2017 was painful in a wholly different way from 2016. 2016 was painful like watching your house burn down or seeing something terrible befall a loved one. This year was painful too but in the way of a grueling workout after a period of sloth. You know it hurts but you also know the pain serves a purpose and is more desirable than feeling nothing at all.
The first year under Trump offered many heartrending confirmations that our worst fears in 2016 were in no way hyperbolic. But it also offered some inspiring moments that offered balm to our bruised spirits. We saw the citizenry mobilize like never before. We saw our institutions resist the most outrageous of Bannon and Putin’s designs. And finally we saw in the reddest state of the union proof that Trump’s 2016 electoral college victory did not deliver the mandate he’d have us believe.
This tumult seems to be invigorating our filmmaking because 2017 was quite a remarkable year. I’ve seen a few comments complaining about this not being a great year for film. All I can imagine is those holding that position must mean there were precious few prestige offerings from our elder statesmen filmmakers. This is a year largely free of the kind of Oscar bait that proclaims its importance and feels destined to win by consensus. In its place however are some startling films from new or first time filmmakers that fills me with a hope for the medium I haven’t had since 1999.
Of course, the big story of the year that unites politics and the cinema is The Reckoning. The long overdue fall of Harvey Weinstein has unloaded a tidal wave of truth that the masters of the industry (all industries, really) had thought they could bully into silence in perpetuity. There’s always a cynicism at moments like these that says things don’t change but today, as we stand at the threshold of a new year, it does appear that things have in fact changed or at least begun to do so permanently. Taking down the abusers who were vested with power to cover up their crimes is only the first step. The next one to be taken in 2018 (ironically the year that marks 20 years since the release of Shakespeare in Love which earned Harvey Weinstein his longed for Oscar) is to change the hiring practices once and for all so that the underrepresented get a chance to speak and the abusers no longer take for granted the firewall that protects their livelihood from the consequences of their abusive behavior.
With all due respect to beloved filmmakers like Sam Fuller and Robert Altman (who rejected the good guy-bad guy dichotomy), 2017 was truly a year of heroes and villains. Heroes who stood up to power, villains who were corrupted by the power they spent decades accruing. Artistically speaking, there was a lot of heroism to be seen this year: there was Jordan Peele using a dismissed genre to speak powerfully to the social ills of our time; there was Pamela Adlon starring in and directing every episode of an amazing series while coping with the Shakespearean fall of her close collaborator; and there was Laura Dern who at 50 has finally emerged as one of our great actresses after surviving Ingenue Hell and the After Forty Gulag Hollywood offers to middle-aged women. But above them all stands David Lynch.
Lynch turned in the single most important work of narrative art in 2017. His sequel to Twin Peaks is his definitive magnum opus. He was given the biggest canvas of his career to work on by Showtime (I’ll keep my subscription until at least 2020 out of sheer gratitude) and created something extraordinary. Twin Peaks: The Return broke the hearts of a lot of fans of the original series. Lynch did not care to give them the pay off they thought they deserved or return to the quirky charms of the old show. He gave us something else. He used the town of Twin Peaks as a launching pad and took us to places we didn’t know existed. He packed the entire spectrum of human emotion into certain episodes and fearlessly thwarted our desires in others. In an era of bingeing, he made us wait. He pushed the medium of television into the stratosphere usually reserved for cinema and rendered the distinction meaningless. I chose not to include Twin Peaks: The Return on my list below because at 18 hours it feels too expansive to rank alongside stories told over a fraction of that time. But make no mistake, David Lynch has thrown down the gauntlet to all filmmakers to tell wholly original, wholly personal stories and break out beyond the directorial playbook written by D.W. Griffith.
One director who took up that gauntlet already is Rian Johnson. His new installment of the Star Wars Saga is polarizing for all the right reasons: he’s taking all the familiar characters, settings, themes, and story and giving it to us in a new and challenging way that makes us reconsider everything we know about the 40 year old franchise. It is not lost on me that this film is Episode VIII in the Star Wars Saga and the most radical and experimental episode of Twin Peaks: The Return was the 8th episode. Perhaps this bodes well for the year upon us which ends with that same magic number.
1. Lady Bird – USA – d: Greta Gerwig
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi – USA – d: Rian Johnson
3. Detroit – USA – d: Kathryn Bigelow
4. Faces Places – France – d: Agnes Varda & JR
5. BPM (120 Beats Per Minute) – France – d: Robin Campillo
6. The Square – Sweden – d: Ruben Östlund
7. Wormwood – USA – d: Errol Morris
8. Get Out – USA – d: Jordan Peele
9. The Post – USA – d: Steven Spielberg
10. My Happy Family – Georgia – d: Nana Ekvtimishvili & Simon Groß
11. A Quiet Passion – UK – d: Terence Davies
12. Logan – USA – d: James Mangold
13. Logan Lucky – USA – d: Steven Soderbergh
14. Personal Shopper – France – d: Olivier Assayas
15. Graduation – Romania – d: Cristian Mungiu
16. Loveless – Russia – d: Andrey Zvyagintsev
17. Thor Ragnarok – USA – d: Taika Waititi
18. Call Me By Your Name – Italy – d: Luca Guadagnino
19. The Shape of Water – USA – d: Guillermo del Toro
20. Landline – USA – d: Gillian Robespierre
21. Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold – USA – d: Griffin Dunne
22. After the Storm – Japan – d: Hirokazu Kore-eda
23. Lady Macbeth – UK – d: William Oldroyd
24. Mudbound – USA – d: Dee Rees
25. Strong Island – USA – d: Yance Ford
26. Wind River – USA – d: Taylor Sheridan
27. The Florida Project – USA – d: Sean Baker
28. Okja – USA/Korea – d: Bong Joon-ho
29. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – USA/UK – d: Martin McDonagh
30. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – USA – d: Noah Baumbach
1. Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
2. Cynthia Nixon – A Quiet Passion
3. Kristin Stewart – Personal Shopper
4. Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
5. Florence Pugh – Lady Macbeth
6. Naomi Ackie – Lady Macbeth
7. Abby Quinn – Landline
8. Gal Gadot – Wonder Woman
9. Debra Winger – The Lovers
10. Beanie Feldstein – Lady Bird
1. Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
2. Mark Hamill – Star Wars: The Last Jedi
3. Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
4. Michael Keaton – Spider-Man: Homecoming
5. Harrison Ford – Blade Runner 2049
6. Andy Serkis – War for the Planet of the Apes
7. Adam Sandler – The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
8. Hugh Jackman – Logan
9. Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
10. Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
The Acting Purple Heart: Garance Marillier for her commitment to her craft as seen in Raw. Fearless.
The Nestor Almendros Color Cinematography Award: Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049.
First Runner-Up: Igor Martinovic & Ellen Kuras for Wormwood.
Second Runner-Up: Rachel Morisson for Mudbound.
The Howard Hawks Directing Award: Patty Jenkins for shaming everyone who thought a Wonder Woman film was a bad idea.
The Samson Raphaelson Screenwriting Award: Pamela Adlon & Louis C.K. for FX’s Better Things.
Runner-up: David E. Kelly for his work on HBO’s Big Little Lies.
The William Cameron Menzies Production Design Award: Mark Friedberg for Wonderstruck.
Runner-Up: Dennis Gassner for Blade Runner 2049.
The Theodora van Runkle Costume Design Award: Renée April for Blade Runner 2049.
The Masaru Sato Composing Award: Jonny Greenwood for Phantom Thread.
The Margaret Booth Editing Award: Ronald Bronstein & Benny Safdie for Good Time.
The Alan Splet Sound Design Award: David Lynch, of course.
The David O. Selznick Producing Award: Megan Ellison put her money where her mouth was in making Detroit. The film will not yield a fortune nor critical accolades but it is a film that will be vindicated by time.
Best Revival of the Year: Spike Lee for his inspired re-imagining of his debut feature, She’s Gotta Have It for Netflix.
The Grant Tinker Television Award: Bruce Miller & Reed Morano for their bold adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Comeback of the Year: The human spirit. I know that’s corny but we all deserve it after November 2016.
On a personal note, this was a remarkable year for me. I freed myself from the last bits of red tape from my long sojourn in teacher hell, I taught briefly at the best school in the city and I finally made the leap to being an adjunct college instructor. Oh, and I made my second feature available for rental or purchase. May the next year be as rewarding for all of us as it was for me.