And the winner is...
1. TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN (Lynch/Frost, 2017)
At this point, enshrining “Twin Peaks: The Return” on a film list no longer really counts as much of a provocation. “Cahiers du Cinema” tabbed it as the best film of the 2010s. Jim Jarmusch called it the best American film of the past ten years. It's practically the conformist position now.
Some television critics remain understandably territorial about the matter, viewing it as a slam against the small screen, hearing the implication from film snobs that the series is so artistically accomplished it can't be “mere” television. They have a point, but I also doubt that many critics would be claiming “Twin Peaks” for the film team if it was created or directed by David Simon or Vince Gilligan. Since “Twin Peaks” is co-created by the venerated filmmaker David Lynch (along with Mark Frost, who I think we're all guilty of overlooking – look at me, I just consigned him to a parenthetical aside) many want to incorporate it into his film work. It's the same reason that Rainer Werner Fassbinder's television mini-series “Berlin Alexanderplatz”(1980) received 11 votes in the 2012 “Sight & Sound” poll as one of the ten best films ever made.
I have no horse in this race. I'm including “Twin Peaks: The Return” on my list for a simple, non-ideological reason. I don't write about television, and I want the opportunity to write about the most remarkable thing I've seen on a screen over the past ten years (aside from the Eagles finally winning a Superbowl, of course).
The second season (1991) of “Twin Peaks” suffered from its share of rough patches, many of which can be summed up with the words “Windom Earle.” At least we still had Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) to hang out with every week. But when David Lynch, largely uninvolved with much of the second season, returned to direct the series finale, he crafted perhaps the most chilling hour of television ever produced, capped off by the devastating spectacle of our beloved true-blue hero Cooper sneering, “How's Annie? How's Annie?”
In that episode, Laura Palmer (or a spirit resembling Laura Palmer) also promised/threatened Agent Cooper, “I'll see you again in 25 years.” That promise/threat was kept more or less on schedule, and the wait was more than worth it as the new series felt like that jaw-dropping finale had been unpacked and expanded into 18 episodes of brilliance, alternating humor and horror, and slapstick with the sublime, all with a formal elegance of pure Lynchian vintage (and Frostian too!)
“The Return” occasionally indulged in fan service. We all got to see if Big Ed and Norma would finally get together, and whether Albert would ever learn how to play nice. We finally met Diane, the Log Lady was back, and Windom Earle wasn't. Hooray! But the series thwarted audience desires too, mostly by denying us the return of the actual, vintage, all-American Dale Cooper until the final few episodes, giving us good ol' Dougie instead just to taunt and divide viewers, some of whom felt there were just too many Coops. I'm on Team Dougie 100%, for the record. How did MacLachlan not win every award in the world for his versatile work in this series? Hello-o-o-o!
And, of course, there's Episode 8. If we're going to indulge in calling “Twin Peaks” cinema, Episode 8 is nothing short of the greatest horror film ever made, a plunge into the darkest recess of the American nightmare and featuring the most primally terrifying villain of all time in the Woodsman. Don't over-interpret, just drink full and descend.
And in the end... yes, in the end. I would never have imagined it possible to finish a series (film or television, who cares?) on a more fundamentally disturbing note than “How's Annie?” but damn if I can't still hear the scream that wraps up “The Return.” Lights out for everyone, and what year is this anyway?
Do I want more “Twin Peaks”? I can't think of any way it would be possible to exceed “The Return” so of course I want more. Because I can't wait to see how Lynch and Frost can achieve the impossible yet again.