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In an earlier post, I mentioned that I both love and hate lists. I love making them, but I hate that people (including myself) tend to consider lists inflexible, rigid, carved in stone. Since my tastes are so fluid, so is my list. My #20 pick might be my #3 later today. Numbers and tastes change, so my Best of 2018 list appears in alphabetical order. But I am separating my “Top 10” from the rest of the pack, so today will begin with my “#11 through 20” list.
Calling this a “Best of” list is something of a misnomer. I think all of these films are good, some very good, but probably only a few of them are great. Many of these films made me think and some of them challenged me in ways that make me uncomfortable. When you can’t stop thinking about a movie, it’s worked its magic on you. And some of these films I simply had fun watching.
Before we get to 2018, I want to mention four films from 2017 that I saw in early 2018, films I couldn’t really legitimately place on my 2018 list. In alphabetical order:
Good Time (Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie), which taught me that Robert Pattinson is for real.
I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie), which I previously reviewed.
Lucky (John Carroll Lynch), which gives us Harry Dean Stanton’s final performance. I’m so thankful this film exists. That’s all you need to know.
Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson), which contains possibly the best film score in in years, by Jonny Greenwood.
As obvious as it may be, I didn’t see everything released in 2018. If I didn’t list your favorite movie from last year, I either didn’t see it or didn’t think it belonged in my Top 20.
Also the Oscar nominations come out later today, but don’t expect their tastes to line up with mine.
I’ve seen each of these films only once, but many of them I hope to see again.
And now, my Best of 2018 #20-11 in alphabetical order:
Black Panther (Ryan Coogler) Regal Waugh Chapel Stadium 12 & IMAX, Crofton, MD
I was expecting another superhero slog with an endless parade of unwatchable fighting scenes and general sh*t blowing up, but Black Panther was a breath of fresh air. This is a story with great characters, action, and a villain that actually has some depth. Good solid entertainment.
Hereditary (Ari Aster) Library DVD
Everyone already knows the story here, and even if you don’t, it doesn’t matter. In fact, the less you know, the better. I’m not sure what scared me more: the movie itself or the fact that this was Ari Aster’s first directorial effort. She probably won’t get it, but Toni Collette deserves, at the very least, a Best Actress Oscar nomination. This movie will mess you up.
Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson) Library DVD
By executive decree, all pet dogs in Megasaki City are banished to Trash Island, a garbage-dump where dogs have to scavenge for themselves in order to survive. Defying this decree, a 12-year-old named Atari goes to Trash Island to find his missing dog Spots.
Both Isle of Dogs and Wes Anderson himself have lots of haters. Some claim that Anderson has simply made the same quirky film over and over for the past 20+ years and I think there’s probably some credence to that claim. Anderson has also been criticized for how Isle of Dogs portrays Japanese culture. I’ll confess to knowing so little about Japanese culture that I can’t be sure of the accuracy of those critiques. I do know that while I anticipated many of the plot points of the film, I was nevertheless captivated. For better or worse, Anderson’s magic (and especially the stellar stop-motion animation) still works on me.
The Kindergarten Teacher (Sara Colangelo) Netflix
(Note: This is not the Nadav Lapid film from 2014, on which the 2018 movie is based)
Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Lisa, a Staten Island kindergarten teacher who recognizes the untapped talent of her student Jimmy (Parker Sevak), who seemingly comes up with poetic verses on the spot. Frustrated with her own efforts in creativity, Lisa champions Jimmy in ways beyond the normal teacher/student relationship. Much of The Kindergarten Teacher will no doubt make you uncomfortable, but Gyllenhaal’s performance is stellar. If for no other reason, watch it for Gyllenhaal.
Leave No Trace (Debra Granik) Library DVD
Based on the novel My Abandonment by Peter Rock, Leave No Trace begins with a father (Ben Foster) and his daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) living off the grid in the woods. We’re not immediately sure why they’re in the woods, what led them to this lifestyle, or even if they’re criminals, but the journey director Granik takes us on is largely a quiet one, filled not with emotional manipulation, but honesty and outstanding performances.
Let the Corpses Tan (Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani) Kanopy
My favorite poster of the year only captures a bit of the visual delights and horrors inherent in Let the Corpses Tan, a weird and wild combination of a heist film, a ghost story, a spaghetti Western, and pulp fiction. The plot is really of secondary importance, but here it is: a group of criminals make off with 250kg of gold ingots from a heist and hide out at a barely habitable Mediterranean mountain villa owned by the gang’s painter friend (Elina Löwensohn). Things get really crazy when the girlfriend (and her young son) of one of the gang members shows up. The odd visuals combined with the story don’t really work that well as a cohesive narrative, but the film’s still pretty amazing. Recommended for anyone who likes crime films and thinks they’ve seen it all.
Shirkers (Sandi Tan) Netflix
All Singapore-born filmmaker Sandi Tan wanted to do was make a movie. She and her friends Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique made the film, with the assistance of film teacher Georges Cardona. When Tan left the footage with Cardona, who knew how to get a distributor for the film, Cardona disappeared. So did the film. This is the story of what happened next. Anyone remotely interested in film and filmmaking will want to see this film, which won the World Cinema Documentary Directing Award at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard) Regal Cinemas Majestic 20 & IMAX, Silver Spring, MD
Based on the novel by Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers is the odd, dark comedy/Western story of Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) Sisters, two brothers seeking to track down and kill the man who stole from their employer, the Commodore (Rutger Hauer). Owen Gleiberman of Variety wrote, “The Sisters Brothers is too light to be a true drama and too heavy to be a comedy,” all of which is true, yet the film won me over. Much of the credit goes to a great cast, including not only the leads and Hauer, but also Riz Ahmed, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Carol Kane. It seems The Sisters Brothers has been quickly forgotten, but it shouldn’t be. It may not be for everyone, but it could be an undiscovered gem.
Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle) Library DVD
The documentary Three Identical Strangers is a fascinating look at identical triplets who were separated at birth and adopted by three different families. After the boys are accidentally reunited, the film goes into territory that’s equally fascinating, but also frightening.
Western (Valeska Grisebach) Amazon streaming
Western is probably the least-known and therefore least-seen film on my list. Its title almost guarantees it will get lost in the midst of more unique titles, but I urge you to seek it out. Shot almost entirely with non-professional actors, Western is primarily the story of Meinhard (Meinhard Neumann), one of a group of German construction workers building a hydroelectric plant in a Bulgarian village, where the construction workers clash with the locals. There are a lot of lessons to be learned here, and not all of them obvious. The performances are impressive, especially considering that the majority of the cast had never acted before.
Next time: my Top 10
Photos: Indiana Express, Hollywood Reporter, Always Good Movies, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Netflix, Princeton University Film Studies, Hollywood.com