Although we have another facetiously titled Michael Haneke film to ring in the New Year with, it is a decidedly unhappy end considering the content of the best theatrical offerings of the year. Distributors like A24 and Sony Pictures Classics continue to dominate with the best auteur laden offerings for US audiences—however, 2017 was also a year filled with daring ventures from smaller labels daring to launch hard-sells. Vision Films took Rebecca Zlotowski‘s third feature, for instance, and despite starring Natalie Portman, it was quickly dismissed and forgotten (even though it’s one of the most elegantly queer items you’re apt to stumble across in contemporary climes). Strand Films continues to be a trailblazer by releasing queer art-house items—it’s hard to imagine anyone else attempting to unleash Amat Escalante‘s Zulawski ode The Untamed, or Portuguese auteur’s sumptuous The Ornithologist.
But labels like The Orchard and Magnolia Pictures each had their share of vibrant festival titles (BPM and The Square, respectively), and not unlike any other year, studio offerings were problematic or compromised visions (an exception being Jordan Peele‘s exceptional debut Get Out, which is a retooling of 1975’s The Stepford Wives). And for once, 2017 yielded a crop of festival winners which weren’t demeaning to the overall lineup. While not everyone loved Palme d’Or winner The Square, this was hardly the contentious winner, at least as compared to what took home top prize in 2015 and 2016. Likewise, Ildiko Enyedi’s win out of Berlin for On Body and Soul, Wang Bing’s win for Mrs. Fang out of Locarno, and even Guillermo Del Toro’s Venice win for The Shape of Water (despite something like Paul Schrader’s First Reformed being the more daring title) suggest a move away from juries simply awarding whatever had the most topical, well-meaning message.
But as I was saying, the strongest offerings of 2017 either dealt with the horrors of the past or disillusionment in the present, even while many of these were festival holdovers from 2016 (Russia’s Andrey Konchalovsky revisits the Holocaust with formidable intensity in his latest, Paradise, which took home Best Director out of Venice and received a limited theatrical release courtesy of Film Movement). Period pieces regarding the subjugation of women’s agency (from Brize’s A Woman’s Life to Planetarium to Davies’ take on Emily Dickinson featuring a career best Cynthia Nixon to the dueling personas played by Mary J. Blige and Carey Mulligan in the 40s set Mudbound) as well as the repression of sexuality in the past (BPM) and present (The Wound; The Untamed; A Fantastic Woman) makes for a rather distressing but altogether worthwhile crop of titles from the past year.