Best Films of 2018
Lebanese director/co-writer’s Capharnaüm is an uncompromising depiction of a boy’s struggle to survive in the slums, prisons, and detention centers of Beirut. The central performance of 11 year old Zain Al Rafeea (as Zain) is marvelous. “Born into urban squalor and a hard life on the streets of Beirut, Zain is already serving a five-year sentence, for stabbing the man who bought his 11-year-old sister’s hand in marriage, and his case against his parents reveals grim details about a home life that is far more troublesome that originally thought.” The cast is made up of actors whose everyday lives resemble those of the film’s characters . Given its overcrowded detention centers and separated families, Capharnaüm’s vision of chaos obviously extends well beyond the borders of Lebanon.
Elegantly choreographed compositions in rich black and white guarantee that Alphonse Corazon’s autobiographical film will be poetic viewing. Set in his native Mexico City, the narrative revolves around Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) a nanny, maid, and confident to a middle class family going through traumatic life changes. Meanwhile Cleo’s own struggles become increasingly difficult. It is 1971 and Mexican society is in turmoil. A hypnotic, life-affirming masterpiece from one of the world’s leading filmmakers. (Arts Fuse review)
Also shot in shimmering black and white, director Paweł Pawlikowski’s story chronicles a relationship between a man and a woman over several decades during the Cold War. It begins in the countryside of post-war Poland, where Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) directs a Polish folk chorus. He discovers and mentors Zula (Joanna Kulig) but refuses to give the state the propagandistic art it demands. He becomes an expatriate jazz musician; she stays behind to build a career as a singer. A sprawling and melancholy epic of an impossible love.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Director Barry Jenkins patiently dramatizes James Baldwin’s powerful tale of black injustice. Actors Stephan James and KiKi Layne are given the time and the space to create convincing characters that demand empathy and understanding. Regina King was awarded a Best Supporting Actress nod from the Boston Film Critics and the movie won Best Picture.
Sorry to Bother You
Boots Riley’s movie about a black customer service phone rep who has a convincing ‘white’ sales voice evolves from a fierce satire on capitalism to a Darwinian horror yarn reminiscent of H. G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. (Of course, Wells’ volume ends on anti-capitalist vibes.) Eschewing commercial expectations, the movie generates plenty of joyous anarchy as it delivers a strong message about worker exploitation via High Tech. Lakeith Stanfield and Armie Hammer are standouts in the cast.
You Were Never Really Here
Lynn Ramsey is masterful at telling stories that look into the soul of unsavory existential characters. Joaquin Phoenix plays an emotionally exhausted and traumatized veteran who has become a vigilante fighting against purveyors of child trafficking. It is a performance so good that you worry about the actor. The violence is mostly implied; the film is filled with wildly imaginative montage sequences. (Arts Fuse review)
Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster, and Killing of a Sacred Deer) creates yet another cinematic parallel universe. This time it is a weirded-out 18th-century England during the reign of Queen Anne. The narrative is very loosely based on history: Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and her cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) compete for the good graces of the crazed ailing Queen (Olivia Colman). The ensemble of conniving women is rounded out by a cast of bewigged male aristocrats spouting outlandish dialogue. (Arts Fuse review)
A dour delivery boy, Jong-su, befriends a free-spirited young woman, Shin Hae-mi, only to lose her to a charming and wealthy party boy named Ben. Korean master Lee Chang-dong presents a world of surfaces and impenetrable mysteries. Interpreting what drives each character, figuring out what is true and what is fiction is at the heart of the puzzle. Does Ben really act on his confessed obsession with burning down abandoned greenhouses? Is Jong-su an artist or an obsessive neurotic? Uncertainty reigns until the final devastating end. (Arts Fuse review)
Paul Schrader’s story of a preacher undergoing a crisis of faith spirals from angst and desperation to surreal panic. Ethan Hawke is at his mournful best. First Reformed has its gonzo moments, but this time around, as both a writer and director, Schrader has a found a story, and the artistic restraint, to convey his ‘transcendent’ vision. (Arts Fuse review)
Border is a kind of guilty pleasure, audacious and unforgettable. Based on a book by John Ajvide Lindqvist (Let the Right One In), this is an exercise in the Gothic grotesque, memorably skimming the border between reality and the supernatural, examining the irreconcilable division between the civilized and the perverse. (Arts Fuse review)
I would remiss to not mention these films, which that could easily have been included in my bests: Shoplifters, Black KkKlansman, The Hate You Give, Madeline’s Madeline, Eighth Grade, Zama, Nancy, The Sisters Brothers, and Museo.
Bombs of 2018
I assume the boffo box office for this giant mess has something to do with the devil’s spell cast by comic books. I’m trying to read more comics — but having trouble making the effort. Meanwhile, what I see happening in comic book movies is talented actors stumbling through scenes unworthy of them (though very enriching for their pocketbooks). Bottom line: CGI spectacles make my eyes tired.
I believe the opening narration goes something like: “Forget history, forget what you believe, forget what you know. This is not that this story.” Excellent advice — add originality to the list. The film updates classic characters by piling on heaps of needless irony. For example, Robin is known “The Hood.” This is your generic heist film done in tights. Where have you gone Richard Greene?
This film was hyped aplenty and then disappeared pretty fast. Ben Kingsley supplies ‘banal evil’ as Eichmann. The story of how the Nazi was smuggled out of Argentina by the Israelis and then brought to trial in Nuremberg is compelling. Alas, too much of the film is filled with forced romance and the pratfalls of Argentinian keystone cops.
What could have been a revealing drama, filled with fascinating details about Freddy Mercury and Queen, is flattened into a predictable bio-pic mold “sanctioned” by the surviving members of the group. Remi Malick sucks relentlessly on his false buck teeth; the actor works hard to give a convincing impression of Mercury. But all the posing and posturing reveals little about the artist’s inner life.