Thursday, December 28, 2017

Best Films of 2017

Similar to 2016, global cinema in 2017 kept pace with current events and created works that reflected society. There were multiple films released in 2017 that covered the plight of refugees and the struggles they face (69 Minutes Of 86 Days, Aqerat, More, Human Flow, The Other Side of Hope, Reseba, Taste of Cement) while some films showed the harsh economic realities of our world (Félicité, The Florida Project, The Nothing Factory, Western). This year’s Cannes festival unveiled three timely films set in Russia that gave a glimpse into Russian society (A Gentle Creature, Closeness and Loveless). All three are very different films yet all look at the larger Russian society by highlighting the impact on a family/spouse when a male member is absent. In addition, there were new works from established master directors although Hong Sang-soo outpaced everyone else by releasing three films in one year, which is an accomplishment even by his prolific standards. Of the numerous worthy titles to choose from, this list is restricted to 17 films, all of which are 2017 titles.

1. Zama (Argentina co-production, Lucrecia Martel)

Lucrecia Martel’s long awaited cinematic return is a feast for the senses and brings a fresh perspective to the colonial life. Packed with delightful references to cinematic and literary characters ranging Godot to Kurtz to Aguirre and even the legendary Gabbar Singh. This is filmmaking of the highest order!

2. A Man of Integrity (Iran, Mohammad Rasoulof)

Rasoulof cleverly uses a single man’s struggles to depict larger issues around corruption and politics in society. The film is set in Iran but the story is universal.

3. Western (Germany/Bulgaria, Valeska Grisebach)

A smart variation of a traditional Western film genre that illustrates the east as the promised land for riches instead. The guns may be absent but horses and masculinity aren’t.

4. Life and Nothing More (Spain/USA, Antonio Méndez Esparza)

A remarkable and urgent film that gets at the core problems regarding racism in America. By using a single incident around a playground, the film shows the cycle of fear that leads to a violent reaction and subsequent excessive force by law officials.

5. Cocote (Dominican Republic co-production, Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias)

A creative blend of fiction and documentary which effortlessly mixes different film stocks (colour, black and white) and contains different camera styles, including an immersive 360-degree pan. The end result is a scrumptious film that hails the arrival of an exciting new voice in international cinema!

6. A Gentle Creature  (France, Sergei Loznitsa)

Loznitsa brings a sharp documentary eye in depicting the prison system in Russian society while layering the work with Kafkaesque notes, satire and even opera.

7. Closeness (Russia, Kantemir Balagov)

Based on a true story, Balagov nicely uses a 4:3 aspect ratio to box the screen in thereby showing the closeness and tension among different ethnicities in the Caucasus city of Nalchik.

8. Lover for a Day (France, Philippe Garrel)

A lovely mix of French New Wave and contemporary sensibilities.

9. The Nothing Factory (Portugal, Pedro Pinho)

Starts off as an absurd comedy, shifts gears to become a documentary and ends as a musical. The documentary portion of the film is brimming with ideas where the film looks at the end of capitalism and shutting down of factories across Europe. The film poses relevant questions about what work means in modern society.

10. Taste of Cement (Germany/Syria/Lebanon co-production, Ziad Kalthoum)

A poetic documentary that depicts the lives of Syrian workers who are working on high rise towers in Beirut. The documentary smartly interweaves the construction of the buildings in Beirut with the destruction of the workers’ homes back in Syria. The film also features some of the most inventive framing and camera movements of the year, including some dizzying views of Beirut.

Honourable mentions (alphabetical order):

Aqerat (Malaysia, Edmund Yeo)
Faces Places (France, JR/Agnès Varda)
Félicité (Senegal co-production, Alain Gomis)
Newton (India, Amit Masurkar)
On Body and Soul (Hungary, Ildikó Enyedi)
The Other Side of Hope (Finland, Aki Kaurismäki)
Wajib (Palestine co-production, Annemarie Jacir)


Anonymous said...

Sachin, as always you treat the most impassioned of cinephiles with an international art house presentation of the very first rank. ZAMA and WESTERN are two films I sought out, and even made bids to access online but my efforts failed. In any case BOTH would not be eligible for my list as they won't be getting US releases until 2018, a short while from now in fact. I missed LOVER FOR A DAY and want very much to see the Iranian film. Several here have been off my radar! I've seen most of your Honorable Mentions, and one, the Varda, made mine. You are amazing my friend!


Sachin said...

Thanks so much for your wonderful comment Sam. Your list is incredible and I need to catch up on many films on that. I am glad to see THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE on your list as well.