Another Seattle International Film Festival has come and gone. That means I spent the bulk of the last six weeks (preview screenings start well before the 25-day festival gets rolling proper) working full time at my day job then spending every available free moment in a movie theater, waiting in line outside a movie theater, or at a computer writing about what I watched inside a movie theater (or, to be honest, sitting on my couch as there are more and more screeners every year).
It’s exhausting and I need a nap. At last count, I watched north fifty movies and wrote more than forty reviews of various lengths for multiple outlets, in addition to a handful of other articles (like this little fella). Not to mention the endless stream of social media and the existential drama of wondering if anyone even cares.
As usual, over the course of this epic slog, I saw some films that blew my hair back, witnessed a few that disappointed me greatly, unearthed a few unexpected gems, and missed a couple I wish I caught. C’est la vie. I didn’t come across too many I hated, which is nice—there are usually at least a few.
But while I quite enjoyed a bunch of films, not many absolutely floored me. A couple kicked my ass, cinematically speaking, but less so and in fewer numbers than in years past. Maybe I’m just a grumpy old asshole. With that in mind, here are my favorite movies of SIFF 2017 in no real order other than that which they occurred to me.
Shot on video in a Ugandan slum for less than the cost of a pair of modestly priced running shoes, Bad Black has more energy and enthusiasm than any Hollywood blockbuster in recent memory. Bonkers and ecstatic, this is a love letter to action cinema like you’ve never seen. And it’s one hell of a wild ride to boot. If you don't know Wakaliwood, now is the time to learn.
We’ve encountered rags-to-riches crime sagas before. It is, after all, one of cinema’s most beloved character arcs. But Wulu, about a young Malian bus driver who turns to drug running for lack of other options, isn’t your typical Scarface-style rise to power tale. This is a quiet, reflexive take about a young man trying to find his place in the world and not necessarily liking where he winds up.
In Moka, a grieving mother methodically plots revenge against the people she believes killed her son in a hit-and-run. Full of slow-burn tension and devastating emotion, it’s more the story of one woman coming to terms with loss and grief than a straight up vengeance narrative. And Emmanuelle Devos’ stunning, heart-rending performance anchors it all.
Bad Day for the Cut
Don’t mess with mothers or guys pushed to the end of their rope, or the mothers of guys pushed to the end of their rope. After hoods grease his ma, Bad Day for the Cut takes a scruffy everyman through a criminal underworld full of sex traffickers in this twisty, bleakly comic saga of violent retribution that never goes where you think it’s heading.
City of Ghosts
Cartel Land director Mathew Heineman returns to tell the story of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently,” a group of citizen journalists whose hometown in Syria has been overrun by extremists and become known “the capital of ISIS.” There are moments that suck all the air out of the room. Even in exile, these brave souls pay a heavy cost, but brief glimpses of normalcy and joy show why they persist.
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World
At almost every SIFF there’s one music documentary I totally dig, and this year that honor belongs to Rumble: The Indians who Rocked the World. This examines the too-often-ignored contributions of Native Americans to the history of rock and roll. Not only does it illuminate a shadowy corner of history, it’s a must-watch for all music buffs. Prepare to have Link Wray’s “Rumble” stuck in your head for weeks.
At 88-years-old, surrealist auteur Alejandro Jodorowsky has obviously spent time recently looking back at his life with the perspective and wisdom of age. Highly autobiographical, Endless Poetry is easily the Chilean director’s most accessible film, but don’t worry, there are still weird-as-hell flourishes like a dwarf in a Hitler costume.
The Cage Fighter
MMA is a rough game for the best fighters, but especially for an aging journeyman plying his trade on the local circuit. Not just a documentary for extant fans—there’s actually relatively little fighting in The Cage Fighter—this is a raw, intimate, unvarnished look at a driven man and the family dealing/putting up with him.
At the End of the Tunnel
Rodrigo Grande’s At the End of the Tunnel won the Golden Space Needle Award at SIFF 2017—the best picture of the fest as voted on by the audience. (Grande also walked away with the Best Director award.) This marks the first time in all my years covering SIFF that a movie I really liked even came close. So good on you, fellow film watchers, for tipping your cap to a movie I called, “Like Hitchcock with a nasty streak.”
A Ghost Story
It’s like Casey Affleck won an Oscar and decided, “For my next movie, I’m just going to wear a motherfucking sheet and stand there.” A lot of people are going to hate David Lowrey’s A Ghost Story, and it is primarily about a sad ghost covered in a sheet creeping on his ex. But it’s also a moving treatise on love, loss, memory, and the passage of time. And we get to watch Rooney Mara eat an entire pie. It’s really not as silly as that sounds, I promise.
These are a few films I dug at SIFF 2017, but there were more. I could include Taylor Sheridan’s noir-inspired Wind River; Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child follow up, Landline; Zoe Lister-Jones' sharp, biting dramedy Band Aid; long-lost shot-on-video oddity Jungle Trap; The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, a documentary look at the pioneering transgender activist that’s part biography, part history lesson, party murder mystery; Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey, an in-depth portrait of a near-mythical figure in the mountaineering world; The Feels, a kind of lesbian riff on Bridesmaids; and a number of others.
As usual, I’m glad SIFF is over—I need a rest like nobody’s business—but also as usual, I’ll be back to do it all over again next year. This is, after all, the life I chose.