Let’s first take a quick break from 2017 and look back fifty years (as I suspect we’ll be doing a lot in 2018). For Little White Lies, Justine Smith has been rifling through various archives and has put together a collection of best-of-1967 top tens. That year would be Bosley Crowther’s last as head film critic at the New York Times. Crowther’s the butt of many a cinephilic joke, but his list isn’t half bad. At #1: Alain Resnais’s La guerre est finie. The National Board of Review fares worse (Richard Fleischer’s Doctor Dolittle at #7).
Cahiers du Cinéma “was at its influential peak in 1967,” writes Smith, “thanks to the global prominence of the French New Wave, and showed its relevance by supporting the likes of Jacques Tati, Věra Chytilová and many of pre-eminent filmmakers of that era. Many French New Wave directors—including Jean-Luc Godard—were still writing for the magazine in 1967.” Their #1: Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, which was Andrew Sarris’s as well.
Roger Ebert’s #1 has stuck. Whether or not Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde really was the best film of the year, it’s perhaps become the most emblematic film of 1967. That’s Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty on the cover of Mark Harris’s 2008 book, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, tracking the critical and public reception of Bonnie and Clyde, Mike Nichols’s The Graduate, Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night, Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and Doctor Dolittle. Throughout 2017, Harris has been writing a column for Film Comment, “Cinema ’67 Revisited,” each addressing another film of that year, twenty-four in all.
“In the ten years since Pictures at a Revolution was published,” Harris writes in the column that wraps the series, “one of the questions I’ve been asked most frequently is: what was the ‘sixth’ Best Picture nominee, the film that finished just out of the running? The Academy never releases its vote totals, and there are educated-guess cases to be made for Camelot, Cool Hand Luke, and Wait Until Dark. But I have always suspected that In Cold Blood is the film that just missed.” Writer-director Richard Brooks’s film has also “seemed perennially on the verge of rediscovery.”
2017: Audiovisual Essays
“Has the video essay become a victim of its own success?” ask Kevin B. Lee and David Verdeure, introducing the results of “the largest video-essay poll conducted to date.” For Sight & Sound, they’ve asked thirty-three scholars and makers of audiovisual essays to name and perhaps write a few words about the best to have appeared this year. “At its best, the video essay provides a compass to navigate an ever-expanding ocean of media. But with so many video essays being produced, we now seem to be engulfed in an ocean of compasses, as the form expands across multiple contexts.” This poll offers guidance.
At Film School Rejects, Jacob Oller presents “seventeen favorite forays into the video essay by some of my favorite editors, without ranking or criticism.”
Polls and Publications
For weeks, the Guardian’s been counting down two top fifties, one for the U.S. and one for the UK. Topping both lists is Call Me by Your Name. Gwilym Mumford asks director Luca Guadagnino how he feels about that. “This is a movie about a family, compassion, transmission of knowledge, of being better people because someone’s otherness changes you. That this kind of discourse could be embraced by an audience and critics is very warming.” As for a possible sequel or two, Guadagnino notes that the “last forty pages of the book tell you about twenty years in the life of Oliver and Elio. So I started to think about Michael Apted’s Up, and the cycle of films Truffaut devoted to the character of Antoine Doinel. And I thought, maybe it’s not a question of sequel, it’s a question of chronicling everyone in this film. I think seeing these characters growing in the bodies of these actors will be quite fantastic.”
Otros Cines, based in Argentina, has posted lists from its contributors and dozens of readers are following up with their own.
Editors and contributors at Études are listing, too.
Screen’s reviewers revisit their top films of the year: Fionnuala Halligan and Lee Marshall on Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, Tim Grierson on Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Allan Hunter in Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country, Wendy Ide on BPM (Beats Per Minute), Sarah Ward on Call Me by Your Name, Dan Fainaru on Aki Kaurismäki’s The Other Side of Hope, Kim Newman on Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, Lisa Nesselson on Errol Morris’s Wormwood, and Jonathan Romney on Kogonada’s Columbus.
Contributors to WBUR—Sean Burns, Joyce Kulhawik, Erin Trahan, and Tom Meek—each write about five of their favorites.
The staff at the New Beverly in Los Angeles look back on the year, noting that “each list is an idiosyncratic window into the heart of a film fanatic, showcasing what we’ve been watching, what we can’t stop talking about, and what we think you need to see, both new releases and old favorites.”
Adrian Martin’s spruced up his list of the “Top Ten Films of 2017,” and #1 is Marco Bellocchio’s Sweet Dreams: “The polite dismissals and general indifference shown by critics toward this masterpiece by Bellocchio stun me. Is this ‘mother and child’ melodrama just too sentimental for them all? But it’s a brilliant move on Bellocchio’s part to marry his long-nurtured psychoanalytic themes, and his frequently surreal sense of lived experience, to this pained, deeply moving story. Bellocchio has lost not an iota of his skill, or his artistry.”
Jordan Peele’s Get Out lands at #12 on Bilge Ebiri’s list of the top twenty-five in the Village Voice. But the notion of the “sunken place” has stuck with him. “A truly poetic idea reaches outside of its specific milieu and gathers a life of its own. And the notion of a liminal beyond from which you can only watch helplessly as your very sense of self, your consciousness, sinks further away from you certainly has its applications. Cinema represents a kind of dream life to begin with, but very often what’s reflected back is not just our dreams but our worst nightmares. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about sunken places—both this specific one, as well as others—as the film year has unfolded.” His #1: Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross’s My Happy Family. “It is life itself, in all its messiness and horror and glory.”
“We will remember 2017 as the Reckoning era and the age of the Female Gaze, but also the year of Get Out and Greta Gerwig, of existential ghosts and extraordinary docs, of saying hello to Timothée Chalamet and Tiffany Haddish and goodbye to Daniel Day-Lewis.” Agnès Varda and JR’s Faces Places tops David Fear’s list in Rolling Stone, where he then goes on to write about “25 Reasons to Love the Movies in 2017.”
“Looking over 2017, we see a span of incredible accomplishments,” writes Time Out’s Joshua Rothkopf. “Some of them—such as I, Tonya, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Florida Project—were essentially of the moment, filled with economic unease and the voices of women who would no longer be silent. Others reminded us of the community we all share when we buy a ticket and sit in the dark together. But even 2017’s most glorious piece of escapism, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, was hardly about a galaxy far, far away.” His #1: Call Me by Your Name.
#1 for the Chicago Reader’s J. R. Jones is The Lost City of Z: “Cinema still offers a combination of visual scope and narrative compression you can't get from TV, which is what makes this epic historical adventure by James Gray such an arresting experience.” And for Ben Sachs, it’s Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann: “The most lauded film of 2016 didn't open in Chicago until January of this year, and it stood heads above everything else I saw in 2017.”
“It’s estimated that the average American spends about ten hours looking at screens—on phones, laptops, desktops, tablets, televisions, and so on—every day,” notes ARTnews senior editor Alex Greenberger. “Screens are more than a little ubiquitous at this point, and I realized, perhaps not so surprisingly, that many of my favorite exhibitions from this year involved the use of screens. In tribute, I compiled lists of my favorite screen-based work that I saw in galleries, museums, and theaters, and a few more that I viewed by other means.” As for what he saw in theaters, Call Me by Your Name comes out on top, and he notes that “rarely ever do melodramas—or movies, period, for that matter—feel as naturalistic as this.”
It tops Kevin Lally’s ten at Film Journal International, too.
Topping Jason Bailey’s list at Flavorwire is Dee Rees’s Mudbound, “moving and angry, lyrical yet terrifying, particularly in the third act’s descent into violence that moves, unexpectedly, to a note of hope.”
Get Out tops Steve Erickson’s ten in Gay City News: “Everything I responded to in the film—the way it expresses truths about American racism and the methods by which hatred can barely cloak itself at the best of times, while being an extremely entertaining and witty horror movie with zero preachiness—seemed to be the exact same reasons it clicked with a wide audience scared by the first months of the Trump regime and wound up grossing almost $180 million. Night of the Living Dead director George Romero passed away this year, but Get Out carries on his flair for politicized genre movies.”
At the Verge, Tasha Robinson agrees, adding that Get Out’s got “an ending that feels not just earned, but urgently necessary in 2017.”
“The Star Wars backlash reflects our tribal culture, where battle lines are drawn and we exclusively stick to our teams,” writes Robert Horton in the Seattle Weekly. “People on the right attack movies for being too PC, people on the left attack movies for being ideologically impure—in both cases at the risk of missing complex films that don’t fit easily into straight lines. One of my favorite 2017 films, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, has gained its share of disapproval because it suggests that one character, an unpleasant racist jerk, might possibly bumble his way to becoming a better person instead of simply being punished for his transgressions. No straight lines in this film.” His #1, though, is David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks: The Return.
Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal tops Josh Bell’s list in the Las Vegas Weekly: “Anne Hathaway discovers a psychic connection to a giant, Godzilla-like monster halfway around the world in the year’s strangest, most exhilarating and unexpected movie, equal parts sci-fi mind-bender and darkly comedic examination of codependency and toxic masculinity.” As we’ve seen at the A.V. Club, for Mike D’Angelo, it’s mother! “Is it a Biblical allegory? A warning about climate change? Writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s confession about what a nightmare it is to date someone like him? All of the above, plus the year’s most audacious rollercoaster ride.”
“This year was bad for Japanese films box office-wise, but not quality-wise,” writes Mark Schilling in the Japan Times. His #1 is The Third Murder: “Hirokazu Kore-eda’s drama about an ex-convict (Koji Yakusho) arrested for committing his third murder has the arc of a crime film but deepens into a powerful meditation on the meaning of justice and the unknowability of human beings.”
“My Blu-ray/DVD consumption has waned somewhat in the wake of my subscribing to FilmStruck,” writes Michael Smith, “but I was still able to easily cobble together a list of my top ten favorite home video releases of 2017 (plus eleven runners-up).” His #1: Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series. “Now bring on season four.”
On the latest CriterionCast (110’48”), “Aaron West, Arik Devens, David Blakeslee, Jordan Essoe, Scott Nye and Trevor Berrett gather to talk about the past year in Criterion, including their favorite three Criterion releases of 2017.”
From Rolling Stone: “Not all TV episodes are created equal, even within top-notch shows—some stand head and recapped shoulder above the pack. This year, we asked writers for essays on the ten best TV eps of 2017—from Twin Peaks’ mind-blowing ‘Part 8’ (‘Got a light?’) to Bojack Horseman’s heartbreaking ‘Time's Arrow.’”
Noel Murray on his #1 show for the Verge: “By turns glorious, despairing, humane, and perplexing, Twin Peaks was an uncommonly generous weekly gift, delivered throughout a long, hot summer.”
Also . . .
“I read many articles over 2017,” writes film historian Luke McKernan. “Such a great number of those were about how the world might be made into a better place, everyone of which left the world exactly as it had been beforehand. Instead, my favorite article of the year was one that just explained how something works. Mayukh Nair’s ‘How Netflix works: the (hugely simplified) complex stuff that happens every time you hit Play,’ published via Medium, is an astonishing read.” His “cultural event of the year,” though, is the Criterion set 100 Years of Olympic Films: 1912–2012. “There is so much to discover here—a whole film history in itself, and a history of the paradoxes of idealism.”
On the new episode of the Poster Boys (135’40”), Brandon Schaefer and Sam Smith “select the theatrical posters, teasers, and campaigns that caught their eye this year, discussing design trends, film branding, the importance of context when comparing agency work to freelance work, and reflecting on their own personal experiences as poster designers in 2017.”
The Emoji Movie tops Time’s list of the ten worst movies of 2017.
“There were more recordings of exceptional quality than I can recall hearing in twelve months’ time since the mid-1990s, when pop and jazz and formal music were all undergoing dynamic shifts,” writes David Hajdu in the Nation. “The best of the best albums of this year are so good that I wouldn’t be able to defend ranking them.” So he’s gone alphabetical.
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