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Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Best Films of 2018

The ensemble cast of Hirokazu Koreeda's Shoplifters
I suddenly realized the 91st Academy Awards will run tonight, and I haven't posted my annual take on the best films of the year.

So, in haste, I give you my Top Ten picks of 2018. As usual, there are caveats. I confess that half of this year's eight Best Picture nominees have thus far escaped my viewing. This is - again, as usual - intentional: Specifically, no one who has seen The Favourite has been able to convince me I shouldn't miss it; the reports on A Star is Born, though more positive, still left me willing to leave it for later; while I do plan to see Bohemian Rhapsody one of these days, I don't expect to see it as a film worthy of serious consideration; and I actually have no idea what Vice is about, but I'm pretty sure it's not my kind of movie (and if that attitude undermines my credibility or offends anyone, I sincerely apologize).

Of the four remaining BP nominees, I do include two of them on my list (see below). As for the other two: We started to watch Black Panther at home, but the dialogue was so badly written I had to leave the room after 10 minutes (my wife enjoyed it, however); and BlackKklansman is a pretty good Spike Lee movie with the usual Spike Lee faults (i.e rather preachy and 15 minutes too long), but it's way overrated and, by my reckoning, only the third best film of its genre that I saw in 2018 (the genre being African American-made movies with political or social messages). Spike can do better (and has on many occasions).

So, here's my list:
  1. A tie (unprecedented in this blog): Shoplifters and Roma - I previously wrote about Roma, in the context of its brilliant cinematography and how it relates to the work of pioneering Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo. So much has already been written about this film, that I will simply say this: It deserves to win the Oscar for Best Picture and probably will. Given that both Roma and Shoplifters are among the Best Foreign Language Film nominees, I just hope the Academy will leave Roma out of that race and award the statuette to Shoplifters, which is a deeply affecting slice of Japanese life at the margins, beautifully photographed and superbly acted. And, speaking of Oscar-nominated foreign films, today I will spend three hours in the theater soaking up the German entry, Never Look Away, following my usual Oscar-day tradition to see a movie rather than watch the awards show.
  2. see above
  3. Leave No Trace - A brilliantly quiet film based on the true story of a PTSD veteran raising his young daughter in the woods near Portland, Oregon.
  4. Green Book - Again, much has been written about this one, not all of it in praise. I didn't worry about whether the film had an appropriate point of view in terms of racial stereotyping - I just enjoyed the ride, as did its main characters. The acting, cinematography, and storytelling are all first-rate, and the story it tells is fascinating.
  5. Blindspotting - The most underrated movie of the year, and I have no idea why it's been overlooked. With a strong original story, which is a neat twist on the interracial buddy drama, this film has many layers addressing criminal justice, gentrification, and race relations - along with really great music.
  6. Three Identical Strangers - Talk about fascinating stories! This documentary sucks you in and explodes right before your eyes. An absolutely compelling film.
  7. Cold War - This gorgeously photographed and scored period piece is so sad that it's pretty hard to love. But also hard to dismiss. In Polish, French, and several other languages, it's yet another Best Foreign Language Film contender.
  8. Can You Ever Forgive Me? - Many have commented on Melissa McCarthy's star turn in this quirky biopic about has-been-author-turned-criminal-forger Lee Israel. She and her co-star, Richard E. Grant, both received well-earned acting nominations for their exquisitely entertaining portrayals of an extremely unlikely pair of co-conspirators. 
  9. Juliet, Naked - Another somewhat overlooked film this year, its title misleads a bit - it's actually about a stripped-down recording of a hit rock album that helps to pull a depressed musician off the edge and back into the limelight. Ethan Hawke and Rose Byrne give this rom-com some real life.
  10. Sorry to Bother You - Noted as a strong first feature by writer-director Boots Riley, it also features an irresistible breakout performance by Tessa Thompson as an off-the-wall performance artist. Part of an intriguing current wave of Black science fiction, this film bothered rightly and well.
Update, 3/11/19: I recently caught another very good 2018 release (on video at home), and would have placed it somewhere in my Top Ten, let's say tied for 9th place, had I seen it in time for this list. It's Bo Burnham's debut feature, Eighth Grade, which offers a glimpse into the interior life of a 13-year-old girl who's trying to figure out how to grow up and find her place in a world dominated by social media. Burnham's script is astute, poignant and quite funny, and his star, Elsie Fisher is a full-on revelation.

Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster star in Leave No Trace

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