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Vague Visages Writers’ Room: Favorite Films, Albums and Books of 2017

Justin Micallef (@JustinRMicallef)

Film: Good Time

What starts as a disturbing exploration of familial exploitation becomes a visceral dissection of late phase capitalism. Robert Pattinson, unrecognizable here, portrays a character that physically destroys any and all around him in service of an immense love, however misguided. If Kierkegaard is correct and the purity of the heart is to will one thing, through all of the ground teeth, ruined lives and bleached hair, Good Time is a love story.

Album: Common as Light and Love are Red Valleys of Blood by Sun Kil Moon

This is Mark Kozelek at his most memetic, no matter how much he would grimace at that deduction. Kozelek, known for his pensive, relentlessly introspective brand of acoustic rock, delivers a two-hour opus on mortality, the death of Elisa Lam and his own infallibility in both the public eye and his own.

Book: Fante Bukoswki II by Noah Van Sciver

Fante Bukoswki is a millennial folk hero; so desperate to become something more than himself, he ignores his own outright void of depression and loneliness in favor of those he wants to craft onto himself, inspired by his idols. It’s a funny book but never a cynical one as Van Sciver shows a dedication and empathy to his titular character, no matter how awful he comes across. All are worthy of love, even misguided Fante Bukowski.

Colin Biggs (@wordsbycbiggs)

Film(s): Blade Runner 2049 and Wind River

This is a cheat, but I’m going to go through with it anyway. My best film of 2017 is both Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 and Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River. Serving as two sides of the same coin — even if separated by 32 years and two distinctly unique environs — each film asks audiences to look beyond one’s self to see the wrinkles and scars on your fellow man; creases that reveal the wear and tear from living this life. Somehow, Blade Runner 2049, a blockbuster-sized sequel, and Wind River, a minimal neo-Western, managed to confront bitter truths of the 21st Century where the hero doesn’t always win, and living resembles crawling across a finish line, constantly veering from inconsolable rage to despair. As large as the respective battles loom against K (Ryan Gosling) and Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), each recognizes that even if you don’t win the war, one small gesture can make a difference.

Album: Colors by Beck

Beck’s ascension proved that hip-hop and alternative rock could be melded into some gangly yet beautiful amalgamation. Colors is another worthy addition to his discography; a bubbly, effervescent place to escape from so much that was awful in 2017. Each spin of the album makes the day feel new. Colors may be the most fun that Beck has had since “Loser” became the anthem of 1994.

Josh Hamm (@ajoshhamm)

Film: Sleep Has Her House 

Scott Barley’s already impressive filmography of short films are rooted in abstract expressionism and a lyrical attention to nature (albeit framed in ways that seem new and incongruous). And his feature debut, Sleep Has Her House, is no different. Working in the vein of the Remodernist school, his approach to cinema is slow and languorous, with lo-fi DIY tools and an aesthetic rooted in unsolvable symbolism that betrays a yearning for spiritual/emotional truths. Sleep Has Her House is a hypnotic, sparse film which captures the essence of the sublime while reinvigorating cinema’s capacity to capture it.

Album: Accounts of Friend and Foe by Among Savages

In a year filled with great albums across all genres, Peter Barbee’s accessible yet enigmatic sophomore album wormed its way into my mind and hasn’t left yet. Among Savages’ brand of alt-pop is infused with infectious hooks, and even as Accounts of Friend and Foe tends to drift towards introspection on the whole, it bounces between styles and experiments with its sound constantly. It’s fitting for an album which attempts to piece together the disparity of the growth, loss and experience of living through your 20s. It’s an album to listen to for every state of mind while constantly pushing and pulling you to match its own transient nature.

Book: Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

Originally published in 2016 in the UK, Spufford’s marvellously fun jaunt into 18th century New York is a light, trim novel whose ambitions are greater than its surface immediately suggests. The arrival of a suspiciously anonymous rich young man, Mr. Smith, in 1746, upsets the delicate balance of backdoor politics and unspoken alliances amidst a surprisingly small, insular New York City. To say much more would spoil the fun of watching the plot unfurl. It’s full of misdirection, pointed barbs of witticisms hurled about, mistaken identities and a good supply of charm. Spufford’s writing bursts at the seams — Golden Hill may be trim, but it certainly isn’t terse — and revels in the invisible line between the physical, carnal nature humanity and our interior lives; the characters (even more so the plot) are constantly in motion, caught up in doing and acting and living, yet simultaneously caught up in being, thinking and perceiving. The result is a thrilling read which slyly pauses to savor its language and resumes again before you’ve realized it.

Peter Bell (@PeterGBell25)

Film: Baby Driver

Baby Driver reminds us why great films need a great film soundtrack. Back in July, I extolled this film’s use of music, woven within the very plot of the film. Later in 2017, Vague Visage’s own David Pountain applauded Baby Driver’s use of music to create order in the chaotic world of criminals. Yet, even without a connection to the film’s plot, it is readily apparent to any listener that Baby Driver’s soundtrack is not just a generic mixtape, but rather a well curated musical collection of Edgar Wright’s private feelings and personal experiences. The soundtrack covers a serious spectrum of musical styles. Each song was hand selected by Wright to evoke a natural and genuine sense of feeling, with each song complementing the one before and after. Listeners are treated to the jazz melody of Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle,” and then the fast paced punk rock energy of The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat.” Due to the unpredictability of the tracks, listeners are always in for a fun surprise. For anyone still on the fence about seeing Baby Driver, I strongly recommend giving this soundtrack a listen. Get lost in its craftsmanship, and then give the movie a shot to remember why film soundtracks are still a vital aspect of movie-making magic.

Q.V. Hough (@QVHough)

Film: Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig brilliantly pays homage to off-beat directors like Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach while establishing her own voice as a filmmaker. I’m all about Lady Bird’s symmetrical framing and quirky dialogue, but it’s the heart and soul that stands out most, as I can wholly relate to feeling misunderstood and making that cross-country trip to a large city; a place where you may feel misunderstood even more. Lady Bird highlights the beauty of creating your own path and learning how to communicate with people that may not understand what you’re hoping to achieve.

Album: Damn. by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar inspires me like few others — the concepts, the lyrics, the presentation.

Book: Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

It’s fascinating to read about Leo’s early years and his growth as an artist. And I say “Leo” because he no longer feels like “DA VINCI” to me after reading Isaacson’s book, one that examines how small observations lead to big ideas.

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