Saturday, December 2, 2017

Ten Best Films of 2017

1. The Day After (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
The best of the staggeringly prolific Korean master's three 2017 world premieres, Hong brilliantly shuffles sequence, crafting another archetypal (and biographical) narrative where competing stories challenge each other's veracity. It seems almost beyond dispute at this point to say that Hong is the filmmaker of the decade.

2. Zama (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina/Spain/France/Netherlands/ United States/Brazil/Mexico/Portugal/Lebanon/Switzerland)
Martel returns after nine years with 2017's most singular piece of film art: richly textured diegetic and non-diegetic sound effects combine to articulate the increasingly disturbed psychological state of the marooned Don Diego de Zama. Aggravation eventually transforms into horror in this mythic look at the colonial experiment.

3. Western (Valeska Grisebach, Germany/Bulgaria/Austria)
Following an even longer layoff than her fellow female filmmaker Martel, Grisebach combines the perfectly calibrated naturalism of her first two features with the syntax of the eponymous genre. What results is a deeply incisive exploration of contemporary European reality, elegantly located on the continent's eastern frontier.

4. Downsizing (Alexander Payne, United States/Norway)
Payne's comparatively political entertainment couldn't be less current in its bleeding-heart Catholic take on environmental catastrophe, conspicuous over-consumption, and the refugee crisis. Downsizing is at once exceedingly old-fashioned in its form and one of the most idea-rich American films this year.

5. Faces Places (Agnès Varda & JR, France)
The collaboration of Varda's Faces Places provides its iconic director with a new means for reaping the interpersonal rewards of her artistic practice. One of the last two remaining New Wave auteurs, and her fellow traveler JR—a dopplegänger for the other—cross the deep French countryside, fusing figure and landscape. 

6. Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (Bruno Dumont, France)
Adapting the unexpected form of the middle school musical pageant to the turn-of-the-twentieth-century writings of Charles Péguy, Dumont's Jeannette is another super skilled study in high contrast from the Li'l Quinquin auteur. Suffice it to say that Dumont's Straubian portrait of a youthful Joan is like none other.

7. Ghost in the Mountains (Yang Heng, China)
Set amid China's depopulated and depressing rural provinces, Ghost in the Mountains is defined by a series of epic panning long takes—and a stunningly circular narrative structure that suits its ill-fated subjects. Yang's exquisitely composed feature provides another glimpse into China's uneven process of modernization.

8. Lover for a Day (Philippe Garrel, France)
As always the most autobiographical of French filmmakers, Lover for a Day incorporates Garrel's daughter Esther as the jilted twenty-something forced to move in with her single father. Co-written by his much younger wife—suggesting another conspicuous story parallel—Garrel's luminous latest shows the filmmaker in fine form.

9. The Other Side of Hope (Aki Kaurismäki, Finland/Germany)
Possessed of an old-school social consciousness and haunted by right-wing European nationalism, The Other Side of Hope deftly brings the Syrian refugee tragedy into the Finnish maestro's drab, wood-paneled world. Kaurismäki's inimitable sense of humor is no less present, as are his poker-faced performances.

10. Ex Libris - The New York Public Library (Frederick Wiseman, United States)
Extending the filmmaker's legendary observational eye to the New York public library system, the nation's largest, Ex Libris details the underlying ideology of this mammoth institution. Wiseman's sterling Ex Libris pairs with his previous marathon feature, In Jackson Heights, to create one of the great portraits of New York City. 

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