You can tweet as many Sight & Sound ballots and give out as many awards as you like any time in November, but the season is not officially open until Artforum publishes John Waters’s top ten. On December 1, year in, year out. “Okay, now it’s time to hang the Christmas lights and start posting those year-end lists,” tweeted New York Film Festival director Eugene Hernandez on Wednesday when Waters’s picks and notes appeared in the early morning hours. “Let the season begin!”
Waters is currently touring the country with another of his annual traditions, A John Waters Christmas, now in its twenty-fifth year. “I’ve rewritten it all,” he tells the Austin Chronicle’s Richard Whittaker. “You had to. You kidding? Nothing’s the same with COVID.” But he carries on writing—his first novel, Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance, will be out in May—and watching movies. His favorite film of the year is Leos Carax’s “nutcase masterpiece” Annette, the Sparks musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard.
That’s hardly a surprise, but the film he’s slipped into the #10 spot has sparked some inquisitive chatter on social media. With The Onania Club, Tom Six (The Human Centipede) “tops himself with a story of rich Los Angeles women who gather together to masturbate while watching news footage of the world’s misery,” writes Waters. “Often wrongheaded but sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, it has been rejected by film distributors worldwide. All I can say is that the movie sure as hell delivers.”
Artforum’s new issue also gives us top tens from Amy Taubin, J. Hoberman, James Quandt, and Cassie da Costa. Benedict Cumberbatch appears twice on Taubin’s list for his turns in Will Sharpe’s The Electrical Life of Louis Wain and in her #1 film of the year. Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is as “clear-sighted and emotionally wrenching a skewering of patriarchy—its myths, its fear and hatred of the feminine, its twisting of psyches—as you’ll ever witness. Civilization: what a waste.”
Like Taubin, Hoberman includes Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria and Todd Haynes’s The Velvet Underground in his top ten. His #1, though, is Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging or Looney Porn, “the movie with the most relentless focus on the way we live now.” Quandt is sticking strictly with films that screened at this year’s New York Film Festival, beginning with two by Hong Sangsoo,Introduction and In Front of Your Face. “Both films commence with a prayer,” he writes, “but while the former proceeds to play Hong’s usual narrative games of Chutes and Ladders, the latter deepens into a poignant contemplation of regret and mortality.”
Da Costa tops her list with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter, which won four top prizes at the Gotham Awards on Monday. Her second selection is Drive My Car, and a few days ago, da Costa wrote a perceptive piece for Artforum on Ryusuke Hamaguchi. The director, she writes, “derives his films from this piercing existential question: Who do we become when our lives are transformed by circumstance? He leverages this question not only narratively with an arc but dramaturgically with role swaps, rehearsals, and iteration, embracing the impossibility of definitive answers or conclusions for his characters. Absence then becomes a space of possibility for both actor and audience, and not a void to fill with information or explanation.” Da Costa wraps her list with Annette—“dark, brooding fun”—which brings us full circle.
The editors of Cahiers du cinéma posted their top ten a few days ago, and few have been pleased to see that their #1 pick, Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, is the only film on the list directed by a woman. The staff at the Decider is going for a movie written by and starring two women, Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig. The “brilliance” of Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, directed by Josh Greenbaum, “lies in its artful stupidity,” writes Anna Menta. The Economist’s list of fourteen favorites is alphabetical and runs from Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg) to Titane (Julia Ducournau).
Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson has written up a list of ten favorites, “reminders of how transformative, transporting, and enlightening the art form can be—especially when viewed in the dark, finally away from the couch.” His #1 is Joachim Trier’s “gregarious, wistful, stylish, utterly winning” The Worst Person in the World.
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