Already halfway through the year and we have experienced some grand films (still need to check out Paul Schrader’s supposed masterpiece First Reformed). Such a reassuring fact since a lot of people proclaimed cinema to be dead a year ago or so. We have witnessed art house masterpieces, horror films that won’t soon be forgotten, and blockbuster films that proved to have big topics on their minds and a beating heart. But the best of the best so far this year were films that made their characters approach something that was guaranteed to frighten and shake some to their core on their way to discovering truths, even if they were hard to handle. Here are the Best Movies of 2018 … So Far, presented in alphabetical order with an additional ten honorable mentions.
Annihilation Directed by Alex Garland
Whenever recalling director Alex Garland’s sci-fi nightmare the moments that arise are the ones that have the song Helplessly Hoping playing by Crosby, Stills, and Nash tune playing. Garland’s film is able to conjure moods of subdued tranquility, forlorn hope and still provide a bang of uneasiness and dread. It’s a grand film that easily arouses a multitude of emotions such as suspicion and terror while on its way to burrowing into ideas and inquiries associated with psychological, philosophical and existential grief. The film ponders. It thinks. It wallows in its central mystery, not quick to divulge answers or to make things clear. Mr. Garland is content with taking everything in and by providing little explanation he allows his film to be one that we want to come back to just to perceive its myriad mysteries.
The Death of Stalin Directed by Armando Iannucci
The polished wit and the scorching satire that Armando Iannucci seemingly places in all of his work is ingenious. He has an epic talent at depicting erosion of the splendidly corrupt elite who maintain power and influence in lofty positions and their childish behavior they conceal behind an elegant facade. Tackling the death of Stalin and the real-life chaos that ensues behind closed doors when his henchmen are all unswervingly vying for power could be a ripe topic for a drama. Rather, Iannucci, with help from a tremendous cast of actors (led by a captivating performance by Steve Buscemi), wanders through this dark time in history and discovers that it best be told in a comedic manner (one recalls Chaplin’s The Great Dictator as the supreme example of this). What transpires is a film, with a jolt of cosmic energy that’s unrelenting, achieving an eminence few contemporary comedy/satire films ever achieve.
Disobedience Directed by Sebastian Lelio
Mr. Lelio is a most patient director. In his most recent works (A Fantastic Woman and Gloria) he leaves his viewers somewhat baffled, scratching our heads at a plot that slowly unravels, revealing information that finally enlightens. In Disobedience he demonstrates his technique perfectly. Witnessing a woman (Rachel Weisz) coming back to a community that has excommunicated her years before due to her passion for another woman (Rachel McAdams), who is now married, is spellbinding. We see the menacing glances, the awkward stares and the cold shoulders, but are not told why immediately. Slowly we are revealed the reasons and that is when the film explodes with incessant and irrepressible passion. It is a radical and steamy romantic tale regarding strict adherence to faith, relationships, forgiveness and age old traditions that are hard to shake.
Hereditary Directed by Ari Aston
Here’s a film that strikes with a certain intensity that rarely lets up, almost knocking one down if we weren’t already sitting. What an impressively engaging horror film that discovers an abundance of substance in something other than the typical horror film’s surprising shocks and scares, which, in turn, creates an artistic approach to the frightful. Written and directed by first time director Ari Aston, Hereditary thrives tremendously when it’s discerning the intricacies of the impetuous downward spiral of a family recently attempting to cope with a loss of a loved one. Aston touches on how psychological, mental and emotional turmoils can be handed down through generations. A distressful and dire realization. He presents a beautifully horrific portrait of a family suffused with torment. The script is shrewdly crafted as the first half impeccably displays the heinous tragedies plaguing this family. Then the second half delves into supernatural, burrowing deeper than the first half, introducing seances, spirits, and ghastly images that will linger with you after watching.
Phantom Thread Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Though it was released in select theaters last year, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film made a wider distribution earlier this year. That’s why it’s included on this list. He has made an incomparably elegant picture that surgically details the struggles a wealthy, dapper gentleman (Daniel Day Lewis in supposedly his last feature film role) has with letting down his guard to welcome romance into his perfectly tailored life. The film is both lighthearted and profound in ways you don’t see coming. It’s stealthily comedic and dramatic throughout, and finally distant yet intimate. This is the kind of filmmaking that recalls the opulent films from decades ago, such as the French master Max Ophuls, whom Mr. Anderson openly admires.
The Rider Directed by Chole Zhao
How do we expect to cope when presented with an existence we never suspected? This is the dilemma at the core of Chole Zhao’s masterpiece, The Rider. It’s a distinguished work of art that ruminates, poetically, on the frailty of life, but also exalts with lyrical precision the precious qualities that make us want to live and that make us all human. Zhao directs a splendidly breathtaking film that’s one of the most immersive cinematic experiences in recent years, capturing the daily routines of an ex-rodeo champion Brady (Brady Jandreau playing a real-life version of himself) living in South Dakota who is now sidelined due to a severe head injury. Every moment we are with Brady we can fathom his frustration as he attempts to endure a life that doesn’t include what he loves most.
Small Town Crime Directed by Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms
Neo-noirs almost always exuberantly celebrate overcoming an eminent, terrifying evil. There have been multiple films per year like this. The majority are faced with an immediate crisis: how to one-up our predecessors? For starters, a film can astound and entice simply by their choice of actor. John Hawkes in Small Town Crime is an impeccable choice for our hero. He makes the film, with its sporadically unsurprising narrative, more than tolerable. He makes us feel for him. What emerges out of Eshom and Ian Nelms’ film isn’t traditional, rather there’s an astonishing clarity to their work. The film reverberates deeply when you realize it’s about a man searching for something to keep him alive. That is not small at all by any means.
Sweet Country Directed by Warwick Thorton
The fathomless pain Aboriginals faced in the early 20th century at the hand of the white man is incomprehensible. A lot of films tried understanding and couldn’t, but this newest one, Sweet Country, a ferocious western, from director Warwick Thorton is both intimate and epic in its scope, and captures a whole lot of pain. It absorbs every detail imaginable from the intimate moments of a boiling pot of water, to how the the sun demands to trickle into the slats of the wooden blinds of a dilapidated home, and, most importantly, to the epic moments such as comprehending the eradication of one from their own culture; the inherent violent tendencies we all possess; and the impossible longings a few men may have for a lawful land. What a meticulously made film.
The Tale Directed by Jennifer Fox
Jennifer Fox, ordinarily a documentarian, crafts for her first feature film an exquisite portrait of a woman excavating her past to discover a truth that is both paralyzing and revelatory. Fox is in search of lost time. Her own childhood to be precise. She’s courageously reflecting on a time in her life where she struggled with understanding what exact feelings she experienced during a difficult time. She’s honing in on when she was 13-years-old and having what she then thought to be a sexual affair with a forty-something year old man, but now realizes she was enduring rape. She’s confronting the past after so many years, wrestling with her younger self, the few people that were involved, and the notes and stories she wrote during that particular time. The bravery needed to initiate such a confrontation is unknown. The Tale is astonishingly alive and unbearably painful as it perceives a woman becoming less and less familiar with a past she thought she knew, increasingly shattering her perception of it.
You Were Never Really Here Directed by Lynne Ramsay
What Ramsay’s newest film truly triumphs at is its shedding of a preoccupation with dispensing an abundance of sadomasochism in exchange for something more enigmatic and unique. It’s difficult to establish inner turmoils and anguish. You always want a film to go deeper and beyond surface level. That’s why this is a huge achievement. It’s astonishing how Ramsay is able to place us inside Joe’s head that is pulsating with ruthless aggression (Joaquin Phoenix‘s intense performance erupts with brute force and finally greatness).
Avengers: Infinity War– Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo Black Panther– Directed by Ryan Coogler Chappaquiddick– Directed by John Curran Elvis Presley: The Searcher– Directed by Thom Zimny Golden Exits– Directed by Alex Ross Perry The Insult– Directed by Ziad Doueiri Lean on Pete– Directed by Andrew Haigh Loveless– Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev Outside In– Directed by Lynn Shelton Unsane– Directed by Steven Soderbergh