A Comprehensive Look at 2018
If there was a theme that dominated global film this year it was the
corruption of police and/or police brutality often involving minorities. In
Blindspotting, a policeman unjustly guns down an unarmed black man. In Beauty
and the Dogs, a Tunisian woman is raped but no one believes her because the
assailant is a police officer. In If Beale Street Could Talk, the police are
depicted as almost demonic and they are looking for any reason to put an African
American man in jail. In the Fade depicts the police as ineffectual as the justice
system and a fascist who kills a minority man suffers no legal penalty. Some of
this seem to be influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement but there seems to
be a worldwide sense of skepticism regarding the police and the legal justice
The year had its share of comic/graphic novel films which tended to be big block
Antman and the Wasp,
Avengers: Infinity War and
Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse ) but only two of them, Blade of the Immortal
and Black Panther rose to the level of excellence or came close to the quality
of high art. I am sorry I did not have room for them in my top 10 (it was a very
good but not great year), but they are in my top 25. Although many comic
films have been good it is sad to see big event films crowd superior Indy films
out of the theatres.
Luckily Netflix and other streaming services are picking up some of the slack.
There were many top notch Netflix films including Roma, As Happy as Lazaro,
Ballad of Buster Scruggs (which was brilliant in parts but like many anthology
films, very inconsistent), and Mohawk. A Futile and Stupid Gesture, Roxanne
Roxanne and 6 Balloons. My favorite of the bunch was On Body and Soul was the
most original of the bunch.
It was a superb year for nonfiction film. Some of the year’s top docs include
(in order of quality) Three Identical Neighbors, Parallel Places, Faces Places,
Won’t You be my Neighbor? McQueen, RPG, and Francis: A Man of His Word, directed
by the German new wave master, Wim Wenders.
There was an unusual amount of significant features made by minority (especially
African American) filmmakers including
Blindspotting, If Beale Street could
Talk, Sorry to Bother You, Widows,
Black Panther and Blackkklansman. Two of
them, Blindspotting and if Beale Street Could Talk actually made my Top 10, but
some of the rest could have made my Top 10 in a lesser year. The days when Spike
Lee was the only game in town are long gone.
I was almost tempted to include the controversial music video for the Childish
Gambino song, This is America (which was directed by an Asian film maker on my
list). It was as though provoking, brilliant and creative as any full length
film on my list.
The film had its share of outstanding performances. Some of the ones that stood
out included Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Melissa McCarthy and Richard E.
Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Toni Collete (Hereditary), Mariam Al Ferjani
(Beauty and the Dogs), The Glenn Close and Joe Castleman (The Wife), Juliette
Binoche (Let the Sunshine In), Charlize Theron and McKenzie Davis (Tully),
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate), Keira Knightlly (Collette), Sandrine Bonnaire
(Catch the Wind), and the whole casts of If Beale Street Could Talk, Widows, and
The Favourite. I also thought Justin Bateman and Rachel McAdams were a great
comic duo/couple in Game Night.
Joaquin Phoenix gave two Oscar level performances You Are Not Really Here and He
Could Not Get Far on Foot. He is also scheduled to play The Joker in a feature
film. Now that could be interesting.
Although I thought the film itself was a bit overrated by the press, I was
surprised how good Lady GaGa was in
A Star is Born, playing an unglamorous
singer who is very different from her real life image (Madonna eat your heart
Many of my favorite directors were out of action all year including Martin
Scorsese, David Lynch, Werner Herzog, Christopher Nolan and Darren Aronofsky.
But we did get worthwhile new films from Clint Eastwood (The Mule), Paul
Schrader (First Reformed), Spike Lee (Blackkklansman, Hirokuzo Kor-eda (Shoplifters), Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk), Julian Schnabel (At Eternity’s Gate), Takashi Miike (Blade of the Immortal) the Coen Brothers
(Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Lynn Ramsey (You Were Never Really Here), Bruno
Dumont (Jeannette or the Childhood of Joan of Arc) Gus Van Sandt (Don’t Worry He
Won’t Get Far on Foot), and Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 11-9).
Incredibly there was a new film from the person many consider the best filmmaker
of all time, Orson Welles who died decades ago. A previously unreleased Welles
film was scooped up by Netflix. For me The Other Side of the Wind (which was cut
and assembled from over 50 hours of footage) did not measure up to his earlier
films but how could it? Almost nothing this year could compare to Welles in his
prime. I probably need to see it again before I can fully digest this 8 1/2 like
film but it was good to see some long gone actors (like Susan Strasberg and
Edmond O’Brien) onscreen again.
I only included movies on my best films list that opened in Chicago (or Netflix)
in 2018, but Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Lars Von Trier’s The House that
Jack Built, Pawel Pawilkowski’s Cold War, Jean Luc Godard’s Image Book, Nuri
Bilge Ceylon’s Wild Pear Tree, Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in
Hollywood, Terry Gillliam’s long awaited The Man who Killed Don Quixote, Asghar
Farhadi’s Everybody Knows, Jordan Peele’s Us, M. Night Shymalan’s Glass, and
Roberto Rodriquez’s Alita: Battle Angel (some of them opened in other states
earlier) might end up on next year’s list. Those are the upcoming films I am
most excited about. I am also dying to see Clair Denis’s upcoming sci-fi epic,
High Life which stars believe it or not Robert Pattinson (of Twilight) and Andre
3000 (of the hip-hop/funk duo, Outkast).
Now here are my choices for the TOP 25 best films of 2018.
Jeannette the Childhood of Joan of Arc
Director-Bruno Dumont (France/Italy)
Bruno Dumont’s irreverent, subversive, and unusually surprising historical
biopic/musical focuses on a young Joan before she went to
battle (played by two capable actresses). It was based on
“The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc,” a dramatic text
by a socialist mystical poet, Charles Péguy, and the
background music is a jarring mixture of rock, rap, metal,
synth pop and hip-hop. The film does an excellent job of
combining the everyday with the divine, and has scenes of
people praying or singing to God while doing banal things
such as plucking chickens. It makes fine use of
nonprofessional actors with ordinary voices who get by with
their charisma and apparent sincerity (it’s the opposite
approach used in the slick, professional Glee show.) Bruno
Dumont, who also did the hard to categorize, Li’l Quinquin
clearly is on a hot streak. He has developed into a weirdly
wonderful, avant-garde film genius. Lars Von Trier and David
Lynch may need to watch their backs. This was also John
Waters’ favorite film of the year (the man has good taste.)
In French with English subtitles.
Shocking and emotionally volatile drama about a dedicated minister who goes through a crisis
of faith after he counsels a traumatized ex-army person who
just may be an eco-terrorist. The lead performances by Ethan
Hawke and Amanda Seyfried are magnificent and moving
(perhaps too good and true for the Oscar voters) and the
devastating ending is hard to shake off. Director/screenplay
writer Paul Schrader reworks some thematic motifs from Taxi
Driver and Robert Bresson’s films and comes up with his best
film in decades. Like Bresson’’s films (Schrader devoted
part of his best book, “Transcendental Style in Film” on
him), the film masterfully explores the theme of gaining
enlightenment through suffering. This also has one of the
most erotic nonexpicit sex scenes in the history of cinema.
Director-Carlos Lopez Estrada
An intense and challenging urban buddy
comedy that shifts into a disturbing drama in the second
half. It courageously deals with many serious social issues
such as classism, police violence, and racism. The film’s
talented stars, Rafael Casal (known for his performance
poetry) and Daveed Diggs (known for his rapping) wrote the
semi-autobiographical screenplay over a period of nine
years. Daveed and Rafael grew up in the same vicinity in the
San Francisco Bay Area, and they wrote the film as a
corrective because they felt most cinematic portrayals of
Oakland did not get it right.
At Eternity’s Gate
The usually underrated Willem Dafoe shines in this
melancholy biopic about the mentally unbalanced art genius Vincent Van Gogh. The
film has marvelous direction by Julian Schnabel, a very successful and
well-known painter (ironically, he has made infinitely more money for his
neoexpressionist plate paintings than Van Gogh ever did). At Eternity’s Gate
benefits greatly from the artist’s sensibility that Julian Schnabel (who is a
painter in real life) brings to the film, and many individual shots look like
paintings. The cinematographer, Benoît Delhomme often uses handheld cameras, and
the roving tracking shots plus occasionally weird camera angles always kept my
interest. Often Delhomme lets Van Gogh’s paintings speak for themselves.
On Body and
Soul/A Teströl és Lélekröl
A terrific, involving and decidedly odd film about a man and woman that dream
they are romantically involved deer every night even though they never met. It
turns out they have the same analysist, and he thinks it is all an elaborate
joke. If you liked The Lobster (which was on my top 10 list a few years ago),
you should love this quirky, surreal love story. In Hungarian with English
subtitles (on Netflix)
6) Godard Mon Amour/Le Redoutable
Hilarious and intellectual period piece about a subversive film maker who
encourages his young disciples to rebel against everything until he is shocked
when they turn against him ( a similar thing happened to the situationist
professors in France when the students started destroying furniture during
protests). This film which is based on the life of the cinematic Enfant
Terrible. Jean-Luc Godard, also manages to expertly mimic and send up his unique
directing style complete with his trademark jump cuts. I had such a good time
watching this!! In French with English subtitles
Well written and shocking horror film
about a couple with a troubled family history who find out that they are part of
a sinister supernatural conspiracy. This sharp, shocking, and suspenseful film
had me on the edge of my seat until the final surprise twist. This terrifying
Polanski influenced film is sort of a modern twist on Rosemary’s Baby with
elements of The Seventh Victim thrown in. The intensity builds to a crescendo
and the stuff the film suggests is much more horrific than anything they can
show us on screen. Toni Collette is uncommonly good in the lead, and this may
actually be superior to her earlier, Sixth Sense. The more I think about this
film the higher it goes on my list. One of the best horror films of the decade.
You Were Never Really Here
Joaquin Phoenix stars in this Taxi Driver influenced
non-linear, experimental film about a troubled, emotionally
scarred war veteran who goes on a mission to rescue captive
underage prostitutes. The film scenes are sometimes out of
order, and since it is narrated from the point of view of a
PTSD narrator, we don’t always know if every scene is
actually happening the way we see it, so this is sort of
like the film equivalent of Faulkner’s The Sound and the
A quirky, intellectual and often bawdy comedy about a female
rivalry for power in the court of Queen Anne. This
delightful romp does a superb job at exploring the
connection between sexual politics and power as it wickedly
mocks royal excess and eccentricity. The film has generated
near unanimous critical acclaim and multiple Golden Globe
nominations including Best Motion Picture Musical or Comedy,
Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz).
Olivia Coleman’s performance in the film got the Globe for
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical
10) If Beale Street Could Talk
This film based on a James Baldwin novel (I taught his novel
Giovanni’s Room but I never read this one) is about a couple
in Harlem who seem slated to have a happy future until the
man is accused of a crime by the police who just seem to be
looking for a convenient minority man to pin it on. The
director, Barry Jenkins (who also did Moonlight)
convincingly uses great period detail to establish that we
are we are watching a particular time and place. It
effectively captures people fighting nobly against racial
and class barriers and poverty. Uncommonly well written and
acted. Regina King could get an Oscar for this, but the
whole cast is perfect.
Also for your consideration....
Three Identical Strangers
Director: Tim Wardle
The year’s most potent doc is about three identical men that discover they
were secretly part of a government experiment. The films teaches us that the
government often sees its citizens as less than human. This film is set to
premiere on CNN in January but it had a limited run in the theatres.
Blade of the Immortal.
Takashi Miike’s ultra-violent action film about a warrior with eternal life who
reluctantly agrees to avenge a murder has some of the most wonderfully staged
ballet-like battle scenes in recent memory (since Kill Bill). Based on the great
comic series by Hiroaki Smura (I believe the American reprints came out on Dark
Horse.). Sorry Marvel fans, but this slightly edged out Black Panther for best
comic based film of the year. Some of Miike’s previous films, including 13
Assassins and Audition are also genre masterpieces. In Japanese with English
A nanny is hired to help a troubled woman who previously suffered from
postpartum depression after she has a baby. The husband hires a mysterious house
keeper who has an uncanny understanding of the mom. This is kind of like a
feminist version of Fight Club. The relationship between the two main female
characters is complex and multilayered; the script by Diablo Cody (one of the
best of the year) is thought provoking; and the underrated Charlize Theron gives
another deep, winning performance.
Lover for a Day
Director- Philippe Garrel
A philosophy professor lives in hedonistic bliss with his much younger
student/lover until his distraught daughter complicates things by moving in with
them after a bad breakup. The two women’s adversarial relationship eventually
becomes a friendship. This relationship based film has endlessly witty dialogue
and it is almost as impressive as peak era Woody Allen or Eric Rohmer film from
the 70’s. This was one of the highlights of the Philippe Garrel retrospective
series at the Gene Siskel Center (I also greatly admired his Andy Warhol
influenced Crystal Cradle with Nico). In French with English subtitles.
The Phantom Thread
Director-Paul Thomas Anderson
Coldly captivating film about a mentally off/perfectionist fashion designer
who makes his much younger wife suffer countless indignities with his
self-centered callousness. Daniel Day-Lewis delivers a performance for the ages,
but his co-star’s (Vicky Krieps from Gutland) fine supporting contributions
should not be underestimated. The film’s look and style are far more important
than the plot, and director Paul Thomas Anderson’s gorgeous shot compositions
show once again that he has the eye of a master painter. The terrific, evocative
soundtrack is by one of Radiohead’s resident rock guitar gods, Jonny Greenwood.
This film did not immediately hit me quite as hard as some of Anderson’s other
films (I loved Magnolia), but his movies always get better with multiple
viewings (the same is also true of Kubrick’s works). This screened in LA. Last
year, but I am pretty sure it opened in Chicago in 2018, so I am including it
Happy as Lazzaro
Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Haunting and atmospheric Netflix drama combines elements of Italian neo realism
and magical realism. The films depicts tobacco farm hands tolling in slave like
conditions for the selfish landowner (played by Roberto Benigni’s wife,
Nicholette Braschi in one of her few unsympathetic roles.) Featuring wonderful
naturalistic acting and a good use of scenery plus local color. In Italian with
The Other Side of Hope
Director: Aki Kaurismaki
Aki Kaurismaki’s bittersweet and topical film is about a restaurant owner who
befriends and helps a Syrian refugee. A great antidote for the anti-immigrant
hysteria that is gripping the globe. In Finnish with English subtitles
Sorry to Bother You
Director: Boots Riley
Wonderfully inventive socially conscious comedy about an African American man
who gives up his ethnic identity in order to make it in a white dominated evil
corporation. If it were not for the disappointing ending this would be in my top
10. The director (who also raps) Boots Riley is a promising talent to watch.
Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot
Director: Gus Van Sandt
Engaging biopic about a paralyzed artist who channels his sarcastic and
biting wit into his cartoons. The characterization of curmudgeon like lead
character make this reminiscent of American Splendor, the top notch Harvey Pekar
biopic. You won’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Director: Nicole Weber
A fascinating, exciting, and informative documentary that played at the
Chicago Underground Film Festival. This film which can also be seen as a visual
mixtape takes us across the country and depicts participants in various American
indie music milieus (many of the musicians were influenced by Noise music or no
wave (not new wave). The struggling artists in the film come off like noble,
tragic heroes because they preserve and they are stubbornly committed to their
art even though they have little chance of commercial success. . Much more
significant and memorable than the year’s big music films (such as A Star is
Born, Mamma Mia 2 and Bohemian Rhapsody.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Director: Morgan Neville
Inspirational and revelatory documentary about Mr. Rogers a popular PBS
Children’s show whose influence went beyond his sphere. The film shows that the
man was much more complex and influential than anyone thought.
Director: Ryan Coogler
Exciting afro futurist superhero film about the trials of T’challa, an African
monarch who faces off against a very multi-dimensional and sympathetic villain.
Believe it or not this actually improves on Lee’s and Kirby’s wondrous creation.
The soundtrack by Kendrick Lamar (who wrote songs from the points of view of the
characters) adds immeasurably to the film. Not just an action film but an
exquisite celebration of African culture.
Director: Bo Burham
An introverted and socially dysfunctional grade student does a podcast (get
this) which gives listeners advice on how to interact better. This film does a
better job of getting into a postmillennial person’s mindset than any other film
in recent memory. A big theme in the film is how new technology often gets in
the way of personal interaction. It is exasperating to see her dad try and fail
repeatedly in actually communicating with her, and when she tries to make
friends at school the other girls can’t even bother to put down their cell
phones and give her their undivided attention.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Director: Marielle Heller
Well acted biopic about a woman forging letters attributed to famous people
and her criminal, drug dealing buddy. Melissa McCarthy who has never impressed
me that much has never given any indication she could be so brilliant, and
Richard E. Grant (Hugh’s brother) is almost as good.
Mary and the Witch's Flower
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Terrific and colorful Asian animated film based on folklore is about a quest for
a magical plant. Not as good as a Miyazacki film but it comes close. Available
In Japanese with English subtitles or dubbed in English.
Vittorio Carli, who teaches at area community colleges, a former film reviewer
for The Star,
www.reelmoviecrtic.com and The
Examiner, is an avid science-fiction film fan.
For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to
Look for his poetry book, Tapeworm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor
(perhaps Alternate Reality will carry it.) He is also featured in an upcoming
documentary titled The Last Hippie Freak-By the Beard of Lee Groban which was
directed by Nancy Bechtol. Go to:
firstname.lastname@example.org for updates
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