This was a great year for movies.
I was reminded recently that I say that a lot. It’s true, I have been blown away by the quality of films over the last few years and especially this decade. However, part of the reason I say it a lot is because I do hear some folks say some version of, “MOVIES SUCK NOWADAYS” and my response is “There are great movies out there, you just have to dig deep.” This is all a long way of saying here are a bunch of movies I loved this year along with my ten favorites, so you don’t have to dip deep.
It was an incredible year for directors I’m used to creating incredible films. While these movies didn’t make my top ten, they deserve your attention: BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee), Loveless (Andrey Zvyaginstsev), Roma (Alfonso Cuaron), Shoplifters (Hirkazu Kore-eda), Unsane (Steven Soderbergh), Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville), and You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay).
Sebastian Lelio had TWO films this year and they were both amazing: A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience, which just missed my top ten. Please specifically seek the later out as it’s a beautiful film with a beautiful ending, and it played The Cure over the closing credits so I can quietly pretend I'm listening to a great song rather than sobbing in my seat as everyone leaves.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe and Tom Crusie’s Mission: Impossible films just work for me, and this year they were terrific. Sure, you don’t have to dig for these, but I loved Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther because it was a deeply political film with a poignant message of what living in a diaspora does to a culture. I loved the Russo Brother’s Avengers: Infinity War for more than its spectacle, and I’m not upset that a reset button is looming. It’s not about the destination, it's about the journey, and Infinity War was an amazing accomplishment both on a narrative level and a distribution level. I’m also pissed I can’t wedge McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible - Fallout into my top ten because it’s as good as a studio action film can get.
The discoveries for me this year were terrific as well. Some were from first time filmmakers, and some filmmakers were just new to me, but these films were so great, I promise to watch everything they do going forward: Foxtrot (Samuel Maoz), Good Manners (Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas), Hereditary (Ari Aster), Never Goin’ Back (Augustine Frizzell), Revenge (Coralie Fargeat), and Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley).
And then there’s Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy which I’ve been in love with for three years now and I’m bummed got pushed out of my list at the last second. You deserve your own call out Mandy because holy shit did you deliver.
Those are the 19 films I adored this year that you should see if you haven’t. And here are my ten favorites:
Praise Moses for BMD Slack and Russ Fischer who have been giving this doc a lot of love recently. That was good enough for me to see it. Sure, this year has been a great year for docs in the box office, and I adored Won’t You Be My Neighbor? But there wasn’t one that played around with the form in a way I loved until I saw Tan’s film a few days ago. The #metoo movement can’t hit me as hard as it can hit some others, but I’ve been listening and one theme that continues to strike me the hardest is the understanding that the institutional sexism in the film industry has taken away so many beautiful and important films. Tan’s movie was a two-hour work of art that didn’t just make me love Shirkers (both of them) but every film I won’t ever see.
Films that feel so fresh and unique that you can't share anything but the barest amount of narrative are increasingly rare, but they are the best kinds of films to recommend. Border is such a film, and its wonders and twists are best experienced going in completely blind, but trust me, it's well worth your time. Border is a diamond in the rough. It’s filled with an incredible performance at its center, and once you learn where the film is going, it's something you’ll want to experience over and over again and share with others.
8. The Night Comes for Us
Remember the first time you saw a John Woo film? Or the first time you saw a Johnnie To film? It’s almost been twenty years since I saw The Mission at my first TIFF in 2000 and I’ve been waiting for something to explode off the screen and kick me in the face in the same way. That’s what The Night Comes for Us is. It’s twenty years of Asian action energy pent up, waiting to explode into your eyeballs. I hope Timo is the next in line, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
7. The House that Jack Built
Honestly, I have grown a bit weary of Trier’s films of late. I felt Antichrist and Nymphomaniac were a bit like treading water for a filmmaker who isn’t afraid of trying to drown just to see what happens. Watching him work through all his issues and public criticism in ways that I honestly can’t remember any filmmaker doing was a welcome revelation, and he may have made his best film for me. It’s partly because I loved what he was doing with the film and partly because of what I think he’s getting to in the film – that art transcends tiny human existence because humans are just matter with a short shelf life. Art can live forever, so the needs of art outweigh the needs of individuals and even the artist themselves. I love that idea and I’m thankful Trier can still bring it.
6. Cold War
Maybe the best way to explain Cold War is to describe how it makes you feel. It's so beautiful to look at that every frame could be hung on a wall as art. Its two charismatic leads are both bound for bigger things. There’s so much love in the film, its impossible not to feel it inside yourself. Cold War is a filmmaker’s love letter to his parents, but it’s also a filmmaker’s love letter to a very traditional movie love story because it’s so much bigger than anything life could randomly spit out on its own. There are times where I want a movie to be grounded so I can connect with it on a personal level. That’s not this movie. This movie sweeps you up and carries you around on air for ninety minutes in ways that only movies can. That’s why I love movies, and that’s why I love this film.
How is this film not my #1? Ever since I saw 2001 and it became my favorite film ever, I have been a sucker for smart sci-fi movies that feel as big as the universe is infinite. Annihilation is such a film and in most average years, it would be my favorite. Garland’s movie certainly recalls such high points as 2001 and also Carpenter’s The Thing and Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it's also very new. It has an almost all female cast for starters, and while I am sure there were practical effects in the film, its use of computer effects was very effective and made the alien stuff, well, even more alien. Maybe the best part is its ending, which may have a “right” interpretation, but there’s enough ambiguity that we can debate it in our heads and amongst each other for a while.
WHY ARE THEY REMAKING SUSPIRIA? Because Luca Guadagnino exists that’s why! Let the man do whatever the fuck he wants!
3. First Reformed
Both this and Cold War can only be made by artists who have Schrader and Pawlikowski's creativity and deep knowledge of the films that came before them. While Cold War is steeped in the language of classic movie love stories, First Reformed feels like a Dreyer film, a Bergman film, a Bresson film, all those great European moralists, with a narrative only Schrader could come up with. Ethan Hawke’s Toller is a Schrader character through and through and I know the ending is rather ambiguous, but I choose to see it through the lens Schrader just doesn’t usually do: hope. The fact that Paul Schrader could deliver this exquisite film at this point in his life and infuse it with hope can only make me love him as a filmmaker even more.
“He’s the Great Gatsby,” the main female character says during the film. It’s likely no line from a 2018 film has stuck with me more than this one. It means so many different things at the same time, and that’s also true of this brilliant and beautiful film. Lee’s film is a mystery, it’s political and social commentary, it’s about writer’s block, it’s about alienation and destruction and creation and all these things at once. And it’s also about the Great Gatsby. Lee won't let you connect with the story because he’s making a puzzle that you must work to engage with. I’m honestly still engaging with it every day because of that work. Polanski and Towne once told a story about a state of mind and left us with the line, “Forget it Jake, its Chinatown.” Now, I have another line like that for me. Burning is also about a state of mind, one that I will consider for a long time.
1. The World is Yours
I have three Netflix movies on my top ten this year, so it seems appropriate my favorite is also a Netflix film. I honestly feel the nine films that precede Mr. Gavras’ latest are genuine miracles but, for me, The World is Yours is pure joy. It features phenomenal acting from some of my favorite actors (Isabelle Adjani in everything, please), an elaborate narrative that’s part comedy-part heist film, and the kind of photography and score that repeatedly gives you goosebumps as they are often fused together in that hyperkinetic music video style that isn’t for everyone, but when it works for me, it fucking works. Most importantly, it has a central character that I just root like hell for. He has almost zero charisma, but that IS his charisma. He’s the anti-Scarface who refrains from machoism and just wants a house with a pool, and I love every second of watching him trying to get it. I watched this film twice at Cannes, twice the night the screener showed up, and at least ten times since it hit Netflix last month. That’s why it’s my #1. I know that over time, when I need to watch something as comfort food, it’ll probably be this.