Directed by Álvaro Brechner
The opening shot of A Twelve-Year Night is nothing short of a revelation, a perfect tone-setter of the suppressive twelve-year survival story of future Uruguayan president José Mujica. Antonio de la Torre plays Mujica, proving his starving resilience is more than just a tool for the living, it's an honor to have and a requirement to carry throughout lifetimes. There are some spotty pacing, sound and music issues that pop up here and there but it's hard to flack the pacing too much, this is a dragged out long story that far to many went through and didn't see the outcome of.
One movie that went far too under the radar was All About Nina. Yes some of the elements of the script are a missed opportunity, and All About Nina has some pretty major editing flaws, that being said there is a really elastic character study with a powerhouse Mary Elizabeth Winstead performance. I won't go as far as to say Winstead carries the movie. I will say she's unquestionably the best part of it by a decent gap though. Writer/Director Eva Vives still brings a solid debut and a pretty tight script, albeit one that maybe should've expanded on the Nina character a bit more. Nina's career path is the definition of "light at the end of the tunnel", but there's no shortage of a painfully relevant past that, at a few points, sticks the landing hard.
77. The Land of Steady Habits
Directed by Nicole Holofcener
Director Nicole Holofcener is back after the surprise hit that was 2013's Enough Said. The exact same elements work in The Land of Steady Habits as they do in Enough Said, just not quite as well. The characters and the script here are so straightforward but somehow incredibly soft and engaging. There shouldn't be any doubt at this point that Holofcener can write some incredible characters (which we will see on display a little later in the list again) Ben Mendelsohn plays Anders, a third-quarter crisis stiffly laid back guy who doesn't want to stay put. From a technical aspect, there is plenty to admire, but I still feel that Holofcener, as a director, has some huge muscles that aren't in full flex here. Mendelsohn and Eddie Falco both bring dynamic performances but, Bill Camp with a baseball bat is the real reason to spend your time with The Land of Steady Habits.
76. The Price of Everything
Directed by Nathaniel Kahn
A volatile worldwide market is put under the microscope in The Price of Everything. Thankfully the view is bipartisan; we get to see the dirt and the possibilities of growth that the market has made. It's also an honest look at the unfortunate amount that comes back to the original creator. This all just feels like a vitally important documentary to watch because of the impact this has on the economy, the artists and the people who just want to enjoy it all. Greed, honor, preservation, and just giving back is really plastered in bold here, and I really wish it went a little longer. By the end of The Price of Everything I'm still left wondering more than I was at the beginning, why is all this money here and where is it genuinely going.
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75. Bad Times At The El Royale
Neon production design soaks the screen with an ensemble ideal for any movie, Bad Times at the El Royale proves Goddard is much more than just a talented screenwriter. Tarintino-lite comes up frequently when conversing about Bad Times and the El Royale, and while the characters and some more bold moments definitely can fall into that category, visually it's in its own seat. Jon Hamm, Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, and Chris Hemsworth beef up an impressive and eclectic mix of character (some of which leave maybe a bit too soon) but it's destined superstar Cynthia Erivo who just commands the screen and puts everyone in their places 100 percent of the time. Erivo sells every single scene she's in, and the intriguing mystery at the El Royale stays almost as balanced in my thought process with "Can you put Darlene Sweet back on please?"
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74. Did You Ever Wonder Who Fired the Gun?
Directed by Travis Wilkerson
Travis Wilkerson's deeply unsettling documentary about the ignored murder of Bill Spann committed by his own great-grandfather looks at the megalithic and painfully relevant political implications on silence. Running darkly through the Wilkerson's family veins are unanswered questions and a looming sense of weighty guilt. Wilkerson narrates with what feels like an unnerving and bone-chilling silence; it's impossible not to hear what's being said, its an honest and bitter account. The Spann case is sadly not an outlier throughout history, and Wilkerson makes that clear, maybe too often, but more importantly, he keeps it distinctly personal.
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Directed by Jeremiah Zagar
Jeremiah Zagar's Malick-channeling observation of the passage of adulthood We the Animals trails three brothers as blunt abuse and emotional distance rip and tear the personalities of the three brothers. The hushed and floating tone can lead to a couple of pacing problems, but it also elevates the most garish scenes. Raul Castillo is seriously great in the damaging role of Paps, and Evan Rosado should be recognized for giving one of the best child performances in the past few years. Zagar's ambitious look at the tumultuous frame in everyone's like is detailed with a gorgeous score and breathless cinematography, just everyone and everything here should remain on your radar.
Directed by Cristina Costantini & Darren Foster
Ambition of youth takes the forefront in Science Fair; a national science fair competition is the frame surrounding the diverse set of teens who are innovating the future of industry. This doc isn't a game changer; Science Fair is an extremely harmless, supremely entertaining and an optimistic look at not only general lessons of competition but the revelation of invention and it's ability to change everything and everyone at any age. Its breathless structure makes the worldwide perspective more than easy to get invested in. The future is a blistering fire, and there's always time for a little (and sometimes big) competition.
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 Leigh Whannell
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.
69. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead
Directed by Morgan Neville
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 Panos Cosmatos
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.
Directed by Matthew Newton
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.
66. The Kindergarten Teacher
Directed by Sara Colangelo
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 Carlos López Estrada
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.
Directed by Hong Sang-soo
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.
63. The Old Man and the Gun
David Lowery continues his hot streak with the transcendent swan song that Robert Redford probably had in mind since the beginning. Lowery honors the era to a tee, grainy and vibrant and it's nearly as slick and sweet as it's two leads. Spacek's and Redford's chemistry shifts into 9th gear as the two play off each other with ease, it's the kind of basic and subbed, yet charismatic energy that harkens all though Redford's career. Surprisingly there are a few musical moments spread throughout that make this thing excel so high. Is The Old Man and the Gun straightforward? Yes, but Lowery & Co's graceful use of the era honors the players that made it so nostalgic, it's as perfect as straightforward gets.
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Directed By Clint Eastwood
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 Valeska Grisebach
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.
60. John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
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.