Favorite Films of 2018

 

2018 felt like hitting the reset button after 2017’s political, societal, and planetary meltdown of epic proportions. Though American studio releases continued chasing the reboot/rehash culture, there was a marked shift where films with diverse perspectives like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians captured the zeitgeist. This gave the industry a much needed boost, though foreign films and documentaries remained steadfast in showcasing the wide-ranging spectrum of human experiences. Empathy and anger stood side by side (Blackkklansman, Blindspotting), while auteurs found time for quietly contemplative inner dialogues (Roma, If Beale Street Could Talk). Of course, there was plenty of brain-dead entertainment too (Venom, The Predator) and even trolling masters sticking their fingers in the wound of a sensitive culture (The House that Jack Built). Mostly, though, 2018 was a year in which there were no clear distinctions of what would work, be profitable, or move the needle, and the resulting list of 15 favorites proves the art form can still give us a glimpse into experiences different from our own. Long live the films. May they never die.


15

The Nothing Factory

Pedro Pinho's neorealist epic about workers in an elevator factory who are being pushed out by corporate managers is a universally searing portrait of the state completely giving up on the working class. By turns languid, funny, sad, and unexpected (those late musical interludes!), The Nothing Factory is the working class zero opus you didn't know you needed.

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14

Leave No Trace

Rarely has a film about America's apathy towards its veterans actually deemphasized ideology in order to push compassion, but Debra Granik's deeply felt film about a father and daughter surviving off the grid does just that. A powerful parable about the falseness of the American dream, Leave No Trace understands that empathy extends to all living things, whether they choose to live as part of a community or apart from it.


13

Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?

Travis Wilkerson’s self-narrated essay/documentary investigates the 1946 murder of an African-American by a white grocery store owner in Alabama, and becomes an indictment of whiteness. Images of broken down grocery stores, family photos, and deserted streets are interspersed with interviews and Wilkerson’s grave narration; deftly linking the cyclical nature of racial violence with cross-dissolving editing schemes.

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12

Life and Nothing More

Writer-director Antonio Méndez Esparza handles black oppression through a subtle lens in this intimate film about a small family in rural Florida. The absence of a father figure, economic struggle and familial discord are present, but Life and Nothing More plays out more like a gentle ellipsis than a heavy-handed narrative; using spatial distances and naturalistic conversations to encourage us observe rather than judge.


11

The Other Side of the Wind

A work of madness with a wounded heart; Orson Welles’s “lost” film (shot over the course of six years from 1970-1976) is the story of an aging patriarch desperately trying to stay relevant as the world he helped shape disappears behind him. Stylistically bold, narratively meta, and obsessed with Hollywood myth-making, The Other Side of the Wind is an unclassifiable slice of movie history.


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10

November

A mixture of violence, romanticism, surreality, and grotesque comedy, Estonian writer-director Rainer Sarnet's November is unlike anything you’ll see all year. Bathed in fog, teeming with distorted black metal guitar riffs, and saturated in gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, the film’s central love is mainly an excuse to tether metaphoric/folkloric language to freakish imagery. 


9

Scarred Hearts

Radu Jude’s unique adaptation of Romanian writer Max Blecher’s final novel unites political fury with a macabre dissection of the body. Blecher died at age 28 from musculoskeletal tuberculosis, and Jude’s striking widescreen imagery takes in the poet’s physical immobility with pathos, while also criticizing the legacy of Romanian fascism. A philosophical, but also humorous, examination of literary ambition, anti-semitism, and medical minutiae.

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8

Western

A German construction crew is sent to Bulgaria to work on a hydroelectric power plant in Valeska Grisebach’s understated commentary on power, privilege, and wounded masculinity. Following a stoic pacifist as he befriends villagers living nearby while also navigating his hot-headed fellow workers, Western brilliantly uses silence and medium-to-long shots to make political statements without ever preaching.


7

Let the Sunshine In

The search for a partner is at the heart of Claire Denis’s exquisite Let the Sunshine In, which moves from hope to sadness in a manner complimenting the film’s fascination with how love can corrode from the inside out. Aided by Juliette Binoche’s extraordinary central performance as a divorced mother drawn to men with low moral standards, Denis not only inverts the romcom, but sneakily lays bare the inherent falseness at the genre's core. 

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6

The House That Jack Built

Danish provocateur Lars von Trier often uses the extremity of human suffering as a model for emotional and psychological substance, and his latest doozy The House That Jack Built, is no exception. Following Matt Dillion’s serial killer as he maims and murders, the victimization narrative operates rather cunningly as probing self-critique. The ability for artists to create morally questionable art results in a shocking, darkly funny, and strangely transcendent masterwork.


5

If Beale Street Could Talk

Writer-director Barry Jenkins’s euphoric adaptation of Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name is tender, poetic, harsh, and unbearably moving. Following the romantic courtship of Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Alonso “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James) and the subsequent false imprisonment of the latter, Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton create wondrous compositions which match the interior emotions of his characters. There’s injustice, tragedy, and heartbreak here, but If Beale Street Could Talk is primarily a humanistic work of art.

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4

First Reformed

Ethan Hawke plays a middle-aged pastor deeply questioning how the religious community have denied the destruction of the planet in Paul Schrader’s intellectually dense, surprisingly funny, and aesthetically daring First Reformed. Mixing the transcendental style of filmmakers like Robert Bresson, Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Yasujirō Ozu, with Schrader’s own "God's lonely man" template, the film is a startling riff on modern radicalism, ecology, and suffering as a call to arms. 


3

Zama

Never before has the horrifying face of colonialism been as sadly deadpan than in Lucrecia Martel’s Zama; a film which often plays like a droll comedy where a waiting man must continue waiting as bureaucratic red tape piles up. Martel uses class distinctions in order to draw out oblique thematic connections, with unfussy compositions and details packed into every frame. The results are a major film from a major filmmaker; conjuring a Kafka-esque vision of comic snubs that ends with a haunting exclamation mark.

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2

24 Frames

The final, posthumously released film from Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami is made up of 24 single-shot vignettes where ordinary scenes are reconstructed through a variety of VFX work. Taking inspiration from Kiarostami’s own photographs and then imagining what would happen the moment after the picture was taken, the results are gorgeously zen-like in presenting wintry settings devoid of human interaction. 24 Frames understands the passage of time, and perhaps even the inevitability of Kiarostami’s own passing, in a way which reaches toward the profound.


1

Personal Problems

Though technically made in 1980, Bill Gunn’s “meta-soap opera” only played on a few TV stations before disappearing unceremoniously. Resurrected for a limited theatrical run in 2018, Personal Problems is a towering work; giving us late 1970s-era Harlem African American life through the prism of grainy video. Gunn and co-writer Ishmael Reed allow scenes to play out in long takes, detour into seemingly unconnected vignettes, and have story threads circle back in on themselves. Intimate yet sprawling, experimental yet emotionally resonant, Personal Problems is an extraordinary tapestry of lives we rarely experience, told in a way not yet duplicated.

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Favorite Albums of 2018



If 2017 felt like the end of civilization as we know it—politically, socially, psychologically—then 2018 was an encapsulation of how far the needle still needs pushing. Survival is the name of the game. Coming out without going utterly insane is progress. Music as a creative outlet felt even more swallowed by the ever-present evils of our world; with social media holding up the corpse of our self-obsession and vanity as a trophy. Still, art will always be a means of escape and healing. The records which topped my favorites of the year were a shield from the stench of humanity’s constant need to destroy itself through hate and ignorance. Ambitious baroque pop, experimental hip-hop, politically conscious jazz, avant-garde metal, and trans art-pop are just a few genres at play here, with the 15 albums represented being part of a greater whole. Long live the music. May it never die.



15

Richard Swift
The Hex

Even though singer-songwriter/ multi-instrumentalist/producer Richard Swift died tragically this year at the age of 41, his musical legacy remains prolific and underrated. Swift’s final album, The Hex, is an encapsulation of his supreme gifts as an artist; 11 tracks of vintage pop, fuzzy rock n’roll, and walls of sound to match achingly sincere lyrics. A fitting swan song.

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14

Marie Davidson
Working Class Woman

Montreal artist/producer Marie Davidson has made a bonkers deconstruction of the club scene on Working Class Woman; an album which trolls, critiques, and then dances its ass off. Over industrial beats and icy synths, Davidson delivers deadpan lyrical mantras in her French-Canadian accent, and comes away with the year’s most riotous takedown of dance music culture.


13

MØL
Jord

Though comparisons to Deafheaven and Alcest are appropriate, Danish outfit MØL outdo their predecessors with the year’s most thrilling blend of black metal and shoegaze. Rather than using atmosphere and heaviness as a crutch for bloated songs, Jord is compact; with the prerequisite blast beats, shrieked vocals, and head-banging riffs never overstaying their welcome.

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12

DRINKS
Hippo Lite

Weirdo power duo Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley's latest album under the DRINKS moniker plays like a warped children's album assembled by a couple of stoned adults caught in a feedback loop, and that’s a good thing! A left-field, undeniably fun record for all the freaks out there.


11

Parquet Courts
Wide Awake!

Parquet Courts’s latest has a newfound studio sheen, but the band remain as cranky as ever; unleashing a party album about the numbing ills of modern life that can be cranked loud at a backyard barbecue. Plus, any band only using guitars, bass, drums, and clever lyrics as their main selling point in 2018 are onto something.

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10

U.S. Girls
In A Poem Unlimited

Meg Remy (aka U.S. Girls) has created a proto-feminist twist on 70's club music by using pastiche to shed light on the everyday nightmares and triumphs of living as a modern woman. In A Poem Unlimited is patriarchy-shattering pop brilliance; aching with pain, helplessness, and redemption. 


9

Armand Hammer
Paraffin

Rapper Billy Woods and producer Elucid’s work has elicited a dense catalog of underground rap not unlike 90’s boom-bap and the early work of RZA, and their latest collab, Paraffin, is no exception. Western capitalism, blackness, and societal discord are the main themes here; driven by hazy beats and a laidback flow. An often funny record, yet starkly urgent.

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8

Sons of Kemet
Your Queen Is A Reptile

In a bid for the “British Jazz New Wave” tag, Sons of Kemet have unleashed a genre-defying masterwork that pays tribute to the past while forging ahead. Meshing traditional jazz instrumentation with dub, Caribbean rhythms, and politically charged rhetoric, Your Queen Is A Reptile feels both angry and soothing.


7

JPEGMAFIA
Veteran

JPEGMAFIA is Barrington Hendricks, a Baltimore-based rapper who has churned out the most excitingly experimental hip-hop release of 2018. Cloud-rap, trip-hop, noise, industrial, and glitch make the rounds. Hendricks changes his rapping style on a dime. Songs start, stop, and detour. All the while, Veteran maintains the sound of the hip-hop Internet wasteland. Disorienting in all the right ways.

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6

Makaya McCraven
Universal Beings

35 year-old Chicago drummer Makaya McCraven showcases the wisdom and musical chops of someone twice his age on Universal Beings; a gorgeously arranged fusion of jazz, hip-hop, funk, ambient, and electronic music. This is seductive, polyrhythmic sonic bliss that often feels like one long jam. Just don’t tell McCraven it’s the future of jazz. The music, however, speaks for itself.


5

Anna Von Hausswolff
Dead Magic

Sweden’s Anna von Hausswolff isn’t out to make you feel comfortable on her latest funeral pop opus, Dead Magic; a series of expertly crafted dirges recorded with a 20th Century organ. Melody coalesces around disturbing soundscapes as Hausswolff’s ethereal voice goes from Kate Bush-esque crooning to demonic howls. The stuff of beautiful nightmares.

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4

Daughters
You Won't Get What You Want

Post-hardcore experimentalists Daughters return with a vengeance after an eight-year hiatus with this towering work of utter despair. Instead of the technical math rock groove from past releases, the band go the industrial minimalist route with tortured guitars, clanging drums, repetitive song structures, and Nick Cave-inspired vocals to create a dizzying sonic experience.


3

Imperial Triumphant
Vile Luxury

New York death metal band Imperial Triumphant’s latest conjures the kind of chaos that will cause ringing ears, excessive migraines, and stupid-drunk smiles. Off the wall time signatures, avant-jazz instrumentation, baroque art rock, and of course, nefarious-sounding growls are the order of the day here, but there’s beauty in the madness too. 

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2

SOPHIE
OIL OF EVERY PEARL'S UN-INSIDES

Los Angeles-based producer/songwriter SOPHIE’s astounding debut album uses the foundations of pop music and then warps it in ways thrilling, disorienting, pleasurable, and brilliant. With elements of bubblegum pop, R & B, EDM, drone, ambient, industrial, and noise. SOPHIE's take on pop music is both transgressive and subversive. 


1

Julia Holter
Aviary

If 2015’s critically acclaimed Have You in My Wilderness was zen chamber pop for lazy days, then Aviary is what happens when Los Angeles singer/songwriter Julia Holter retreats so far inward that her brain starts to explode. This is a kaleidoscopic, 90-minute masterwork of shifting moods—with piano, sax, harps, strings, choral chanting, and drone wrapped around Holter’s otherworldly vocals. Gorgeous, challenging, and overwhelming.

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Favorite Films of 2017


If 2016 felt like a disastrous year for the human race, then 2017 was a political, societal, and planetary meltdown of epic proportions. Major American studio releases continued to chase reboot, rehash, and regurgitation culture; representing the nadir of a floundering business model. On the other hand, foreign films and documentaries flourished; showcasing a wide range of experiences reinforcing the daring artistic creativity human beings are capable of. The American films that did capture the zeitgeist; Jordan Peele's Get Out for example, were so steeped in political sentiment that the idea of post-Trump era cinema honestly felt like a rallying cry. Coupled with the "Me Too" movement, which saw Hollywood reeling as the swamp began to drain, and 2017 (as scary as it was) saw a significant shift in the culture. The list of films represented here showcases that glimmer of hope that can stir within us. That cinema can still move us. That the movies matter. Long live the films. May they never die. 


10

Dawson City: Frozen Time

Bill Morrison's extraordinary documentary tells the story of the 1978 discovery of over 500 nitrate film prints dating from 1910 to 1920, and links that discovery with the Klondike Gold Rush. Ambitiously mounted, painstakingly researched, and edited with delicate grace, Dawson City: Frozen Time is an act of preservation with the full knowledge that time decays all things, imploring us to look closer at the faces eroding from the edges of a burning reel. 

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9

The Work

Men serving heavy-duty time in Folsom Prison engage in an intensive four-day group therapy program in Jairus McLeary's astonishing documentary The Work. This is a film depicting toxic masculinity being drained from the inside out, with unexpected bursts of emotion, violence, and soul-bearing. Difficult to watch, but also an essential snapshot of the cyclical nature of fatherless sons.


8

Good Time

Joshua and Ben Safdie's riff on Scorsese's After Hours sees the duo entering straightforward genre territory while still retaining their distinct aesthetic. Aided immensely by Robert Pattinson's scruffy charisma and a throbbing electronic score, Good Time emerges as a nightmarish trip through the city's grimy underbelly, shot through neon-lit signs and darkened corridors by the gifted cinematographer Sean Prince Williams. A breathless neo-noir ride.

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7

Personal Shopper

The emotional complexity of Olivier Assayas's Personal Shopper doesn't rest on whether spirits exist or not, but on how human beings choose to deal with the living and remember the dead. Using striking compositions, deft camera movements suggesting things unseen, and a thoroughly distinctive central performance from Kristen Stewart, Assayas has crafted a striking meditation on identity.


6

Nocturama

A diptych showing acts of terrorism from a group of Paris youngsters, Bertrand Bonello’s latest is a seemingly political film which treats politics obliquely. A stunning work of aesthetic control and tone; jumping from planning, execution, to hanging out inside a decadent shopping mall, Nocturama uses the millennial obsession with technology as a jumping off point for a damning critique of post-modern culture. 

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5

A Quiet Passion

The historical specificity of poet Emily Dickinson as an elusive presence given to flights of fancy and crippling melancholy makes Terence Davies's A Quiet Passion that rare biopic which transcends the genre. Anchored by Cynthia Nixon's transformative performance, the film nails the essential element of why art is important and consequently, why someone like Dickinson was such a major figure worthy of adoration. 


4

The Salesman

Asghar Farhadi doubles down on the symbolic nature of his film's title, drawing on not only Arthur Miller, but domestic melodrama and procedural thriller in The Salesman; the tale of a series of simple mistakes which splinter into a horrible event. A triumph of humanism which earns its sentiments by engaging with the ugliness of human nature rather than running from it.

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3

Harmonium

Writer-director Kôji Fukada's Harmonium is startling in how emotional and psychological unraveling is tied into symmetrical framing and detail-oriented set design. Essentially a domestic drama about a family coming unglued after the arrival of a mysterious stranger, Fukada's devastating gut-punch of a film conjures the darkest depths of the human soul while still leaving you with more questions than answers. 


2

Columbus

South Korean-born writer-director Kogonada's remarkable debut feature charts the friendship between a young woman and an older man in a way which feels almost radical; with the mysterious pull of human interaction bracketed by the town's imposing architectural structures. Quietly unassuming, aesthetically beautiful, and unbearably moving; Columbus is the rare American film which takes the time to move at its own hushed rhythms. 

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1

Phantom Thread

For pure cinematic pleasure, Paul Thomas Anderson's tale of a couturier and his muse set in 1950s London is tough to overcome. The film is a subversion of the troubled male genius placating a woman who inspires his art, a 21st-century acknowledgment of female autonomy, a brittle black comedy of manners, and a visually ravishing love story. Above all else, Phantom Thread is Anderson's most mature and mysterious work; by turns haunting, strange, lovely, and neurotic. The year's greatest achievement by a long stretch, and possibly a masterpiece.


Other favorites that just missed the list:

Song to Song, I, Olga Hepnarova, The Untamed, I Called Him Morgan, Mudbound



Favorite Films of 2017


If 2016 felt like a disastrous year for the human race, then 2017 was a political, societal, and planetary meltdown of epic proportions. Major American studio releases continued to chase reboot, rehash, and regurgitation culture; representing the nadir of a floundering business model. On the other hand, foreign films and documentaries flourished; showcasing a wide range of experiences reinforcing the daring artistic creativity human beings are capable of. The American films that did capture the zeitgeist; Jordan Peele's Get Out for example, were so steeped in political sentiment that the idea of post-Trump era cinema honestly felt like a rallying cry. Coupled with the "Me Too" movement, which saw Hollywood reeling as the swamp began to drain, and 2017 (as scary as it was) saw a significant shift in the culture. The list of films represented here showcases that glimmer of hope that can stir within us. That cinema can still move us. That the movies matter. Long live the films. May they never die. 


25

The Human Surge

Argentinian director Eduardo Williams's debut feature, The Human Surge, is one of the year's most daring experiments, following the lives of various young people in Buenos Aries, Mozambique and the Phillipines by focusing on their aimless addiction to technology. The film casts a strange spell of documentary/fiction vérité, with one passage of time in particular representing one of the most formally audacious transitions ever put to film. 

 

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24

Actor Martinez

With Robert Altman-esque zoom lenses and a semi-improvised tone, Mike Ott and Nathan Silver's Actor Martinez emerges as either an exploitative stunt or simply a commentary on our need to exploit and be exploited. A struggling actor attempts to tap into his inner thespian...or something. Hilarious and oddly moving. 


23

Staying Vertical

The brilliance of director Alain Guiraudie's Staying Vertical is that it never explicitly tells us what should be taken seriously or what is meant as a droll joke. A drifting screenwriter randomly marries a woman he meets on a farm, runs away with her young child, and gets into some truly bizarre sexual situations in a film which evokes late period Luis Buñuel. Absurdly comic and wildly provocative.

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22

The Florida Project

If 2015's Tangerine was writer-director Sean Baker's lo-fi view of adult friendship, then The Florida Project is his Technicolor epic about childhood. The story of a precocious 6-year-old, her haphazard mother, and the kindly motel manager that watches after them is so lovingly realized that the effect is one of total immersion.


21

Mimosas

The basic plot of Oliver Laxe's Mimosas involves two nomads carrying a sheikh's remains across a perilous mountainside joined by a strange wanderer obsessed with the supernatural, but the bewilderingly gorgeous landscapes dwarf the human characters. The results are episodic, bewildering, and hypnotic; a cinematic experience which actively resists classification.

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20

Get Out

A dead-eyed satire about white upstate liberals who are obsessed with the idea of blackness as long as they can control it, Jordan Peele's Get Out was 2017's movie of the moment.  Deftly balancing comedy, drama, satire, and horror elements without ever losing control of the tone, Peele's film proves to be an intellectually probing look at 21st-Century racism.


19

Lady Bird

The pleasure of writer-director Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird is the way it doesn't try to upend genre expectations. Instead, the film is an intelligently realized depiction of high school life told with a streak of welcome passive aggressiveness. The central prickly mother/daughter relationship is ultimately the heart of the film, proving Gerwig understands that paying attention and love are often the same thing. 

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18

Slack Bay

Playing like an Agatha Christie murder mystery with a cast of grimacing buffoons, Bruno Dumont's Slack Bay mixes exacting formalism with absurdism to brilliant effect. The film's three central groups are basically on hand to symbolize exaggerated versions of class differences, with everyone's favorite French enfant terrible in a rib-tickling mood. Slow cinema as gonzo satire.


17

Rat Film

While superficially about a rat control problem in Baltimore, Theo Anthony's Rat Film is a vast, time-shifting study in racial oppression, residential segregation, and the quirky people inhabiting impoverished spaces. Surrealist imagery, chilly narration, and an electronic score by Dan Deacon capture the insidious nature of the powerful preying on the powerless in this strangely mesmerizing essay film. 

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16

The Lost City of Z

Writer-director James Gray's The Lost City of Z is a vision of two tales of obsession. The first concerns an archaeologist searching for a fabled civilization at the dawn of the 20th century, while the second is of a filmmaker searching for his own version of transcendence. Gray's marvelous-looking epic is ultimately more interested with the internal purgatory of the mind than the geographical space of the jungle. 


15

I am Not Your Negro

Ingeniously meshing archival footage of James Baldwin with clips from old films, commercials, still photographs, and other mixed media, Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro presents a staggering collective vision of the United States as a nation drowning in self-delusion and hatred. Peck's towering achievement shows how Baldwin's mission to reflect our bigoted institutions became a microcosm for the moral emptiness of the human soul.

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14

Behemoth

Zhao Liang's Behemoth is a work of stunning power and socioeconomic specificity examining the dehumanizing effects of industrialization in China. Structured around a naked wandering man (who becomes our Virgil-like guide in Dante's Divine Comedy mode) as he gazes out toward natural landscapes, Liang's film offers us a visual lesson in guerilla-style formalism and a reminder of how environmental decay aligns with human loss.


13

The Ornithologist

A man traversing the wilderness of northern Portugal in search of rare birds forms a stand-in for 13th-century Saint Anthony of Padua in João Pedro Rodrigues's The Ornithologist; a modernist queer narrative that's baffling, surreal, and yet completely cohesive. A major work from a major filmmaker.

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12

On the Beach at Night Alone

Hong Sang-soo dives into his personal life with the revealing On the Beach at Night Alone, which gives Kim Min-hee the spotlight as an actress dealing with the aftermath of an affair. Autobiography and aesthetic distance combine in fascinating ways as Min-hee delivers a raw, sensitive, and masterful performance as a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. 


11

The Death of Louis XIV

Watching an overweight, gangrene-infested king slowly waste away might sound like an exercise in audience trolling, but Albert Serra's blackly funny The Death of Louis XIV remains a singular achievement. A perverse, immaculately designed period piece with a herculean turn by the great Jean-Pierre Léaud, Serra's obsession with minutiae, sound design, and the human body creates a study in bringing aristocratic royalty down to the realm of mere mortals.

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Least Favorite Films of 2017


The difference between the "worst" and "least favorite" is a necessary distinction here because these are all films that had potential to be worthwhile. Therefore, Adam Sandler Netflix cash grabs, animated poop emojis, Will Smith/Orc actioners, and Michael Bay wank jobs will not be represented here. These are the year's greatest follies. The ones that tried and failed to make me forget the horrific reality of being alive and coherent in 2017. When people claim cinema is alive and well, I'll point them to these turkeys. 


10

Alien: Covenant

 

Like a bored technician checking off the appropriate boxes during an exam, Ridley Scott trots out a greatest hits demo reel of the Alien franchise with this uninspired clunker. A rag-tag crew gets trapped on a planet, makes regrettable decisions, and becomes infected by squiggly creatures ready to burst out from every orifice of the human body. Meanwhile, the audience hits the Xenomorph snooze button. 

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9

Mother!

Darren Aronofsky's latest is the worst kind of unironic self flagellation; a meta deconstruction of the artist's ego coupled with Biblical allegory. Had the film leaned into its satirical premise, it could have been absurdist pulp entertainment. Instead, Aronofsky loves himself too much to party.


8

Loving Vincent

A case where spending years creating thousands of impressive animations results in a project which renders Van Gogh's art less mysterious. Directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman have concocted a bland coming-of-age story instead of digging into the past and present power of Van Gogh's art, and the results are agonizingly simple-minded.

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7

Downsizing

Matt Damon stars as a bland schlubby white guy who undergoes a scientific shrinking procedure in Alexander Payne's toothless satire about consumerism, global warming, and liberal guilt. A grand statement on humanity this is not, with the inclusion of a downsized Vietnamese woman (Hong Chau) representing the absolute nadir of cheap shot accent jokes. This film needs to shrink until it disappears. 


6

Wakefield

Bryan Cranston plays a man hiding out in the abandoned attic above his family's garage in Robin Swicord’s banal chamber drama. Of course, he learns valuable life lessons while growing a gnarly beard and getting enjoyment out of his wife's distress. Just another story of an upper-class white male asshole in 2017. 

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5

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

The aesthetic tics of Yorgos Lanthimos finally get the better of him with this Kubrick rip-off about a surgeon's weird relationship with a high school teen. Everyone speaks in clipped sound bites, Bach blares on the soundtrack, and the revenge plot spirals into nonsense. Yorgos seems to hate humanity, and who can blame him, but these people are too dull to care about hating.


4

Wind River

A simple tale of revenge and loss is made nearly unwatchable due to sloppy hand-held camerawork and exploitative flashbacks in Taylor Sheridan's wannabe Cormac McCarthy thriller. Indigenous Native cultures being used as a backdrop for a stoic white man playing avenger is yet another narrative that needs to be buried under ice in 2018.

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3

The Dinner

A group of rich intellectuals sit around a table over the course of one very long meal complaining about their lives in Oren Moverman's misguided sermon. The hypocrisy of American capitalism is laid bare with a sledgehammer as characters are used as mouthpieces in order to indict an audience who has probably already passed out due to sheer boredom. Check, please!


2

Kong: Skull Island

A bloated monster mashup where every edit, lame needle drop music cue, and incomprehensible set-piece is so shrill that you can't even appreciate John C. Reilly's goofy turn as a bearded island dweller. Kong may be huge, but director Jordan Vogt-Roberts' tonal aim is tiny. There's no humanity here. Just a feature-length movie trailer of CG-laden vomit.

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1

A Ghost Story

Those with a keen understanding of foreign slow cinema will see David Lowery's painfully self-conscious A Ghost Story for the turkey that it truly is. Casey Affleck wears a sheet with eye holes cut out, wanders around his surroundings, and watches Rooney Mara eat an entire pie. The rest is a cosmic-spanning meditation on "Big Themes" that never bothers to embrace the audience. The worst kind of smug art-house noodling, and 2017's greatest folly.


Favorite "new to me" films seen in 2017


One of my main goals for 2017 was to watch more older films than new releases; a task which took me down obsessive rabbit holes searching for the kind of shock and awe only cinema can provide. Focusing in on The Criterion Collection and blindspots from filmmakers like Spike Lee, Bruno Dumont, and Francis Ford Coppola, 2017 was a year filled with genuine surprises and masterpiece-level discoveries. The resulting 15 "new to me" films listed here gives me hope that the future of cinema very well may reside in the past.


15

Carnival of Souls (1962)

A woman survives a car crash, takes a job as an organist, and begins having bizarre visions in Herk Harvey's low budget exploitation picture which feels like a prime influence on George A. Romero's seminal Night of the Living Dead. Groovy undead makeup, a killer organ score, and zombie slow-dancing makes this a macabre horror classic. 

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14

Paterson (2016)

Jim Jarmusch's quietly meditative masterpiece concerns a bus driver named Paterson (Adam Driver) who writes poetry, but has minor ambitions as an artist. A film about the creative process that actually takes the time to consider the slow pull of time; marked by the ordinary details happening on the fringes of life that often go unnoticed. 


13

In a Lonely Place (1950)

Humprey Bogart delivers a complex, towering performance as washed up screenwriter Dixon Steele in Nicholas Ray's noir chamber drama; which initially feels like a mystery thriller concerning the murder of a young hat-check girl, but eventually reveals itself as more fundamentally concerned with irrational male delusion. Bleak and brilliant. 

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12

3 Women (1977)

Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Janice Rule star as the titular "3 women" whose different personalities clash, interlock, and merge in Robert A;tman's wholly original psychodrama/dark comedy. Altman claimed he thought up the film after a dream, and the results are one of the most haunting films about identity ever made.  


11

One More Time with Feeling (2016)

In July 2015, Nick Cave’s 15-year-old son, Arthur, died after falling off a cliff in England. Director Andrew Dominick, shooting in black-and-white with 3D cameras, taps into the way grief paralyzes as Cave records the Bad Seeds album, Skeleton Tree following the tragedy. A probing, raw, and heart-wrenching act of creation as catharsis.

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10

Humanité (1999)

Polarizing auteur Bruno Dumont's dissection of how the human body is abused and discarded is a rigorous work obsessed with ideas of morality, desire, and the link between sex and violence. The central plot follows an emotionally vacant investigator seeking answers to the murder of an 11-year-old girl; but Dumont isn't interested in plot, but in process. 


9

Play Time (1967)

Monsieur Hulot (Jacques Tati) and a group of American tourists repeatedly cross paths during a single 24-hour period in this masterful, nearly wordless example of mis en scene. Shot in glorious 70mm with ingenious compositions and visual gags, Play Time is like observing a master builder set up his architectural playground and then watching the dominoes fall.

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8

Brand Upon the Brain! A Remembrance in 12 Chapters (2006)

Canadian cult weirdo Guy Maddin's singular melodrama is shot mostly in black & white; with vintage pop-culture iconography, silent movie tropes, and avant garde editing.  Memories have never been this nightmarish or perversely funny.


7

I Vitelloni (1953)

Federico Fellini’s second solo directorial effort is a semi-autobiographical tale of five young men drifting through their hometown which both satirizes and embraces male arrested development. Rich characterizations, alluring atmosphere, and bleak/funny neo-realism is at the forefront, but its Fellini looking honestly at Italy's post-war issues, that really lingers. 

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6

Vampyr (1932)

A young man obsessed with the occult stumbles through a small town cursed by a vampire in Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer's baffling and enigmatic Gothic classic. Astounding tracking shots, erie juxtapositions, and double exposure optical effects makes this one of the most terrifying horror films ever made.


5

Seven Beauties (1975)

Lina Wertmuller's audacious farce is one of the most unlikely Oscar nominees ever; a fractured epic about egotistical fool Pasquali (a monumental Giancarlo Giannini) shambling through Italian history. Dismembered pimps, totalitarianism, whip-carrying female Nazi commandants, and the Holocaust all factor in; with Wertmuller deftly straddling wacky comedy with stark drama.

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4

Ugetsu (1953)

Two men leave their wives to pursue their own obsessions, but Kenji Mizoguchi’s masterpiece is no ordinary morality play. Instead, the film touches on wartime tragedy, dissects the male ego, and emerges as a powerful ghost story like no other. Ugetsu may be set in 16th-century Japan, but its themes are not bound by any time or place.


3

Read Beard (1965)

Akira Kurosowa's deeply felt story of a 19th century doctor (played by the great Toshiro Mifune) and his young pupil is a daringly intimate epic. Most startling is the film's lack of cynicism; with Kurosawa championing the goodness of humanity, even as tragic events occur throughout. Compassionate, human, and sweeping,

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2

Fists in the Pocket (1965)

Marco Bellocchio's mesmerizing debut is the all-time dysfunctional family movie; a twisted, darkly funny takedown of bourgeoisie values and Catholic morality. This is a film about young male rage and pent-up angst, with Swedish actor Lou Castel delivering a tour de force as the antihero, Alessandro. Bellocchio, meanwhile, shoots everything with explosive style.


1

Ritual in Transfigured Time (1946)

Experimental filmmaker Maya Deren's astonishing silent short combines avant-garde editing, dance choreography, and gender issues to formulate a master thesis on feminine strength. Throughout, Deren's camera captures women in various states-- content, playful, confused, fearful--while statuesque men attempt to pursue as a means of possession. Dreamlike and shockingly contemporary.

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Favorite Albums of 2017


2017 felt like the end of civilization as we know it; politically, socially, and in a wider sense, artistically. Widespread racism, misogyny, the Alt-Right Movement, and an egomaniacal President signifying the worst of humanity continued to dominate as musicians used the fear, paranoia, and outright rage at the state of things as a means of expression. There was also a sense of music as a coping mechanism, but overall, even this felt overpowered by larger evils present in our world. Nevertheless, this list of 15 favorites runs the gambit; from churning power chords, retro 60's pop, deceased legends hollering into the void, and unorthodox hip-hop voicing the kind of sentiments we all wanted to express but couldn't find the right words. Above all else, every single record represented here provided a small measure of relief from the absurdity of being alive in 2017. Long live the music. May it never die. 


15

Thundercat
Drunk

Bassist, singer, and producer extraordinaire Thundercat's third album, Drunk, is a Flying Lotus-backed foray into jazz/R & B/synth-funk that pokes its finger into the ribs of racism and keeps on chuckling.  

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14

Escape-ism
Introduction to Escape-sim

As former frontman for Nation Of Ulysses, The Make-Up, The Scene Creamers, Weird War, Chain & The Gang, among other projects, Ian Svenonius is nothing if not prolific. On his latest solo venture, he crafts a lo-fi anti-pop album full of yelping vocals, analog drum machines, and chintzy melodies. 


13

Midnight Sister
Saturn Over Sunset

It's Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground meets hipster cool with Midnight Sister's breathless debut, Saturn Over Sunset; a toe-tappin' pop noir record for Tinseltown dreamers. Catchy and warped in equal measure. 

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12

Kamasi Washington
Harmony of Difference

Saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington follows up 2015's appropriately titled The Epic with a shorter EP that nonetheless feels grand in scope and dense in execution. Combining ’60s/70's jazz with R & B touches and calypso rhythms, Washington crafts arrangements which feel both meticulous and improvised.


11

King Woman
Created in the Image of Suffering

Bay area doom doesn't get much heavier than the debut LP from King Woman; a beautiful and punishing mix of shoegazey guitar chords, ghostly vocals, and astral post-rock instrumentation. A doomsday prophecy for our turbulent times.

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10

Ariel Pink
Dedicated to Bobby Jameson

Pop provocateur Ariel Pink goes back to his early 2000's cassette days for a riff on the pitfalls of fame; conjuring pastiche, sleazy glam poses, and long-forgotten modes of production in order to comment on our need for self-reflection. Goofy and introspective, as only Pink can.


9

Brockhampton
Saturation II

A Los Angeles rap crew bent on dominating the scene, Brockhampton released three albums in 2017, but their second was the best of the lot; a swaggering, politically-minded, and humorous collection of 16 cuts backed by funky/synth-laden production. 

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8

Omni
Multi Task

Atlanta trio Omni follow up their excellent 2016 debut Deluxe with the less abrasive, but still vintage-sounding Multi Task, which traffics in late 1970's Wire/ Talking Heads influences. Simple, jaunty, no fuss post-punk performed with care and efficiency. 


7

Yves Tumor
Experiencing the Deposit of Faith

Yves Tumor's latest self-released compilation meshes ambient music with pop-oriented sounds by using repetitive loops and glistening soundscapes to enter the realm of the spiritual. Intimate, vast, and hypnotic.

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6

Guerilla Toss
GT Ultra

Brooklyn-based noise makers Guerilla Toss distill elements of new wave, post-punk, squawking jazz, and experimental music on their latest dance-acid trip GT Ultra; embracing melody and sonic texture without completely abandoning their freak flag.


5

Bjork
Utopia

After 2015's breakup album, Vulnicura, Bjork heads into the stratosphere of romantic infatuation with Utopia; a flute-laden, bird-chirping collection of love songs that get at the swooning feeling of new beginnings. Four decades-plus into her extraordinary career, Bjork continues to both dazzle and confound.

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4

Tyler, The Creator
Flower Boy

While everyone was busy kneeling at the feet of Kendrick Lamar, 26-year-old rapper/producer Tyler, The Creator quietly dropped the best hip-hop album of 2017. Beautifully arranged, surprisingly meditative, while also boasting typical bangers, Flower Boy is Neptunes-inspired, funky, sultry, and unpredictable. 


3

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
The Kid

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Kid is the electronic musician's most ambitious effort yet; a sprawling, four-part chronicle of life's stages performed like a futurist pop manifesto. Emotional, experiential, challenging, and gorgeously attuned to the human condition.  

 

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2

Alan Vega
IT

Suicide's Alan Vega may have passed away in 2016, but his last recorded work, simply tilted IT, is the sound of a man wailing into the void. Vega's relationship to New York is represented here as fear and confusion over the tides of change; backed by droning industrial electronics and cacophonous vocals. Like Bowie's Blackstar, IT is an influential genius's haunting final will and testament writ large.


1

Protomartyr
Relatives in Descent

The first great post-Trump election record comes from Detroit rabble rousers Protomartyr's Relatives in Descent; a series of tightly dirges expressing fear, paranoia, doubt, and even some much-needed wit, in the face of destruction. Throughout, frontman Joe Casey stammers, slurs, and waxes poetic amidst crunchy power chords and atonal dissonance, making this the sound of an entire generation watching the world burn, one non sequitur at a time. 

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Favorite Performances of 2016


2016 was a year filled with idiosyncratic performances drawing on autobiographical, political, and emotionally resonant influences. Narrowing things down to 15 key players (with no distinction between male and female, lead and supporting) was a difficult task, but this list is encouraging in terms of representation in the future. Hopefully, 2017 will bring even more defiantly personal and challenging works of thespian brilliance to the table. 


Kate Lyn Sheil

Kate Plays Christine

Kate Lyn Sheil's multi-faceted, remarkable performance in Robert Greene's astonishing faux-documentary Kate Plays Christine could easily be labeled "critic-proof", since she's essentially playing a version of herself preparing for a role that doesn't actually exist. Sheil's greatest triumph, however, is giving us a glimpse at the dictonomy inherent in representation; holding true to the real-life Christine Chubbuck's anxieties about TV news turning into sensationalism.


Leah Fay Goldstein

Diamond Tongues

Make way for the new indie it girl in the form of Leah Fay Goldstein, who plays a neurotic struggling actress in Pavan Moondi and Brian Roberston's Diamond Tongues. Her funny-sad performance has to hit various notes; from naive, abrasive, coy, insecure, to emotionally devastated, and Goldstein proves that unlike the character she's playing, she's the real deal.


Elmer Back

Eisenstein in Guanajuato

Finnish actor Elmer Back gives a buoyantly theatrical performance as celebrated Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein in Peter Greenaway's ambitious hodgepodge of form and content. Back makes some specific choices here verging on caricature, but his demented commitment to this larger-than-life figure breathes new life into the usually stale biopic portrayal.


Alba Rochrwacher

Sworn Virgin

Laura Bispuri's evocative Sworn Virgin is held together by Alba Rochrwacher's deeply haunting performance as a transgendered person navigating personal demons and societal norms. Like Tilda Swinton, Rochrwacher has an innate ability to shift between notions of gender and identity seamlessly, offering up a delicately nuanced portrait of someone attempting to reclaim their sense of self.


Alfredo Castro

From Afar

In Lorenzo Vigas's brilliantly understated From Afar, Alfredo Castro delivers one of the year's most subtle and devastating performances as a lonely man cruising the streets for young male hustlers. Castro does so much with simply a look and the smallest gesture, Haunting, sympathetic, and mysterious all at once.


Isabelle Huppert

Elle/Valley of Love/Things to Come

Isabelle Huppert unleashed three outstanding performances in three very different films; as a woman dealing with rape culture and trauma in Elle, a mother dealing with the death of her son in Valley of Love, and as an aging philosophy professor undergoing a midlife crisis in Things to Come. All three performances were laced with nuance, humor, and intelligence, proving that 2016 really was the year of Huppert.


Vincent Lindon

The Measure of a Man

As a laid off factory worker in Stephane Brize's cringe-drama The Measure of a Man, Vincent Lindon is able to convey the hopeless emasculation and bottled up anger of a man desperately trying to provide for his family. It's a portrayal of great humility and understatement, with Lindon navigating a variety of emotions without ever making it feel like we are watching a performance. Bravo.


Lily Gladstone

Certain Women

Newcomer Lily Gladstone quietly walks away with Kelly Reichardt's beautifully muted film about women struggling against the tide of monotony. As a soft-spoken ranch hand obsessed with Kristen Stewart's substitute teacher, Gladstone projects a mixture of warmth, timidity, longing, and heartbreak in her limited screen time.


Shira Haas

Princess

Tali Shalom-Ezer's Israeli first feature is a doozy; a tale of adolescent confusion amidst a heinous sexual crime, but it's the unbelievable performance of Shira Haas (who was 16 at the time of filming) as 12-year-old Adar which leaves an impact. This is an extremely difficult role; with Haas delivering a raw, naturalistic, and moving performance as a young girl trapped in domestic hell. 


Nawazuddin Siddiqui

Raman Raghav 2.0

Cinematic psycho serial killers may be old hat, but Nawazuddin Siddiqui is deliciously unhinged in Anurag Kashyap's stylish thriller Raman Raghav 2.0. From pathetic weasal, charming ladies man, to scary presence dominating an entire room, Siddiqui makes this deluded madman endlessly fascinating and unpredictable, resulting in the year's best villain. 


Alex Hibbert/Ashton Sanders/Trevante Rhodes

Moonlight

Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a black kid growing up in Miami who struggles with his sexuality and sense of identity, and the film draws its power from the superlative work of the three actors portraying him. Alex Hibbert brings an unaffected innocence as the child, Ashton Sanders simmers with longing and frustration as the teenager, and Trevante Rhodes brings it home with a deep sense of melancholy and nuance as the adult, muscle-bound Chiron. All three actors are linked, despite physical dissimilarities, because they imbue their performances with a cohesive emotional core.


Samantha Robinson

The Love Witch

Samantha Robinson casts an entrancing spell in Anna Biller's wonderful 1950s Technicolor/1970s Italian horror pastiche as, you guessed it, a "love witch." The miracle of Robinson's performance is how specific it is; purposefully stilted but never winking too much, gloriously arch but somehow finding several notes to play within any given scene. Move over Samantha Stephens, there's a new Samantha in town, and she's here to emasculate and kill your men. 


Ruth Negga

Loving

As Mildred Loving, the real-life woman who was arrested for "cohabitation" during the 1960s in Virginia for marrying a white man, Ruth Negga gives a powerfully quiet, internally defiant performance. Submissive, yet forward-thinking, Negga delivers a masterclass in micro acting; using gestures, facial expressions, and in one particularly moving scene, reveals layers of emotional depth while on the phone with a ACLU member.

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Craig Robinson

Morris From America

As a widowed father looking after his 13-year-old son in Germany, Craig Robinson is charming, funny, self-effacing, and surprisingly melancholic in Chad Hartigan's charming coming-of-age tale Morris From America. We've seen Robinson do his motor-mouthed shtick before, but here he layers droll comedic moments with pangs of loneliness and compassion, and in one incredibly powerful scene, delivers a soulful monologue about his deceased wife that hits the jugular.


Emmanuelle Bercot

My King

Emmanuelle Bercot is electrifying as a closed off lawyer recovering from a skiing accident in My King, a tumultuous love story that bristles and sears with wounds, both physical and psychological. Playing a woman who falls hard and fast for a charismatic restaurateur (Vincent Cassell), Bercot brilliantly shades her flirtations with streaks of malice and legitimate madness.  


Favorite "new to me" films seen in 2016


Even though new releases dominated my movie-watching experience in 2016, I took it upon myself to venture into the realm of older films more stridently than in year's past. This led me down various cinematic avenues, including zeroing in on many Criterion Collection titles as well as the entire filmography of Orson Welles. The resulting ten "new to me" favorites represented here range from masterpiece status to excellent, giving me even more hope that the future of film may very well reside in the past.


10

Death by Hanging (1968)

Nagisa Oshima's scathing satire about the validity of the death penalty is also a provocative indictment of Japanese hatred toward the Korean community. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white with documentary-esque style, Death by Hanging is surreal, funny, and troubling in equal measure.


9

A Report on the party and the guests (1966)

A damning allegory of nationalism which was banned in Czechoslovakia upon its release, Jan Nemec's disturbing comedy pits a group of hapless picnickers against an authoritarian tyrant during his birthday celebration. Packs more subtext into its 71 minutes than most films manage in twice the length.


8

Tokyo Drifter (1966)

Seijun Suzuki's neo-noir masterwork lays down a basic gangster narrative and then riffs like free-jazz all over the place. Beautiful splashes of color, jagged editing, absurdist action sequences, and some really cool smoking make this an unclassifiable wonder. 


7

F for Fake (1973)

Orson Welles's final film reinforces the idea of cinema as stunt, posing as faux-documentary about the nature of authorship. An intoxicating mosaic of fourth-wall breaking, rapid-fire editing, and montage that finds Welles in a delightfully playful mood.


6

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Brian De Palma's strange and strangely endearing mishmash of pop and Faust is the ultimate cult rock opera (sorry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, this one came first). Kitschy musical numbers, split screens, nods to Hitchcock, and of course, elaborate tracking shots make this an absolute blast.


5

MacBeth (1948)

Orson Welles's most fully realized and idiosyncratic of his Shakespeare adaptations, MacBeth follows the standard narrative of the famous play, but upends expectations with a nightmarish, gothic, almost sci-fi vision of another world.


4

Brewster McCloud (1970)

A zany comedy about a strange man-boy living inside the Houston Astrodome who dreams of flying like a bird....or something. Robert Altman's absurdist in-joke uses overlapping dialogue, long takes, a comically slow car chase, and detective Frank Shaft's glowing blue eyes to hilarious effect.


3

The Tin Drum (1979)

12 year-old actor David Bennett gives a chillingly aggravating performance as a never-aging child who witnesses decades of German history in Volker Schlondorff's art-house version of Problem Child.  A sprawling, funny, thematically troubling, and altogether brilliant adaptation of Gunter Grass's novel.


2

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)

A mesmeric rumination on the life of Japanese author Yukio Mishima which uses a traditional biopic structure and then combines it with an unconventional visualization of his writings. Paul Schrader's directorial magnum opus is an extraordinary formal achievement. 


1

Hearts and Minds (1974)

Peter Davis's monumental snapshot of the Vietnam War is essential viewing because it not only demythologizes America's shameful involvement in the war, but also becomes an empathetic statement regarding how and why hatred for the "other" exists. Emotionally devastating and intellectually profound. 


Favorite Albums of 2016

 

2016 was a rough year in more ways than one. From celebrity deaths, widespread violence, racism, ignorance, misogyny, and the encroaching apocalypse in the form of a hideous comic book villain being elected President, 2016 was a banner year for a race of idiots. Still, there were albums released. More albums than I had the time or the mental ability to fully absorb, but the reality of living in a social media-saturated age where something like Pokemon Go could capture the rapt attention of millions only to disappear just as quickly means that music held a special place in terms of coping. This list of 25 favorites runs the gambit; deceased legends orchestrating swan songs, hip-hop artists wrestling with mental instability, shrieking metal bands clearing out the din of apathy through blown-out speakers, the sounds of noise musicians articulating their angst through experimentation. Above all else, every single record represented here helped me get through the anger, frustration, and disbelief of being alive and coherent in 2016. Here's to the music. May it never die. 


25

Matmos
Ultimate Care II

Leave it to Baltimore-based experimental duo Matmos to concoct a 38-minute "cycle" of movements pitch-shifted, modulated, and ebbing with the tide of sloshing water from a washing machine. A delightful curio.


24

Failed Flowers
Failed Flowers

A collection of melodic songs with a haze of reverb and breathy female vocals. The kind of lo-fi indie rock which conjures New Zealand Flying Nun flashbacks.


23

Oathbreaker
Rheia

Belgian post-hardcore with tremolo guitar chords, bone-crunching riffs, foreboding electronic flourishes, and most importantly, singer Caro Tanghe's brilliant vocal range. Brutal and beautiful in equal measure.


22

Kadhja Bonet
The Visitor

Singer-songwriter Kadhja Bonet sounds like Roberta Flack floating in outer space; carried along by dreamy strings, twirling flutes, and blaxploitation-influenced beats. A beguiling mix of jazz, soul, and 70s-tinged lounge.


21

Preoccupations
Preoccupations

Channeling some of the austere coldness of Danish rockers Ice Age with 80's post-punk grooves ala Psychedelic Furs, Canadian group Preoccupations deliver synthesizer drones, propulsive rhythms, and monotone vocals in a very danceable fashion.


20

Steady Holiday
Under the Influence

Singer-songwriter Dre Babinski's debut takes it's cues from John Cassavete's 1974 film A Woman Under the Influence with a gorgeous collection of compositions giving off a retro James Bond theme vibe.  


19

MNDSGN
Body Wash

Ringgo Ancheta makes 80s/90s bong rip funk reminiscent of chillwave pioneer Neon Indian; with ear-worm melodies, wonky grooves, and hazy psychedelic textures pouring on like, well, body wash. 


18

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Ears

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith uses a wired-and-knobbed instrument called the Buchla Music Easel in order to mesh organic sounds with synthesized textures, and her extraordinary new album takes experimental music into the realm of avant garde pop. 


17

Moor Mother
Fetish Bones

Camae Ayewa wraps her pitch-black stream of consciousness raps around industrial noise, jazzy samples, and bizarre electronics in this absolute stunner of left-wing Afrofuturist hip-hop.


16

Subrosa
For This We Brought the Battle of Ages

In an act of sonic revolt, Utah's Subrosa unleash doomsday with Gothic chamber crescendos, doom metal monster riffs, and chilling wails from beyond the grave. Monolithic and crushing; with dueling electric violins to boot.  


15

Ka
Honor Killed the Samuari

Brooklyn rapper Ka makes hip-hop for the introvert; packing dense rhymes about inner city violence over lo-fi production. A cohesive vision of someone retreating inward in order to feel the pain of many. 


14

Tyvek
Origin of What

Tyvek are masters of angular punk rock, and their usual high-speed shouty jams are interspersed with moments of slowed down textured songwriting on their latest, and most mature, album yet. 


13

Mal Devisa
Kiid

With minimal piano, bass, clipped beats and drums, Deja Carr (aka Mal Devisa) uses her raw voice in unexpected and sublime ways. If Nina Simone and Merill Garbus jammed in a basement, it might sound something like this. 


12

Death Grips
Bottomless Pit

Yet another abrasive plunge into the abyss of glitch-ridden hip-hop from everyone's favorite purveyors of atonality, with hooks and grime to spare. Welcome to Death Grips 2.0


11

Omni
Deluxe

Late 70s/early 80s jagged post-punk revisionism is a dime a dozen these days, but Atlanta trio Omni have this thing down cold. Think The Clean by way of Wire, with snappy sing-along choruses and arpeggiated guitar lines. A scrappy, relentlessly enjoyable record.


Favorite Albums of 2016


 

2016 was a rough year in more ways than one. From celebrity deaths, widespread violence, racism, ignorance, misogyny, and the encroaching apocalypse in the form of a hideous comic book villain being elected President, 2016 was a banner year for a race of idiots. Still, there were albums released. More albums than I had the time or the mental ability to fully absorb, but the reality of living in a social media-saturated age where something like Pokemon Go could capture the rapt attention of millions only to disappear just as quickly means that music held a special place in terms of coping. This list of 25 favorites runs the gambit; deceased legends orchestrating swan songs, hip-hop artists wrestling with mental instability, shrieking metal bands clearing out the din of apathy through blown-out speakers, the sounds of noise musicians articulating their angst through experimentation. Above all else, every single record represented here helped me get through the anger, frustration, and disbelief of being alive and coherent in 2016. Here's to the music. May it never die. 


10

It Only Gets Worse
Angels

Alabama-based spoken word artist Matt Finney uses macabre prose alongside Dutch musician Maurice de Jong's ominous keyboards and ambient electronics; resulting in a work of incredible beauty marked by the horror of feeling utterly alone.


9

Shabaka and The Ancestors
Wisdom of Elders

Saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings uses the narrative of slavery in order to craft nine compositions of free jazz, Caribbean jams, and folk-inflected rhythms. A miraculous distillation of America's most shameful period of history into something beautiful.


8

Leonard Cohen
You Want It Darker

Through strummed guitar, soaring background harmonies, haunting organ swells, and that crackling baritone, Leonard Cohen delivers his final will and testament with humility and a heavy heart. 


7

Saqqara Mastabas
Libras

Erratic drumming, schizo synths, and goofy riffs coalesce into one unifying package on this loopy slice of instrumental pop from Fiery Furnaces' Matthew Friedberger and Sebadoh's Bob D'Amico.  


6

BadBadNotGood
IV

A love for hip-hop grooves, electronic beats, percussive lounge, and sultry R & B are front and center on Canadian outfit BBNG's latest; a beguiling synthesis of formal jazz and forward-thinking instrumentation. 


5

Teksti TV-666
1,2,3

This Finnish seven-piece rip through krautrock riffs and Sonic Youth-influenced shoegaze on this barnstorming collection of tunes which often go from simple chord progressions into all-out fuzz rock anthems. Anarchic intensity from start to finish. 


4

Xenia Rubinos
Black Terry Cat

Xenia Rubinos channels some Erykah Badu magic along with her usual off-kilter weirdness for a lesson in being a dark skinned woman in America. Funk, neo-soul, and art rock collide with political and gender-based lyrics in stunning fashion.


3

Danny Brown
Atrocity Exhibition

A blistering statement of reconciling one's destructive lifestyle with their art, rapper Danny Brown's magnum opus of sex, drugs, and self-immolation is the year's most forward thinking hip-hop album. An absolute gut-punch.


2

Jenny Hval
Blood Bitch

Jenny Hval's avant garde electronic pop masterwork is a bold feminist vision; with lyrics about birth control, menstruation, and supernatural ennui coiling around jagged horns, meditative synths, and gasping vocals. Obsessive, vampiric, and utterly brilliant.  


1

David Bowie
Blackstar

"Something happened on the day he died. Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside..."

A tightly controlled exercise in avant-jazz pop and electronica, David Bowie's extraordinary swan song was the sound of a man grappling with his mortality and bowing out gracefully. A disorienting, deeply personal record which stands with some of the legendary icon's best work.