Robert Eggers (“The Witch”)
My favorite film of the year was “Roma.” Simply put, it’s the kind of film one hopes for and seldom sees. “Cold War” was another transportive film with impeccable craft and stunning performances. “BlacKkKlansman” was as entertaining as it was powerful. The beautiful “If Beale Street Could Talk” was sumptuous in every aspect, from the photography and costumes, to the language. “First Reformed” was a wonderfully angry and thought provoking reimagining of Schrader’s past motifs and “Winter Light.” “Suspiria,” “Hereditary,” “You Were Never Really Here,” “High Life,” and “Mandy” all transcend their genres in inspiring ways, as did the re-release of Bill Gunn’s “Ganja and Hess” (1973), which I saw for the first time. Willem Dafoe and Olivia Coleman gave fantastic performances in the well-costumed and well-art directed films “At Eternity’s Gate” and “The Favourite,” respectively. My biggest regrets of the cinematic year: Not yet having seen “Burning” or “Zama.”
Hannah Fidell (“The Long Dumb Road,” “A Teacher”)
BBC AMERICA/Sid Gentle Films Ltd
My top choices:
(have not seen “Roma” yet…)
I watched much more TV than films this year…so adding my top shows of 2018:
“Escape from Dannemora”
Yance Ford (“Strong Island”)
In no particular order, favorite 10 of 2018.
“If Beale Street Could Talk”
“You Were Never Really Here”
“Spider-Man: Into he Spider-Verse”
“Hale County This Morning, This Evening”
“Monsters and Men”
“Suspiria” / “Blindspotting”
“Sorry To Bother You”
2018 was an incredible year and I could could submit a other 10 under a pen name. But then I would give away my pen name…
Jennifer Fox (“The Tale”)
There are three films I loved this year – and full disclosure I haven’t seen everything so these may not be “the best” of the year. These films have jumped out to me and left me spinning with their authenticity and characterizations. I felt like I was meeting people and exposed to worlds that I would never have been able to see but for the camera. As I come from documentary filmmaking, I have a predilection for the impact of reality, yet these fiction films could never have been documentaries. They go beyond what reality could’ve shown me into worlds so marginal as to be invisible to ordinary eyes. Not until I sat down to write did I realize all three of my picks were about family, the brutal impact of family and the way we build family out of those not blood, but “love” relatives. A long time ago I read an incredible feat of journalism by Donald Katz, called “Home Fires,” that chronicled a family year by year for nearly 50 years and how it changed through the changing times. Before reading that book, I was a true believer in psychology and how you are primarily formed by what happens in your family drama, but reading his book I understood that we are equally affected by our environment and the times. All three of these films show in unique ways the impact of the political environment and culture on the individual lives of the characters portrayed.
“My Brilliant Friend”
This extraordinary series, based on the collection of books, portrays the story of two young girls and their friendship over time. What is astounding to me is the agency and the “voice” of the two young prepubescent girls that is shown in ways rarely seen on screen. Psychologist Carol Gilligan, wrote extensively of the ways in which girl’s voices are squashed and eradicated by puberty. Likewise, filmmakers rarely portray this vital stage in young girl’s development. As the series progress and the two girls age, their female characters are impacted, twisted, and crushed by the pressure of society. It’s rare that one actually witnesses the crushing of girls into adults in such an exquisitely truthful manner. How these two girls struggle to survive and thrive under the pressures of marriage and sexuality and lack of educational access clamping down on them with their identity intact is brilliant. At the end of season one, I had the rarest experience: I felt like I had just finished one episode, not eight, as if I was at the very beginning of the story, not the end, and I longed for more narrative to come.
What I love about “Roma” that is that the director created a story where you can see the force of society in the background of the narrative in such a way that feels so truthful to the way we live history as human beings – in fact we don’t notice history even as it is creating us. As the maid lives her ordinary life, caring for her upper-class family, the world is swirling around her, yet she must continue to do her job even while the very fabric of the society she lives in is being torn apart, ransacked and recreated. This film is about so much and of course it is about class and the complexities of class, but yet despite class, in this story the “sisterhood” of women triumphs over station in such an ordinary and surprising way. It is this aspect that was glorious. The father disappears to follow his wandering desires and the mother, grandmother and the maid and cook are left to fend for themselves and the children. Yet even as the mother rages against the loss of her husband and takes it out on the maid, she completely accepts her maid’s accidental pregnancy and includes her in the family tribe without a second thought.
“Shoplifters” is not a traditional narrative by any means. It is more an “observational” fiction film, in the same way we call certain documentaries ‘observational’. Each character has a trajectory that is followed, but until the very end, when there is a sudden dramatic change that unravels their fragile ties, there is little conflict between them. Instead we are let to enjoy this extraordinary meditation on what is the true meaning of family and love. Each character is drawn so precisely and yet we come to understand that they are a random family, or a chosen family, or a shoplifted family. When their fabric is finally torn apart, we know that their blood families and their future families will be so much less than what they created before. The film is full of beautiful metaphors, not the least, the insistence that food be part of nearly every scene. The importance of food as nourishment and love and pleasure is shown in glorious ways, least of all a wet, sticky scene in the middle of summer where two of the characters slurp down cold noodles only to end up in a long forgotten sexual embrace.
Augustine Frizzell (“Never Goin’ Back”)
Every December when I go over the list of movies I watched that year, (and by list, I mean my movie spreadsheet) I have a moment where I wish my top ten could include films from any era, not just that year. Then I remember that finding these classic films to be exceptional is old news and I’m just late to the game. Besides, paring down my list of top current films is already hard enough! That said, here are ten films from 2018 that I loved for a variety of reasons. And for honorable mention I’m including the 5.5 hour version of “Fanny and Alexander” that I watched with my family a few days before Christmas. The entire experience was the most magical viewing I’ve had all year and one I don’t want to forget from 2018.
1. “The Favourite”: I loved everything about this movie. Three brilliant actresses, gorgeous costumes and the SCRIPT!! So fun, so wicked, and so unique.
2. “If Beale Street Could Talk”: Utterly romantic and heartbreaking. Barry Jenkins’ style feels to me like writing with a fresh, felt tip pen in a brand new notebook. It’s a sensory experience; there’s texture and tactility on top of all the emotions. I didn’t want the film to end, but I never do with Jenkins’ films.
3. “You Were Never Really Here”: Brutal but never felt exploitative. Restrained where it needed to be. A realistic depiction of mental illness and inner turmoil and with one of the best soundtracks of the year.
4. “First Reformed”: The framing alone is exquisite. I left feeling inspired to someday make a film with zero camera movements. (not that he did that here, but a large majority was locked off and stunning.)
5. “Suspiria”: The sound design alone puts this film on my list. (not to mention the dancing.) Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, and Mia Goth are my new dream team.
6. “Black Panther”: So what, I enjoy Marvel films and this is one of, if not the best of the bunch. These movies greatly benefit from a strong voice like Coogler’s (or Taika Waititi’s) where we can see and feel the mark of the filmmaker.
7. “The Dawn Wall”: Incredible doc. I saw this back in March and still think about it regularly. Any tale of human perseverance in the face of crazy obstacles has my attention. (Loved “Free Solo” too, for the record.)
8. “A Fantastic Woman”: I know it came out in Europe the previous year, but I only saw it in March when it opened in the US. So much emotion.
9 “Mandy”: Crazy, ridiculous and awesome, the best role for Nicolas Cage that I’ve seen in ages.
10. “Crazy Rich Asians”: I’m a sucker for a good romantic comedy and this one hit all the right notes. Super fun, fantastical and over the top in the best possible way. Henry Golding is the best Rom Com male lead since Hugh Grant.
Debra Granik (“Leave No Trace,” “Stray Dog,” “Winter’s Bone”)
In thinking about this year’s movies — what was communicated and depicted in the stories we told one another — I broke it down to note how I relished 2018’s films for very different reasons. These selections are unranked.
I. THE ART OF NON-FICTION that keeps my love of documentaries running high:
“Crime + Punishment”: The commitment behind this film grabbed me by the throat. It needed to be made, and it was a brave filmmaker who took it on.
“Shirkers”: Mystery, tons to think about, so smartly pieced together. At the edge of my seat. Such a hard film to make, but such a worthwhile endeavor.
“Generation Wealth”: I always want to shout out props to hard hitting essay films. This was nuts! I felt sick during and after, but I was full of admiration for the sheer strength and determination it took to make this film and the thinking that forged these themes into a cogent survey of something extreme and disturbing in human nature and the times in which we live. Not for the over-sensitive.
“Minding the Gap”: Who is telling the story and how – just got fresher.
“The Devil We Know”: Urgent dedication to public awareness.
“Dark Money”: Like “Crime + Punishment,” it is always worthy to get the word out, to get some truth out. It’s never easy, but I thank and revere those who give so much as they do the hard work of peeling back the layers.
II. MOVIES I ADORED AS A PARENT OF A TEENAGER. These films meant a lot to me because my daughter was so amped about them. I’m happy and relieved when my teen kid gets a lot out of a film. That energy comes back in dividends. After a film she likes, conversation is succulent, and she is motivated to talk to peers about them. We talk about them for weeks or months. I’m delighted by her excitement and the investment in stories that leave an imprint, give her lots to think about, especially amidst the thunderous noise of the digital chatter and streaming drool.
Movies that delighted the teenager I live with – On the doc front:
“North Pole, NY” for the exploration of tender Americana in her home state.
“America To Me” for all the themes, questions, and conflicts that are relevant to life in public high school.
“Capturing The Flag” for the truly decent and valiant Americans who risked a lot to monitor voter suppression in the last election.
“The Smartest Kids In The World” for the way it makes the viewer question how America chooses its educational practices and what can be learned from the rest of the world.
“RBG” for the way it showed her an example of an era and a political figure who acted sanely and in the best interest of others; a significant portrait of people in leadership roles who tirelessly devote themselves to progressive political change, and that change is possible.
The narrative fiction that my teen raved about and gave us lots to talk about:
“The Miseducation of Cameron Post”: She thought it was visionary to adapt such an important book because it feels like a fresh and needed addition to the canon of teen emancipation. Cameron should be alongside Holden by now.
“And Breathe Normally”: She was intrigued to see Iceland and characters from there handle a delicate ethical and timely situation.
“The Hate U Give”: Another choice adaptation of a book that meant a lot to her about the intensity of what it’s been like to grow up in American cities in the last 5 years.
“Skate Kitchen”: Images of female frolic and physical liberation.
“I Am Not A Witch”: Zambia was an unfamiliar landscape, and the story pried open her mind.
III. USA MOVIES
I’m drawn to films that can take on life that happens outside of big plot, where the filmmaker had to really look into something specific and try hard to get close to it and understand it to even make the film. In these films, the direction reflects that depth of connection with the guts of the story and the characters. Uncommon, exacting, soulful.
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Also inspiring to me were the domestic films where politics were made vivid and engrossing in sharp, astute construction and detail. These are films where I wish red and blue, left and right would be forced to discuss together the issues within.
The Hate U Give”
IV. FILMS FROM OTHER PLACES
I started the year with loving “The Other Side Of Hope” (Finland), which was a 2017 release, but only shown in NY in 2018. It took on immigration and issues of threat and survival with dry comedy. I admire Kaurismäki for his ability to do this.
“Yomeddine” (Egypt): I thought the performance of the lead was astounding. I was in love with his method of survival. I was incredulous. I was shown something I’ve never seen.
“Capernaum” (Lebanon): A forceful and textured depiction the protagonist’s existence. The details of his day to day and survival tactics were exactingly photographed. The film imprints on you and makes you want something for another person. Labaki’s film does what a hard hitting social realist film can do — commits one to witness a life outside one’s own, what it takes to live it, and how precious help is. How she filmed in such hard places and got the performances left me in awe.
“Land Imagined” (Singapore): I liked being transported to a place and set of existential issues that were not familiar. I was impressed with the social realist techniques applied in a fresh way.
“The Pluto Moment” (China): The humor was very appealing to me, and I felt like I got to see locations and aspects of Chinese filmmaking that I’d never been introduced to. The structure and the mixing of genres and techniques kept my filmmaking side alert and well fed.
“En Guerre” (France): I rejoice when I see the overtly political film that can keep suspense in the mix. Few can make films about the contemporary fight for survival among the 99% and dare to confront management face to face.
“Shéhérazade” (France): I thought the casting was searingly strong. I hesitate about some of the material that is familiar about the streets, but so much was precise, that in the end, I was super dazzled by the force and determination of the filmmaking and ended up appreciating that it had a number of fresh and incisive twists.
“Todo Lo Demas” (Mexico, exhibited in NY 2018): This satirical take on everyday life in Mexico City. Excited to check in with contemporary Mexican filmmaking whenever I can.
“Mug” (Poland, “Twarz” is original title): Director: Malgorzata Szumowska. This one just took me by surprise. I was enveloped by the atmosphere and the setting. I was thrown into a whole fresh set of ideas to contemplate. I like comedy in the midst of social realism.
V. NON-FILM SPECTACLE THAT THE WHOLE FAMILY FELT HIGH FROM:
“The Grasshopper Rebellion Circus,” by Bread and Puppet
VI. NON-FICTION ARTICLE THAT FELT ASTONISHINGLY IMPORTANT
“Could an Ex-Convict Become an Attorney? I Intended to Find Out,” By Reginald Dwayne Betts in the NYT Magazine October 2018
Reinaldo Marcus Green (“Monsters and Men”)
Let me preface by saying I feel guilty putting lists together, especially since I haven’t seen everything. So this year, I’m skipping features altogether, and throwing some love at some short films I stumbled across whilst either serving on select juries, or just in my love and curiosity for the short form. Shorts often get overlooked, but these are the filmmakers of the future and they should be celebrated. Again, this list by no means is to exclude any films I haven’t seen, or judge this as a purely top ten short film list – it’s not! I narrowed my list to ten as it felt like an appropriate number. The following are all narrative shorts:
“Fauve” written and directed by Jérémy Comte
“Caroline” written and directed by Logan George & Celine Held
“Feathers” written and directed A.V. Rockwell
“Prends-Moi” written and directed by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, André Turpin
“Matria” written and directed by Álvaro Gago
“Primo” written and directed by Federica Gianni
“Hair Wolf” written and directed by Mariama Diallo
“Emergency” written by K.D. Dávila, directed by Carey Williams
“The Boyfriend Game” written and directed by Alice Englert
“Slapper” written and directed Luci Schroder
Robert Greene (“Bisbee ’17,” “Kate Plays Christine,” “Actress” )
10 great moments in nonfiction in 2018:
1. Johnny Gargano/Tommaso Ciampa feud, NXT: The greatest piece of storytelling in the last several decades.
2. “Hale County This Morning, This Evening”: Director RaMell Ross and his collaborators work to find new ways of seeing.
3. Robert Mueller Indictments: A severe dose of documentary reality in the fictional universe we inhabit.
4. “Thank U, Next”: Remember when that fucking priest touched Ariana?
5. “Of Fathers and Sons”: Slippery, tricky, essential filmmaking.
6. The Rise of Becky Lynch, WWE: Casual wrestling fans: did you know that the new “man” in wrestling is a woman?
7. Wyatt Wu’s “Nai Nai” / Erick Stoll & Chase Whiteside’s “America”: Two films (one by my student Wyatt from the Murray Center at Mizzou) about aging and deep familial love. A gorgeous, heartbreaking double feature if anyone wants to have a great screening in 2019.
8. “Shirkers”: Director Sandi Tan made the great Zine Movie of my dreams.
9. Bing Liu after any “Minding the Gap” screening: The movie is great but the director who made it is an especially graceful, charming, amazing fella. Fun to root for him.
10. Kazuchika Okada vs Kenny Omega – IWGP Heavyweight Championship – Dominion 6.9 In Osaka-Jo Hall: The best movie of the year.
Special mention: The guy at Sundance who told me that I should just cut together the reenactments in “Bisbee ’17” so I can sell them and make some money because that’s more of a real movie. I hope he buys the Blu-ray and bootlegs this.
Ciro Guerra (“Birds of Passage,” “Embrace of the Serpent”)
1. “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (Bi Gan, China): Cinema as dream, reality as cinema. I didn’t want to wake up from this one.
2. “Arábia” (Joao Dumans, Affonso Uchoa, Brazil): The poetry of those who are often forgotten, singing to us from the other side.
3. “The Wild Pear Tree” (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey): Possibly the saddest, truest, most moving return home I’ve ever seen.
4. “The Dead and the Others” (João Salaviza & Renée Nader Messora, Brazil): Ilhac’s journey into adulthood and then otherness took me somewhere I’ve never been, and it shook me profoundly.
5. “First Reformed” (Paul Schrader, USA): Paul Schrader was always here, he’d never left…
6. “You Were Never Really Here” (Lynne Ramsay, USA): The most visionary, daring editorial vision and the most moving performance.
7. “Museo” (Alonso Ruizpalacios, México): No one can portray the lightness of youth quite like Alonso Ruizpalacios.
8. “Burning” (Lee Chang-Dong, South Korea): Man, that dusk dance scene… Simply unforgettable.
9. “Good Manners” (Marco Dutra & Juliana Rojas, Brazil): The most original film I’ve seen in ages. It never ceased to surprise and amaze me.
10. “Zama” (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina): The funniest comedy of the year.
Andrew Haigh (“Lean on Pete,” “45 Years,” “Weekend”)
Films I liked the most this year…
“Mission: Impossible – Fallout”
“The Wild Pear Tree”
“You Were Never Really Here”
And ten older films seen for the first time…
“Wake in Fright” / “The Long Day Closes” / “L’Argent” / “Passion of Joan of Arc” / “Vagabond” / “Seconds” / “Eureka” / “Altered States” / “Miracle Mile” / “Young Soul Rebels.”
Alma Har’el (“Honey Boy,” “Bombay Beach”)
There have been a lot of great films in 2018 from what I hear. I was filming and editing most of this year and haven’t seen many of them. When I look back and try to think about one thing I’ve seen that will stay with me forever I easily single out “Wild Wild Country.”
It gripped me to no end and tied together so many of my interests in human nature, the potential of free consciousness, spirituality, women living under male-dominated power structures and the limitations of organized society. Perhaps it found a special place in my heart because in my 20s I was living in a small town in the Israeli desert with many spiritual practitioners, some of them Osho followers. I remember often walking in the streets in the late afternoon and hearing Osho’s lectures playing from people’s houses and joining some of his taped meditations.
But nothing could prepare me for how involved I felt watching the boss-bitch Ma Anand Sheela. The personal secretary and confidant to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (aka Osho), who for some was the villain of the series, but for me was the ultimate anti-hero. Totally off at times and incredibly on point at others. The footage of her leading the group to build a city for 10,000 people, complete with a shopping center, meditation hall and an airport is nothing less than mind-blowing. She’s also famous for making the term “tough titties” blow up when she gave an interview on “60 Minutes.”
Sheela who was introduced to Bhagwan by her father (a close follower and friend of Ghandi), when she was only a teenager says she was in love with him and never been interested in meditating. According to her all she did was done to protect Bhagwan (Means something between Guru and God), and to make him happy. She also claims everything she did (orchestrating the 1984 food poisoning attack, that to this day is the largest biological terror attack in US history) was based on his teachings and to his knowledge. At some point when she felt she couldn’t compromise her self any more she left the commune and pleaded guilty.
To me, perhaps the most chilling moment in the series comes after Sheela leaves the cult and Bhagwan gives an interview to an Australian TV channel. He looks into the eyes of the interviewer with a cold stare and without blinking once (I couldn’t catch him blink the whole series), delivers an unforgettable statement for a spiritual leader – “She did not prove to be a woman. She proved to be a perfect bitch.”
If I remember correctly he also adds something about not having sex with her because you do not have sex with secretaries. Today Sheela runs two homes for disabled people, in Switzerland. She has lived and worked there for more than 20 years, helping and looking after people in need.
Todd Haynes (“Carol,” “Safe,” “Wonderstruck”)
[Editor’s Note: Haynes reached out to share that there were two films he particularly liked this year.]
“Sorry To Bother You”
Leslye Headland (“Sleeping with Other People,” “Russian Doll”)
“Slave Play” by Jeremy O. Harris: This play was transcendent. It’s a seed that plants itself in your conscience, grows around your heart, and strangles you every few hours. Everyone who saw it at New York Theater Workshop will have bragging rights for years to come.
“Catch as Catch Can” by Mia Chung: A quietly bold, deceptively funny play that stealithly demanded complete emotional submission from the cast and its audience. Another spellbinding New York debut produced by Page 73.
“The Favourite”: I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie where the gender roles were so brazenly switched. The male characters were superfluous and fleeting; the female characters were complex, brilliant, and complete degenerates. I loved every second of it.
Spielberg’s recreation of Kubrick’s “The Shining” in “Ready Player One”: The rest of the movie is bad. These few minutes were absolutely sublime.
“Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife”: What’s more impressive than performing your smash hit hour comedy special nine months pregnant? Doing it again where not a moment feels repetitive. I say this in all seriousness: Ali Wong is my hero.
“Hannah Gadsby: Nanette”: I saw this live in a tiny theater in New York a week before it was released on Netflix. The energy in that room is something I’ll never forget.
“Mosaic”: I loved this. I loved the app it came out on (technically 2017). I loved watching it on Apple TV. I loved the cast. I loved the composition. I loved the script. I loved that it was kind of bad but also really good. I love that Soderbergh does these casually insane experiments decades ahead of everyone. He is truly a mad scientist.
“Harlots” Season 2: How is this not the hugest show? It’s the improbable combination of Barry Lyndon and The Shield. With its jaw-dropping act breaks and rug-pulling twists, this violent soap opera as social commentary on sex work boasts two acting legends (Samantha Morton and Lesley Manville) going toe-to-toe on a weekly basis.
“Trust” / “Pose” / “American Crime Story: Versace” / final season of “The Americans” / “Atlanta,” Season 2 / “Baskets” Season 3: Anyone else only destination viewing FX shows?
“The Little Drummer Girl”: I will take Park Chan-Wook’s symphony of subtle match cuts over the “whoa bruh this whole episode is in ONE SHOT” nonsense that the prestige tv nerds won’t shut up about. Plus you show me a LeCarre miniseries and I’ll show you anything you want.
Matthew Heineman (“A Private War,” “Cartel Land”)
After making my first narrative film this year, I feel like I view the form in a new way and with profound sense of admiration for anyone who actually finishes a film, let alone makes a great one. So much respect for all of the films that I’ve been able to see this year (all for different reasons):
“A Quiet Place”
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
“If Beale Street Could Talk”
So many movies that have eluded me, but I’m dying to see “Roma,” “Cold War, “The Rider,” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” “BlacKkKlansman,” “Leave No Trace,” to name a few.
I was just at the IDA Awards and its also been an incredible year for docs! Too many great ones to name here, but I love how audiences have flocked to see films on the big screen.
My last two films have been about journalism and, after the death of Jamal Khashoggi, I was particularly moved that Time Magazine named journalists fighting for the truth as “Person of The Year 2018.”
Finally, I loved reading Medium’s “99 Good News Stories You Probably Didn’t Hear About in 2018” (“The world didn’t fall apart this year. You were just getting your news from the wrong places.”)
Don Hertzfeldt (“World of Tomorrow,” “It’s Such a Beautiful Day”)
Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures
“First Man”: Years ago I was on the Sundance jury and handed an award to a bright young Damien Chazelle for one of his short films, which naturally means I can now take credit for his entire career. Honestly though I don’t know how he keeps topping himself. When I was little, I saw “The Right Stuff” and was enthralled. Even after three hours I wished it didn’t have to end and could continue telling the story of the space race in such amazing fashion all the way to the moon landing. Now, over thirty years later, I finally got my wish. “First Man” crackles with energy and dread – the direction, the sound design, the edit, cinematography, it just felt so sharp and right in every department. It’s Mr. Chazelle’s strongest work to date and maybe my favorite film of the year.
“The Favourite”: Tragic, funny, bleak and wonderful. Costume dramas have no business being this entertaining. Everything Mr. Lanthimos directs is a must-see. This might also be my favorite film of the year.
“Burning”: I sat down for this having no idea what the movie was going to be about and if you haven’t seen it yet, you probably shouldn’t know much either. The whole audience seemed hypnotized. My girlfriend and I still disagree over the solution to the mystery and thank goodness there are still people out there writing great films where two people can walk out thinking different things.
“Suspiria”: There’s a lot to admire in this but I’d really like to single out the makeup effects crew. Mother Markos was maybe the most horrifying and hilarious thing I’ve seen all year… She’s an oozing, globby masterpiece, and hey, let’s throw in a baby arm.
“Eighth Grade”: This took me by surprise… I honestly didn’t expect to like it very much and then I realized it’s pretty wonderful. One of the most human films of the year. This kind of empathy is hard to find on screen these days.
Jonah Hill (“Mid90s”)
“The Favourite” (film)
“Beastie Boys Book” (book)
“Vox Lux” (film)
“Adam Sandler: 100% fresh” (stand up special)
“Chris Rock: Tambourine” (stand up special)
“Earl Sweatshirt: Some Rap Songs” (album)
“Alt-Right: Age of Rage” (documentary)
“Blessed” (skate video)
“Eighth Grade” (film)
“Waverly Gallery” (play)
Kirsten Johnson (“Cameraperson”)
The following films mattered to me this year.
I marveled at how the form is being pushed and pulled:
“Zama” by Lucrecia Martel
“High Life” by Claire Denis
“Hale County This Morning, This Evening” by RaMell Ross
“The Rider” by Chloe Zhao
“Concussion Protocol” by Josh Begley
I loved seeing relationships live in the way people were filmed:
“Black Mother” by Khalik Allah
“The Other Side of Everything” by Mila Turajlic
“Cold War” by Pawel Pawlikowski
I worried for boys in ways that blew my mind:
“Minding the Gap” by Bing Liu
“Charm City” by Marilyn Ness
“Of Fathers and Sons” by Talal Derki
I longed to sing:
“Amazing Grace” by Sydney Pollack
“BlacKkKlansman” by Spike Lee
“The Death of Stalin” by Armando Iannucci
I felt emboldened by the bravery of others:
“Island of the Hungry Ghosts”
“Crime + Punishment” by Steve Maing
I cried from the opening to the closing credits, which I didn’t know was possible:
I mourned the death of my spectacular mentor. He fought in the French Resistance and he fought for the intellectual property rights of artists. He always laughed and his life was so big many films would only catch glimpses of the glory:
Jean-Pierre Marchand 1924-2018
Karyn Kusama (“Destroyer,” “The Invitation,” “Jennifer’s Body”)
Here’s my Top Ten in no particular order:
Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace”: A true American masterpiece. Perfectly modulated, admirably restrained, and building in tremulous emotion scene after scene. If waiting eight years between features yields such thoughtful and deeply accomplished work then we should all give in to patience and do the same. One of the best films of this young century, and sure to outlast many of this or any other year.
Hilma af Klint show at the Guggenheim: A blazingly original artist whose paintings pre-date the aesthetic innovation of many of her more celebrated male peers. Her work demands a complete re-evaluation of the history and origins of Abstract Expressionism. Awe-inspiring.
Lauren Groff’s “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners”: From Groff’s latest collection of short stories entitled “Florida”, this story has my vote (from an admittedly scattershot reader) as the best, most surprising, most soulful short story of the year, filled with cruelty and love in equal measure. In a cultural moment where we couldn’t need it more, love actually wins out.
Panos Cosmatos’ “Mandy”: One of the most thrilling cinematic experiences I’ve had in a long while. Yes, Nic Cage is great. But it’s Andrea Riseborough’s unforgettable Mandy who holds this film together — her wisdom, her undeniable power, her freaky witch-wavelength — all of these qualities are potent in their presence and doubly so in their absence. For me, this is a film about all the hell that breaks loose when we continue to desecrate a woman. Plain and simple, it’s not pretty when we pull down The Goddess. Heavy metal feminism at its most unsparing.
Dan McCleary’s paintings at the Craig Krull Gallery: Each a delicate study of an object or a face, McCleary’s paintings re-ignite our attention to the most elemental of aesthetic gestures and prove once again how hard it is to achieve true simplicity. Sublime and inspiring.
Carmen Maria Machado’s “Especially Heinous”: A near-novella from Machado’s collection of stories entitled “Her Body and Other Parties,” this story takes the author’s obsession with “Law and Order: SVU” and gives it the make-over it’s been screaming for. Surreal, hilarious, and deeply unsettling, we experience Benson and Stabler living in the nightmare world we’ve all suspected they actually live in.
“Killing Eve”: This TV show just knocked my socks off with its assured funny/scary tone, its welcome eccentricity, and its mind-blowing cast. When actors as compulsively watchable as Sandra Oh and Fiona Shaw take an almost backseat to an actor I’d never even heard of before named Jodie Comer, you know you’re in for something special. Just watch it.
Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed”: I was moved by the probing philosophical questions this film asks, as well as by the fact that Schrader, now in his early 70’s, has made his most complete and satisfying film as a director. Myself, I hope to grow older and continue to make challenging, confrontational work. I tip my hat to Schrader for this formally disciplined and sometimes despairing film.
“The Great British Bake-Off”: I’m late to this party but my life is immeasurably improved with the presence of this sunny, good-spirited TV show about regular people with very special skills. Quite literally a show I can watch with the whole family and talk about for hours later.
Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s “Free Solo”: A documentary about free climber Alex Honnold that set my household on fire with questions about ambition, selfishness, discipline, existential depression, and the value of human attachments. Equally wondrous and horrifying, the film asks difficult questions about the value of near-impossible pursuits, and doesn’t seem to know the answers. I appreciate the searching.
David Lowery (“The Old Man & the Gun,” “A Ghost Story”)
THE MOVIES I’VE SEEN TWICE IN 2018.
It’s the day after Christmas. I just got home from seeing “If Beale Street Could Talk” for the first time. It was my 228th movie of the year. 228 stories, 104 on the big screen, and as I plumb through them looking for favorites, I take special notice of those rare birds I wanted to get a second look at. I’m not often one for repeat viewings (though not for lack of wanting) and so those that I did see more than once, for whatever the reason, felt more worth remarking upon than any other mostly-arbitrary year-end categorizations.
Here they are, in the order I saw them (and these are only movies that opened this year – I saw “Phantom Thread” twice in 70mm in January but will consign that to last year’s history).
1. “You Were Never Really Here”
I was at Sundance for 36 hours this year and this was one of two movies I wasn’t going to leave without seeing. Lots of friends worked with Lynne Ramsey on this one, and told me tales of the production, and in other cases I can usually see such stories in the finished products. But not this one. This was its own untouchable thing, hovering far above from whatever means it took to make it, barely there and unbearably heavy at the very same time. I went to see it a second time opening weekend, and then listened to the score repeatedly until the movie itself was released on iTunes, at which point I let it become background music, playing on a loop as I drift around the house, hoping to subconsciously siphon off some of that tough magic.
2. “The Dawn Wall”
“Free Solo” is the rock climbing documentary du jour, and for very just cause. But Alex Honnold’s climbing partner Tommy Caldwell is also the subject of his own documentary, about a different historic ascent of El Capitan. It was directed by Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer, and was released almost simultaneously with “Free Solo,” and thus hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. I saw it at its premiere at SXSW in March, at which the entire audience erupted into a standing ovation – during the movie! I couldn’t help but go back for an encore screening a few nights later, which I think is the first time I’ve ever seen a movie twice at a film festival. While Honnold’s achievement is certainly more historic, Caldwell’s unbelievable life story and his accent of the titular wall with Kevin Jorgensen makes for one of the most triumphant feel-great narratives I’ve seen in years. I would recommend watching both docs, back to back, and then joining a climbing gym.
Horror is my favorite genre, and Ari Aster’s debut is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. I caught it at an advance screening in Vancouver, and had to sleep with the hotel lights on afterwards – something I haven’t had to do since 2002. I was traumatized. I wondered if the movie might be too brutal. The only way to find out, of course, was to drag as many friends as I could to see it when it opened a few weeks later. Maybe it was thanks to my loudly screaming chums, but this time around I couldn’t stop laughing. What a wicked movie. I can’t wait to rewatch it every October for the rest of my life.
4. “Solo: A Star Wars Story”
I saw this opening night, loved the first thirty minutes, phased in and out for the rest. I really liked Alden Erenreich’s performance, the visual effects were top-notch and of course Bradford Young’s cinematography was a wonder, but otherwise I didn’t really feel strongly about it one way or another. Maybe, like most of the world, I didn’t need more STAR WARS just yet – but several months later, whilst on a long flight, I guess I definitely did because I randomly decided to rewatch the opening scene and before I knew it the credits were rolling. Freed of expectations, scaled down to an 8 inch Lufthansa screen, SOLO was a delight. I’m not too broken up about not getting additional young Han adventures, but I could definitely use more Lady Proxima in my life.
5. “Her Smell”
So I’m cheating: this doesn’t open until next year, but I’m going to mention it briefly anyway just to help keep it in the conversation, because it’s so very worth it.
Why not see this movie twice? Even if you don’t like it, it’s worth revisiting. Films like this don’t come along that often, or perhaps ever. Granted, I suspect that it’s far more exciting for filmmakers than for general audiences, just because Cuaron did with this movie what we all wish we could do: he took his time. It’s easy to make comparisons to Proust, except that the film isn’t really Proustian; it isn’t fluid enough, it doesn’t resemble the memories it’s based on but the real events that begat them. It’s closer to Knausgard in that regard, but let me dispense with literary comparisons because this is a movie with a capital M: it’s been declaring itself so very loudly all fall, and I’m happy to join the chorus.
I watched this for the first time at noon on September 28th. I remember the date very well, because it was the same day my own film opened in theaters, an event far less notable to me than finally getting to lay eyes on Luca Guadagino’s remake of one of my all-time favorite horror movies. I was beside myself with excitement. The lights went down in that little subterranean screening room and it didn’t take long for the film to confound every one of my expectations. What did I think I was getting myself into? Something lithely sensual? A blend of horror and eroticism? Any male-gaze-ish expectations I might have had were thwarted early on when Madame Blanc asks Suzie Bannion what it felt like when she performed one of her famous dances. “Like fucking,” says Suzie. “A man?” Blank asks, but Suzie shakes her head. “I was thinking an animal.” Just like that, the movie slapped some sense into me, and then it proceeded to keep slapping me, harder and harder, until it ended and I didn’t know what to think anymore other than that I wanted to watch it again right away. I had to wait until Halloween night. It wasn’t enough. A friend who saw an early cut told me that it was a whole lot of movie. It surely is, and my arms aren’t being enough to hug all of it.
8. “Joe Pera Takes You to Breakfast”
I’m cheating again, because this isn’t a movie at all. It’s an episode of an Adult Swim show, and I’ve watched it more than anything else this year. It’s only ten or twelve minutes and it leaves me feeling like I’m a better person. It is warm and cozy and fills me with compassion and hope for humanity. It is also a celebration of my favorite meal. I look forward to many more viewings in the year to come, whenever I need a pick-me-up, large or small.
So that’s it. There are a four days left in the year, and if I can squeeze in any more repeat viewings, they might be “The Favorite,” “Shirkers,” “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” (except I don’t want to see it at home, so scratch that), and “Beale Street,” which I’ve written all of this still under the spell of and don’t want to get out of any time soon. I also need to see “Paddington 2” for the first time, but I’ve been told I’ll immediately want to see it again. Maybe that’s what I’ll do for New Years.
Haifaa Al Mansour (“Nappily Ever After,” “Mary Shelley,” “Wadjda”)
“Won’t you Be My Neighbor?”
“Three Identical Strangers”
“Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse”
“The Band’s Visit” (Theater)
“The Last Man on Earth” (TV)
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Rebecca Miller (“Maggie’s Plan,” “Personal Velocity”)
Photo by Carlos Somonte
In this year of national madness, there were brilliant films, strange films, clever films, canny films, messy films, and cynical films, but for me there is only one film that will be remembered and cherished as long as we are watching moving images: “Roma.”
It is at once a beautifully rendered memory film trembling with both nostalgia and repulsion for the past, and a powerful paean to what Cuaron seems to see as the inherent tragedy of femininity. It’s remarkable to me that a man wrote the line, “In the end, women are always alone.” The film manages to project this stark judgment with humor and lightness. It is a gossamer web, neither social realism nor melodrama, yet using threads from both those genres. Maybe the reason the film had to be in black and white was so that it should not be too bound to its period; there’s something eternal about it, something almost hermetic, as if it were a world sealed in a jar. Whatever the recipe, whatever the reasons behind this work of art, I am grateful for it.
Crystal Moselle (“Skate Kitchen,” “Wolf Pack”)
WTF is this film… but I love this film: “Border” – Ali Abassi
What a gem: “Happy As Lazzaro” – Alice Rohrwacher
I related personally but also think it’s universally relatable “The Heart” by Fanni Metelius
Such precious realism: “Leave No Trace” – Debra Granik
Most emotional film … I cried entire film: “If Beale Street Could Talk” – Barry Jenkins
I adore this film … gave it the Stockholm Impact award: “Los Silencios” – Beatriz Seigner
Oh and Brett Kavanaugh vs “Pulp Fiction” is the Best Meme made by Oscar Boyson with Elara Pictures
Morgan Neville (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”)
Top 10 Fiction films of 2018
They say this was the “Year of the Documentary,” and I’m not going to argue. There have been so many incredible nonfiction films in 2018 and audiences have shown up to watch them. But Indiewire gave me the chance to talk about fiction films (which I never get to do) so I’ll take them up on it. Here’s what I liked the most in no particular order:
“First Reformed”: What a year for films about ministers! This film came out a few weeks before my movie, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (about Presbyterian Minister Fred Rogers) and gets at many of the same underlying issues but with the opposite emotional effect (i.e. disturbing). Double Feature anyone?
“Leave No Trace”: Debra Granik’s last film was the excellent 2014 documentary “Stray Dog” about a Vietnam vet living on the lower rungs of American society. “Leave No Trace” pays that forward, capturing people on the fringe of society with empathy. It’s heartbreaking, messy and beautiful.
“The Death of Stalin”: Writer/Director Armando Iannucci can do no wrong in my book. I love his subject matter (power) and his humor (as black as it comes). This is my kind of historical fiction.
“American Animals”: This is a scripted/unscripted hybrid that actually works! It’s full of great ideas, well executed and entertaining. More people should see this.
“BlackKkKlansman”: I can remember the exact theaters I saw Spike Lee movies in since I was in college, which I can’t say for any other director’s films. “BlacKkKlansman” is no exception. The theater was SILENT for the last five minutes, when the film jumps from fiction to nonfiction. It’s a brilliant choice only Spike would have done.
“Widows”: I know horror is the go-to genre for social messaging, but I love what Steve McQueen did with this heist movie. “Widows” is replete with insights into race, politics and gender, but first and foremost it’s thrilling. The acting is so good!
“The Favourite”: This is my kind of bone-dry comedy. The acting, the camerawork, the choices—it’s oddly perfect.
“Mandy”: Little known fact: my directorial debut was a super-8 zombie picture, full of blood and more blood (“Mutants”). “Mandy” is something my 12 year-old self would have loved. And my current self also finds it pretty damn entertaining.
“The Other Side of The Wind”: I’ve been obsessed with Orson Welles since high school, and this film was his white whale. What emerges in this newly finished version is like Welles himself-convoluted, full of ideas, and fascinating.
“Eighth Grade”: The most frightening movie I saw this year, since I am the father of an eighth grade girl.
Kimberly Peirce (“Boys Don’t Cry,” “Stop-Loss,” “Carrie”)
Cinema is all around us — in the theater and unfolding before our eyes and on various screens and devices — I find I’m grasping for meaning; in the midst of this, great storytellers have emerged giving meaning and performance to our collective and personal experiences.
1. “Cold War” (Pavel Pawlikowski): An erotic, mature political love story inspired by Pavel’s parents and the Cold War era they endured. I was enthralled throughout, by the sexuality, performances and lush cinematography. For me, it was a welcome return to Fellini’s “8 ½” and “La Dolce Vita.” And Joanna Kulig’s transformation from a manipulative teenage girl making love in the field to a plump, fallen performer with mascara running down her face at the end was breathtaking.
2. “Capernaum” (Nadine Labaki): A stunning, heartbreaking, cinema verite sprint through Beirut in the spirit of “400 Blows,” capturing loss, love, resistance and the determination to live — with one of the youngest, most charismatic finds in years, Zain al Rafeea, who plays a boy named Zain.
3. “Roma” (Alfonso Cuaron): A lush formal return to the 1970’s Mexico City of Cuaron’s youth and life with his maids. I can’t get First-time actor Yalitza Aparicio’s wide open face out of my mind – she is the film for me. The father, and then the mother parking the Ford Galaxy is beautiful, frustrated and funny. But it is the scene on the beach with the near drowning that brings us to where Cuaron was headed all along. The family protecting itself. A wonderful world of women.
4. “The Favourite” (Yorgos Lanthimos): Another lush world of women — this one an infectious, absurd, darkly comic riot. I loved the politics, the fun, and the calculated double-crossing, manipulative fights for survival and favor. The cinematography (wide lenses, and extreme angles) along with the exquisite performances just spun the whole thing faster and funnier. But Olivia Colman, un-self-conscious, specific and wild in her commitment to the role made the whole thing sublime.
5. “Blindspotting” (Carlos Lopez Estrada): The brilliant chemistry between Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal uniquely and poetically captures a black man and a white man’s friendship and the competing social standards that they each must live by. Diggs plays a man who cannot afford to make the mistakes that his best friend can, and lives in waking fear of a terrible threat that his best friend will never have to confront. The final encounter with the police officer beautifully captures the pressures of carrying a gun (police) vs. the pressure of fearing that gun (black Americans).
6. “Never Look Away” (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck): A gorgeous fairy tale of Gerhard Richter becoming an artist.
7. “Sorry to Bother You” (Boots Riley): Lakeith Stanfield’s eyes.
8. “BlacKkKlansman” (Spike Lee)
9. “Black Panther” (Ryan Coogler)
10. “Shoplifters” (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
11. “The Rider” (Chloe Zhao): An elegant meditation on drive.
12. “Free Solo” (Vasarheily, Chin): Thrilling. Full of energy, captures the longing and drive of the protagonist and the sheer intensity and danger of the sport.
13. Ruth Bader Ginsburg doc; “RBG” (Cohen, West): Infectious.
14. Kavanaugh Hearing: Christine Blasey Ford’s raw, honest, and stunning testimony; Amy Klobuchar’s charisma in responding to whether she drinks to blackout. And Kamala Harris. As Franklin Leonard said, “every black child knows that look.” This was as dramatic and urgent as any movie I saw.
15. Kate Mckinnon: Every second on screen – a true chameleon with the wit and precision of Pryor – her impressions of – Jeff Sessions, Rudy Guiliani, Debette Goldry, Julian Assange, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Betsy Devoss, Kellyanne Conway, Laura Ingraham, and Nancy Pelosi.
16. Childish Gambino/Donald Glover, “This is America”
17. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting: The Parkland kids’ response – Emma Gonzalez’ impulsive and charismatic “We call BS,” speech and then her bold, brilliant, incisive and devastating “6 minutes of silence” oration at the March for Our Lives. As someone who loves oration, was a High School State Debate Champion and does a lot of public speaking, I am floored by this young woman.
18. “Atlanta”: All (especially the Teddy Perkins episode).
19. Beyonce – at Coachella
20. Justin Simien – Dont @ me
21. Rachel Maddow: For relentless in-depth reporting and analysis on The Mueller Investigation and the Russian interference investigation.
22. Lena Waithe on cutting her hair, “I’ve gotten gayer, guys,”: “I felt like I was holding onto a piece of femininity that would make the world feel comfortable with who I am…if people call me a butch or say ‘she’s stud’ or call me sir out in the world — so what? So be it. I’m here with a suit on, not a stitch of makeup, and a haircut — I feel like, ‘Why can’t I exist in the world in that way?’”
A great year.
Alex Ross Perry (“Her Smell,” “Listen Up Philip”)
Like most people, I found myself in awe of a certain Netflix-distributed feat of unfathomable technical filmmaking. I watched this on my couch while leaning forward, my heart racing as the improbability of each further moment upped the tension and cinematic thrills. I am referring, of course, to the 11-minute single take prison-escape sequence in “Daredevil” Season 3 Episode 4: “Blindsided” directed by Alex Garcia Lopez. While I am unsure how to rank a single moment from one episode of a television show, this deserves renown and I am happy to cite it here.
1. “The Other Side of the Wind”
The rest are listed alphabetically because, once again, I left this to the last minute.
“Isle of Dogs”
“Lean on Pete”
“Mission Impossible: Fallout”
“Ready Player One”
Nicolas Pesce (“Piercing,” “The Eyes of My Mother”)
1. “The House That Jack Built”
4. “The Haunting of Hill House”
5. “Red Dead Redemption 2”
7. “The Favourite”
10. “The Guilty”
It’s been a good few years for genre movies, but this year we got way weird with them and it was awesome. All of these movies fit in some sort of neat genre box, whether its horror, thriller, sci-fi, etc., but these movies really flipped their respective genres on their head and all did something really unique stylistically.
Two titles that I need to highlight are “The House That Jack Built” and “Red Dead Redemption 2.” First of all, I totally understand why Von Trier’s movie is problematic and also kind of offensive, but wow, that movie has stuck with me like not many have, and my jaw was dropped the entire time I was watching it – half because I was shocked by what Von Trier was trying to get away with and half because I was in awe of it.
As far as “Red Dead,” I haven’t played a video game in years, and since my last gaming experience, video games have really changed. “Red Dead” is one of the best westerns, scratch that, best movies to come out in a long time. It really is just a movie that you play through, and it’s utterly spectacular.
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