Our 20 Must See Films of 2018

Here is the first working list of the 20 most important films (excluding documentaries) of 2018, selected for their innovation, quality, & depth. Not all are considered to be “best films” per se, but instead carry the day with their cultural impact & utility for understanding the human material.

Some selections are subjectively driven, although I never ignore my objective grid to better hone the quality of my palate.

Some pack the indelible swords of emotion that leaves leaves unfurled and the test of maturity to be discovered by posterity.

Some are simply technical masterpieces of pace & direction: unbending in its resolve to piece together the prerequisite elements for artistry.

Discussion & disagreement welcome.

And so, without further ado . . .

Roma

Peterloo

First Reformed

The Other Side of the Wind

Cold War

Tully 

Annihilation 

Mandy

November

Eighth Grade

The Endless

We The Animals

Scarred Hearts

Blaze

First Man

Burning

Madeline’s Madeline

Wind Traces

Hereditary 

Thunder Road

*list subject to change


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Vazante, You Were Never Really Here, Wildlife, The House That Jack Built, Nancy, At Eternity’s Gate, Galveston, & Happy as Lazzaro.

At Eternity’s Gate

RATING: [B-|🍅]

“Life’s not so bad after all. There are not only poison but also antidotes.” 

[Irving Stone]

Last year’s Loving Vincent is now given an earlier chapter from which the breadth of van Gogh’s troubled and mesmerizing lust for life can be probed and examined for our own benefits. His art has become college dorm kitsch, but it’s his psychological furniture that remains in tact as a penetrating seam of drive and breakdown. As Manohla Dargis (NEW YORK TIMES) puts well, a film defined by “the art with which he at once communes with the world and transcends it.”

Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate, his first project in eight years, shows the method and the madness of a man on the outskirts of sanity seeking to memorialize his sight on canvas. A beautiful art film of loss and exploration with Willem Dafoe becoming lost in the character of van Gogh in one of his best roles to date. Kenneth Turan (LA TIMES) is right: “Dafoe’s work, the look in his searching, despairing eyes, feels beyond conventional acting, using intuition as well as technique to go deeply into the character, putting us in van Gogh’s presence.”

The film is slow, but the subject matter and runtime lends support for the weary watchers. Depicting a complicated relationship with Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), who represents the vision of worldly success and a momentary respite for van Gogh’s loneliness. It shows the moving love between Vincent and his brother (Theo), who remains in the isles of history as the single voice of compassion and support for the brilliant painter. A brother’s keeper whose own capacity for sanity lends hope and family values to the story.

 

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While other projects have taken a more comprehensive look at the life of van Gogh, it is Schnabel, writes Peter Travers (ROLLING STONES), “who gets closest to his subject, which should be no surprise given his cinematic interest in artists and their process.” Content to focus on the workings in Arles and the drifting in-and-out of mental confusion, Schnabel  works through the life of van Gogh as the perennial chaser of visions running from his own ephemeral grounding on reality. As Dargis explains:

To howl at this or any of the other liberties that Schnabel takes in “At Eternity’s Gate,” though, is to miss the point: The movie is a freely subjective portrait of van Gogh by another artist trying to see, paint and feel as he did.

After all, Schnabel readily admit that there are “scenes that are just plain invented.” Regardless, the collaboration was brilliant, in no short supply of competence was the cinematography, set and costume design. And of course the fact the Schnabel is a painter who knows a little bit about the process. I love what Dafoe had to say to Alissa Wilkinson (VOX) about his working with him:

Basically, with the help of Julian, I started painting shoes. I started painting cypress trees. We looked at the Van Goghs. He taught me a different way of looking, a different way of seeing.

When you’re not trained, you really leap to identify things in paintings — we’re so ingrained, no matter what our education is, toward thinking about representation. We’re literal about things, not really looking deeply.

But to express something may mean making a painting that doesn’t look like exactly like what it “looks like.” So Julian taught me to paint lights.

The work came through in the end as the film paints through a man seeking consolation and the secret to what Irvin Stone called “the pattern of nature . . . woven into the design of life.” Between this film and Loving Vincent, the profound depth of sadness is immeasurably great and must be felt as we learn to grow in our own compassion for one another. Not since Mr. Turner have we seen another work as introspective and deserving of an audience, and while the writing and the narrative is thin and selecting (skips unapologetically much of van Gogh’s life), there is an indelible gift in the expertise of Schnabel as a painter to paint this work of art for us about a man who had no idea the impact he would make after his death.

RATING: B-

November

Here is what we’re excited to see this month

BOY ERASED – Nov. 2

boy erased

The son of a Baptist preacher is forced to participate in a church-supported gay conversion program after being forcibly outed to his parents.

Trailer.

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB – Nov. 9

spider web

Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials. So far, poor reviews, but Claire Foy may be worth the price of admission.

Trailer.

BURNING – Nov. 9

Burning

South Korean entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards. Jong-soo runs into Hae-mi, a girl who once lived in his neighborhood, and she asks him to watch her cat while she’s out of town. When she returns, she introduces him to Ben, a man she met on the trip. Ben proceeds to tell Jong-soo about his hobby. Strange as it is, anyone who knows the work of Haruki Murakami knows that this could very well be one of the best foreign films of 2018.

Trailer.

A PRIVATE WAR – Nov. 16

private war

One of the most celebrated war correspondents of our time, Marie Colvin is an utterly fearless and rebellious spirit, driven to the frontline of conflicts across the globe to give voice to the voiceless.

Trailer.

WIDOWS – Nov. 16

widows

Set in contemporary Chicago, amidst a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms. Huge fan of Steve McQueen, although this film has all the makings of one of those “one for you” moments.

Trailer.

AT ETERNITY’S GATE – Nov. 16

eternity

A look at the life of painter Vincent van Gogh during the time he lived in Arles and Auvers-sur-Oise, France. Julian Schnabel hasn’t directed anything since 2010 according to 2010 and since he himself is a painter this new film will definitely be worth seeing. Although, I doubt it will rival Mike Leigh’s  Mr. Turner, it certainly has the makings of being another fine Van Gogh installment after last years, Loving Vincent.

Trailer.

GREEN BOOK – Nov. 21

green book

A working-class Italian-American bouncer becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South. WINNER of the Grosch People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival.

Trailer.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK – Nov. 30

beale street

A woman in Harlem desperately scrambles to prove her fiancé innocent of a crime while carrying their first child. From director Barry Jenkins who did Moonlight and based on a novel by the great civil rights intellectual, James Baldwin.

Trailer.

HAPPY AS LAZZARO – Nov. 30

lazzaro

This is the tale of a meeting between Lazzaro, a young peasant so good that he is often mistaken for simple-minded, and Tancredi, a young nobleman cursed by his imagination. Winner at Cannes for Best Screenplay.

Trailer.