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Willow Maclay’s Top 10 Films of 2017

Written by Willow Maclay on January 3, 2018 

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Cinema cannot save us. It’s not going to force Donald Trump to resign from office. It isn’t going to soften the hearts of Republicans who want to destroy the economic future of the current generation of American youths. It isn’t going to halt global warming. It is not going to end things like racism and transphobia and homophobia. Roger Ebert once famously said that cinema is an empathy machine, but the notion of such an idea is more complex than simply saying cinema can change the world through its narrative achievements. Cinema can foster empathy, but only on a case by case person by person basis, and what are we to do if the films that do force viewers to think aren’t available in the small towns and lower economic areas of the world? If these films that can have a positive effect on viewers and challenge their everyday thinking cannot reach beyond a multiplex then how are we supposed to expect anything of real world importance from the movies? One could argue that the internet equalizes the ability to watch whatever you want, but then what do we say of net neutrality? Cinema as a tool of open engagement is in danger, much like everything else. To live through 2017 is to wonder which of your rights will be stripped today by the powers that be day in and day out. The cinema that has most affected me in 2017 has been the films which in some way offer some idea of what it was like to live through the year or provided at least some glimmer of hope through creation in wake of what felt like a daily grasp of barely holding on in the face of utter annihilation.

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

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The penultimate chapter of the Resident Evil franchise saw W.S. Anderson team up with Doobie White, who worked as an editor on Red Bull/Monster Energy drink films like Crank: High Voltage and Gamer. In theory this pairing should be a nightmare considering W.S. Anderson’s penchant for slow motion- symmetrical, pirouette violence, and Doobie White’s pop rocks and coke style of editing, but instead their divergent styles mixed to create a kind of flip-book kineticism which ushered in a new kind of movement to action cinema. W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil films frequently reinvented themselves over the years, beginning with a riff on Assault on Precinct 13 before evolving into a Wachowskian affair until finally at full circle becoming a grand amplitude ballet with dense, complicated geographic patterning and the messianic arrival of the heroine Alice (Milla Jovovich). The Resident Evil franchise is the most abundantly rich formal genre spectacle of the 21st century, and went out with maybe its best film yet.

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

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A great sin of mine as a cinephile is that I have always been a Hong skeptic. Perhaps it is due to his distancing effect as a formalist, but I’ve never been able to fully grasp onto the ins and outs of his filmmaking in an emotional context. On the Beach at Night Alone is an entirely different story. This is the most direct film I’ve ever seen Hong make with his camera centering Kim Min-hee and giving her the space to really ask viewers to latch themselves onto her journey. Kim needed to be exceptional here and she is, giving one of the best performances of the year which is by turns funny, charming, and absolutely devastating. By the time we actually do get to the titular beach, Kim’s lonely desperation feels unbearable and her inability to truly reach out to others feels catastrophic. Hong, to his credit, merely observes, which is the right choice when an actor of Kim’s power takes the reins. I’m thrilled to see where Hong goes next.

8. Your Name. (Makoto Shinkai)

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The big, sweeping, melodramatic, body-swapping epic you can only ever expect to come from anime. Makoto Shinkai’s gorgeous rendering of two souls intertwined is a warm, fuzzy affair of reversed gender roles and life expectations of a young boy and a young girl until a disaster happens that separates them from one another. Shinkai’s film is structurally similar to Kei Horie’s teen melodrama on love and memory, Forget Me Not, and bears some of the same heartbreaking effects as Johnnie To’s Romancing in Thin Air, proving once and for all that the best melodrama is coming out of Japan these days.

7. In This Corner of the World (Sunao Katabuchi)

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To put it quite mildly it was startling to watch atomic bombs go off in two films this year (this one and Twin Peaks) while the world at large was waiting in anxiety as the two most ill-equipped men in the entire world decided if we should go to nuclear war. In the context of Twin Peaks the bomb is the ultimate evil, but Katabuchi takes a different approach and doesn’t mince words with metaphor by showing the devastation of the bomb through burnt bodies and total destruction of life in Hiroshima. The brilliance of Katabuchi’s film, however, is not in the death it shows, but in the perseverance of life. Families conserve food, they share resources and total strangers become guardian angels with shared bomb shelters and woolen coats. In This Corner of the World is Japan as a unified entity forced to come together to survive the difficulties of the war. It is a work in a similar vein of the great Isao Takahata. In This Corner of the World is a sister film to his Grave of the Fireflies and a vital, essential animation.

6. Personal Shopper (Directed by Olivier Assayas)

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The first text message movie. Kristen Stewart delivers a performance of masculinity and femininity within conflict as she works as a personal shopper for a movie star while she deals with the grief of her recently departed brother. Assayas’ camera lets Stewart control the frame with her entire body and injecting even her text message conversations with personality, like her dubious punctuation. Assayas chooses to constantly reinvent the movie throughout from a fashion picture to a ghost story to a murder mystery. It keeps viewers on their toes, and at the center is Stewart who gives what is the best performance of her career to date in one of the best movies of the year.

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