From Kent Monkman and Charles Officer to Riverdale and CRJ, these are our favourite things of 2017
The CBC Arts team dishes on top moments in arts and culture...and trash TV
You've read plenty of year-end lists already, but this one is our favourite. And how could it not be? It's a list packed with all our favourites. Here, the CBC Arts team dishes on the arts and culture (and trash TV) that made their 2017.
Andrew D'Cruz, executive producer:
For professional reasons, I spent more time thinking about Canada's founding myths in 2017 than I have in all previous years combined. That's why I was probably uniquely susceptible to Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience, the brilliant show of large-scale paintings and installations by Kent Monkman, which opened at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto in January before touring the country.
By turns harrowing and hilarious, the show didn't so much question the comfortable stories Canadians like to tell about our history as casually eviscerate them.
You can't unsee paintings like "The Scream," which depicts Indigenous children being torn from their anguished parents by Mounties and priests. Or "The Daddies," a naughty bit of alternative history in which the Fathers of Confederation sit entranced by Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman's nude, reclining alter ego.
Monkman is an absolutely essential artist for our times, and the show was exactly what I needed to kick off my sesquicentennial year. It's still on tour through to 2020. Don't sleep on it.
I would also be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to Other Side of the Game, the debut play by CBC Arts: Exhibitionists' very own Amanda Parris. The play told important stories we so rarely hear — the stories of women typically cast in supporting roles — and managed to bring to life really specific Toronto vernaculars I never thought I'd see on stage. Bravo, Amanda.
Fever Ray, "To the Moon and Back"
Lise Hosein, producer:
The past 12 months have been kind of shitty. Conversations around sexuality, consent and power have been fraught and dangerous (although we need to keep talking about all of it, please). So when Fever Ray ended an eight-year gap by releasing a music video that could best be described as a demonic sex party, I was less excited than I might have been a year ago.
But "To the Moon and Back" was perfect and celebratory and totally weird. It's a video that's body-positive, fun, twisted and sexy-in-a-weird-way. It was exactly what I needed to feel good about the world again.
Karin Dreijer has become known for speaking frankly through her music about gender fluidity and sexual curiosity both as Fever Ray and as one part of The Knife. This video is not going to be for everybody (and is not a reflection of my personal proclivities, Mom), but it was definitely my favourite art moment of the year.
Leah Collins, senior writer:
This list isn't about what's "good" or "best" or "smartest." This is a list about favourites, and in 2017, I was all over Riverdale like Jughead on cheeseburgers.
Arguably, that didn't take much, and to the incredibly patient Grade 4 teacher who sat through my independent studies project on the factual inaccuracies of Betty and Veronica's trip to West Edmonton Mall, I'm sorry. But Riverdale isn't for the kids who got their jam hands on every Double Digest they could beg their parents to buy. Riverdale, I'd argue, is the teen drama everyone's been waiting for, even if you quite understandably hate it, and that's because you've already been following these characters forever.
As far as teen pop culture goes, the Riverdale gang came before anyone. (OK, maybe not Andy Hardy, but they don't sell Mickey Rooney DVDs at supermarket checkouts, do they?) The first time you watched The O.C. or Saved by the Bell — or any John Hughes movie ever made — if you'd read an Archie comic, you already knew everything you needed to know about these guys: there's a boy and/or girl next door, a rich kid, a rival, a weirdo.
Before even watching first episode, you know how Riverdale works. This time, they just happen to be dealing with a murder mystery — a Twin Peaks lite whodunnit that's still plenty subversive in the Archie universe, where big drama is choosing a date for the sock hop.
But I'm not in it for the soapy plot, which has found itself in a formulaic groove that's just about perfect for a drinking game. (Speaking from experience over here.) A lot of my nerdy love for the show is in the details. There's the casting, for one. Archie and the gang aren't just America's most iconic teenagers, on Riverdale — their moms and dads are, too. (Mr. and Mrs. Andrews? They're played by Molly Ringwald and 90210's Luke Perry.) And then there's the oddball visual cues — the out-of-sync details that remind you there's something very cartoonishly off about this place. Think Archie's oversaturated red dye job or Veronica's painted brows, like they hired the ghost of Dan Decarlo to do some microblading. Beanies off to the art director.
Ultimately, though, what keeps me watching Riverdale is how I watch it — and that's why it's on this list. Nobody tunes in for live TV anymore, not the scripted stuff, anyway. It's 2017! We binge, especially on Netflix. If you follow Riverdale, though, you've got to wait. The latest episode goes on Netflix after it airs on the CW. But it's popular enough — at least in my little sphere — that being a fan calls for appointment streaming, especially if you have a crew ready to dish on the latest oh-so-extra twists the next day. In a time when viewing options are seemingly endless, that kind of TV experience is as much throwback as a "chock'lit shoppe," and it made being a fan of the show one of my favourite pop-culture things in 2017.
Call Me By Your Name and Get Out
Peter Knegt, digital associate producer:
Over back-to-back nights at the Sundance Film Festival, I was lucky enough to attend the world premieres of both Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name and Jordan Peele's Get Out. This was literal days after my faith in society had dropped to new lows thanks to a certain inauguration, and I will never forget how the experience of both those films breathed me back to life.
While wholly different movies — Call Me is a slow-building, Italy-set drama about a romance between two men while Get Out is a fast-paced horror-thriller that critiques systemic racism in America — both are staggering in their ability to utilize the art of filmmaking to expose paramount truths.
In Get Out, it's the truth about what it means to be Black. In Call Me By Your Name, it's the truth about the vulnerability of deep human connection.
So obviously it's not like "movies expose truths!" is some revolutionary discovery I made with those films. But there was something about witnessing their authenticity in a theatre with a few hundred other people (say what you want about the ease of at-home viewing, there is still nothing like communal consumption of great art) just as the world seemed to be officially entering a "post-truth" era. It felt utterly defiant.
Wexford Plaza and Stand Up Man
Romeo Candido, senior producer:
For me, to see movies from first time feature-filmmakers Joyce Wong and Aram Collier feels like a real coming-of-age for the Asian-Canadian film community.
Wong's Wexford Plaza is a quiet and smart film about a strip plaza in Scarborough that provides the backdrop for a not so rom com. She is an assured filmmaker who is making a lot of end of year best of lists.
A cousin to this film stylistically and thematically is Stand Up Man from Aram Collier. The story is about a comedian whose life is disrupted when his Korean cousin becomes a local k-pop phenom. It closed the Reel Asian Film Festival in Toronto this year, and in its similarities to Wexford Plaza, whether intentional or not, it proved that the current crop of Asian-Canadian filmmakers are smart, funny and not afraid of being awkward — which hopefully, represents the larger filmmaking community as well.
Perhaps more mainstream fests like TIFF and Sundance will recognize that these voices are vital, authentic, accessible and most of all, entertaining.
Yasmin Levy at Koener Hall
Mercedes Grundy, associate producer:
One afternoon in November, my friend offered me two tickets to the Yasmin Levy concert because he was too sick to go.
I'd never heard of Levy, but Toronto's Koerner Hall is a beautiful spot to hear live music, and he told me the singer was incredible, so I took him up on the offer. I had no idea that I was in for a concert that would give me so many feels I thought my heart would explode.
If you, like me, are new to Yasmin Levy, she's an Israeli artist who sings in modern Spanish and Ladino (a Spanish-Jewish dialect). She describes herself as a "world music" singer, with a sound that's a mix of "Flamenco, Turkish music, Ladino, and Persian music." But her signature style, which she admitted off the top of her performance, is that her songs are all exceptionally sad. They go from romantic-sad to melancholy-sad to angry-sad, but they are all passionate and they are all powerful.
One moment that stands out is when she duetted with a recording of her late father, Yitzhak Levy. Devoted to preserving Sephardic Jewish music, he passed away when she was a baby. The whole show was a surprising whirlwind of emotion that I never saw coming — and I loved every second of it.
The Skin We're In and Unarmed Verses
Lucius Dechausay, video producer:
When CBC's Firsthand dropped The Skin We're In earlier this year, I knew it would factor as one of the most culturally important works of art for me in 2017. The film follows Desmond Cole, a prominent Toronto journalist and activist, and the impact which his seminal essay "The Skin I'm In" has had on generating dialogue and change around anti-Black racism in the city.
The documentary is of the moment, expertly illuminating issues faced by racialized communities across the country for decades, and it lit a fire under a conversation that has been muted for a long time.
A short few months later, another documentary was released that expanded on those themes, showing the impacts of racism, classism and gentrification on Black youth in Villaways, one of Canada's countless forgotten communities. It was called Unarmed Verses. Both films were directed by Charles Officer, and they should both be mandatory viewing for schools, police officers, government and city planning officials across Canada.
Also, special shout out to Soulpepper's production of for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf for being the first piece of theatre to drag me out of my house after becoming a new parent. 30-year-old material by Ntozake Shange is still powerful from the opening image.
Game of Thrones, Season 7
Asmi Chandola, video producer:
This season had some of the best battle scenes ever made in a television show, and the behind the scenes features this year were really interesting and informative. How I wish I worked on Game of Thrones and got to blow up stuff. I also cried a little bit.
Brother by David Chariandy
Amanda Parris, host of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists:
I honestly can't stop talking about this book. It may be because it's the first novel I've ever read that felt so familiar. Every line was a visceral experience. Early '90s Scarborough captured through the eyes of a young man raised with his older brother by a Trinidadian mother in a low-income neighbourhood. Seeing specific details of my life, my perspective and my worldview rendered in literature was overwhelming and beautiful. I hope this is the beginning of something I have been yearning for.
Carly Rae Jepsen with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Eleanor Knowles, digital associate producer:
When I went to see the much-hyped CRJ x TSO performance in June, I was just expecting some nice classical re-imaginings of my favourite pop songs and a little bit of chair dancing. What I wasn't expecting was to have a profound emotional (E • MO • TION • AL?) reaction to the music.
The show happened to take place during a bit of a difficult time in my personal life, and I genuinely didn't think I was still capable of the kind of pure, childlike joy I felt throughout the whole night. It was impossible not to smile so hard my cheeks hurt while watching Carly giggle through the delicate arrangements, visibly and disarmingly nervous as it was clear how much the opportunity meant to her.
Oh, and don't worry, I still got exactly what I expected: flawless renditions of the most underrated bangers this decade of pop music has given us (and we all eventually moved from chair dancing to leaping to our feet during "Boy Problems" and staying there for the remainder of the evening).
Queen of orchestras, queen of collaborations, queen of my 2017.