Art by Rafael Hidalgo for Zimbio | A24 | Focus | Fox Searchlight
Thanks to the current administration and Republican kowtowing to a president who’s single-handedly set this country back 100 years in terms of race relations and foreign policy, the film industry is more political than it’s been since the Vietnam War. Movies have always been our escape from the perils of everyday life, and they still are. But if you found you couldn’t escape politics even at the movies this year, you have Trump to thank.
The mind-boggling support of Trump the liar and fascism in 2018 cannot be ignored. That’s why Blackkklansman is the best and most important film of the year. It’s a shot across the bow of the cult of Trump and racists everywhere. A Star Is Born and Roma made us cry this year. Mandy and Hereditary made us scream. The Favourite shocked and delighted us. But it was Blackkklansman that made us ponder the irrevocable damage done by a racist, corporate-bought political party and their followers when they elected an embarrassment like Trump to the highest office in the land. Blackkklansman spoke for the people. It’s a hugely important film.
While Blackkklansman deserves proper recognition, it’s not alone. Other films ignored politics and simply told amazing stories. They deserve to be celebrated, too. These are the top 10 movies of the year.
10. A Star Is Born
When Jackson Maine tells us “It’s the same story, told over and over, forever,” he’s talking about music composition, but he might as well be talking about A Star Is Born itself. The classic Hollywood tale first debuted in 1937 and similar stories can be found everywhere from The Simpsons to Guns N’ Roses lyrics. However, what was once old can be gloriously reborn again, and that’s the case with A Star Is Born in 2018. It’s likely to give remakes a good name. Full Review.
9. Madeline’s Madeline
Madeline’s Madeline may be the most thoughtful film ever made about acting. Despite heavy effort, I haven’t seen every movie, TV show, or school play there ever was so I can’t say for certain. Otherwise I would. Forget acting, co-writer/director Josephine Decker’s movie is the most thoughtful film about anything I’ve seen in a long time. Starring an unknown named Helena Howard, who plays a teenager playing an actress playing herself in a production of the most damaging incident of her life, the film is a “metacore” (Is that a genre yet? Can someone ask Charlie Kaufman?) presentation of one’s self, of madness, of performance, of life. It presents no answers, but you may discover some about yourself. Full review.
A roiling, suspenseful heist film directed by a master, Widows is a special movie. It’s rare that a hugely talented director not named Scorsese or Tarantino tackles material like this. But Steve McQueen has outdone the action genre with his follow-up to 12 Years a Slave. The British filmmaker adapted an old ITV series and made it new again with a star-studded ensemble and noir flourishes that are downright drool-worthy. Widows is a thriller from the start and full of twists to keep you guessing throughout. The heist scenes are up there with Heat or The Dark Knight and the story hisses with danger throughout. Full Review.
7. The Rider
A sensitive, modern western about a section of America that’s often overlooked, The Rider is the story of a rodeo star in the aftermath of a head injury that should’ve killed him. Told he’ll never ride again, Brady refuses to give up on himself. He’s a natural with horses and makes money on the side breaking the feral ones. But he yearns for the rodeo, and the lure is strong. His struggle to live the life he once had is one we can all identify with. And whether or not he’ll give it up is the movie’s big question. Directed with visual style by the talented Chloe Zhao, The Rider is a throwback film in a modern setting, although you’d never know it.
Sony Pictures Classics
A fever nightmare, Mandy is a journey into the brain of visionary co-writer/ director Panos Cosmatos. Having already produced an indie horror classic with his first film (Beyond the Black Rainbow), the Italian-Canadian filmmaker gets more mainstream in Mandy. With cult legend Nicolas Cage in tow, Cosmatos went about creating a revenge experience. And, note, “more mainstream” does not equal mainstream. Cosmatos’s sensibilities are not made for the MPAA or marketing schmucks and their catch phrases. But you can’t deny the allure of Cage on a bloody hunt for vengeance with a chromed-out steel axe. Full review.
5. You Were Never Really Here
Director Lynne Ramsay only makes feature films once every six or seven years so we must be thankful when they come around. Her latest, You Were Never Really Here, is true visual storytelling. Starring Joaquin Phoenix as a hitman with a damaged past, the movie follows his hunt for a kidnapped girl, but the story is psychologically driven by his inner struggle, brought to life through Ramsay and Joe Bini’s furious editing. I haven’t stopped thinking about it all year.
4. First Reformed
Written and directed by film legend Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), First Reformed continues the filmmaker’s career theme of lone wolves in the midst of crisis. Like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) narrates First Reformed. He’s keeping a journal in the loneliness after his son’s death in Iraq and his wife leaving him. Tending to a historic church, Toller has a crisis of faith. However, First Reformed is about much more. Toller has his own secrets and he becomes involved with a local couple, Mary and Michael, who change his way of thinking about the powers that be. In his quest to help them, he only sees his problems multiply and his morality shifts in a final act that’s as dark and powerful as any onscreen this year.
Words cannot do real justice to the immense beauty of Roma, writer/director Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical love letter to his Mexico City hometown, and the families who inhabit it. Filmed in postcard black and white, the movie is set in the early ’70s where Cleo, a live-in maid for a middle class family, elegantly makes her way. Exhibiting a heartbreaking kindness that makes you want to protect her forever, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio, who had never acted before) stays gracious through her employers’ divorce and a surprise pregnancy. All the while, Cuarón fills the screen with the sights and sounds of Mexico — chickens run down steps, human cannonballs fire in the background — and the wonderful details of everyday life.
2. The Favourite
It is at once a powdered wig allemande and a knife in the guts. The wickedest filmmaker working today has done it again. And, this time, his dark sense of humor fits the period perfectly. Yorgos Lanthimos has found a home in Queen Anne’s court where two cousins vie for the favor of her Highness. It’s a cruel place where tongues are the sharpest weapons. The Favourite is a glorious chess match, both in mind and body and soul. And it is, savagely, the funniest movie of the year. Full Review.
Director Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman is the single most compelling piece of political filmmaking made since the United States elected Donald Trump president. Trump, who weaponized lying and racism to win, is indicative of a larger problem that’s always existed. Trump was just shameless enough to give it a voice. Lee doesn’t want us to forget that fact, and more, he wants us to know the issue is bigger than Trump, and much more ingrained in our nation’s bedrock.
A scene in Blackkklansman acts as a microcosm of Lee’s overall message and a startling slap in the face for the audience. The film, based on a true story and set in 1979, stars John David Washington as Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado detective who infiltrates a local KKK chapter in order to take it down. David Duke (Topher Grace) is the organization’s “national director” and he’s fooled when Stallworth calls him using a “white voice.” Behind the scenes of the operation, however, Stallworth expresses his doubts about the KKK’s influence. “America would never elect somebody like David Duke president.” These words ring like a bell in 2018. Full Review.
Honorable Mentions:If Beale Street Could Talk, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, First Man, The Death of Stalin, Sorry To Bother You, Annihilation, The Tale, Cold War, Hereditary, Isle of Dogs, The Old Man and the Gun, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Leave No Trace, Tully, American Animals, A Prayer Before Dawn
Documentaries: Three Identical Strangers, Shirkers, Minding the Gap, Free Solo, Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, MATANGI/MAYA/M.I.A., André the Giant, The Zen Diaries Of Garry Shandling