Another year has come and gone. 2018 is a year I wish wouldn’t have ended simply because of the plethora of cinematic pleasure that it offered. The majority of the films on my best of the year list possessed an unceasing pursuit to locate and dissect deflated masculinity, crushed egos, and saying goodbye to the thing one loves most. Surprisingly, female directors had an enormous year in 2018 and they were at the forefront at perceiving that masculinity was in peril. Films such as Western, The Rider, You Were Never Really Here, Zama, and Private Life, all of which were directed by women, gave us a glimpse at what happens to a man when their masculinity is wounded. Egos were also susceptible to directors’ probing cameras this year, ripe for endless rumination. How can a priest continue to maintain a strong image when he’s slowly loosing his faith in First Reformed? The women in The Favourite care tremendously about their image and position, and will do whatever it takes to maintain it. An aging director in The Other Side of the Wind does things only his way, hardly listening to anyone within his circle, and the results are catastrophic. And the madman at the center of The House that Jack Built has the biggest ego of all, which eventually paves his way to enter Hell.
Here are my Top 30 Movies of 2018…
30. Eighth Grade– Directed by Bo Burnham
29. The Tale– Directed by Jennifer Fox
28. Minding the Gap– Directed by Bing Liu
27. Sollers Point– Directed by Matthew Porterfield
26. Support the Girls– Directed by Andrew Bujalski
25. Burning– Directed by Lee Chang-Dong
24. Disobedience– Directed by Sebastian Lelio
23. Claire’s Camera– Directed by Sang-soo Hong
22. Thunder Road– Directed by Jim Cummings
21. Mandy– Directed by Panos Cosmatos
20. The Death of Stalin– Directed by Armando Iannucci
19. Cold War– Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
18. Sweet Country– Directed by Warwick Thornton
17. Mission: Impossible – Fallout– Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
16. BlacKkKlansman– Directed by Spike Lee
15. Annihilation– Directed by Alex Garland
14. Custody– Directed by Xavier Legrand
13. You Were Never Really Here– Directed by Lynne Ramsay
12. Private Life– Directed by Tamra Jenkins
11. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs- Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
10. Happy as Lazzaro Directed by Alice Rohrwacher
Italian film director Alice Rohrwacher chases the sublime and somehow captures its transcendent magic with a tale that’s equally bizarre as it’s beautiful. Initially she presents a keen observation on peasant existence in a pastoral and archaic village called Inviolata. An abundance of detail is looked at, from the way these individuals sleep, eat, and change light-bulbs. Rohrwacher highlights their grim existence studiously, making her viewers think her film is strictly confined to this narrative. That all changes, though, once royalty arrives to the village and the Marchesa’s son (Luca Chikovani) strikes up an odd lifelong friendship with Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo), a hardworking young man who the village constantly takes advantage of. Happy as Lazzaro doesn’t prepare you for what happens in its second half. It’s lyrical and mystical, transcending its original narrative in favor of a newer one that boggles the mind: a depiction of a young man who may or may not be a saint. There’s a biblical quality to the film as it tries to comprehend a friendship that was squashed early but refuses to parish.
9. First Man Directed by Damien Chazelle
Once again director Damien Chazelle captivates his audience with a character consumed by an unceasing passion and propelled forward by an unerring ambition burning within. We’ve seen this premise work gloriously before with Chazelle’s Whiplash and La La Land, both films obsessed with music and the entertainment business. With First Man he’s working on a much grander scale. Death haunts his newest film. It’s so conscious of it that it impetuously envelops the film, quickly rendering it a meditative experience rather than a by-the-books story about space exploration. The space travels explored here with Apollo 11 take a back seat as Chazelle is unceasing in his probing of Ryan Gosling’s stoic portrayal of Neil Armstrong and the mortality that pervades his personal life and work life. Chazelle is honing in on the inner anguish plaguing Armstrong, which, in turn, causes the astronaut to pursue his own remedy: the feat of becoming the first man to walk on the moon. First Man shrewdly and wisely uses the Apollo 11 mission merely as a stage to depict one man’s harrowing journey to thwart the anguish weighing on him and to steer him away from a debilitating emotional malaise toward a thing not on earth that can help him achieve self-healing.
8. The Favourite Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Whether it’s with a concerto by Vivaldi or a string quartet by Beethoven, director Yorgos Lanthimos has a penchant for subverting the divine into the dreadful in his newest film The Favourite. There’s an odd feeling that the film emits. It’s hard to shake and it reminds one of the calculated coldness of a Stanley Kubrick film. A sense of uneasiness washes over the film’s viewers as we watch Queen Ann (Olivia Colman) and her two right-hand ladies (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) vie for her attention and, more importantly, her affections. The characters played by Weisz and Stone are wicked in their cunning attempts to keep Queen Ann from preferring one over the other. Fisheye camera lens (creating ultra-wide angles) is used frequently by Lanthimos here to create a warped view of 19th century England, allowing the Queen’s estate and everything in it to subsume an air of dislocation as it jars our perception of royalty and exposes elegance as debauchery. The Favourite seems to be saying that within these fine confines of the castle individuals leave their morality at the door. Those present here are truly rotten to the core (thanks to their prominent place in royalty), willing to lie, cheat, and connive their way to achieve their deepest desires, but Lanthimos reminds us in a haunting final scene that there’s always a hierarchy that maintains order. Thankfully, Lanthimos’ unique vision remains hardly untarnished as he maintains his signature macabre and somewhat comedic tone despite this film being released to a much wider audience than his previous films have been exposed to.
7. The House that Jack Built Directed by Lars von Trier
Endless arguments will be made regarding the levels of extreme wretchedness and ruthlessness evident in Lars von Trier’s newest film The House that Jack Built. The film’s deployment of heinous murders, violence, and other violent grotesque acts has never been seen before in cinema, but somehow, miraculously, von Trier transcends them by allowing his viewers ceaseless access into the bewildering thoughts of his OCD-driven psychopath (played brilliantly and with confidence by Matt Dillon) as he recounts a few of his murders to a man named Verge (Bruno Ganz). Some viewers may have no interest in encountering these rumination after perceiving the acts committed on screen. Stick with it. The film is a confessional and an attempt to fathom the inner rumblings of a man rapidly spiraling down into the depths and circles and layers of Hell. Von Trier’s latest is equally disturbing as it is ambitious as it’s one of the few films brave enough to depict Hell itself, with imagery that’s beyond what’s expected from a film. When attempting to fathom evilness with clips from Glenn Gould practicing piano, excerpts from William Blake’s poetry, and images from Nazi concentration camps, von Trier isn’t absolutely a sadist but a fearless director who isn’t timid to examine the deprived and abject tendencies prevalent within our society.
6. Western Directed by Valeska Grisebach
Western charts with exact precision a German construction crew building a hydroelectric plant in a remote village in Bulgaria and the cultural clash that inevitably ensues. Western resembles a tempest that has been brewing for days waiting to erupt at any given moment. Grisebach directs her film perfectly as she knows how to curb temptations to showcase violence and bloodshed in exchange for thoroughly investigating masculinity and what makes it tick. Her film is a slow-burning one that observes every single emotion, glance, word, gesture, poured beer, and lit cigarette with the utmost care because these are the tings that govern humanity and our relations with others. Witnessing the film’s hero (Meinhard Neumann), a German construction worker, begin to make enemies with his own workers while making friends with the local Bulgarians is astonishing to behold as Grisebach paints a vivid portrait of how hatred and friendships undoubtedly arise despite two groups of people separated by language but not by impulsive emotions.
5. Roma Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
One of the most visually stunning film’s one is likely to see, Roma embraces the ordinary and extraordinary that life continuously provides, miraculously imbuing each subsequent scene with a dreamlike aura that’s mesmeric in its beauty. From simple images such as dirty water washing away the grim on a pavement and trickling into a drain, to an airplane passing overhead through clear skies, to a brief stunning exchange in a furniture store between two people who shared a sexual experience, to jaw-dropping camera pans roaming around devouring city night life, Roma distinguishes itself immediately as a monumental, expansive piece of art. Alfonso Cuaron‘s latest film has an insatiable appetite for life, as his camera is irresistibly compelled to a specific time and place in 1970’s Mexico. I believe films that are concerned with the daily routines of life and so firmly placed in reality are the hardest to make. Films that hope to capture the minute and grand details of life itself can be an arduous task, but with Cuaron’s consummate craft he extinguishes all doubts as he’s determined to dissect a young woman’s (Yalitza Aparicio in a stunning debut role) journey through many ups and downs during a single year. The films from past cinematic masters such as Fellini and Bergman spring to mind while watching Cuaron’s Roma simply because they exalt humanity and revel in the ordinary and extraordinary that we’re always being exposed to.
4. Zama Directed by Lucrecia Martel
“I do for you what no one did for me. I say no to your hopes.” This quote is uttered by Zama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) towards the end of Lucrecia Martel‘s film. He’s been marooned for years. Stationed in a small South American city, Zama wishes to be relocated with his family in Buenos Aires. The only thing he needs is the kingdom’s permission. He continues to wait and wait and wait and wait and… Zama is an unforgettable journey that miraculously perceives the futility of some people’s desires. Perfectly directed, beautifully photographed, Martel’s film is lyrical and damning, effortlessly evoking the dramatic, comedic, horrifying, and surreal that pervade our waking moments, somehow, though, manipulating them to emulate our dreams.
3. The Other Side of the Wind Directed by Orson Welles
Orson Welles‘ formidable new film is masterful. The Other Side of the Wind was thought to be lost. After scholars and film industry leaders attempted to piece together the film’s broken remains we get a picture that shows how advanced and radical Welles’ directorial skills were getting. The bulk of the story takes place during a party at an aging director’s home (played forcefully by John Huston) where members of the film world and critics and actors come to pay their respects. A cinematic whirlwind that tears apart the film industry and the individuals involved in it, The Other Side of the Wind mimics a documentary-type style while also staying true to a somewhat linear narrative that eventually gives way to a movie-within-a-movie that dazzles in its ability to tell a tale of tortured lovers who never fulfill their emotions. Welles was light-years ahead of his time. A no-holds-barred approach is what he goes for, stripping away the glossy veneer of previous behind-the-scenes films and holds a camera smack in Hollywood’s face, revealing many inadequacies, desperate yearnings, and false dreams. His vision is extraordinary as his camera zooms around flexing its unmatched creativity, showcasing its insane film editing, satirizing European film masterpieces from the 1960s, and hopping between disparate screen ratios and film stock for different portions of the film, creating a sense of profound, yet strangely coherent, madness.
2. First Reformed Directed by Paul Schrader
Paul Schrader‘s transcendent film captures the tumultuous days of a reverend on the verge of loosing his faith as things begin to fall apart. It’s a living nightmare when what you devoutly believed in begins to get interrogated and slowly starts unraveling, leaving you to start questioning the foundation of your faith. These are the days any person of faith dreads, let alone someone who has dedicated their life to knowing God. This tempest is brewing within Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke‘s best performance to date). It’s a wicked storm ready to devastate his very existence and consciousness. Schrader suffuses his film with profound sorrow that recalls austere cinematic masterpieces by Robert Breton and Ingmar Bergman that unabashedly probed the mysteries of faith. First Reformed can hold its own with those films.
1. The Rider Directed by Chole Zhao
It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.
– John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
How do we expect to cope when presented with an existence we never suspected? This is the dilemma at the core of Chole Zhao‘s masterpiece as a former rodeo champion (Brady Jandreau playing a real-life version of himself) must refrain from getting back on his horse due to a tragic brain injury and attempt to make a new existence without his lifelong passion. Taking place in the Badlands and showcasing South Dakota’s stunning vistas that tend to dwarf mankind and our problems when pitted against them, masculinity, an uncertain future, and family (Brady’s real-life family portray themselves, too) are topics that The Rider inspects with poetic precision. Not only is the film one of the most immersive cinematic experiences in recent years, it’s also a distinguished work of art that wrestles with the bleak fact of coping without what one ultimately loves. Zhao directs a splendidly breathtaking film that beholds a single existence in South Dakota that can be about the lives of anyone of us.
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