MY FAVORITE MEDIA of 2017
To quote Taylor Swift’s year-end Instagram post, “I couldn’t have asked for a better year, all thanks to you.” What’s that? Oh, yeah. 2017 was garbage (politically speaking, not personally). However, it was not entirely devoid of quality entertainment. I wrote a year-end best of post in 2016 but was too depressed by the real world’s politics to put it out into the world. How could I share something so frivolous when there was so many more important and serious matters to be concerned with?
For 2017, I’m in a healthier mindset and I’m not alone judging from the mantra of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi (“We’re going to win this war not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.”). What follows is my celebration of the 2017 media that I loved.
THE BEST FILMS of 2017
Some surprising thematic links emerged as I put together my year-end list. Blade Runner 2049, Dunkirk, and Star Wars investigated narratives told by cogs in the machine and refuted the chosen one narrative that has been popular for decades. The Shape of Water, The Big Sick, Phantom Thread, and Call Me by Your Name shrugged off the labels imposed by the more repressive and small-minded portions of society and were warts and all explorations of love. Lady Bird, Columbus, and Faces Places asserted that paying attention can be defined as love. I paid attention to a lot of films this year and these are my absolute favorites. In most years, I have a clear favorite but this year, I feel passionate about many films and feel that any one of the following would be well deserving of a Best Picture prize.
5. Phantom Thread — Paul Thomas Anderson
He’s a very demanding man, isn’t he? Must be quite a challenge to be with him. — Yes. Maybe he is the most demanding man.
Paul Thomas Anderson just does not have the ability to make a bad movie. His last collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood, was a masterpiece and they have done it again. Phantom Thread follows Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis), an obsessive dress maker who is a true master of his craft. He also happens to be so fussy that he is a bit of an asshole. The film is a fascinating portrait of his relationship with Alma (Vicky Krieps) where the art bleeds well beyond the frame. Conceived after a bout with an illness where he needed to rely upon his wife to nurse him back to health, PTA’s film asserts the importance of both the “in sickness” and the “in health” portions of marital vows.
4. The Killing of a Sacred Deer — Yorgos Lanthimos
Do you understand? It’s metaphorical.
Yorgos Lanthimos is a masterful filmmaker. He can dance on the razor’s edge between black humor and tragedy. Between absurdity and pathos. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is definitely not for everyone. It is frequently described as falling into the horror genre and that is an apt descriptor despite the fact that it is not scary in the least. It is a true horror film in that it generates feelings of dread and depicts horrifying circumstances. Lanthimos’ ability to also play those circumstances for laughs is what elevates this film.
Sacred Deer also is a visual delight. It has a very strong The Shining vibe in production, pace, and score. There have been plenty of films that have aped Kubrick’s style but few, if any, of those films have been more than pale imitations. What Lanthimos does here is employ Kubrickian craft to enrich the narrative and telegraph his tonal and thematic aspirations.
3. Get Out — Jordan Peele
All I know is sometimes, when there’s too many white people, I get nervous, you know?
Seriously scary and hilarious. Jordan Peele’s sure-footed debut has a brilliant central conceit and the audacity to honestly engage with race and racism. Get Out is an instant classic.
2. The Florida Project — Sean Baker
You know why this is my favorite tree?
’Cause it’s tipped over, and it’s still growing.
I’ve been on board with Sean Baker’s work since Tangerine. No other filmmaker can take untrained actors and coax such beautifully authentic performances like Mr. Baker. The Florida Project is a film about childhood. It is also about failed dreams and the importance of kindness. It is largely plotless and consists of a series of vignettes that provide shading of the characters that live at a shabby motel near Disney World. Balancing hope with despair and optimism with chaos and squalor, The Florida Project is a beautiful work that asks difficult questions and does not shy away from harsh realities.
1.Lady Bird — Greta Gerwig
I want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.
What if this is the best version?
So lovely and perfect. Lady Bird climbs right into your grinch heart and grows it three sizes. I am in awe of Greta Gerwig and her beautiful and heartbreaking film about a young woman coming of age (clumsily).
MY FAVORITE TV of 2017
Time is a precious commodity and this year I said goodbye to several shows when they ceased to deliver joy. So long Stranger Things. Bye bye, Bojack. As a result, I watch very little television. However, the following three are worthy of some of that precious time.
- “Who did the dicks?” might not be the most important question of our time but it is one of the more giggle-inducing. What a refreshing and unexpected bit of seriously silly criminal investigation satire. Maybe I’ve got a soft spot for this particular kind of humor because of all of those years teaching middle school. Maybe drawings of penises are just inherently funny. The real joy of American Vandal is that it finds so many ways to milk the humor out of its simple premise. Someone graffiti’d 27 penises on the cars in the high school’s faculty parking lot. But who?
The Good Place
- Michael Schur’s The Good Place was 2016’s best television show. It established a great premise. Eleanor Shellstrop died and woke up in The Good Place but was there by mistake because she was anything but good during her time on Earth. To avoid detection and exile to The Bad Place, Eleanor needed to figure out how to be good. Season one had an all-time great finale that recontextualized the entirety of what had come before and set the table for season two in a wonderfully brilliant way. The fact that this year’s season has exceeded those high expectations is astounding.
- Regardless of whether you call it season three or “The Return,” a tv show or a film, Twin Peaks was undeniably unique and fascinating. It was the best television show I saw. It was also the best thing I watched all year. Full stop. David Lynch does not care about audience expectations or nostalgia. He wants to tell his story the way that he wants to. What he and Mark Frost create is idiosyncratic bliss that is also profound, beautiful, and fun. I still cannot believe that it was made, much less that it was so impossibly good.
MY FAVORITE PODCASTS of 2017
I have a toddler. We go on loads of walks in the park and around the city. We check out the birds, admire the trees, and stop to smell the proverbial flowers. It is quite lovely. But he’s not always a great conversationalist so I listen to podcasts as every podcast host is undoubtedly more loquacious than an 18 month old.
- Griffin and David (and “Produer” Ben) explore filmographies of directors who had early success(es) that “earn” them a blank check from a studio to make whatever passion project he or she so chooses. Connoisseurs of context that provide merchandise spotlights, burger reports, and box office games bound to elicit laughter is just the icing on the top notch film criticism cake.
- I’m still mourning the loss of the best film criticism site, The Dissolve, but thankfully The Next Picture Show provides a “biweekly roundtable examining how classic films inspire and inform modern movies.” Each episode is divided in two with the first examining a classic film and the second half delving into a new release and how it compares to the classic. The rich conversations and curated choices are as enlightening as they are enjoyable.
- These Q and As of directors by directors are great for revealing context behind current releases. Frequently, the podcast provides insight into the brilliance that comes from happy accidents as well as the inspired, intentional moves that directors make on set. A highlight from this year was listening to Greta Gerwig humbly deflect praise of her wonderful film, Lady Bird, and consistently credit contributions from her crew.
MY FAVORITE MUSIC of 2017
I have become old and crusty and set in my ways. I listened to far too little music made in 2017. There were a few new albums from bands that were once upon a time my favorites but so many of them were disappointing (Sleep Well Beast — The National) or unlistenable (Heartworms — The Shins). Of the four albums listed below, only one is from an artist that I “discovered” this year. My 2018 music resolution is to avoid the crutch of new albums from past favorites as it is becoming less and less sustainable.
American Dream — LCD Soundsystem
- James Murphy fretted over his decision to return to his recently retired band. They went out on top in a series of shows at Madison Square Garden in 2011 that left all in attendance sweaty and tired with tear-streaked faces grinning with delight. They did it the “right way.” They stayed “cool” by avoiding the path to becoming a de facto institution by way of not breaking up (Green Day, U2, etc.). American Dream is absolutely teeming with Murphy’s anxiety over returning and it is richer for it. LCD Soundsystem has a knack for making dance music that floats profound introspection about aging, regret, and modernity while maintaining at least a façade of ironic detachment. The anxiety over returning is absolutely on brand. American Dream doesn’t feature any single song that quite reaches the band’s past highs (All My Friends, Someone Great, Dance Yrself Clean) but the more I listen to this album, the deeper I fall in love.
- Highlights: oh baby, i used to, call the police, american dream, and black screen.
Damn. — Kendrick Lamar
- Kendrick continues his streak of unimpeachable classic albums. Much like American Dream, Damn. doesn’t quite have a single track that tops some previous single highs but the consistency elevates the entire album to be just as enjoyable as the “old shit.”
- Highlights: DNA., Element., Feel., and Humble.
Door Girl — Shilpa Ray
- Like an unholy mix of Tom Waits, St. Vincent, and Dusty Springfield or is it The Ramones and Lou Reed filtered through a ukulele-less Zooey Deschanel? Shilpa Ray brings many influences to the table but the music is pure her. It is also pure New York. Lyrics describing the city as a “Cupcake Mahal” with a “billion Duane Reades” “caged in perennial scaffolding” are brilliant distillations of life in our New New York. I’ll never purchase another metrocard without at least humming “Work, work, work, die, die, die, MTA asks Add Value? Add Time? Either way I’ll work ’til I die.”
- Highlights: Morning Terrors Nights of Dread, Add Value Add Time, Shilpa Ray’s Got a Heart Full of Dirt, and You’re Fucking No One
Utopia — Björk
- Björk is an alien visitor and I hope she never decides to hop back in her craft and fly away. If she goes, then who will be left to howl such beautiful raw emotions at us over heavenly choirs and mating calls from the menagerie of creatures living at the galactic zoo? Who will be left to work Kafkaesque into lyrics?
- Highlights: Arisen My Senses, Blissing Me, and Features Creatures
Call Me by Your Name Soundtrack — Sufjan Stevens
- Sufjan Stevens created two tracks (Mystery of Love and Visions of Gideon) for Call Me by Your Name. They would be great songs even if they were completely removed from the context of Luca Guadignino’s wonderful film. Once you have the contextualization of Elio and Oliver falling in love somewhere in northern Italy, it is physically impossible to listen without tearing up. Add in a perfectly deployed “Love My Way” for Armie Hammer to dance to and now you’ve really got something.
RESOLUTIONS FOR THE NEW YEAR
The idea for a film-related set of resolutions came from this 2016 article by Matt Singer. Last year I decided to see more films at the theater and thanks to MoviePass, I totally crushed that resolution. High five, me! For 2018, I’d like to:
- Write more reviews and criticism
- Read more (Up first is Patton Oswalt’s film obsessive memoir Silver Screen Fiend)
- See at least one more film at Sunshine and Lincoln Plaza before they both close in January
- Close out viewing of my blind spots in the filmographies of directors I love (Kubrick’s The Killing, Killer’s Kiss, Barry Lyndon, and Fear and Desire, PTA’s Hard Eight, Lynch’s The Straight Story, Dune, and Lost Highway.)
- See more repertory screenings at Film Forum, IFC, Metrograph, and NY’s many other film meccas
Jason Brown obsessively rewatched Three Amigos on the Brown family VCR as a child. Now, raising a child of his own, he makes short films by day and devours films all night. He currently resides in New York City with his wife and son, where he drinks all the coffee.