Andy's Top Eleven Films of 2018
11. First Man (dir. Damien Chazelle)
What if you were the first man to walk on the moon and yet you were still trapped on earth? First Man is about as atypical of a biopic as you could conjure about one of the most common household names of the 20th century. Having experienced the loss of his young daughter when she was only three years old, Neil Armstrong dove head first into the challenge of pushing the NASA space program forward, eventually piloting Apollo 11 to the moon in the summer of 1969. Yet of course, he never left the ghost of his daughter's memory behind. First Man is a story of how we never really know what's going on under the surface of even our most perfect looking American heroes. Claire Foy shines as the homemaking wife Janet, in what would usually a throw away role, but here emphasized as the person upon whom this whole mission hinges on. There would be no Neil without her there to raise the children and keep his family together. First Man is a gut punch of a movie- one that could have easily ended with resource information for local grief counselors.
10. The King (dir. Eugene Jarecki)
The King is a risky, ambitious documentary that bites off way more than it can chew, chews the everloving fuck out of it, and has a blast doing so. Director Eugene Jarecki borrows one of Elvis' Rolls Royce and goes on a road trip tracing his life- from his humble beginnings in Tupelo, Mississippi, to the Sun Studios of Memphis, to the television studios of New York City, to the casinos of Las Vegas, before his final end on the toilet at Graceland. Along the way he picks up some famous hitchhikkers...including Ethan Hawke, Alec Baldwin, Emmylou Harris, and John Hiatt. He meets with people who knew him personally, artists who were inspired by him, even artists who are the virtual opposite of him (hello Immortal Technique!). Each subject grapples personally with the legacy of Elvis Presley, as a metaphor for the rise and fall of post war America. Oh, and it was being filmed during the 2016 election season. If social commentary through pop culture analysis is your thing, this movie could be your heaven.
9. Vox Lux (dir. Brady Corbet)
Vox Lux is the most polarized film you might see this year–a movie about a vain contemporary pop star who alienates everybody around her- but soundtracked by an unbelievably morose Scott Walker score, which couldn't sound more different than the auto-tuned bubblegum sex pop that she performs onstage in the finale. Natalie Portman plays the star, Celeste, in a daring performance- whether she’s speaking in an awful Staten Island accent, talking shit one minute and bursting into tears the next, or sipping wine out of a coffee cup at lunch with her daughter (Raffey Cassidy, who also plays Celeste as a young girl, in one of the most memorable performances of the year). It all begins with her surviving a Columbine-esque mass shooting in 1999, the event that turns out to be the catalyst for her career. Second time filmmaker Brady Corbet seems to be searching for the connections between this generation's trauma and the art it produces- but he finds only dissonance. You don't hear the tragedies of mass shootings or 9/11 or climate change in the music of Celeste, aside from her one anthem "Wrapped Up." In the 1960's you had music that defined the social struggles of its time, and was defined in turn- whereas Celeste, one of the pop stars of her time, has grinding sex jams like "Sweat And Tears." Corbet isn't judging though- it's never been easier to escape from the horrors of the world- and the world has never been scarier. Why wouldn't we take that out, if it was offered?
8. Widows (dir. Steve McQueen)
Widows has it all. The most heartpounding opening to a movie this year. Viola Davis carrying around an adorable dog whenever she's not holding a gun. Daniel Kaluuya playing the scariest villain you've seen in a while. Liam Neeson and Colin Farrell having drinks together on a Yacht on Lake Michigan- and an in depth analysis of local city politics, crime and gentrification the likes we haven't seen in a movie since the days of The Wire. Despite getting lost in the extensive plot details (Widows was based off a BBC miniseries), it mainly concerns four women from very different backgrounds who join forces to complete a heist job after their criminal husbands are killed. All of that plot may distract you from the deep blue shades of grief that permeate the edges of the frame. Widows felt the most like life in 2018- unfair and full of bad choices and regret, but with a determination to find the better life that's waiting when the smoke clears.
A helicopter lands in the Morroccan desert- a gorgeous man and a gorgeous woman are on board. In his aviator sunglasses we see the reflection of the entire landscape- his gaze rules all. And she is an object in his line of sight. Revenge starts off as one of the horniest, porniest representations of the male gaze in recent memory- as a French CEO and his young mistress are off to his vacation home for a couple days of sex and lounging before he has a hunting weekend with his friends. But the friends show up early, and things don't go according to plan. Almost like a descendant of 2000's New French Extremism, but with the body horror of David Cronenberg, this modern update of the rape revenge genre is the most brilliant cinematic deconstruction of the year, and an utter takedown of toxic masculinity. Get ready to scream.
6. Upgrade (dir. Leigh Whannell)
This is the surprise of the year for me- the film that kept rising and rising on my list. It did so because it presents a vision of the near future that already looks like today- just amplified, in a manner similar to 2017's Logan. After suffering a tragedy that left him parapalegic, Grey (Logan Marshall Green) agrees to have a "STEM"- a device that can give you the power to move your body regardless of any physical injury- implanted in his brain. Suddenly he has control again...or does he? In a day and age where we are constantly learning about how little control we have over our personal information, and where automation is the unquestioned way of the future, Upgrade is a wake up call. It's also plenty entertaining too, with incredible fight scenes, great performances all around, and tense music. It's all anchored by Green's fantastic physical performance. Considering all of the rapid changes in media and technology in the last few years, we are in a low key golden age of new cinematic techno-phobic nightmares, with Upgrade joining peers like Cam, Unfriended, Searching, and even Eighth Grade.
5. Blindspotting (dir. Carlos López Estrada)
There was a trio of movies about modern Bay Area life in 2018–Sorry To Bother You, Bodied, and Blindspotting. All dealt with similar themes- racial tension, law enforcement, gentrification, social media, PC political language, and the swallowing of the region by the tech industry. All three were excellent, but Blindspotting is the one that has stuck with me most. Perhaps because at its root, it's the story of a male friendship, between Daveed Diggs (as Collin) and Rafael Casal (as Miles), two real life best friends who met in poetry slam classes in Oakland where they grew up. As a couple guys who would much rather express themselves through an improvised rap than just talking it out, their respective journeys unfold like a modern day Shakespearean odyssey. It's a movie as funny and touching as it is tragic. During a post screening Q&A, the two said that they learned to try and laugh at tragedies in their lives as soon as they happened, because the pure amount of bad things happening meant there would just never be a "right time" to finally laugh at it. Blindspotting is opposite and conflicting emotions all on top of each other, and somehow, there's room for all of it.
4. Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland)
There's no creation except through destruction. A comet lands in a remote part of the southern United States, and unleashes something that keeps growing. Nobody really knows what it is, except it changes everything it touches. It's called "The Shimmer." Much like the shimmer, Annihilation is a film that changes everyone who sees it, but in a completely personalized way for the individual. This is a cerebral, mind rattling science fiction film in the tradition of Kubrick and Tarkovsky- and led by a cast of five female leads. Many people might come away from this film with a different meaning- to me, it's about our magnetic attraction to self destruction, as if it were a biological impulse, all designed in order for us to keep growing and changing. Annihilate the past to create the future.
3. Roma (dir. Alfonso Cuarón)
Almost like a greatest hits performance, retrospective of Alfonso Cuaron's career- but ultimately a semi-autobiographical look back at the caretaker whose love made him who he was. A film with a starmaking performance from first time actress Yalitza Aparicio, Roma is a feast for the eyes, the ears and the heart. Every frame is packed full of delicious detail. If we don't know the central character Cleo that much, it's because she is ultimately a giver at her heart. The fact that ultimately, she takes a moment to grieve for herself- is such a major breakthrough for her, because she is so used to putting everyone else first.
2. Leave No Trace (dir. Debra Granik)
Leave No Trace is the Manchester By The Sea of 2018, as directed by a woman...and is as much about the emotional work that women have to do to carry the burden of masculine pain. Yet Debra Granik isn't judging that masculine pain- she has as much empathy for Ben Foster's wounded veteran father as she does for his alarmingly well adjusted daughter (Thomasin McKenzie). She's well adjusted because, despite her unusual upbringing in the woods outside of Portland, her father loves and respects her. But she's a teenager, and it's time for her to start figuring out what kind of a grown up she wants to be. What follows is a heart shaking tale of what it means to try and separate from somebody who means the world to you, but whose personal demons keep you from inhabiting the world that was meant for you.
1. Suspiria (dir. Luca Guadagnino)
"Why is everyone so ready to think the worst is over?" asks Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), the newest rising star at the Markos Dance Academy of West Berlin in the late 1970's. Germany was the ground zero of 20th Century evil- what is left in its wake? The instructors at the academy are a coven of witches who make art and run their organization like a democracy. They're not above killing their own to silence discontent, but they aren't trying to go out and stir the societal pot any more than it has already been stirred. But in post war Germany, even your silence and avoidance will still get you sucked into the power vacuum. A long-in-the-works re-imagining of Dario Argento’s 1977 original, Suspiria is about a lot of things- art, bodies as vessels of expression, the traumatic legacies of war and genocide, revolution, and the inevitability of death regardless of what side you're on. It's a lot of things thrown against a wall- and even if it doesn't all stay, it stuck hard against my soul. Despite it being set forty years ago, it left me with the unsettling reminder that things aren't necessarily going to get better in our own time. Only a piece of art could help me reach that unsettling conclusion with any degree of comfort.
and ten more...(in alphabetical order)
A Star Is Born, Chappaquiddick, Eighth Grade, Hereditary,, Madeline's Madeline, Mandy, Minding The Gap, Sorry To Bother You, The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs, The Witch In The Window