1. 'Happiness' Sabu's meditation on the nature of memory combines goofy and bitter halves to make something much more profound than other recent films which revolve around a memory erasing/viewing helmet (The Village of No Return, Battle of Memories, Eternal Sunshine). Your happiest and saddest memory are so closely linked it's just a push of a button or fidget of a knob to switch between the two. It was a good year for Masatoshi Nagase who plays the long-faced man with a painful mission, dropped off in a small town with nothing but the clothes on his back and a case with his invention inside.
2. 'Hans Teeuwen: Real Rancour' It's been about a decade since Teeuwen's initial English language performance. Just as brilliant and with more hit songs, Real Rancour has an immediacy that Live in London did not as he drops the apolitical thing to comment as directly as he can on political correctness, cultures of fear, horses who are insecure despite having big cocks, and Islam. He has a lot to say and never resorts to pandering or taking the easy way of ranting to the audience out of character that has become the go to mode. Includes such Teeuwen standards: "The Ballad of White Guilt," "Terrorist Boy," and "Anal Sex Woman."
3. 'Bad Genius' The high school heist where instead of jewels or bundles of cash the loot is the answers to exam questions. Based on actual cases of students cheating on college-entrance multiple choice exams, Bad Genius became the highest grossing Thai film of 2017. The foundation of the film is the discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots, Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying delivers a great debut performance as Lynn, the student who comes up with one ingenuous idea after another to give her richer classmates the answers in exchange for the cash to cover her tuition. The climactic big score is a palm-sweating sequence that doesn't let up for a solid half-hour.
4. 'Before I Fall' The teenage Sisyphus and the high-school set absurdist life. A "moral teen picture." A high school senior shithead (Zoey Deutch) learns to better herself once she's forced to relive the same Cupid's Day. The places the film goes become increasingly profound as she peels back her existence more and more, the film dropping the literal dressings of the time-loop story in favor of becoming outright allegory.
5. 'Twin Peaks: The Return' It feels weird to call The Return Lynch's best work but the unsentimental continuation he and Frost have come up with for the series combat's the usual nostalgia mess that these sort of revivals are prone to becoming. Part 8 alone is worth a Showtime subscription but the entirety of the program expertly trains the viewers how to watch for the sole purpose of deceiving expectations once the last two hours hit. Hopefully this is it for Lynch and Twin Peaks as it would be hard to come up with something more haunting with the same lasting power. Then again, this shouldn't have been this good and was never predictable so possibly a fourth season could work with the same gestation period for the two show runners.
6. 'Alley Cat' Seeing this with the Japan Cuts crowd included the entirety of the audience erupting into applause twice. An odd couple movie that turns into an odd triple. And all the shit started over disputed ownership of a lost cat. For fans of Tokyo Godfathers and other stories of low-lives and losers getting another chance to face the pasts that haunt them whether they like it or not.
7. 'The Shape of Water' For the freaks and the losers, whose haven is the movie house. This understands that musical numbers are meant to convey what the characters can't; something reflective of the deeper, inarticulate feelings - usually related to matters of the heart. Gets a pass for taking the laziest route possible for Michael Shannon's character who should have been the Frankenstein's monster of the film. A man sewn together made up of ideological inputs.
8. 'Close-Knit' It's been a while since Ogigami's last film. She applies her expertise in the makeshift family unit to a girl whose mom skipped town once again, leaving her to turn to her uncle whose living with his new girlfriend Rinko (Toma Ikuta playing wonderfully against type). The girl needs a father and a mother. The father doesn't need to be her actual father and the mother doesn't need to have started out as a woman.
9. 'The Future Perfect' Eighteen year old Xiaobin left China and has moved in with her family in Argentina. She's taken up Spanish language courses and as her proficiency in the language changes, so does the form of the film reflect this. At first she is limited in what she can communicate in Spanish, therefore her future, as depicted in the film, is limited to working in the laundromat her family runs. Once she learns the conditional tense, the tense of possibilities, the film blossoms, allowing Xiaobin free reign to ponder the different paths her life can take. It's exhilarating to watch a film feel like it's a living organism, able to be manipulated by the forces inside the world of the film as opposed to the usual external inputs of writers and directors.
10. 'Bamseom Pirates Seoul Inferno' If someone asked you to guess the country that put a man in the clink for sarcastically liking a tweet, I would assume that South Korea would not be a top choice for any sensible person. This documentary on a two-piece experimental punk band and their disregard of societal taboos captures a small piece of this battle between some jesters and all those insensible people. Try not to fall in love with the Bamseom Pirates and their accompanying live PowerPoint presentations. Like Kim Ki-duk's The Net (also from this year), Jung Yoon-suk's films posits that fear has made the two halves of the Korean peninsula more similar than either side, especially the Southern government, would like to admit. Features the hit song "All Hail Kim Jung-il!"
11. 'War on Everyone' The story of two cops who seem to know they are in a buddy-cop picture. They dance to Glen Campbell, watch Soderbergh films, and appreciate the fine arts, something usually relegated to villains (in this case, the villain likes to fuck kids). There's a beauty to the hatred Peña and Skarsgård have for the world and themselves. A man stares into Christina's World as Campbell plays in the background. For all the films that try to pay homage to the action films of the 70s, War on Everyone is the only one willing to be as messy and carefree at the risk of not bending over backwards to appease nostalgia or audience's desire for right-angled screenwriting.
12. 'Rage' Lee Sang-il mixes three concurrent murder mysteries jumping between Tokyo, Chiba, and Okinawa. It's best to imagine the formal structure of the film as three piano keys (A, B, and C) being used to find alternating patterns among all three but with only two notes at a time. Lee will hold his finger on one key while tapping another key at a steady beat, then changing it up to include the third note. It's a breeze to watch and amazingly pessimistic in its outcome for all three stories. Trust and distrust equally destroy meaningful human connections.
13. 'Brawl in Cell Block 99' Reminiscent of the Mann protagonist: a man with an unwavering core of values who knows the risk of the line of work he engages in and accepts the punishment he receives. He is also deeply violent and capable enough with his rage to do some work on another body when provoked. See with a crowd to enjoy a symphony of winces during the brutal climax.
14. 'Happy Death Day' It seems like only shit heads get caught up in time loops. A massively entertaining subversion of the slasher film in which the body count is one ad nauseam.
15. 'Bamy' An impressive indie which at times feels like a good approximation of what Ghostbusters would be like had Kiyoshi Kurosawa directed it. His influence is profusely felt in BAMY but Jun Tanaka seems to take the idiosyncrasies further and at more frequent intervals; ill-timed music cues, genuinely unnerving imagery, and a bonkers finale.
16. 'Nathan for You: Finding Frances' Nathan Fielder continues to surprise. In the feature length finale to the fourth season, Nathan goes across the country helping a Bill Gates impersonator, who may not be who he says he is, reconnect with the one who got away. Along the way Nathan and the (love)sick Bill Heath engage in a number of convoluted acts of fraud such as pretending to be producers for the sequel to Jeff Nichols' Mud in order to steal some old high school year books. The more uncomfortable meditations on love and regret are not shied away from. Late in the plot Nathan begins seeing an escort and from there it;s an examination of the role mutual deception and performance play in modern romance.
17. 'A Billion Colour Story' After suffering the same conflicts (usually of a religious nature) time after time it's easier to point out apocalypse over poetry. Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy's film believes that there is still poetry left in India, and let's assume the rest of the world as well, despite one family's trials when caught inside the conflict between Hindu and Muslim. Better yet, film is where the poetry lies. Shot in black and white, a beautiful movie about the ability to see color (i.e. beauty) where there's not.
18. 'By the Time it Gets Dark' The second feature from Anocha Suwichakornpong is a multi-faceted portrait of a country. A filmmaker interviews an older woman about the political activism of her youth. Time and genre are blended as we go between the present and the 1970s to the Thammasat University massacre. Disparate styles are utilized: the ethereal qualities of Weerasethakul's camera flow into a commercially slick music video production. If Bad Genius represented exciting development's in Thailand's commercial cinema, this film does the same for the art-house.
19. 'The Disaster Artist' Not as pleasurable as Ed Wood as Franco doesn't shy away from the uglier aspects of Wiseau's person, The Disaster Artist is still overall a celebration of the spirit to just go and make something on your own. On one level it applauds Wiseau's sincerity to make The Room so personal, seeing the journey it took to become a cult hit as inspirational. Franco delved so deep into the story that he's moved on from the over-asked superficial questions of Tommy's identity, suggesting that what we need to know he put into his own film.
20. 'Tremble All You Want' Winner of the audience award at the Tokyo International Film Festival, Akiko Ohku's film is a slaphappy rendition of a thirty-something's pursuit of a selfish love. It slowly descends into the well of doubt and insecurities that come with the territory but not before a thrifty musical number.
21. 'Radiance' Kawase's latest about the relationship between a famous photographer losing his eyesight and a young woman who writes the descriptive audio for films is a moving look at the trepidation the self encounters before putting faith into another person after a life of disappointments. It's center is the plight of the artist seeking to articulate the unspoken qualities of a work of art. It's an impossible task but treated heroic because of its passion for the unattainable.
22. 'Jim and Andy - The Great Beyond - Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton' This film at times feels like having a one-on-one with a candid, reflective Jim Carrey. The idea of escaping from yourself long enough to figure out which parts are dispensable is incredibly alluring.
23. 'Gerald's Game' Mike Flanagan's quickest witted film since Oculus. There's something euphoric about Carla Gugino handcuffed to a bed having a conversation with multiple iterations of herself and her husband (Bruce Greenwood) in the same room. The craft on display for the interactions between memory, reality, and imagination is something else.
24. 'Claire's Camera' Huppert reunites with Hong for a quickie at Cannes. The scenes between her and Kim Min-hee have an adorable quality to their awkwardness. The only one missing from this ESL opus was Ryo Kase.
25. 'The Other Side of Hope' Able to derive pathos and humor out of the topic of the refugee experience, Kaurismaki seems to be where Kore-eda was a few years ago, where the perfection of his style now seems effortless.
25. 'Downrange' Finally Kitamura made an English language followup to No One Lives. A pared-down thriller in which a group of people are pinned down by a sniper, stuck behind their flat-tired van on the side of an unpopular stretch of road. Once again Kitamura's technique is both highly thought out while remaining no-nonsense.
26. 'The Mummy' Tom Cruise at his most scoundrel. In The Mummy he remains average almost the whole way through. Greedy, not very bright, and prone to getting his ass kicked, Cruise continues to subvert the perfect, all-American hero image that's been assigned to him. Probably his funniest blockbuster since Ghost Protocol. Fuck all haters.
Other Favorites (in ABC style): A Beautiful Star, A Double Life, A Whale of a Tale, Alien: Covenant, American Made, And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool, Aroused by Gymnopedies, Aqérat, At the Terrace, The Babysitter, The Bad Batch, Bad Rap, Better Watch Out, Birdshot, The Blue Hearts, The Book of Henry, Brad's Status, Bright, Buster's Mal Heart, Confessions of a Murderer, Daguerreotype, Dark Side of the Light, Dearest Sister, Death Note, Death Row Family, Destruction Babies, Detour, Doomed!, Dragonfly Eyes, Five Came Back, The Fate of the Furious, Friend Request, Ghost in the Shell, Gook, Haruneko, Have a Nice Day, Hengyoro (Queer Fish Lane), Ice Cream and the Sound of Rain Drops, John Wick: Chapter 2, Keep Watching, Killing of a Sacred Deer, Lady Macbeth, Logan, Logan Lucky, Lost in Paris, Love and Goodbye and Hawaii, Love and Other Cults, Mad World, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, The Mayor, The Meyerowitz Stories (new and selected), The Net, Noise, Okja, Opening Night, Our House, Our Time Will Come, Personal Shopper, Poolside Man, Pop Aye, Risk, Saigon Bodygaurds, Saving Sally, Sleight, Soul Mate, Sound of Waves, Split (US), Split (S. Korea), Stronger, Superpower Girl, Swaying Mariko, Ten Meter Tower, Thelma, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, The Tiger Hunter, Tokyo Vampire Hotel, Traces of Sin, The Trip to Spain, The Truth Beneath, The Untamed, The Village of No Return, The Wall, The White Girl, Wind River, Your Name, Yourself and Yours
Shame Makers (top of head style): Angels Wear White, Brimstone, The B-Side, Beach Rats, The Night is Short Walk on Girl, In This Corner of the World, Her Love Boils Bathwater, Dunkirk, Lipstick Under My Burkha, The Square, Alena, I Olga Hepnarova, Slack Bay, Nocturama, A Taxi Driver, Coco, Call Me By Your Name, Phantom Thread, The Day After, Ingrid Goes West, The Third Murder, Before We Vanish, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, 24 Frames, Bodied, Oh Lucy!