This is a recap of the best movies I saw in 2017 that I hadn’t seen before. It was a good year (for movies).
I was thrilled to “discover” some women filmmakers’ whose work I wasn’t familiar with (Andrea Arnold, especially) and to watch more Akerman and Varda. I often found myself thinking about “performance”—as in, the thing an actor does that becomes notable, or is notable precisely because it isn’t. I’m not a fan of the Daniel Day-Lewis type . . . thing. I much prefer Robert Bresson’s rejection of the actorliness of actors:
ÊTRE (modèles) au lieu de PARAÎTRE (acteurs).
[BEING (models) instead of SEEMING (actors).]
I generally admire the work of those who use non-actors or not-well-known actors in their films—Bruno Dumont, for example, though he disappointed me terribly by using Juliette Binoche in his Camille Claudel 1915, a film I avoided for a long time out of fears that, turns out, were justified.
All this points to my appreciating restraint, silence, and an absence of gimmickry in the craft of acting. But then there are plenty of performances I love which have none of that. I mean, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy? Divine? James Gandolfini? So genre has something to do with it, but still it’s difficult to say what precisely “it” is, except that it’s inevitably thrown into relief by the ever-perplexing Anglophone awards season that’s now under way. (Isn’t the winner basically always either Meryl Streep or Charlize Theron in “ugly” makeup?)
Anywho, these are my favorite performances from movies I saw in 2017: Gillian Anderson in The House of Mirth, Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel, Ivan Dobronravov in The Return, James Howson in Wuthering Heights, Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out, Nicole Kidman in Birth, Vanessa Redgrave in The Devils, Delphine Seyrig in Jeanne Dielman, and the truly gifted and greatly under-valued Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer:
Even movies I didn’t entirely love but appreciated for some reason or other (and often the reason was the casting) showcased some utterly moving work by actors: Ben Whishaw’s John Keats in Bright Star and Cynthia Nixon’s Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion; James Wilby and Rupert Graves in Maurice; and Ezra Miller as the psychopath progeny of Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin—Miller shall soon appear, I predict, in an Anne Rice-Sally Potter’s Orlando-pastiche about a fashionable vampire coming to terms with this ability to hang out in graveyards in daylight.
I despise Lars von Trier (except for the first season of The Kingdom) and Breaking the Waves is full of Trierisms, but Emily Watson kept me watching to the end. Read More