I asked everyone who contributed to Seattle Screen Scene this year to send in a list of their favorites of 2018. There was no limit on what could be included: TV, books, music, old movies or new movies, as long as it was something they loved this year. These were the responses:
10 for 2018
No ordering principle here, just 10 movies that I encountered (or in one case, re-encountered) this year, and which subsequently took up permanent residence in my mind.
Raphaël ou le débauché (Michel Deville, 1971)
Michel Deville rode no new waves, belongs to no school that I recognize, and nothing that I watched this year defeated my powers of categorization quite like Raphaël ou le débauché. Superficially a costume drama in the cinema du papa tradition, but possessed of a truly wild spirit, it shares a certain strain of luxuriant morbidity with Diagonale, though it’s arguably less cinephilic—allowing for a few echoes of Otto Preminger’s similarly lamplit Linda Darnell vehicle, Forever Amber—and therefore less reflexive about the Thanatos/Eros complex at its center. No arch Vecchialian movie logic helps explain why virtuous Francois Fabian abruptly demands debasement. That the object of her affections is a boozed-up Maurice Ronet, hangdog when on his best behavior but more comfortable cavorting around in the manner of a particularly hungry circus bear, confirms that our chaste widow has a simple case of animal lust. Ok, so perhaps not unclassifiable after all, just not my usual kind of thing: a bodice-ripper in the most literal sense, quite shameless, really, but genuinely touched by an unshakable need for sexual oblivion.
Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day (Rainier Werner Fassbinder, 1972)
Wasn’t sure that it would ever happen, but I finally found *my* Fassbinder.
The Boy and the Wind (Carlos Hugo Christensen, 1967) / Tea and Sympathy (Vincente Minnelli, 1956)
Two communions under a tree: a cyclonic blast of air brings male bodies together on a hilltop, and John Kerr, perpetually gone to earth, is pulled from the ground into a liberating embrace. Straight society’s opprobrium can’t touch the natural world, it seems, even if the melodramatics require that the closet door finally shuts again. Still, closets don’t come more beautifully appointed, and the wind, though it doesn’t blow the hinges off entirely, at least rattles the rafters. God bless the gay boys who stumbled into these movies on release.
Uma Pedra no Bolso (Joaquim Pinto, 1988)
“The exercise was beneficial, sir.” Son of Moonfleet.
Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-wai, 1990)
Not a revisit. A revisitation. Wong’s hazy images are largely as I remember them, but 15 years of life let shadows creep in, opened the door to a few ghosts: the two phantom Cheungs, yes, a Hong Kong (cinema) now disappeared, certainly, but mostly a parade of former selves. Turns out Days of Being Wild was a formative work in ways that I’m only now beginning to comprehend (and some of which I’m not sure that I care to admit). “Let us explore a genesis for my pretensions.”
Hanagatami (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2017)
I won’t accept that youth is expendable.
Princess D (Sylvia Chang, 2002)
As shambolic and meandering as one might expect from Sylvia Chang, and more moving for it. Mark Lee Ping-bing lends Hou’s turn of the century blues; embryonic CGI suggests a world in the process of remaking itself. A key (and mostly forgotten) text of the early millennium: the past dances with the future, a bit awkwardly perhaps, though no less beautifully than it does in the acknowledged epochal masterpieces. And none of those films have Anthony Wong as historical, emotional, and political instructor leading the waltz of time.
Amanda (Mikhaël Hers, 2018) / Twenty Years Later (Eduardo Coutinho, 1984)
A girl and a woman, but the same question in the aftermath of profound trauma and political violence: “Will you go back to the world?”
The City Below (Christoph Hochhäusler, 2010)
Berlin School does Mabuse. Apart from Blackhat, the only film of the century to bottle up our era’s borderless, miasmic psychosis in the same way that Fritz Lang did for his. Hochhäusler, like many of his contemporaries, is fascinated by the glass and steel mise-en-scene that finance capital uses to project its power, though he alone ventures to anthropomorphize the anonymous business towers that dominate the globe’s alpha cities. An image like the good Doktor’s head superimposed over a Weimar stock floor is no longer necessary: the modern world’s hyaline face induces its own kind of hypnosis. Throw a brick to break the spell.
Le Théâtre des matières (Jean-Claude Biette, 1977)
Cinema is sleepwalking and the theater is yielding to dust (the collapse concludes quite definitively in The Carpathian Mushroom). Biette understands better than anyone what low-rent, community theater productions feel like: the petty tyrant directors, the boredom, and the empty seats, of course. No one attends the plays in Biette, and the actors are hardly more present: the central image is somnolent Sonia Saviange nodding off at the most inopportune moments. Her Dorothèe is put-upon and weighed down by waking life, though she carries the secret badge of a French Resistance hero, suggesting that she once possessed a fighter’s will. Now she’s tired. Who can blame her for seeking rest and refuge in a black box? And who, reading this cinephile website, doesn’t also prefer the comfort of their little dominion of dust?
Best Films Seen in 2018
Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)
Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird)
Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)
BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)
A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper)
Roma (Alfonso Cuaron)
Creed II (Steven Caple Jr.)
Transit (Christian Petzold)
Lu Over the Wall (Masaki Yuasa)
Mirai (Mamoru Hosoda)
Overboard (Rob Greenberg)
Paddington 2 (Paul King)
And, of course, Been Busy (Jhon Hernandez)
Sadly, I could not watch Welcome to Marwen or The Mule or La Flor. One day.
10 Best Films I saw for the first time in 2018 and where I saw them:
1. Jeanne Dielman 23, Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (1975, Chantal Akerman) [MUBI]
2. The Leopard Man (1943, Jacques Tourneur) [Digital File]
3. The Mother and the Whore (1973, Jean Eustache) [35mm, presented by Leaud, Mar del Plata Film Festival]
4. Chimes at Midnight (1965, Orson Welles) [MUBI]
5. The Phantom of Liberty (1974, Luis Buñuel) [MUBI]
6. Prince of Darkness (1987, John Carpenter) [MUBI]
7. Sunset Boulevard (1950, Billy Wilder) [Digital File]
8. The Milky Way (1969, Luis Buñuel) [MUBI]
9. Stolen Kisses (1968, François Truffaut) [DCP, presented by Leaud, Mar del Plata Film Festival]
10. Zwischengleis (1978, Wolfgang Staudte) [35mm, Mar del Plata Film Festival]
2018 Premieres (alphabetical):
1. Asako I & II (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
2. Belmonte (Federico Veiroj)
3. Burning (Lee Chang-dong)
4. An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo)
5. The Grand Bizarre (Jodie Mack)
6. Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry)
7. Hotel by the River (Hong Sang-soo)
8. The House That Jack Built (Lars von Trier)
9. In My Room (Ulrich Köhler)
10. Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)
11. John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (Julien Faraut)
12. A Land Imagined (Yeo Siew Hua)
13. Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan)
14. Notes on an Appearance (Ricky D’Ambrose)
15. The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles)
16. Our Time (Carlos Reygadas)
17. Petra (Jaime Rosales)
18. Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski)
19. Transit (Christian Petzold)
20. Unfriended: Dark Web (Stephen Susco)
Special Mention for Best Theatrical Viewings: La Flor (Mariano Llinás, 2018); Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1972)
Caden Mark Gardner:
TOP TEN FILMS OF 2018
- FIRST REFORMED (Paul Schrader) – Hudson River School enters the Tarkovsky Ring.
- THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (Orson Welles) – Somehow a poison pen and a love letter all at once. A monumental feat in reconstruction.
- THE DAY AFTER (Hong Sang-Soo) – Perhaps the last of a certain kind of Hong Sang-Soo film and it just so happens to be one of his very best.
- LEAVE NO TRACE (Debra Granik) – Granik moves out of the more genre film trappings of her last narrative film (Winter’s Bone) into more documentary-like observation, making an empathetic film about a lost generation of veterans that have slipped through the cracks of society and bureaucracy. Thomasin McKenzie’s Tom, however, with her round face and blue eyes, offers a glimmer of optimism as the offspring of Ben Foster’s traumatized vet.
- SUPPORT THE GIRLS (Andrew Bujalski) – Almost play-like in the contained, chamber comedy and drama of being entrapped in late capitalism. A career highpoint for Regina Hall and I will watch Haley Lu Richardson in anything.
- THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (Joel and Ethan Coen) – The many flavors of the Coens in the Old West are on full display in this anthology film, including one of their most scorching pieces of political commentary with the section “Meal Ticket”.
- LET THE SUNSHINE IN (Claire Denis) – Denis in a different key, but that does not mean lesser Denis. Binoche’s performance alone immediately contradicts that incorrect opinion.
- ZAMA (Lucrecia Martel) – Would make a fine double-bill with the late Chantal Akerman’s Almayer’s Folly as a meditation of colonialism. A truly ambient experience that is also one the most wryly funny films that Martel has made yet.
- READY PLAYER ONE (Steven Spielberg) – Sorry haters, The Shining recreation is a masterpiece and achievement in CGI production design. Only Spielberg could direct this movie.
- PERMANENT GREEN LIGHT (Dennis Cooper and Zac Farley) – An only in New York premiere. Queer outlaw writer Cooper and his young collaborator in their second feature film create a late Bressonian film for Generation Z. Imagine if Bertrand Bonello’s Nocturamawere gayer, more aimless and slack, and the actions of this group of les enfant terribles were even more senseless because it was ripped from the headlines (inspired by an Australian teenager who joined ISIS).
TOP TEN TELEVISION SHOWS OF 2018
- JOE PERA TALKS WITH YOU ([adult swim]) – A public access TV hybrid of Bob Newhart and Mr. Rogers in a thirtysomething grandpacore package who wants to take you on explorations across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Buffalo native Joe Pera’s shorts on [adult swim] are almost perverse in earnestness and believability. You likely know a few Joe Peras in your life. You know, that guy who loves breakfast, that guy who loves talking about rocks and minerals, or that guy who has just discovered The Who’s ‘Baba O’Riley’ for the first time and cannot stop talking about it. Joe Pera Talks With You is one of the great 2018 antidotes to both the equally cynical strained seriousness dramas and manufactured ‘nicecore’ television content because it riffs on both familiarity and esoteric while maintaining a heart of gold.
- POSE (FX) – “The category is….” This show upon announcement made me antsy as a trans person. Mega Producer and TV svengali Ryan Murphy’s track record in trans characters was mixed at best, but Murphy’s strength this year was displaying deference in having other people around him to offer experience and knowledge far beyond his own which in this case was telling the stories of queer and trans women of color in 1980s New York during the height of the drag ball scene, most famously captured in Jennie Livingston’s Paris Is Burning. Pose had me by its use of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ in the first episode.
- HIGH MAINTENANCE (HBO) – Au Hasard Weed Dealer. A lot has been made about what type of ‘art in the age of Trump’ should be made. High Maintenance-once just a web series about a local Brooklyn weed dealer’s interactions with his clientele day-to-day- managed to deliver one of the first great examples of how to pull that off. The episode ‘Globo’ is a ‘day after’ episode that alludes to November 9th, 2016, striking a sincere, funny, and somber chord of the aftermath and confusion of that day.
- AMERICAN VANDAL (NETFLIX) – In this (possibly last) season of the student web sleuths solving another school-set crime, we figure out who committed ‘The Brown Out’, a massive outbreak of diarrhea at a Catholic school. The labyrinthine journey to solving that mystery might be one of the most disturbing cases of ‘being online’ in all of television.
- LODGE 49 (AMC) – It would almost feel like a disservice to just describe this show (created by author Jim Gavin) as Pynchonesque despite sharing such similar to proclivities of the famous reclusive author of hippies, secret societies, and hazy, shaggy dog stories. That comparison does the show no favors but Lodge 49 has the charm of feeling like a cult show made just for me. It stars Wyatt Russell (Everybody Wants Some!!), which gives it a slacker vibe that is more wholesome than off-putting. While this show embraces strangeness and question marks than exclamation points and plotting, there was no show better this year at showing the futility of working (and keeping) a desk job in the 21st century.
- RANDOM ACTS OF FLYNESS (HBO) – Somehow on HBO. Terence Nance’s experimental late night show hit on the beautiful, absurd, surreal, and outright inspired, showing what the director has been up to since An Oversimplification of Her Beauty. Next project: Space Jam 2(??????) with LeBron James.
- BETTER CALL SAUL (AMC) – The level of dread I felt in the turn of phrase, ‘It’s all good, man,’ being uttered was something I have not felt from watching an episode of television since its sister show, Breaking Bad. How appropriate.
- (tie) A VERY ENGLISH SCANDAL (AMAZON PRIME) and AMERICAN CRIME STORY: THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE (FX) – Look backs on gay life post-The Celluloid Closet by examining the culture and societies that surrounded these two true stories of Gianni Versace being killed by serial killer Andrew Cunanan in the 1990s and British Member of Parliament Jeremy Thorpe’s political career getting destroyed after being publicly outed by his ex-lover in the 1970s. Versace in Versace is more of a Trojan Horse of the show than a main character but what becomes the show’s focus are a rich tapestry of the various other men, that you could all describe as being in the closet to some degree, who were manipulated and killed by Cunanan. English Scandal is more focused on telling a specific type of gay male character of a certain time period and one where you are not as sympathetic for Thorpe’s downfall. But Hugh Grant as Thorpe is a delicious turn from him, nonetheless. Consider it the unauthorized sequel to Maurice.
- DETROITERS (Comedy Central) – A ‘Made in Detroit’ show that leans in on silliness and wonder of the local color and area actors. ButDetroiters also is skillful in skewering the popular outside perceptions and portrayals of the Motor City, with its main characters working as ad men who desperately keep trying to get the auto industry to be their clients.
- FINAL DEPLOYMENT 4: QUEEN BATTLE WALKTHROUGH ([adult swim]) –From the disturbed mind of Casper Kelly, responsible for Too Man Cooks, comes the lampooning of the popular video game walkthrough that self-cannibalizes itself in a way that made me think more than once of Harun Farocki and when Daffy Duck kept getting erased in Duck Amuck.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Atlanta, of course. The second season were more vignette episodes with varying degrees of impressive, but Brian Tyree Henry and LaKeith Stanfield continued to give the best performances on television. Other top television performers on par with Stanfield and Henry were Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer in the unpredictable, defies genre and classification Killing Eve. The iconic and consistently great animation miracle of Adventure Time ended gracefully. The Terror brought a chilly, suspenseful, and history nerdiness in a handsome, old-fashioned package. Twenty-two year-old Florence Pugh gives a star-making turn in Park Chan-Wook’s adaptation of John LeCarre’s The Little Drummer Girl. And yes, I would be remised not to mention the true last vestiges of The Golden Age of Television: The Real Housewives of New York and Vanderpump Rules.
NEW TO ME FILMS FOR 2018:
- VARIETY (BETTE GORDON) – A New York film (past or present) has never made me felt as alive on first viewing like this Bette Gordon-Kathy Acker joint mostly set in a porn theater since I watched Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets for the first time.
- LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN & CAUGHT & THE RECKLESS MOMENT (All by Max Ophüls) – French auteur Max Ophüls in his brief time in Hollywood produced some of the richest narratives of melodrama, gender relations, class, and blistering commentaries on American life in the sparest runtimes.
- BLUE (Derek Jarman) & ORLANDO (Sally Potter) – Tilda Swinton in both these queer cinema masterworks as the voice and avatar on sexuality, gender, mortality, immortality, visionary, revisionism, transcendence, and testament.
- TAXI ZUM KLO (Frank Ripploh) – A pre-AIDS era West German gay sex comedy that is frank and still shocking in its casualness that forces the viewer to confront and clock their own biases and perceptions of its unabashedly gay and unashamed main character (played by Ripploh himself).
- AMERICAN MADNESS (Frank Capra) – Predating his classic It’s A Wonderful Life, Capra somehow created an even more ruthless drama about American banking with this Pre-Code.
- CROSSING DELANCEY (Joan Micklin Silver) – One of the best examples of how to adapt a stage play to the screen in crafting an entirely fresh and natural identity while staying true to the text of the play. A perfect film, really.
- COMRADES: ALMOST A LOVE STORY (Peter Chan) – A romantic comedy that turns into an epic of national identity and globalization with Maggie Cheung giving the best Audrey Hepburn performance that Audrey Hepburn never gave.
- PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (Albert Lewin) – Ava Gardner was already one of the most beautiful movie stars of all-time and yet, in being filmed by cinematography giant Jack Cardiff in this, her beauty achieves a beatific, otherworldly zenith that at many points made me gasp.
- CLUNY BROWN (Ernst Lubitsch) – A recently reappraised Ernst Lubitsch film that uses Jennifer Jones and Charles Boyer’s winning turns as rubbing sticks to make fire. The result is your heart melting.
- WORKING GIRLS (Lizzie Borden) – This and Variety (throw in Alan J. Pakula’s Klute for good measure) might be the only great American films about sex workers. Treats the oldest profession like any other profession, which makes it both radical and the truest hangout film of the 1980s.
MY TEN QUEER/LGBTQ FILM DISCOVERIES
- BLUE (Derek Jarman)
- ORLANDO (Sally Potter)
- TAXI ZUM KLO (Frank Ripploh)
- PINK NARCISSUS (James Bidgood) – A sumptuous fantasia of naked male bodies surrounded by incredible production design and candy color lighting. Bidgood, a photographer, only years after the film got released received proper credit for this classic.
- LOOKING FOR LANGSTON (Isaac Julien) – Queer historical revisionism on the poet Langston Hughes that is also a beautiful piece of anachronistic wish fulfillment of gay life for men of color.
- SILVERLAKE LIFE: THE VIEW FROM HERE (Tom Joslin & Peter Friedman) – A gay couple documents one’s deterioration from AIDS. The most heartbreaking and beautiful love story that I have ever seen on film.
- THE QUEEN (Frank Simon) – A Pre-Stonewall documentary on drag queens and trans women competing in a highly public beauty pageant in 1968 New York. It features Crystal LaBeija, the godmother of Ballroom Culture that took the city underground by storm years later.
- BY HOOK OR BY CROOK (Silas Howard and Harry Dodge) – If there were any justice or taste in this world, this film and not the deeply unpleasant Boys Don’t Cry would be the film about trans man that would come up in every discussion about trans representation in film.
- CHRISTMAS ON EARTH (Barbara Rubin) – Barbara Rubin was only 18 years old when she made this underground film sensation in 1963. Explicit gay and straight sexual acts filmed and spliced together simultaneously with a rock soundtrack played over, it faced massive censorship and suppression at screenings. On occasion Rubin would go to Andy Warhol’s parties dressed as a nun and project Christmas on Earth over rock group The Velvet Underground as they played.
- MIKE’S MURDER (James Bridges) – Writer-director James Bridges had worked with everybody from Jane Fonda to Clint Eastwood to John Travolta, but what is undoubtedly the most provocative films for the gay filmmaker is a film that’s been shamefully forgotten. Debra Winger plays a woman who finds out a past one-night stand was murdered. She finds out about the troubled man’s past, that he was a drug dealer and that he had gay relationships, including with a male record producer (played sensitively and soulfully by Paul Winfield, himself a gay man in one of the few roles where he played gay).
Ten Things from My 2018:
10. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams
I’d never heard this before giving it a spin on the 4th of July, inspired by a tweet or something. I proceeded to play it near-continuously for the next several weeks, and it remains the one album I discovered this year that I keep coming back to again and again. My only musical obsession of 2018.
9. Hong Sangsoo Movies Old & New
I spent basically the entire month of January watching Hong’s entire filmography in chronological order and writing about every single one of them. Then when Grass premiered I watched it twice in two days. And when List became available I watched it and wrote about it right away too. In the fall I saw Hotel by the River too. But I haven’t written anything at all about it.
8. Agatha Christie
Because I love giving myself impossible tasks almost as much as I enjoy buying used books, I decided to read all of Agatha Christie’s works in chronological order. Which of course necessitated buying several dozen aged paperbacks. I read seven of the books this year, and about half the first short story collection. We also spent the summer watching the David Suchet Poirot series. As yet I have solved no mysteries.
7. Unfinished Books
Speaking of not finishing things, 2018 was a year of unrealistic reading goals for me, as I decided at year’s onset that I would reread all the Patrick O’Brien Aubrey-Maturin books (I’m halfway through the eighth of twenty), would read Middlemarch (I’m halfway through), and would finish The Power Broker (which I began in the summer of 2016 and am now three-fourths of the way through). That not being enough, during the summer I started reading a big biography of Karl Marx (A World to Win) and my first Thomas Pynchon novel (Against the Day, his longest, naturally). Maybe in 2019 I’ll finish all this stuff. Probably not.
6. Comic Books and Movies
Piling on the impossible tasks, this summer I also got myself a Marvel Unlimited subscription and decided to read through that whole universe in chronological order too (following along with this podcast, I’m about ten weeks in). I also borrowed some comics from the library through Kanopy and caught up with some classics (The Killing Joke, the first couple issues of Sandman). More successfully I watched a bunch of the comic book movies I’d been skipping for the last few years, and surprisingly enough I actually liked a lot of them, from both Marvel and DC. It’s very possible that this, along with a return to video games (including buying my first platform (a Switch) in 15 years), is a symptom of a mid-life crisis-inspired desire to return to my early teen years.
5. Muriel Spark
I did actually finish some books in 2018. For Whom the Bell Tolls was OK but disappointing, Joan Didion’s Fixed Ideas was short, Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Café and Nicholas Oster’s Empires of the Word were fun, Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism is essential, and Alice Munro’s Moons of Jupiter and Eliot Weinberger’s Works on Paper and Outside Stories were predictably great. But my single favorite read of the year was Muriel Spark’s Loitering with Intent, a light and funny breeze of a novel that, after I thought about it for a bit, amazed me with the nonchalant brilliance of its construction. I liked it so much I immediately started reading her The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (I am, you guessed it, halfway though) and will probably follow it up with Memento Mori at least in the new year.
4. Chinese Movie Retrospectives
A ridiculous number of fantastic Chinese film series played in the US this year, mostly in New York. I covered several of them, which gave me a chance to revisit favorites and make new discoveries. I watched a bunch of Jackie Chan movies for the Police Story restoration, the new, longer cut of Kung Hu’s Legend of the Mountain, a whole lot of Shaw Brothers horror movies I’d never seen before, just about everything Sylvia Chang directed (alongside early films by Stanley Kwan, Edward Yang and Tony Au), a lot of Chang Cheh and Lau Kar-leung (rewatches mostly, but always welcome), and Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness.
3. Japanese Movies
But as much fun as those were, the most satisfying “discoveries” I made in 2018 were from Japan: a half dozen Shunji Iwai films, all of which I adored, three animated films by Masaaki Yuasa, Liz and the Blue Bird, and a couple of films from Masatoshi Harada (including the very great Kamikaze Taxi) and Nobuhiko Obayashi (Hanagatami and Bound for the Fields, the Mountains and the Seacoast, both astounding). The Yuasa films even got me to dip my toes back into anime, subscribing to Crunchyroll and watching Sakura Quest and Nichijou (neither of which are on Crunchyroll anymore) and digging out my dusty Cowboy Bebop soundtracks. More of this in 2019.
2. 2018 African-American Movies
For whatever reason, something in the Trumpian zeitgeist, the payoff of years of hard work and OscarSoWhite campaigning, the democratization of filmmaking equipment, or mere coincidence, almost all of my favorite American films of the year were made by African-American filmmakers. And even the ones that weren’t were about being a person of color and/or being poor in America. If Beale Street Could Talk, Blackkklansman, Hale County This Morning, This Evening, and Sorry to Bother You encompass a vast array of responses to structural racism by black directors, while Support the Girls, What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?, Bisbee ’17, Minding the Gap and, less explicitly, Monrovia, Indiana are films by non-black directors exploring the effects of exploitation both racial and economic on American communities and families. I’d say this is progress, a sign that more interesting and important stories are being told by a wider variety of voices, but then Green Book and Roma are probably gonna win all the movie awards this year. There’s a long way to go.
1. VIFF Movies
After a somewhat lackluster showing in 2017, a result of a down year for movies internationally and some unfortunate circumstances, the Vancouver Film Festival came back this year with one of the finest programs they’ve had in the decade I’ve been attending. International art house hits headlined, of course: Ash is Purest White, Asako I & II, Grass, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Cold War, Burning, Transit, Non-Fiction, Diamantino, Mirai, The Image Book, Shoplifters, Shadow and Happy as Lazzaro. But there was much of interest in the margins too: The Grand Bizarre, No. 1 Chung Ying Street, What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?, A Land Imagined, Spice It Up, John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, Girls Always Happy, One Cut of the Dead, The Running Actress, Microhabitat, A Family Tour, The Darling, Lush Reeds, Manta Ray and short films by Sofia Bohdanowicz, Sophy Romvari and Nathan Douglas. If I had watched nothing but VIFF movies in 2018, it still would have been a great year.
Top Ten American Movies of 2018 in which Women or Girls Do Things
In 1975, Laura Mulvey famously observed that women in movies served primarily as the passive objects of male scopophilia. There’s no doubt that times are changing, but they are changing in Hollywood with excruciating slowness. The advocacy organization Women and Hollywood reports that in 2017, only 24% of the top-grossing American films had female protagonists. Lest we lose the last of the hope that a brutal 2018 has left us, here are ten outstanding films from this year (in no particular order) that gave women or girls things to do:
1 Leave No Trace(dir. Debra Granik): The director of Down to the Bone (2004) and Winter’s Bone (2010) again forcefully and precisely depicts the lives of people on the margins, here focusing on one flinty, resourceful girl who must decide between her own vision for her life and her bond with her troubled father. Observant and intensely absorbing.
2. A Simple Favor(dir. Paul Feig): Feig gives us a witty, stylish, tightly constructed daytime-noir about a supermom with a dark streak (a perfect Anna Kendrick) who charges full-speed into a world of bloody mayhem. A pulpy, hilarious blast, start to finish. Do not miss.
3. Eighth Grade(dir. Bo Burnham): Heartbreaking and exhilarating. Burnham’s vision of the inner life of a teen girl is exact and vivid. His Kayla is the most indelible character of 2018.
4. Annihilation(dir. Alex Garland): In a simultaneously terrifying and eerily beautiful film, an all-woman team investigates a mysterious terrestrial phenomenon. Garland’s science-fiction world blends dream and nightmare in a philosophical inquiry into the primacy of human life on the planet.
5. Skate Kitchen(dir. Crystal Moselle): The shaggy, loose style of this fiction film belies its careful attention to craft. Telling a story based on the real-life all-female skate crew of the title, this film invests the familiar sports-movie and coming-of-age-drama tropes with a raw energy, honesty, frank physicality, and genuine feeling that elevate it from a mere genre film into something precise and visceral.
6. Night Comes On (dir. Jordana Spiro): One of the saddest films of the year, Spiro’s drama (co-written with Angelica Nwandu) looks unflinchingly at the hard lives of two sisters, each of whom is determined to wrest control of her future away from relentless institutional forces. Male violence against women and girls casts a long shadow in this film, as does class-based exploitation, but its heroines face down all obstacles with grit and inventiveness. Recalling both Dee Rees’ Pariah and Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, this film gives us a young, star-crossed queer protagonist to remember.
7. Black Panther (dir. Ryan Coogler): Though Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa is the nominal protagonist of this movie, it’s Lupita N’yongo’s Nakia who gives the film its beating heart and moral center. As Wear Your Voice guest writer “Clarkisha Kent” observes, Nakia saves a group of women from kidnappers; she saves Queen Ramonda and Shuri from Erik Killmonger; and together with Ramonda, Shuri, and Okoye, she saves both T’Challa and Wakanda. Ryan Coogler: feminist.
8. Thoroughbreds (dir. Cory Finley): This film has no protagonist. Everyone here is terrible. Two girls hatching a plan hasn’t been so frightening since Heavenly Creatures, but I have to admire their commitment.
9. Game Night (dir. John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein): Rachel McAdams steals this movie.
10. Widows (dir. Steve McQueen) Only nominally a heist movie, this film is really about grief, pain, betrayal, and survival. It also tells the truth about the real ugliness of violence. And while the movie isn’t in any way “fun” to watch, it is nevertheless a genuine pleasure to see women banding together to get a job done in a stereotype-free zone. McQueen gets women’s lives and hearts right.
Top 10 Earworm First Watches of 2018
Especially for someone as relatively early in his timeline of film watching as me, the dominance of masterpieces in my finalized yearly first watches lists is guaranteed. And while those films are unimpeachable and utterly masterful, what fascinates me just as much is the idea of an “earworm” film, one that burrows in and refuses to leave the viewers’ head (this concept doesn’t originate with me; I believe I first heard of it on Bilge Ebiri’s Cinephiliacs episode). Although many of these may deservedly be considered part of the canon, they nevertheless carried that enchanting, confounding quality, one that will continue to draw me in for quite some time.
1. The Hole (1998, Tsai Ming-liang)
One of those true lightning-in-a-bottle films; knowing that it’s a musical directed by Tsai Ming-liang alone doesn’t begin to capture the breadth of imagination and genuine fear evoked in this tale of love in the time of apocalypse. Reams of writing could be written on the musical numbers alone, but what makes them soar is the bedrock of Tsai’s style, at once refined and yet ever so slightly mutable. Perhaps not the very greatest of Tsai’s films, but certainly among his most daring.
2. Les Vampires (1915, Louis Feuillade)
A totally comprehensible film; even the straightforward score on the Kino Lorber disc continues to bounce around in my head. And yet that straightforwardness is endemic to the greatness of this serial, as the possibilities become limitless: ordinary people can scale chimneys like superheroes, newspaper reporters can have the deductive skills of a detective, some of the most pleasurable action sequences I’ve ever seen can be executed in static long shot.
3. Tropical Malady (2004, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Not necessarily the film that made Weerasethakul “click” for me, but its sense of mystery has an overpowering effect, so deeply rooted in its bifurcated structure in a way that refuses simple connections. And the way it links queerness to a primal carnality feels so suited, so hauntingly beautiful.
4. My Night at Maud’s (1969, Eric Rohmer)
Very much a film that feels completely made for me: composed almost solely of long conversations centering on issues of Christianity and philosophy, while teasing out the nuances in relationships between men and women. Of course, this is the most Hongian Rohmer film I know of, which helps, but there’s an entirely different method to the choreography at play in here that continues to tantalize.
5. Zorns Lemma (1970, Hollis Frampton)
The only film on this list I’ve seen twice, and the second time only reinforced that quality. Even more than most of the great films, it simultaneously actively invites and rejects any efforts to totally decipher it in the moment; at a certain point, all but the most hardened viewer has to more-or-less give up and let the images wash over them; of course, both approaches have their considerable associated pleasures.
6. Fallen Angels (1995, Wong Kar-wai)
On here largely for the first twenty or so minutes alone, which still to me feels like some kind of peak for Wong’s aggressively formal filmmaking, almost totally untethered from any semblance of a clear scenario. The rest is merely great and totally wonderful.
7. The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (1966, Roberto Rossellini)
Utterly matter-of-fact in its manner of disseminating information, narrative, character, etc., which makes the eponymous rise all the more compelling. Above all, this is a process film whose end goal is known in rough outline, but whose means of getting there are continually surprising, before, during, and after the fact. (This also stands in for the films I saw this year by Straub-Huillet, which had a similar sort of quality, almost literally so in the case of Othon.)
8. Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2013, Hong Sang-soo)
I had to include a Hong film, of course, and this seemed like the best candidate, though his oeuvre is seemingly founded upon this quality. The Jane Birkin dream cameo sets the off-beat tone early, and what may be Hong’s first truly loving and compassionate familial relationship is quickly thrown into relief by the usual plays with structure and relationships; the effect is even more dissolute, even more wonderful than the norm.
9. The World (2004, Jia Zhangke)
In a career filled with oblique (maybe not-so-oblique) commentaries on the state of modern China, this might be Jia’s most forthright statement, if only for the use of such a clear-cut setting. The clear disconnect between the quotidian struggles and the looming ersatz structures is rather obvious, which makes the film’s deftness in laying this out onto its sprawling canvas all the more laudable.
10. Simon of the Desert (1965, Luis Buñuel)
A fleet film, to be sure, but whose merits resonate in the mind. The ending sequence — which feels akin to 2001’s Jupiter sequence, in terms of its seismic impact on both experiential and intellectual readings of the film — is but the final kicker in a film of such roiling undercurrents of tension, colliding earthliness and faith with wild abandon.
For good measure, here’s my actual 2018 top ten list (US release year):
- First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
- The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles)
- The Day After (Hong Sang-soo)
- Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie)
- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel & Ethan Coen)
- Bisbee ’17 (Robert Greene)
- Burning (Lee Chang-dong)
- Zama (Lucrecia Martel)
- Un beau soleil intérieur (Claire Denis)
- If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)
Still lots of catching up to do on 2018 films, but these six+ have stuck—and will stick—with me:
- You Were Never Really Here
- Sorry to Bother You
- Eighth Grade
- The Other Side of the Wind
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse
HM: Black Panther, First Reformed
Top 10 new-to-me old movies:
A Better Tomorrow (Woo, 1986)
Heat (Mann, 1995)
Keaton shorts: The Cameraman/Cops/The High Sign/The Goat
Suspense (Weber, 1913)
Within Our Gates (Micheaux, 1920)
Underworld (von Sternberg, 1927)
Hitchcock: Topaz/Stage Fright/The Paradine Case
Winchester ‘73 (Mann, 1950)
The Petrified Forest (Mayo, 1936)
Los Olvidados (Bunuel, 1950)
Best theater experiences:
- A Better Tomorrow and Chaplin’s The Kid with my film history students, who, in both cases, were beside themselves with delight—lots of laughter as well as tears.
- BlacKKKlansmen with my teenage daughter, who had never seen a Lee film before and was utterly blown away. I’ve never seen her so giddy after a film. (She got an electric guitar for Christmas, and the film’s theme is the very first one she learned.)
Top TV show of 2018:
The Americans, of course.
(With a dash of Queer Eye and the Great British Baking Show for comfort.)