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Decalogue: Top 10 Films of 2017

Like 2016, 2017 was a year of odd distress and roiling anxiety. The reality of U.S. President Donald Trump proved no better than the promise, as his Administration brought regular troubling developments, painfully moronic statements, melodramatic chaos, suggestions of corruption and foreign collusion, and emboldening of reactionary extremists to the pinnacle of power of world’s remaining superpower. Deadly disasters, natural and gun-related, continued to wax in intensity in America as well, as the nation’s economic, political, and social resources seemed helpless to stop hurricanes and lone disgruntled white men with guns from devastating its citizens.

Meanwhile, the male-dominated spheres of entertainment and politics were convulsed with unprecedented demands for accountability for the serial abuses of sexualized power. Kicked off by revelations of decades of sexual harrassment (and thuggish bullying to cover it up) by Hollywood power-broker Harvey Weinstein, a cascade of similar abuses made public righteously felled movie stars, directors and producers, comedy heroes, and senators, decisively turned an Alabama Senate election, and further wounded a prodigiously problematic presidency. The burgeoning #MeToo movement has already transformed the social and political landscape, but the longer-term effects are yet to be glimpsed.

As they so often do, the movies of 2017 reflected and contextualized the forces shaping current affairs. For the rising tide of women reclaiming the fallen brass ring of triumphal feminism in the face of a barrage of hostility and criticism, there was a female superhero standing strong and proud against the literal bullets and shells of a mad war of another time. For minorities struggling against resurgent, arrogant revanchist conformism, there was a ravishingly gorgeous romance between a mute woman and an amphibious humanoid. Sequels to cerebral science-fiction classics and popular space adventures respectively wondered what it meant to be human and compellingly encapsulated enduring generational conflicts and unaddressed social and political impasses. Independent and foreign films interrogated the art world and social etiquette, the economic and psychological precariousness of the working class, and the morality of mass meat production. And standing astride the calendar year, an expertly-crafted, nuanced, and challenging literal and metaphorical demonstration of the “sunken place” of racial discrimination against African-Americans built into a genre-bending comedy/horror/thriller. These are the top movies of 2017, and they give us a particular view of the world of 2017.

1. Get Out (Directed by Jordan Peele)

Get Out is a consistently unsettling horror-thriller genre piece whose creepy central concept likewise functions as a resonant metaphor for anti-black racism in America. […] It’s masterfully poised and finely calibrated, the work of an assured filmmaker whose control of narrative, tone, tension, and visuals conveys his desired ideas and emotions with impressive effectiveness. […] Get Out is a masterful genre exercise that amplifies a vital political message about racism in America and beyond. But it doesn’t tell us that it will all be okay if we all come together (whatever that’s supposed to mean), and it doesn’t flatter us by allowing us to imagine that we can view through the eyes of another. […] Get Out doesn’t flatter its audience with the suggestion that such rapprochement, such intimate empathy of perspective, is possible. It opts for stark recognition instead.”

Review – 3 April 2017

2. The Shape of Water (Directed by Guillermo del Toro)

The Shape of Water [is] del Toro’s most magical, absorbing, and ambiguously moving work since his shamanistic career peak of a decade ago, Pan’s Labyrinth. […] The Shape of Water [is] a film of such textual and visual complexity, of such exquisite beauty and potent thematic heft, that it eclipses its genre film origins and inspirations and leaves us gazing in awe-struck wonder at the cinema screen. […] It’s also a wonderful, transporting film, an entertaining and heartening work of popular art by a singular artist, and a new classic.”

Review – 12 December 2017

3. Blade Runner 2049 (Directed by Denis Villeneuve)

“The first thing worth knowing about Blade Runner 2049, and quite frankly the last thing as well, is that it is incredibly beautiful. Directed by Quebeςois prestige-film dynamo Denis Villeneuve and shot by the venerable English cinematographical master Roger Deakins, the 30-plus-years-hence sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal, influential, and lingeringly divisive 1982 science-fiction opus replicates and indeed surpasses its feats of visual invention, forward-looking production design, and neo-noir neon-infused chiaroscuro mood lighting. […] This is a grand nightmarescape of structural decay and physical alienation evocative of social, political, and psychological dislocation. […] Blade Runner 2049 crafts tall white fountains amidst its dystopian dark, and provides a heartening illustration of how deriving meaning from those comforting structures, which gain significance and dimension of feeling through our engagement with them and not through the separate intentions embedded in their design and manufacture, shapes our identity amidst the unceasing torrent of a hard world.”

Review – 29 October 2017

4. Dunkirk (Directed by Christopher Nolan)

“Nolan’s Dunkirk is predicated on a certain visual and functional incongruity from the hard-edged realities of the Second World War even while it strives to replicate the unbearable sensory tension of the war-zone experience. […] This is not to say that Dunkirk is not excellent, potent, inherently impressive filmmaking. Or that its metronome-ticking rhythmic shifts between uneasy anticipation and smothering intensity are not, in their way, accurate representations of the lived experience of war. […] Dunkirk […] is highly superior at drilling deep into the experience of a single, defining episode of [World War II] and rendering it for a modern audience with powerful, intelligible clarity.”

Review – 6 August 2017

5. The Lost City of Z (Directed by James Gray)

“An example of resolutely old-fashioned cinematic storytelling with clearly-drawn characters and straightforward themes, The Lost City of Z may not be interested enough in anything other than its absorbing story to accurately be described as “important” or “compelling” or “powerful”. But James Gray’s handsome, thoughtful, expertly-crafted screen adaptation of David Grann’s acclaimed and popular non-fiction book about an English explorer determined to locate the remains of a lost civilization in the Amazonian jungle draws you in with sturdy seductiveness.”

Review – 20 May 2017

6. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Directed by Rian Johnson)

“Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi is what it looks like when Star Wars makes a concerted, serious effort to put away childish things. It isn’t always pretty or consistent or clean, but it’s a fascinating, invigorating, and often powerful attempt. […] Under Rian Johnson’s steady eye and intelligent storytelling mind, this is a Star Wars film that understands and thinks as an adult: with pain, regret, doubt, and memory, and ultimately with a wisdom only earned with experience of a difficult and unromantic world. And with that wisdom comes a tempered but resilient hope, a wounded and wavering but never squelched sense of the persistent value of progress. In trying times, The Last Jedi steps forward to be the Star Wars we need it to be.”

Review – 18 December 2017

7. The Square (Directed by Ruben Östlund)

“There is plenty to like about The Square. The performances, often semi-improvised at the director’s urging, are uniformly good. As a filmmaker, Östlund has a wit both verbally sharp and visually sly, and many of the film’s best gags are placed out of the centre of focus in the frame, to be discovered by the sharp-eyed. […] The Square can be scabrously funny and definitely thought-provoking. […] The Square is often not acceptable or digestible, to its superficial credit. But it can be a bit too hard to choke down, too. Is that more of a censure on its creator, or on the movie audience whose prejudices and assumptions he conceives himself and his film as challenging?”

Review – 19 November 2017

8. I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (Directed by Macon Blair)

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore references, in both its title and its overall thematic direction, a generalized, frequently-invoked, amorphously nostalgic sentiment that things are getting worse than they once were. This sentiment has gained the calcified certainty of a set ideology for many Americans, especially older and more conservative ones. […] But this striking, oddly riveting, and very darkly funny film makes a potent case, in emotional philosophy terms if not in rational ones, for a downward decline in the norms of American society from the point of view of the young. It’s getting worse, sure, but it’s not clear why or who precisely is responsible, which accounts for the greatest share of the frustration.”

Review – 31 July 2017

9. Wonder Woman (Directed by Patty Jenkins)

Wonder Woman is a dynamite entertainment with surprising thematic and emotional heft. […] Jenkins ends our heroine’s climactic dark night of doubt, struggle, and deep loss with a sunrise suffused with hope and goodness. And Wonder Woman, despite its sops to genre convention and big-budget compromise, not only succeeds but thrives and delights because it holds that sunrise in its heart. There’s an earnest joy and desire to protect goodness and improve situations of injustice at this movie’s core that sets it irrevocably apart from its incoherent, ugly, and smug DCEU predecessors. […] Wonder Woman has ideals, and it thunderously upholds them.”

Review – 4 June 2017

10. Okja (Directed by Bong Joon-ho)

“The extremely campy and surprisingly moving social-commentary satire of Okja turned its director, Bong Joon-ho, into a vegan (though only temporarily), and an easy, surface-level assumption would be that the Korean/English film’s aim is to turn you into one, too. But such a glib summation would be manifestly unfair to Okja‘s at-once playful, cauterizing, and nuanced critique of contemporary capitalism, of mass production and consumption of meat, and of the limits of both revolutionary activism and human empathy in resisting corporate exploitation. […] Like a lot of critiques of this particular socioeconomic system, Bong’s suggests that the injection of a bit of humanity could go a long way in righting its wrongs. Unlike a lot of such critiques, it doesn’t flatter the capitalist superstructure by even entertaining the possibility that any moral rectitude […] could conceivably overcome the lucrative temptations of capital obtained by whatever means necessary.”

Review – 7 December 2017

 

 

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