What We Thought: It’s easy to see why Thelma did so well as film festivals and has picked up several Best Foreign Language Film of the Year awards from various critics groups. It’s beautifully made, evocative, creepy, morally ambiguous, delicately acted and more than a little disturbing. The film keeps the audience on edge by playing with the uncertainty over what’s going on and how religion, fear and confusion have conspired against the characters, leading to strange and dark consequences. The initial echoes of Stephen King’s Carrie soon lead in new directions, including a strong and quietly erotic sense of Sapphic desire.
4. God’s Own Country
Synopsis: Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) works long hours on his family’s remote farm in the north of England. He numbs the daily frustration of his lonely existence with nightly binge-drinking and casual sex. But when a handsome Romanian migrant worker (Alec Secareanu) arrives to take up temporary work on the family farm, Johnny suddenly finds himself having to deal with emotions he has never felt before. As they begin working closely together during lambing season, an intense relationship starts to form which could change Johnny’s life forever.
What We Thought: You can understand why it’s been dubbed by some the ‘British Brokeback Mountain’, but it’s also a powerful and evocative movie in its own right. Although there are moments where it goes a bit far with the rural isolation and desolation, that does ensure that the audience becomes fully involved with the emotionally immature Johnny and his growing – and passionate – relationship with Gheorghe. Beautifully filmed and with a very strong final act, it was a worthy winner of the top award at the recent British Independent Film Awards.
3. Beach Rats
From Our Review: It’s a beautifully observed look at a very specific teenage world, with a sharp script and subtle direction. This allows the movie to go to some pretty dark and morally complex places, without seeming like it’s stretching credulity or becoming melodramatic. That’s helped enormously by an astonishing performance by Harris Dickinson as Frankie. After you’ve watched the movie, it’s almost shocking to discover that he’s actually British, as thanks to some skilful acting and Eliza Hittman’s powerful direction, he seems to inhabit that world so much that it’s difficult to imagine either the actor or character being from anywhere else.
2. BPM (Beats Per Minute) [AKA 120 Beats Per Minute]
Synopsis: In Paris in the early 1990s, a group of activists goes to battle for those stricken with HIV/AIDS, taking on sluggish government agencies and major pharmaceutical companies in bold, invasive actions. The organization is ACT UP, and its members, many of them gay and HIV-positive, embrace their mission with a literal life-or-death urgency. Amid rallies, protests, fierce debates and ecstatic dance parties, the newcomer Nathan falls in love with Sean, the group’s radical firebrand, and their passion sparks against the shadow of mortality as the activists fight for a breakthrough.
What We Thought: Director Robin Campillo’s previous movie, Eastern Boys, made our Top 10 list in 2014, but he’s upped his game once more with BPM. Many thought it should have won the Palm d’Or at Cannes, and it has since gone on to become France’s official Foreign Language Oscar entry. Powerfully told, smart and refreshingly unsentimental, BPM manages to feel incredibly honest – helped by the fact it’s inspired by Campillo’s own experiences as an activist. It also smartly shows the effect of the many battle lines ACT UP dealt with, not just externally but also within their own ranks and within their own bodies.
1. Call Me By Your Name
From Our Review: Call Me By Your Name… benefits from strong direction by Luca Guadagnino, who cleverly builds the characters and their world. He deliberately eschews convention, with shots that seem to either linger too long or cut off too short. Othertimes the camera roves in a way that seems to be avoiding what the viewer wants to see (and not just in the sex scenes), but it’s done in an extremely smart way to draw the audience in and get them to question what the characters will do and why. There are entire film studies essays that could be written just about how much of the evolution of the relationship between Elio and Oliver is constructed around the bathroom the two share and how Oliver is shown taking a leak.