Kevin Koppes is the owner/operator of The Video Underground, Boston’s only remaining classic video store, in Jamaica Plain. When he’s not talking movies at the shop, making espresso drinks and mocktails at the shop, or hosting screenings at the shop, he’s probably asleep … possibly at the shop.
On the outset, this list is NOT a “Best of 2017” list (check other Hassle year-end links for those) or a “Most Popular Films of 2017 at The VU” list (which would be front-loaded with Oscar nominees, Disney vault titles, Studio Ghibli, Star Wars, and random new releases). This is, rather, a list of the top films that all experienced a telling surge in popularity and became frequent topics of conversation among customers. As you might imagine, this year wasn’t exactly a killer times/high-five parade for a lot of people, and expressions of that somehow managed to surface in the form of movie selection at The Video Underground. Themes cover a spectrum from “dread” and “escapism” to “disbelief” and “concern.” Enjoy.
IDIOCRACY (2006) dir. Mike Judge
Nothing really jumps out as much as this one. Always a broadly popular “recent comedy for adults,” Idiocracy became a rite of passage for people who may or may not have felt at several points this year that Mike Judge’s ultra-cynical future-set devo comedy was closer to being a documentary than a work of fiction.
DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964) dir. Stanley Kubrick
Of course, this always has been and always ought to be a sought-out film. But the notion that a cadre of goofballs soft-shoeing America into nuclear war had extra resonance this year for some reason. A comedy at heart with the darkest of edges, Dr. Strangelove pushed a lot of buttons for those in need of a nervous laugh.
GASLIGHT (1944) dir. George Cukor
As the term itself began working its way into public discourse, the original film (based on an earlier play) became a must-see title for those wishing to participate in the media zeitgeist while taking in a great movie. Gaslight obviously doesn’t provide instruction on identifying 21st century gaslighting, but hopefully it provided context for some of this year’s least factual news.
DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) dir. Spike Lee
There hasn’t been a time in the last, uh… several hundred years where the topic of race hasn’t mattered in America, and 2017 was clearly not an exception. Googling “movies about race relations” will invariably land you in front of a blurb about Do the Right Thing, and the popularity of the movie this year among all different types of customers was genuinely heartening, even if it wasn’t what everyone was expecting (and it definitely wasn’t).
FITZCARRALDO (1982) dir. Werner Herzog
At one point, the popularity of this movie had me double-checking to make sure Werner Herzog was still alive (scary thought) and Klaus Kinski hadn’t risen from the dead (scarier thought). In chatting with people, the appeal of Fitzcarraldo ranged from its commentary on colonialism and the environment to the simple marriage of lunacy and determination, all of which… make sense.
GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) dir. Harold Ramis
Though no one ever explicitly stated “I feel like I’m trapped in the same day from which I can’t escape and need a humorous way of managing this reality,” it didn’t really need to be said for some people. Yes, it’s funny regardless. And, no, I don’t think it altered anyone’s perspectives on … anything. But there’s been at least one copy checked out at all times since March, so you have to assume that something’s resonating here.
HAUSU (1977) dir. Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
Phrases like “nightmarish hellscape” and “bizarro world” were commonly uttered to describe any number events and behaviors in 2017. Hausu has all of that, plus some genuinely comedic moments. In a world that seemed less and less familiar to people as 2017 trudged along, Hausu was always waiting there to remind you that no matter how “not normal” things might seem, there are always way, way less normal realities to encounter.
BICYCLE THIEVES (1948) dir Vittorio De Sica
The months immediately following the 2016 election were decidedly not a period of levity and rejoicing at The Video Underground or in JP generally. Some people tried to crawl out of their ruts with lighter selections, and some wanted to deepen the rut in order to make it cozy with furnishings. Bicycle Thieves, being achingly sad and simply made, was the latter camp’s go-to for 2017.
OLDBOY (2003) dir. Chan-wook Park
A unique and sought-out film in its own right, Oldboy manages to oddly encapsulate a substantial amount of cerebral fear, isolation, and time-out-of-mind anxiety found in varying levels in several of the other movies on this list. But few non-war films bring out the “You think YOU got it bad?” reflex like Oldboy, and the otherworldliness of the film’s look and subject matter offer a lot to those in search of those a lot worse than they are.
THE CONFORMIST (1970) dir. Bernardo Bertolucci
“What are some good movies about, well… fascists?” Sure, The Conformist is a little loopy and highly stylized, but there really isn’t a better film about viral politics, persecution complex, herd mentality, and dissent after WWII. The political alignments and ultimate aims were different in 2017 (and, man, are our wardrobes coming up short by comparison), but the story Bertolucci lays out resonated over and over again– for better or worse.