Cinema, Lists

Top 10 Movies of 2017

Out of the 94 movies I watched in 2017 (including 43 new releases), Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is easily the worst. It is also the most nominated movie, with 13 nominations, at this year’s Oscars and will likely win a lot of them—including Best Picture.

I’ve tuned into the Oscars as long as I’ve been watching movies “seriously” but this seems like a good year to stop. To be clear, this isn’t for any important moral reasons (though there are plenty of #campagins going around to warrant it), but because the two likeliest winners (The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri) are really bad and I don’t want to spend four hours watching an awards show that I know will annoy me. (I’ll watch the viral highlights on Twitter, thanks!)

Rather than just complain about it, however, I started handing out Alternative Oscars last year—including all of the major awards that the Real Oscars hand out, as well as some awards I made up for my own amusement—to go along with my ten favorite movies of the year. Here they are for 2017:

1. 그후 (The Day After) 

Hong Sang-soo / 2017 / South Korea

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 The Day After

  • Best Picture
  • Best Actress In Two Movies In The Same Year (Kim Min-hee, The Day After and On the Beach at Night Alone)
  • Best Original Screenplay Adapted From Real Life

2. Personal Shopper

Olivier Assayas / 2016 / France, Germany, Czech Republic, Belgium

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 Personal Shopper

  • Best Actress (Kristen Stewart)
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Texting Scene
  • Best *Invisible* Ghost

3. Phantom Thread

Paul Thomas Anderson / 2017 / USA

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 Phantom Thread

  • Best Director
  • Best Original Screenplay
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Actress Who Is Being Billed As Supporting But Is Actually The Lead (Vicky Krieps)
  • Best Breakfast, Lunch, And Dinner Foods
  • Best Kinky Shit

4. Song to Song

Terrence Malick / 2017 / USA

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 Song to Song

  • Best Supporting Actress (Rooney Mara)
  • Best Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Best Sequel To La La Land, Which Is Bad

5. A Ghost Story

David Lowery / 2017 / USA

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 A Ghost Story

  • Best Short Film (Rooney Mara eating pie in an uninterrupted shot)
  • Best Original Song (Dark Rooms, “I Get Overwhelmed”)
  • Best Instagram Aesthetic
  • Best *Visible* Ghost

6. Nocturama

Bertrand Bonello / 2016 / France, Germany, Belgium

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 Nocturama

7. Good Time

Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie / 2017 / USA

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 Good Time

  • Best Actor (Robert Pattinson)
  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Movie I Don’t Want To See Again

8. John Wick: Chapter 2

Chad Stahelski / 2017 / USA, Hong Kong

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 John Wick Chapter 2

  • Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Best Production Design
  • Best Sound Editing
  • Best Sound Mixing
  • Best Undervalued National Treasure (Keanu Reeves)
  • Best Homage To Buster Keaton

9. Visages, Villages (Faces Places)

Agnès Varda, JR / 2017 / France

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 Faces Places

  • Best Documentary
  • Best Visual Effects (lol get it?)
  • Best Undervalued International Treasure (Agnès Varda)

10. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Noah Baumbach / 2017 / USA

180301 Top 10 Movies of 2017 The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

  • Best Supporting Actor (Adam Sandler)
  • Best Father-Daughter Duet
  • Best Self-Indulgent Title Besides mother!

Honorable Mention (alphabetically):

  • Call Me By Your Name / Luca Guadagnino
  • Columbus / kogonada
  • I Am Not Your Negro / Raoul Peck
  • Lady Bird / Greta Gerwig
  • mother! / Darren Aronofsky
  • On the Beach at Night Alone / Hong Sang-soo
  • The Florida Project / Sean Baker

*Some 2016 films were included because of their U.S. release date in 2017.

———

When thinking back on 2017 in cinema, one thing stands out: It’s the first year in a while that critics, Oscar voters, and the general public largely agree on the same movies being great. Take a look at various Best of 2017 lists (IndieWire, Rotten Tomatoes, Village Voice, your cinephile friend, etc.) and you’ll see the same handful of movies—Get Out, Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name, The Florida Project, Phantom Thread.

I liked all of these! But as great as it is to see an overall consensus, it’s also kind of boring. These homogeneous lists lack the flavor and peculiarity that I usually enjoy with these subjective lists and, you know, art in general.

I guess it was one less thing to get worked up about in 2017 though. /shrug

 

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Lists

Top 10 TV Shows of 2017

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I honestly have nothing left to say about TV other than that The Leftovers was the only great TV show that I watched in 2017 and the rest were bad to pretty good. (I haven’t watched Twin Peaks yet.) This is FOR SURE my last Top 10 TV post since I’ll probably watch like four shows in 2018.

Here are my ten favorite TV shows of 2017:

  1. The Leftovers, Season 3, HBO
  2. Rick and Morty, Season 3, Adult Swim
  3. 2017 World Series (Dodgers at Astros), Game 5, Fox
  4. Bojack Horseman, Season 4, Netflix
  5. Insecure, Season 2, HBO
  6. Catastrophe, Season 3, Amazon Studios
  7. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Season 4, HBO
  8. The Americans, Season 5, FX
  9. Girls, Season 6, HBO
  10. Chef’s Table, Season 3, Netflix

Dishonorable Mention (alphabetically):

  • American Boyband, Limited Series, Viceland
  • Game of Thrones, Season 7, HBO
  • Louis C.K. 2017, Comedy Special, Netflix
  • Master of None, Season 2, Netflix
  • Top of the Lake, Season 2, SundaceTV
  • Veep, Season 6, HBO

*Rankings are based on the particular season of the show that aired in 2017 (i.e., I think The Americans is a better show than Insecure, but Insecure had the better season this year).

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Cinema, Lists

Top 10 Movies of 2016

Other than Moonlight, none of my favorite films are going to win any Oscars this weekend… so I decided to make up my own awards: the Alternative Oscars.

“Alternative” (in this context) not because they are factually incorrect, but because they are mostly implausible. Another reason for this new format is because I don’t have time to write a lengthy post like I have in previous years. Whatever—let’s get on with it.

I present to you, dear reader, my ten favorite films of 2016 and first annual Alternative Oscars:

1. L’avenir (Things to Come) 

Mia Hansen-Løve / 2016 / France, Germany

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-things-to-come

This film helped me through a rough time in my life. (And I want a cat now.)

Onward.

Alternative Oscars
– Best Picture
– Best Actress (Isabelle Huppert)
– Best Cat (Pandora)

2. Little Sister

Zach Clark / 2016 / USA

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-little-sister-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Original Screenplay
– Best Original Score
– Best Depiction Of Family Dynamics
– Best Performance In A Screamo Lip Sync
– Best Restoration Of Hope In American Independent Cinema

3. Moonlight

Barry Jenkins / 2016 / USA

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-moonlight-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Director
– Best Adapted Screenplay
– Best Cinematography
– Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali, André Holland, all three actors who played Chiron)
– Best Fuck You To Hollywood By Being Excellent

4. Paterson

Jim Jarmusch / 2016 / USA, France, Germany

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-paterson-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Actor (Adam Driver)
– Best Production Design
– Best Visual Effects (Adam Driver’s Elastic Face)
– Best Dog (Marvin)

5. Certain Women

Kelly Reichardt / 2016 / USA

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-certain-women-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Supporting Actress (Lily Gladstone)
– Best Supporting-Supporting Actress (Kristen Stewart)
– Best Supporting-Supporting-Supporting Actress (Michelle Williams, Laura Dern)

6. Sully

Clint Eastwood / 2016 / USA

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-sully-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Editing
– Best Sound Mixing
– Best Sound Editing
– Best Undervalued National Treasure (Tom Hanks)
– Best Tom Hanks (Tom Hanks)
– Best Mustache (Aaron Eckhart)

7. 20th Century Women

Mike Mills / 2016 / USA

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-20th-century-women-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Makeup and Hairstyling
– Best Being A Mom (Annette Bening)
– Best Dancing (Greta Gerwig)
– Best Smoking (Elle Fanning)
– Best Subtle Feminism
– Best Obvious Feminism

8. Cameraperson

Kirsten Johnson / 2016 / USA (and the World)

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-cameraperson-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Documentary
– Best Argument For Using Your Camera To Journal
– Best Reason To Keep Your Camera Rolling
– Best Lightning
– Best Thunder
– Best Reaction To Lightning And Thunder

9. Toni Erdmann

Maren Ade / 2016 / Germany, Austria, Switzerland

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-toni-erdmann-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Foreign Language Film
– Best Short Film (Birthday Party Sequence)
– Best Original Song (Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” as reinterpreted and made original again by Sandra Hüller)

10. Ah-ga-ssi (The Handmaiden)

Park Chan-wook / 2016 / South Korea

170222-top-10-movies-of-2016-the-handmaiden-1

Alternative Oscars
– Best Costume Design
– Best Movie Poster (This One)
– Best Sex

Honorable Mention (alphabetically):

  • Elle / Paul Verhoeven
  • Hail, Caesar! / Joel & Ethan Coen
  • Lemonade / Kahlil Joseph and Beyoncé Knowles Carter
  • Louder Than Bombs / Joachim Trier
  • Love & Friendship / Whit Stillman
  • Manchester by the Sea / Kenneth Lonergan
  • No Home Movie / Chantal Akerman
  • Silence / Martin Scorsese
  • The Love Witch / Anna Biller

*Some 2015 films were included because of their U.S. release date in 2016.

[Editor’s Note: Not surprisingly, Alternative Oscars isn’t a novel idea—something I found out right before I was about to hit publish. And, yes, I am the “Editor” in “Editor’s Note.” Just being stupid here.]

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Top 10 TV Shows of 2016

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I was ready to quit TV. I swear. (I still might.) The plan was to finish the shows I still cared about—which was only four or five at that point—until I had no more TV to watch. Kind of like how someone watches their childhood dog grow old, become sick, eventually die, and then decide not to get another dog after that.

So basically that, except with TV, and much less crying about it. I even made it all the way to September without starting a new show.

*deep sigh*

Then Atlanta came around and fucked everything up.

How could I pass on a logline of “Twin Peaks with rappers” created by Donald Glover? The next phase of Troy Barnes and Childish Gambino? Yes, please and thank you. Oh, Keith Stanfield is in it too? And it has an all-Black, mostly-first-time writers room, with almost all of the episodes directed by an Asian dude who’s only done music videos? Lol okay, stop messing with me.

The crazy thing though? It ended up being a bona fide great TV show.

I still think most TV is bad, but it’s remarkable that five out of the top 10 shows on my (stupid) list are new shows that I may have otherwise missed out on. The experience I went through with Atlanta—the intrigue, the seduction, the concession, the “holy shit that was good”became pretty common with InsecureHorace and Pete, et al. throughout the year. And here I am, having watched enough shows I enjoyed in a calendar year to make another annual list. Here are my ten favorite TV shows of 2016:

  1. Fleabag, Season 1, Amazon Studios
  2. The Americans, Season 4, FX
  3. Horace and Pete, Season 1, LouisCK.net
  4. Atlanta, Season 1, FX
  5. Catastrophe, Season 2, Amazon Studios
  6. Transparent, Season 3, Amazon Studios
  7. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Season 3, HBO
  8. Veep, Season 5, HBO
  9. The Girlfriend Experience, Season 1, Starz
  10. Insecure, Season 1, HBO

Honorable Mention (alphabetically):

  • Chef’s Table, Season 2, Netflix
  • Game of Thrones, Season 6, HBO
  • Girls, Season 5, HBO
  • Orange Is the New Black, Season 4, Netflix
  • Stranger Things, Season 1, Netflix
  • You’re the Worst, Season 3, FXX

*Rankings are based on the particular season of the show that aired in 2016 (i.e., I think Transparent is a better show than Catastrophe, but Catastrophe had the better season this year).

———

The Americans somehow keeps getting better. Amazon proves yet again that it has better tastes (and more money) than pretty much everyone in the business. Game of Thrones continues its descent into spoiler-dependent mediocrity (I love it regardless). Subjects all worth their own posts. And then there’s Fleabag

170207-top-10-tv-shows-of-2016-b

I might one day forget the intricate character development of The Americans; or Laurie Metcalf’s superlative monologue on Horace and Pete; or the surrealist strokes of genius in Atlanta (invisible car, Batman, gun range, cereal commercial, etc.); or how much I laughed during Insecure‘s Black Jesus play (“no homo”). One day, I might even forget that people amusingly thought that this was a Golden Age of anything.

But I don’t think I’ll ever forget how Fleabag made me feel. How unafraid of itself and how [the-opposite-of-artistically-vain] it was. How refreshingly direct (often literally) it was. How it captured the acute sense of loss and the subsequent grief like I’ve never seen before. How it used quotidian moments of levity—not as comic relief but as a release valve necessary for sanity and survival. How it showed that you can fail so hard in life and somehow still be triumphant.

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P.S. I miss Mad Men.

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Cinema, Lists

Top 10 Movies of 2015

160131 Top 10 Movies of 2015 - Goodbye to Language

There’s a lot I want to write about and a lot I want to remember about the movies of 2015. The thing that sticks out most, however, is how disparate these films feel when considered on the spectrum of “art”—highbrow/lowbrow, arthouse/mainstream, whatever you want call it.

(If you’re just here for the list and not the navel gazing, feel free to scroll down.)

Whenever I came across articles and tweets on the virtues of poptimism, I was skeptical. Not because I think popular art is undeserving of respect and consideration, but because, for the most part, my tastes did not align with it. This is all fine until preference turns into predisposition and your view is obscured by what is supposed to be “good” while overlooking art in more unassuming and less “prestigious” forms.

Or: 2015 is the year I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pop.

This realization is why it took a second viewing of Mad Max: Fury Road to fully embrace the sheer fun and sensory overload—convincing myself that it was okay to put such an agreeable spectacle in my top 10. For similar reasons, it was on my 8th or 9th or 27th listen of Carly Rae Jepsen’s second single “Run Away With Me that I got over myself and admitted how much I fucking loved that song in all its poppy earnestness. Still, I didn’t even consider listening to her album when it released until the critical praises flooded in. When I finally did listen to it, I loved it and was finding ways to justify my enjoyment of it: Rostam (from Vampire Weekend, one of my favorite bands) produced a throbbing sexy love song! Sia produced a track too! Oh and Pitchfork gave it a good rating—higher than Adele’s 25! None of that should’ve mattered as much as me just really liking the art. Nevertheless, it was a deconditioning process as much as it was a realization.

(Side note: My three favorite albums of 2015 were Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly; Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion; and Sufjan Stevens’s Carrie & Lowell.)

It’s an inexact science, but I measure how widely appealing a movie is by asking myself, “Is this a movie my entire family would enjoy?” I think the answer for three of my top ten movies is “yes, everyone will like it.” Four of the ten movies are “no, only I will like it.” And the other three are “my mom and younger brother might like it, but my dad and older brother definitely will not.” These scattered points on the non-linear spectrum of “art” are great reminders that my oh-so-carefully curated tastes can continue to evolve (which is somewhat of a relief). It just took a while to accept it.

Here are my ten favorite films of 2015:

  1. Adieu au langage (Goodbye to Language), 2014, Jean-Luc Godard
  2. Carol, 2015, Todd Haynes
  3. Ex Machina, 2015, Alex Garland
  4. Sicario, 2015, Denis Villeneuve
  5. Nie yin niang (The Assassin), 2015, Hou Hsiao-Hsien
  6. Queen of Earth, 2015, Alex Ross Perry
  7. Timbuktu, 2014, Abderrahmane Sissako
  8. Mad Max: Fury Road, 2015, George Miller
  9. The Look of Silence, 2014, Joshua Oppenheimer
  10. Creed, 2015, Ryan Coogler

Honorable Mention (alphabetically):

  • Anomalisa, 2015, Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman
  • Bande de filles (Girlhood), 2014, Céline Sciamma
  • Chi-Raq, 2015, Spike Lee
  • Spotlight, 2015, Tom McCarthy

*Some 2014 films were included because of their U.S. release date in 2015.

———

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention #OscarsSoWhite—which continues to be a problem and is worth highlighting—but I don’t have much to add other than what Viola Davis said in her Emmy speech (“You can’t win [awards] for roles that are simply not there.”) and what I (less eloquently) wrote before her speech in my Top 10 Movies of 2014 post. It’s not a problem with just award shows. It’s a deeper issue of privilege and the lack of opportunities for women and people of color. “People of color” of course meaning Latino, Asian, Native American, etc. in addition to Black.

160131 Top 10 Movies of 2015 - Ex Machina 1

There is not a film from 2015 I’ve thought about or probably will continue to think about more than Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language. Maybe it’s because I saw it in the first month of 2015 and every other film had to follow it, or perhaps because it is a work of art like I’ve never seen before. In addition to the complex themes and recurring visual motifs which I’ve yet to untangle satisfyingly, Godard plays with the very structure of the film—not only his own, but by extension the definition of what all movies can or should be. He experiments with different modes of storytelling and cinematic technique in a way that blew me away, while simultaneously giving me solace that there are still new leaves and stones that have yet to be unturned in cinema.

There is a shot of a hand submerged in shallow water that will never leave me for its striking clarity and beauty. There are a couple scenes that start as a conventional shot of two people talking. Then, Godard’s cameras (two for the 3D setup) diverge and show two overlapping images: a shot of the woman with one camera (visible in one eye) and a shot of the man with the other camera (visible in the other eye). After viewing the two images simultaneously, I instinctively started closing one eye to see one shot, then closed the other eye to see the other shot. Back and forth—slowly, then rapidly. It was as if Godard, a pioneer of modern editing during the French New Wave and throughout his career, handed over the keys to the viewers and said “okay, now you choose what film you want to see.” It was both interactive editing and participatory cinema.

160131 Top 10 Movies of 2015 - Carol 1

The two leading women of Carol (Rooney Mara as Therese and Cate Blanchett as Carol) are obscured by, and from, the camera throughout the film. They are constantly shot through glass windows, framed by frames within frames, partially cut off, out of focus, shown in hazy reflections, etc. This subconscious repression informs not only the social and cultural affectations in the film, but it also informs the subtle gestures performed so intently and gracefully. These gestures give the film much of its nuanced vitality. Therese’s silent gaze and Carol’s touch of the shoulder mean more than having sex or saying “I love you.” It resonates more profoundly too.

160131 Top 10 Movies of 2015 - Carol 2

Ex Machina is worth watching for the dance sequence alone. It is joyful. It is absurd. It is so pitch perfect and appropriate for the film.

160131 Top 10 Movies of 2015 - Ex Machina 2

On that note, I’d like to say to 2016: I’m gonna tear up the fucking dance floor, dude. Check it out.

(Probably with a Carly Rae Jepsen song blasting.)

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Top 10 TV Shows of 2015

160110 Top 10 TV Shows of 2015 b

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to praise TV, and then to bury it.

(If you’re just here for the list and not the navel gazing, feel free to scroll down.)

This may be the last time I watch enough shows to make a top ten list, so allow me to wax nostalgic. My relationship with television started, like most, as a kid. I didn’t grow up in front of a TV (I was busy collecting bruises and scabs outside), but I always woke up by 7:58am for Saturday morning cartoons and stayed glued until noon. When I didn’t have homework, I stayed up to watch “adult” shows (shout out to Smallville, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Charmed) and occasionally made it to the ten o’clock news. Then I went years without watching TV until high school when a friend got me hooked on House—the first show I watched every episode of. I started watching Gossip Girl (when it was actually good) and Glee (again, when it was actually good), but quickly lost interest as the quality dropped after one or two seasons.

Which brings me back to nostalgia. In the height of my cinephilia (watching ~200 movies a year), it was Mad Men, a TV show unlike any other, that made me take television “seriously”—whatever that means. Mad Men was the gateway show that led to 30 RockThe Wire, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and other great shows. Mad Men premiered during my high school years and finished its remarkable run this spring, years into my professional career.

I know I’ve said this in previous years, but there is too much good TV right now. We’ve reached, as John Landgraf coined, “Peak TV.” For me, that is no longer a good thing or—to run with the metaphor/pun—a mountain I want to keep climbing. Not only because of the sheer volume but because of the culture it’s created. Binge watching turns shows into chores on a deadline and stunts nuanced conversations. The latest new show becomes Water Cooler Talking Point #2 (after the weather) for a hot minute and then, for the most part, loses its cultural significance and falls out of the periphery. I cringe every time I see or hear “SPOILER ALERT!”—great shows shouldn’t be ruined just because you know what happens on a narrative level and if you still don’t want to be spoiled, don’t engage. How often do we overlook shortcomings in favor of cultural relevancy? Yes, there are too many good TV shows right now, but how many of them are truly great? Here are some—my ten favorite TV shows of 2015:

  1. Mad Men, Season 7 (Part II), AMC
  2. Transparent, Season 2, Amazon Studios
  3. Rick and Morty, Season 2, Adult Swim
  4. The Americans, Season 3, FX
  5. Fargo, Season 2, FX
  6. Catastrophe, Season 1, Amazon Studios
  7. Veep, Season 4, HBO
  8. Louie, Season 5, FX
  9. You’re the Worst, Season 2, FXX
  10. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Season 2, HBO

Honorable Mention (alphabetically):

  • Chef’s Table, Season 1, Netflix
  • Game of Thrones, Season 5, HBO
  • Master of None, Season 1, Netflix
  • Orange Is the New Black, Season 3, Netflix
  • Parks and Recreation, Season 7, NBC
  • Show Me a Hero, Limited Series, HBO

Mention (alphabetically):

  • Community, Season 6, Yahoo! Screen
  • Girls, Season 4, HBO

Dishonorable Mention (alphabetically):

  • True Detective, Season 2, HBO

*Rankings are based on the particular season of the show that aired in 2015 (i.e., I think Louie is a better show than The Americans, but The Americans had the better season this year).

160110 Top 10 TV Shows of 2015

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar TV,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

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