Big Screen Berkeley: Our favorite films of 2017

Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky, our film critic John Seal’s favorite film of 2017

For those of you who might have lost track of the time, it’s once again the end of the current calendar year. Most of us, I think, will be fairly pleased to turn the page on 2017 and take our chances with 2018, despite the likelihood that the next 12 months will see us hurtle even further into the political, social, and environmental abyss. But, um, season’s greetings and Happy New Year, and here’s my annual Favorite Films list!

A brief reminder of the ground rules: I didn’t see every film that was released in 2017 (and — dirty secret of the trade! — neither did any of those other film critics), so please don’t be cross with me if your personal fave isn’t here. And this isn’t a list of the ‘best’ films of the year, either… merely a list of personal favorites, roughly listed in order of enjoyment. Don’t get too hung up on the placing — from 1 to 15, these are all good films.

And now, on with the show!

  1. Lucky: The death of star Harry Dean Stanton immediately prior to Lucky‘s release probably colored my impressions of the film, but I suspect it would remain at the top of the list were he still with us. A deeply moving study of a rather unlikeable man, the film also served as a well deserved curtain call for a remarkable actor.
  2. Il Boom!: So what if it was made in 1963 – Il Boom! didn’t get released in the US until this year! It’s an extremely funny take on post-war consumer capitalism, headlined by the great Alberto Sordi as a hapless Italian businessman.
  3. The Other Side of Hope: Released only a few weeks ago and still fresh in my mind, The Other Side of Hope was the most mordant tragicomedy of 2017. Which, of course, is a good thing!
  4. The Movie Orgy: So what if this was made in 1968 – The Movie Orgy had never been shown in the Bay Area until this year! Director Joe Dante’s four and a half hour long tribute to pop culture, early television, and trash movies is a unique experience, and because copyright issues will prevent it from ever being released on home video or shown on television you’ll need to cross your fingers and hope Joe brings his print back to the Bay soon.
  5. The Ornithologist: Do you like unsettling, surreal art movies? This is a really good one!
  6. Love and Taxes: The long-delayed sequel to Josh Kornbluth’s Haiku Tunnel was easily the funniest film of the year. Of course, I didn’t see The Emoji Movie, so I might be wrong…
  7. The Girl Without Hands: In a perfect world, this hand-painted gem would be a frontrunner for Best Animated Feature at next year’s Academy Awards. The world, however, is far from perfect.
  8. The Salesman: Technically a 2016 release (but released in the Bay Area in January), this feature won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and proved that the Iranian film industry is still alive and kicking.
  9. Fritz Lang: An unusual blend of documentary and drama, this feature examines the genesis of Lang’s 1931 masterpiece M. Features beautiful black and white photography and a memorable performance by Samuel Finzi as serial killer Peter Kürten.
  10. Quest: Now scheduled for wider release in early 2018, this outstanding documentary about a working-class Philadelphia family was one of the highlights of this year’s Frameline Festival.
  11. Keep the Change: I steer clear of romantic comedies on principle, but this one wormed its way into my heart. If you’re a fan of peak period Woody Allen, you’ll enjoy it.
  12. God’s Own Country: Top rank kitchen-sink drama from the UK.
  13. The Transfiguration: 2017 was short on decent horror flicks, but this tale of pre-adolescent vampirism left a mark. It was supposed to get a wide release, but so far hasn’t had one, so you may need to track it down on a streaming service.
  14. Get Out: And speaking of horror flicks: I wasn’t quite as taken with Get Out as some were, but it’s still a solid piece of entertainment. And was I the only person who was reminded of the rather lackluster Vincent Price chiller Scream and Scream Again?
  15. Turn It Around – The Story of East Bay Punk: The feel-good documentary of the year tells the story of Berkeley’s 924 Gilman Street.