The B Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography This documentary is as spare as it gets—just a Boston-based photographer in her studio, going through boxes of old photographs, telling stories about famous friends and her family. Coming from the legendary Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War), it might even feel a bit fluffy. But aside from being an utterly adorable character, Dorfman is an endangered species: an 80-year-old bohemian whose signature craft—a large-format Polaroid camera that’s bigger than she is—has been rendered obsolete. It’s not quite as sad as that Nat Geo video of the emaciated polar bear looking for food on iceless land, but it’s close.
American Witness: The Art and Life of Robert Frank If Elsa Dorfman doesn’t fit the serious-artist mold (a lovable person who takes pictures of people smiling?!), photographer Frank is the perennial iconoclast—a creator of eternally influential work (The Americans), who steadfastly refuses to be defined by his past. In the intro to this solid biography, RJ Smith tells a younger person of Frank’s distrust of money, how he’s altered the course of his life to avoid repeating himself, all at great cost. “Wow,” the young person responds. “People my age don’t understand that at all.” Who knew Robert Frank’s life was even more inspiring than his work?
Saint Etienne, Home Counties Long before Spotify turned everyone and their great aunts into eclectic tastemakers there was Saint Etienne, the London trio whose early-’90s golden period paired hip-hop and house with Dusty Springfield and Neil Young. The group returned this year to great fanfare from longtime devotees and … pretty much no one else, which is just fine. Music this pure and blissful sounds even sweeter when it feels like a secret.
Jens Lekman, Life Will See You Now Take these lyrics: “At Babak’s school, there is a 3D printer/And he prints out a model of the tumor/That was surgically removed from his back this winter/And it’s rugged gray plastic, it looks lunar/He puts the tumor in his breast pocket/As we head out for a beer.” Now sing them to a meaty, candy-coated disco beat. Suddenly all that LCD psychobabble about haircuts and aging sounds a tad trifling, don’t it?
Jonathan Groff in Mindhunter Okay, so a lot of people watched this Netflix series, and maybe it doesn’t belong on this list, but I’m still not convinced it got the attention it deserves. Jonathan Groff helps us forget about his star turns in Looking and Hamilton by creating one of TV’s iciest, most peculiar and weirdly boyish FBI agents ever. And Cameron Britton as serial killer Edmund Kemper deserves every award he can get. I’m still shuddering from his speech about the pros and cons of throat muscles.
Blade Runner 2049 I walked out of Wonder Woman wondering what all the fuss was about. I thought the special effects were sterile, Gal Gadot was boring and it all went on too damn long. While watching this, though, I was transfixed. As the end credits rolled, I thought, “That was the smartest, most-beautiful, least-sanitized-looking blockbuster I’ve seen in eons.” Then I turned on my phone and got a news alert: “Blade Runner misfires, only appeals to older males.” So I’m officially an old man now. Thanks, 2017.