Tuesday, January 2, 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. First Reformed (Paul Schrader, United States)
Diary of a Country Priest re-imagined within the secularized, contemporary landscape of Mainline American Protestantism, First Reformed considers the spiritual dimension of man's stewardship of the planet. Searingly personal, and culminating with a trio of powerful possibilities, First Reformed is one of Schrader's best.

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. 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.

7. 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 more idea-rich American films this year.

8. 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.

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 a searing glimpse into China's uneven process of modernization.

10. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, United States/United Kingdom)
An obsessive object of craft, with filmmaker/designer as tyrant—and as submissive subject to his powerful muse. P.T.A.'s best film since at least 2002's Punch-Drunk Love, with the filmmaker even performing cinematography duties (uncredited—more of that craft), this is also a consummate piece of Hollywood collaboration.


T.K.Smith said...

is The Day After your favourite Hong so far?

Michael J. Anderson said...


I really find it impossible with Hong to single out just one film as his best (more so than almost any great director). I do think "The Day After" is one of his best, along with "The Power Kangwon Province," "Woman on the Beach," "Hill of Freedom," and "Right Now, Wrong Then," among others.

Sachin said...

Lovely list. We overlap with a few titles, "Zama", "Western", "Lover for a Day" while "Faces Places" and "The Other Side of Hope" were very close to my top 10. I loved "The Day After" and found that managed to have a nice dialogue with "Right Now, Wrong Then". I will have to catch-up with "Ghost in the Mountains" as I admired Heng Yang's "Sun Spots".