This felt like a strange, bad year for everyone. Our norms and discourse eroded. Facts no longer mattered; arguments mattered even less. Every day brought a new litany of horrors, and the only positive outcome was that many predators were finally getting what they deserve. If 2016 was all about the loss of our heroes, 2017 was about what to do without them. Despair, numbness, and gallows humor seemed like the most popular coping mechanisms, while giving up – or the idea of giving up – was a tantalizing possibility. I kept coming back to the tagline for the WW2 drama Dunkirk: survival is victory. 2017 felt like that.
Before I get to my year-end lists, I want to highlight a few noteworthy films, shows, books, albums, and plays (in chronological order):
Silence (viewed January 3rd). Scorsese’s spiritual historical drama, adapted from a Shūsaku Endō novel, was penetrating and disarming in a way that we rarely see from a major release. It also showed a different kind from Scorsese, letting an understated style serve the story. For further reading, I recommend Glenn Kenny’s outstanding essay about the film.
“The Trespasser” by Tana French (finished January 27th). Over the course of several books, Tana French has become my favorite crime writer, and her latest is her best novel yet. It has the quality of my favorite mysteries: in the middle, you cannot fathom how it could possibly end, and yet it wraps in a way that is both inevitable and elegant.
Get Out (viewed February 21st). What an unexpected treat this film was. More than anything else I saw this year, Get Out was really crowd-driven. At my screening, all the laughs, screams, and gasps only made me respect Jordan Peele’s respect for his craft – and his audience. More importantly, there was a clarity of purpose to Get Out that many other films this year lacked. As Peele said in his interview with Wesley Morris, “One of the reasons this movie clicked with more than just a black audience is because you get to be black while you’re watching it.”
“Feed the Rats” by Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs (listened March 1st). I should be embarrassed about this album, since it was recommended to me by a Spotify algorithm. Still, it ended up being my favorite hard rock album of the year because the musicians never forget that metal can – and should – have a boogie to it.
Big Little Lies (finished in April). This miniseries was one of the best bait-and-switches I’ve seen on television. I thought I had an idea about where the show was going, only to discover that its tightly-controlled purpose was more serious than the black comedy of the first episodes. I still don’t get why the show needs a second season, but if anyone is going to attempt it, I’m glad it’s Andrea Arnold.
Win It All (viewed April 10th). In a just world, this shaggy dog charmer would be getting an end of year push. Jake Johnston creates a lovable degenerate gambler, and his redemption arc studiously avoids the easy beats we’ve come to expect from this genre. Win It All reminds me of John Cassavetes at his peak, minus his inscrutable streak.
“Untitled” by WALL (listened May 3rd). It’s fitting that the year’s best post-punk record would come from a band that broke up before its release. Few songs ripped harder this year than “Wounded at War.” For a tune that is so fun and catchy, it’s also angry as hell.
“Lovecraft Country” by Matt Ruff (finished May 30th). As an odd quirk, I happened to read a lot of modern Lovecraft riffs in 2017. This one was the best by a mile, a stunning mix of horror and Jim Crow-era historical fiction. I cannot wait to see what Jordan Peele does with it.
“II” by The Courtneys (listened June 19th). The shoegaze pop was the summer escapism I needed – sorry, Carly Rae Jepsen – and “Silver Velvet” is one of those songs that I know will transport me to this period, rose-colored glasses included.
“Wig Out!” by Tarell Alvin McCraney (viewed July 23rd). This update of McCraney’s early was the most fun I had at the theater this year. The staging was bold and intimate, with the audience facing each other as we’re treated to one bravura cabaret performance after another. At this particular performance, there was a young man in the front row who was so giddy and excited he kept shouting “YASSSSS” for what felt like every thirty seconds. I doubt I’ll ever forget him.
Difficult People, season 3 (viewed in August). This felt like the first piece of media that was made specifically after the 2016 election. Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner were merciless, picking on everyone from Trump, to Kevin Spacey, to Woody Allen. There was also a deeper emotional component to this season, with recognizably human characters staking out their place in a country that sneers at them. It was downright cathartic to watch them sneer back.
Polina (viewed August 30th). This one took me completely by surprise. It follows a young Russian ballet dancer from her early years, until she blossoms into an original artist. Directors Angelin Preljocaj and Valérie Müller made a crowd-pleaser that’s more Rocky than Black Swan, with a final dance number that’s downright sublime.
mother! (viewed September 12th). Holy hell, I enjoyed the fuck out of this one. It was confusing at first, but once it got going, the sheer insanity had me laughing harder than any traditional comedy. I never would have expected that Darren Aronofsky of all filmmakers to channel Bunuel, but I’m glad he did. More importantly, I think history will ultimately treat mother! kindly.
“The Price” by Arthur Miller (viewed October 18). I enjoyed the mid-century stagey quality to this production. It was a deft mix of the personal and political, with the Depression weighing heavily on the schism between two brothers who went down different paths only to find the same existential despair. Also, even at age eighty-six, Hal Linden still hd audiences wrapped around his bony long fingers.
“Any Other Way” by Jackie Shane (listened November 29). This lost soul album, originally released in the early 1960s, is just what I needed as my seasonal affective disorder kicked into high gear. When I first heard this album, I didn’t know it was reissue, so my first thought was, “This is a great rejoinder against folks who say they don’t make them like they used to.” Turns out they’re right.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (second viewing December 19). Having seen it twice, I now have a better sense of what a towering success this movie really is. It just might be the best Star Wars to date, and certainly the best action film since Mad Max Fury Road. And as a friend noted on Gchat, the big lightsaber duel is the closest this franchise will get to an honest-to-God sex scene.
That’s it! This continues to be a fun project, so I plan to continue it indefinitely. I’m not much of an archivist, so this diary is the best way for me to chronicle what I think, care about, and ultimately defend. Now, onward to the lists!
End of Year Stats
- 204 films, 22 books, 85 seasons of television, 126 albums, and 8 plays
- Total average: 3.56
- Averages by medium:
- Films: 3.44
- Books 3.7
- Music: 3.58
- TV: 3.78
- Theater: 4.21
- “Hamilton” by Lin-Manuel Miranda (seen at Richard Rogers Theater)
- “Wig Out!” by Tarell Alvin McCraney (seen at The Studio Theater)
- “The Price” by Arthur Miller (seen at Arena Stage)
- “The Lover” by Harold Pinter (seen at The Shakespeare Theater)
- “The Father” by Florian Zeller (seen at The Studio Theater)
- “The Trespasser” by Tana French
- “The Twenty Days Of Turin” by Giorgio De Maria
- “You: a novel” by Caroline Kepnes
- “October” by China Mieville
- “Priestdaddy” by Tricia Lockwood
- “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert
- “Borne” by Jeff Vandermeer
- “Universal Harvester” by John Darnielle
- “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid
- “Lovecraft Country” by Matt Ruff
- “A Crow Looked at Me” by Mount Eerie
- “Untitled” by WALL
- “DAMN.” by Kendrick Lamaar
- “Nothing Feels Natural” by Priests
- “Aromanticism” by Moses Sumney
- ”No Pop” by Odinis Odinis
- “Survival Pop” by Worriers
- “Feed the Rats” by Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
- “Slowdive” by Slowdive
- “Pushin Against a Stone” by Valerie June
- Difficult People, season 3
- The Leftovers, season 3
- Better Things, season 2
- The Handmaid’s Tale, season 1
- The Good Place, season 2
- Dear White People, season 1
- Big Little Lies
- Catastrophe, season 3
- Sneaky Pete, season 1
- Big Mouth, season 1
- Get Out
- The Work
- Call Me By Your Name
- Win it All
- Lady Bird
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
- The Beguiled
- The Disaster Artist
- Ex Libris
- The Shape of Water
- Faces Places