These are the top 10 films I saw for the first time in 2017. It’s slightly embarrassing how long some of these have taken for me to see but better late than never right? Full reviews of a few of these are available by clicking on the film’s title.
The way this movie sets up like a chess match before making its move on all fronts is heavily reminiscent of the work of Terrence Malick to me. Johnson weaves a seemingly complex tapestry of various parts only to show how intertwined they really are.
9. Rosemary’s Baby
Normally I shy away from horror films but this is no ordinary horror film. This year I discovered the wonder that is Roman Polanski. Polanski somehow has a knack for making films that are psychologically troubling on every level, yet he never has to explicitly show you any of the details making it so. Rosemary’s Baby is gorgeous, disturbing, and has one of the best endings I’ve seen in a film like this.
Tower is more than just a great documentary. It’s a master class in storytelling. It’s terrifyingly beautiful. I can count on one hand how many films I’ve encountered that displayed the wide range of the human condition, both the awe-inspiring and heartbreaking, in such a purely visceral way.
7. Le Samourai
Calculated, Stylish, and Patient. This movie defines cool.
Watching Silence felt like watching Martin Scorsese bare his soul. The book is one of the most beautiful pieces of literature ever created and the film does justice to the story that inspired it. The film, much like the book, is never assuming, yet always aware that the viewer is quite assuming. It’s challenging on a whole new level and its no surprise that the film was not received with much fanfare. That is a testament to its quality.
The second film by Roman Polanski on this list, it’s hard for me to explain why I enjoyed it so much. At it’s core, it’s everything I dislike, but the final product is unbelievably captivating to me. The best way I can describe the film is to say take one part Psycho, mix in equal parts The Shining and sprinkle in a bit of Lars Von Trier to taste. Mix together and enjoy being excitedly disturbed.
Alfred Hitchcock is a filmmaker that never ceases to amaze me. Yes, his classic films like Vertigo and Psycho are cinematic masterpieces. But the further you dig into this auteur’s history, the more you are rewarded. Rope is a great example of a film that has all the chops of Hitchcock’s more prominent film’s, yet for some reason does not get the same fanfare. The film used the gimmick of happening in real time and appearing to be one continuous shot (no, Birdman was not original with that idea) yet it actually took halfway through the film for me to remember that about this film. In the case of Rope, the story serves the gimmick, not the other way around. And what a final shot.
3. To Be Or Not To Be
A hilariously acerbic film. A script like this one is a masterpiece by itself. The fact that the film does it justice makes it one of the all time best.
Prior to 2017, Rashomon has always been one of the biggest blindspots in my film education. I knew quite a bit about the film prior to seeing it mostly involving the brilliant storytelling device employed by Kurosawa of showing the same story from multiple perspectives. This has since been used to ubiquity, sometimes well, sometimes not so well. What amazed me about finally seeing this film, however, had little to do with the device used to tell the story, which was fantastic, but was the next step that Kurosawa takes with that idea. The narrator’s existential crisis, brought upon by his experience listening to multiple testimonies, is easily the most beautiful and troubling thing I’ve seen from Kurosawa, a director I love dearly. It’s this interpretation following the storytelling device that truly sets this film apart from anything else I’ve ever seen.
Watching Stalker is much like reading the great poets. The more you engage with this beautiful art, the more elusive yet compelling it becomes. It’s as if it is describing something so beautiful or rather something so horrific, or perhaps both simultaneously, that the mind refuses to follow it into the depths of its meaning. Over the course of several hours, Tarkovsky deconstructed the way I see the world, and provided a vague framework by which to reassemble it. Every moment and word of this film is significant so I’ll allow it to speak for itself:
“Let everything that’s been planned come true. Let them believe. And let them have a laugh at their passions. Because what they call passion actually is not some emotional energy, but just the friction between their souls and the outside world. And most important, let them believe in themselves. Let them be helpless like children, because weakness is a great thing, and strength is nothing. When a man is just born, he is weak and flexible. When he dies, he is hard and insensitive. When a tree is growing, it’s tender and pliant. But when it’s dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death’s companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being. Because what has hardened will never win.”