else. Even the slightest sound could get on his nerves during his breakfast work session.
Jimmy Kimmel, while talking to PT Anderson brilliantly pointed out the humour in the film. The kind of humour used in Phantom Thread is an incredible brand of dark humour. The obsessiveness can get you to laugh but also, sort of, make you sit back and observe this man and his routine that never stops making your jaw drop, really.

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Reynolds’ sister, played remarkably by Lesley Manville, is an extremely intriguing character. Her relationship with Reynolds is almost like a business relationship. Surely, that’s nothing short of what he wants but he also wants to use her as a bouncing board for his frequent rants, which she is not at all ready for. She warns him about “getting into an argument” with her. She says he wouldn’t want to and yes, he does seem like he doesn’t want to. She helps him with his work but he also wants to run his complains at her, every now and then which she, quite rightly, refuses to entertain. She acts as an intermediary between Alma and Reynolds, not establishing her stance clearly. She is fond of Alma but hates Reynolds’ routine being disturbed that would hamper the business and in turn, her business relationship with him. It’s a vicious cycle where people want things so blatantly and unapologetically.

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Finally, Alma played by Vicky Krieps, is an intriguing and exciting character. You must understand, if she didn’t enter this story, the monotonous life of Reynolds and his sister Cyril would go on and on. Alma initially appears to us as an innocent young girl who is intrigued by and interested in this old, obsessive man. If you didn’t ask yourself why she would be, you have the answer in the end. His obsessiveness is presented to her right at their first meeting when he orders his breakfast. (PT Anderson recently said you can know a lot about a person based on what they have for breakfast https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/feb/01/paul-thomas-anderson-you-can-tell-a-lot-about-a-person-by-what-they-order-for-breakfast)  As bloody crazy as this sounds, it’s strangely exciting as a prospect. There’s a slight change in her demeanour when Reynolds makes her try the dresses. She is a bit embarrassed but after Cyril speaks about his liking towards her, she starts smiling again. What’s so brilliant about her character is the craziness that’s just waiting to come out. With Reynolds, it’s out there. You know it. With Alma, there’s always was a sense of something you were about to discover and get shocked by. Get shocked by indeed.

It’s hard to pick a favourite scene but certainly a scene that was exceptional was the “gun scene”. The humour, craziness or should i say, borderline insanity in this scene is taken to a level Anderson didn’t go to even with There will be blood. 

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The scene above is probably in the 5 best scenes of 2017 (Not yet sure if it’s going to top. Yet to watch 12-15 films)

The genius of Anderson’s writing and storytelling style lies to you about the kind of film Phantom Thread is, all the way. Until this point. The biggest hint at this being a twisted love story is shown to us when Woodcock asks Alma to marry him in that slow track in shot, after he was poisoned. The writing genius makes sure you think this is only because “he admires the way she took care of him”. Well, yes but what lies below that is jaw dropping. Just the crazy thought of it.

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Phantom Thread is almost like an ode to insanity, in some sense. One of the most fascinating things about it and about a lot of Anderson’s work is how he sometimes mixes subtlety with insanity and craziness. This film is the greatest testament to that. The treatment is subtle and resembles any classic film (a lot thanks to the brilliant background music by Jonny Greenwood) and Anderson uses your knowledge and understanding of such classics to fool you into believing this is a story like those that you have watched over the years. Even if you’ve followed his work for a long time and know something insane would eventually come up, his storytelling style manages to tell the greatest lie a film has told you in 2017.

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As for Daniel Day Lewis, we hope you change your mind. We hope another film comes to your doorstep and you just can’t help but agree to jump on board. Cinema needs you. Acting needs you. Art needs you. But even if you stick with this decision, you have left iconic work behind that we will revisit, forever. 

 

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Why no filmmaker is compelled to do anything

Over the years, there’s been a rising misconception that a fictional film based on certain historical elements or consisting of historical characters (or just people who actually lived) is bound to or by law has to project all the elements as though it were a reflection of a History text book.

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NO filmmaker HAS TO do anything, first let’s get that clear. Just like NO potential audience member HAS TO watch any film. 

It’s really that simple.

To explain this for the dummies, who think every filmmaker making a historical film has a responsibility to massage their egos, let me give you the example of Inglorious Basterds. This is a film by Quentin Tarantino, arguably one of the best filmmakers working today. The film won an Academy Award (and was nominated for another 7) and hey, the Academy and Quentin himself know so much more about cinema and film history than most or all of you. So why is this film relevant with regards to the pointless noise around SLB’s Padmavati?

In this film, QT distorted famously known historical “facts” (that even 8 year olds know) to fit into a story HE wove around characters who had lived. ADOLF HITLER WAS KILLED IN A MOVIE THEATRE, IN THIS FILM.The film is largely regarded as one of Tarantino’s Best Films. No body got offended by this distortion. Because it is FICTION. It is not a documentary. This is the first point I’m trying to get across.

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Secondly, where are all the comments about Padmavati coming from? How many of those people have even watched the film? Not a single person, making noise for fifteen minutes of fame, having seen nothing but the trailer (which also, I highly doubt they’ve seen). So on basis of PRESUMPTION, they’re already DECIDING that they WILL be offended by the film. Before watching a second of the film. This happened with a lot of films out here. It happened with Prakash Jha’s Aarakshan as well. If I’m not wrong, it happened with a few words in the lyrics of Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai as well and has happened famously with a LOT of films. Many people have USED films to get the fame and limelight they have always been craving.

Thirdly, and this part is overtly disturbing, people are justifying a violent attack on Mr Bhansali which came months before the film, for something that MIGHT be in the film. There are two problems here. One, you are justifying violence for your own misunderstanding surrounding a director working on a film with historical elements and two, you don’t even know what is in the film. So according to these folks, a violent act on an innocent artist is justified because the film he is currently shooting MIGHT have something in it that MIGHT offend SOMEONE.

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Fourthly, we have such a rich history. How many filmmakers on a commercial level are even making anything even minutely historical? The ones who are projecting the absolute beauty of those Worlds, always find themselves, in some sort of a problem that inadvertently builds up to a controversy. This discourages filmmakers from making historical films and then people say “Why aren’t they making films on our rich culture / heritage?” It’s because every time someone even comes close to making something about a historical character, SOMEONE decides to stand up and use that to gain some fame. SOMEONE or the other calls for a ban, calls for cuts, and so on.

Take a moment to think about this. All the people who are making this noise at the moment, how many opportunities would they get to get their names on all these platforms? To be seen on TV? To be written and spoken about? To be debated about on news shows? Very few or none. Some of them will use these opportunities to provide a proof of their existence. This is it. They are done now. They got what they wanted. At the expense of a great filmmaker, a large crew, who I’m sure have worked extremely extremely hard to create something that looks this spectacular.

There are no rules for a fiction film. No rules anywhere. That is why it is called fiction. Cinema, literature and the like, allow us to take characters who have lived, put them in different, interesting situations and create something. No filmmaker will ever do something to purposefully offend anyone. An artist will only create something because s/he wants to. It’s that simple.

If we make a list of things everyone in India is offended by, no one will be able to make a single film or even a painting or write a novel. 

Art and literature would cease to exist. 


Is ‘Dunkirk’ Christopher Nolan’s worst film?

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For those who’ve followed Christopher Nolan right from his early works including Following, his first feature, have always found it hard to pick Nolan’s worst film. Around the time Dark Knight Rises came out, some of these debates had settled. However, the fact that it was a part of trilogy, it’s criticism found occasional but relevant counters. Before I go ahead with this, I have to say, I think it’s almost impossible for Christopher Nolan to make a bad film. Dunkirk is a very good film. But personally, I think it’s Nolan’s worst so far.

In all of Nolan’s films, his characters have been built remarkably. It might have been out of pure intention, but the fact that he refuses to give it time in Dunkirk, is quite damaging to the entire project. The whole idea, I felt, was to build tension, in a short time frame, throwing us right in the middle of something. This is something that might have worked much better with more build up time. Think about the most gripping scenes from Inception. Take that one where Leonardo DiCaprio says “We are not prepared for this”. The tension in that sequence is at a stunning level but we feel it more because of the build up before. The Joker prison scene in The Dark Knight with that ringing cell phone as another example. Take the scenes from The Prestige or Interstellar or Memento or even Insomnia. Christopher Nolan is the master of building tension. Not in Dunkirk however. Yes we feel the tension pretty well but not as well as we are used to by Nolan.

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The counter argument to this can be, this was the entire intention. It can also be that there’s a certain bar Nolan has hit with Interstellar and Inception and so on but he hasn’t lost his right to make a smaller film (scale and runtime wise). Both of these are true. But the impact one usually feels, was much lesser in this one. That is something so natural, you cannot come up with it. It’s what you feel.

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It was visually stunning
“Visuals were great”. Well, yes. Name one Nolan film which didn’t have great visuals. Watch his 1997 short film Doodlebug. 

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Doodlebug (1997)

Even that had great visuals. You can’t be praising things that are sort of a standard in a Nolan picture, can you? Christopher Nolan is deeply inspired by Stanley Kubrick and his works. Primarily, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Over the years, he has incorporated a lot of what he has learnt from his master extraordinarily well. Visuals in a Nolan film are always stunning.

 

The Insomnia argument

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Insomnia (2002)

What has not only been gravely unfair and frankly quite disturbing, is the treatment Insomnia gets from most people. Only because the film doesn’t have the grandiose Nolan’s other films have, it is barely considered anywhere near his best. (Obviously, by those who discovered him recently and watched his previous films now) I beg to differ. Insomnia is a fantastic film. Also, it is what put Nolan on the level at which he is today. Most have always kept the film aside while speaking of Nolan’s great works. Those who are doing the same to Dunkirk are not necessarily doing it out of the same reason. I personally love Insomnia much more than Dunkirk. It’s a far superior film with a lot of layers.

The bar

Quentin Tarantino candidly confessed that he always wants to top his previous movie. When asked about Inglorious Basterds, he said he wanted to top that too. With Christopher Nolan, who reached a high point with Interstellar that was extremely hard to top, Dunkirk, came nowhere close. Dunkirk to Interstellar isn’t what Interstellar is to Inception. (Don’t mean to ignore Dark Knight Rises, but lets consider Nolan’s works outside the trilogy)

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Summing it up

Christopher Nolan’s new film is always a massive event. It has been for quite a few years now. It will always be. After watching Dunkirk twice, I definitely feel it is far, far and extremely far from Nolan’s best. I think it is his worst movie. Probably after Dark Knight Rises, but his worst. Something quite frequent with Nolan’s movies is the fact that they grow on you. Interstellar did, Inception did, Prestige did, Memento did, Insomnia did, The Dark Knight did. A lot of this has to do with the score, the soul of most of these movies. Particularly Inception and Interstellar, both had this effect and a lot of it was because of the exceptional score by Hans Zimmer. In this film, of course, the score was fascinating. Just like Nolan, it’s impossible for Zimmer to produce something bad. But it all felt like scenes / segments from those films mentioned above at best! As a whole, it wasn’t nearly as effective as any of those movies.

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It’s harder to label any of Nolan’s films as his best but easier to pick his worst because he’s barely ever had anything that would contend for the spot. Until now.

 


Why ‘A Ghost Story’ is a modern day masterpiece

 

There was something about the first look of A Ghost Story that was so brilliant, I couldn’t wait to watch the film. Everything seemed minimal, well designed and in some ways like a painting. After waiting for the film for quite a few months, I finally had a chance to watch it. I was awestruck. The film blew me away.
David Lowery’s imagery is thought provoking and extraordinarily immersive.

Here’s a summary describing the film via IMDB :

“In this singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence, a recently deceased, white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to try to reconnect with his bereft wife.”

The film is simply fascinating. Anything more than that brief ^ would be giving too much away. Lowery uses long takes, gorgeously designed shots, incredible silences and creates a truly immersive experience. Needless to say, we are mostly watching the film from the Ghost’s point of view. Lowery’s depiction of the wandering ghost is so compelling, it forces you to think and rethink a lot of theories you might have heard about ‘life after death’.

The film is far from a horror. It’s more of a fantasy, drama and in some sense, a journey movie. Needless to say, the film is thoroughly original in it’s entirety. There’s a scene quite early in the film between the Ghost and Rooney Mara that for me, was on par with some of the best scenes from Spike Jonze’s Her. The strangeness, mysteriousness and ambiguity used to establish such an emotional connect has been done so brilliantly only a few times in modern day cinema.

A Ghost Story is a modern day masterpiece. David Lowery has created something so fascinating and original that it will be remembered as a benchmark indie film for years to come.


Oscar 2017 predictions

(Some categories have been left out deliberately)

Best Picture:

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La La Land

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Wild pick (Should win): Moonlight 

Best Director:

Director Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone on the set of LA LA LAND.

Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

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Wild pick: Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge) 

Best Actor Leading Role:

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Casey Affleck (Manchester by the sea)

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Wild pick: Denzel Washington (Fences)

Best Actress Leading Role: 

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Emma Stone (La La Land)

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Wild pick (Should Win): Isabelle Huppert (Elle) 

Actor in Supporting Role: 

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Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)

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Wild pick: Dev Patel (Lion) 

Actress In Supporting Role:

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Naomie Harris (Moonlight

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Wild pick: Viola Davis (Fences)

Writing (Adapted Screenplay):

Moonlight 

Wild pick: Fences 

Writing (Original Screenplay)

Manchester by the sea

Wild pick: La La Land 

Animated Feature: 

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Zootopia 

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Wild pick (Should Win) : Red Turtle 

Cinematography: 

Arrival

Wild pick: La La Land

Costume Design: 

La La Land

Wild pick: Jackie

Documentary Feature:

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O.J.: Made in America 

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Wild pick: I Am Not Your Negro

Film Editing:

La La Land 

Wild pick: Arrival 

Sound Editing:

Arrival

Wild pick: La La Land 

Sound Mixing: 

La La Land

Wild pick: Hacksaw Ridge 

Foreign Language Film:

The Salesman

Wild pick: Toni Erdmann

Music (Original Score) 

La La Land

Wild pick: Moonlight

Music (Original Song) 

Audition (La La Land

Wild pick: City of stars (La La Land) 


Remembering a masterpiece: Picnic at Hanging Rock

***NO SPOILERS***

To this day, the mystery behind Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, an Australian Classic, remains… well, a mystery. Joan Lindsay, the novelist on who’s book the film is based, is one of the main reasons for all the ambiguity. Her descriptions left it unclear whether the film is based on facts, or is entirely a work of fiction! For all it’s hauntingly beautiful imagery, impeccable tonality, breathtaking treatment surrounding a discomforting subject, Picnic at Hanging Rock remains a great favourite of mine.

Here’s a synopsis:
“During a rural summer picnic, a few students and a teacher from an Australian girls’ school vanish without a trace. Their absence frustrates and haunts the people left behind.”

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Web-based critic Kevin Maynard had said, “The film is just too damn impenetrable for its own good,” and it could not have been said better. It’s extremely hard to make a “mystery movie” that leaves just the right amount of questions unanswered. Peter Weir and his DP Russell Boyd make each frame look and feel like a painting. The entire incident could be perceived as a gorgeous, beautiful, hot, sunny day out…until it was. From start to end, the film is stunningly shot. At times, Weir uses close ups in slow motion. It’s an assurance, you will never forget these images. Never.

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“We worked very hard at creating an hallucinatory, mesmeric rhythm, so that you lost awareness of facts, you stopped adding things up, and got into this enclosed atmosphere. I did everything in my power to hypnotize the audience away from the possibility of solutions.”, Peter Weir told Sight and Sound. Whenever I read about this film, I find it quite puzzling how not many (or not enough) people talk about the score. It’s the evocative score, in correlation with that stunning imagery and Weir’s direction, that makes this film what it is.

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Joan Lindsay infamously “fuelled the fire” when it came to answering questions about the mysterious incidents that occurred at Hanging Rock during the 1900s. All of her descriptions about the story, leave loopholes. Obviously, these are intentionally left for your mind to run around in circles but I must say, there’s a beauty to that. According to a website, Lindsay made sure the final chapter of the novel only released after her death. In that she explains whatever remains answered. However, according to readers, her conclusions to the story are woven in an even greater ambiguity.

What a writer. What a film.

 


30 Best films of 2016

This list is obviously a “From what I could watch” list. There’s a strong list of 20 something (probably less / more) titles I still haven’t yet seen (2016 films) and I am eagerly waiting to. Many of these films will probably be crucial Academy Award contenders, hence I’ll probably have a different list for them. However, this is a list made out of the films I have seen in 2016 and I think you should. The best. The very best.
Here we go.

Here’s my list of films:

30. The Unknown Girl (Dir. Dardenne brothers)

 

29. Diamond Island (Dir. Davy Chou)

28. Hell or High water (Dir. David Mackenzie)

27. Coin Locker Girl (Dir. Han Jun-hee)

26. Blind  Christ (Dir. Christopher Murray)

25. Hounds of Love (Dir. Ben Young)

24. Neruda (Dir. Pablo Larraín)

23. Endless Poetry (Dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky)

22. When Two Worlds Collide (Dir. Heidi Brandenburg, Mathew Orzel)

21. Arrival  (Dir. Dennis Villeneuve)

20. Sandstorm (Dir. Elite Zexer)

19. Graduation (Dir. Cristian Mungiu)

18. Green Room (Dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

17. Very Big Shot (Dir. Mir-Jean Bou Chaaya)

16. Ma’ Rosa (Dir. Brillante Mendoza)

15. Tunnel (Dir. Kim Seong-hun)

14. The Happiest Day in the life of Olli Maki (Dir. Juho Kuosmanen)

13. The Salesman (Dir. Asghar Farhadi)

12. It’s only the end of the World (Dir. Xavier Dolan)

11. La La Land (Dir. Damien Chazelle)

10. The Handmaiden (Dir. Chan wook Park)

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9. The Untamed (Dir. Amat Escalante)

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8. Una (Dir. Benedict Andrews)

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7. Red Turtle (Dir. Michaël Dudok de Wit)

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6. Neon Demon (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

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5. Elle (Dir. Paul Verhoeven)

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4. Age of Shadows (Dir. Jee woon Kim)

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3. The Wailing (Dir. Na Hong-jin)

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2. American Honey (Dir. Andrea Arnold)

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1. I, Daniel Blake (Dir. Ken Loach)

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