My Top 20 Film Discoveries of 2018!

For list-nerds like me, the end of the year is a special time with everyone one and their dog posting their best and worst movie lists for debate and celebration. (For what it’s worth, you can find my still-evolving list of Top 50 favourites for 2018 on Letterboxd and our dogs’ most hated film of the year was Wim Wenders’ Pina (2011).) I particularly love those year-end discovery lists and recommend the Pure Cinema Podcast‘s “Film Discoveries for 2018,” the loads of lists at Brian Saur’s blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks, and the “Ants in the Pants of 2018” episode hopefully soon to arrive at The Magic Lantern podcast. But before I get to MMC!‘s favourite discoveries of 2018, I want to take a moment…

This has been a great year at MMC! To be honest, this blog is really meant to satisfy my curatorial, scholarly, and fan-service itches and I really don’t pay much attention to traffic and the like, but it’s hard not to notice that traffic is up a whopping 40% over last year and that’s no doubt due to a lot of good people who’ve contributed to keeping MMC! a rewarding experience. Big thanks to Aaron West for having me on his Criterion Now podcast once again, this time with the great Tim Leggoe. With two visits under my belt, I’m just going to declare myself part of the CN family. Big thanks to all the film festivals who’ve let me participate in their great events – the Chattanooga Film Festival, Ithaca Fantastik, the Buried Alive Film Festival, the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival – and to filmmakers like Ryan Prows and Bo McGuire for being genuinely awesome people to meet and spend time with. Thanks once again to podcast-men Sam and Dan of the Arrow Video Podcast for their kind words. Lastly, big thanks to those out there who regularly support this little corner of film fandom – blogs like Noirish, Sci-Fi Jubilee, Voices From The Balcony, Movie Fan Man, Screen Zealots, The Telltale Mind, Cracked Rear Viewer, dbmoviesblog, 100 Films in a YearSilver ScreeningsWindows on Worlds, and our Finnish friend jnvahtola. (Plus shout-outs to floodmouse, Erin, and Simoneteffect!) Keep up the good work all of you and see you in 2019!

And now, here are my top 20 first time screenings for 2018 along with my Letterboxd reviews:

Aventurera (Alberto Gout, 1950)

“They don’t come more exhaustively packed than this musical-revenge-film noir melodrama. It has everything – impossible musical numbers, fallen women, mute henchmen, threatened face-cuttings, bold chiaroscuro, deathbed rejections, foggy alleyways, fruit-inspired stage costumes, ping pong, and a literal back-stabbing. Amazing.”

Stakeout (Yoshitaro Nomura, 1958)

“Something of a Japanese investigative procedural of Jeanne Dielman, displaying the monotony of a police stakeout and of its housewife subject. Stakeout‘s ever-shifting perceptions and presumptions makes it carefully fascinating, while its dovetailing influence on the lead detective’s own crisis in coupling provides a romantically melancholy depth. A sad, privately swooning crime film set in the everyday.”

The Second Track (Joachim Kunert, 1962)

“A late East German take on poetic realism with some beautiful noirish visuals and an unusually dissonant score. A thwarted theft in a rail yard turns into a mystery about WWII secrets and the hidden connections that link two men. Tautly scripted and evocatively presented, The Second Track is a little seen success in tension and national trauma.”

Shanty Tramp (Joseph P. Mawra, 1967)

“Kind of amazing hicksploitation title crazily mashing up white trash hussies, hep cat biker gangs, legit racism, moonshiners, gangsters, and plenty of cheap deaths. Seeing the film’s title character apparently dance for the first time is stunning (and her stabbing isn’t much better).”

The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968)

“Iconoclastic optimism sours into a burst bubble of entitled masculinity. Melodramatic suffering becomes a weapon against male egotism. Lancaster’s reveal is strange and fascinating, an ad-man’s gauzy dream transformed into material reality (and then pathetic fallacy). A dreamy, mad, and prune-skinned curiosity.”

The Rendezvous (Kōichi Saitō, 1972)

“My wife and I joke that our ideal vacation involves walking on pavement and wearing coats. On that basis alone, this popular Japanese romance is a favourite. A gregarious young hood meets an older woman on a train and an immediate kinship is felt. He pursues her, eventually winning over her cautiousness and propriety and discovering her own checkered past. This sudden and uncertain May-December romance (more like May-September) is fascinating to watch unfold and its wintry setting beautifully compliments the brittle and pained histories that hang about the characters and that is thawed by this unexpected passion. An unusual but welcome melodrama.”

Save the Tiger (John G. Avildsen, 1973)

“A clothing manufacturer comes apart at the seams, traumatized having fought for an America he can longer find and sickened at what he must do to get along in it now. Save the Tiger feels stagey and overly theatrical at times but Lemmon drags these scenes towards something compelling and transcendent nevertheless. A sad, bitter treat.”

White Rock (Tony Maylam, 1977)

“What is this? An Epcot Center experience? A Cannon Films synth adventure? Outtakes of James Coburn butching it up to sell me a Dodge Ram? Whatever it is, I love it, even if the filmmakers were only at the Games for a day and a half.”

Christmas Evil (Lewis Jackson, 1980)

“A wonderfully loopy Christmas flick about one man driven mad by society’s woeful Yuletide spirit. Sort of like Travis Bickle in a Santa outfit – Sleigh Driver: A Taxi Driver Christmas Special? All that plus a Santa with a stocking fetish, villagers with torches, and an absolutely bonkers ending? Happy holidays, everyone!”

Night of the Juggler (Robert Butler, 1980)

“Phenomenal action thriller. New York is an exquisite fleabag of slums, peepshows, and scuzzy weariness. Armed with hirsute, paternal single-mindedness, Brolin is wonderful as the one-dad strike force ready to battle all of the Big Apple’s social ills to save his daughter from an insane kidnapper. Juggler‘s opening chase is action-packed and glorious and the film never lets up. A new favourite.”

The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1982)

“A weirdly magical film set in the world of comedy but consistently running against the grain, steeped in a desperate, creepily unfunny anti-charisma. Lewis is characteristically prickish, Bernhard is moment-stealing, and De Niro’s sociopathic hack comic contains a kind of delirious absence within him. Scorsese’s off-centre alternative to Taxi Driver is a masterpiece and may be no less dangerous.”

The Fourth Man (Paul Verhoeven, 1983)

“A wonderfully over-determined, heavily symbolic erotic thriller/religious awakening full of dream logic and death fantasies. Stylishly sexy and darkly loopy.”

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (Kazuo Hara, 1987)

“A fascinating documentary about Kenzo Okuzaki, a 62 year-old veteran of the Japanese WWII campaign in New Guinea on a continuing mission to reveal the murders and war crimes committed by military authorities against its personnel and force its elderly perpetrators to admit their guilt. Okuzaki’s willingness to deceive his subjects and engage in violence against them is shocking, particularly when individuals onscreen call out the film crew for not intervening. Almost anticipating the brilliance of The Act of Killing, Kazuhiro Hara’s ability to represent Okuzaki and his interviewees without judgement is astonishing. An almost singular portrait of the horrors of war, the long shadows they cast, and one man’s struggle to reconcile the trauma of surviving.”

Three O’Clock High (Phil Joanou, 1987)

“Terrific high school dramedy inspired by High Noon (with a dash of It’s a Wonderful Life). Perfectly captures the enclosed/entrapped world of high school and charmingly exaggerates its various customs and characters into something pleasingly fantastic.”

The Legend of the Holy Drinker (Ermanno Olmi, 1988)

“Hauer is wonderful as a generous, but beleaguered drunk on a quasi-religious mission to repay an act of kindness. Olmi beautifully portrays the streets, cafes, nightclubs, and flats of Paris. For all of the adversity faced, Holy Drinker remains always compassionate and hopeful, sometimes even transcendental. Lovely in its threadbare glory.”

To Sleep With Anger (Charles Burnett, 1990)

The Trouble with Harry. Charles Burnett takes Mississippi folk tales to Southern California and goes deep with the magical realism. Danny Glover is charming, mischievous, and malevolent, an infernal trickster corrupting with the truth. Relaxed and tantalizingly episodic. Bring your toby and be careful with that broom!”

World of Glory (Roy Andersson, 1991)

“Andersson’s survey of the pallid life of an estate agent as blackly comic and bleakly told as possibly imaginable. A compelling masterpiece of drab design and dreary performance.”

Murder Party (Jeremy Saulier, 2007)

“Grad school pretentiousness taken too far in this hilariously quirky, gore-filled mini-masterpiece about one man’s battle against snide artistic ambition. Damn MF’nAs!”

Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2009)

“An absurdly unsettling comedy about patriarchy, control, family, and home schooling (particularly when the consulting sex-ed assistant starts looking for her own extra credits).  Completely transfixing, although I feel like that final field trip will be trouble. (Note: this review was not written on a licked keyboard.)”

Beyond the Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos, 2010)

“Slow burn, cosmic horror, sci-fi pastiche with echoes of Cronenberg and Kubrick calling from its lucite halls. A cheekier ending than expected of this dread-heavy style-piece but maybe it works too. Horribly captivating.”

And that’s it for 2018, kids.

SEE YOU IN 2019!!!

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One thought on “My Top 20 Film Discoveries of 2018!

  1. James Morazzini December 31, 2018 / 3:20 pm

    Nice mix of art and exploitation in that list, as well as some solid studio fare.

    And on behalf of everyone at Voices From the Balcony, thanks for the mention and a Happy New Year to you!

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