Best of 2017: Film

nocturama-006If I’m being totally honest, the most enjoyment I had this year didn’t come from a traditional movie-going experience, but through its greatest rival, the medium of television. For years, I’ve been hearing that television is just about surpassing film in its more artistic endeavors, and I’ve been skeptical to get on that bandwagon until now.

tpthereturnThe most thoroughly engrossing and thrilling viewing I had this year was HBO’s limited series, Big Little Lies, whose success inspired the network to create a second season beyond the source material (and set to be directed by one of my absolute favorites, Andrea Arnold!). And the most unique and frustrating experience came in the form of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return, whose eighteen hours contained some of the best and worst screen moments I’ve ever seen. Neither of these experiences could be replicated in the cinema, and with these two, I saw the true advancement of television as the preferred medium for long-form storytelling and even artistic, auteur-driven expression.

discreetI’m rather disappointed that my Top 10 list doesn’t contain a single female-directed feature. Granted, the two films I was most excited to see (Lucrecia Martel’s Zama and Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here) didn’t make their way to San Francisco yet, and I sadly missed both Valeska Grisebach’s Western and Chloé Zhao’s The Rider. A special mention on the list belongs to Travis Matthews’ harrowing Discreet, a film I didn’t feel comfortable including due to my involvement in its production; Discreet will be released theatrically in the U.S. sometime in 2018. And at last, I present my 20 favorite films of 2017.

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  1. Nocturama. Bertrand Bonello. France/Germany/Belgium.
  2. The Square. Ruben Östlund. Sweden/Germany/France/Denmark.
  3. The Untamed (La región salvaje). Amat Escalante. Mexico/Denmark/France/Germany/Norway/Switzerland.
  4. The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Yorgos Lanthimos. UK/Ireland/USA.
  5. Lady Macbeth. William Oldroyd. UK.
  6. Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves (Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau). Mathieu Denis, Simon Lavoie. Canada.
  7. Good Time. Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie. USA.
  8. 4 Days in France (Jours de France). Jérôme Reybaud. France.
  9. Atomic Blonde. David Leitch. Germany/USA/Sweden.
  10. A Quiet Passion. Terence Davies. UK/Belgium.
  11. Girls Trip. Malcolm D. Lee. USA.
  12. The Wound (Inxeba). John Trengove. South Africa/Germany/Netherlands/France.
  13. The Beguiled. Sofia Coppola. USA.
  14. Detroit. Kathryn Bigelow. USA.
  15. Personal Shopper. Olivier Assayas. France/Germany/Belgium/Czech Republic.
  16. Body Electric (Corpo Elétrico). Marcelo Caetano. Brazil.
  17. On the Beach at Night Alone. Hong Sang-soo. South Korea/Germany.
  18. Lady Bird. Greta Gerwig. USA.
  19. The Next Skin (La propera pell). Isa Campo, Isaki Lacuesta. Spain/Switzerland.
  20. Blade Runner 2049. Denis Villeneuve. USA/UK/Hungary/Canada.
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Best of 2017: #1. Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)

nocturama-0091. Nocturama. Bertrand Bonello. France/Germany/Belgium.

Timing was everything when it came to Bertrand Bonello’s slick terrorist thriller Nocturama, which the garçon terrible (House of Tolerance, Saint Laurent) had been putting together for close to a decade. No one could have predicted the horrific terrorist attacks that would plague Paris during the making of Nocturama, so when it was finally ready to be released onto the world, it was routinely rejected by all the major competitive film festivals last year, including Cannes where nearly all of Bonello’s previous features had made their world premieres. This too hindered the film’s theatrical presence across the globe, which was especially unfortunate for a film as rapturous and cinematic as this. In an ideal world, audiences would be able to see Nocturama as big and as loud as possible. I was lucky enough to have caught it at the Castro Theatre during the San Francisco International Film Festival where it was projected huge with its wild soundtrack—which includes Bonello’s magnificent score, Willow Smith, and Blondie among others—encompassing the theatre.

nocturama-008Viewing preferences aside (it’s currently streaming on Netflix in the U.S.), timing played an even more crucial role to my experience with Nocturama in 2017. Perhaps its most controversial element is Bonello’s bold decision to withhold any political motive to his band of gorgeous, multiracial guerrilla youth. I’ve read reviews that have (incorrectly) called this choice irresponsible, but in a year as politically chaotic and apocalyptic in the U.S. (and elsewhere), this device allowed for audience projection, allowing us to identify with its protagonists without dividing us.

nocturama-001As the U.S. watched a shift in political power start to favor the wealthy and the privileged, we faced an almost daily onslaught of devastating hurdles… some of which were thwarted, many of which were not. But it raised questions of what to do when the ethical channels of government stop working for the people, when peaceful protest and calling one’s representatives go nowhere… what are we left to do? Revolution, I’d imagine, runs through the blood of the French, so with the real world terrorist attacks aside, it would seem natural for Nocturama to take place in the heart of Paris. By eliminating motive, the film becomes a more universal tale of the disenfranchised in a world of frightening political turmoil.

nocturama-005Split into two distinct parts, Nocturama is top shelf cinema. It’s devastating, haunting, thrilling, frustrating, challenging, and ultimately unshakable. Using a number of cinematic tricks—repeated sequences, split screens, erratic flashbacks—Bonello strategically details the first half with minor obstructions (a weird glance from a cop, getting off on the wrong floor of the building, a car accident) which haunt the second half, as the characters’ anxieties and fears start to take over, expanding through the abandoned mall as the city of Paris goes on lockdown.

nocturama-007As I look through my friends’ and critics’ best of the year lists, I see the ways in which the majority of our individual favorites fall into problematic territory. Obviously, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri stands tall in this regard, but even (overrated) critical darlings like Call Me By Your Name and Get Out—not to mention a handful of honorable mentions on my list (notably The Beguiled, Detroit, Blade Runner 2049)—tread on divisive lines of race, gender, sexuality, class, privilege, and history. Basically, what we’ve learned from the movie industry, its output, and its scandals in 2017 is that all of your favorites are problematic. And I can’t think of a better film to represent that sentiment than Nocturama.

nocturama-010With: Finnegan Oldfield, Vincent Rottiers, Hamza Meziani, Manal Issa, Martin Petit-Guyot, Jamil McCraven, Adèle Haenel, Rabah Nait Oufella, Laure Valentinelli, Ilias Le Doré, Robin Goldbronn, Luis Rego, Hermine Karagheuz

Best of 2017: #2. The Square (Ruben Östlund)

square-052. The Square. Ruben Östlund. Sweden/Germany/France/Denmark.

Ever since I heard the Curb Your Enthusiasm comparison, it’s been hard to disassociate it from this year unexpected Palme d’Or winner, a dark comedy that at the time seemed like another questionable winner following Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake (noticeably over Paul Verhoeven’s masterpiece Elle, among others). But Ruben Östlund’s thematic follow-up to his exceptional Force majeure is an acerbic tale of class and art through the escalating fumbles—smartly placed together in a series of wild, dynamic sequences, including an uproarious performance art piece as well as Elisabeth Moss’ monkey roommate (which is hilariously never directly addressed)—of a handsome art curator, played thrillingly by Claes Bang, my cinematic crush of 2017.

square-02With: Claes Bang, Elisabeth Moss, Terry Notary, Dominic West, Christopher Læssø, Marina Schiptjenko, Elijandro Edouard, Daniel Hallberg, Martin Sööder, Sofie Hamilton, Annica Liljeblad

Best of 2017: #3. The Untamed (Amat Escalante)

untamed-053. The Untamed (La región salvaje). Amat Escalante. Mexico/Denmark/France/Germany/Norway/Switzerland.

Slyly humorous and unexpectedly poignant best describe this ecstatically queer science fiction tale of a unpredictable, tentacled alien, divinely inspired by Isabelle Adjani’s slithering lover in Andrzej Zulawski’s masterpiece Possession. An aloof, strikingly beautiful young woman (Simone Bucio) introduces her gay nurse (Eden Villavicencio) to the creature when it begins to reject her, roping his sister (Ruth Ramos), her volatile husband (Jesús Meza), and their two young sons into a dangerous orbit. The Untamed, which won the Best Director prize for Amat Escalante (Heli, Los bastardos) at the Venice  Film Festival, manages to hold onto its gorgeous, hazy mystery even while eventually revealing the creature in surprisingly sophisticated, full detail (the makers of It could take note).

untamed-02With: Ruth Ramos, Simone Bucio, Eden Villavicencio, Jesús Meza, Andrea Peláez, Oscar Escalante, Bernarda Trueba

Best of 2017: #4. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos)

killing-024. The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Yorgos Lanthimos. UK/Ireland/USA.

In his second English-language feature, Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, Dogtooth) dives deep into Greek tragedy with the scalding destruction of a nuclear American family in Cincinnati, Ohio. Bringing back Colin Farrell as a gifted surgeon in the lead, Lanthimos enlists a game Nicole Kidman, who—even without a special award at Cannes this year—holds the title of MVP of 2017, as the heads of a household who become cursed by a deranged young man (a mesmerizing Barry Keoghan) whose father died in the care of Farrell years prior.

killing-001As the film spirals into its fatalistic climax, I found myself feeling all the physical discomfort and tension that I assumed Darren Aronofsky tried to conjure in his much maligned mother!. Bleak, upsetting, coldly erotic, and effectively polarizing, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is Lanthimos at his most Polanski-esque and at the top of his game.

killing-04With: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp

Best of 2017: #5. Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd)

lady-macbeth-05555. Lady Macbeth. William Oldroyd. UK.

Along with Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name, Florence Pugh is one of the revelations of the year, as the young, neglected teenage bride of a cruel and cold colliery heir in 19th century England. Airy, sparse, and ominous, Lady Macbeth plays like the âme sœur of Andrea Arnold’s savagely underrated Wuthering Heights adaptation. Willam Oldroyd has crafted the directorial debut of the year as well, using his setting and space like a master craftsman. Hollowed acoustics and the echoing sounds of doorknobs and teacups reverberate through the house, as they start to identify something truly sinister within the walls: a callous, merciless apparition that takes hold of everything in its grasp.

ladymacbeth-03With: Florence Pugh, Cosmo Jarvis, Paul Hilton, Naomi Ackie, Christopher Fairbank, Golda Rosheuvel

Best of 2017: #6. Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves (Mathieu Denis, Simon Lavoie)

ceux-026. Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves (Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau). Mathieu Denis, Simon Lavoie. Canada.

The prize for most aggressively queer film I saw this year could only belong to the dazzling, singular Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves. At a breezy three hours long, the film—which won the Best Canadian Feature award at the Toronto International Film Festival—chronicles a quartet of anarchist misfits, addressing everything under the sun from family (chosen and blood), social justice, terrorism, police brutality, idealism to sexuality. It’s a truly electrifying experience, made all the more impressive by the fact that it plays by its own rules… proving revolutionary experimental cinema didn’t exclusively die in France decades ago.

ceux-03With: Charlotte Aubin, Laurent Bélanger, Emanuelle Lussier Martinez, Gabrielle Tremblay, Marie-Josée Godin, Joseph Bellerose, Sylvain Castonguay, Myreille Bédard, Anna Maguire, Michel Mongeau, Benoît Rousseau