Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Best and Worst of 2017

Well, it's that time of the year when everyone is doing their 'best and worst of' lists, so here is mine. I'm going to list the books and movies I read/watched in 2017 and then pick my favourites. This isn't restricted to what was new in 2017, but what I actually watched and read - some of these items might be very old indeed.


I read the following in 2017:

Rosalie Parker (editor) – Strange Tales V
Trevor Denyer (editor) - Ghost Highways
Chris Beckett – Dark Eden
Paul Trembley – Headful of Ghosts
Stewart Lee – Content Provider
Ted Chiang – Stories of My Life
Adam Nevill – Last Days
Dennis Potter – Blackeyes
Raymond Chandler – The High Window
L P Hartley – Facial Justice
Joan Lindsay – Picnic at Hanging Rock
Sapper – Bulldog Drummond
JG Ballard – The Drought
Helen Callaghan – Dear Amy
Colette de Curzon – Paymon’s Trio
Jeannette Ng – Under The Pendulum Sun
David Wheldon – The Automaton
Alison Moore – The Harvestman
Nicholas Royle – Ornithology
Cameron McCabe – The Face On The Cutting Room Floor
Tim Robbins – Tibetan Peach Pie
James Joyce – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Hank Janson – Operation Obliterate
Tom Robbins – B is for Beer
Paul Meloy – The Night Clock
Christopher Kenworthy (editor) – The Sun Rises Red
Gary Indiana – Horse Crazy
Vladimir Nabokov – Mary
Amber Royar – Free Chocolate
Philip Roth – The Human Stain
Paul Cain – Fast One
D F Lewis – Weirdtongue
Joel Lane – The Edge of the Screen
Joe Gores – Interface
Jeff Noon – The Body Library
Steve Nuwar – Crystal Garden
John Elliott - Dying To Read

That's worked out at 37 books this year, down from last year's 43 which is probably because I find it increasingly hard to stay awake reading at night. There was nothing I loathed this year, although I did find Ballard's "The Drought" very hard going and also the expectations I had with Paul Tembley's "Headful of Ghosts" fell far short of reality. Paul Cain's "Fast One" also didn't earn the merit I'd been told it had. Other than that, there were some good books this year. Special mentions to Philip Roth's "The Human Stain" (my first experience of Roth, and despite a couple of reservations it was a gripping read), Paul Meloy's "The Night Clock" (absurdly, beautifully skewed), Tom Robbins autobiography "Tibetan Peach Pie" (which prompted me to write to the author from which I received a nice personalised reply), Vladimir Nabokov's "Mary" (it's Nabokov: word-love from the opening sentence), Nicholas Royle's "Ornithology" (a collection of short stories almost making the top three), Cameron McCabe's legendary bizarre "The Face on the Cutting-Room Floor", Adam Nevill's "Last Days" (brilliantly written horror), and Chris Beckett's "Dark Eden" (brilliantly written SF).

Before the final reveal I also want to mention three books I proofread this year for Angry Robot. I usually don't include 'work' books in my listing (in some instances it would be unprofessional to do so, and it would bump the number up by another twenty titles), but appearing this year "Under The Pendulum Sun" by Jeannette Ng was an intriguingly plotted theological fantasy, and being published next year are the inventive how-can-this-work-but-it-does "Free Chocolate" by Amber Royar and the enjoyable "The Body Library" by Jeff Noon. All well-worth seeking out.

As usual, I'm going to base my top three from my Goodreads review. This is very straightforward for 2017 as only three books received 5/5 and putting them in order feels quite natural. So, without further ado, here they are:

In reverse order:

"Interface" by Joe Gores

This is a cracking crime novel, about as hard-boiled as they come; superbly paced and brimming with danger. It also includes the best car chase I think I've ever read in a novel - and considering I'm not even a fan of such in movies that's really saying something. Involving, frenetic, and clever, I have no reservations in including this in my top three, especially due to the totally left-of-centre perfect ending.

"The High Window" by Raymond Chandler

Everything I've read by Chandler borders on the brilliant and this is no exception. So many good lines, so many perfect wisecracks and scintillating descriptions. The plot hangs good, takes a surprise turn but finishes neatly wrapped. I couldn't fault it.

And the winner is:

"Horse Crazy" by Gary Indiana

I thought this to be an outstanding dissection of a relationship (in this case, homosexual). In some ways - obliquely - it reminded me of the obsessive love story, "The Tunnel", by Ernesto Sabato which I also adore. And whilst this book is in many respects completely different to that, the resonances meant that I enjoyed it all the more. Packed with anecdotal detail, occasional comedy, and utter frustration from the narrator, this short novel feels painfully real - a perfect example of how love distorts reality, opaquely, in which the madness revealed is just as tantalising as love's absence, of how obsession can wreck even the most logical of us. This is easily the best book I read in 2017.


I watched the following in 2017:

Rear Window
Love Crimes
A Man Escaped
La Grande Bouffe
Our Man In Havana
King of Devil Island
The Royal Tenenbaums
The VVitch
What Have You Done With Solange?
Capturing The Friedmans
Ex Machina
Anatomy of Hell
California Split
Bunny Lake Is Missing
La Femme Coquette
The Owl Man
My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
Modern Romance
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
About Schmidt
Un Chien Andalou
The Chase
La Rupture
Homo Sapiens
The Bitter Tea of General Yen
Mr Deeds Goes To Town
You Can't Take It With You
The Lady From Shanghai
Le Révélateur
The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Maki
The Tenth Victim
Funny Games (US)
The Virgin's Bed
The Assassin
Inherent Vice
Les Hautes Solitudes
The Hitch-Hiker
In A Lonely Place
The Reckless Moment
The Revenant
Summer With Monika
Les Gouffres
Baby Driver
3:10 To Yuma
Maps To The Stars
It Comes At Night
Scabbard Samurai
Cries and Whispers
Murder by Contract
Blood Simple
Intolerable Cruelty
The Passenger
Annabelle: Creation
Suddenly, Last Summer
The Magnificent Ambersons
La Ville des Pirates
A Nos Amours
The Signal
Blade Runner 2049
The Towrope (La Sirga)
Le Chinoise
Shinjuku Triad Society
The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds
Four Flies on Grey Velvet
Rainy Dog
White Ant
Autumn Leaves
Experiment in Terror
Dead Or Alive
The Fountain
On Body and Soul
Daddy’s Home 2
Wet Woman In The Wind
Irma Vep
Once Upon A Time In America
Radio Mary

That's 99 movies this year, a sharp drop from 144 last year, but we've tended to have a more involved social life this year! Of course, it's still a long list to narrow down to my top three, and unlike books I don't have a site equivalent to Goodreads with which to guide my memory.

As usual, however, I'm discounting movies I've previously seen. So this knocks out Hitchcock's classic "Rear Window" with that slo-mo Grace Kelly kiss, Dali and Buñuel's always enjoyable "Un Chien Andalou", and Godard's colour-coded "Le Chinoise". A surprisingly small number of re-watches this year.

Those movies which I found annoying or awful are easy to chronicle, and this unfortunately includes the 1965 pulp flick "The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds" which should have remained lost, "The VVitch" (which I really wanted to enjoy but just seemed too silly), "Ex Machina" (so much potential, inadequately realised), "Dunkirk" (just not my kind of film, underwhelming), and - no doubt controversially - "It" (I simply felt it was unsure of it's audience).

This leaves us with some great movies. I thoroughly enjoyed "Youth", directed by Paolo Sorrentino (whose "The Great Beauty" I will never stop raving about), "La Grande Bouffe" (a film about a group of friends who plan to eat themselves to death), "The Royal Tenenbaums" (sheer comic joy from start to finish from Wes Anderson), "In A Lonely Place" (classic film noir), "Les Gouffres" (slipstreamish French film, weirdly disjointed), "Baby Driver" and "Blade Runner 2049" (both of which I saw at the cinema and were thoroughly enjoyable), "On Body And Soul" (a close call not to be in my top three, a Hungarian love story set in a slaughterhouse), "Homo Sapiens" (a documentary film about forgotten or abandoned places, from Fukushima to Bulgaria - no voiceover, but featuring only natural sounds to create beautifully eerie scenes), Cronenberg's "Maps To The Stars" which I now barely remember other than that I enjoyed it, and the Japanese "Antiporno" (which I saw between Christmas and New Year and almost made my top three - visually beautiful, challenging and potentially heartbreaking).

I get the feeling that another day might produce marginally different results, but - today - here are my top three movies I saw for the first time in 2017
Again, in reverse order:

"Symbol" (2009) - Hitoshi Matsumoto

An absolutely bonkers movie where a Japanese man awakes in a glaringly white room and sets off a weird chain of events by depressing the genitals of cherubs in a certain order. Meanwhile, in Mexico, Escargot Man prepares for a wrestling match which he surely can't win. Somehow - through sheer audacity - these storylines converge in an unbelievably audacious ending which must be seen to be believed. Constantly inventive, humorous, and strangely life-affirming, "Symbol" easily makes my top three this year.

"Persona" (1966) - Ingmar Bergman

Can't believe I hadn't seen this before as I've enjoyed a lot of Bergman films, but from the start I was held captive by this intense and beautiful psychological drama. The themes of duality, insanity and identity resonate perfectly, and the ambiguity inherent in this enigmatic film is powerful and compelling.

And the winner is...

"Le Révélateur" (1968) - Philippe Garrel


Thanks to my subscription to Mubi I've discovered so many interesting works which otherwise would have been unknown to me. This film by French director Philippe Garrel is one of these. A strangely affecting experimental narrative with some wonderfully beautiful, jaw-dropping scenes. The central 4-yr old child is played incredibly well, appearing much older than their years. The title describes the procedure to develop or 'reveal' film negatives, and this slow - totally silent - movie entrances throughout. If you like this kind of film, it's a masterpiece. The above image doesn't do it justice, so here's another:

So that's it. Looking forward to reading and watching more in 2018!

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