2019 MID YEAR, 2018, 2018 MID YEAR, 2017, 2016, 2015
The "Big Tuna" Vito Carli weighs in with a Look at the Year in Film at the Mid-Term

The Best Films so Far in a Weak Year

(071319) It has not been the best year for cinema. Many of the movies I saw so far this year were flawed, and I think I only rated three films four stars in my reviews. There is always the possibility I underrated some of them (Cold War was probably better than I originally thought.)

But there was lots of great acting. Some of the more remarkable performances included Matt Dillon playing against type in The House that Jack Built; Matthew McConaughey, as a delightfully destructive drunk in Beach Bum; Mattihas Schoenaert as a psychologically
tortured prisoner in Mustang; Tom Servillo as a corrupt Italian politician in Loro (I am tempted to say I am being redundant); and the always superb Willem Dafoe, who played a poet with a death wish in Pasolini.

I also loved the chemistry between Isabelle Huppert and Chloe Grace Moretz in Greta, although the film itself was largely lackluster and forgettable. Joanna Kulig was marvelously engaging in Cold War, and the film itself (her first pairing with the brilliant film maker, Paweł Pawlikowski) is almost perfect.

Speaking of distinguished directors some fine filmmakers put out new works this year including Martin Scorsese (Rolling Thunder Review: A Bob Dylan Story), Werner Herzog (Meeting Gorbachev), Lars Von Trier (The House that Jack Built), Gaspar Noe (Climax), Jean-Luc Godard (The Image Book), Paul Sorrentino (Loro), Claire Denis (High Life), Jordan Peele (Us), Bruno Dumont (Coin Coin and the Extra humans,) and Abel Ferrara (Pasolini). If you want to read my face to face interview with Ferrara from the early 2000’s, go to

Finally, there was even an exquisite new work from 70’s superstar director. Sydney Pollack, whose work Amazing Grace (shot in 1972) was finally released.

However, the overall direction job that impressed me the most was by the newcomer, Joe Talbot, whose poetic debut, The Last Black Man in San Francisco slowly snuck up on me, and left me with a lingering sense of loss. Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s (also a new film maker) direction in Mustang was almost as impressive.

In terms of genre films the wrestling family comedy, Fighting with the Family was the biggest delight and surprise (I was almost going to skip that one but I caught it on Redbox), but the superhero/comic films, Alita: Battle Angel, Avengers Endgame, Captain Marvel,
Shazam, and Spiderman: Far from Home all delivered the goods and managed to live up to some of the advanced hype. I wish I could say the same about Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

Now here is my top ten film list followed by honorable mentions. Most of the runner-ups would probably get three stars from me, but a few would merit three and a half stars.

1) The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Director-Joe Talbot, (For Full Review click the icon)
The Last Black Man in San Francisco- Lovely, beautifully shot drama about a man who wants to buy back the dream house that his grandfather allegedly built that the family subsequently lost. The main character is really the underbelly of the city with all its skateboarders, homeless people and street preachers. This films masterfully explores the themes of race, poverty, and failed dreams.

2) Loro
Director-Paolo Sorrentino
Stunningly well-acted and quasi-sympathetic epic biopic (it was originally over 4 hours but an hour was cut) featuring a stunning performance by Tom Servillo as the lecherous and corrupt Berlusconi who might remind you of a current American political leader. Directed by the gifted Fellini influenced Italian filmmaker Paul Sorrentino who is on a winning streak with this film and Il Divo (2008), The Great Beauty (2013), and the Oscar nominated Youth (2015). Now that Ermanno Olmi is dead, Sorrentino may be the greatest living film maker in Italy. In Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Chinese with English subtitles.

3) Cold War
Director-Paweł Pawlikowski, (For Full Review click the icon)
Engaging and poetic film that takes place in post WWII Poland. The story concerns a romantically involved bandleader and younger singer who think it is their mission to conserve native Polish folk music and dance, but they encounter resistance
in the new Communist regime that want to transform their work into propaganda. The dance sequence is marvelous, and the ending is surprising and unforgettable. In Polish with English subtitles.

4) The House That Jack Built
Lars Von Trier, (For Full Review click the icon)
The House that Jack Built-Matt Dillon (yes the one from The Outsiders) stars as a serial killer who constantly wrestles with his subconscious (Bruno Ganz in his last role) and thinks of murder as an art form. Lars Von Trier’s work is a shockingly violent
and surprisingly iterate feature is either the goriest art film ever (at least since Pasolini's Salo) or the most intelligent slasher film ever made. With some great cameos from Uma Thurman, and Elvis's granddaughter, Riley Keough (a rising Indy film star.).

5) Beach Bum
Director-Harmony Korine
, (For Full Review click the icon)
Infectious dark comedy about a talentless, sub literate poet (but he and everyone else seems to think he is a genius) who is determined to destroy his life and everyone around him with his out of control drug and alcohol use. Ultra transgressive film maker and former skateboarder/drug addict Harmony Korine (who also made Trash Humpers and Spring Breakers) has created a remarkable piece of nearly plot less subversive art which may contain Matthew McConaughey’s best and possibly least commercially successful role. Snoop Dogg is delightful playing a minister who is sleeping with the poet's wife, and even Jimmy Buffett has a cameo.

6) The Mustang
Director-Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
, (For Full Review click the icon)
he Mustang- A felon (played by Matthias Schoenaert in one of the year's most riveting performances) who is on death row for killing his wife struggles to keep his violent anger and despair in check. He is alienated from almost everyone except his pregnant daughter who is probably stringing him along so she can get the family home to sell. He starts training horses in a prison program and unexpectedly he begins to connect with one of the mustangs giving his life some meaning. However, his road to redemption will be a rocky one.

7) Coincoin and the Extra-Humans
Director-Bruno Dumont
This comedic sci-fi film (the second film in a trilogy) is about a buffoonish detective (he accidentally solves crimes sometimes) who investigates cases in a town thatr is almost as quirky as Twin Peaks, Big globs of extraterrestrial matter fall begin to fall from the sky which begin to control people ( this reminds me of Meatball, an early Zap comics cartoon by Robert Crumb with a similar premise). This clever and unique film is like a weird cross between Columbo and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It also comments on and satirizes the current global anti-immigration hysteria. In French with English subtitles.

8) Climax
Gaspar Noe
Radical Argentinian director, Gaspar Noe's film starts deceptively upbeat. then takes a sinister turn in the second half. A group of talented and extremely attractive young dancers go to a recital that turns into a fabulous party. The characters (mostly played by non-acting dancers) improvise terrific dance moves which reaffirm the joy of life. Then in the second half someone puts acid in the punch, and many of the formerly angelic dancers begin to brutalize each other which brings up the question which is the real them?? Some of the second half is shot upside down or sideways to knock the audience off balance (Noe’s earlier film, Irreversible uses the same techniques). In addition, the film's credits appear in the middle plus the director interrupts the
narrative to put words on the screen just like his idol, Jean Luc Godard. The first half and middle of the party reminded me of a few gatherings of the Under Shorts film group I attended in the early 2000s. Not for all or perhaps most tastes. In French with
English subtitles.

9) Amazing Grace, (For Full Review click the icon)
Director-Sydney Pollack
Terrific documentary about a two-day period when the former gospel singer Aretha Franklin went back to a church to record an all-spiritual album. Famous guests include Reverend Cleaveland, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards. Aretha's performance is hypnotic, powerful and glorious and the album she recorded ended up being the best selling gospel LP ever. The only reason why this is not higher is that with two days of footage they should have given us more than an 80-minute plus film.

10) The Sower
Director-Marine Franssen
During a war, all of the males in a village disappear (they are either drafted, killed or imprisoned) and since the females may never see another male, they agree that if one becomes available they will share him. However, when one appears troubles arise when one of the women falls in love with him and vice versa. The opening reminded me of The Beguiled (both versions), but the film goes in a completely different direction. This is based on a real memoir but the text was suppressed for many years. Based on a true story. In French with English subtitles.

Honorable mentions (my way of cheating a few more titles in) You can think of these films as all being tied for 11th Place.

Alita: Battle Angel, Avengers Endgame, Capernaun, Captain Marvel, Ether, Fighting with the Family, Float like a Butterfly, Greta, High Life, The Image Book, Lajos: A Gypsy in Space, Love and Bullets, Meeting Gorbachev, Minding the Gap, Rolling Thunder Review: A Bob Dylan Story, Shazam, Spiderman: Far from Home, Touch Me Not, Two Deaths of Sam Cooke, Take It Or Leave it, Tiger’s Milk, Whatever Happened to My Revolution?, Faces Places-(In French with English subtitles) The Death of Stalin (U.K.), A Fantastic Woman-(A Chilean film In Spanish with English subtitles), Ghost Stories (U.K.), Game Night, A Hustler's Diary-(In Swedish with English subtitles), Mary and the Witch's Flower (In Japanese with English subtitles or dubbed in English), Messi and Maude/ La Holandesa (Netherlands-In Dutch with English subtitles), Parallel Places (this great alt music doc only played once at the Chicago Underground Film Festival), The Villainess (South Korea)

Hear Vito and JR discuss their Top Ten Films of 2018 at the Midterm in Episode 83 of The Alternate Reality Podcast....

Vittorio Carli, who teaches at area community colleges, a former film reviewer for The Star, and The Examiner, and is an avid science-fiction film fan.

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to

and Look for his poetry book, Tapeworm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor.



Discussion of the Best Films of 2018 at the halfway point of the year

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to

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