Brady Blackburn was a rising star on the rodeo circuit until he suffers brain damage after being thrown from a bronco. He’s back home now, a metal plate in his head and bouts of nausea unsure of his future as a rider. In the meantime, his father and sister share a trailer with him struggling against poverty. Brady works through his pride and gets a job working at a local grocery store trying to keep the family afloat. However, always lingering in the back of his mind is this hunger to get back up on a horse again. He tests the waters by helping a couple of people break stallions they’ve recently purchased and feels the pull. Brady even saves up money and gets help from his dad to buy an Arabian named Apollo that he sees as a path to recovery and his future. But something inside Brady keeps telling him this dream may be over.
Here are the best shows I watched over the course of 2018.
Detroiters Seasons 1 & 2 (Comedy Central) It’s always my luck to get into a show as soon as the network decides to cancel it. That is also true of the best thing I (re)watched on this list which you’ll see at the end. Detroiters is a show co-created by and starring Sam Richardson (Veep) and Tim Robinson (SNL). The series tells the story of best friends Tim and Sam who are running Tim’s dad’s advertising agency after his father ends up having a nervous breakdown and is committed. So the duo goes about creating advertisements for clients that aren’t something you’d see airing outside a local market. However, the show isn’t even really about the workplace; its strengths are the friendship between its two central characters and the highlighting the city of Detroit. The comedy here is not meant to shock you, but it also isn’t without an edge, it’s a wonderful balance you don’t find too often anymore. You can’t help but genuinely feel good after watching an episode.
Cold War (2018) Written Pawel Pawlikowski & Janusz Glowacki (with collaboration from Piotr Borkowski) Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
In 1949, Wiktor Warski and two colleagues traveled across rural Poland recording the folk music of the peasants. Using these recordings, they open a music school where they audition youths to become part of a traveling repertoire that will highlight the vanishing old world culture of the nation. Wiktor is instantly smitten by Zula, a young woman who shows remarkable will. The two quickly get caught up in a love affair. As the students perform they gain acclaim and interest from the Communist Party who pressures them to write a song about Stalin in the style of Polish folk music. This begins a fracturing and leads Wiktor to plan a defection when they travel to perform in the Soviet sector of Berlin. From there Wiktor and Zula start a thirteen-year-long struggle, falling in and out of love, drawn to each other by some invisible force greater than themselves.
The Tale (2018) Written & Directed by Jennifer Fox
Jennifer Fox is a successful documentarian and film professor, in her 40s living in New York City. Life is great for her. Then her mother calls upset because she found one of Jennifer’s short stories she wrote when she was in middle school. She sends the story to her daughter who suddenly begins to recall the summer of her thirteenth year that she spent living with a horseback riding teacher, Mrs. G. A neighbor, Bill, was having an affair with Mrs. G and worked as a running coach to make sure Jennifer and the two other girls attending kept in shape. But Jennifer doesn’t remember what happened completely right and as she speaks with others her memories shift and change. She had thought she was fifteen at the time — the details of Mrs. G and Bill’s relationship blur. Also, most important of all Jennifer remembers having a relationship with Bill as well. The deeper she goes, the more she uncovers and clarifies.
Burning (2018) Written by Jungmi Oh & Chang-dong Lee Directed by Chang-dong Lee
Jong-su Lee is from a rural community north of Seoul but travels down to the big city to do odd jobs. While on one of these gigs he runs into Hae-mi, a woman he grew up with but only has faint memories of. They go out for drinks, and she explains how she’s going on a trip to Africa soon and wonders if he would stop by and feed her cat while she’s gone. Lee comes over to her apartment where they have sex, and then his life becomes distracted by his father’s arrest for assault and caring for the farm. When Hae-mi returns from her vacation she has Ben in two, the only other Korean she met while in Africa. Ben immediately captures her attention, and any feelings she had for Lee seem to have evaporated. However, Lee feels that there is something off about Ben, a man who makes money through mysterious circumstances and admits he doesn’t understand the emotions of other people. Lee fears that something terrible is going to happen to Hae-mi.
First Man (2018) Written by Josh Singer Directed by Damien Chazelle
Neil Armstrong was not averse to challenges. Working as a test pilot in the 1950s and early 60s instilled a seeming never-ending coolness over him. Even as his toddler daughter is dying from a brain tumor, he holds in everything, including from his wife. He only allows the emotions to break through in private. In the wake of his youngest passing, Neil applies to Project Gemini, wanting to put his mind and energies into what seems to be an impossible task, getting humans to the moon. Over the course of almost a decade, Armstrong and his fellow astronauts work through challenges and tragedies to achieve their goal. Finally, Neil and two others are chosen to be the ones to be the voyagers into the unknown.
I spent the year watching and revisiting the entire film catalog of distributor/producer A24. Now that I’ve seen all they have to offer, here are my top twenty favorites in ascending order.
20. Lean on Pete (2018) – Written & Directed by Andrew Haigh
From my review: It was so much darker and bleaker than that. Yes, there is somewhat of an uncertain happy ending at the film’s conclusion, but overall Lean on Pete is a character study of a young man put through the wringer by life. I loved it. I don’t think I have seen a picture in a long time that so unflinchingly depicts the descent into homelessness that a young person can encounter. Charley tries to argue that he isn’t to a fellow transient in a shelter, who replies with a chuckle and lets Charley know, “Sorry to break it to you kid…”