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Welcome to our annual year-end poll of the best films of the year, coming to you only one month late! This year’s poll of contributors and friends of the magazine resulted in a landslide victory for Hong Sang-soo’s November release On the Beach At Night Alone, which had a 9-point lead over our number two pick. In addition to the top ten listed below, we’ve commissioned a few blurbs from our team of editors on films that made the list, as well as a couple honorable mentions that we felt deserved your attention. Without further ado:

1. On the Beach At Night Alone
2. The Shape of Water
3. Lady Bird
4. Faces Places
5. Call Me By Your Name
6. Get Out
7. Nocturama
8. The Florida Project
9. The Square
10. A Quiet Passion

 

Faces Places

Roaming the French provinces with artist (and co-director) J.R., Agnès Varda seeks out a penumbra of French citizens including aging miners, estranged wives of shipmen, and a homeless artist. Varda and J.R. photograph them and plaster their images as bigger-than-life murals on dilapidating buildings. This story structures the film, but its spiritual thread is Varda’s confrontation with her own mortality told with characteristic clarity, empathy and fun. At one point she quips, “I look forward to death because that will be that,” at another we witness a gruesome close-up of her painful eye treatment (she is losing her sight) intercut with the famous cow eye slicing scene of Un Chien Adalou. A stunning sequence unfolds when Varda and J.R. paste a mural of the photographer (and old friend of Varda’s) Guy Bourdin onto the remains of a Nazi bunker on the shores of Normandy. The next day the image is gone, erased by the violent tide. “The sea always has the last word,” Varda remarks. The image, whether plastered or moving, becomes an ode to transience. The onscreen decay of the image and the lingering question of what will become of these fragile murals is just one of the many triumphs stemming from Varda’s essayistic earnestness. – Matthew Rivera 

 

Hermia and Helena

Matias Piñeiro’s second feature opens with a false start. Carmen, a young artist from Buenos Aires, bids goodbye to her summer lover and graduate fellowship administrator before returning from New York to Argentina. The film will eventually reveal itself to center not on Carmen but on Camila, a friend who replicates her path at the fellowship, dalliance and all. Camila plans to spend her time translating A Midsummer Night’s Dream into Spanish: like all of Piñeiro’s protagonists, she deals with Shakespeare, but only ever in brief flirtation or quick, attenuated thematic turns. Initially austere, Camila loosens her focus on academia, wandering into the outer boroughs; as her attitude becomes increasingly lax, so does the plot’s chronological progression. Soon, Piñeiro is shuffling between snowy downtown Manhattan and candlelit Argentinian nights, populated with seemingly unrelated figures whose respective bearings on Camila’s story are left unexplained. Why did Camila continue on Carmen’s path? The answer is just as likely to be found in a drawn-out fade transition or upside-down tracking shot of the Brooklyn Bridge as it is in the film’s numerous interpersonal conversations.  – Addie Glickstein

 

BPM

At times, BPM (120 battements par minute), the third directorial feature by Robin Campillo, feels like a defiantly ethereal treatment of the most somber of subjects, the AIDS crisis as seen through the eyes of activist group ACT Up in the early 1990s. At its essence, BPM is a love story; however, it eschews the anesthetized cliches that cling to most stories about romance and sickness. Campillo focuses instead on the sheer force of a love thrown defiantly in the face of death, choosing to feature sex that is altogether tender and erotic and sad—best seen in one incredible scene transpiring in a hospital bed—and underlining the strength required to continue engaging in a world that seems disinclined to return the favor. The very best films have in common only their ability to retrieve something verbally inexpressible about the potency of the human experience. These films access a stance that resonates with life lived in all of its frustration and joy, creation and depletion, connection and isolation; in the unfathomable tragedy of its finiteness.  By that criterion, BPM is easily among the best films of the year. – Madeleine Collier

 

A Quiet Passion

Biopics often take an episodic approach to narrative in order to condense a person’s life into a single film, but such an approach is particularly suited to director Terence Davies. Someone who has always balanced classical style and structures with a tendency towards the post-modern and the expressionistic, Davies is a particular master at capturing these small, almost Proustian moments of sense-memory, whether it be a child enchanted by the light coming through a window and hitting his bedroom carpet in The Long Day Closes, or a reassuring song that emanates from a train station full of people taking shelter from the London blitz in The Deep Blue Sea. Considering this, I’ll just highlight one shot from A Quiet Passion, his Emily Dickinson biopic, that has stuck with me ever since I saw the film last May: the camera begins on young Emily’s face and slowly makes a 360 degree turn around her living room, capturing the individual routines of each of her family members as well as the specific aspects of decor and design that define the space. The camera, finishing its rotation, lands back on Emily who now has tears in her eyes, as if she knows that this image of beauty, this representation of all that she knows and loves in the world, will soon be gone forever. – Etan Weisfogel