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Top 10 2017

What a traumatic, terrifying year! In that respect, perhaps the year's most emblematic film was Charlottesville: Race and Terror – VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Instead, I've chosen to remember 10 films that support and affirm the life force.

Karolyn and I traveled around America a lot in 2017, mostly up and down the Mississippi River. We explored the Delta, as well as New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, Hannibal, and Davenport. I can't say we saw much Donald Trump-style hate. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Everywhere you look, even in the darkest times, there are signs of life, sparks of hope.

1. Faces Places At age 88 at the time this film was made, Agnes Varda's body may be winding down, but her curiosity about other people remains undimmed. Of this "buddy/road trip comedy," which she made with street artist JR, 33, I wrote, "I love this sportive, altogether magical film—it's light and simple and funny, and all the more profound for it." What's it about? History and memory. The power of imagination. Lost loves. Creativity and travel and solidarity. In other words, those things most fragile, and most precious. Read more.

2. Columbus Years ago, the wise film critic James Monaco wrote, "Ideas and character, people and intelligence, are the life of any good movie." No film embodied that notion better this year than Kogonada's debut feature. Read more.

3. The Other Side of Hope The mise en scène itself is droll in Aki Kaurismaki's ultra-dry Finnish comedy. It centers around a taciturn and tough, but goodhearted, restaurateur (Sakari Kuosmanen) and a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Finland (the exquisitely deadpan Sherwan Haji). Reviewing it when it played at the Chicago International Film Festival, I found it "a wonderfully wry treatment of a cruel, sad reality" and said that "the two cagey leads are my favorite movie characters in a good long while." Make that of the year. Read more

4. The Son of Joseph Anything with Mathieu Amalric stands a good chance of making any list of mine. When I think of this film, I want to use the word "refreshing." That's partly because of its theme of renewal, but also because I covered it in the Spring. (That's when it played at the Gene Siskel Center's European Union Film Festival, one of my favorites of the Chicago year.) In my writeup, I said "writer/director Eugène Green's stylized, deadpan satire, turns out to be a non-ironic Christian allegory about love and resistance. While it's rather unclassifiable, I laughed much harder here than at many so-called comedies." Read more.

5. I Am Not Your Negro Back in February, I wrote, "When [James] Baldwin speaks of the 'death of the heart,' of our privileged apathy, of an infantile America, an unthinking and cruel place, he could be speaking of the Trump era. He feared for the future of a country increasingly unable to distinguish between illusion, dream, and reality. 'Neither of us, truly, can live without the other,' he wrote. 'For, I have seen the devil...[I]t is that moment when no other human being is real for you, nor are you real for yourself.' Let this movie inspire today's young dissenters, and let James Baldwin be our model of oppositional, critical thinking as we raise our angry voices against Donald Trump and everything he stands for." That still feels right. Read more

6. Twin Peaks: The Return Think of it as a TV movie or, per Violet Lucca, as being of a piece with the rest of his paintings, sculptures and "cross-media output." David Lynch's 18-hour work was laugh-out-loud funny and it was also, for great stretches, a beautiful experimental film. The "moving image work" that played most with the medium in 2017 was on TV! Lynch both subverted and gratified my generation's nostalgia, and played with the passage of 25 years in ways both poignant and unsettling. The opening credits showed the Snoqualmie Falls from a new angle, and the show went from there, making the familiar truly strange once again. There were so many moments I cherish, from Michael Cera's Wally Brando to Harry Dean Stanton crooning "Red River Valley." On a personal note: back in '90 or '91, I conducted a telephone interview with Duwayne Dunham, The Return's editor, for class. The assignment was to interview someone doing something we'd like to do in life. I couldn't get Lynch, my first choice, but Dunham'd directed a few episodes of the then-contemporary Twin Peaks and graciously agreed to talk to meKudos to my old friend on putting together The Return, a major accomplishment!

7. Mudbound The life force runs through it. One of the finest ensemble casts of the year. This movie is so tactile it practically manifests the epigraph of the Hillary Jordan novel it adapts, from James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, in which Agee despairs of the capacity of writing to render the immediacy of the sensory experience he wishes to convey. Instead, he says, he would give us photographs, then "fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement...A piece of the body torn out by the roots might be more to the point." Read more. 

8. Phantom Thread Speaking of playing with the medium: Paul Thomas Anderson's perverse, enchanted film did that at nearly every beat, all the while working within tradition—in his words, the Gothic romance with suspense, à la Rebecca. The movies features perhaps Daniel Day-Lewis's last word on screen acting, as a fastidious, elite dressmaker to royals and stars in '50s London. The world of couture is perhaps Anderson's most feminine milieu ever, although my father takes W Magazine, so who's to say? Phantom Thread is about the comic, sinister undercurrents of power dynamics in relationships, and the dark British sarcasm is, in its way, as witheringly funny as the violence of There Will Be Blood. Here the dressmaker's boxing partners are his lover (Vicky Krieps), an outsider because of her youth, nationality and class, and his icy sister and business partner (Lesley Manville), both stellar. It's their common ruthlessness that somehow unites these people. As usual, Anderson includes very strange shifts of tone and psychology, fascinatingly odd elisions. I can't decide if the metaphors at play here are profoundly deep, or if they stop at surfaces. Either way, what surfaces! At its best, this picture achieves the wistful, sumptuous grandeur of a Visconti, and his finale role allows Day-Lewis to range from stern patriarch to happy little baby.

9. The Square A riotous study of absurdity, it seemed to resound with the themes of the year in ways large and small. Read more.

10. The Trip to Spain Another delightful entry in a series that's become one of the real pleasures of my filmgoing life. Come for the dueling impressions; stay for the poignancy of our middle-aged men of La Mancha, tilting away against the beat of the clock. Read more.

Reader Comments (1)

Love reading about your top 10 selection each year.

December 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara Pfeiffer

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