Monday, January 1, 2018

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. Milla (Valérie Massadian, France/Portugal)
One of the great depictions of late adolescence, Milla perfectly renders a liminal moment, filled with play, that remains close to childhood. Time, however, presses on in the director's exquisitely natural portrait of young, working-poor motherhood—carried by its non-professional performances—and Massadian's inscriptions of the female body.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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. 

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

Ten Best Films' 2017 Mini-Poll

1. Zama (Lucrecia Martel) - 74 points (AZ, LB, MA, RS)
2. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016) - 57 points (KW, LB, RS)
3 (tie). A Ghost Story (David Lowery) - 50 points (AZ, KW, MS)
3 (tie). Western (Valeska Grisebach) - 50 points (LB, MA, RS)
5. Get Out (Jordan Peele) - 49 points (KW, MS, SB)
6. Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan) - 47 points (KW, ML, SB)
7. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino) - 44 points (AZ, LB, ML)
8. The Other Side of Hope (Aki Kaurismäki) - 41 points (LB, MA, ML)
9. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev) - 40 points (JS, LB, ML)
10. Faces Places (Agnès Varda & JR) - 39 points (LB, MA, MS)

Though 2017 may have been one of the weakest year for world premiers in at least a decade, this is not the space for that assessment. The Mini-Poll, now in its tenth year, is a place instead to celebrate cinema's best—beginning with the preponderance of major films by women directors that made it onto our ballots this year. With her first film since the first year of the poll (when she placed second), Argentina's Lucrecia Martel tops this year's survey with Zama. Close behind, in a tie for third place, was Germany's Valeska Grisebach (for Western, her first film since the inception of the Mini-Poll). Left Bank master Agnès Varda also makes her first-ever appearance, in tenth place, while Valérie Massadian's Milla, Greta Gerwig's Ladybird, and Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled all just missed the cut. 2017, at its best, was the year of the woman director.

On that sign of cinematic life, I would like to announce that we will be retiring the Mini-Poll after this year. Thank you to all current and past participants, and especially to you the reader!

Voters: AZ- Alberto Zambenedetti (Ten Best Films); JS - Jeremi Szaniawski (Ten Best Films); KW - Karen Wang (You're Making a Scene); LB - Lisa K. Broad (Ten Best Films); MA - Michael J. Anderson (Ten Best Films); ML - Mike Lyon (Tits & Gore); MS - Matt Singer (Screen Crush), RS - R. Emmet Sweeney (Ten Best Films); SB - Soren Bailey: 1) Get Out, 2) Dunkirk, 3) Wonderstruck, 4) Logan Lucky, 5) Star Wars: The Last Jedi, 6) Baby Driver, 7) Spider-Man: Homecoming.

2017: Lisa K. Broad

1. Western (Valeska Grisebach)
2. Zama (Lucrecia Martel)
3. Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
4. The Florida Project (Sean Baker)
5. The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola)
6. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)
7. The Other Side of Hope (Aki Kaurismäki)
8. The Square (Ruben Östlund)
9. Faces Places (Agnès Varda & JR)
10. Columbus (Kogonada)

2017: R. Emmet Sweeney

1. Zama (Lucrecia Martel)
2. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)
3. Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (S.S. Rajamouli)
4. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2016)
5. Milla (Valérie Massadian)
6. Song to Song (Terrence Malick)
7. The Meyerwitz Stories (New and Selected) (Noah Baumbach)
8. On the Beach at Night Alone (Hong Sang-soo)
 9. Brawl in Cell Block 19 (S. Craig Zahler)
10. Western (Valeska Grisebach)

2017: Jeremi Szaniawski

1. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, 2016)
2. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016)
3. The Woman Who Left (Lav Diaz, 2016)
4. El Futuro (Luis Lopez Carrasco, 2013)
5. A Sea Change (Nina de Vroome, 2016)
6. The Treasure (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2015)
7. Le Marquis de Wavrin: du manoir à la jungle (Grace Winter) + The Amazon Head Hunters (Marquis de Wavrin, 1932)
8. Doubleplusungood (Marco Laguna)
 9. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsaye)
10. Train to Busan (Sang-ho Yeon, 2016)

Honorable mentions: Death by Death (Xavier Seron, 2016), Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev), Funérailles (de l'art de mourir) (Boris Lehman, 2016)

2017: Alberto Zambenedetti

1. Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison, 2016)
2. The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci)
3. Zama (Lucrecia Martel)
4. Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve)
5. The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro)
6. Thelma (Joachim Trier)
7. Prototype (Blake Williams)
8. The Square (Ruben Östlund)
9. A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
10. Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)

Alberto Zambenedetti is Assistant Professor in the Department of Italian Studies and the Cinema Studies Institute at the University of Toronto. He is the editor of World Film Locations: Cleveland (2016), World Film Locations: Florence (2014), and the co-editor of Federico Felllini: Riprese, riletture, (re)visioni (2016).