I was going to finish this post in December but depression, etc. I saw a lot of very affecting movies in 2017 – not necessarily 2017 movies. These are the most important movies that I happened to watch in the year 2017 and why they were important, underexplained and with no internal consistency.
I finally! saw Dario Argento’s cult classic in its beautiful 4K restoration. The story, about American ballet student Suzy who travels to Germany to attend an elite dance school that may have ties to evil witchcraft, is ultimately very stupid, but that doesn’t matter. Just the Grand Guignol ass setpieces and stunning colors wash over you. It was also an influence on Kunihiko Ikuhara, so that qualifies it as essential viewing.
This was a relatively subdued Almodovar (and I love me a convoluted Almodovar). The story of middle-aged, independent Julieta is framed by a tell-all letter to her estranged daughter, Antia. Julieta is played brilliantly by two actresses, representing her youth and middle age, the division between which is also marked by life-changing grief. It’s a simple story in some ways: a woman alone meets a man, by the alignment of circumstance they build a life and family, there is loss, there is estrangement, and the woman is alone again. What stuck with me about Julieta is its exploration of how much of ourselves we put aside in relationships without planning to or realizing it, how grief can rewire our entire self, and how we really just don’t fucking understand other people – especially our parents.
8. Star Wars: the Last Jedi
When I started writing this list, I hadn’t seen Star Wars: the Last Jedi, and that certainly would have made things easier. It’s almost impossible to judge a Star War by normal film metrics – whatever those are for you – because they’re Cultural Events on a scale few are. TLJ was very good! But more importantly, it was good in a dark year to have an experience that reminds you that coming together in shared excitement is still possible. Star Wars is about the anticipation you have going into it, who you see it with, the personal history and mythology many of us carry, and those first breathless conversations you have after the credits roll.
TLJ also shook up the Star Wars universe in a way that felt satisfying and timely. It’s a hard balance to strike in a franchise held so sacred. It challenged structures and beloved characters without seeming like a overhaul for the sake of it. Your Heroes Are Fuck Ups too is a good trope. The responsibilities and burdens of legacy has always been a huge theme in Star Wars, and I liked that TLJ posed that it’s ok to look beyond the old guard we count on, both in the story and for us as fans. I also appreciated that movie respected Jedi spirituality but gently proposed that maybe spiritual leaders should not be the de facto last word.
+ Laura Dern in Space, acting and looking as awesome as Diane in Twin Peaks.
7. Super Dark Times
The very succinctly named Super Dark Times follows a group of teenagers in rural New York State in 1996 before and after a shocking accident. It’s more an examination of the loss of innocence – for the characters and of a very specific cultural moment – than a traditional thriller, and first-time director Kevin Phillips pulls it off hauntingly. There’s a pall of uneasiness even before the big moment, but for me and I imagine most people who are old enough to even vaguely remember pre-Columbine childhood, the world of Super Dark Times is still immediately recognizable on a bone-deep sensory level.
The kids, too, seem familiar. They could be my older brother’s friends. We see the story through the eyes of geek-adjacent, good natured Zack. He’s not just grappling with the trauma of a horrific event, he’s questioning the security of his world, his close friendship with the nervier Josh, and his crush, Allison, whose feelings only complicate his state of mind. Even at the limits of his paranoid spiral, Owen Campbell gives Zack a sensitivity and fundamental kindness that make him a sympathetic and heartbreaking character. When the terror building through the story finally bursts in a violent finale, the film manages to stay grounded in struggles most of us experience: losing the feeling of safety as you grow up, the shifting foundations of once-solid friendships, and navigating your place in the world when your adolescent brain is firing in all directions.
When I first saw Super Dark Times, I was put off by how…male…it was. The more distance I have from it, though, I see the wallop of messy, teenage boy sexuality as another strength of the film. It manages to challenge ideas about emergent masculinity in a subtle way that doesn’t sideline Allison’s character or her agency in the story. There’s a bookending of the story through her perspective that could have made or broken the film for me. Although trauma has far-reaching effects to Zack, his family, and his whole community, Allison is an important reminder of who often ultimately bears the most fallout of toxic masculinity. It’s an incisive movie in so many ways, and it was so powerfully atmospheric. Of everything I saw in 2017 I find myself coming back this one a whole lot.
6. Get Out
Horror movies that are nuggets of truth about humanity are extremely my shit. Get Out is about racism, and a strain of racism that doesn’t get talked about enough at that. It’s about how white people, even “good” liberal white people, dehumanize black people even as they’re aggressively commodifying their bodies and culture. Of course some white people who saw this movie still somehow did not get that message. It’s a very good and daring and true film!
5. In Search of Fellini
I remember exactly how I was feeling the day I saw In Search of Fellini and exactly why and what led to feeling that way. My way of dealing with this feeling involved going to movies in the middle of the day on a whim because I needed to be in someone else’s world for a while. In Search of Fellini is about, well, using movies to escape. The person in search of Fellini is 20-year-old, emotionally stunted Lucy has never considered the world outside of the optimistic movies her mother loves until she stumbles on a film festival celebrating the works of “Il Maestro.” With the gusto of a 15 year old weeb who decides they’re going to move to Japan and be a mangaka, Lucy jets off to Italy to meet Fellini without much in the way of money or street smarts. Her trip is a whirlwind tour of theretofore unknown emotional and physical experiences. The framing of Lucy’s encounters in Italy through dreamlike sequences that recall various Fellini films didn’t always stick the landing, but I found myself very endeared to this story. I spent most of my childhood and adolescence in my own imagination and my life has been molded and changed by stories over and over again. I know what it’s like to be so struck by an emotional experience in fiction that it feels like the boundaries between your soul and a story have dissolved; you absorb it just as it bleeds out of you. I know what it’s like to desperately cling to the belief that there’s – something – that will transcend the pain and loneliness that become mundane.
Welp, that was melodramatic.
4. Your Name
Your Name became the highest grossing anime film of all time so a lot of people went on twitter to talk about how it wasn’t that great something something overblown. That is…correct. It is a very GRAND GESTURES story about body swapping teens who fall in love and save part of the world. I’m very picky about romance stories and don’t tend to seek it out as a genre. I’m not an unromantic person but something about the big love story just doesn’t land with me most of the time. Your Name did, though. Sometimes I just need to root for love, and experience perhaps simple emotions, but very hard.
3. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
I wanted to watch Fire Walk with Me before starting Twin Peaks: the Return, and was lucky enough to catch a screening at Metrograph. The film, which was a bomb when it premiered over ten years ago, is the story of Laura Palmer’s last days alive – almost exclusively through her perspective. It’s an incredibly difficult film to sit through and I don’t blame people for their whiplash. Laura’s horrific death and the sordid details of her life are present in Twin Peaks, but we experience that through the community’s reaction to it. Twin Peaks was always a work that urged us to look at female trauma and challenge our preconceptions of the “pretty dead girl” trope, but it can still be too easy to lose Laura Palmer, the girl with her own internal life, amid so many filters. As a pop culture touchstone, the enduring images of Laura – and perhaps the entire franchise – are her corpse and her homecoming queen portrait. Fire Walk with Me makes it clear she was both, neither, and so much more.
I should probably not go on and on about this movie, because I should probably write about it on its own. This is a moment in my life where I’m in the middle of processing a lot of trauma that up until now I’ve only dealt with by ignoring it or malaptively coping with it. Fire Walk with Me is ultimately about a girl fighting to the end against her own trauma, against forces she barely understands. Sometimes she copes in extremely toxic ways, and sometimes she’s just a vulnerable teenager. This Laura in all her strengths and contradictions will be stick with me for a long time.
I could talk for a long time about Martin Scorcese’s Silence, based on the book by Shusaku Endo, but why it matters so much to me is one of the hardest things to talk about. To put it in simple terms, I am a lapsed Christian. I do not call myself a Christian and most of the time I don’t think I ever will again. Many of my friends were either raised non-religiously or gave it up and never looked back. My spiritual truth is a lot muddier, and the people and works of art that resonate with that part of me are few and far between. Silence is one of them, perhaps The One of them. Its exploration of faith, doubt, and the possibility of finding a spiritual relationship in solitude and isolation had a profound impact on me.
Ladybird! I am now one of many people who get emotional and possibly cry even thinking about Ladybird! I put “This Eve of Parting” on my running playlist. At this exact moment, I am a little bit irritated with my mother. Still, it’s unimaginable that I will ever be as close to another person or love another person more than her. We both sobbed at the end of the movie, which we saw together twice. Once in New York, the place I escaped to, and once in Columbia, the place I escaped from. Like Christine “Ladybird” McPherson, I spent high school knowing that I wanted more and that “more” was definitely a thing that happened in New York. Now I’m here, but I sure do have a lot of feelings and remember every tiny detail of the town I allegedly hate.
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