Thursday, January 4, 2018

:::: FILMS OF 2017 ::::


TOP FILMS OF 2017 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
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David Lynch & Mark Frost "Twin Peaks: The Return" (United States)
Denis Villeneuve "Blade Runner 2049" (United States)
Anocha Suwichakornpong "By the Time it Gets Dark" (Thailand)
João Pedro Rodrigues "The Ornithologist" (Portugal)
Aleksei German Jr. "Under Electric Clouds" (Russia)
Bertrand Bonello "Nocturama" (France)
Lucrecia Martel "Zama" (Argentina)
Andrey Zvyagintsev "Loveless" (Russia)
James Gray "The Lost City of Z" (United States)
Sergei Loznitsa "A Gentle Creature" (Russia)
Chu Hsien-Che "White Ant" (Taiwan)
Sunao Katabuchi "In this Corner of the World" (Japan)
Alejandro Jodorowsky "Endless Poetry" (Chile)
Robin Campillo "BPM (Beats Per Minute)" (France)
Edward Yang "Taipei Story" Restored Rereleased (Taiwan)
Hou Hsiao-Hsien "Daughter of the Nile" Restored Rereleased (Taiwan)
Louis Malle "Elevator to the Gallows" Restored Rereleased (France)
Karel Zeman "The Fabulous Baron Munchausen" Restored Rereleased (Czech Republic)
David Fincher, Asif Kapadia & Andrew Douglas  "Mindhunter"  (United States)
Albert Serra "The Death of Louis XIV" (Spain)
Agnieszka Holland "Spoor" (Poland)
Agnès Varda & JR "Visages Villages" (France)
Bertrand Tavernier "My Journey Through French Cinema" (France)
Raoul Peck "I Am Not Your Negro" (United States)
Koji Fukada "Harmonium" (Japan)

A year has now passes since favorable ratings, and public appetite for spectacle motivated both liberal and conservative media to elevate a reality TV celebrity, media mogul and real estate magnate to one of the most influential positions of power in the world. All the while, the other aspect of the dominant two party system marginalized their more viable candidate. Consequently we find ourselves in in an environment in which high and low-level attacks have been leveled at the remaining journalistic press and even the First Amendment itself. These effects amplified by the net overabundance of the 21st Century, in which media sources are decentralized, but not necessarily diversified, presenting a new set of dangers to the less digitally savvy. Between the polarization of the commercial news sources, and self constructed corridors of social media posts by like-minded individuals, America not only receives different information, as a divided nation, we perceive different realities. Yet it remains, without true journalism, there can be no Democracy. All of this will no doubt be accelerated in the changed information environment, as the end of decades of hard-fought battles conclude with the repeal of Net Neutrality. Less travel this year, both domestic and international translated as being essentially grounded here in the United States, with the noise and confusion spinning out from the fallout of the election cycle. In the midst of it all, it was a great relief to find memorable performances, festivals and exhibitions domestically. Gallery-going and the cinema played an even more prominent role, hitting near the mark of 300 films seen, it was another record setting year in catching films in the theater. A highlight in performance was the occasion of a rare Northwest visit from the world-class dancers of Company Wayne McGregor and their performance of A Winged Victory for the Sullen's "Atomos". The most notable arts event witnessed this year was the third-annual Paul Allen funded Seattle Art Fair, initial speculation on it's inaugural launch as to the fair being another philanthropist vanity project have been dispelled. This year's fair saw an expanded body of galleries, some 84 in total, along with it's program of talks, on-and-off site performances and collateral events. The latter under the umbrella of the fair's Project series, presenting immersive and large-scale works spanning sculpture, performance, and installation beyond the art fair booth and into adjacent neighborhoods of the city. Taken with the concurrently running "Out of Sight" exhibition, returning for its third-annual survey of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest, the new curatorial team under the direction of exhibition caretaker, Scott Lawrimore, produced a national caliber event. 

Reflecting the further changing economic and cultural landscape of Seattle two regional festivals which had previously brought an international scope to the city had closing and transitional years in 2015. That year saw the final installments of the region's two dominant festivals of electronic, neoclassical and experimental music. The final Northwest edition of Rafael Anton Irisarri's Substrata Festival came and went, and in an open letter Decibel Festival's 13th year closed with programming director Sean Horton's farewell to the city. Horton has since announced the revival of the Decibel in 2018 in a Los Angeles iteration, with proposed Seattle satellite mini-festival to follow. In the two years since the closing of these expansive international forums, Seattle's monthly showcases of electronic and experimental sounds, Elevator, Secondnature, MOTOR, False Prophet and Wayward Music Series have filled the void, produced a string of memorable one-off events. Elevator's maturation in 2016 into exhibition curation with the inauguration of Corridor Festival was hailed as a unmitigated success in local press. It's daylong meeting of audio-visual media, installation art, music and performance has evolved into the city's best new festival for cutting edge sounds. Certainly moreso than Paul Allen's less successful migration into music and media with the launch of Upstream. Though there were gems buried even here, with showcases curated by Kremwerk and False Prophet, offering up sets by Boy Harsher, Not Waving, Pye Corner Audio and JLIN. The end of the summer season saw the shuttering of the Elevator monthly, yet it's programmers will continue the festival into 2018, promising an equally forward thinking festival of light, sound, and movement from the media and performance underground this coming February.

For the larger part of global cinema, the digital age is still proving to be at a narrow impasse rather than the promised plateau of abundance, which many are learning to navigate. Particularly evident in the world of film distribution, though footing has been found on some of the growing independent streaming platforms. Award winning films from festivals in New York, Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Hong Kong, Seoul, Cannes, Paris, London, Toronto and Cannes topping both Film Comment, Cinema-Scope and the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound annual overviews, have yet to screen in the United States. Or even show up streaming online. So count yourself fortunate that you live in a international city if you do, as more and more of the world's greatest film aren't to be found for purchase, rent, streaming or even download (legal or otherwise). Both this year's Seattle International Film Festival and 2016 showed stronger programming than the less than memorable selection of years before, which was disheartening after the exceptional year had in 2014 for their 40th Anniversary. Their year-round programming at SIFF Cinema compensating for the oversights of the festival, bringing advance screenings, rare prints and numerous exclusive screenings to their three cinemas including the Film Center and recently restored Egyptian. The second-run Recent Raves series being the best thing SIFF had going until it's suspension at the end of last year. Here's hoping for it's return in 2018. With indie cinemas closing around the nation, it was that much more important to support the local theater opportunities. Particularly with the subsuming of Sundance Theaters into the corporate AMC chain and the fast-shrinking and now single remaining regional theater of the independent Landmark Theatres. Our own Northwest Film Forum had a strong calendar year, in stiff competition with the programming seen on the longest running independent screen in this town, The Grand Illusion Cinema. In a succession of years, this micro-sized theater in Seattle stepped up to fill the growing theater void after strengthening their nonprofit partnership with Scarecrow Video. Many of the best films seen this year, when they did come to the cinema, had runs that lasted no more than a week. Others were never to appear again outside of an initial festival screening. One can't imagine that in the age of digital piracy that this process has aided films in finding their audience. Again proving the wisdom of getting out there, seeing the city and prioritizing the remaining opportunities that we're fortunate to have in our urban crossroads. Even so, no small percentage of these films even avid theater-goers living in urban centers didn't get to see. Making the almost singular resource that is Scarecrow Video, recipient of the 2016 Stranger Genius Award, that much more irreplaceable.

More worrying is the dearth of global cinema and critically lauded works available to view on the dominant streaming resources. In a span of a half decade, it's become graphically apparent that, "For Cinephiles, Netflix Is Less and Less an Option". Which stands in stark contrast to the abundance offered in the annual overviews seen above. The diminishing of both quantity and diversity on the platform has been further accelerated by the phasing out their physical media catalog. For a microcosm, look to the fact that less than 1/15th of "Spike Lee's list of 86 Essential Films" are available to view on Netflix. The per-capita is even more poor when one examines any of the selections made in the global poll of 900 critics, programmers and academics for the British Film Institute's, "The 50 Greatest Films of All Time". And don't think to go to Hulu or Amazon as an alternative, despite their claims. As a product, resources like Fandor, Mubi, and FilmStruck have risen as the online destination of choice for film lovers. The trio of platforms becoming the foremost streaming resources through which online viewers have access to the true scope of the past twelve decades of moving pictures. In the case of FilmStruck, Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection launched an endeavor wherein the vast libraries under the purview of the two institutions, containing thousands of classic, foreign, and arthouse films invested in a "Streaming Service that Places a Big Bet on Cinephiles". Facilitating particularly valuable programming and distribution, all three platforms have stepped into the international festival arena. The fruits of their curation and criticism offered throughout the year in their respective digital magazines, Notebook, Streamline and (the now shuttered) Keyframe. In many ways "Mubi: A Streaming Service with a Ticking Clock" coming out on top.

Unlike the "Streaming Rabbit Hole Worth Falling Down" represented by Fandor and FilmStruck, each offering a vast catalog of thousands of titles, Mubi watches as a online cinema of sorts, with a new film featured every day. In addition to the monthlong selection of titles on offer, Mubi has engaged in special programming with festival series, director highlights and movement and genre overviews. In just the past year showcasing such luminaries as Jean-Luc Godard, Seijun Suzuki, Raul Ruiz, Andrei Tarkovsky, Anthony Mann, Satyajit Ray, Ingmar Bergman, John Boorman, Mario Bava, and Michelangelo Antonioni. The platform upped the standard further in 2016 with their "It's About Time: The Cinema of Lav Diaz" feature on the Filipino director's rarely screened, extended duration film, which stood for many cinephiles as the streaming event of the year. Forging into new territory, Mubi's Special Discovery series has showcased new films selected from the world's most prestigious festivals, spanning works from established directors alongside some of the boldest new talent emerging on the scene. It's first year encompassing such diverse and original works as, the quotidian urban dream-drama, "Out of Time: Damien Manivel's 'Le Parc'", "Scarred Hearts", a follow-up from Romanian New Wave director Radu Jude's award winning "Aferim!", Léa Mysius' Cannes premiering debut feature, "Ava", and Nikkatsu's relaunch of it's legendary Roman Porno tradition, with new films by Sion Sono and Akihiko Shiota. The most striking of the series' offerings issuing from Russia, including an intimate observation on the fall of the Soviet Union from the first-person vantage of Moscow's streets, "Don’t Let Them Deceive You: Sergei Loznitsa’s 'The Event'", and one of the most notable prize winners from as reported by Olaf Möller for Film Comment on the Berlin International Film Festival. Which came in the form of a work by the son a late Russian auteur. Produced a film of epic ambition that delivers an allegorical full century from the Bolshevik revolution into it's vision of near-future science fiction as a, "Slow Cinema of the Apocalypse: Aleksei German, Jr.'s 'Under Electric Clouds'".

For all the talk in recent years of auteur television in the United States, exemplified by Noah Hawley's adaptation of the Coen Brother's property, "Fargo", Vince Gilligan's "Breaking Bad" and Nic Pizzolatto's "True Detective", three solidly constructed series which characterize the positive examples of this competent, complex and atmospheric television spanning season-long developmental arcs. To date, my vote has gone not to American or British television, but to the French and Australian. Bruno Dumont's by turns morbid and comedic, "Acid Black Comedy Set in Small-Town France" of "Li'l Quinquin", which watched as a elusively beguiling, subconscious, suggestively surreal crime drama set in the isolated farming community near Calais. The other, Jane Campion's notably more stoic approach in "Top of the Lake" to a missing persons drama in rural New Zealand, in which the Australian director constructed a paranoid and deeply cinematic, "Serial Television as Epic Poem". Both exemplary of a developing subgenre of style, the longform format exploiting the structural benefits of, "When TV Takes its Time". That all changed this year with the arrival of the newest set of "Serial Killer Variations" found in David Fincher's "More Chatter than Spatter", FBI period procedural, "Mindhunter", and the revisiting of David Lynch and Mark Frost after 25 years in, "Twin Peaks: The Return". Cause to rejoice, it's been a long and circuitous path from "How ‘Twin Peaks’ Got Lost, and Found Its Way Back", now arriving in the midst of the abundance of cinematic, director-driven television. Rather than a recreation of the concerns, technical form and approach of the original, the new miniseries advances the art beyond the standards of what one would expect even in the current environment of longform streaming content. All the while also joyfully exhibiting Lynch's love of film, in its numerous nods to cinema history.

The whole of the 18 episodes delivering a experience that watches like nothing else, it is truly "Beautiful, Grandiose, Cryptic, and Punishingly Tedious: That's Why Twin Peaks is So Beguiling". For those who were following the new miniseries as it aired, an assembly of critical interpretation, enhancement and viewing aides were thankfully documented by Criterion via their ongoing "Twin Peaks Returns" column. Expert and insightful weekly recaps can also be found on Mubi, The New York Times (concluding with a serving of weekly "donuts") and The Guardian, for those looking to delve deeper during their viewing. The miniseries also offering relevant connective tissue, thematically and technically bridging the spaces between and following on the events of the theatrical, "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me". Though Booed at Cannes and the target of frustrated Twin Peaks fans and critics upon its release, the film has since gained a reevaluation with context and distance. Pieces like Calum Marsh's "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is David Lynch's Masterpiece" and Alex Pappademas' "Anatomy of a Fascinating Disaster: Fire Walk With Me" have become increasingly more common. The past year also saw the further expansion of the film's narrative with the revealing of the long-rumored footage cut from the film after its Cannes premier. This can finally be seen in the bonus material offered on Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, and the new Criterion Collection 4k restoration. Lynch spoke with The Guardian on the eve of its release, exuberant at the opportunity to return to the content and reassemble a narrative from their fragmented form. Editing the whole of the deleted scenes from the film into a stand-alone viewing experience featuring 90 minutes of previously unseen footage as The Missing Pieces.

What proved to be the greatest science fiction vision seen on the big screen this year, may also very well come to be considered the most notable work of technological speculative fiction this decade. In an unexpected broadening of it's scope, Denis Villeneuve's sequel to the Ridley Scott neo-noir of 1982 finds itself concerned with the larger social implications of the established world borrowed from Philip K Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Rather than just a work that, as some have posited, is misogynist in regard to its depiction of women, it is instead the totality of the world of the film, and the locus of its values which are an examination of pervasive denigration, humiliation and the diminishing of human value as a whole. As Tim Hayes puts forward in, "Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s Hallowed Sci-Fi Classic Burns Bright with Uncomfortable Questions", to lumber the film with the task of fixing society rather than interrogating it first, is small minded. It supposes that art should present answers rather than questions, turning the imperative of supplying a moral vantage into a prerequisite for the audience's fulfillment and satisfaction. These concerns are essential biproducts of the investigation central to the life's work of what Rolling Stone then called, "The Most Brilliant Sci-Fi Mind on Any Planet". Through volume of perception shifting, politically multilayered work, Philip K. Dick pursued his singular inquiry into, "What constitutes the authentic human being?", extrapolating a body of science fiction that would become among the most influential in all of popular media by the turn of the century.

It's very probable that there is no other corpus by a 20th Century science fiction author as indirectly instrumental in Hollywood's transformation of popular storytelling as that of Dick. So it is that the author's regard extended to the variation in setting and theme that Ridley Scott, Hampton Fancher and his production team brought to 1982's "Blade Runner", for it remaining true to his fundamental examination of human authenticity. A line of inquiry further stressed in a setting of even greater complexity, isolation, and dehumanizing stratification found in Villeneuve and Fancher's expansive sequel. "This Gigantic Spectacle of Pure Hallucinatory Craziness" remains at it's core, focused on the dominant question of Philip K. Dick's life work. Whether the qualities of it's stunning visual realization, or the complexity of it's philosophical inquiry, resonate with the times sufficiently to earn the film the status of a "future classic", remains to be seen. Regardless of it's popular reception, this tale of the shattering and reconstruction of one underclass being's worldview while, "Hunting Replicants Amid Strangeness", fluidly traverses states of being visceral, spectacular and profound. All the while remaining sinuous in it's malevolence and disregard for human life. In working through Dick's central, humanist query, along its course, Denis Villeneuve's film comes to find itself a worthy successor to Ridley Scott’s original. In concurrence with Jonathan Romney, in a time in which belated sequels to classics ought never to work, (or even be made for that matter), Blade Runner 2049 feels like a slow, enigmatic, elusive hallucination of a movie, miraculously realized. 

While a strong year for contemporary cinema, some of the greater revelations came from decades past. The highest concentration of which was seen delivered by the work of institutions like Criterion Collection, Eureka / Masters of CinemaCurzon Artificial Eye, and Kino Lorber, who continue to fund the restoration and rerelease of some of the past century's greatest film. The fruits of which have found screens and audiences throughout the world thanks to the work of long-lasting and legendary distributor, Janus Films. This shared vision brought Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation World Cinema Project to both big screens and small, the first volume of which, "In Six Neglected Films, Expressed a Universe of Yearning". The second volume featured among other notable works from around the globe, another rarely seen aspect of the filmography of Edward Yang and his tale of, "One Couple’s Promising ‘Taipei Story,’ Slowly Undermined". The early works of Yang and his collaborator and Taiwanese New Wave contemporary, Hou Hsiao-Hsien can both be described as new form explorations of, "Heartache and Confusion of Adolescence from an Arthouse Master". Something of a renaissance for these director's work in the west, the "Baffling, Beautiful and Newly Restored" films of these two auteurs have been further capped this year by the first-ever theatrical run of Hou's "Daughter of the Nile". Independent distributors like Strand Releasing, Cohen Media Group, Music Box, Cinema Guild, Film Movement, and Grasshopper, brought both groundbreaking new cinema and repertory classics to homes and theaters in the US. Smaller British and American reissue imprints like Shout! / Scream Factory, Twilight Time, Arrow / Arrow Academy, and the newly launched Indicator, specializing in genre pictures and fringe works by directors of note, unearthing multitudes of lost and rare gems.