1. Kanye West, The Life of Pablo
2. Kvelertak, Nattesferd
3. Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial
4. Nails, You Will Never Be One of Us
5. Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition
6. The Avalanches, Wildflower
7. Heron Oblivion, Heron Oblivion
8. Bon Iver, 22, A Million
9. The Julie Ruin, Hit Reset
10. Metallica, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct
Apologies: Angel Olsen, My Woman; Nicolas Jaar, Sirens; Mean Jeans, Tight New Dimension; Preoccupations, Preoccupations; Diarrhea Planet, Turn to Gold
It’s good that we got life-affirming, politically charged music this year–we needed it. This is the uncynical take. The more cynical critic in me laments how most of it was, as music, pretty dull. At least we have Kanye–reliably un-woke, sure, but also reliably brilliant. West’s “Waves”, Kvelertak’s “1985”, and Car Seat Headrest’s “Fill In The Blank” were the tunes that gave me true 10-year-old kid heart jumps; the respective albums were all thoroughly awesome and infinitely playable.
The loud, vicious nihilism of Nails was no small comfort. I continued to marvel at the persistent auteur worm-holing of Danny Brown and Bon Iver, the refreshed-sounding Avalanches, the scorching Heron Oblivion, the snotty and righteous Julie Ruin. And I might not have liked the Metallica album *that* much, but its place on this list is honorary: having a Metallica album worth caring about released in my lifetime, something I was sure would never happen again, was probably the musical highlight of my year.
1. The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook
2. Elle, Paul Verhoeven
3. The Witch, Robert Eggers
4. Green Room, Jeremy Saulnier
5. Manchester By The Sea, Kenneth Lonergan
6. Hail, Caesar!, Joel and Ethan Cohen
7. Krisha, Trey Edward Shults
8. Arrival, Denis Villeneuve
9. The Eyes of My Mother, Nocolas Pesce
10. The Wailing, Na Hong-Jin
Apologies: The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos; Hell or High Water, David Mackenzie; The Invitation, Karyn Kusama; The Fits, Anna Rose Holmer; Right Now, Wrong Then, Hong Sang-soo
A great year at the movies. The three films that really put their claws in me all happened to be, in one way or another, meditations on complicated female sexuality. The Witch was first class auteur stuff, personal, world-built horror, with an ecstatic 70s exploitation finale–just terrific. Verhoeven’s Elle was as insane and generous as I had hoped; that this film is being embraced as the masterpiece it truly is welcomes the possibility that the art-cautious instincts of our culture at large, however well intentioned, have not totally overwhelmed our taste for true, meaningful audacity. But for me, Park’s Handmaiden was the year’s most impressive and unforgettable film, as breathlessly ambitious as his landmark Oldboy, a visual and narrative delight, a world of strange pleasure all its own.
Along with Witch’s Eggers, first-timers Schults and Pesce introduced themselves in complete stride. The horror of Pesce’s vision was more overt and more classicist–Eyes of My Mother is an arthouse Henry: Portrait, beautifully filmed and extremely unsettling. Krisha also posits family as horror; its directorial virtuosity would seem overly balletic if it weren’t so point-blank affecting.
Green Room‘s claustro-Nazi-phobia doesn’t need our current climate to seem effective, but I guess it doesn’t hurt; Saulnier’s single-location tension-fest has some of the most viscerally powerful moments of violence in recent memory, among countless other unbearable thrills. I couldn’t imagine being more totally stunned by a family drama than I was by Manchester: brilliantly written, acted, edited, a true marvel. The Academy Award will go to La La Land (which I did like!), but the Cohen’s love-letter to old Hollywood, the gleeful Hail, Caesar!, was much more my cup. Villeneuve continues his hot streak with Arrival, a marvel of narrative, character, and design. The Wailing, like Arrival, took standard genre fare and exploded it with feeling and intelligence; the dual exorcism here is utterly bonkers, perhaps my favorite scene of the year.
22 January 2017