Topical Issues Drive the Finest Cinema of the Past Year
2018 was an interesting year in film. It was a year that didn’t pan out the way it was expected. Some of the films that were most heralded at the beginning of the year fizzled away or were met with disappointment. With the expanding amount of streaming services, however, a lot of smaller movies snuck up to pick up the slack.
So with that, here are my top ten movies of the year…
A rape/revenge film but with a woman’s touch. Instead of shying away from violence, it delves deeper into what sexual abuse is. Before the attack, Jen is harassed and exploited in ways I don’t think a man could understand. And when the rape occurs, it’s less force and more coercion. The kind of rape horrible men will say doesn’t count, because it wasn’t brutal enough. But what is brutal is the revenge Jen beautifully gets on the men.
A film that tries a lot, and succeeds. A comedy, a blast of social commentary, a story of being the man you need to be for a woman who deserves it or being a father for the kid who deserves it. And a musical. All mixed together with such confidence, you’ll be amazed how well it works.
Yorgos Lanthimos’ bizarrely appealing film about Queen Anne and the women who fight to be her pets. Hilarious, telling, symbolic and with out-of-place modern dance numbers, but in the best way possible, The Favourite is one of the most interesting experiences you will have in a theater this year.
7. Minding the Gap
A documentary about abuse and what it does to people, how it can effect them and how it can be passed on. It’s about skateboarding, too. And even though a lot of critics say it’s not really about skateboarding, it’s really about deeper issues, I say it’s about skateboarding. And how it’s a symbolism of their youth- something that needs to be held on to. People grow old. Some become angry. Some become lost. But some, no matter what happens to them, will hold onto what made they love the most as a kid and won’t let the pain define them.
A first-time director with the confidence of someone making their tenth film. Both scary and painful, but grasping for hope. A movie about mental illness and how you cannot escape what is in your family. It also contains the only scene this year, and probably the only time in years now, I have yelled at the screen. Because the scene really got me.
A remake of one of my favorite horror movies of all time is really too different from the original to compare which one I like more, but succeeds in having it’s own voice. Instead of being a sad carbon copy, it is director Luca Guadadngino using the power of cinema that he has mastered to make a movie about women, about men, about revenge, but also about revenge being filled with mercy. It’ll scare you and make you cry.
Barry Jenkins follows up Moonlight with another home run. A movie that is his without taking away from James Baldwin, who wrote the novel the film is based on. A lyrical poem of a film that is filled with passion and beauty to carry out a minimal plot. But Jenkins sheds his soul onto the screen to create one of the most beautiful movies of the year.
Spike Lee may not always make the best films anymore, but he is the director we need to take on the Trump years. A filmmaker who is as bold and brash and fearless as the President wishes he was. Lee does a phenomenal job of connecting America’s white-hooded past to the coded racism of Trump (which has become much less coded recently). Lee also has a subplot about the power of film. From the opening footage with Alec Baldwin to the past power of Birth of a Nation to the conversations about blaxploitation representation in the ’70s to the explosive ending, someone who believes in the power of cinema will relish in Lee’s testimony to it.
2. Sorry to Bother You
It’s more than the movie about using your white voice, as it was billed coming out of Sundance. It’s satire screaming the ugliness of capitalism and the terribleness of the rich and the beauty of marxism. It’s a bold and hilarious film with strong homages to Norma Rae, Brazil and Do the Right Thing. And it feels like rapper-turned-director Boots Riley had one shot and threw everything he believed in into the same film and it explodes in one of the best movies of the year.
1. First Reformed
This movie is so personal to me. It was the movie that made me write my church (which didn’t go over well and is probably now my old church). But I wasn’t wrong and neither is Ethan Hawke’s character Toller, a priest who has had it with his church allowing terrible things to happen in the world. He has the frustration, after his eyes are open, at his church for being a complacent partner to the worst people in the world. And though the film questions whether he is mentally ill or completely losing it, I’d counter and ask if the mentally ill can be right about evil institutions like the rest of us.
If you are a non-believer or a frustrated Christian, watch this movie. It will tap into your anger and make you come more to terms with what is wrong with the modern day church. Global Warming isn’t just a thing that happened. Toller realizes it after a soul-shaking meeting with an environmentalist activist. Global Warming, the thing that very well may end humanity, happened because of greed, corporations and a church that either outright disagreed with science or helped the most harmful people with an umbrella of respect for other Christians that protects them. Hawke gives the best male performance of the year. He goes down a rabbit hole of truth and insanity that anyone who loves film should take with him.
You Were Never Really Here
Hearts Beat Loud