As promised (and after much 2018 bingeing over the last few weeks), here are my submissions for the Film Comment 2018 Readers’ Poll and Survey! These 20 films include MMC! favourite filmmakers, festival discoveries, and out-of-the-blue revelations. Those in the mood for another 30 titles can check out my Top 50 Favourites of 2018!
The opportunity to submit your favourite films from 2018 to Film Comment closes on February 28, so be sure enter for the chance to win a subscription to the magazine “and other potential prizes.” And while we’re on the topic of polls, why not help MMC! out by voting at the bottom of this page for which titles you’d like to see be the subject of future MMC! proposals or comment below on your favourites from last year?
With Shoplifters, Kore-eda once again steals my heart, sometimes to warm it and sometimes to break it. Yet another lovely exploration of the meaning of family, this time Kore-eda contemplates a very lived-in present and an encroaching past that is testing and fascinating in its various aspects. Wonderful performances and perfect production design, Shoplifters once more demonstrates Kore-eda as a magician of realism, naturalism, and mature, sincere emotion.
Few modern American films are as daringly spiritual as First Reformed, which takes on the burden of faith and the challenge of forgiveness and creates an ecclesiastical anti-Taxi Driver. Schrader’s transcendental filmmaking is masterful, too close and composed to feel comfortable, too much darkness at the edges to feel inconsequential. Its power comes on its unfliching gaze outward back at the viewer, made all the more daring in the few moments where it does flinch and astonishes by its audaciousness and its unpredictability. This and Won’t You Be My Neighbour? are my 2018 double bill.
Cage Rage by Tor Books. Perfect.
(Plus, it’s great to see the dildo from Seven is still getting work.)
An unheroic epic masterpiece about the bureaucratic tragedy of a weak-willed magistrate. Martel’s frames are gorgeous – painterly, warm, vibrantly colourful, filled with more frames, and preoccupied with its own limits. Zama‘s elliptical structure is bewitching and slightly disorienting, and its attention to class and race is insightfully written into each moment with cast, costume, and set never leaving its colonial context to disappear and turn Zama into some period pageant. Plus that llama. Excellent.
A beautiful and fascinating glimpse into an essential yet too little understood domestic employee who navigates her own challenges in the face of steadfast service to a household (and country) in disorder. As with Children of Men more than a decade ago, Cuarón tells Roma‘s story primarily in his production design and mise-en-scène, this time using a depth of field and an unparalleled crispness to create the most sumptuously monochromatic film in recent (or possibly any) memory. Visually captivating and almost excessively detailed, Roma is something of a modern city symphony and may be 2018’s richest cinematic experience.
The travails of mad, romantic love become problems of space and time, of border crossings and musical tastes. Problems in emotion becomes struggles in politics and language, with ideology assuming the place of interpersonal doubt and language serving as gatekeeper to the heart. But always Cold War is about love, to the exclusion of all else, stripping away distracting questions until reaching its fundamental choice of unity without exception. Lushly monochromatic and swooningly passionate, Cold War is a beautifully told tale of love and trauma between two lovers with no home but to each other.
A moving tale of exploitation and selfishness then and now, told through a simple, saintly young man and some beautifully rendered portraits of marginal materialism, be it pastoral or late capitalist. A gem.
Somehow languid and bracing, dreamy and fearsome, Burning is a brilliant and quietly topical take on the changing face of South Korea and on the unsettled ennui of modern youth. The film is chilling in how it so casually brushes against the possibility of real love and the reality of true danger. Excellent.
Youthful, delightful, playful, and bountiful. Yuasa imagines a night that seems like a year and still leaves me wanting more of its adorable binge-drinking, its godly bookselling, its romantic guerrilla theatre, and its cataclysmic cold. I am completely and utterly enchanted once again.
Period costume dramas may not be my thing but this daffy examination of the mercenary side of love and politics is absolutely enthralling. Olivia Colman is a wonder, Stone’s nervous side-eye was great, and Weisz is a badass. Plus, that sound design and that closing credits design!
Imagine a Spaghetti Western made to look like a giallo. Imagine the colour gel lighting and the Goblin-ish score. Imagine the rough graphics of its credit sequence and its trailer. Now imagine that its trailer was the film, extended to feature-length running time but still operating by its highly stylized, heavily truncated, and boldly metaphorical and iconographic form. This is Let the Corpses Tan, a crime film that will surely divide audiences for its bold storytelling and one that I adored.
12. Birds of Passage (Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego)
A truly original film for an overdone and garishly indulgent genre – the drug trade movie. Birds of Passage blends cultural specificity, indigenous mysticism, and generic convention into something remarkably reminiscent of Shakespearean tragedy. Tensely acted, gorgeously shot, and brilliantly scored, this is a masterpiece of uneasy alliances, honour codes, and bad omens. A must see.
Phoenix Tapes become Frisco Tapes in The Green Fog, an experimental remake of Hitchcock’s Vertigo from San Francisco-set found footage. The result is cleverly meta and exhaustively organized but above all else, it is surprisingly hilarious. (And represents Chuck Norris’ best work!) I swear, I could live on collage films alone.
A skate doc that turns into so much more. Shot over years and never shying away from questions about past traumas, present day denials, and future potential, Minding the Gap has a maturity and weight that beautifully compliments the freedom (and revealed abjection) of its skate footage.
I say with all sincerity and gratitude that Blindspotting is the West Coast, post-millennial reflection of Do the Right Thing, tackling issues of race, violence, appropriation, and gentrification with the same humour, gravity, and bravery that Spike Lee did 30 years ago. With wonderful performances and audio-visual verve, Blindspotting dances between the raindrops to find compassion and humanity in its very real dilemmas. Like Do the Right Thing, the film doesn’t offer pat answers but rather embraces the manifold contradictions and quandaries that only respect and dignity will navigate through.
There is something of the Western to The Death of Stalin, not just in the cowboy movie Stalin makes his Committee members watch, but in the brutal acts that purge unreasonable violence and create order in their wake. Stalin’s randomly occurring death is only a first step and much of the film’s humour is grounded in the absurdity of dismantling the infrastructure of terror while abiding its organization. Buscemi’s colours his Mr. Pink red, trying to talk straight to killers, madmen, and dunces and barely holding together his frustration. Gallows humour refined to a bleakly hilarious edge.
17. Knife + Heart (Yann Gonzalez)
It’s unfortunate that Knife + Heart is criticized for its greatest success – being a faithful representation of the giallo film. Set in the Parisian gay porn industry of 1979, Knife looks the part – skinny, sleazy, and sexualized. Everything in the film has the rough look of being ridden hard and put away wet. But the film’s textural success is nothing compared to its embrace of giallo’s inherent outlandishness – the killers encased in black leather, the wild disfigurements, the shocking murder weapons, the grainy, monochrome flashbacks/dream sequences. Knife‘s ridiculous and salacious content is no misstep, but rather the beautiful merger of art and exploitation that defined the genre. Add to that a captivating performance by Vanessa Paradis that is at times fiery and at others times exhausted and Knife + Heart absolutely succeeds.
I’m in utter shock over how much I enjoyed this. The captions and visual signifiers. The Ben-Day dots and mismatched CMYK registration. The Bill Sienkiewicz-styled Kingpin. The mix of animation styles. The riffs on the Spider-Man origin that feel no less tragic on their re-tellings. The great voice-acting, the clever dialogue, and all the colours (my God, the colours!). It was amazing, spectacular, and ultimate.
This gloriously ambitious critique of late-capitalism by way of the wacky absurdity of Terry Gilliam, Emir Kusturica, and Robert Downey Sr. is so refreshing, so entertaining, so distinctive, so creative, that STBY‘s narrative shagginess and sweatiness, the challenges in its pacing, are made nearly irrelevant. All cinema should be this audacious. All social commentary should be this cheeky. Good on you, Boots. Let’s bring on the next film!
A mysterious, diabetic, Québécois tourist becomes the patron saint to a very modest all-inclusive resort, performing miracles while also bringing ruin as his own body deteriorates. Strangely funny and hauntingly enigmatic. A new favourite.
A note on the poll: I’ve excluded Birds of Passage and Knife + Heart, as they’ve already been proposed here on MMC! I’ve also excluded Night is Short, Walk on Girl and Let the Corpses Tan as both already have boutique label releases on GKIDS and Kino respectively, Blindspotting as it already has quite a solid Blu-ray edition, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse as its eventual release will surely be stacked (and as the film will never be licensed away by Sony).