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.

Burning (Boening)

RATING: [B|🍅]

“December came, and with it the end of fall, and the morning air turned cold. No change in the barns, just white frost covering their roofs. The world moved on as always.”

[Haruki Murakami]

Mood altering and possessive, here in the long-awaited work of Lee Chang-Dong is a mystery stuck at the borders of “passive martyrs and agents of triumph” (Film Comment Magazine). A mesmerizing work of isolation and attachment — the inconsolable reality that we are creatures left alone even in the midst of company.   As the “dance of the Great hunger” to Miles Davis emerges at the border of a society driven by repression and another by existentialism, we find a female form extending herself to the sun setting colors of a dying cosmic phenomenon in the airing spaces of her consolation. Chang-Dong explains the scene well: “I chose to set it at dusk, between day and night. That as well as the location just on the border reflects the mystery of this movie, the uncertain line between truth and lies, the real and the false.” As Sheila O’Malley (Roger Ebert) explains well: “a world of fluctuating and amorphous borders, invisible yet pressing in on the characters.”

Ben (Steven Yeun) is the embodiment of the Great Gatsby lost generation of wealth shrouded by mystery and terror. As Murakami (Barn Burning) described him: “young man who’s a riddle . . . you have no idea what he does, really, but he never seems to be hurting for money.” Peter Debruge (Variety) is probably wrong that the film’s success “will depend largely on one’s capacity to identify with the unspoken but strongly conveyed sense of jealousy and frustration its lower-class protagonist feels, coupled with a need to impose some sense of order on events beyond our control.” To me, the heart of the film is the social dynamic and mystery surrounding Yeun’s almost sociopathic lethargy. Like Jep in the Sorrentino’s masterpiece (The Great Beauty), it almost feels like Yeun has covered the basis of worldly sought impulses and instead of cynicism and retreat, he turns to a more sinister form of stimulation.

Lee Jong-Su is the striving romantic who falls along the wayside in search for the purpose in his passions. “[H]azy . . . with strange relationships, missing figures, blank spaces,” a likely embodiment of a lost youth movement in the Korean milieu.

Jong-seo Jeon is the prisoner of her own magic, slowly unpeeling the tangerine of her mind, hoping that the audience remains suspended to the reality that the tangerine was never there. The sensation the Murakami describes in describing the Tangerine Peeling is the sensation you get watching Burning:

. . . if you see it with your own eyes for ten or twenty minutes (almost without thinking, she kept on performing it) gradually the sense of reality is sucked right out of everything around you.

Persistent in its drawing, the film lends the audience a little slack before returning to its proverbial gallows for the finishing blow. The ending is rich with ambiguity and yet there remains a sense that ambiguity is the only form of catharsis that the character inhabit. A sobering piece of self-reflection with cultural education and rich, depth and beauty becoming of the source material (Faulkner, Murakami).

For all of its strengths, the ending fell daftly out of sync with the pacing established. Scott Marks (San Diego Reader) really nails this: “for a film that tires so hard to subvert standard methods of storytelling, the action that climaxes the film comes as a cheat, a commercial concession of the lowest order.” Indeed, the anticipation of some semblance of resolution after indicative strokes of suspicion would have been best left alone given the alternative. As such, I agree with Anthony Lane (New Yorker): “I would have lopped off the final scene, which I simply didn’t believe in, and which, if anything, resolves too much.”

Remarking well on the state and quality of contemporary Korean cinema as a product of “operatic violence,” “relentless momentum,” and “exposing social ills and critiquing inequalities,” Inkoo Kang (Slate) describes Burning with fine precision: “unsettlingly tense for much of its runtime, but its greatest accomplishment is its portrait of youthful alienation, and what can happen when individuals are unable to ever connect.” As more and more filmmakers run the gauntlet of fear in losing the audience with films that run over two-hours, this year has some glimpses of promise with Roma, First Man, and Burning that the quality of longer films is worth the few moments of testing the audience’s patience. If these films get rewarded, others will follow suit and hopefully we too can restore the semblance of movie watching purity that we desperately need in our world of insatiable materialism, hi-tech distractions, and mindless entertainment consumption.

Burning is a rare film that has an indelible cover of magic that haunts you long after you leave the theatre. Andrew Chan (Film Comment: PRINT) describes the qualities of Lee Chang-Dong craftsmanship in creating “melodramas with sharp teeth and irresistible momentum.” In short, a director worth the investment.

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.

 

October

Here is what we’re excited to see this month

IN THEATRES

VENOM – October 5

Venom

When Eddie Brock acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego “Venom” to save his life. Wouldn’t be on my radar but for Tom Hardy.

Trailer.

A STAR IS BORN – October 5

star is born

A musician helps a young singer and actress find fame, even as age and alcoholism send his own career into a downward spiral. Major buzz for this movie after it picked up momentum at the Venice Film Festival.

Trailer.

THE GREAT BUSTER – October 5

Buster

Documentary from Pete Bogdonavich about the great silent era comedian and innovator, Buster Keaton.

Trailer.

FIRST MAN – October 12

First Man

A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969. From the young director of Whiplash and La La Land. Overheard someone at Telluride Film Festival saying that Damien Chazelle told them that the movie needs to be seen in IMAX, so if you’ve got the money, go do that.

Trailer.

BEAUTIFUL BOY – October 12

Beautiful Boy

Based on the best-selling pair of memoirs from father and son David and Nic Sheff, Beautiful Boy chronicles the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years. I’d trust this more if it was from Linklater, but could be immensely impactful.

Trailer.

WILDLIFE – October 19

Wildlife

In 1960, a boy watches his parents’ marriage fall apart after the three of them move to Montana and his mother falls in love with another man. Directed by Paul Dano.

Trailer.

HALLOWEEN – October 19

Halloween

Laurie Strode comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.

Trailer.

SERENITY – October 19

Serenity

The mysterious past of a fishing boat captain comes back to haunt him, when his ex-wife tracks him down with a desperate plea for help, ensnaring his life in a new reality that may not be all that it seems. I like Steven Knight as a writer (Locke, Peaky Blinders) so anything he does, I will consider.

Trailer.

MID90s – October 19

mid90s

Follows Stevie, a thirteen-year-old in 90s-era LA who spends his summer navigating between his troubled home life and a group of new friends that he meets at a Motor Avenue skate shop.

Trailer.

BURNING – October 26

Burning

Jong-su, a part-time worker, bumps into Hae-mi while delivering, who used to live in the same neighborhood. Hae-mi asks him to look after her cat while she’s on a trip to Africa. When Hae-mi comes back, she introduces Ben, a mysterious guy she met in Africa, to Jong-su. One day, Ben visits Jong-su’s with Hae-mi and confesses his own secret hobby. Very excited for this film.

Trailer.

SUSPIRIA – October 26

Suspiria

A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.

Trailer.

STREAMING

Making A Murderer: Part 2 – October 19 On Netflix

landscape-1496604817-making-a-murderer-main

We know it has been a few years since the 10 episode of this first season came on the scene, and maybe you have forgotten some things. Here is a link to a Forbes article with some great reminders. Netflix will release another 10 episodes this month, that will focus on what has happened after the conviction.

Trailer.

Netflix:

  • Mystic River (October 1) (88% RT 🍎) (8.0 IMDb) – Clint Eastwood (director)
  • V for Vendetta (October 1) (73% RT 🍎) (8.2 IMDb) – The Wachowskis (writers)
  • The Shining (October 1) (86% RT 🍎) (8.4 IMDb) – Stanley Kubrick (director)

Amazon Prime

  • The Illusionist (October 1) (73% RT 🍎) (7.6 IMDb)
  • The Man In The High Castle Season 3 (October 5) (8.1 IMDb)
  • Mr. Robot Season 3 (October 11) (8.6 IMDb)
  • The Romanoffs Season 1 (October 12) (NA IMDb) – creators of Mad Men

Hulu

  • Raging Bull (October 1) (95% RT 🍎) (8.2 IMDb) – Martin Scorsese (director)
  • Mulholland Drive (October 1) (83% RT 🍎) (8.0 IMDb) – David Lynch (director)
  • Ace Ventura Pet Detective (October 1) (46% RT) (6.9 IMDb)
  • Ace Ventura When Nature Calls (October 1) (33% RT) (6.3 IMDb)
  • RBG (October 3) (94% RT 🍎) (7.5 IMDb) – Ruth Bader Ginsburg as herself

HBO

  • Fantastic Mr. Fox (October 1) (92% RT 🍎) (7.8 IMDb) – Wes Anderson (director)
  • Dances With Wolves (October 1) (82% RT 🍎) (8.0 IMDb) – Kevin Costner (director)
  • Man On Fire (October 1) (39% RT ) (7.7 IMDb) – Tony Scott (director)
  • Inherent Vice (October 1) (73% RT) (6.7 IMDb) – Paul Thomas Anderson (director)