While 2017 won't be over for a few months for me, cinema-wise (with a good half of the films discussed on Filmspotting's year-end show not being out yet), the year in French cinema certainly is over. So, here's my top 10 and a few thoughts:1. Au revoir là-haut / See You Up There (Albert Dupontel)
. Hoping it wins a bunch of Césars, maybe even the top prize, who knows. Mostly I hope it gets released outside Europe, it's audience-friendly enough... I guess maybe that's the issue, it's not arthouse enough for a foreign film, possibly ? But stuff like Amélie did get out there and would belong in a similar category in that particular respect, so I don't know. At least it was a success on the home front, which I'm particularly about for Dupontel, who is a very peculiar guy who's had this kind of public recognition coming.2. Makala (Emmanuel Gras)
. Hopefully it gets picked up by netflix or Amazon or whatever, but I don't know that it made enough noise for that.3. Une vie violente / A Violent Life (Thierry de Peretti)
This one I'm sure won't be coming to a theater near you, which is a shame. It's a drama about a young man in Corsica in the 1990s who becomes an activist for Corsican independence. You might not know about that issue, but the title might give you a hint as to how serious it was (and is, though things have calmed down quite a bit). It's quite dry, but I found its exploration of radicalism and political activism taken to the extreme to be very compelling, and certainly quite relevant to various current political developments as well. It also just works as tragedy (told mostly in flashback), with quite a strong performance at the center of it by a complete unknown.4. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Luc Besson)
Didn't review it but it's been discussed here and there, and it's not like I have that much to say about it: it's a fun series of adventures in a very colorful and impressive-looking world (especially in 3D), which falters when it tries to make the relationship between the two main characters into something we should care about despite them having no chemistry. But they're good individually, and there's Alain Chabat cameo-ing and an opening scene which might be my favorite use of a David Bowie song since his passing, which is saying something.
A shame it mostly kind of failed at the box-office... I'm very conflicted about Besson and Europacorp in general, but I do like the idea of someone in Europe trying to do what Hollywood and now China do, and Valerian was an example of this done with a distinct personality rather than a soulless Transporter sequel.5. Le grand méchant renard et autres contes / The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales (Benjamin Renner & Patrick Imbert)
Not really a feature film as much as three shorts released together, but it doesn't matter as they are all rather lovely and very funny, and also cute. It's on the Oscars shortlist but I doubt it will get in, because really all it is is that: cute, funny and very endearing overall. 6. Patients (Mehdi Idir & Grand Corps Malade)
A largely autobiographical film about a young man recovering from a accident and undergoing re-education... are you still with me ? Maybe not, because it sounds like it could either be depressing or corny, but it's neither. It's surprisingly funny, and often darkly so with a cast of varied characters coming and going out on the main character's life as they recover or don't. While there is a heartwarming aspect to the main character's journey, it also doesn't shy away from the reality of the situation, especially through some supporting characters, but it's never manipulative either. Not a masterpiece or close to it, but a strong film nonetheless.7. Le Redoutable / Redoubtable (Michel Hazanavicius)
A biopic of Godard in the currently popular form of biopics, which is to say it focuses on a specific time period in the late 60s, centered around Godard's relationship with actress Anne Wiazemsky (who wrote a book about it which this is based on). It's irreverent and shows Godard in a light that is not always flattering - which is to say he often comes off as a buffoon - but also takes him seriously by looking at what made him go from films meant to entertain and inspired by American crime films to explicitally political works that never had any shot of pleasing any crowds. Garrel's portrayal of Godard is that of a man who wants very badly to change the world, to use his talent for a greater cause... but who has trouble reconciling that with his natural tendency towards entertainment, and even art for that matter (the last scene of the film is about as entertaining a scene you could make on those issues). Oh, and also he's generally a dick to his girlfriend, but in quite entertaining ways. It's a messy film and quite uneven, but it's probably truer to Godard than it had any right to be.8. Grave / Raw (Julia Ducourneau)
A common refrain among French cinephiles is that our state-sponsored system means we get tons of broad comedies (that are generally terrible) and plenty of arthouse stuff, but not so much in the way genre films because they are not considered respectable enough to warrant financing by the CNC. And it's true, for the most part, and even a film like Grave is a distinctly arthouse take on horror, but I don't personally mind that. Cannibalism is fun and all, but this film doesn't stop at the shock value and Garance Marillier plays a very compelling character embroiled in coming-of-age issues that we've seen before, but not like this. A real shame about that ending though, it's just silly and leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Unlike all the cannibalism I mean, that tasted just fine.9. Lumière ! L'aventure commence (Thierry Frémaux / Auguste & Louis Lumière)
If you ever needed a push to watch those Lumière shorts, this would be a good way to get to it: a collection of about a hundred of them, commented by Cannes Festival (and Institut Lumière) president Thierry Frémaux. Frequently amusing, sometimes beautiful and generally impressive, it's all enhanced by Frémaux's instructive (and occasionally funny) commentary. There's a way these shorts have of really taking you to the period they were made in, which full-narrative films don't do as well for the most part, and the whole thing also plays as a strong case for caring about the preservation of film, as a record of humanity as much as for its relative artistic value.10. Maryline (Guillaume Gallienne)
An unlikely follow-up to Gallienne's César-winning autobiographical crowdpleaser (Guillaume et les garçons, à table!), Maryline follows the path of a would-be actress in the 70s, plucked out of a small rural town she's dying to escape by a Herzog-like (I think) director. It's a bit uneven, but Adeline d'Hermy gives Garance Marillier a run for her money as the most impressive performance by an unknown French actress this year. It's a bit of a puzzling film at times, one that I had trouble with until a short turn by Vanessa Paradis helped it all come into focus, and a film that I could see getting even better on a rewatch... but it was quite the ride already. I'm afraid to say more because there are some spoilable elements here, so I'll leave it at that.
A year of strong films I didn't quite love mostly (BPM also belongs in there, just outside the top 10), but still more diverse that French cinema usually gets credit for (domestically anyway).Full list here.