Top Ten Films of 2017

  Sweet Dreams Sweet Dreams

1. Sweet Dreams / Fai bei sogni (Marco Bellocchio)
The polite dismissals and general indifference shown by critics toward this masterpiece by Bellocchio stun me. Is this ‘mother and child’ melodrama just too sentimental for them all? But it’s a brilliant move on Bellocchio’s part to marry his long-nurtured psychoanalytic themes, and his frequently surreal sense of lived experience, to this pained, deeply moving story. Bellocchio has lost not an iota of his skill, or his artistry.

2. Twin Peaks: The Return (David Lynch/Mark Frost)
It started by slowing everything down, and then it went way, way out, inch by inch, week by week. Absolutely nothing like the original 1990s series, The Return was a deep meditation on … returning, precisely: the difficulty of returning, through time, in one’s body, to any kind of origin, whether that origin is a town, or one’s self. However you slice it, it’s a grand, momentous achievement, including some of the finest work Lynch has ever done.

3. Lover for a Day / L'Amant d'un jour (Philippe Garrel)
I’m a lifelong sucker for Garrel, but I’m filled with a special admiration in the face of the ‘trilogy of female desire’ formed by Jealousy, In the Shadow of Women and now Lover for a Day. Using a 75 minute, black-and-white, widescreen format across the series, Garrel and his phalanx of writers compress the usual dynamics of his films, finding new tones of melodrama and comedy alongside the usual melancholia. They are perfect movies.

4. Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow)
As a steadfast fan of Near Dark and Blue Steel, I have tenaciously resisted the mainstream shift in Bigelow’s career represented by The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, even as I’m glad their success has put her back in the industry game (and Zero Dark Thirty, at least, does improve on later viewings). But what I took to be the political evasions of those films – evasions in relation to terrorism, and war – become, by displacement, the central subject of the powerful Detroit, which is really about the State’s terror regime in a condition of urban, race war. Not a ‘return to form’, but a new and exciting form for Bigelow to have attained here.

5. Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)
In France, tragic real events trounced the surprise factor in Bonello’s provocative, stylish portrait of young terrorists for whom Paris is a plaything to be ‘occupied’ and blown up. A political film made in the manner of an American B genre special of the 1970s, stunningly cinematic in its concatenation of time, space, place and event. With a daring two-part structure: the first is all restless movement and travel, while the second hunkers down in the adventure-playground of an abandoned department store – resulting in several brilliant set-pieces, and a chilling finale.

6. Hermia & Helena (Matías Piñeiro)
The films of this Argentinean director have, in scarcely a decade, swiftly become as internally networked and interrelated as those of Garrel throughout his life. The same ensemble of actors, the suite of variations on Shakespearean themes and situations, the playful interweavings from Rohmer and Rivette … it can veer toward cinephile preciousness and even pretention, but here the level of inventiveness is kept high and fresh. An absolute delight, with some truly surprising and satisfying deviations.

7. The Unknown Girl (the Dardennes)
These tight-knit filmmakers have run the risk, like many contemporary auteurs reliant on the festival and arthouse circuit, of making their style and subject into a rigid template that gets exactly repeated every time … or else their ‘signature’ will be neither recognised nor honoured. Where the disappointing Two Days, One Night (2014) showed the brothers in a trough – if not on a treadmill – The Unknown Girl re-finds their inspiration, in a firm meshing of narrative moves with ethical questions. It edges a bit closer to the outright ‘mystery thriller’ that one senses the Dardennes have always wanted to make.

8. Song to Song (Terrence Malick)
The fickle tastes of the art film crowd flowed away from Malick after his ‘comeback’ with The Thin Red Line, and flowed back again, briefly, for The Tree of Life. Otherwise, it’s been pretty much a bloodbath of abuse and rejection of this filmmaker’s still formidable experimental spirit. To the Wonder, despite my best efforts as an appreciative fan, lost me momentarily, but both Knight of Cups and Song to Song contain some of his most dazzlingly lyrical conjunctions of sense, sight and reflection.

9. The Assignment (Walter Hill)
This marvelous film got thrown under the bus of instant oblivion even faster than Nocturama – and for roughly similar reasons of political over-sensitivity. Based on his own graphic novel, Hill hits his best groove in this fast and furious tale of gender-tinkering and bloody revenge. Sigourney Weaver has a particularly juicy part in it.

10. Creepy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
The fantastique is everywhere these days, far beyond its usual, cozy berth within the horror genre – supernatural premises have invaded even the homeliest TV event-series, and ghosts of all stripes are ubiquitous across story modes. Kurosawa, over both cinema and TV, holds to his well-honed manner of downplaying outright fantasy/horror elements in order to dwell within the uncanny and unsettling, the realm of the slightly ‘off’ – and Creepy is among his most ingeniously constructed contraptions. Cristina Álvarez López and I made an audiovisual essay about one aspect of it (its ‘social mise en scène’), here at MUBI NOTEBOOK.

A special word for two Australian films: Alena Lodkina’s finely chiseled debut feature, Strange Colours, and Bill Mousoulis’ freewheeling Songs of Revolution. Both deserve to be much more widely screened, programmed, seen and discussed.

… and, apart from Twin Peaks: The Return, there was much terrific TV: Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake: China Girl, Fargo Season 3, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Girls, Big Little Lies, The Americans, Better Call Saul, Dark, Blindspot, The Deuce, Glitch

© Adrian Martin December 2017

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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