Parallax View’s Best of 2018

Welcome 2019 with one last look back at the best releases of 2018, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends and a few special invitations.

Sean Axmaker

1. First Reformed
2. The Rider
3. Roma
4. Leave No Trace
5. If Beale Street Could Talk
6. Private Life
7. Burning
8. BlackKkKlansman
9. Hereditary
10. Zama

A second ten (in alphabetical order): Annihilation, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Cold War, The Favourite, First Man, Happy as Lazzaro, Revenge, Shoplifters, Support the Girls, Suspiria

Cinematic achievement of 2018: the decades-in-the-making completion of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind, left incomplete at the time of his death.

First Reformed – Photo credit: A24

David Coursen (Washington, D.C.)

Best DC non-theatrical Premieres:
An Elephant Standing Still
Family Tour

Singular Blessing:
The Other Side of the Wind

And the 11 best of the rest, listed alphabetically
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
Claire’s Camera
First Reformed
Happy Hour
Loveless
Madeline’s Madeline
Private Life
Roma
Sorry to Bother You
Wormwood

The Other Side of the Wind
Peter Bogdanovich, John Huston in Orson Wells’ “The Other Side Of The Wind”

Robert C. Cumbow

The Top 10

(DisclaimerThe list of important 2018 films I have not yet seen is embarrassingly long—so many movies, so little time—and is included here for context: If Beale Street Could Talk; Roma; Black Panther; Transit; Other Side of the Wind; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Eighth Grade; Mid-90s).

Of the ones I did see, the ones I enjoyed most:
First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
Hostiles (Scott Cooper; technically 2017 but released in Seattle—scantly—in 2018)
The Party (Sally Potter)
The Old Man and the Gun (David Patrick Lowrey)
The Endless (Aaron Moorehead & Justin Benson)
You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay; year’s best example of telling a story in sound design)
Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)
First Man (Damien Chazelle, whom I still don’t like, but I can’t deny how much this film affected me)
Green Book (Peter Farrelly)
Annihilation (Alex Garland)

A Little Respect (because it’s actually been a pretty good year for movies):
Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Coen Bros.)
The Mule (Clint Eastwood)
The Wife (Björn Runge)
Mary Queen of Scots (Josie Rourke)
The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)
The Rider (Chloé Zhao)
Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio)
A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)
A Simple Favor (Paul Feig)
A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper—a few things about this movie made me like it a lot more than I expected to, and persuaded me that Cooper has a directorial eye and instinct to be reckoned with)

2/3 of a Good Movie:
Vice
Hereditary
BlacKKKlansman

1/3 of a Good Movie:
Sorry to Bother You

Music:
Justin Hurwitz, First Man
Max Richter, Mary Queen of Scots

Too many great performances this year to list favorites, so I’ll just mention Cynthia Erivo, a compelling presence in Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale, whose name should be a household word by this time next year.

First Man – Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Jim Emerson

Favorites of 2018
1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel & Ethan Coen)
2. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)
3. The Rider (Chloé Zhao) / The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard)
4. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)
5. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)
6. Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada)
7. Hereditary (Ari Aster)
8. Bird Box (Susanne Bier) / A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)
9. Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham) / Mid90s (Jonah Hill) / Minding the Gap (Bing Liu)
10. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Photo credit: Netflix

John Hartl

1. Leave No Trace
2. First Reformed
3. Fair Game (director’s cut)
4. Springsteen on Broadway
5. Three Identical Strangers
6. Love, Gilda
7. The Death of Stalin
8. A Moment in the Reeds
9. Sorry to Bother You
10. Outside In

Also recommended: We the Animals, BlacKkKlansman, Return to Mount Kennedy, On Chesil Beach

Leave No Trace – Photo credit: SIFF

Robert Horton

(as published in the Seattle Weekly)

1. The Rider
2. Support the Girls
3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
4. Lean on Pete
5. First Reformed
6. Roma
7. Hereditary
8. Zama
9. You Were Never Really Here and Leave No Trace
10. First Man

My Top 10 honorable mentions would have the slow-winding Korean gem Burning; the psychotropic Nicolas Cage thriller Mandy; Bo Burnham’s very funny coming-of-age tale Eighth Grade; the Melissa McCarthy film Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which is as much about loneliness as literary scandal; the cutting British comedy The Death of Stalin; the torrid black-and-white romance of Cold War (opens locally in January); Yorgos Lanthimos’s wicked comedy The Favourite; Hirokazu Kore-eda’s prizewinner Shoplifters; Alex Garland’s sci-fi puzzler Annihilation, with a strong Natalie Portman performance; and Charlize Theron’s postpartum workout in Tully.

Support the Girls – Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

Richard T. Jameson

1. Roma
2. First Reformed
3. Leave No Trace
4-12 alphabetical:
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Border
Burning
The Death of Stalin 
Hereditary 
If Beale Street Could Talk
The Rider
Shoplifters 
You Were Never Really Here 

Yalitza Aparicio in Roma – Photo credit: Carlos Somonte

Moira Macdonald

(as published in The Seattle Times)

In alphabetical order:
Black Panther
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
If Beale Street Could Talk
Mary Poppins Returns
Paddington 2
The Rider
Roma
Shoplifters
Widows
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

A splendid second 13: BlacKkKlansman, Crazy Rich Asians, Disobedience, Eighth Grade, The Favourite, Incredibles 2, Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy, Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Searching, A Star Is Born, Where Is Kyra?, Whitney, Wildlife

Shoplifters – Photo credit: Magnolia

Kathleen Murphy

Most Memorable Movies (2018)
1. Leave No Trace
2. First Reformed
3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
4. Roma
5. Shoplifters
6. Burning
7. You Were Never Really Here
8. The Rider
9. Support the Girls
10. If Beale Street Could Talk
Documentary: Struggle: Life and Lost Art of Szukalski

Burning – Photo credit: Well Go

Amie Simon

1. Suspiria
2. Revenge
3. Apostle
4. Hereditary
5. Mandy
6. Sorry To Bother You
7. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
8. Eighth Grade
9. Love, Gilda
10. Black Panther

Hereditary – Photo credit: A24

Andrew Wright

1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
2. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts
3. Hereditary
4. Paddington 2
5. You Were Never Really Here
6. First Reformed
7. Roma
8. The Rider
9. Mandy
10. Cold War

You Were Never Really Here – Photo credit: Alison Cohen Rosa/Amazon Studios

Filmmakers and film programmers

Brian Alter (programmer, Grand Illusion)

Best gut-punch ending: BlacKkKlansman
Best film about millennials: Never Goin’ Back
Most depressing film: First Reformed
Best weird film: Mandy
Favorite repertory screening: AGFA’s restoration of Godmonster of Indian Flats

Megan Griffiths (filmmaker, Sadie, The Night Stalker, Lucky Them)

You Were Never Really Here (d. Lynne Ramsey)
Eighth Grade (d. Bo Burnham)
The Rider (d. Chloé Zhao)
Minding the Gap (d. Bing Liu)
Destroyer (d. Karyn Kusama)
Roma (d. Alfonso Cuarón)
Madeline’s Madeline (d. Josephine Decker)
Outside In (d. Lynn Shelton)
Leave No Trace (d. Debra Granik)
Sorry To Bother You (d. Boots Riley)

Jennifer Roth (producer: The Wrestler, Black Swan, Laggies, Mudbound)

Cold War
Shoplifters
Zama
You Were Never Really Here
American Animals
Land of Steady Habits (self-promotion aside)
Can You Ever Forgive Me
Roma
Private Life
The Rider

The Seattle Film Critics Society gave their 2018 awards; you can find them here.

Cold War – Photo credit: Amazon Studios

Polls / Lists

Film Comment
Sight and Sound / BFI
Time Out London
Slant
Roger Ebert.com
Indiewire

Other lists

2018 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1928
Rotten Tomatoes Top-rated movies of 2018
Here’s the Parallax View list for 2017

Remembering those we lost in 2018

Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

When you win the Best Picture Oscar, you’ve got a choice: play it safe or take a chance. Moonlight director Barry Jenkins obviously decided to gamble.

Jenkins’ follow-up to his intense 2016 prize-winner is If Beale Street Could Talk, a complex, offbeat adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel. The story revolves around Tish (wondrous newcomer KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), two lovers who’ve known each other since childhood. As the film opens, Tish finds out she’s pregnant while Fonny languishes in prison—two situations we’ll eventually learn more about as the movie skips around in time.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Aquaman

At its most inspired moments, Aquaman plunges straight into the deep end—like when a giant octopus commences an undersea gladiatorial contest by rapping its tentacles across a collection of oversized drums, or when someone offers the movie’s villain a weapon that “converts water into beams of energized plasma.”

I mean, if a movie is going to be this wacky, you really should give in. And I wanted to.

The problem with Aquaman, the latest attempt by the DC Comics faction to match their rivals at Marvel, is that it never picks which wave to surf.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Mary Poppins Returns

The first soundtrack album I ever knew deeply was Mary Poppins, and of all the delightful songs from that movie, the one that really stirred my childhood self was the chimney sweep’s anthem, “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” It took me a few years to understand that songs in a minor key sound darker than songs in a major key, but even as a kid I sensed that something about that tune was slightly eerie—its philosophical mood gave ballast to the movie’s floatiness.

There’s nothing like that minor-key tone in the new Mary Poppins Returns, no waft of night magic to offset the cheerful candy colors. But otherwise this is a crisply executed and refreshingly old-fashioned musical, drawn again from P.L. Travers’ Poppins books.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The new Spider-Man movie opens with an apology about being yet another Spider-Man movie, which pretty much sets the tone: This is a flip, oh-so-postmodern take on a franchise that won’t stop rebooting itself. An animated Marvel saga, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse tips its hat to the existing Spider-Man movie thread while introducing the idea that multiple universes hold different Spider-Men.

That convoluted concept must be fun for some people, because Into the Spider-Verse has been winning rave reviews (and a nod for Best Animated Film from the New York Film Critics). I’m not raving, but the film is certainly different.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Return to Paradise

[Originally written for Amazon in 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

In Malaysia, three young Americans with little else in common are united in a shared enthusiasm for beer, women, and righteous hashish. Eventually, “Sheriff” (Vince Vaughn) and Tony (David Conrad) head back to New York. Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix), a spacey but good-hearted sort, stays on with the notion of helping save the orangutans. Two years later, a brassy lawyer (Anne Heche) shows up in Manhattan with the news that her client, Lewis, has spent the interim in Penang prison. Arrested for a prankish misdemeanor they all shared in, he’s taking the rap for something worse:the dope stash they left him holding was a fatal few grams over the limit. Unless his fellow Americans return voluntarily to (literally) share the weight, in eight days Lewis will be hanged as a drug trafficker.

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Blu-ray: Orson Welles’ ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ on Criterion

The Magnificent Ambersons (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)

How did it take so long for the sophomore feature from Orson Welles to finally get its Blu-ray debut?

I don’t need an answer, I’m just thrilled that it’s finally here, and in such a beautiful edition.

The Criterion Collection

The magnificence of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) is apparent from the first frames of the film. Welles sketches a vivid, idealized portrait of American life in the late 19th century in a brilliant montage that sets the time, the place, and the culture in a series of postcard images and comic snapshots. While Welles narrates (in his glorious authorial voice with an understated warmth and familiarity) the changes in fashion through the years,the images introduce hopeful suitor Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten in his star-making performance) and disappointed heiress Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello) and Welles effortlessly segues from exposition to story. The mix of silent movie-like compositions and imagery, striking montage, and radio drama narrative that introduces the world eases into a graceful, glorious long take that sweeps us into the “now” of the story: a ball at the Amberson Mansion, a place frozen in the past of those opening scenes, where social convention and grandeur are upheld for no reason other than tradition. It is beautiful, a portrait of wealth and culture out of touch with the world outside, and unconcerned with it. At its peril. Just as the fashions and conventions of society constantly evolved in those early montage sequences, so does industry and culture and life itself in the upheaval of progress in the 20th century.

Continue reading at Stream on Demand

Review: Roma

The opening shot of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is a self-contained masterpiece—no surprise, considering the mind-boggling opening shots of Children of Men and Gravity, the Oscar-winning director’s two previous features. Here, our focus on a section of elegant floor tiles is interrupted by a wash of water that flows in waves across the floor, a mysterious image that turns out to be a housemaid washing up the exposed entryway at a Mexico City house, a favorite spot for the family dog to do its (apparently prodigious) pooping. As the water accumulates, the image changes, and we can now see the reflection of the sky above the entryway.

The water, the sky, the dog poop—everything will play a role in this intimate yet somehow epic film, which Cuarón has said is based on his childhood memories of Mexico in the early 1970s. 

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: ‘The Favourite’

Along with its other wicked attractions, The Favourite serves as a corrective to all those fluffy period movies where pretty costumes and set design function as the cinematic equivalent of a bubble bath. The art direction is plenty handsome here, too, and the film will likely collect a few Oscars for its physical production. But The Favourite uses its lavish backdrops in order to show off the nastiest sides of human behavior—this is a beautiful dinner spread with a rat as its centerpiece.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Bernard Bertolucci’s ‘Partner’

[originally written for NoShame Films, August 27, 2005]

Our subject is primarily life, but if you feel that life’s missing something, steal a camera and try to give life a style.

Partner, Bernardo Bertolucci’s third feature film, has always been one of the most elusive of the director’s endeavors: a forthrightly experimental work—”a film that comes from the head,” in Bertolucci’s own phrase, “a totally deconstructed film”—that willfully declines to satisfy audiences’ conventional expectations regarding narrative and emotional identification with characters. Nominally based on the Dostoevsky novella The Double, the movie centers on—and largely transpires in the imagination of—a rather priggish young drama teacher in Rome played by Pierre Clémenti. Clémenti also plays the wilder, looser alter ego who begins to share the teacher’s life and, to an extent, identity; both go by the name of Giacobbe (or Jacob, in English-language commentaries).

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Review: Green Book

You know an actor’s in the groove when a simple grunt conveys not only an entire character arc, but a movie’s essential meaning. Such a moment comes late in Green Book, and it’s one of a thousand things to savor about the performances in this film.

The groan emerges from the beefed-up body of Viggo Mortensen, playing a Bronx wiseguy named Tony Vallelonga (aka Tony Lip). It’s 1962, and Tony has been hired by a black jazz pianist, Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), to act as chauffeur during a concert tour. But Tony’s duties are not merely to drive a car; as a nightclub bouncer and a guy who knows his way around a brawl, it’s understood that Tony may have to provide protection for Shirley when the trip ventures into the American South.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Robin Hood (2018)

The Sheriff of Nottingham is throwing a big party, and Maid Marian asks Robin Hood if he’ll be attending. She tells Robin she “got an invite” to the party, and at that point I think I mentally checked out of the new Robin Hood. It’s bad enough that people use “invite” as a noun in 2018. But unless this is a Mel Brooks version of ye olde tale, using current slang to tell the Robin Hood story qualifies as an automatic tune-out.

The saga of Robin Hood has been around for almost a thousand years, and if it can withstand Kevin Costner’s accent, it can withstand this haphazard new film. The emphasis here is on a youthful Robin, an origin story that shows us how he came to be the legendary robber. 

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Chained for life: Bertolucci regrets rien in ‘The Dreamers’

[Originally written for Queen Anne/Magnolia News, 2004]

There is a moment in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution when the protagonist, the scion of an Italian noble family, learns that a friend has taken his own life. He had been speaking with the young man only hours before and declined his fervent proposal that they go again to see Howard Hawks’s Red River. Bertolucci cranes up and backs off from his hero; then his camera pivots on the young man’s figure, slowly describing 90 degrees of arc around him as he looks out at a changed world.

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Review: Luna

[Originally published in The Weekly (Seattle), October 30, 1979]

Cinema comes so naturally to some filmmakers. Bernardo Bertolucci once revealed that he dreamed camera movements years before laying hands on a camera. But even without this confessional nudge, his aptitude for the medium, his kinesthetic thrall with luminosity, surfaces, colors, trajectories, is apparent in the films he has made. Opera has been a frequent touchstone in his work, existentially and aesthetically, but he doesn’t need it as a brief for grandiosity or vividness of style: it is as natural for Bertolucci to soar as it is for others to walk.

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Bernardo Bertolucci

[originally published in a booklet for the DVD release of Partner by NoShame in 2005]

The political and the sensual meet in the cinema of Bernardo Bertolucci. His visually dense and stylistically labyrinthine films are among the most beautiful — and the most provocative (The Last Tango in Paris) — ever made.His career straddles canvases both epic (1900,The Last Emperor) and intimate (Luna, Besieged), from defiantly Italian stories that reverberate with the echoes of Italy’s Fascist past to international dramas that explore culture,history, and spirituality around the world. All of them are beautifully crafted works attuned the texture of experience and the magic of the moment.

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