Tag Archives: year in review

2018: Resilience and Despair

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Unfriended: Dark Web, A Star Is Born, Lean on Pete

Writing these countdowns always comes with a sense of relief. I made it through another year. (And spent a big chunk of it watching movies.) Excitement, too: now I can set aside that year, break it down, hold its little pieces in my memory. The year that was can hold no further surprises; now, as I pause in late December waiting for the new one to start, I have an opportunity to assess it. So here, as far as cinema’s concerned, are the little pieces of 2018.

First, a couple outliers. Blue is a lovely Apichatpong Weerasethakul short that premiered at TIFF this year. Within its 12-minute run time, he finds sublime uses for some antiquated visual trickery. The Other Side of the Wind is a film Orson Welles starting shooting decades ago, now given a posthumous release. It’s breathtaking: a poison pen roman à clef full of formal experimentation. (Ranking it alongside films from living auteurs feels a bit like apples and oranges, but it’s a strong addition to the Welles corpus.)

Here are 15 other movies I enjoyed in alphabetical order: The Day After, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?, First Reformed, Happy as Lazzaro, Lean on Pete, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Minding the Gap, Private Life, Shirkers, Sorry to Bother YouA Star Is Born, Unfriended: Dark Web, Unsane, Werewolf, and Widows.

And here are 10 other performances: Bryan Cranston, his voice a forlorn growl in Isle of DogsWidows’ Viola Davis, giving blunt directives in the midst of mourning; Jennifer Ehle (supporting actress extraordinaire) as The Miseducation of Cameron Post’s homophobic villain; Daniel Giménez Cacho, who bears weariness in his sharp features as Zama’s title character; Upgrade’s Simon Maiden, drily funny as a HAL-style AI; Amanda Seyfried as bereaved mothers-to-be in both First Reformed and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again; Adriano Tardiolo, his eyes wide as the namesake naif in Happy as Lazzaro; Tessa Thompson embodying praxis as the earring-adorned artist in Sorry to Bother YouReady Player One’s Lena Waithe, transformed via mocap into a lumbering avatar; and Anton Yelchin, now a couple years deceased, playing the scumbag of all scumbags in Thoroughbreds.

And now, the list:

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema

50 Best New-to-Me Viewings of 2018

Beggars of Life

Every year I put a list like this together as a means of remembering what I’ve watched and loved. A dozen months distilled into a few dozen titles. These movies might’ve made me weep or shiver—though maybe I just sighed, “This is nice,” and put them from my mind till they flew back like a boomerang weeks later. Between them, they boast the acting of Judy Garland and Eusebio Poncela; ZaSu Pitts and Claude Rains; Shu Qi and Roy Scheider; Sharon Stone and Sol Kyung-gu; Lily Tomlin and Denzel Washington. They’re shorts and features, curios and crowd-pleasers, each with its own share of power and beauty.

Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) · Arrebato (1979) · At Berkeley (2013) · Basic Instinct (1992) · Beggars of Life (1928) · Black Girl (1966) · Blood Tea and Red String (2006) · The Chase (1946) · The Cremator (1969) · Duelle (1976) · Duplicity (2009) · 45 Years (2015) · Greed (1924) · I Am Cuba (1964) · I Could Go on Singing (1963) · In My Skin (2002) · In This Corner of the World (2016) · The Kleptomaniac (1905) · The Late Show (1977) · The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) · Losing Ground (1982) · The Manchurian Candidate (2004) · Madam Satan (1930) · The Masseurs and a Woman (1938) · Master of the House (1925) · Millennium Mambo (2001) · The Moderns (1988) · Moscow Clad in Snow (1909) · The Mouth Agape (1974) · Peppermint Candy (1999) · The Passionate Friends (1949) · Private Lives (1931) · Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992) · Running on Empty (1988) · The Sacrifice (1986) · Satan’s Rhapsody (1917) · Senso (1954) · Shoulder Arms (1918) · Sorcerer (1977) · Spanglish (2004) · Stage Door (1937) · Starman (1984) · The Stone Tape (1972) · Stromboli (1950) · Terms of Endearment (1983) · They Were Expendable (1945) · Thief (1981) · Tugging the Worm (1987) · Up the Down Staircase (1967) · Les Vampires (1915)

[The bolded titles form a loose top ten. Everything is pre-2018.]

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema

2017: Rebirths and Afterlives

Person to Person, Colossal, Lady Bird, The Ornithologist

I adore this time of year. It’s the time when we write out short lists to memorialize the past twelve months. The selections don’t matter, nor does the order; the point is simply to remember. “#10 was the first new movie I saw this year, at the multiplex, with a coworker who’s since moved out of state. I ran to a screening of #2 right after scarfing down some pita and hummus.” Each entry represents a pocket of time I lingered in. The year’s ten best pockets of time.

I enjoyed the following ten movies almost as much as the ones I’ve listed below: Call Me by Your NameColossalGirls TripGood TimeLady BirdLogan LuckyThe OrnithologistPerson to PersonSong to Song, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The new Twin Peaks, on the other hand, I enjoyed even more than the titles below. It may have aired in weekly installments on Showtime, but it’s still essential to any conversation about the state of filmmaking in 2017. May as well call it my real #1! It moved and thrilled and shook me unlike anything else in recent memory.

Here’s a supplementary list of ten performances: Betty Buckley, articulate as a psychotherapist, and the protean James McAvoy playing against her in Split; Harris Dickinson, implosive with self-loathing in Beach Rats; two turns by Michael Fassbender, as the smarmy villains of Song to Song and Alien: Covenant; Milla Jovovich’s valedictory sprint through Resident Evil: The Final Chapter; Barry Keoghan as a teenage sprite barely veiling his hostility in The Killing of a Sacred Deer; Keanu Reeves, put through his paces again in John Wick: Chapter 2; Lady Bird’s callous, precocious, and heartbreaking Saoirse Ronan; newcomer Millicent Simmonds and her silent movie acting in Wonderstruck; octagenarian Lois Smith playing her age as Marjorie of Marjorie Prime; and Adrian Titieni, slouching and gloomy as a bad dad in Graduation.

Now onto the list:

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema

50 Best New-to-Me Viewings of 2017

Heaven’s Gate

I love making these lists. They’re tokens from the past year of moviegoing. I can skim the titles below and remember all these occasions of realizing, “Oh, this movie’s good.” I can recall the power of performances by Toni Collette and Johnny Depp, Christine Lahti and little Stephen Dorff, Anna Magnani and José Mojica Marins, Sylvia Sidney and Keanu Reeves, Googie Withers and Dean Stockwell. As a fun addition this year, I’ve bolded a loose top ten—the cream of an already creamy crop.

About Elly (2009) · Antonia’s Line (1995) · Ariel (1988) · Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965) · Bellissima (1951) · By the Law (1926) · Canon City (1948) · Compulsion (1959) · Contact (1997) · Cry-Baby (1990) · The Exiles (1961) · Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) · The Gate (1987) · Gates of Heaven (1978) · Giants and Toys (1958) · Girl with Green Eyes (1964) · Heaven’s Gate (1980) · Housekeeping (1987) · John Wick (2014) · The Keep (1983) · Lake Mungo (2008) · Limite (1931) · Lives of Performers (1972) · The Man I Love (1947) · The Marquise of O (1976) · Married to the Mob (1988) · Miami Vice (2006) · Miss Lulu Bett (1921) · Model Shop (1969) · Mr. Thank You (1936) · Muriel’s Wedding (1994) · Paranoid Park (2007) · Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945) · A Portrait of Ga (1952) · Reign of Terror (1949) · Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991) · Salem’s Lot (1979) · Saturday Night at the Baths (1975) · Shooting Stars (1928) · Sir Arne’s Treasure (1919) · Speed Racer (2008) · Ten (2002) · There It Is (1928) · This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967) · Trouble Every Day (2001) · Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) · The White Reindeer (1952) · The Thief of Bagdad (1924) · Working Girl (1988) · You and Me (1938)

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema

2016: Proximity and Distance

The Edge of Seventeen, Chevalier, Fort Buchanan, The Fits

I like neat bookshelves. I like it when photos are labeled with the date they were taken. And I like to make lists of movies. A year or a decade from now, I won’t remember my favorite films from this year off the top of my head, but I’ll still have this list, illustrated if not annotated. I can skim it, maybe thinking, “That’s right: my girlfriend and I saw #1 and #5 as a double feature. We had a spare half-hour in between so we went out for burgers.” My future self can use this list to hold onto all the joys and bullshit and movies she experienced back in 2016.

Before I really get going, here are 15 other movies I liked, ordered alphabetically: The BFG, Cameraperson, Chevalier, The Edge of Seventeen, Elle, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Fits, Fort Buchanan, The Lobster, Love & Friendship, Manchester by the Sea, Midnight Special, The Shallows, The Thoughts That Once We Had, and The Treasure. Here as well are a trio of special cases that technically aren’t 2016 theatrical releases: Lewis Klahr’s Sixty Six, which apparently screened at MoMA in late 2015; Lemonade by Beyoncé et al, which debuted on HBO this past April; and Looking: The Movie, directed by Andrew Haigh, which HBO aired in July. An animated anthology, a visual album, a TV show’s series finale—and some of the finest new filmmaking I saw this year.

Ten performances that each merit an honorable mention: Krisha Fairchild as the gray-maned namesake of the indie drama Krisha; John Goodman as the post-apocalyptic patriarch in 10 Cloverfield Lane; The Fits’ pint-sized dynamo Royalty Hightower; Stephen Lang as Don’t Breathe’s croaking, undershirt-clad phantom; Jena Malone, who enlivens The Neon Demon by playing her every look and line for maximum innuendo; Trevante Rhodes, whose sidelong glances in the final stretch of Moonlight are suffused with longing; Johnny Simmons, trembling beneath the burden of fame in The Phenom; Little Sister’s bashful Addison Timlin, her heart full of love for both Christ and GWAR; Hailee Steinfeld as an imploding ball of adolescent angst in The Edge of Seventeen; and finally, the late Anton Yelchin, for his work in Star Trek Beyond’s ensemble and as a terrified punk rocker in Green Room. In the parlance of the MTV Movie Awards, he gave this year’s “Best Scared-As-Shit Performance.”

Now here’s my list:

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema

50 Best New-to-Me Viewings of 2016

Portrait of Jason

I’ve put together one of these lists for each of the past four years, and now it’s late December so I’m at it again. Below lies an alphabetical overview of the older movies that jolted me out of my jaded cinephile stupor in 2016. It includes some film noir, a few silents, and several exquisite oddities from around the world. These films contained performances that moved me to tears and laughter, courtesy of actors like Jean Seberg and Charles Lane; Reese Witherspoon and Ray Milland; Laura Dern and Anton Walbrook. (Along with Judy Davis, Tony Curtis, Jennifer Jones, Richard Farnsworth, Arta Dobroshi, and Jason Holliday.) I’m eager to revisit each of them in the years to come.

The Boat (1921) · Bonjour Tristesse (1958) · The Boston Strangler (1968) · Breakdown (1997) · A Bronx Morning (1931) · Deadline at Dawn (1946) · Death Is a Caress (1949) · From Beyond the Grave (1974) · From Morn to Midnight (1920) · Funeral Parade of Roses (1969) · Germany Year Zero (1948) · Gerry (2002) · Gone to Earth (1950) · Good Morning (1959) · Happy End (1966) · Harlan County, USA (1976) · Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence (1939) · High Tide (1987) · How Do You Know (2010) · Inherent Vice (2014) · Innocence (2004) · Jewel Robbery (1932) · Ladies They Talk About (1933) · Letter Never Sent (1959) · The Lickerish Quartet (1970) · The Line, the Cross and the Curve (1993) · Lorna’s Silence (2008) · Messiah of Evil (1973) · Mildred Pierce (2011) · Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) · News from Home (1977) · Over the Garden Wall (2014) · Parting Glances (1986) · Penda’s Fen (1974) · Polyester (1981) · Portrait of Jason (1967) · Præsidenten (1919) · The Queen of Spades (1949) · Safety Last! (1923) · Sidewalk Stories (1989) · Smooth Talk (1985) · The Straight Story (1999) · Street Scene (1931) · El Sur (1983) · A Taste of Honey (1961) · The Thief (1952) · The Trust (1911) · The War of the Roses (1989) · What Happened Was… (1994) · Wings (1927)

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema

2015: Color and Form

The Forbidden Room, Approaching the Elephant, Hard to Be a God, L for Leisure

Year-end lists are arbitrary, reductive, and tedious. This one’s mine! I’ll start by rattling off my loose, alphabetical #25-11: Approaching the Elephant, Brooklyn, Buzzard, Crimson Peak, The Forbidden Room, Hard to Be a God, L for Leisure, The Look of Silence, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Mend, Mistress America, Queen of Earth, Shaun the Sheep, Tangerine, and Timbuktu.

The following movies didn’t receive theatrical distribution this year, but (1) Adam Curtis’s documentary Bitter Lake was released online by the BBC in January; (2) the neo-noir music video Bitch Better Have My Money, co-directed by Rihanna and the filmmaking team Megaforce, premiered on YouTube in July; and (3) Alexandre Larose’s Brouillard-Passage #14 may have played at festivals in 2013 and ’14, but I caught it at the Ann Arbor Film Festival this past March. All three stretch the definition of “2015 cinema,” but all three also struck me as abrasive, essential experiences.

Ten runner-up performances: Jason Bateman, inverting his “nice guy” persona in The Gift; Mamie Gummer in Ricki and the Flash, playing another of the unkempt women who define Diablo Cody’s patchy oeuvre; Blackhat’s Chris Hemsworth, using the whole of his Norse god bulk for brooding and grief; Rinko Kikuchi, holding Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter together with sheer conviction; Sidse Babett Knudsen, playing submissive in The Duke of Burgundy with both emotional delicacy and sexual vim; Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, bouncing off one another through the thick and thin of a friendship in Tangerine; Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies, so inviting even as he gives away so little; Michael Stuhlbarg, showing once again what character acting is all about as an Apple second banana in Steve Jobs; and lastly Taika Waititi: goofy and benign even as he leads a ring of bloodthirsty vampires in What We Do in the Shadows.

Every year I name a Best Performance in a Documentary. The past winners have been Thierry Guetta (Exit Through the Gift Shop), Joyce McKinney (Tabloid), Frédéric Bourdin (The Imposter), Anwar Congo (The Act of Killing), and Actress star Brandy Burre. This year, the award goes the pseudonymous Adi Rukun in another Joshua Oppenheimer movie, The Look of Silence. Just behind him, though, is 11-year-old hellraiser Jiovanni in Approaching the Elephant.

If, for some reason, you want to read more of my opinions on the year in film, I voted in the Village Voice and #12FilmsaFlickering polls. I also provided a couple of suggestions for MUBI Notebook’s annual collection of “fantasy double features.” And now, with all that preamble out of the way, onto my list proper:

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema