In Defense of Lists

moses und aron

I wish to preface this by saying that I bear no ill will toward Dr. Elena Gorfinkel, Another Gaze, or indeed anyone especially opposed to the practice of list-making with regards to cinema. Such a pastime is, of course, not for everyone, and a certain temperament is required in order to sit in front of a computer for hours on end, entering the same title over and over into a website in order to constantly keep certain lists updated. But I found Gorfinkel’s piece, and indeed the largely positive reaction to it, to be more than a little worrying, considering the openly antagonistic tone to a pursuit that, like many in film culture, contains far more facets than one might assume from the commercialized and rigid co-opting by the innumerable mass of film websites (with some worthy exceptions). So I wanted to write this rebuttal, not only as a means of defending a practice that I find to be immensely rewarding, but also in order to properly engage with this piece, and perhaps to in the process form a politique des listes, if you will.

The aim is to examine the essay line-by-line, or at the very least point-by-point, though given the manifesto tone of it some statements are difficult to expand upon. The statements from the original piece will be written in bold, with my thoughts on them directly below; these are intended to be as open-minded and in good faith as possible, but given my biases I apologize for anything too overtly polemical. For reading convenience, they are numbered; I realize that by doing so I’m transforming Gorfinkel’s piece into its own list, which adds a nice irony.

1. Lists of films will not save you.

This opening line immediately sets the stage both for Gorfinkel’s incendiary approach and my pronounced distaste, and demands a personal preface. I originally got into films because of my long-held obsession with lists: first the AFI top 100 list (as limited as it is) when I discovered it in 2010 and then They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They’s aggregate top 1000 in 2015. Obviously, both have their limitations, and possess no shortage of consensus concessions, but they provided me an entryway into the medium that, to indulge in just a little bit of hyperbole, provided me an earthly salvation. So yes, lists of films saved me.

2. Lists of films will not save films.

This, more than anything, begs the question of what exactly we mean by “saving” a film. Is it in the processes of restoration and preservation? This idea is brought up a few statements later, so it might be assumed that Gorfinkel means it in a broader sense, in the evolution and decay of the medium as a whole. In that case, it’s nigh impossible to ascribe the task of saving cinema to any single pursuit, even one as possibly pervasive as the act of listmaking. Saving film requires a more cohesive and holistic defense.

3. Lists of films will not reorganise how films gain and lose value.

I’d argue this is exactly what lists do, or at the very least should strive to do. With the ever-increasing glut of film lists, especially at the end of this decade, it is natural that consensus favors the well-known or the acknowledged masterpieces, but this only constitutes the general, not the particular placing of certain works; any reader should strive to consider the films they have not seen, and use the list as a guideline. Even the reevaluative nature of some lists, like a publication issuing a Best of the 1990s list a decade apart, inherently reorganizes the value of certain films, based on what have risen and fallen.

4. Lists will not preserve all those thousands and thousands of films decomposing in alleys, basements, storage lockers: films lost, unseen, and unpreserved.

I could be pedantic and name the National Film Registry as a list that does precisely that, but it’s even more worth pointing out that almost everything related to film culture (including film writing) doesn’t accomplish this either. Unless one fancies themselves a film archaeologist, climbing into abandoned movie theaters and trying to trace the paper trails leading back to Bill Gunn’s Stop or something along those lines, nothing they do can preserve those films.

5. Lists of films will not write new film histories.

As with point 3, this is exactly what lists of films can and should do; what is a history of film if not a list of films and their makers? Context is key, so many other sociopolitical and cultural histories must be brought in, but they are nothing without the actual works that have been made.

6. Lists are not neutral or innocent or purely subjective.

Gorfinkel seems to contradict herself between the former two and the latter descriptors, in a way that I find difficult to parse, but each of them feels faulty. Claiming the neutrality or objectivity of a list is inherently false, of course, but doing so seems much more at the hands of film publications or enormous polls; to any discerning reader, the list indicates “the X greatest films in [insert category] as chosen by an aggregate of X contributors,” not the end-all be-all truth. Even more importantly, lists should not be innocent, at least in my conception of the term, which signals naiveté and lack of an even slightly expanded knowledge of the world of film. Innocence is for those without visual literacy or film history. As for “purely subjective,” what is Gorfinkel striving to convey? That lists and viewing should come one’s pure id, uninflected by valuable learned information? These structures are necessary for establishing one’s foundational vantage point on film, so their inclusion in lists should be no surprise.

7. Lists do not enshrine your hallowed taste, they only dilute it.

It’s hard for me to understand this statement, simply because I feel that the former is a strong argument that can be made against my list obsession. But calcification (a process which I hope my lists escape) is a different process than dilution, and Gorfinkel seems to be arguing that it encourages the listmaker to stick to their established lists and nothing else, which goes entirely against my idea of lists as forever in flux, dynamically responding to each film I watch and reevaluate.

8. Lists are attentional real estate for the fatigued, enervated, click-hungry.

It’s somewhat difficult to argue with this with regards to websites, but more than anything it feeds into the desire to get one’s own ideas and thoughts about film into a evermore public space. Indeed, such a charge could be made of this very article (not to mention my own), and lists merely ease the process along. And individual lists are just as often furtive, secretive acts, made for personal uses and deliberately designed to not be seen by others.

9. Lists aggregate the already known and consolidate power.

See point 3.

10. Lists count and account and ceaselessly weigh and measure ‘genius’ and ‘greatness’ as if they are empirical substances.

This varies from list to list, but part of what excites me is the quicksilver nature of listing, of comparing such vastly different works to each other. It is as evaluative as assigning a rating to a film, and allows for a certain dialogue and unforeseen resonances to emerge. In this conception, genius and greatness are by nature undefinable and intangible: it is the job of the writer or listmaker to express them in some slightly more graspable way, that shifts each time either looks at their piece, their list, or the film.

11. Lists convert numerical appearance into that seeming empiricism of the prodigious.

See point 3, with the added note that individuals’ lists by no means always aspire to be empirical or definitive.

12. And who in the longue durée has been bestowed those plaudits?

Without going into exact details, I don’t exactly fit the standard hetero cis old white man image of a listmaker; the times they are a’changin’, and denying the potential of budding cinephiles to create lists is foolish at best.

13. Lists won’t create new canons – especially not of lost women, queer, trans, Black, Latinx, global south, decolonial and anti-colonial filmmakers.

What is a canon but a form of listing? The onus, as always, should be on the viewer to seek these out, and lists can and sometimes (if not often) do so.

14. Who will ask Barbara Hammer, Kathleen Collins, Kira Muratova, and Sara Gómez for their lists?

This deliberately polemical statement especially rankles, largely because it uses the demise of these filmmakers as a cudgel. Leaving aside the notion that listmaking isn’t for everyone, or that plenty of non-European female filmmakers have been asked for their lists, what difference does it make for those who wish to make their own lists?

15. Lists pretend to make a claim about the present and the past, but are anti-historical, obsessed with their own moment, with the narrow horizon and tyranny of contemporaneity. They consolidate and reaffirm the hidebound tastes of the already heard.

I don’t think it’s impossible or even difficult to embody both history and a present obsession with the contemporary. Both lists and tastes are formed outside of a vacuum, influenced by factors as seemingly insignificant as the time since one has seen a film or their viewing environment, or something as significant as the restoration of a long-lost film. Creating a list can be as much an act of history, reassessing and reevaluating one’s conception of what came before, as of a contemporary mindset, one which will always continue to evolve. As for the hidebound tastes, listmakers can and should strive to expand their tastes, and are just as often unheard as “already heard,” though even the latter can provide new discoveries.

16. Lists colonise the mind and impoverish the imagination.

The idea of lists affecting the mind is absolutely true, particularly in my case, but the specific use of “colonize” especially bristles, especially when it brings up global history in a manner that feels inappropriate at best. At their best, lists expand the imagination, asking the reader to consciously construct a profile of the listmaker’s taste or otherwise to decipher their precise process in choosing these particular films at the exclusion of others.

17. Lists will always disappoint, even as they promise an inexhaustible world, an infinite plenum.

As opposed to films, which invariably provide unbelievable amounts of pleasure? Lists rarely, if ever, promise infinity, especially considering the proliferation of lists set in specific categories or with strict parameters, so only the most sweeping or authoritative can disappoint (which yes, can include lists like the recent BBC films-directed-by-women list).

18. Lists bludgeon the dispossessed with a metric of popularity, as if it is a universal value.

As mentioned in points 3 and 6, lists cannot and should not be seen as universally applicable or as solely describing the popular, and, if read with a proper mindset, should be interrogated but not totally discounted.

19. Lists assert property, mastery, possession.

Possession feels apropos in a certain regard, though it all depends on one’s mindset; at least for most, films are not merely names on a piece of paper or on a website, but codified and yet mysterious objects, which shift and change; this idea of the listmaker as lepidopterist only fitfully applies, and ignores the desire to explore the film just below the surface.

20. Lists are an anti-film politics.

Herein lies the central point of disagreement: Gorfinkel sees lists as existing against film, whereas I see them as uplifting and supporting film. Obviously, exclusions have to be made, but this applies in every film pursuit, when one chooses to write about one film instead of another. In many ways, lists are precisely worthwhile because they illuminate what the listmaker values most, which is inevitable and desirable when choosing to value film as an artform.

21. Lists are metrics.

See point 8.

22. Metrics are our enemy, and the enemy of art and of political struggle. Every list is by necessity impossible, and must remain unwritten, a private reckoning. The unwritten list tarries with the inevitable vortex of unknowability into which all films will certainly fall, unless we can defend and describe them better, making space for their work as live and active forms.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the first sentence, which does contain a certain truth about the state of media economy in which we live. However, the act of listmaking is first and foremost a private reckoning, asking the listmaker to evaluate certain films, and thus their own conception of their aesthetic taste. Likewise, listmaking acts as an invaluable step in defending and describing the films, especially when justification is demanded and provided for certain choices.

23. Burn the list to free your ass.

I half-admire the outright polemicism of this statement, which exists so much in the manifesto format that I can’t really dispute it — save for the perception of freedom that I perceive in my dynamic conception of listmaking.

24. The impulse to list is allied with collection, a desire to record, to archive, to remember, to preserve experience and the aesthetic feeling of films one might not otherwise recall. These are meaningful, important and historically enshrined activities, on their own terms. But in this hyper-mediated moment, the recirculated compulsory form of the list – list as desiderata of consumption, a grocery receipt of your watching – has become an instrument of commodity fetishism, of algorithmic capture, of priapic, indulgent self-exposure. Look closely. Who exactly produces this flurry of lists?

Here, Gorfinkel gets at something potentially more truthful and in good faith, before reverting to the far too general castigation of her manifesto. Ideally, lists are by no means compulsory, except if readers expect them. Following this idea, fetishizing taste and self-exposure is much more a tendency of film culture, as seen in point 8; also, as far as I’m aware, my lists aren’t being used as part of any algorithm. And what exactly is wrong with keeping track of what one has watched? Memory already fulfills at least some of that tendency, and relying on the written word instead of the ravages of the mind seems to be an entirely reasonable and worthy endeavor.

25. How many lists must we read to know that their makers have captured the essential existence of these works in a graspable net? Ceaselessly writing, reading and consuming this polluted ocean of lists, we enter into the rotten mercantilism of the cinephilic soul. Perhaps more pernicious practices aggrieve film culture, but even so, lists are as banal and telling a symptom as any of this spoiled, melting world.

This point largely speaks out against the state of film culture, which can frequently be as harmful as Gorfinkel says it is. But, as in points 10 and 19, the lists by no means harness or contain the essential nature of these works, other than the fact that they exist and that they are valued according to the parameters of this list. Furthermore, dynamic lists are by definition ever-expansive and mutable, which is a far cry from the tyrannical, graspable net.

26. Torch your list. If you must count, write as many words about any film not on your list.
Read as many words about a woman filmmaker or filmmaker from the global south.
Or convert those words and characters into units of time, watching a film never on your list.

The sentiments expressed here are slightly admirable, but it begs the question of whether all time should be solely dedicated to the watching of films. Even with such an activity, decompression and space is needed; speaking for myself, listmaking is frequently a therapeutic and relaxing activity, far more (temporarily) concrete than the daily goings-on. And putting a film on a list can do as much to spotlight a film as writing about it.

27. A potlatch of lists: redistribution of resources redirected from the collective energy of list-making.

See point 26.

28. Claiming aesthetic supremacy begins with the list. Would that we had other ways to create spheres of value or to abolish the shallow terms of value altogether, and along with them the capricious and impoverished arbitration of what counts as cinematic art, art worth watching and worth fighting for. The list consolidates as if self-evidence, reasserting in all that it doesn’t list, all that its lister failed to learn, to see, to know.

This contains a central contradiction, insofar as spotlighting and writing about a film inherently categorizes it as “worth fighting for,” whether one puts it on a list or not. The simple fact is that not all art is equal in the eye of any single beholder, which is not to say that not all art should be preserved. But in thinking about film, in discussing it, at least some structure of valuation is necessary to direct one’s energy and focus. As for the last sentence, no person nor group of people has seen every film, and as such their blindspots are inevitably revealed, whether in list or in writing.

29. Lists are for laundry, not for film.

See point 23.

30. If we wash out our eyes and ears and minds, we will find that what clings to us, after the suds clear, are the tendrils of another cinematic world, of images, spaces, voices, passages, struggles, and time: time recovered from its theft by narcissistic cinephilia’s allegiance with capital.

Many lists bear little to no allegiance with capital, and many pieces of writing do, and most importantly practically all possess a certain narcissism. The very nature of the term cinephilia implies a personal relationship and passion with the medium, and discounting that reeks of hypocrisy. And suggesting that individual aspects of a film can’t be evoked by the list is absurd: just seeing the title of a film carries with it such associations for the person who has watched it, and lists offer a way to put them into dialogue.

Ultimately, I don’t wish to discount the importance of writing and research in fostering a sense of cinephilia whatsoever. But for me, lists provide a unique and compact way of expanding the reader’s ideas about film, of giving them the chance to explore more and become exposed to new works and reframing their ideas on those they have already become familiar with. Lists are by no means superior to the films, but provide a structure for them, allowing them to wait for the next person to uncover them and discover the pleasures that await within.

2018 Muriel Awards

Best Feature-Length Film

  1. First Reformed
  2. The Other Side of the Wind
  3. The Day After
  4. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  6. Bisbee ’17
  7. Burning
  8. Zama
  9. Let the Sunshine In
  10. If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Lead Performance

  1. Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
  2. John Huston, The Other Side of the Wind
  3. Kwon Hae-hyo, The Day After
  4. Juliette Binoche, Let the Sunshine In
  5. Kim Min-hee, The Day After
  6. Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  7. Steve Carell, Welcome to Marwen
  8. Clint Eastwood, The Mule
  9. Meinhard Neumann, Western
  10. Yoo Ah-in, Burning

Best Supporting Performance

  1. Steven Yeun, Burning
  2. Brian Tyree Henry, If Beale Street Could Talk
  3. Peter Bogdanovich, The Other Side of the Wind
  4. Bill Heck, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  5. Isabelle Huppert, Claire’s Camera
  6. Philip Ettinger, First Reformed
  7. Haley Lu Richardson, Support the Girls
  8. Zoe Kazan, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  9. Jeon Jeong-soo, Burning
  10. Colman Domingo, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Direction

  1. Paul Schrader, First Reformed
  2. Orson Welles, The Other Side of the Wind
  3. Lucrecia Martel, Zama
  4. Christopher McQuarrie, Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  5. Lee Chang-dong, Burning

Best Cinematic Moment

  1. Soaring over humanity, First Reformed
  2. HALO jump, Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  3. Bathroom escapade, The Other Side of the Wind
  4. Dance in the sunset, Burning
  5. Daniel’s prison monologue, If Beale Street Could Talk
  6. Credits conversation, Let the Sunshine In
  7. Rooftop screams, Support the Girls
  8. Morning routines, The Commuter
  9. Subway bluffing, Unfriended: Dark Web
  10. Explaining the rules, Infinite Football

Best Documentary

  1. Bisbee ’17
  2. Infinite Football
  3. Caniba

Best Screenplay

  1. Paul Schrader, First Reformed
  2. Orson Welles & Oja Kodar, The Other Side of the Wind
  3. Hong Sang-soo, The Day After
  4. Joel & Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  5. Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Ensemble Performance

  1. The Other Side of the Wind
  2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  3. The Day After
  4. Isle of Dogs
  5. If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Cinematography

  1. Alexander Dynan, First Reformed
  2. Gary Graver, The Other Side of the Wind
  3. Hong Kyung-pyo, Burning
  4. Kim Hyung-koo, The Day After
  5. Alfonso Cuarón, Roma

Best Editing

  1. The Other Side of the Wind
  2. Unfriended: Dark Web
  3. The House That Jack Built
  4. Notes on an Appearance
  5. Before We Vanish

Best Music

  1. Michel Legrand, The Other Side of the Wind
  2. Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk
  3. Mowg, Burning
  4. Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs
  5. Thom Yorke, Suspiria

Best Cinematic Breakthrough

  1. Orson Welles
  2. Bradley Cooper
  3. Steven Yeun
  4. Ricky D’Ambrose
  5. Ted Fendt

Best Body of Work

  1. Steven Yeun
  2. Kim Min-hee
  3. Esther Garrel
  4. Bradley Cooper
  5. Alec Baldwin

Best Youth Performance

  1. Koyu Rankin, Isle of Dogs
  2. Abby Ryder Fortson, Ant-Man and the Wasp
  3. Miguel Lobo, Good Manners

Other remarks:
Though this perhaps wasn’t an abnormally great year in film, this ballot was as hard as any I’ve ever made; too many honorable mentions for nearly every category to list.

10th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film of 2008

  1. The Headless Woman
  2. Historias extraordinarias
  3. Two Lovers
  4. Wendy and Lucy
  5. 24 City

25th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film of 1993

  1. Carlito’s Way
  2. Green Snake
  3. D’Est
  4. Schindler’s List
  5. Dazed and Confused

50th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film of 1968

  1. Je t’aime, je t’aime
  2. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  3. The Immortal Story
  4. Night of the Living Dead
  5. Memories of Underdevelopment

Best Films of the 1980s

  1. Sans soleil
  2. The Terrorizers
  3. Paris, Texas
  4. Blade Runner
  5. Taipei Story
  6. Stop Making Sense
  7. Blue Velvet
  8. My Neighbor Totoro
  9. Manhunter
  10. That Day, on the Beach

Top 16 of 2018

This year, I definitely cut back on both film watching and writing on films released this year in favor of viewing for my podcast. Perhaps because of this general consistency of viewing, despite an even lower number of films that I truly loved than the doldrums of last year, I feel much more enthusiastic about the riches that this film year had to offer. Many of these filmmakers were known quantities, but they seemed to surprise me and reveal heretofore unknown depths or avenues, in ways that augmented their strengths rather than serving as the sole overwhelming asset.

The following list is formed from the reds, oranges, greens, and blues that I have seen at time of writing that were commercially released in New York City in 2018. A list, not the list.

first reformed

1. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

other side

2. The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles)

day after

3. The Day After (Hong Sang-soo)

fallout

4. Misson: Impossible – Fallut (Christopher McQuarrie)

ballad

5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel & Ethan Coen)

bisbee

6. Bisbee ’17 (Robert Greene)

burning

7. Burning (Lee Chang-dong)

zama

8. Zama (Lucrecia Martel)

soleil

9. Un beau soleil intérieur (Claire Denis)

beale street

10. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)

before we vanish

11. Before We Vanish (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

isle of dogs

12. Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)

camera

13. Claire’s Camera (Hong Sang-soo)

lazzaro

14. Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher)

girls

15. Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski)

star

16. A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper)

My Top 10 Discoveries During 2018 (for first-time viewings of films made before 2000)

  1. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942, Orson Welles)
  2. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944, Vincente Minelli)
  3. Only Angels Have Wings (1939, Howard Hawks)
  4. Late Spring (1949, Yasujiro Ozu)
  5. Napoléon (1927, Abel Gance)
  6. A Star Is Born (1954, George Cukor)
  7. Sansho the Bailiff (1954, Kenji Mizoguchi)
  8. Taipei Story (1985, Edward Yang)
  9. Gertrud (1964, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
  10. That Day, on the Beach (1983, Edward Yang)

2018 Seattle Film Critics Nominations Ballot

Note: Zama was deemed ineligible.

Best Picture

  1. First Reformed
  2. The Other Side of the Wind
  3. The Day After
  4. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  6. Bisbee ’17
  7. Burning
  8. Let the Sunshine In
  9. If Beale Street Could Talk
  10. Before We Vanish

Best Director

  1. Paul Schrader, First Reformed
  2. Orson Welles, The Other Side of the Wind
  3. Christopher McQuarrie, Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  4. Lee Chang-dong, Burning
  5. Hong Sang-soo, The Day After

Best Actor

  1. Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
  2. John Huston, The Other Side of the Wind
  3. Kwon Hae-hyo, The Day After
  4. Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  5. Meinhard Neumann, Western

Best Actress

  1. Juliette Binoche, Let the Sunshine In
  2. Kim Min-hee, The Day After
  3. Regina Hall, Support the Girls
  4. Esther Garrel, Lover for a Day
  5. Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Steven Yeun, Burning
  2. Peter Bogdanovich, The Other Side of the Wind
  3. Bill Heck, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  4. Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther
  5. Tim Blake Nelson, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
  2. Isabelle Huppert, Claire’s Camera
  3. Haley Lu Richardson, Support the Girls
  4. Zoe Kazan, The Ballad of Buster Scurggs
  5. Jeon Jeong-soo, Burning

Best Ensemble Cast

  1. The Other Side of the Wind
  2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  3. The Day After
  4. Isle of Dogs
  5. If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Youth Performance

  1. Koyu Rankin, Isle of Dogs
  2. Marco Graf, Roma
  3. Abby Ryder Fortson, Ant-Man and the Wasp
  4. Miguel Lobo, Good Manners
  5. Mahour Jabbari, Ava

Best Villain

  1. August Walker, Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  2. Ben, Burning
  3. Stephen Taubes, Notes on an Appearance
  4. Buster Scruggs, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  5. Ayoub El-Khazzani, The 15:17 to Paris

Best Screenplay

  1. Paul Schrader, First Reformed
  2. Orson Welles & Oja Kodar, The Other Side of the Wind
  3. Hong Sang-soo, The Day After
  4. Joel & Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  5. Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Animated Feature

  1. Isle of Dogs

Best Documentary Feature

  1. Bisbee ’17
  2. Monrovia, Indiana
  3. Caniba
  4. Hale County This Morning, This Evening
  5. The Green Fog

Best Foreign Language Film

  1. The Day After
  2. Burning
  3. Let the Sunshine In
  4. Before We Vanish
  5. Claire’s Camera

Best Cinematography

  1. Alexander Dynan, First Reformed
  2. Gary Graver, The Other Side of the Wind
  3. Hong Kyung-pyo, Burning
  4. Kim Hyung-koo, The Day After
  5. Alfonso Cuarón, Roma

Best Costume Design

  1. The Other Side of the Wind
  2. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  4. Let the Sunshine In
  5. Claire’s Camera

Best Film Editing

  1. The Other Side of the Wind
  2. Bisbee ’17
  3. Let the Corpses Tan
  4. Let the Sunshine In
  5. Ready Player One

Best Original Score

  1. Michel Legrand, The Other Side of the Wind
  2. Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk
  3. Mowg, Burning
  4. Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs
  5. Thom Yorke, Suspiria

Best Production Design

  1. Isle of Dogs
  2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  3. The Other Side of the Wind
  4. Burning
  5. If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Visual Effects

  1. The Other Side of the Wind
  2. Before We Vanish
  3. First Reformed
  4. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

2017 Muriel Awards

Best Feature-Length Film

  1. On the Beach at Night Alone
  2. The Work
  3. Faces Places
  4. Princess Cyd
  5. Good Time
  6. Baahubali 2: The Conclusion
  7. The Post
  8. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
  9. 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)
  10. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Lead Performance

  1. Kim Min-hee, On the Beach at Night Alone
  2. Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
  3. Rebecca Spence, Princess Cyd
  4. Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread
  5. Cynthia Nixon, A Quiet Passion
  6. Robert Pattinson, Good Time
  7. Jessie Pinnick, Princess Cyd
  8. Kristen Stewart, Personal Shopper
  9. Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
  10. Tim Robbins, Marjorie Prime

Best Supporting Performance

  1. Hong Chau, Downsizing
  2. Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)
  3. Elizabeth Marvel, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
  4. Robert Pattinson, The Lost City of Z
  5. Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip
  6. Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
  7. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
  8. Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
  9. Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
  10. Lois Smith, Marjorie Prime

Best Direction

  1. Josh & Benny Safdie, Good Time
  2. Bertrand Bonello, Nocturama
  3. Eduardo Williams, The Human Surge
  4. Steven Spielberg, The Post
  5. Paul W.S. Anderson, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Best Screenplay

  1. Hong Sang-soo, On the Beach at Night Alone
  2. Stephen Cone, Princess Cyd
  3. Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
  4. Noah Baumbach, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
  5. Matías Piñeiro, Hermia & Helena

Best Cinematography

  1. Sean Price Williams, Good Time
  2. Darius Khondji, The Lost City of Z
  3. Janusz Kaminski, The Post
  4. [no credit], Phantom Thread
  5. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, Call Me by Your Name

Best Editing

  1. Nocturama
  2. Wonderstruck
  3. Ex Libris – The New York Public Library
  4. Lady Bird
  5. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Best Music

  1. Oneohtrix Point Never, Good Time
  2. Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread
  3. Carter Burwell, Wonderstruck
  4. Jon Brion, Lady Bird
  5. Bertrand Bonello, Nocturama

Best Documentary

  1. The Work
  2. Faces Places
  3. Ex Libris – The New York Public Library

Best Cinematic Moment

  1. Heartbeats, The Work
  2. Digital magic, The Florida Project
  3. Webcam transition, The Human Surge
  4. Projector breakdown, By the Time It Gets Dark
  5. Face dissolves, Félicité
  6. Photographs, A Quiet Passion
  7. Miranda’s monologue, Princess Cyd
  8. Questions with father, Hermia & Helena
  9. Dream memory, Call Me by Your Name
  10. Swan boat, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion

Best Youth Performance

  1. Millicent Simmonds, Wonderstruck
  2. Brooklynn Prince, The Florida Project
  3. Oona Laurence, The Beguiled

Best Cinematic Breakthrough

  1. Vicky Krieps
  2. Tiffany Haddish
  3. Rian Johnson
  4. Timothée Chalamet
  5. Greta Gerwig

Best Body of Work

  1. Sean Price Williams
  2. Nahuel Pérez Biscayart
  3. Robert Pattinson
  4. Buddy Duress
  5. Damien Bonnard

Best Ensemble Performance

  1. Lady Bird
  2. 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)
  3. The Post
  4. Marjorie Prime
  5. Mudbound

Other remarks:
If it were eligible, Twin Peaks: The Return would take up most of the spots on this ballot.

10th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 2007

  1. Death Proof
  2. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
  3. Hot Fuzz
  4. The Darjeeling Limited
  5. Persepolis

25th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1992

  1. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
  2. Rebels of the Neon God
  3. The Last of the Mohicans
  4. Raising Cain
  5. The Story of Qiu Ju

50th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1967

  1. The Young Girls of Rochefort
  2. Dragon Inn
  3. Wavelength
  4. La Chinoise
  5. Playtime

Top 19 of 2017

2017 was, to put it mildly and flippantly, an utter oddity of a year in so many ways. When I look at my list, the overall quality of the films themselves was perhaps no poorer than in the monumental selections of the past two years, but there was a certain bewilderment, a malaise that put me at a distance. With the exception of Twin Peaks: The Return, there was practically no film where my love was not complicated in some way, and it seems equally due to the films as it is to the year at large.

The following list is formed from the reds, oranges, greens, and blues (plus a few more) that I have seen at time of writing that were commercially released in New York City in 2017. It is a snapshot rather than a permanent fixture.

no1

1. On the Beach at Night Alone (Hong Sang-soo)

no2

2. The Work (Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous)

no3

3. Faces Places (Agnès Varda & JR)

no4

4. Princess Cyd (Stephen Cone)

no5

5. Good Time (Josh & Benny Safdie)

no6

6. Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (S.S. Rajamouli)

no7

7. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)

no8

8. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Noah Baumbach)

no9

9. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)

no10

10. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Paul W.S. Anderson)

no11

11. The Son of Joseph (Eugène Green)

no12

12. 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute) (Robin Campillo)

no13

13. Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda)

no14

14. Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)

no15

15. The Post (Steven Spielberg)

no16

16. Hermia & Helena (Matías Piñeiro)

no17

17. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson)

no18

18. The Human Surge (Eduardo Williams)

no19

19. Downsizing (Alexander Payne)

My Top 10 Discoveries During 2017 (for first-time viewings of films made before 2000)

  1. A Touch of Zen (1971, King Hu)
  2. The Terrorizers (1986, Edward Yang)
  3. Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock)
  4. Rio Bravo (1959, Howard Hawks)
  5. A New Leaf (1971, Elaine May)
  6. Ashes of Time (1994, Wong Kar-wai)
  7. Surviving Desire (1991, Hal Hartley)
  8. Do the Right Thing (1989, Spike Lee)
  9. The Unbelievable Truth (1989, Hal Hartley)
  10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper)

2017 “Senses of Cinema” Ballot

Hypothetical ballot for the 2017 Senses of Cinema World Poll. Mostly based on 2017 New York City commercial releases.

1. Twin Peaks: The Return (2017, David Lynch)

2. On the Beach at Night Alone (2017, Hong Sang-soo)

3. Three Films From Ten Seconds Into the Future:
The Human Surge (2016, Eduardo Williams)
By the Time It Gets Dark (2016, Anocha Suwichakornpong)
Kékszakállú (2016, Gaston Solnicki)

4. Humanist Documentaries
The Work (2017, Jairus McLeary and Gethin Aldous)
Faces Places (2017, Agnès Varda & JR)

5. Independent Breakthroughs:
Princess Cyd (2017, Stephen Cone)
Good Time (2017, Josh & Benny Safdie)

6. Auteurist Franchise Works
Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017, S.S. Rajamouli)
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016, Paul W.S. Anderson)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017, Rian Johnson)

7. “American” Histories:
The Post (2017, Steven Spielberg)
Phantom Thread (2017, Paul Thomas Anderson)
The Lost City of Z (2016, James Gray)

8. Family Dramedys
Lady Bird (2017, Greta Gerwig)
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017, Noah Baumbach)
The Son of Joseph (2016, Eugène Green)

9. French Sensuality:
120 BPM (Beats Per Minute) (2017, Robin Campillo)
Personal Shopper (2016, Olivier Assayas)
Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)

10. Old Masters:
Ex Libris – The New York Public Library (2017, Frederick Wiseman)
Song to Song (2017, Terrence Malick)

2017 Seattle Film Critics Society Nominations Ballot

Best Picture

  1. On the Beach at Night Alone
  2. Faces Places
  3. Princess Cyd
  4. Good Time
  5. The Post
  6. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
  7. 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)
  8. Lady Bird
  9. Phantom Thread
  10. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Best Director

  1. Josh & Benny Safdie, Good Time
  2. Bertrand Bonello, Nocturama
  3. Eduardo Williams, The Human Surge
  4. Steven Spielberg, The Post
  5. Paul W.S. Anderson, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter

Best Actor

  1. Robert Pattinson, Good Time
  2. Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
  3. Claes Bang, The Square
  4. Adam Sandler, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
  5. Ben Stiller, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Best Actress

  1. Kim Min-hee, On the Beach at Night Alone
  2. Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
  3. Rebecca Spence, Princess Cyd
  4. Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread
  5. Cynthia Nixon, A Quiet Passion

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)
  2. Robert Pattinson, The Lost City of Z
  3. Tim Robbins, Marjorie Prime
  4. Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
  5. Dustin Hoffman, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Elizabeth Marvel, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
  2. Lois Smith, Marjorie Prime
  3. Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
  4. Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip
  5. Julianne Moore, Wonderstruck

Best Ensemble Cast

  1. Lady Bird
  2. 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)
  3. The Post
  4. Marjorie Prime
  5. Mudbound

Best Youth Performance

  1. Millicent Simmonds, Wonderstruck
  2. Oona Laurence, The Beguiled
  3. Brooklynn Prince, The Florida Project
  4. Valeria Cotto, The Florida Project
  5. Ahn Seo-hyun, Okja

Best Villain

  1. The texter, Personal Shopper
  2. Fei and Lin, The Ornithologist
  3. Rose, Get Out
  4. Dr. Isaacs, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
  5. James Murray, The Lost City of Z

Best Screenplay

  1. Hong Sang-soo, On the Beach at Night Alone
  2. Stephen Cone, Princess Cyd
  3. Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
  4. Noah Baumbach, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
  5. Matías Piñeiro, Hermia & Helena

Best Animated Feature

  1. Your Name.
  2. My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea

Best Documentary Feature

  1. Faces Places
  2. Ex Libris – The New York Public Library
  3. Starless Dreams
  4. Escapes
  5. Rat Film

Best Foreign Language Film

  1. On the Beach at Night Alone
  2. Faces Places
  3. 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)
  4. The Son of Joseph
  5. Nocturama

Best Cinematography

  1. Sean Price Williams, Good Time
  2. Darius Khondji, The Lost City of Z
  3. Janusz Kaminski, The Post
  4. [no credit], Phantom Thread
  5. Ed Lachman, Wonderstruck

Best Costume Design

  1. Phantom Thread
  2. Nocturama
  3. Princess Cyd
  4. Good Time
  5. Lady Bird

Best Film Editing

  1. Nocturama
  2. Wonderstruck
  3. Ex Libris – The New York Public Library
  4. Lady Bird
  5. Thirst Street

Best Original Score

  1. Oneohtrix Point Never, Good Time
  2. Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread
  3. Carter Burwell, Wonderstruck
  4. Jon Brion, Lady Bird
  5. Bertrand Bonello, Nocturama

Best Production Design
N/A

Best Visual Effects
N/A

A Few Notes on the Oeuvre of Terrence Malick

fields

Since Terrence Malick is, for good reason, one of the most hotly discussed and alternately valorized and vilified auteurs currently working, laying out his aesthetic obsessions and goals seems more than a little futile. But what fascinates me most is the way in which his predilections change, sometimes radically, from film to film. Aside from someone like, say, Godard, no other prominent filmmaker has had such a radical turning point or concrete stages of their career, but at least from my view it seems just as helpful to group each of his (narrative, feature-length) works into duos, specifically ones where the second of each group of two provides a notable stepping-stone point with which Malick leaps to his next stage of either profundity or pretension, depending upon your stance.

The most obvious of these, naturally, is that of his first two films, Badlands and Days of Heaven. At the risk of being reductive, they are the two films even most Malick detractors enjoy, as they have an altogether grounded and staunchly character-driven narrative, and Badlands in particular has a more conventional look and feel to it than any of his other films. But even in Days of Heaven lie the seeds of the next stage of development: there is a rather notable reliance on the handheld, and overall more and more attention is paid to the natural elements surrounding the love triangle. And of course, Linda Manz’s voiceover is characteristically opaque, though it acts more as a backbone – as in Badlands – than the ruminations that are to follow.

Another fairly standard pair comes in the form of The Thin Red Line, Malick’s return to the stage of American cinema, and The New World. The similarities are patently clear: they are both historical films dealing with pivotal events (if not individual moments) in American history, and they are the longest films of Malick’s career (when looking at the extended cut of the latter, which is is the one I viewed). Additionally, both are immersed in nature, respectively beginning and ending with scenes of the natural world that feel at once serene and disquieting, and seem to be told in both very broad and very intimate strokes. The New World, with its relative freedom from something on the order of the tense action of the Battle of Guadalcanal (though it too boasts a remarkable, visceral battle sequence) reaches ever more towards the meditative scenes of connection in an almost primal state; the scenes of John Smith commingling with the Powhatan are among the most moving in his entire filmography.

Easily the most illogical pairing, on the surface, comes from arguably his most acclaimed and most underrated films, respectively, The Tree of Life and To the Wonder. The first is his grandest, most “cosmic,” while the second is, to my eyes, his simplest and most small-scale (and his first film set fully in the modern world). But both provide some of his richest and most finely attuned work with characters, and both are (creation of the universe digression aside) firmly situated in the South. Days of Heaven also shares this setting, but it feels paramount to these films, a setting both clearly definable and yet universal to Malick’s own sense of Americana. And both have scenes of immense catharsis and power: The Tree of Life with its beach/heavenly reunion and To the Wonder with a climactic, almost halo-infused parting – religion figures prominently in these two films as a central touchstone of the culture, including but not limited to Bardem’s character.

Leaving aside Voyage of Time, with its necessarily protracted production and putatively documentary aspects, the final pair thus far is of two films situated in specific entertainment industries: Knight of Cups with its ennui-ridden Hollywood and Song to Song with its hedonist Austin music scene. Both rely heavily on their respective milieus and have a surfeit of cameos, and both feel relentlessly modern; while To the Wonder has a certain timeless quality only occasionally broken, these two are utterly of a specific moment already gone. What progression Song to Song offers is unknown, especially with the purportedly back-to-basics nature of Radegund, but it is important to say that Malick has and, God willing, never will regress. He does recapitulate and return to certain themes and ideas, but his cinema is one of innovation and breathtaking beauty and empathy.

The Making of an Instant Classic: Carol

Originally written for the Scarecrow Blog.

What constitutes an instant classic in the realm of art? This varies from medium to medium (it seems that instant classics are made much more readily in music than in film, for example) and undoubtedly person to person: one’s deep, abiding love for, say, Pedro Costa’s Horse Money doesn’t necessarily translate to a wider cultural consensus or recognition of it. And even this cultural consensus has several layers to it, though for the purposes of this piece I will be only talking about the “cinephile culture” at large, and not the audiences who only attend the multiplexes a few times a year.

All of that being said, it is fascinating to see what films become effectively canonized as classics upon their very release, and for what reasons this happens. Perhaps the most salient and clear-cut example comes in the form of the 2015 film Carol, very likely the only non-franchise (see: Mad Max: Fury Road) instant classic to come out of that year. It exists at a unique, fascinating intersection of what might be considered traditional hallmarks of the classic – pop-culture cachet, notable cast and crew, specific subject matter – and yet it exists slightly apart from those, standing as a masterpiece on its own terms.

Anyone reading this is likely familiar with the overall narrative of Carol, but it is worth touching on some of the more important and basic elements. Directed by the widely acclaimed auteur Todd Haynes, beloved for films such as Safe, Velvet Goldmine, and Far From Heaven, the movie is an adaptation of the landmark queer novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith. It stars Rooney Mara as a young storeworker and photographer in New York City during the Fifties who falls in love with a slightly older housewife played by Cate Blanchett, intently tracking the slow-gestating attraction and relationship against a frigid and suspicious cultural backdrop.

Such a spare narrative would usually result in a good but not great film, a romance that would contain some but not a great deal of emotion. But in the hands of Haynes, his magnetic stars, and his immensely talented collaborators – including but not limited to screenwriter Phyllis Nagy, cinematographer Ed Lachman, and composer Carter Burwell – it becomes almost too romantic, too emotionally charged to bear. The resulting critical attention was immense and overwhelmingly adulatory, a response only matched by the widespread dismay at the lack of a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.

But what sets Carol apart is its resulting afterlife after the end-of-year hoopla had died down. Part of it is its already enormous cachet in the repertory theater scene – Metrograph’s 35mm print has already played more than a few times to sell-out crowds, beginning less than four months after it was released in the United States – but it appears to be even more deeply rooted in the personal connections. More than most truly lasting films of recent times – the aforementioned Mad Max, Boyhood, Holy Motors – there is the sense that it is felt more deeply from each lover of the film to another, often drawing on a sense of recognition in the unabashedly queer nature of the film. It is a film that is seen over and over and cherished with unmistakably deep love and pride, which characterizes something all too rare in the realm of art. Most of all, it seems to both move beyond and stay tightly knit to the people to which it matters most.