Gary's Top Eleven Films of 2018
I love films, but I hate making 10 best lists. I admired many comedies, dramas, shorts and documentaries this year. I also laughed at, cried at, and was moved by many performances I saw this year. But ranking them (or even comparing them by gender) suggests a preference that, to me, is unfair. Sometimes you want a comedy, and other times a documentary. (Mostly, however, I want a good absorbing drama that will make me think and feel). Is one “better?”
So, for my Top Ten list of 2018, I submit these 11 American independent and foreign features and documentaries that got under my skin. At least half of these films are ones I saw twice, generally because I couldn’t shake them. They all deserve a look.
This list is in alphabetical, not ranked order, of course.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? Arguably, the most fun I had in a theatre this year. This naughty story has Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy in the performance I’ve been waiting for her to give) forging celebrity letters. She’s assisted by her feckless drinking buddy, Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant, in his best role since Withnail & I). I laughed. I cringed. I hated to see it end.
The Captain This German film, starring Max Hubacher in the title role didn’t make a big splash on release, but I loved it both times I saw it. Hubacher plays a deserter in the German army during the last two weeks of World War II. He stumbles upon a captain’s uniform and puts it on, convincing others to follow his commands. The film, which is horrific, and at times darkly funny, shows how power is abused. A final scene, set in the present day, is spellbinding. But what truly resonates about The Captain is Hubacher’s high-wire act of a performance; he shows the many layers of his characters’ guilt, fear, hubris and survival instincts. It’s amazing.
The Dawn Wall This is the second film this year, along with the fantastic Free Solo, that had climbers scaling El Capitan, the vertical rock at Yosemite National Park. Here, two guys—Tommy Caldwell and relative newbie Kevin Jorgeson—attempt to free climb the 3000 ft. of sheer granite. Caldwell’s backstory is as incredible as their inspirational effort. Best seen in the theater, The Dawn Will is nerve-wracking and feel good, often at the same time.
I loved the Oscar-nominated short film Just Before Losing Everything, which had Miriam (Léa Drucker in an Oscar-worthy performance), escaping her abusive husband Antoine (Denis Ménochet), and taking their two children with her. But that short was just the pre-cursor to the phenomenal Custody, a slow-burn thriller that revisits the couple. It becomes absolutely relentless in ways that will make you squirm.
Let the Sunshine In Basically, this talky French drama has the luminous Juliette Binoche meeting a handful of men, all of whom are shits. But that’s kind of what makes it so magical. Binoche’s expressions and body language communicate so much as she’s bemused or annoyed or enchanted, sexed, or fooled by these men, all of whom want to use her. The film engenders sympathy and exasperation, which may be its very point about how women are treated in this era of #metoo.
Monsters and Men Too few people saw Reinaldo Marcus Green’s blistering debut, a triptych of stories that revolve around a cop shooting a young African American man. Now is the chance to change that. This potent drama shows the impact of the crime on a witness, a cop, and a young man inspired to become an activist. It’s a canny, and effective approach to show how society grapples with issues of race and inequality.
A Private War Rosamund Pike gave the performance of the year as Marie Colvin, in this biopic of the esteemed war correspondent. The film captures not only Colvin’s spirit, but the humanity of the lives of the victims whose stories she told. Director Matthew Heineman, a documentarian making his feature debut, creates a you-are-there experience, which enhances the drama.
I’ve already written about my love for Support the Girls when it came out. And again, when Split Decision asked what film not to miss. So, do yourself a favor and see this little sleeper now! Regina Hall stars as Lisa, the manager of a sexy Texas sports bar named “Double Whammies.” Watching Lisa react to all the chaos around her and trying to remain a cool blue ocean in a developing tsunami is one of the greatest pleasures of the highly enjoyable comedy. But the film’s messages of female agency and empowerment are as salient as the subtexts about ethics and respect.
We the Animals. For another recent Split Decision, I explained how Jeremiah Zagar’s adaptation of Justin Torres’s book exceeded my high expectations. This beautiful and impressionistic film deeply moved me—and not just because father/son stories are my emotional kryptonite. It’s because there is emotion in every frame.
The Workshop This French import about a teacher (Marina Foïs) from Paris who comes to work with a group of students in La Ciotat, a coastal town, is a riveting drama. One of her students, Antoine (Mattieu Lucci) is not like the others. Antoine is alluring to her; he challenges her (and his peers), and he expresses some attitudes that others object to. The Workshop plays out the teacher/student relationship in ways that surprise. What is really going on between these characters is best left to be discovered, but Lucci, in his screen debut, is dazzling.
Back in April, I claimed You Were Never Really Here as one of the best films of the year. And it is. Lynne Ramsay’s astonishing film, adapted from Jonathan Ames’ noir novella, is a taut, hypnotic drama. Ramsay doesn’t miss a beat. Her direction is exceptional, with scenes that are shocking and beautiful (sometimes both at once), and Joaquin Phoenix gives a helluva performance. You can really feel this wounded man’s trauma, despair and boredom. Don’t miss it.