My Favorite Films I Watched in 2018 – Part 1

As always these are films I *watched* for the first time in 2018, not necessarily that were released this year. Part 1 contains #30 – 16.

30. Lean on Pete (2018, dir. Andrew Haigh)
From my review:
Charley has never really experienced love, except for that one short time with Aunt Margy. She truly loved him, and then they had to go away. So, when Charley meets Pete, a horse considered valueless, he wants to repay that love. Charley begins to see the beauty in Pete, old but still strong, full of opinions and not easily tamed. He wants to rescue Pete in the same way he needs someone to save him. No one’s coming for Pete, so Charley takes it upon himself without ever asking if anyone is coming for Charley. So often the rural corners of our nation are portrayed as the warm, moral centers, the “Heartland.” Director Haigh has no qualms pointing out how stark and lonely the landscape and its people can be, just as devastating as any urban nightmare conjured up.

29. Mississippi Grind (2015, dir. Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck)
From my review:
The film teases the threat of Gerry’s bookie but subverts our expectations and refrains from making this a movie heavy on plot and about a race against time. Time has already run out for these two men, and now life is just them finding some way to make into the next day. Mississippi Grind is all the best of 1970s independent cinema brought into the 21st century. It shrugs off the cocksure macho bravado of that era in exchange for a profoundly sobering contemplation of addiction and the hopeless. It’s relatively sure that life will not brighten for Gerry or Curtis, but for a brief moment, they find themselves the benefactors of great luck.

28. Under the Silver Lake (2018)
From my review:
Under the Silver Lake is a film greatly interested in esoterica and urban legends. Mitchell employs the same subtle world-building of It Follows to fill in details of a universe that doesn’t exist. There are some real-world references, particularly to music, but overall you quickly feel like you see at least the underbelly of our reality. Sam chances upon a bizarre zine at his local used records/bookstore and seeks out its author. The contents of the publication purport to tell all the secrets of the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. Using animation, Mitchell brings the zine to life, and we see the curse that led to the current plague of the enigmatic Dog Killer as well as a genuinely creepy story about an owl-woman who slinks into private homes and tears out the jugulars of their occupants while they sleep.

27. Mandy (2018, dir. Panos Cosmatos)
From my review:
This is nostalgia that isn’t done in a wink and nod manner. Cosmatos profoundly understands the emotional psychology of kids when they watch movies. He’s also done a very obvious study of low budget genre pictures from the early 1980s and comprehends them more thoroughly than most of the retro-Grindhouse films coming out in the decade. So much of the new wave of Grindhouse is played for ironic humor, but Cosmatos holds a reverence for the grimy, roughshod genre that inspires these homages.

26. Widows (2018, dir. Steve McQueen)
From my review:
In the hands of a more studio, executive-pleasing director Widows would just a be a slightly okay crime movie. However, when you combine the writing prowess of Gillian Flynn and the directorial touch of Steve McQueen you end up with a genre film that is elevated to exist in a middle ground adjacent to more arty fare. McQueen chooses to shut typically mundane conversation scenes with impressive and creative cinematography. One standout was a conversation held by Colin Ferrell’s sleazy politician Jack Mulligan and his assistant. Instead of medium shots or close-ups inside the car, the camera remains mounted on the hood of the vehicle. The conversation happens off screen as we drive from the projects in the ward to the edges which have become gentrified.

25. Thunder Road (2018, dir. Jim Cummings)
From my review:
Cummings doesn’t handhold us through the exposition of Arnaud’s fragmented life, he throws us in the deep end and allows the details of the story to unfold as we experience them. Very quickly we learn that in addition to the passing of his mother, Arnaud is dealing with a messy divorce where he struggles with sharing custody of his nine-year-old daughter. His attempts to make the world a better place for her, while and despite dealing with his emotional burden grounds the character. Arnaud is a complex character with severe anger issues; he isn’t an innocent when it comes to his problems. The best thing Cummings does is to not gloss over this fact, and give us a fully realized human character.

24. The Transfiguration (2017, dir. Michael O’Shea)
From my review:
The Transfiguration lives between a horror film and a drama. If you read or listen to reviews, you’ll hear a few of the same film titles referenced in comparison (Martin, Let the Right One In). O’Shea aims to go for a more “realistic” approach to vampires, echoed by Milo when Sophie brings up Twilight, and they have a discussion on the nature of these mythical monsters. We’re also left with ambiguity about the vampiric nature of Milo. He has a monologue where he sets up what he believes the rules are, mainly that you don’t get bitten by another vampire to become one. Instead, it is like a disease. Then, over time as you kill and drink you change bit by bit.

23. Advise & Consent (1962, dir. Otto Preminger)
From my review:
The most significant strength of Advise & Consent is its actors. The characters and dialogue as written could have ended up as the driest, bland procedural. However, the cast finds what is interesting about these people and plays those aspects up without becoming a caricature. The great Charles Laughton comes very close as Seeb Cooley, but when his character finally receives his comeuppance, we see a shift. The witty repartee of the Southern gent is a performance, an expected behavior from the body of the Senate. Cooley himself is driven by personal wounds and in the third act must face his most significant moment of humility, realizing the cost of his actions on a fellow member of the Senate.

22. Isle of Dogs (2018, dir. Wes Anderson)
From my review:
Beyond the exterior, Isle of Dogs tells a very heartwarming story, much like a children’s novel in the vein of Roald Dahl. This is a world where adults are exaggerated in their evil and drawn in amusing caricature. Children are plucky heroes able to overcome their typical exclusion in the big decisions of society and stake out a claim. The dogs of Trash Island get just enough brushstrokes of personality that we get a sense of them and this is one place where Isle of Dogs falters in comparison to The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

21. The Tale (2018, dir. Jennifer Fox)
From my review:
The Tale is a fantastic meditation on memory framed as a detective story. Jennifer is combing through testimonies and evidence trying to piece together chunks of her past that have seemed crystal clear for so long but now emerge as muddied. While the movie centers around the short story Jenny wrote in school the audience is never made privy to the entire document, only those pieces director Fox chooses to share with us. A forgotten photograph found between the pages of a book opens up doors that resurrect a character whom Jennifer had totally forgotten was there that whole summer.

20. The Best Man (1964, dir. Frank J. Schaffner)
From my review:
Vidal wants us to think about the type of person that is most qualified for the highest office in the land and what qualities are actually inherent in that sort of person. Hockstader questions Russell after his mental health issues come to light, asking, “You’re aren’t crazy are you?” to which Russell replies, “You’d have to be crazy to run for President.” There exists a strange balance the voters expect between the honorable statesman and the aggressive zealot, and throughout the life of the United States, the majority have moved all along this spectrum. Of all the movies I have watched so far in this series, The Best Man stands as the one that feels the most relevant to our current times.

19. Heaven Knows What (2014, dir. Josh & Benny Safdie)
From my review:
Heaven Knows What is a character piece, not a film concerned with plot beats or character arcs. It conveys the quicksand tone that life takes when drugs overtake your functions. For all the episodes that occur over the course of the hour and a half, Harley ends up right back where she started with very little changing because of her actions. We don’t have a definite conclusion, but we can infer about what the morning after will look like and what she’ll do to get more drugs. She lives in a chaotic routine, and we can surmise the pattern of her madness.

18. American Honey (2016, dir. Andrea Arnold)
From my review:
American Honey explores Star just as much as it looks at flyover country America. When we first meet Star, she is dumpster diving with two younger kids. Her relationship to them is never made explicit, but we can infer she just came into their lives at some point and never left. She views their survival as necessary enough to weather the sexual abuse of their father and the complete abandonment of their mother. Later in the film, Star comes across a home where the mother has slid into the oblivion of meth and her three children fend for themselves from day to day. Arnold isn’t trying to make any profound sweeping message about the current state of America; instead, she wants to observe it and present this view we don’t often see in the cinema.

17. Call Me By Your Name (2017, dir. Luca Guadagnino)
From my review:
There are a lot of movies that have been made that attempt to translate the experience of first love and subsequent heartbreak on screen. The majority have never fully succeeded in recreating that experience palpably, that is until this picture. The nervous anger of Elio, followed by heady submission to love and ending in bittersweet tear-stained memories by the fireplace resonate with the pure emotion of life. This is aided by the sumptuous cinematography of a landscape that evokes love and sensuality. The village Elio and his family are a part of, and their home’s estate is verdant and lush. The possibility of life vibrates in such places.

16. Whiplash (2014, dir. Damien Chazelle)
From my review:
Fletcher is one of the great film villains which is a hard task to accomplish when so much about antagonists in cinema has devolved into cliche. The key to making the conductor so nefarious is that he is kept as an enigma up until the last moments of the movie. We never see Fletcher outside of the studio for the first two-thirds of the film, and we never see him talking about anything other than his demands of his performers. He is the Nurse Ratched of jazz, singularly-minded in having things his way and uninterested in hearing what others think. In the same way, Ratched uses coldness as her weapon; Fletcher uses emotional irrationality. Everyone is off balance because they don’t know what he will do as a response to anything.

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