If you’ve ever watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, there’s a looming question that begins to dominate your every thought while the movie progresses: Why the hell doesn’t she just leave? Why does demure Joan Fontaine allow herself to endure her husband’s ambiguous temperament and, even more reasonably questioned, why does she put up with that damn maid’s psychotic obsession to humiliate her? Paul Thomas Anderson runs with this premise and sets it ablaze in Phantom Thread. His film begins like his protagonist, staid and orderly. Begins. So the joke’s on anyone expecting a BBC masterpiece classic. Vicky Krieps plays the Joan Fontaine to Daniel Day-Lewis’ Olivier-like enigma, attempting to decipher her own place inside of his world. When she can’t, conventionality curtails and that’s when things go off the rails in a refreshingly unsettling manner. It’s as if her character must break the mold of classic storytelling to achieve her own personal goal, for like the film strip melting away in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, character motivation breaks the fourth wall. And so a countryside stroll sharply detouring off course and heading straight for us shocks more than any foreign film I’ve watched this year, granting Phantom Thread high enough kudos in my book to position it at number one.
1. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)
2. The Son of Joseph (Eugéne Green)
3. The Lost City of Z (James Gray)
4. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Juho Kuosmanen)
5. Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)
6. The Orinthologist (João Pedro Rodrigues)
7. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos) and Graduation (Cristian Mungiu)
8. God’s Own Country (Frances Lee)
9. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas)
10. Happy End (Michael Haneke) and Slack Bay (Bruno Dumont)
The main perk of working at a movie theater is the ability to watch a glutinous amount of films without, say, mortgaging your house – although there is a movie pass to ease this sorta thing now, I hear. But yeah, this list reflects a wonderful opportunity to catch just about everything possible. The Son of Joseph is small-scaled and imperfect, a topical French trope – see also Happy End and Slack Bay – that works gangbusters. Then there’s The Lost City of Z, which since I’ve already made a habit of comparing new titles to older films (my life, basically), is a lot like The Bridge on the River Kwai in its ability to exceed genre and tap into novel-like depth. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is honorable mention territory in other people’s lists that cuts deeper for me for no other reason than its energy and fun. And Nocturama is quite remarkable at being so damn original in its news-topic premise that American films would have patted down for Oscar attention.
I’ve mentioned Happy End and Slack Bay, two eccentric pictures that look homespun compared to The Orinthologist. But since Apichatpong Weerasethakul took the year off, it was João Pedro Rodrigues who pointed his camera towards the jungle. The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Graduation are wickedly funny and incisive, respectively, and God’s Own Country is a movie that is probably better known in the U.K. but got kinda shafted in the States over Call Me By Your Name. Seriously though, give the former a chance if you can. Josh O’Connor gets my ballot for best male performance in the awards show playing in my head.
And where are all those runner-ups, you say? Well, here. Those that could have made the list include Aki Kaurismäki’s The Other Side of Hope, Andrey Zvyaginstev’s (don’t even ask me how to pronounce it) Loveless, and Robin Campillo’s Beats Per Minute – BPM. Oh! And the first two-thirds of Escapes! It’s like watching Kenneth Anger film grammar with a gnarly segment on Teri Garr and another one on Flipper, amongst many.
Then there’s stuff like Ladybird, After the Storm, Get Out, Faces Places, Lady Macbeth, The Death of Louis the XIV, and Free Fire – which I just realized as I’m typing I liked more than Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri if we’re going that direction.
Things that I missed include Frederick Wiseman’s Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In, and Hong Sang-soo’s On the Beach at Night Alone (did this even play in L.A.?), so I’ll be making the rounds for those in 2018. And speaking of 2018, here’s to hoping everyone has a great next year!