sight and sound twin peaks

Here’s how to get the online film community all riled up for at least 13 hours: put a TV show on your list of best movies of 2017.

Sight & Sound, an esteemed film magazine published by the British Film Institute, immediately stirred up controversy by including David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return in its annual critics poll of the top 20 movies of the year. It set Twitter ablaze, with film and TV critics arguing over what constitutes a TV show or a movie. It asks a huge question: should profoundly great television be considered a film?

For its annual Sight & Sound list, BFI polled 180 critics, programmers, and academics from around the world. And for the first time in its history, a TV show landed in the top 10, with Twin Peaks nestled right at the No. 2 spot. Here is the list below:

  1. Get Out, dir: Jordan Peele
  2. Twin Peaks: The Return, dirs: Mark Frost, David Lynch
  3. Call Me by Your Name, dir: Luca Guadagnino
  4. Zama, dir: Lucrecia Martel
  5. Western, dir: Valeska Grisebach
  6. Faces Places, dir: Agnes Varda, JR
  7. Good Time, dirs: Ben and Josh Safdie
  8. Loveless, dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev
  9. Dunkirk, dir: Christopher Nolan
  10. The Florida Project, dir: Sean Baker
  11. A Ghost Story, dir: David Lowery
  12. BPM, dir: Robin Campillo
  13. Lady Macbeth, dir: William Oldroyd
  14. You Were Never Really Here, dir: Lynne Ramsay
  15. God’s Own Country, dir: Francis Lee
  16. Personal Shopper, dir: Olivier Assayas
  17. The Shape Of Water, dir: Guillermo del Toro
  18. Strong Island, dir: Yance Ford
  19. I Am Not Your Negro, dir: Raoul Peck
  20. Lady Bird, dir: Greta Gerwig
  21.  Let the Sunshine In, dir: Claire Denis
  22. Moonlight, dir: Barry Jenkins
  23. mother!, dir: Darren Aronofsky
  24. Mudbound, dir: Dee Rees
  25. The Other Side Of Hope, dir: Aki Kaurismaki
  26. Silence, dir: Martin Scorsese

Barring the fact that Moonlight and Silence were films released in many territories in 2016, the most controversial entry in this list is unmistakably Twin Peaks. An 18-episode series that aired on Showtime in the summer of 2017, Twin Peaks: The Return was a sequel to David Lynch’s 1990 drama Twin Peaks, which aired for two seasons.

Of course, Twin Peaks: The Return is no ordinary TV show. As sequel to the equally audacious ’90s series, The Return broke the boundaries for what television was capable of, spearheaded by an auteur who paid no attention to TV formats or narrative arcs. Even Lynch once called the series “an 18-hour movie,” telling Variety, “Television and cinema to me are exactly the same thing. Telling a story with motion, pictures and sound. It ended up being 18 hours.”

Should A TV Series Be Considered a Movie?

With the rise of prestigious serialized dramas and binge-watching, more showrunners have been proclaiming their TV shows to be “x-hour movies” that should be watched in one setting. Case in point: the Duffer Brothers’ insistence on calling the second season of Stranger ThingsStranger Things 2” because they wanted the season to be treated like a cohesive nine-hour movie.

Serialized TV only started to pick up after HBO, which then proudly asserted that “it’s not TV,” produced groundbreaking, cinematic series like The Sopranos, Sex and the City, and The Wire, changing the landscape of television. Since then (and the introduction of Netflix’s binge-watching model) TV that looks cinematic and plays like a movie has been often considered more prestigious than episodic television shows. But this is not a newfound sentiment – it’s part of a years-long perception that movies are superior to TV. Film and TV critic Matt Zoller-Seitz wrote a shrewd (and long) Twitter thread on this whole debate on what constitues movies and TV. I’ll post a few of his most astute points, though I encourage reading the whole thread:

Zoller-Seitz nails down that disparity between television and movies: they’re two different mediums that, at their best, look and sound completely different. Episodic television should not be looked down on when some of the best hours of television come from standalone episodes. And neither should shows that don’t look “cinematic” —  Buffy the Vampire Slayer looks awful but it tells its stories just as brilliantly as a movie could. Perhaps even more so! TV shows have more time to develop characters and arcs than a two-hour movie. And any movie that takes more than an hour to establish its plot and premise is not that great of a movie.

Lynch worked in TV before and dealt with all the limits of network television, which may explain his reluctance to describe Twin Peaks: The Return as a TV show. But perhaps Twin Peaks is simply a brilliant TV show that doesn’t need to be “elevated” to the label of “movie.”

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