59. If Beale Street Could Talk
Directed by Barry Jenkins
James Baldwin's 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk gets a velvety adaptation in Barry Jenkins latest film of the same name. Beckoning with magnetic visuals from the cinematography to the production design and costume work, it will forever be a mystery to me how this pitch-perfect aesthetic of the era was pulled off with a twelve million dollar budget. Kiki Layne and Stephan James run the ensemble while supporting players like Regina King and Brian Tyree Henry are dynamite when they are on screen and ultimately own their respective scene, that of which I wish there were more of. Nicolas Britell's score is metamorphic, flutes and strings bellow through the soul with romance, tragedy, fear, and injustice. Barry Jenkins doesn't need to prove to anyone he's capable of making poignant films, but if he did, If Beale Street Could Talk should be ample evidence.
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Directed by Warwick Thornton
Lambasting its dry environment, Sweet Country is a testament at the survival in an inhospitable time. Australian filmmaker Warwick Thorton makes the outback put American frontier to shame with its lean desolation. You can feel the hot spots on the characters from the sensitive framing of the sunlight ad characters use their grit to ignore the waterfall on their face. It's a worldwide tale of a culture pushing out the cultured. Hamilton Morris debut is subdued anger, suppressed on the inside and out and for a debut its nothing short of staggering. Sam Neill has had a pretty spotty career as of late (to say the least) thankfully, his role as Fred Smith is a home run for him. Sweet Country is far from sweet - it's a methodical emphasis on those who shaped the cathartic, dangerous land - chained by possession its an aching cry for freedom.
57. The Night Comes For Us
Directed by Timo Tjahjanto
Barring annoying action cliches and forced character distractions, The Night Comes For Us, while not quite as good as it's regional contemporaries, has no issue in joining that group of inventive sadistic gore driven action. I will say (most of) the cast of characters we get here are decently enjoyable with Iko Uwais being the highlight here, but from past experiences of The Raid fame that's not to to surprising. The same can be said about Joe Taslim, his character Ito gets the most development which arguably can sometimes be unnecessary - especially in a movie that seems to make little headway in caring about an actual plot, rather it's focus clearly appears to be on getting to the next incredibly precise throwdown. The Night Comes For Us knows what it is, an extreme over the top breakneck action focused romp where diplomacy isn't an option. The action here is drizzled with finetuned choreography that's just so barbarically savage, and you can't help but put an outspoken grin on your face.
American Animals could've quickly fallen flat on its face, its fearless in structure and director Bart Layton has no problem sticking to his guns. Unreliable accounts of motivation and a botched heist are so socially exciting to watch. The editing is quite possibly some of the best of the year, simple and intoxicatingly complex and for a high octane movie like this, it's snug. Not everything is clean some direction and writing missteps pop up, but these are easily forgivable based on the excessive nimble risk-taking at every moment of movement. The reenactment cast does a pretty great job with the characters, keeping them energetic, as most of the development springs from the real world assailants. American Animals' expedition into a defenseless position and somehow making it work is solidification on Layton's versatility as a filmmaker, anything he puts on the table from now on and I'll be the first to clean my plate.
55. Night is Short, Walk on Girl
Directed by Masaaki Yuasa
Likely the most eclectic movie I saw in 2018 was Night Is Short, Walk on Girl. Brimming with sheer creativity and nine rainbows of blisteringly colorful animation make this one of the most creative executions of social and emotional discovery ever put to screen. Major compliments to director Masaaki Yuasa, who somehow made a movie that goes every direction you could imagine and makes it still feel coherent. If your not a fan of anime then Night Is Short, Walk on Girl isn't going to sway you, and I wouldn't recommend this as a starting point either, its gaudy tone and overall flare may be a turn off to some. If you do want a movie that marinates itself in surrealism and tackles underwear theft Night Is Short, Walk on Girl may be a perfect treat for you.
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Lauded as a revitalization of the horror genre and having one of the best performances of the decade from Toni Collette, needless to say, its a description of a film that clearly anyone would be excited for. Hereditary thankfully lives up to the hype. Ari Aster's debut is visually arousing, and its score by Colin Stenson is disturbingly bewitching, which is such a breath of fresh air for the genre already, time will tell if Aster is the spearhead of the genre but its a damn convincing start. Narrative inconsistencies do trouble the movie at points, and the last fifteen minutes specifically, though good, just don't feel like the right fit. Collette has had a trilogy of novels full of praise for this performance, and while she is spectacularly aggressive here, I think it's Alex Wolff who really is the standout here. This is Wolff's most significant role of his career since carrying half of The Naked Brothers Band, and the difference in roles in obviously noticeable. It does help that these are actually characters - I can't really say that for ninety percent of Hereditary's contemporaries. While I personally wouldn't call Hereditary a revolutionary horror film because it does have it's issues - I can say Aster's debut is doing it better than almost everybody trying.
53. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Yep. I can already hear it, " YOU PUT SOLO IN FRONT OF *insert movie not or list and/or movie below #53*?!?!?" What can I say? I really fucking liked Solo. This is coming from someone who isn't even a Star Wars fan; the inverse ratio of me wanting to sleep during them and holding them on a pedestal is far from most people. This is also coming from someone who liked the idea of the spin-off films and their ability to expand the massive universe to a broader audience. I can't say my opinion of Rouge One was exactly positive, so with that in the back of my mind Solo was simply a dead fish to me. Solo has some weight holding it down though, Tobias Beckett's (Woody Harrelson) arc just doesn't work, and I still have no idea what to make of Bradford Young's cinematography. I know it looks beautiful in its framing but, this is literally the one movie in the entire franchise that a lack of vibrancy in the color palette doesn't fit. Sound wise Solo is one of the best of the year, a scene where the crew is fleeing a Kraken-like creature in a space storm is clapping in its intensity. The crown jewel here is Alden Ehrenreich, who is pitch perfect as the titular Han Solo, and he gets all of Harrison Ford's Soloisms down perfectly, Ehrenreich is undeniably charming here and becoming a personal favorite of mine, and I'd be over the moon if he inhabited this role a couple more times. Sure I and many others would've loved to see what Phil Lord and Chris Miller had in mind for this story but, what we got was a tonally perfect Star Wars movie that remained faithful to one of the series most vitally essential characters. I went into Solo expecting to rail it, and maybe it was my lukewarm expectations that left me for the first time since Empire Strikes Back, wanting more.
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Directed by Jacques Audiard
French director Jacques Audiard has had a string of critical acclaim over the past ten years and a Palme d'Or under his belt with his 2015 film Deephan, so with that, he has no reason to change steps into new stylistic ground with his foray into the western territory in The Sisters Brothers. With a cast of Joaquin Pheonix, Jake Gyllenhaal, John C. Reily, and Riz Ahmed if this movie were even just okay, I would've been supremely disappointed. Thankfully The Sisters Brothers is a wholly original take on the genre while not going too far away from the rhythmic staples that set the groundwork for them for decades. Pheonix is best here, and it's a much more leisurely performance than we usually see from him with gruff arrogance mixed in. Reily comes through with his most robust performance since We Need to Talk About Kevin, the growth of protection and discovery loom over his character, the innocence of a scene dealing with handling a toothbrush for the first time is Reily's range at it's finest. Lighting makes its case as some of the best of the year in The Sisters Brothers, the banter of muzzle flashes and dusty sun rays rip open the perspective of the landscape in new ways. A couple pacing problems aside, The Sisters Brothers is a required watch for western junkies and for those who want a (semi) lighthearted tale with rock-solid chemistry among the leads and a (nearly) unpredictable path of fraternal greed.
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51. Can You Ever forgive Me?
Directed by Marielle Heller
Melissa McCarthy has always been waiting for her moment to strike hard in a discernable dramatic role, and Lee Isreal may be the perfect one. Another tight script from Nicole Holofcener (she was initially attached to direct as well) Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a slick character study on keeping afloat and building a selfish legacy out of passion. Richard E. Grant slaughters his role as Jack Hock, Isreal's newfound troubled partner in her ring on forgeries. Grant is so ostentatious, so present that he consistently with little effort is the showstopper in many scenes. A lot of that feels like an environmental decision, Hock's character is such a contrast to the drab greys and browns of 1990s New York City. When Hock isn't on screen bragging or bickering with Isreal, it can be a problematic balancing act dealing with the pace, but overall director Marine Heller does an excellent job at turning the pages appropriately, even when the energy can feel slim to nil. Holofcener's smooth script and the exemplary chemistry in the performances of McCarthy and Grant ride Can You Ever Forgive Me? at full speed, some brilliant decisions by Heller to make these two characters stand out is vital in a character study with pristine acuity.
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Directed by Jason Reitman
You could argue that exhaustion is the centerpiece of all of Reitman's films in some fashion - especially in his collaborations with Juno and Young Adult scribe Diablo Cody. In their third collaboration, exhaustion is more evident than ever. Charlize Theron and Mackenzie Davis have a required chemistry which by the end may not surprise many, but it doesn't take away how fascinating these two performances are, especially for Davis who sets a new standard for her own career, her relaxed and fearful demeanor is resonating. I do wish the conclusion to Tully was a bit smoother, and even an extra ten minutes would've probably done wonders. No questions asked Tully is a visually clean and thematically dreamy rewind where satisfaction meets regret, the peak of tiring honesty of adulthood. This is a strict tender tribute to motherhood.
49. Bathtubs Over Broadway
Directed by Dava Whisenant
Steven Young opened up an encyclopedia a few years back when working on the David Letterman show, an entire world of bombastic industrial theater production. 1000s of jobs have gone under the radar for decades in this unknown and laughably quirky field of brands putting maybe too much effort into whats little more than a morale boost for employees. Young's passion for the spastic art form and those who've indulged in its creation is straight up infectious to watch and his journey to encounter and chat with the idols of the industry offers a captivating second layer to it all. Bathtubs Over Broadway is a fairly straightforward documentary, not to discount the zest that's sprinkled throughout, either way, not much more fun can be had in a movie with dense discovery and an emotionally passionate drive.
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48. The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling
Judd Apatow's longest, broadest and most personal film to date tugs at every angle of the multifaceted father figure and comedian Garry Shandling. Partners, friends, and admirers all come together to gush about and personally reveal Shandling himself from his creative process to his family life nearly everything comes to light. The dynamic of self-suppression is not only done with care by Shandling apostle Judd Apatow, but more importantly, it's done without mincing any vital details that effected Shandling's entire life and the reason he kept pushing till the end. Reminiscing in the brilliant career of one of the most prominent comedians during his time alive is a story basking in brooding personal issues both for himself and for the benefit of others, that immortalized him, and made him zen.
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47. You Were Never Really Here
Stone cold contemplative trauma can sometimes, especially in art-house cinema, feel so airy, so open to the view that it's challenging to find the distinction in the pressing nature of each character. With director Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here you never really have that issue with Joe, played meticulously by Joaquin Pheonix. Little is said from Joe, a flat expression of grief and grace quietly blankets his face as we learn what suppressed him, and what ways he’s attempted escape acts. The editing and camera work here are conjoined to the core, forcefully inventive around each movement, with grin-inducing moments to the final scenes speechless execution. A dreary mood-setting score from Jonny Greenwood clicks to the beat of it all, and it's a welcome stylistic change of pace for him as a composer. Joe's story is a bitter drone with layers of dense troubles that are morally challenging for everyone on and off the screen.
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Directed by Ian Bonhôte & Peter Ettedgui
The lavishly savage portrait of revered fashion designer Alexander McQueen gets the documentary treatment with McQueen. McQueen's macabre way of communicating his psyche and personal highs and lows in his uncustomarily attractive designs. The structure of McQueen is segmented in evocative chapters with showstopping 3D rendering close-ups closeups of some of McQueen's most prominent work, it's not experimental by any means, but each chapter feels started and finished concisely. McQueen is an entire tribute gallery full of a profoundly complex innovator whose conclusion seemed inevitable and one's whose presence will likely never go silent.
Thrusting into her passion, Sandi Tan gets to achieve her dream of being a filmmaker at a young age, with buoyancy and freedom that many heavy hitters wish they had. Shirkers tells the story of how it all got stripped away. Tan's foundation is engrossing not only in her real life but in documentary form, the way Shirkers' visual punk flare takes center stage is hauntingly original, especially when the film goes into a terrifying downwards spiral of betrayal and a varying obsession that floats over the crews head of the original homegrown Shirkers and what the ultimate fate of it will be. Thankfully Tan was still able to make a film known as Shirkers, maybe not the one she expected, but one that will leave it's mark on anyone in desperation to keep filming.
Directed by Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Free Solo clenched my ass. Directors Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi made the kind of documentary, so uncertain in its conclusion that the slightest movement of a finger and Free Solo could've been less about the adrenaline and more about tragedy. Free soloing as a form of movement is tailor-made for nice looking shots, and the team here knows that grand, claustrophobic and mystifying vistas make Free Solo is one of the best shot documentaries in recent years and maybe even ever. Alex Honnold has a sense of closure to his story already, it leads to fearless and maybe at points focus that borderlines absurdity. Free Solo's story of an introvert scaling the most extroverted possible areas in the world is a continuously invigorating reason to continue to look up and a terrifyingly tense reason to look down.
Unsurprisingly director Andrew Haigh is back with another docile and emotionally heavy film with one of the most prominent horse movies of the year with Lean on Pete. Charlie Plummer's morality driven performance is a highlight, while the renaissance of Steve Buchemi continues on a hot streak here. Beautifully shot and paced (especially night scenes) Lean on Pete is by no means a happily ever after story of bonding and realization that you usually get with any movie involving an adolescent and an animal on four legs, it's one that brings sympathy into detrimental territory and a lonesome tale rippling with naturalistic ideals.
42. Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski
Directed By Irek Dobrowolski
Hidden masters regularly arise, whether it be before or after death, and now famed sculptor Stanislav Szukalski has a case to be lumped with the masters. While the lost art of Szukalski isn't the main focus in the grand scheme of the doc, the life and it's germinating effect on the small group of people who got close to him in his later life (including producers George and Leo DiCaprio) is palpable. It's a life of harrowing grief and humble accomplishments that makes Szukalski so much more than just a hidden talent - it puts him in a newfound family that spreads his work into timeless territory.
Obvious comparisons to Shoah aside, the nearly nine-hour-long Dead Souls is the hardest movie to watch this year. Dead Souls length is monstrous but that's not even an issue, the stories told here about Chinese reeducation camps during the rise of communism are extraordinarily graphic and unsettling to sit through. Sadly most of the voices here have passed, and without a document like Dead Souls, these stories would be evaporated into nothing. Director Wang Bing even visits the previous campsites numerous times through the sprawling nightmare, the reveal of how shameless the government covered up this event is staggering. Bones and tattered cloths riddle the sites, while desperate messages nearly 70 years old are finally read by someone free on the outside. Bing has achieved the impossible, an over decades-long story written in permanent ink. Dead Souls is a documentary.
Bo Burnham's debut feature brings him into the realm of contemporary social struggles in the discovery process of the realities of adulthood. Thankfully this is another one to add to the list of the recent resurgence of coming of age films, and Eighth Grade doesn't suffer the usual cliches most do, there's newer ways it tackles the standards of technology and popularity. Rather than these being an effect on the lead character played exceptionally by newcomer Elsie Fisher, these themes and objects are much more on the side of signaling expression. Burnham's innocently wholesome script allows not only Fisher but the supporting players (especially Josh Hamilton and Jake Ryan) to ground the movie in it's most anxious time. Using the word "authentic" would be a titanic understatement for Eighth Grade because Burnham's take on these tumultuous years of our lives is a sterling statue of resonating pain, independence and how eighth grade isn't as far away as you think.