Split Decision: Don't Miss Movies of 2018
Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!
This week’s question:
What 2018 film shouldn’t be overlooked?
Support the Girls. This little sleeper, starting Regina Hall as the manager of a Texas sports bar, played two weeks in Philadelphia theaters, but it deserves much love and respect. Hall got some this week with the New York Film Critics Circle naming her Best Actress for her deserving performance. Her character starts out crying in a parking lot and ends with her screaming on a rooftop. Hall is phenomenal, but the actresses surrounding her, including Haley Lu Richardson (from last year's Columbus) and newcomer Shayna McHayle, as well as Lea DeLaria, are all fantastic. The film is a tribute to women who just try to get by with dignity--even if they work in a Hooter's like establishment called "Double Whammies." This is a film that feels almost plotless, but in fact, so much happens. And that's why it demands attention.
Support the Girls is available for rent on Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, and elsewhere.
It's been an interesting year for movies (a statement said literally every year), and while I'm still catching up on a few "must-see" films I missed, there are a couple that have managed to stick with me even though it's been months since I saw them. The first being Annihilation. It's rare that I read the book that a movie is based on (I'm more of a non-fiction type), but I did read Jeff Vandermeer's novel of the same name and enjoyed it's very weird, very scientific, and very very aloof main character. Good on the filmmakers for making her slightly more likable in the film (giving the characters actual names and casting Natalie Portman helps), and doubly good on them for keeping all the strangeness of the novel and dare I say taking it a step further. The last 20 minutes of almost dialogue-less, trippy, psychedelic craziness is one of my most memorable experiences in the theater this year. Audiences were confused, but nonetheless mesmerized. All I could think was, "I can't believe this is happening!" In a movie that is nearly impossible to market correctly, it's no wonder it didn't do terribly well, which is a shame, because sign me up for Authority.
Another film I caught only because it played where I work is Tehran Taboo. Written and directed by Ali Soozandeh, this film explores the hypocracy of a morally-zipped up society where so many acts of the human body are criminalized, but at the same time, also recognized as a valuable source of social and political currency. The film follows disparate characters whose lives are shown to be interconnected in revealing and heartbreaking ways. This film is pretty bleak, which I appreciate about it, as it doesn't try to trivialize the dangers of living in a such a repressive society or pretend that there is an easy escape option for any of the characters. This is also the first film shot entirely in rotoscope that I can recall seeing, which adds another layer to the otherworldliness of the lives portrayed. It lends a bit of anonymity to the proceedings as well. Although this film was shot using real actors, they are all but obscured by the technique.
Tehran Taboo is currently streaming on Kanopy, and available for digital rental on Amazon, iTunes, and elsewhere.
It might be the best thing I saw this year, so forgive me if I write about this ten times in the next four weeks, but Sami Saif's documentary The Allins deserves a big audience. I caught the screening at this year's Cinedelphia Film Festival, and it doesn't look like the movie has any kind of solid distribution deal in place, so it might be a minute until you can see it. Again, apologies.
Saif follows Todd Phillips' classic 1993 documentary Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies with a look at what GG's family is up to now, two-and-a-half decades after his death. Phillips showed GG, notorious, terrible, naked, pee-covered punk icon get into fights and throw his poop at fans. By the time Hated came out, GG had died of a heroin overdose. In part, I imagine, because of Hated, GG's myth has only grown since the early 90s, with his drummer Dino Sex and bassist brother Merle Allin continuing to tour on the Murder Junkies' legacy. Merle makes a living selling Murder Junkies merch at Spaceballs: The Flamethrower-levels of cognitive dissonance, all while justifying, to his customers, the documentary crew and himself, that this is the best way to keep GG's spirit alive. If a shirt with GG's face on it isn't enough, he'll sell you an unwashed shirt GG actually wore. It's extra if it still has GG's blood on it.
GG and Merle's mother, Arleta, wishes fans would stop stealing and/or pissing on her son's tombstone. She remembers GG as "Kevin Michael Allin" and wishes Merle would settle down with a woman. The Allins is a pretty wonderful movie about the push and pull between the way Arleta and Merle mourn GG. If it was a scripted film, you might think it was too on the nose, but as a document of reality, it's fascinating and, yes, touching.
The Allins doesn’t yet have an announced theatrical or streaming release. It is touring film festivals.
The King is a great documentary about the last few years in America. It's a brilliant look at the legacy of Elvis and correlates it with the rise of Trump in 2016. Sounds a little crazy doesn't it? Well, it's not. It's a great movie, and should absolutely be seen before you make your end of year list.
One of my favorite movies this year that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle is David and Nathan Zellner's Damsel. Featuring fantastic performances from Mia Wasikwoska and Robert Pattinson, this is yet another Revisionist Western among the many we've been getting over the past few years, but in my estimation it's one of the best. To deconstruct the genre, the Zellner's populated their classic western tale of a damsel in distress with real men rather than "real men", where "real men" are the noble outlaws so popular in the genre that likely never existed, and real men are just that - the selfish, oafish, boorish assholes that continue to rule the world. For me, Damsel is an absurdist comedy about incels, gatekeepers, and fanboys and the truly horrific, destructive force they are in the world, especially as regards women. It's also a great example of my favorite kind of comedy in that it is in fact very funny, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't take it seriously. This movie is actively denouncing male entitlement while simultaneously kicking every entitled male in the dick, knocking them down a peg through representation and turning them into the year's greatest punchline. It's genuinely brilliant in this way and I can't recommend enough that you seek it out before making your end of year lists, as there's a damn good chance it will be on mine.
I've already talked at length this year about American Animals, and I certainly stand by it, but I don't want to start sounding like a broken record. I could also yammer on about how much I loved Eighth Grade, but that's a movie that would be nearly impossible to overlook this year.
With all of that said, a movie I truly loved this year was Bi Gan's Long Day's Journey Into Night. If you are able to see this hazy, dreamlike noir in theatres please do. Many of us were able to see this film at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival, and it personally swept me off my feet. I even dozed off for about ten minutes towards the beginning (I was in the middle of a hectic work day, sue me), but honestly it really added to my experience of the movie. Was I dreaming? Who's to say.
For those who have not seen the movie or read anything about it, I'd like to keep it at that. However, I will say that the ~thing~ that happens about an hour and twenty minutes into the movie was spectacular. Some say it was too gimmicky, but for me it worked. If you've seen it and feel differently, well, come find me because I would love to hear why you feel that way.
Vague enough for you? Good.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night is in between theatrical and rental releases as of this writing.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa's spellbinding Before We Vanish came and went earlier this year, hardly making a dent in the local film scene – it wasn't even reviewed by this site. (We do our best. -Eds.). Greeted by a respectable but far from enthusiastic reception, it strikes me as yet another affirmation of Kurosawa as one of the most adept, consistent, and imaginative genre specialists in the world today. In a story following several extraterrestrial body snatchers and their pre-invasion antics – mainly acquiring an understanding of human "concepts" by poking unsuspecting earthlings on the noggin – Kurosawa's big-budget homage to 50s American sci-fi and Golden Age Spielberg finds him in a mostly playful mode, even as he returns to signature mid-career preoccupations such as spousal dynamics and Japanese customs, past versus present. Kurosawa deftly juggles his personal agenda with crowd-pleasing sequences, including some curiously carefree depictions of collateral damage, but it's the pensive stretches, as well as the optimistic coda, that linger in one's mind once the end credits cease. I'll be surprised if it's not on my Year's Best list.
Before We Vanish is currently available streaming on Hulu, and available for rental on Amazon and iTunes.
I'm with Garrett and Gary on Damsel and Support the Girls, but I couldn't say why better than they already have, so instead allow me to tout the wonders of The Sisters Brothers. What could potentially be the swan song of Annapurna Pictures is also one of the year's very best. No lie, the number of co-production credits which open the film is both comic and tragic, but the picture that follows is an absolute delight. It's based on a Picaresque novel of the same name and follows the exploits of the titular siblings. Everyone knows that they're a duo of bounty hunters who always get their mark, but what few know is how deeply unbalanced the Sisters brothers are. Eli (John C. Reilly) is a bit of a dolt, Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) is an aggressive drunk, but together they avoid misfortune and manage to succeed. What do they learn? Nothing. Why do we like them? I dunno. But we do, and that's enough.
Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal play the latest bounty targets, but when this foursome of tremendous performers finally meet, a golden opportunity taps into the wells of greed within each of them. Things get hairy pretty quick.
There's not much to say outside of how much fun this is to watch. I love a revisionist western, and this one ranks amongst the very best. Funny, exciting, and wonderful to look at. Alexandre Desplat's score transports us to a specific time and place, while frequent Gaspar Noe collaborator, Benoit Debie shoots the imagery with a subtle, crisp beauty. Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) directs the film at a leisurely pace that doesn't defy the inherent danger of the old west.
What can I say? I loved it! A scene in which Gyllenhaal and Reilly share a toothbrushing session is one of 2018's biggest delights.
The Sisters Brothers is in between theatrical and rental releases as of this writing.
I haven't seen as many films this year as I would have liked, so my pick may be more mainstream, but Hereditary absolutely floored me and should not be overlooked. I missed Ari Aster's feature directorial debut when it was stirring up buzz earlier in the year, so I got around to it on Halloween night, after I got my son to sleep. I'm no horror aficionado, and I do not particularly enjoy jump scares, but I enjoy disturbing, psychological stuff. As it turns out, Hereditary was right up my alley.
First, let's start with the visuals. The imagery in Hereditary has seared an indelible scar on my brain and heart. One sequence in particular left my mouth agape; like actually, my jaw was hanging open, staring wide-eyed at the screen. And what made it incredible was that Aster decided not to focus on the scary thing that happened, but rather stick with the character that witnessed it. This shot perverts The Spielberg Face in such a crazy way; the lack of reaction by our character to the circumstances is what is so affecting. I could rattle off no less than 5 images in this film that are utterly terrifying, not because of what is actually on screen, but because of the brilliant filmmaking that puts us squarely in the situation with the characters.
But the real reason that Hereditary should not be overlooked as we enter awards season is for Toni Collette's tour-de-force performance as the new matriarch of the family, trying desperately to hold her shit together as everything else around her falls apart. Collette's emotions hang from her tortured, contorted face as she descends into pure hell, despite her best efforts to change her trajectory. There is one shot in particular where Ari Aster's camera slowly zooms in on Collette as she watches an absolute horror unfolding before her, her face paralyzed by the surreality of it all. As the camera moves finishes, her face is freed of it's expression, a numbness washing over her and a slight grin emerging. The upsetting nature of this simple shot cannot be understated, and it rests almost entirely on Collette's acting prowess. It's truly one of the best performances I've seen this year, and she deserves all of the awards for it.
There’s a ton of films from earlier this year that seem to be overlooked, and while I will echo Catherine’s love for American Animals and will be stumping for The Death of Stalin on my end of year list, I wanted to highlight a film I loved that I might not be able to find room for in picking only 10 films to represent 2018.
I Kill Giants features a Dungeon & Dragons-loving little girl named Barbara who wears bunny ears and fights giants with traps and a war hammer named after a Phillies pitcher who had a hot streak against the New York Giants in 1908 (earning him the nickname “Giant Killer,” get it?). But maybe it’s all in her head? Madison Wolfe gives a fantastic performance, carrying the emotional and fantastical elements with equal aplomb. I felt for her while also being enchanted by the giant mythology she clings to.
The rest of the cast include Imogen Poots, Zoe Saldana, and Jennifer Ehle, who are all excellent. I think it’s really cool that I didn’t notice until near the end of the film that the principle cast is entirely female. It’s not something the film makes a big deal about, it’s just how it is.
Director Anders Walter seems to draw a lot of visual inspiration from Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are, which suits the tone of this melancholy fable. Fans of that film, Over the Garden Wall, and Miyazaki films should definitely check this out.
I Kill Giants is currently streaming on Hulu, and is available for rent on Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, and more.