THE YEARS BEST FILMS-2018 MIDTERM EDITION
2017, 2016, 2015
"...it's still not common for me to have a transcendental epiphany during Netflix than at a theatre."

It Has Been a Good Year for French Film

(072818) The talented filmmaker, Dave Cronenberg, who is known for his body horror films (such as Scanners, Videodrome, Dead Ringers and The Fly) recently, wrote a provocative essay insisting that cinema is essentially dead. Cronenberg who has made some masterpieces (including Spider and A History of Violence) has not made a film since 2014 (his fine last feature, Map to the Stars, brutally critiqued the shallowness and corruption of the film industry) and he has just finished a novel with many cinema references.

So at least for now, he has switched genres, but I am not sure if his dissatisfaction with the medium is permanent. I cannot help but think that his pronouncement (like Gene Simmons’s claim that rock is dead) may be a bit premature. I have made a list of my favorite ten films of the year so far along with honorable mentions that show that cinema (at the theatre) is still a living breathing and vital entity. I saw all but two of them in theatres.

However, with Netflix, video games. streaming, Youtube etc. cinema probably will never regain its status as a sole or primary focus of critical attention. We can’t even agree what a film is anymore. Last year many critics picked the Twin Peaks: The Revival as the best film of the year. There are more choices than ever out there, but it is still less common for me to have a transcendental/quasi religious epiphany during a Netflix viewing than at a movie theatre. My favorite places to watch films are the Music Box and Gene Siskel Center, but I also frequently see films on the five dollar day at Orland Marcus or Chicago Ridge (I wish they showed more art films there though.).

I think the essential element that most of the films on my list possess is what Paul Schrader (the director of one of the year’s best films, First Reformed) called “strangeness.” He used “strangeness” to mean an originality that is so unique that it is difficult to assimilate and/or replicate. Now here are my choices for best films of the year so far.
 

1) Jeannette the Childhood of Joan of Arc
Director-Bruno Dumont (France/Italy)
Bruno Dumont’s irreverent, subversive, and unusually surprising historical biopic/musical focuses on a young Joan before she went to battle (played by two capable actresses). It was based on "The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc," a dramatic text by a socialist mystical poet, Charles Péguy, and the background music is a jarring mixture of rock, rap, metal, synth pop and hip-hop. The film does an excellent job of combining the everyday with the divine, and has scenes of people praying or singing to God while doing banal things such as plucking chickens. It makes fine use of nonprofessional actors with ordinary voices who get by with their charisma and apparent sincerity (it’s the opposite approach used in the slick, professional Glee show.) Bruno Dumont, who also did the hard to categorize, Li’l Quinquin clearly is on a hot streak. He has developed into a weirdly wonderful, avant-garde film genius. Lars Von Trier and David Lynch may need to watch their backs. In French with English subtitles

2) First Reformed
Director-Paul Schrader
Shocking and emotional volatile drama about a dedicated priest who goes through a crisis of faith after he counsels a traumatized ex-army person who just may be an eco-terrorist. The lead performances by Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried are magnificent and moving (perhaps too good and true for the Oscar voters) and the devastating ending is hard to shake off. Director/screenplay writer Paul Schrader reworks some thematic motifs from Taxi Driver and Robert Bresson’s films and comes up with his best film in decades. Like Bresson’’s films (Schrader devoted part of his best book, "Transcendental Style in Film" on him), the film masterfully explores the theme of gaining enlightenment through suffering. This also has one of the most erotic nonexpicit sex scenes in the history of cinema.

3) On Body and Soul/A Teströl és Lélekröl
Director-Idiko Enyedi
On Body and Soul/A Teströl és Lélekröl- A terrific, involving and decidedly odd film about a man and woman that dream they are romantically involved deer every night even though they never met. It turns out they have the same analysist, and he thinks it is all an elaborate joke. If you liked The Lobster (which was on my top 10 list a few years ago), you should love this quirky, surreal love story. In Hungarian with English subtitles (on Netflix)

4) Godard Mon Amour/Le Redoutable
Director-Michel Hazanavicius
Hilarious and intellectual period piece about a subversive film maker who encourages his young disciples to rebel against everything until he is shocked when they turn against him ( a similar thing happened to the situationist professors in France when the students started destroying furniture during protests). This film which is based on the life of the cinematic Enfant Terrible. Jean-Luc Godard, also manages to expertly mimic and send up his unique directing style complete with his trademark jump cuts. I had such a good time watching this!! In French with English subtitles

5) You Were Never Really Here
Director-Lynne Ramsay
Joaquin Phoenix stars in this Taxi Driver influenced non-linear, experimental film about a troubled, emotionally scarred war veteran who goes on a mission to rescue captive underage prostitutes. The film scenes are sometimes out of order, and since it is narrated from the point of view of a PTSD narrator, we don’t always know if every scene is actually happening the way we see it, so this is sort of like the film equivalent of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury novel.

6) Blade of the Immortal
Director-Takashi Miiki
Takashi Miike’s ultra-violent action film about a warrior with eternal life who reluctantly agrees to avenge a murder has some of the most wonderfully staged ballet-like battle scenes in recent memory. Based on the great comic series by Hiroaki Smura (I believe the American reprints came out on Dark Horse.). Sorry Marvel fans, but this slightly edged out Black Panther for best comic based film of the year. Miike’s 13 Assassins and Audition are also genre masterpieces. In Japanese with English subtitles

7) Tully
Director-Ivan Reitman
A nanny is hired to help a troubled woman who previously suffered from post birth depression after she has a baby. This is kind of like a feminist version of Fight Club. The relationship between the two main female characters is complex and multilayered; the script by Diablo Cody is thought provoking; and the underrated Charlize Theron gives another deep, winning performance.

8) Lover for a Day
Director- Philippe Garrel
A philosophy professor lives in hedonistic bliss with his much younger student/lover until his distraught daughter complicates things by moving in with them after a bad breakup. The two women’s adversarial relationship eventually becomes a friendship. This relationship based film has endlessly witty dialogue and it is almost as impressive as peak era Woody Allen or Eric Rohmer film from the 70’s. This was one of the highlights of the Phillipe Garrel retrospective series at the Gene Siskel Center (I also greatly admired his Andy Warhol influenced Crystal Cradle with Nico). In French with English subtitles.

9) Hereditary
Director-Ari Aster
Well written and shocking horror film about a couple with a troubled family history who find out that they are part of a sinister supernatural conspiracy. This sharp, shocking, and suspenseful film had me on the edge of my seat until the final surprise twist. This terrifying Polanski influenced film is sort of a modern twist on Rosemary’s Baby with elements of The Seventh Victim thrown in. The intensity builds to a crescendo and the stuff the film suggests is much more horrific than anything they can show us on screen. Toni Collette is uncommonly good in the lead, and this may actually be superior to her earlier, Sixth Sense. The more I think about this film the higher it goes on my list

10) The Phantom Thread
Director-Paul Thomas Anderson
Coldly captivating film about a mentally off/perfectionist fashion designer who makes his much younger wife suffer countless indignities with his self-centered callousness. Daniel Day-Lewis delivers a performance for the ages, but his co-star’s (Vicky Krieps from Gutland) fine supporting contributions should not be underestimated. The film’s look and style are far more important than the plot, and director Paul Thomas Anderson’s gorgeous shot compositions show once again that he has the eye of a master painter. The terrific, evocative soundtrack is by one of Radiohead’s resident rock guitar gods, Jonny Greenwood. This film did not immediately hit me quite as hard as some of Anderson’s other films (I loved Magnolia), but his movies always get better with multiple viewings (the same is also true of Kubrick’s works). This screened in LA. last year, but I am pretty sure it opened in Chicago in 2018, so I am including it here.

FINALLY:
Honorable mentions (my new way to cheat.) You can think of these 11 films as all being tied for 11th Place.

Black Panther, Faces Places-(In French with English subtitles) The Death of Stalin (U.K.), A Fantastic Woman-(A Chilean film In Spanish with English subtitles), Ghost Stories (U.K.), Game Night, A Hustler's Diary-(In Swedish with English subtitles), Mary and the Witch's Flower (In Japanese with English subtitles or dubbed in English), Messi and Maude/ La Holandesa (Netherlands) (In Dutch with English subtitles), Parallel Places (this great alt music doc only played once at the Chicago Underground Film Festival), The Villainess (South Korea)

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org
 


 

PODCAST EPISODE 58: TOP 10 FILMS OF 2017
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Discussion of the Top 10 Films of 2017

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