2016 set in motion a series of collapses on so many fronts it seemed like some terrible dream. But in 2017, it began to sink in that, no, this is our new reality. Perhaps in 2018 we’ll decide that it doesn’t have to be our new normal.
I’ll be spending a good chunk of 2018 catching up with many, many films appearing on the lists I’ve been rounding up up this year, including, just for starters, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, Robin Campillo’s BPM (Beats Per Minute), Agnès Varda and JR’s Faces Places, Frederick Wiseman’s Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, and on, and on. My greatest offense this year is not having yet cleared the eighteen hours for Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return. I know. I will.
If you decide to stop reading now, having decided that I simply cannot be taken seriously, I’ll understand. Otherwise, here’s my own 2017 top ten:
1. David Lowery’s A Ghost Story. To be perfectly honest, I went in suspecting that I’d be agreeing with Bilge Ebiri’s assessment, that “its what-the-fuckery feels more calculated than organic.” The suspicion wasn’t immediately tossed, either; it evaporated slowly. I don’t know what it is that’s emerged in its place, but it’s got a hold on me still. When Will Oldham’s character launches into his monologue, he’s probably not exactly sure where he’ll be going with it, but a hunch in his gut guides him to a desolate conclusion. Lowery’s story rolls out as if he were thinking out loud, and though it also eventually wanders out to the very infinitude of the universe, he ends up in far less desperate straits. There can be such a thing as a ghost of a ghost. Learn that there comes a time to let go. Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot: “The draped figure, scratching the walls as it seeks a possibly unattainable answer to his own little life’s question, is as elemental an image as any in recent American cinema, possibly even more resonant than Lowery could have intended. This film’s ideas are so maddeningly simple that they touch the profound.”
2. Valeska Grisebach’s Western. As in her quietly moving Longing (2006), Grisebach explores facets of masculinity, but here the focus is on the dynamics of dominance—interpersonally as well as geopolitically. More from Andrew Chan.
4. Jordan Peele’s Get Out. We all got sick of hearing every other weekend all year long about how this or that film addresses our moment, but come on, this is the one. George A. Romero certainly wasn’t the first to tool horror’s conventions into political allegory, but he was one of the best. Peele’s debut helps assuage the loss.
5. Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In. For all of Isabelle’s frustrations, this is a film in love with love. It’s infectious. Also, the best closing credits of the year.
6. Michael Glawogger and Monika Willi’s Untitled. A genuinely enlightening travelogue, sounding an urgent alarm even as it celebrates the wide, wide world; and a stirring eulogy (Willi, Glawogger’s editor, completed the film after he passed away during production).
7. Hong Sangsoo’s The Day After. I might have gone for On the Beach at Night Alone, the only other of the three films Hong made this year I’ve seen, but there’s something about the more compact structure (and more compact frames, too) about The Day After that nudges it ahead for me.
8. Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name. Guadagnino finally reels in his penchant for the immoderately sensational to arrive at the truly sensual.
9. Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. As with Tangerine (2015), it takes a few scenes to become accustomed to Baker’s rhythm and tone, but once you’re there, it flies.
10. Chloé Zhao’s The Rider. For all the film’s beauty, it’s Brady, one of the most subtly intriguing characters of the year, and his relationships, particularly with his father and sister, that makes this one of the most unassumingly vital films of 2017.
Honorable mentions: Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross’s My Happy Family, Aki Kaurismäki’s The Other Side of Hope, John Carroll Lynch’s Lucky, Calin Peter Netzer’s Ana, mon amour, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Julian Radlmaier’s Self-criticism of a Bourgeois Dog, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, Nicolas Wackerbarth’s Casting, and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless.
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