Friday, January 12, 2018

Best Films of 2017

10. Division Movement to Vungtau (Benjamin Crotty and Bertrand Dezoteux)
These enfants terribles dishonor 16mm footage sourced from the US National Archives of off-duty American soldiers in Vietnam c. 1966-1968 by inserting motion-captured anthropomorphic fruit. To quote Phil Coldiron in a dead-on summation for The Brooklyn Rail, "the pair throw stink bombs into...the boomer nostalgia that marks Vietnam as more than just another catastrophe in our idiot nation’s storied history of them" and, as such, would make a perfect coda to Ken Burns' The Vietnam War.
9. Tonsler Park (Kevin Jerome Everson)
An 80-minute observation at a polling precinct in Charlottesville, Virginia on November 8th, 2016 of the black bodies our legislatures are gerrymandering out of existence.
8. The Florida Project (Sean Baker)
With many parking lots to cross, the barely working poor at a motel in Anywhere, USA find no relief from noise, heat, and the fitfully sympathetic management.
7. The Death of Louis XIV (Albert Serra)
Not a requiem but rather an ode to cinema's embalming function. I see dead people indeed.
6. Ismael's Ghosts (director's cut) (Arnaud Desplechin)
24 Hour Psycho Back and Forth and To and Fro (Douglas Gordon)
Hitchcock is always with us. Desplechin retells Vertigo as four films in one for the ADD set while Gordon's 2008 installation (at the 21st St. Gagosian through February 3rd) features one 24-hour Psycho running forward while another adjoining one runs backward. I haven't had so much fun at a gallery-cum-cinema, well, ever! My friend Bill and I were like giddy children before this monument to a lifetime of close readings. "Wait - wasn't Vera Miles walking backwards away from the house at one point?" "Do you know the name of the actor who played the cop?" "Man, he held this shot a long time." "Let's stay to see Ted Knight!"
5. Zama (Lucretia Martel)
A welcome and criminally tardy return of the genius Martel for a tale about a victim of hope winding his way through various disorienting spaces, the most terrifying pictured below from a brief moment I won't soon forget.
4. Baby Driver (Edgar Wright)
Finally - a big-budget Hollywood action film/box-office smash I loved! And a far better musical than La La Land. I can't even: Ansel Elgort.
3. On Generation and Corruption (Takashi Makino)
Makino takes Maya Deren's concept of vertical editing to unprecedented depths as you dive into his blizzard of superimpositions.
2. Sleep Has Her House (Scott Barley)
So gorgeous, so uncompromising that I actually wept at the end. Sleep Has Her House evokes Edward Steichen's eerie Moonlight photos or maybe The Turin Horse devoid of humans. You can scarcely imagine the profilmic events Barley encountered even though the film was presumably shot on this planet. As of this writing and for shame, Sleep Has Her House has yet to have its New York (or even North American!) premiere.
1. SPF-18 (Alex Israel)
In a year when cinema kept dying and Twin Peaks: The Return was a film (or not), and streaming threatened the thingishness of things, SPF-18 suggests that such epistemological uncertainty is the natural order of art. This is a film alright. But it's also part of a multi-platform project comprised of, to quote the VIA Art Fund's sober description, "a feature-length film, soundtrack, artwork, digital outreach program, and accompanying high school curriculum." Apparently, Israel toured high schools with the film although I've yet to uncover evidence that this actually happened and any documentation thereof would compete with the film as a primary aesthetic object. The film features cameos by Keanu Reeves, Molly Ringwald, Rosanna Arquette, Pamela Anderson, and Goldie Hawn (as the narrator), a 1980s soundtrack including hits from Duran Duran, The Cars, and Yaz, several of Isreal's art works, and some of the most ridiculous aerial shots ever filmed. It's basically an after-school special about the need for beautiful teenagers to follow their creative muse. I have absolutely no clue how to position myself with respect to this thing and I imagine further inquiries into Israel's access and privilege will force my mind in one firm direction. But for now, this was the most head-spinning encounter with cinema (or whatever) I had all year. SPF-18 is available on Netflix as of this writing. Watch it, kay?

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