With this post, the first of 2019, I give myself a pat on the back and announce, perhaps only to myself, that I have finally reached my 200th post.
I am happy to have kept this going for as long as I have. I continue to keep a blog not because I like the attention it may get me (it does not get me any), but because I enjoy writing about movies.
Though I am an architect by trade, I often find that this blog gives me an artistic outlet that I seldom get at my job. It’s not only a hobby, but a form of disciplined therapy, as if I were keeping a diary.
In 2018 I watched 116 new-to-me films (down from the 124 films I watched in 2017). Out of those, exactly 50 were released in the solar year, and only 22 were released over 5 years ago (please visit my last post on the best blind spots of 2018).
Like years past, there were highlights and there were duds. Instead of sharing my list of best films released in 2018 I will give you a highlights reel of my year watching films (and some tv). I will offer thoughts on my favorite performers, my favorite moments, and a few other categories I have come up with to comment on things that were of particular interest to me.
In the coming month or two I may work up to share a list of best films of 2018…
THE BEST OF 2018
BEST MALE PERFORMER:
In a year that introduced me to the power of a young actor like Barry Keoghan in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer, my pick for best male performer has to go to Ethan Hawke.
In 2018 I watched four films in which Ethan plays the lead. The most revelatory was a role he reprised three times over, as Jesse, in the fantastic Before trilogy, which I finally got acquainted with. After such an eye-opening experience I was ready for more, and I watched a more seasoned artist at the peak of his powers deliver his best performance yet as Reverend Ernst Toller in First Reformed.
Other honorable mentions were: Colin Farrell (Killing of a Sacred Deer), Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), Daniel Day Lewis (Phantom Thread), Robert Pattison (Good Time) and Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project).
BEST FEMALE PERFORMER:
I was glad to have discovered and enjoyed so many wonderful performances by talented and beautiful women in 2018. Among them I saw a career-best performance by the fierce Jessica Chastain in Molly’s Game. I endured the tribulations of Laurie Metcalf as a mother and wife in Lady Bird. I was in awe of the grace and quiet dignity of a first time actress Yalitza Aparicio in a role she was born to play in Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma. I was struck by the disarming performance by the ever-great Charlotte Rampling in Andrew Haigh’s beautiful 45 Years; and I was amazed at the precocious talent of Brooklynn Prince in Sean Baker nearly perfect The Florida Project.
Of all the truly great performances I saw (some of which I am leaving out entirely) none other captured my imagination and wonderment more than Vicky Krieps in Phantom Thread, where she is capable to go head-to-head with two heavyweights like Daniel-Day Lewis and Lesley Manville without skipping a beat. She made Phantom Thread be one of my favorite films of the last few years.
I couls have picked one but I couldn’t bear it. At the end, two films stood above the rest. The first was the hopeful and heartwarming bio-doc on the life of Fred Rogers in the aptly named Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
In a year of many first-time feature film directors leaving a mark in Hollywood, few showed so much understanding of the craft of filmmaking and storytelling as Bing Liu in his revelatory film Minding the Gap.
Other honorable mentions: Three Identical Strangers, McQueen
MOST EMOTIONAL FILM:
The act of watching Grave of the Fireflies means to give your heart up and watch it crumble into a million little pieces. As difficult as it is to watch, few films were as beautiful and universally resonant as this 1988 animated gem from Studio Ghibli that had remained a blind spot for much too long. An astounding achievement.
MOST UNCOMFORTABLE WATCH:
No other film in recent memory made me more self-aware than the truly captivating look at the life of a painfully shy teenager heading to high school in the surprising Eight Grade by first time director Bo Burnham.
MOST GORGEOUS FILM:
While I can relate to the many people who found Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma hard to penetrate emotionally, no other film in 2018 was more gorgeously shot than this one. It should come as no surprise since Cuaron has now delivered a handful of truly remarkable cinematic experiences.
Here I would also like to give space to Damien Chazelle, whose work behind the camera in the somber First Man is a thing to behold, especially the claustrophobic sequences in the airships and during the famous moon landing of 1969.
MOST WELCOMED SURPRISE:
Everything about Robert Pattison’s riveting and kinetic performance in Good Time worked for me. I can’t wait for this actor to continue to find his voice now that he has shown me (and the rest of the world) that he is no longer the same actor that led the mind-numbing Twilight franchise.
MOST IMPORTANT & NECESSARY FILMS:
All of the films I’m about to highlight share one thing in common: they have an important social agenda, whether it is through an overt and sometimes angry approach or masked behind layers of irony and dark humor.
These films were: Blackkklansman by Spike Lee (his most formal and best film in many years), Crazy Rich Asians (peel away all of the beauty and capitalistic excess and you’ll find a celebration of Asian people and culture), BPM (a French gay film that spends a great deal of time highlighting the political importance of getting organized to demand equal rights), RBG (about the towering impact of Ruth-Bader Ginsburg on American society), Black Panther (a celebration of our African ancestry and of an entire class of people who have often been marginalized and disregarded), Crown Heights (an uneven yet important look at a revealing case of injustice in America falling heavily on the shoulders of those of darker complexion).
MOST FUN TO WATCH:
When I speak of “fun” I don’t mean in the snobby cinephile sort-of-way. I just mean plain-ol-fun.
In this regard three films share my consideration: Blackkklansman, Game Night and Escape from New York. The first is not only funny in the face of blatant racism, but also wildly entertaining. The second was the film that generated the most laughs, even on a second watch. The latter wasn’t all that funny, but it was a blast nonetheless. Escape from New York is an underrated futuristic and campy 1980s gem filled with bad-ass sequences, crazy over–the-top ideas and the confidence of a director like John Carpenter to pull them off.
Other fun watches worth mentioning were: The 40-Year Old Virgin, Isle of Dogs, American Animals, Thor: Ragnarok and Incredibles 2.
MISSED OPPORTUNITIES – or good films that could have been great:
I love watching movies. I want every single one I watch to surprise and delight me. I want them to succeed even when I’ve heard bad things about them. Every year there is a few films that frustrate me, not because they are awful, but because they could have been truly great.
I remember, for instance, the sheer coldness and brutality of the Vince Vaughn-led Brawl In Cell Block 99. While I was certainly impressed by its commitment to the narrative, I felt that, with some tinkering, the script could have risen to the level of the cinematic execution.
There also was BPM (Beats per Minute) back in June. An important film that teaches plenty, especially in its impactful and despairing first half. It is a film that gives us a unique vision of community organizing and protesting, and every rally, and every meeting between these passionate advocates is nothing short of captivating. Later, the film gets sidetracked in telling a more straightforward albeit tragic love story, losing what made it so unique in the first place.
While I appreciate and can understand the choices in the two films I just mentioned, I still can’t get past the frustration I felt when I finished watching My Own Private Idaho.
The problem is that director Gus Van Sant tried to do too much in one film. On the one hand, it is a tasteless modern take on Shakespeare’s King Lear. On the other, there is a beautiful film that connected with me in a way I can’t fully explain yet. Perhaps, it was in the dreamy quality of it all, as if it lived just outside of reality, enveloped in the haze of its protagonist. Perhaps it was the overwhelming sense of alienation and loneliness displayed by the late River Phoenix opposite a young Keanu Reeves. The 30 to 45 minutes Gus Van Sant dedicates to the friendship between the two may be one of the best short films I have seen in years. In My Own Private Idaho the parts are greater than the sum.
Though I watched a significant amount of compelling television series, none were as delightfully easy to watch and enjoy as the Amazon Original show: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel starring a terrific Rachel Brosnahan as a young Jewish woman in 1950s New York City whose failed marriage propels her onto the stand-up stage.
The show is funny, clever and heartwarming. Amazon put a great deal of confidence in the project by handsomely funding it. The result is a beautifully produced show that takes us back to the period through lavish sets and costumes, many of them faithfully recreated from real NYC sights and locales.
Other notable mentions include:
– Derry Girls: available on Netflix. A comedy about a group of high schoolers getting into all sorts of trouble, set in Northern Ireland, back in the tumultuous 1990s.
– One Day At a Time: available on Netflix. A comedy with a heart and a message that manages to feel both like a modern and classic sitcom.
– The Good Place: NBC sitcom, produced by Drew Goddard. Beyond its classic network facade is a pulpy, unpredictable and imaginative series carried on the shoulders of a wonderful cast.
No other scene told me more about a film and its characters with effortless poeticism than a moment at a record store in Budapest inside a listening booth shared by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy as Jesse and Celine in Richard Linklater’s masterpiece Before Sunrise. Simply beautiful!
Thanks to everyone who visited my blog in 2018, and for those who stumbled on it. Happy New Year!