The seventh straight Year in Review, and by now I’ve been very consistent in publishing this way too late (always end of January!) with way too few interesting revelations, yet somehow seeming way too self-indulgent nevertheless. But tradition is tradition, even when it’s pathetic, so let’s press on! Once again, note that I saw “only” 83 feature releases in 2018, so these are my favorites among those. Definitely several candidates I didn’t get a chance to see (COLD WAR, LEAVE NO TRACE, ZAMA, etc.) so take this post with that ever-so-clichéd grain of salt.
2018 Top Ten
- BLACKKKLANSMAN — Last summer’s fiery, passionate work of art from one of America’s greatest living filmmakers still resonates with me more than anything I saw all year. Spike Lee didn’t just make us laugh, make us think, make us uncomfortable, and challenge our ideas about institutionalized racism, mob mentality, and police brutality — he also crafted a love letter to movies themselves using the tools of the cinema to argue for their power. This is the most pro-aesthetic, confident work of Lee’s career, and one of his five best movies ever.
- LEAN ON PETE — A rueful, sparse, earnest work of humanism that mixes the ugly and sad with the beautiful and the sympathetic. No other film of 2018 shredded me like this.
- PRIVATE LIFE — The least enticing subject matter possible somehow turned into a showcase for Tamara Jenkins and her cast: this is all-star writing and directing both on a shot-by-shot basis and as a display of tone-control. I know you have Netflix, so what are you waiting for?
- BURNING — Korean auteur Lee Chang-dong also put on a directing clinic, but the atmosphere here is unlike anything else you could have seen last year. And part of its charm is that I still can’t quite grasp its ephemeral mysteries that will forever be out of reach.
- LET THE CORPSES TAN — The one entry on this list I didn’t publish a blog review for, but it’s the third feature from Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, two of the most stylistic titans of elemental art cinema — just don’t mistake it for style over substance. Their imagery is pregnant with significance, communicating both aesthetic ideas and narrative information. This is a Neo-Spaghetti Western where, as in all their films, texture is king, and few genres are better suited to a bouillabaisse of dirt, blood, bone, meat, fire, rock, leather, metal, and hair.
- YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE — Punishing and unforgettable. Joaquin Phoenix is once again electrifying, but it’s Lynne Ramsay’s perfect orchestration that elevates this genre film to dizzying heights.
- IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK — Gorgeous (maybe too gorgeous), but it’s the romanticism that turns a universally angering experience with American racism into a personally affecting exposé of the devastating casualties of a rotten system.
- ANNIHILATION — A bold, go-for-broke sci-fi curiosity that not only has a lot to ponder with regards to the inexorable loss that death and separation cause, but also contains the single most horrifying sequence in recent memory. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t…
- SORRY TO BOTHER YOU — Funny, inventive, and clever, this is Boots Riley leaving no ingredient uncooked in a satirical soup that feels like the last meal he’s ever going to eat.
- WIDOWS — It took too long to get a new Steve McQueen film, but once we did, it was electrifying. It lives and breathes the city of Chicago, but gives actors room to be sensational and has a lot to say in barely over two hours of can’t-look-away screen time.
Didn’t Quite Make the Cut: Wasn’t able to make room for a surprisingly charming two-hander called DESTINATION WEDDING (giving Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder two of their best roles in years), the gut-wrenching French exploitation thriller REVENGE, Wes Anderson’s crispy-clean ISLE OF DOGS, the underrated A QUIET PLACE, or the Coen Brothers’ THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS.
And now, the requisite awards:
Best Director — Spike Lee, BLACKKKLANSMAN
Best Actor — Charlie Plummer, LEAN ON PETE
Best Actress — Viola Davis, WIDOWS
Best Supporting Actor — Bryan Cranston, ISLE OF DOGS
Best Supporting Actress – Sakura Ando, SHOPLIFTERS
Best Screenplay — BLACKKKLANSMAN (Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee)
As usual, no Worst List, for all the reasons I’ve said over the years. It does feel like this year I was just shrugging at so many films that got huge acclaim — EIGHTH GRADE, SUPPORT THE GIRLS, BLACK PANTHER, A STAR IS BORN, etc. (I gave a 6/10 to all of those). And even MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT, which I think is the weakest of the six entries in my favorite franchise that exists… everyone finally started to click with it and it’s making other lists. I’m just way against the grain all around. And two films I actively hated (THE RIDER, CAM) are also being hailed. So in short, don’t listen to me. Feel free to comment below, and once again thanks for reading.