We're continuing our glance back at the recently concluded year at the movies by featuring the "best of" lists by engaged moviegoers. (We'll be doing this for a couple of more weeks, so if you've got a list you'd like to share, send it along to me at email@example.com and we'll consider running it.)
Mark Thiedeman, filmmaker (Last Summer, White Nights and Sacred Hearts, Holy Souls):
2017 is the year of Get Out and Lady Bird, films that reminded us of the vitality and uniqueness of underrepresented voices. I admire those films greatly and applaud them. But in the spirit of recognizing underrepresented voices, I've chosen to assemble a list of films that speak to me personally as an artist, a gay man, a no-budget filmmaker, and a Southern man in a spiritual landscape. (The list also doesn't include another obvious choice, the curiously lauded Call Me By Your Name.) There's nothing I admire more than a filmmaker who tells a story from the heart without regard for commercial success, and as a filmmaker, these are the 10 works that invigorated me most. I also happen to think that the first few are instant classics. But I stand, as always, for the little guy. A few of these played on the big screen at the Kaleidoscope Film Festival in Argenta:
- Nocturama (Netflix) A brutally honest, problematic, acrobatically stylish study of revolution, capitalism, terrorism and hypocrisy, Bertrand Bonello's third great film this decade assembles a group of youngsters who cross the borders of race, class and perhaps even sexual identity, watches them stage a millennial French revolution, daringly mystifies their reasoning, and then enters -- or perhaps destroys -- the pantheon of French Marxist cinema.
- The Human Surge (Fandor) Eduardo Williams' magical, free-wheeling debut, an experimental doc/fiction/non-narrative hodgepodge, skips from 16mm to HD to 4K, following internet streams, river streams, and even a stream of urine, as it loosely connects languorous portraits of millennial youth in Argentina, Mozambique, the Philippines -- and an anthill. Give it your patience; there's never been anything like it.
- The Death of Louis XIV (video on demand) Albert Serra's first film to find a U.S. distributor could have been about anyone, though it happens to be about the gloriously wigged Sun King, played by an actor we've watched since his childhood, the legendary Jean-Pierre Leaud. Great stories are less about their subjects than what they represent, and here, we are given two long hours to contemplate the nature of life, of narrative, of celebrity, of performance, of cinema and the greatest mystery of all: the ending.
- The Ornithologist (Netflix) Joao Pedro Rodrigues' simultaneously devout and blasphemous retelling of the story of St. Anthony of Padua is a wildly adventurous immersion into the sacred (and sensual) pleasures of moviegoing.
- Brothers of the Night (video on demand) The most ravishingly gorgeous documentary of the decade -- about immigration, prostitution and digital communication -- tips its hat to Fassbinder, Anger, Warhol, and Pasolini. But ultimately, it's a heartbreaking, tender, nonjudgmental study of friendship and time passing -- and it has the soundtrack of the year.
- Violet (Fandor) Bas Davos' debut treads familiar terrain: It's a coming-of-age tale about a boy recovering from the violent death of his friend. But each and every shot is composed with a level of care, detail and imagination that surpasses nearly everything in contemporary cinema.
- Good Time (video on demand) Josh and Benny Safdie fully redeemed themselves from their histrionic Heaven Knows What with this tale of lost souls, white theft, sexual abuse, brotherly love and systemic sadness. What starts as a joyous shot of cinematic adrenaline ends the most nakedly emotional -- and political -- work of American cinema this year.
- Jesus (video on demand) Like the early masterworks of the Dardenne brothers, Fernando Guzzoni's gorgeous second feature presents us with a seemingly reprehensible protagonist, dares us to sympathize with him and challenges us with the moral ambiguity of Christian texts. It's the story of a worldly Jesus and a lawful father -- make of its devastating finale what you will.
- Scarred Hearts (not currently available) Radu Jude's follow-up to last year's comic masterpiece Aferim! tells the story of an existential Jewish romantic in the 1930s contending with the failures of his body, and it's rendered with scathing comedy in gorgeous, impeccably composed frames, showing us a young man's exterior charisma while leaving his dark interior to interruptions of white text on a black screen.
- Mimosas (Fandor) Part Dostoevsky, part parable and part nature-study, Oliver Laxe's meditation on death, transportation and spiritual transformation is one of the year's true originals, as well as a work of uncommon sincerity. It films an archetypal quest as if it were a documentary, and then without warning, renders it all a dream.
Plus 10 more: The Beguiled, Personal Shopper, Taekwondo, Slack Bay, God's Own Country, Metamorphoses, The Untamed, Staying Vertical, Raw -- and, hovering over it all, the game-changing, 18-hour Twin Peaks: The Return.
Philip Vandy Price, critic, reviewsfromabed.com:
Five Foot Two -- Chris Moukarbel's documentary gently captures Lady Gaga's passion for creating music, her understanding and handling of the fame, as well as providing insight on where she pulls her inspiration. There is a scene in the film where Gaga plays a song for her grandmother, her father's mother, with her father present that is about her aunt who passed away when she was 19 that will outright wreck you.
Wonder -- The trailers made it look like something between a Hallmark made-for-TV movie and an after-school special that serves to show children the repercussions of bullying, but walking out of the theater it is beyond evident that this movie is so much more than that. Wonder is a movie aware of what it is meant to do without being self-aware in the slightest. The word is humble. Wonder is a movie that defines being respectable without having to feel like it needs to announce its importance; it just is.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri -- Actually becomes a better movie the longer it runs. Writer/director Martin McDonagh is able to blow past traditional structure and deliver an experience that feels as if it is flying by the seat of its pants. This is only to say that as the film goes on, the narrative takes continuously surprising and shocking turns. And it's not only well-written, but features one of the year's best ensemble casts.
A Ghost Story -- It's not what it's saying; it's how it says it. Like chimes gently rustling in the wind or chills slowly creeping up your arms A Ghost Story somehow manages to give a sense of being so distant you're not 100 percent sure what is causing the noise or the feeling, but at the same time feels so deeply personal and so intimately cutting that deep down in your soul you know exactly what it is.
Dunkirk -- One of the leading voices in filmmaking of our current generation puts his stamp on the "war film" by largely obeying the laws of another type of film. Dunkirk is a horror movie. We never see the villains and yet, the presence of these antagonists looms over every scene. It is so inescapable in fact it is nearly suffocating. There is, in essence, no relief from the situation at hand and much like a horror movie more steeped in that genre's conventions you know only one thing is certain: Bad things will happen and people will die.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 -- In the strongest year for superhero films in quite some time (Logan, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor Ragnarok), it is seemingly the least likely to be the most innovative that turned out to be the most innovative. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not only an unconventional sequel or superhero movie, it's the kind of movie that makes you wish they'd quit rebooting and retooling Star Wars and just continue to make movies that pay homage to those films. Also, Baby Groot.
I, Tonya -- Tonya Harding is America. Unapologetic for the way she was raised, and embraced or rejected immediately because of that. Emblematic of America's tendencies to always need someone to laugh at, a necessary punch line to fool ourselves into believing we're better than something or someone. I, Tonya becomes a culmination of multiple accounts of the infamous figure skater's life that paints a portrait of this tragic character's tragic arc doing the impossible of not only making you care about Tonya Harding, but allowing you to sympathize with her.
Blade Runner 2049 -- I walked into a film where I had no particular affinity for or connection to the original and walked out adoring this world director Denis Villeneuve had advanced. The visual grandeur courtesy of cinematographer Roger Deakins, the monumental set and production design, and the engulfing soundscape from both Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch that this film possesses make this 35-years-later sequel fire on all cylinders, amplifying the themes of what it means to be alive and have memories and how those memories inform our past and future.
Gifted -- Within 15 minutes Gifted convinced me of its validity -- it had convinced me of its sincerity that was ingrained in its otherwise competent execution. Sure, many will dismiss Gifted for being the type of film that is emotionally manipulative because it wouldn't be mad if you shed a few tears and/or formulaic in the way its premise is an old cliche that has been used before, but just because a movie might indeed be full of cliche or formulaic tropes doesn't mean it's automatically bad. Director Marc Webb (500) Days of Summer, The Amazing Spider-Man) and screenwriter Tom Flynn are able to prove that certain tropes aren't always bad and that doing the opposite isn't always good, by delivering all that is predictable and formulaic about Gifted with a warm and wholly wonderful sincerity that comes straight from the heart. You may be thinking, "That's all well and good, but No. 2 for the year?" Yeah, No. 2 for the year as it is without a doubt the film that had the biggest emotional impact on me in 2017.
Get Out -- Jordan Peele's feature debut is a striking thriller that provides a topical conversation and exaggerates the inherent tensions of its presented scenario in a way that plays with the tropes of the horror genre while delivering commentary on innate and unavoidable fears in the black community. I heard someone explain the film as, "playing on black people's fear of white people's fear of black people," and it's hard to put it any better or more simply than that. It is a true film of the moment as well as being one for the ages.
To be continued next week.
MovieStyle on 01/12/2018
Print Headline: Look at '17 films amplifies voices of underrepresented