[This article first appeared in the September-October 1990 issue of Film Comment. It was reprinted in the National Society of Film Critics anthology They Went Thataway: Redefining Film Genres (1995).]
Ice dropping into a heavy-bottomed glass: cold, hard, sensuous. The first image in Miller’s Crossing hits our ears before it hits the screen, but it’s nonetheless an image for that. Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) has traveled the length of a room to build a drink. Not that we saw him in transit, not that we yet know he is Tom Reagan, and not that we see him clearly now as he turns and stalks back up the room, a silent, out-of-focus enigma at the edge of someone else’s closeup. Yet he is a story walking, as his deliberate, tangential progress, from background to middle distance and then out the side of the frame, is also a story – draining authority from the close-up Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) who’s come to insist, ironically enough, on the recognition of his territorial rights.
The place is a story, too, which we read as the scene unfolds. A private office; not Caspar’s, but not Reagan’s either – it’s city boss Liam “Leo” O’Bannion (Albert Finney) who sits behind the camera and his big desk, listening. An upstairs office, we know from the muted street traffic (without stopping to think about why we know). Night outside, but sunlight would never be welcome, or relevant, here. A masculine space, green lampshades amid the dark luster of wood, leather, whiskey. A remote train whistle sounds, functional and intrinsically forlorn; the distance from which it reaches us locates the office in space and in history. This room exists in a city big enough to support a multiplicity of criminal fiefdoms and a political machine that rules by maintaining the balance among them, yet it is still a town whose municipal core lies within faint earshot of its outskirts. Urban dreams of empire have not entirely crowded out the memory of wilderness, of implacable places roads and railroads can’t reach, even if one of them has been wishfully designated Miller’s Crossing. Hence we are not entirely surprised (though the aesthetic shock is deeply satisfying) when the opening master-scene, with its magisterial interior setting and dialogue fragrant with cross purpose, gives way to a silent (save for mournful Irish melody) credit sequence in an empty forest. And then to a title card announcing, almost superfluously, “An Eastern city in the United States, toward the end of the 1920s.”
Batman is wearing a white bat-helmet, his costume dotted with sparkles that set off his fabulous ermine cape. I think at this point there is no question that the Batman from the Lego movies has eclipsed the Dark and Brooding™ Batman of Warner Brothers’ DC film cycle. No wonder Ben Affleck is opting out of the live-action role; he can’t compete with this. As voiced by Will Arnett, the Lego Batman is vain, dimwitted, and very nearly a complete parody of the Dark Knight. It’s the closest thing we’ve come to Adam West’s great TV Batman from the ’60s, and this is a good thing.
Batman has the bling on because he’s dressed up for an outer-space wedding, which is merely one of a thousand points of light in The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, a sequel to the 2014 hit.
While the Oscars remain the one artistic award show that really matters, it’s frustrating how flawed and exclusionary they remain. Still, only certain types of movies are even considered for nominations — sure, a horror film like Get Out or a comic-book movie like Black Panther can get nominated, but they’re the exceptions that prove the rule (and ones that would’ve received major backlash if snubbed). But even if a movie falls under the category of “Oscar bait,” it still requires a cash-back campaign targeted at voters to stand a chance. It’s a crummy system.
With that in mind, we threw any notion of standard Academy Awards qualifications out the window to nominate our favorite films of 2018 in some of the major categories (with entries marked with a * indicating our pick as the winner).
Black Panther BlacKkKlansman Bohemian Rhapsody The Favourite Green Book Roma A Star Is Born Vice
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs BlacKkKlansman Burning First Reformed Hereditary Leave No Trace The Rider* Roma Support the Girls You Were Never Really Here
Elvis Presley is ostensibly the subject of The King, Eugene Jarecki’s expansive road movie of a documentary. The award-winning director drives Presley’s 1963 Rolls-Royce across the US, from Mississippi and Memphis to Nashville, New York, Las Vegas, Hollywood, and elsewhere, talking to historians, musicians, members of Presley’s inner circle, and everyday Americans. Elvis centers the film but is also a starting point for a much more wide-ranging discussion of the state of American life, and that discussion takes off in all directions. That Jarecki began his odyssey in the months leading up the 2016 election and ended up on the other side of it only adds fuel to the discussion.
Not of political identity, mind you, but of America itself. Elvis is the touchstone that centers it all, with Jarecki using his life and legacy as both a roadmap for the cultural odyssey and as a metaphor for the state of contemporary America.
And at the heart of the film is the question: Is the American dream dead, a victim of greed, excess, and increasing isolation?
Playing a comedy genius is surely 10 times harder than playing another category of intellectual brilliance. If you’re cast as Albert Einstein, you put on a fright wig and spout a few equations — everybody thinks you’re brilliant. Play a famous singer, and they can always dub the voice. In the current At Eternity’s Gate, Willem Dafoe is Vincent Van Gogh: a terrific performance (that just received a Best Actor Oscar nomination), one for which the dedicated actor learned how to paint. But he doesn’t have to convince us he painted the completed canvases — Van Gogh provided the genius we see hanging on the walls around the actor.
But comedy? Comedy is hard. To be convincingly touched by comic genius is an extremely difficult thing to fake—it’s the difference between acting funny and being funny.
Images, lines, gestures, moods from the year’s films
* At the movies, Roma: German slapstick on screen in deep distance, a pair of lovers in closeup silhouette in left of frame, gray ranks of anonymous filmgoers in between. The space is familiar, auspicious, yet somehow fraught. Camera does not move, but things come undone…. * “I felt like I was Jacob wrestling all night long with the angel, fighting in the grasp. Every sentence, every question, every response a mortal struggle. It was exhilarating.” Rev. Toller (Ethan Hawke), First Reformed… * Leave No Trace: the myriad intonations and valences Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie can get into “Dad”… * Pirandellian rewrite: At the outset of The Other Side of the Wind—begun 1970, completed 2018—Peter Bogdanovich speaks with old-age voice…. * The Death of Stalin: body tumbling down stairs in background as Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) makes his rounds… * Hereditary: rooms that suggest dollhouse miniatures, and may be… * Filial love in You Were Never Really Here: Joe’s honkhonk honk mock hammering of Mom; Joaquin Phoenix and Judith Roberts… * The endless, obscuring, occasionally decapitating frames of civilization in Zama; maddening protocols and deflections… * The Old Man and the Gun: Forrest/Robert Redford’s “yeah it’s for real” shrug after slipping note to bank teller… * The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: the Wingless Thrush (Harry Melling) catching snowflakes in his mouth… * Lisa (Regina Hall) almost falling asleep in the midday sun—Support the Girls… * Widows: Dog in arms blinks as Veronica (Viola Davis) enters husband’s workshop…. * If Beale Street Could Talk: moving “furniture” in the loft… * Bohemian Rhapsody: cats in window watching Freddie’s limo leave for the concert… * Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) petting a rabbit while having her hair brushed—The Favourite… * Michael Myers mask rising out of car trunk—Halloween… * Border: yearning through windowglass—werewolves in love?… * A Quiet Place: Creature that can’t see and one who can’t hear pass in the night…. * “Being dead” up on the roof, Roma… * “Go for a cruise,” the horseman proposes, and his steed breaks into fluid glide, camera tracking right along. Brady Jandreau, The Rider…
* “Shoot her before him and make sure he sees it.” Beria’s instructions for disposition of politically superfluous married couple—The Death of Stalin… * Recurrently in First Reformed, the sound of footsteps on bare wooden floors. Such sense of place, community, ethos… * Private Life punctiliousness: “The seltzer comes from one place, the syrup from somewhere else.”… * Blake Lively to Anna Kendrick post-sudden-kiss, A Simple Favor: “You’re OK. You wanna order pizza?”… * The Little Drummer Girl: in mid-interrogation, need 50p to turn lights on again… * The Favourite: “Must the duck be here?”… * Film freak: “I’m Marvin P. Fassbinder!” Jake Hannaford/John Huston: “Of course you are.” The Other Side of the Wind… * Bad Times at the El Royale: Far across rainswept parking lot, Jon Hamm’s glasses reflect lightning…. * Small plane like a dragonfly over arctic waste, Hold the Dark… * November, an Estonian ghost story: flying skull carries cow over treetops… * The reservoir and what might be in it—Burning… * Dying man singing along to ambient music; his killer lying down beside him and joining in—You Were Never ReallyHere… * Hereditary: papers blowing out through backseat window just before … you know… * Bird Box: Woman steps into blazing car and takes her seat…. * Les Affames/Ravenous: cow eating lawn along suburban street… * Zama: squeak of native-operated wood fan behind ambiguous flirtation… * Candles on railing of borrowed porch, Leave No Trace… * BlacKkKlansman: Flip (Adam Driver) and other cops turning as they hear Ron (John David Washington) on the phone listing all the types of nonwhite Americans he hates… * Motherhood is hard. “I am so sick of that face on your face!” Toni Collette, Hereditary… * “So grandma only wanted their money, not me?” Could be, kid. Then again, what’s family anyway? Shoplifters…
* Roma: Seriously stressed Galaxie pulls into frame below Aztec entablature…. * All the good doctors in Moscow having been liquidated, how to get medical assistance for Stalin? Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) rationalizes: “If he recovers, then we got a good doctor, and if he doesn’t recover, then we didn’t, but he won’t know!” The Death of Stalin settles that…. * Night Eats the World: man contemplates suicide, nods off, accidentally discharges shotgun in his sleep…. * The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: creak of Leone windmill that isn’t there… * Gray church, gray sky, gray dusk—First Reformed… * The Old Man and the Gun: Forrest, horseback on hilltop, watching caravan of cop cars on road below… * Torch-bearing riders spread into the night, The Favourite…. * Pact under red umbrella, If Beale Street Could Talk… * “I can take fuckin’ up all day but I can’t take not trying”—Support the Girls values… * The Sisters Brothers: riding through cemetery of discarded luggage on seashore… * A scattering of rocks in a green graveyard: rough memorials for Border’s deformed dead… * The Rider: Cat Clifford’s talking prayer by campfire… * The food no one ever gets to eat in You Were Never ReallyHere, until someone does… * “Kentucky Fried Chicken—in Kentucky! When’s that gonna happen?” Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) open to delight, Green Book… * Llama kibitzes at dashing of Zama’s (Daniel Giménez Cacho) hopes…
* Vigil in rain with two geese—Happy as Lazzaro… * The grandmother at the beach, setting about dying. The late Kirin Kiki, Shoplifters… * John Carroll, Norman Foster, Tonio Selwart; shades tenderly at large in The Other Side of the Wind… * Burning: The bewitching Haemi (Jun Jong-seo) slips out of her shirt to dance in the warm light of a setting sun; two young men watch (Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun), curiously impassive…. * The towering blond distraction of Elizabeth Debicki, Widows… * Kayli Carter’s misconstrued “OK,” Private Life. (Watch this young actress. And, to be sure, Thomasin McKenzie.)… * The Favourite: Emma Stone’s imposing lexicon of sniffles, snorts, head wags… * Zoe Kazan as Miss Longabaugh … Has Sarah Vowell seen The Ballad of Buster Scruggs?… * Cabiria-like, the unsought power to balance on one foot: Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) at the martial arts field, Roma… * Night run through corn shocks, A Quiet Place… * Leave No Trace: Truck driver (Art Hickman) who has to know he’s doing the right thing… * The Armstrongs’ laughter at “kinda neat,” First Man… * Touching the nose, A Star Is Born… * Ants crawling over head as oblivious motorists drive past, Hereditary… * Elder doctor pursued across white plaza, The Death of Stalin… * Rooftop sleepwalk under full moon, November… * The Quake: shattered skyscraper like a tyrannosaur profile… * Nocturnal greeting from/to reindeer, Border… * Cold Skin: mermen climbing down off lighthouse in first rays of sun… * First Man: Pre-launch, bird flies past porthole…. * “You’re starting to harsh both of our mellows”—Sorry to Bother You… * “You know you’ve missed me.” The return of Frank Underwood. Kevin Spacey on YouTube. OMG…. * Zama: coy menace of Vicuña Porto (Matheus Nachtergaele)… * Ron’s karate-chop war dance in front of Records counter, BlacKkKlansman… * The Old Man and the Gun: Tom Waits’s reminiscence about why he hates Christmas… * Bad Times at the El Royale: Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and the right/wrong jukebox tune: “you’re just too good to be true”… * The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: the Impresario (Liam Neeson) walking back from the gorge… * “She died. Or maybe she didn’t die. Maybe she just moved back to the suburbs.“ Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) can’t be expected to remember everything. Can You Ever Forgive Me?…
* Eighth Grade: Dorky father (Josh Hamilton) wants to “say one thing.” She (Elsie Fisher): “Dad, this is more than one thing.” He: “It’s a chunk of things.”… * “Same thing that’s wrong with you isn’t wrong with me”—Leave No Trace…. * Dog running out to chase truck, Les Affames/Ravenous. Life goes on, even in zombie apocalypse.… * The Favourite: hand job disquisition on realpolitik… * Avengers: Infinity War: Dr. Strange saying douchebag… * Brotherhood of the toothbrush—The Sisters Brothers… * In Support the Girls, stormin’ Cubby (James LeGros) popped in stomach. Did not see that coming…. * HoldtheDark: Offered soup, sorely wounded Slone (Alexander Skarsgard) asks, “What kind?”… * President Pierce’s accommodation to change, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs… * Park Chan-wook’s red and green rooms, The Little Drummer Girl… * What rough beast sinks into the depths with its tender burden—You Were Never ReallyHere… * A Star Is Born: Ally’s final, hieratic closeup; Lady Gaga indeed… * Wig? No wig? Sharon (Regina King) calculates her best approach in Puerto Rico. If Beale Street Could Talk… * “Has anybody got a Swiss Army knife?”—First Man… * Somewhere Don Gabriel Figueroa smiles: in Roma, thundercloud light on cactus as mommy drives her family home from vacation…. * Schrader’s use of the classical 1.33:1 format in First Reformed: initially startling; effective at setting the tone of austerity; then disconcerting as, what, the whole film is going to be in this shape? Yes, and rightly so….
* Hulk towering darkly above parkway, bisecting Scope frame—You Were Never Really Here… * Cliff fall without end—Happy as Lazzaro… * Zama: ambush by red-painted phantoms amid the long grass… * Outlaw King: apples rolling in the road under horses’ hooves… * Molly Shannon murdering roast turkey, Private Life… * Daniel Kaluuya, stone cold malevolence in Widows… * “First time?” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs… * Hereditary: house swallowed in night, silver tree trunks shining above… * Atavistic thrill of that music coming on as Michael Meyers once again walks the streets of Haddonfield—but there’s still only one Halloween… * Border: smelling smartphone… * Cellphone call among tombstones, First Reformed… * Kid in hospital to fellow survivor of 22 July: “Cigarettes would be nice … except I don’t smoke.”… * Hold the Dark: Vernon reclaiming cigarette from windowsill after killing rapist… * Erramentari: torment by chick pea… * Apostle: the silhouettes around “the purification”… * Car painted pink by neon sign, Bad Times at the El Royale… * Suicide in white lake amid white trees, November… * Sarah (Golshifteh Farahani) appears to have won approval of zombie Alfred (a new frontier for Denis Lavant)—Night Eats the World…. * The Death of Stalin: breathtaking precision of comedic ensemble… * Unsettling, unexpectedly heartbreaking memento mori: in The Favourite, Olivia Colman’s final closeup, the Queen’s voice the slurry growl of a stroke victim… * “Cut” (The Other Side of the Wind). “Shantih Shantih Shantih” (Roma). Things Netflix didn’t want you bothered by… * Apollo 1 mission: the two shots of the cockpit hatch—First Man… * Ferocity of the Cheeon shootout, Hold the Dark (Julian Black Antelope as Cheeon)… * Emily Blunt cocking a pump shotgun, A Quiet Place…
* Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Parting after dinner, the shy dynamics of Lee (Melissa McCarthy) and Anna (Dolly Wells) wordlessly wondering what this might lead to… * Burning: The cat with no name has one…. * Queen passing offstage, leaving the screen to the vast crowd. Bohemian Rhapsody… * You Were Never Really Here: suicide skip on the check. “Have a nice day.”… * Profile, pirogue, endless carpet of green—Zama… * Seahorse frond, Leave No Trace… * “Whistle for him when you walk away, please”—The Rider…. * The Death of Stalin: furtive glances of the next men in line who suddenly, inexplicably, just avoided getting executed… * The Ballad of Buster Scruggs reaches its destination, the prairie precursor of the Hotel Earle…. * Roma’s transcendent final shot. Stay for the last plane….
RTJ wishes to acknowledge the contributions of Kathleen Murphy to this year’s edition.
I saw Cold War last summer at a film festival in Ukraine, where I was on an awards jury. When it concluded, I stood up and declared aloud to no one in particular, “We have just seen the winner of the next Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.”
Of course I didn’t actually do that. Who am I to stand up and make pronouncements in English in a Ukrainian movie theater? (But I did mutter it to myself.)
Cold War has all the attributes of a classic Oscar-winner in that category: It’s accessible; it’s serious but also deeply romantic; it’s got political overtones; and it’s gorgeous to look at.
The Man Who Cheated Himself (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray+DVD) Moonrise (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) Gun Crazy (Warner Archive, Blu-ray) No Orchids for Miss Blandish (Kino, Blu-ray, DVD)
Lee J. Cobb takes the lead as Lt. Ed Cullen, a veteran Homicide detective in a secret affair with socialite Lois Frazer (Jane Wyatt) while she’s in the midst of a divorce, in The Man Who Cheated Himself (1950), an independently-made film noir shot on location in San Francisco. When she shoots her soon-to-be-ex-husband (in self-defense), Ed looks over the incriminating evidence and decides that a cover-up is in her best interest. When he’s assigned the case, all looks good, except that his rookie partner—his newlywed and newly promoted younger brother Andy (John Dall)—digs into the evidence and uncovers contradictions in the case, despite Ed’s efforts to nudge him in other directions. It’s a classic good cop gone bad set-up but Ed isn’t greedy or corrupt, merely protective of the woman he loves, which gets complicated because he’s equally protective of his kid brother determined to pull at every loose thread. Wyatt is an unlikely femme fatale, less cold-blooded than practical, but Cobb is excellent as the tough mug of a cop swayed by love and the two deliver a beautifully understated coda that sums up their relationship without a word, merely glances and body language that suggests a tenderness that still exists between them. Dall is the opposite as the bright and energetic rookie on the trail of his first big case, with wide grins and a twinkle in his eye.
My Neighbor Totoro: 30th Anniversary Edition (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray) Batman: The Complete Animated Series (Warner Bros., Blu-ray)
Hayao Miyazaki is one of Japan’s living treasures, a beloved filmmaker whose animated films number among the most beautiful and most enchanting productions ever drawn by hand. In this day of CGI productions, the aging artists still personally draws his key frames and defining characters, with a love and craft that comes through every frame. They may seem old fashioned and perhaps too sweet for American audiences—his films, while loved by many, have never found the huge audiences that flock to the more knowing and culturally savvy Pixar films and Shrek sequels—but the lovely fables, epic adventures, ecologically-minded dramas and modern fairy tales are all treasures.
My Neighbor Totoro (Japan, 1988) was Miyazaki’s first genuine masterpiece and perhaps my favorite of Miyazaki’s films.
The title of 1983, a murder mystery turned conspiracy thriller from writer/creator Joshua Long, is more than an oblique reference to George Orwell’s 1984. Set in a parallel 2003 where the Berlin Wall never fell and the Communist Party has a chokehold on Poland, this alternate history opens on the 20th anniversary of devastating terrorist attacks. The national myth of martyred victims murdered by resistance groups and the necessary guidance of a benevolent government is trotted out in ceremonies celebrating Polish resilience. Katejan (Maciej Musial), a fresh-faced law student orphaned by the attacks and raised on such propaganda, is jolted from his complacency after his mentor, a beloved judge with deep Party ties, posits an unexpected question in his oral exams: what if the attacks didn’t backfire at all? What if they accomplished exactly what they were supposed to? When the professor is murdered by one of his students, Katejan starts to question everything he believes.
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.
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.
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
Robert C. Cumbow
The Top 10
(Disclaimer – The 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.
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)
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.