The aperture of grief is opened wide in Carla Simón's debut Summer 1993 - a story of longing childhood fascination commanded by not only by Simón's arcadian direction but by an idyllic performance from child actor Laia Artigas. And while my own personal fascination on how well David Verdaguer kemps his facial hair will likely not cease, this is his most concentrated performance to date. A reticence is flaunted throughout Summer 1993, one that remains decisively powerful in putting seniority into even the most callow. In its final moments, Summer 1993 finally gives way in the happiest moment with it's woefully suppressed moments of the realization of grief with an explosion of shockwaves rippling with emotional purity. This ending is cinema at possibly it's most pure, tearing on the perforation of innocence, and prying open every lock I thought was rusted shut forever. Moments like these, the ones that break me with the happiest sadness are why I believe in cinema.
Directed by Lucrecia Martel
Zama may not be the last period satire film on this list, but it certainly uses its environments expertly - if you needed a comparison label slapped on it, Lucrecia Martel's latest feels like 2017's Phantom Thread. There is an absurd amount of technical craft in Zama, everything in front and behind the camera is beaming with dry humor. Besides the modish screenplay, the ritzy production design feels like the real kahuna of Zama, the shaky woodwork and patchy costumes is are notable inclusions in a precisely formed 18th century Paraguay that remains remote and unestablished. Daniel Giménez Cacho brings a perverse impatience to the famous Zama character, adding an exuberance that I never knew was a necessity for this character. Zama was a grower, in fact maybe the grower of 2018, an adaptation filled to the brim with character vibrancy and rich scenery that will make you scoff at whatever film you decide to watch next, and even then you'll probably still be thinking about Zama.
Directed by Stephen T. Maing
The power journalistic documentaries handle is often undermined, likely due to the fact that most of the time they tackle situations equivalent to stepping in dog shit and then the owner of that dog blackmails you for three decades. While far from dog shit, Crime + Punishment is far and away the most paramount piece of cinema this year. The suppressed tale of twelve whistleblowers on the frontlines in the NYPD brings a frightful sentiment of the demoralizing nature of quotas in what can be described as no less than the wrong place to have them. Not only is it psychologically draining but the breaking point comes morally for each one as they each have to question is it worth it to fight and more importantly is it safe? Similar in vein to Charm City director Stephen T. Maing brings pristine guerilla filmmaking to the frontlines making for what is maybe the best cinematography in a documentary this year. Crime + Punishment does tell a risky story that still happens more than just in NYC, and while that may petrify Maing shines a limelight on the most critically vital species, those who see wrong and say "Fuck that."
Directed by Gustav Möller
Sure, I clenched my ass during The Guilty. Am I embarrassed? No. Obvious comparisons to Locke can be made about the Danish drama - both are isolationist thrillers with brooding disintegration of our lead characters psyche. I can gleefully say that Locke and The Guilty are on par with each other in quality, with The Guilty being a much more dense and tense subject that is, unlike Locke, uncontrollable. That's where fear sets in - when you realize you're physically trapped and forced to bring out the mental stops to control the situation. Jakob Cedergren is pure perfection as an emergency dispatcher whose forced to tear down any facade that has struck him with recent noxious events in his own life to handle a harrowing call of a kidnapping. The Guilty deserves little explanation and your full attention but needless to say Gustav Möller's debut feature is a phenomenal way to strain your ass and to remain uneasy afterwards.
Directed by Andrew Bujalski
A fuzzy proactive feeling is further from us than we think in cinema, few movies in your own personal library probably even achieve this and you'd be lucky to experience it even once a year in film. Support the Girls is undeniably that film of 2018. Writer & director Andrew Bujalski makes a slight limber hop away from his mumblecore label to make a buoyant loving story of a crew who work at a ‘sports bar with curves’ and their triumphs of gaining a sense of community in the constant beat down of undermining whether it be from physicality or just general mental prowess. It's precisely that triumph that makes a subtle story like Support the Girls excel past resonance and reach relevance with ease. And we can't chat about this movie at dinner without talking about the egregious snubs of the brilliant work of Regina Hall and Haley Lu Richardson, which for whatever silly reason don't have every award in their hands for their work. Support the Girls is the kind of liberating sparkle in the eyes that knows exactly who and what it should be, keeping perfect lane positioning a priority and striking a hurricane in a bottle with the most graceful Double Whammie you will ever find.
I'll try to keep this one in specific short because it's best to go into Vox Lux completely blind if you can handle it. There was an aging and most likely pampered women that came storming out the door, disheartened and blind-sided from the previous showtime and, as I was about to go into watch Vox Lux she began to vilify the staff about how they should've warned an old lady like herself about the movie. Maybe that's already too much information about it but, going into Vox Lux with an unaware expression can be a challenge after you sit in your seat for the runtime and very quickly realize this is not the movie you expected in the slightest. Being typical isn't in the Vox Lux forte, whether it be the direction, music, editing or the performances. Unsurprisingly Natalie Portman's performance is utterly brilliant and another staple for all old and new actors to study profusely. The late Scott Walker brings some of his finest work to the table with a score that perturbs throughout, enough to which director Bradly Corbet can keep the manic nature that Vox Lux feeds upon. There is no doubt Corbet conceived something irregular with Vox Lux, but there's also no doubt that you'll be stomping your feet in an encore seven times over just to hear the revisions you've missed and frankly it's what it deserves.
Playwright Cory Finley's lustrous film debut puzzled me at first, it was the first movie I saw in 2018 and knew it would be pretty high up on my list by the end of the year, but I didn't have an answer on how it worked and yet even after over a year has passed since I first saw Thoroughbreds I still have no idea how it works. If Fincher, Anderson, Tarintino and Soderbergh had a film baby, it would be Thoroughbreds. Take that as you will but, Thoroughbreds is a full stop living and breathing film with a voguish flare at the core. Spick and span production design and cinematography comes to mind in the somewhat isolated local of the pampered mansion side. Slick long takes bob and weave throughout the house with ease making the to good to be true home feel fresh, fearful and claustrophobic. Nearly everything else contrasts this, Erik Friedlander's score was without question the most overlooked score of 2018, the tangy electronic blurbs are anything but clean rather, a smile starter and a tone-setter. Pitch perfect casting doesn't come often in really any film, but Thoroughbreds has it down. Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy have immaculate chemistry as the two try to awkwardly force each other on to themselves, but it's Anton Yelchin who steals everything in what is quite possibly his best role yet and is, unfortunately, one of his last roles on screen. Yelchin embodies Thoroughbreds through and through; it's a manic and strictly zesty film is pure gratification overflowing the screen in all crafts displayed in front or behind the camera.
Directed by Julian Schnabel
Van Gough reaches messiah status in Julian Schnabel's latest, and to my surprise, this was the movie that grew on me the most since I saw it. The alluring cultural impact Vincent Van Gough had was nothing short of a dreadful journey; his public image suffered the obverse of living and posthumous lionization that many like Piccaso, Warhol and da Vinci weren't forced to endure. Is that what attracts us to Van Gough? Or is it the fact that he makes a damn good wallpaper? Schnabel's sporadic camera direction gets deep into the psyche of Van Gough, with the revolution he started from birth and the stunning landscapes that proved it. Dafoe brings quite possibly his best performance to the center stage here, going aggressively timid and with straight honesty brings the material even closer to the divine. There's no doubt in my mind this is the definitive portrait of THE misunderstood juggernaut. Van Gough knew his fate, as he sits suppressed from himself he sits cornered by those who preach the same words and reminds them. Christ died an unknown.
Directed by Paweł Pawlikowski
Tried and true indie filmmaking has become its own genre over the course of the decade and for good reason. Not only do nearly all of them feel technically similar, but the characters tend to feel forcefully authentic, Hearts Beat Loud doesn't necessarily break out of that mold, but it does nearly perfect it. Mainly this is due to Frank (Nick Offerman) and Sam (Kiersy Clemons) tight-knit relationship and the twos race against the clock of adulthood. A tight soundtrack and most importantly an ending that doesn't have a magic perfect solution to the real world issues that pop up in the film are what really keep this above other indie films, elements here just shine above the underwhelming technical aspects. Hearts Beat Loud is simply just as genial as indies can get.
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
One of the bigger surprises of 2018 is Leigh Whannell's Upgrade, a techy and swift action film that studies the world building of peers like John Wick and the celebration of brutalism of movies like The Raid. Whannell and DP Stefan Duscio shoot the action in an inventive stuttery flow, sitting itself in the corner to hope no one looks at it funny. Thankfully though this works with flying colors putting Upgrade in a particular class of action with weight and style at its core, all that on top of a personable performance by the lead Logan Marshall-Green. Unlike John Wick, Upgrade isn't precisely keen at cheese, often taking itself a bit too seriously, making for some incredibly stiff moments that can really disrupt the legitimately exciting world-building that's attempted here. Let's just hope like many others Upgrade gets a chance to expand upon everything thats boldly put on display.
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
The public absence of Orson Well's final and almost archival final film The Other Side of the Wind was historic. It probably should've kept that way. Not to say The Other Side of the Wind is a bad film, because it's not but its the corresponding doc They'll Love Me When I'm Dead by Morgan Neville (released the same day) that somewhat contradicts the release of the film itself. The personal implications that Well's suffered during and after production of The Other Side of the Wind almost feel purposeful - a reason to keep the film dusty. That being said, its why They'll Love Me When I'm Dead is so captivating. The depth of the struggle before, during, and after production on The Other Side of the Wind is just so much more of an eye catcher than the actual finished project itself. If you're ever forced to watch one or the other, watch They'll Love Me When I'm Dead, expand the mystery and let it blow to the other side.
Directed by Tamara Jenkins
A far cry from traditional Panos Cosmatos' Mandy strikes the median of being devilishly metal and a tender revenge story. Nick Cage hasn't been this good in a movie since his last role as a woodsman (Joe), and whether it be bloodsoaked in underwear or an extemporized chainsaw duel, Cage is solid as hell in this role. Mandy is one of those movies, so idiosyncratic in its style that it remains difficult to this day to really put into words exactly what it is. DP Benjamin Loeb and production designer Hubert Pouille bring the visuals up to thirteen, reds, purples, greens all flow through the frame with viscous force making every bit feel anxious. Layered beneath it all is a soul-stirring final score from late composer Johann Johannsson, Mandy is, once all the elements are boxed together, truly the strangest package of the year.
7. King in the Wilderness
Directed by Peter W. Kunhardt
Julianne Nicholson delivers a 9.5 magnitude performance in her second outing with director Matthew Newton in his newest film Who We Are Now. Deeply rooting in its focus of the ensemble of characters, Who We Are Now accomplishes a balancing feat most scripts dream of when intertwining stories. Zachary Quinto brings whats his career-best as Peter, and Emma Roberts also brings a career-best turn as Jess. Jess does have a pretty bumpy introduction though, too much expository dialogue with her boss (Jimmy Smits) just seemed like a little bit too rushed only so we could get attached to her. Newton is in the front of the pack with character-driven films after Who We Are Now, and the themes match the quality, its a blissfully veracious look at forgiveness, guilt, and confidence.
Watch King in the Wilderness
Based on the Israeli film of the same name, Sara Colangelo brings this remake into her own view and gives Maggie Gyllenhaal a hell of a lot of space to shine. An early midlife crisis strikes center stage as Lisa Spinelli (Gyllenhaal) discovers a child poet prodigy in Jimmy Roy who is played by Peter Sevak in his debut role. Gyllenhaal is unequivocally the highlight here, posing with open obsession and destructive delusion that crumbles her social and mental status, there's an enthusiasm when the discovery of Sevak's character comes to light, a sense of being able to swim again. Sevak himself is yet another statement in child performances in 2018 and how space in the direction is crucial to make any dialogue sound remotely convincing. The Kindergarten Teacher is just a straight to the cut-no bullshit film; it protects innocence while longing for it back. Just don't go in thinking it's a family film.
Directed by Armando Iannucci
Obviously, I'm going to mention the enthralling, I mean really there aren't many other words for the final moments in Blindspotting, they are easily some of the most energetically terrifying scenes in a long, long time. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal not only wrote the brilliant script covering a myriad of themes like rehabilitation, race relations and the guilt and embarrassment that goes into oneself, they also star side by side ingeniously in the lead roles of Collin and Miles. Not all is perfect however, some of the cinematographic and directorial decisions here are wildly inconsistent with the grittiness of the film itself, that's not to say they are bad just not lining up with the near pitch-perfect work that Diggs and Casal bring to the screen. Blindspotting shows immense potential in everyone involved, I’m just not sure how much better they can get if this is just a sign.
Watch The Death of Stalin
Directed by Damien Chazelle
Hong Sang-soo is no stranger to releasing multiple movies a year, hell he released three in 2018 alone with The Day After being his strongest. This is also his third collaboration in 2018 with actress Kim Min-hee, someone whom I think is one of the best actors working today and that's no exception here. Without delving too deep into real-world drama, I can tell The Day After has a pretty decent chunk of personal resonance with Sang-soo. Dialogue is The Day After, and it's simply everything the movie has to offer, plain and simple rational conversational exchanges are on full display. If you don't like accurate back and forth dialogue filled with dead air and general anxious awkwardness then The Day After may not be for you but, if you wanna give it a try, it might be the best place to go. The lavish desire to be desired characters, and their black and white differences are less than easy to escape from. The Day After is a selfish film, but a godman infectious one at that.
Honestly, I thought about just leaving it at that and moving on, but some of you have no morals or core values, so I have to explain myself to why Paddington 2 is so high and a messiah of films. Not only do the crafts of filmmaking sweat out of the pours but the maturity it tackles some of its themes are so undeniably infectious. This could very well be because of the Wes Anderson-lite aesthetic that comes about, with shots that shouldn't need help being cropped for a frame and production design that went severely overlooked in the 2018 award season. Needless to say, Erik Wilson, Gary Williamson, Andrea Borland, and Gareth Cousins need major acknowledgment for their work that made this children's tale look way better than it ever needed to be. And that's something I forget time and time again is that Paddington 2 is a kid's film, that's simply its core audience and its the simple answer to the separation of an excellent and lousy kid's movie - Paddington 2 tackles prison reform for god's sake. Paul King made an impossibly critical film for all ages with Paddington 2, from masterful animation that most films with double the budget can't come close to (a breathtaking pop-up book scene is a wonderful example of this) and a versatile awards-worthy performance from Hugh Grant that if the question "Which of the following did Hugh Grant not play in Paddington 2?" came up on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" all lifelines would be exhausted. It took me a while to feel the gravity of Paddington 2, but realizing it's message of with an open heart comes an open mind is the world's desperation that needs a solution was more than enough.
One of, if not the hardest movie to justify my reasoning for having it on the list is Clint Eastwood's latest The Mule. Specifically, because I find this move to be abhorrently dumb, but I think that's also the reason why The Mule is here because it knows it. The Mule's self-awareness is so prominent, that its the punishing charm to it all. Eastwood's first performance on screen since 2011 is nothing short of an innocent self-reflection, breaths of humor and exhales of stubbornness. That's not just for Earl (Eastwood) only that goes for everyone in the movie, there are some incredibly touchy human moments riddled throughout, and these can be a massive turnoff for most viewers, especially if they're looked at the surface level. Eastwood clearly made the decision to get back in front of the camera for this movie and this movie only, maybe its a personal heftiness finally off his back, or perhaps it's just me looking at The Mule way deeper than I should be.
Directed by Lee Chang-dong
The supremely quiet, dry, and rich story of Western takes a look a Meinhard, a German construction worker stuck in personal isolation and now physical longing to fit in. The conversational dialogue here is out of the park good, one scene specifically that takes place at night with a group of locals and Meinhard lightly chatting about the past is just overflowing with texture, whether it be a language barrier or Meinhard's self-built barrier your eyes and ears are absoulty locked to the screen. Director Valeska Grisebach sets a quaint environment at the forefront, making sure you can taste every bit of dust kicked up and feel every bug in the night air. A couple of elements and characters don't always hit as hard as Meinhard's focus, but there's far too much in Western to adore that far outweigh the issues. Also horses.
The Coen's latest The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was initially set to be an anthology series but for whatever spontaneous reason became a feature film and somehow, these six vignettes faithfully bring home the nature of the dust that inspired pioneers and filmmakers alike. The mainstays of a Coen Brothers movie are still in full force; beautiful visuals and snappy characters, I'm not going to staunchly defend The Ballad of Buster Scruggs because this should've stayed a mini-series. That's cause nearly every single problem The Ballad of Buster Scruggs has lies in pacing. 'All Gold Canyon' and 'The Gal Who Got Rattled' are easily the two that work best because they say what they need and can say in a perfect amount of time. Ironically these are the two stories that are based off from previous material. Then you have the other four stories that are just wildly inconsistent, not in quality though because The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is good across the board. Stories like opening brash 'The Ballad of Buster Scruggs' and 'Near Algodones' are close to my favorites if they had a little more meat on their bones, fifteen extra minutes could've done these wonders. While on the other hand, 'The Meal Ticket' and 'The Mortal Remains' feel bloated, yet these two also feel like they need more - even though they easily feel the longest. This is still a high energy and a dramatically different route I would've ever expected from the Coen's, and when it works, it's some of the best work they've ever done.