Scott’s Top Ten of 2018
2018 was an especially strong year for cinema. I considered many variations of this list, and have viewed many others with which I can find little objection. If that’s not an abundance of riches, well…I’ll settle for it.
Honorable mentions go to Minding the Gap; 24 Frames Angels Wear White; Hale County This Morning, This Evening; Infinite Football; The Spy Who Dumped Me; and The House That Jack Built.
10. Claire’s Camera
Hong Sang-soo takes Isabelle Huppert and Kim Min-hee to the Cannes Film Festival and draws all of those elements as far away from themselves as possible. Huppert plays a teacher who’s never been to Cannes; Min-hee an assistant to a sales agent. When she sleeps with the director whose film they’re selling, who just happens to be her boss’s lover, she’s left without a job to wander Cannes and meet a visiting teacher. But how do they meet? What does the teacher have to gain from getting involved with all these Koreans? And why does she keep taking pictures of everyone? None of these questions are answered, because they don’t really matter. Just stop and pet the large dog.
9. If Beale Street Could Talk
A film with complete command over every moment, set firmly in a world no one can control. Barry Jenkins adapts James Baldwin with a heavy streak of Wong Kar-wai, but this is a million miles from imitation. You can’t fake breathing. Jenkins breathes this film to life through bold colors and gorgeous tracking shots. His lively, magnificent cast roars and sighs in every shift and glance, every ray of sunshine and puff of smoke, the life of Harlem and the hollowed-out center of prison.
8. Madeline’s Madeline
We grow out before we grow up; out of our house, out of our mind, out of the reach of our parents and the limits of our control. Madeline (our new superstar Helena Howard) hopes to find some center away from her mother (Miranda July, never better) with an experimental theatre troupe. But when you’re young and talented, there’s always another Mother waiting to consume you. Josephine Decker’s inventive, ever-shifting, self-referential, and self-biographical third (fourth?) feature was developed alongside hers and Howard’s working relationship, and necessarily comes to no conclusion about that process. It starts kind of fucked up and ends just as fucked up, but we got to dress as animals and explore a bit of the utter emotional hellscape of being sixteen.
7. A Bread Factory
The rent is too damn high and there are too many vultures waiting to pay it. Dorothea (Tyne Daly) and her romantic/professional partner Greta (Elisabeth Henry-Macari) are defending their community theatre from their own community, which is desperate to sell their soul for a slice of international acclaim. The devil in this faustian bargain is a Chinese performance duo that wants to tear down The Bread Factory and build a performance center that will serve everyone, so long as they serve It. It is whatever It needs to be, and as soon as you let It in, a whole lot of other commercial interests come with It. So it takes Patrick Wang two two-hour films to chronicle it, replete with musical numbers and tap dances and courtroom showdowns and melancholic confessionals disguised as theatre pieces, or vice versa. And a whole lot of funny about just how ramshackle community theatre really is.
Hirokazu Koreeda doesn’t know family, but he wants to find the limits. His past several films have interrogated what this common unit can actually constitute, how much it can hold, how much it can give, and most importantly, how much it can withstand. Can it withstand poverty and crime, as it must here? It’ll make you cry trying, that’s for sure.
5. The Other Side of the Wind
Orson Welles doesn’t know you, and you sure as hell don’t know Orson Welles; so who are you to say what Welles would have wanted from the film he left incomplete at the time of his death? A team of scholars and his former coworkers did their damnedest, and came away with a thoroughly remarkable film about how really you just don’t know anyone, and what a shame that is. That chief someone is Jake Hannaford (John Huston), who has a new film premiering. It’s 197X, and the culture’s changing, and he’s trying to change with it. He’s calling it The Other Side of the Wind, and it’s about kids and sex and revolution. Jake Hannaford doesn’t know anything about kids and sex and revolution. He doesn’t even know everything about himself. But his friends have a whole lot of theories, and over the course of a tres-Hollywood party, they’re going to let them out for air. The colors tell half the story, the swirling soundtrack the other half, and the faces – captured in every stock of film from every penny Welles could lay his hands on – well…they tell the other side.
4. Leave No Trace
Have we covered growing up? And growing apart from your parents? And finding that what they want from life may not be what you want, and that’s okay, but it’s still damn sad? Well, Leave No Trace is more than okay and damn sad. Debra Granik trades the impenetrable Ozarks for the ever-inviting Northwest, full of people of good humor looking to offer one another a hand. Will (Ben Foster) is one of them, and he’ll do whatever it takes for his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), except stop sleeping outside in tents. He’s smart, and they live well, and he raises her well with a good education. But she’s getting old, and “well” may not be enough anymore, and the damned thing just broke my heart trying to put it all together again.
3. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
You have your past, and you might have your future, but for now you have to live in the present. And the present has to account for all those things, all the things you’ve done or might have done or wish to do, and you have to make sense of that all every minute of every day. John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) has a lot of make sense of, and a lot of mantras he falls back on to remind him about it – his mother abandoned him before he knew her and he’s a heavy alcoholic and he was paralyzed below the waist in an auto accident and lately (or maybe eons ago) he’s started taking up cartooning. He’ll never be a saint, and he might not ever really be steady. But he’s working on holding himself together. Gus Van Sant’s latest, exquisite film jumbles past, present, and maybe some fantasies to create an inner life that’s rich and full and deeply honest with itself and you. It’s sentimental about what’s sweet and bitter about what sucks, and if we can all learn to live with both ends we might just make it through.
2. Let the Sunshine In
Claire Denis’s romantic/pessimistic film about dating in middle age offers none of the hope that its American counterparts in the genre (your The Meddler or I’ll See You in My Dreams and so forth) constantly insist upon, but all of the sweetness of finding connection when you least expect it. Isabelle (Juliette Binoche, giving the performance of the year) left her husband in search of something more and is having the damnedest time finding it. What each of these small, unannounced vignettes provide is the promise that this new romance might just be the one, with the deeply funny acknowledgement of how disappointing it’d be if it were. Shine on, and let it rain.
- Cold War
It’s impossible to talk about Pawel Pawlikowski’s magnificent new film without discussing its breadth and its brevity. Spanning twenty years within a running time under 90 minutes, it never feels rushed or cut short, except to the extent the characters feel their lives have been. Each sequence unveils more than what it contains, its world opening up like one of those flowers you put in water to watch them bloom. Within it are two extraordinary performances – Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig – whose twin fire-and-ice energies propel forth a relationship that cannot last, because neither character cannot be happy. They don’t even know what that looks like. Lukasz Zal’s exquisite cinematography, far from shuddering these people in deterministic compositions, instead captures precisely the space they inhabit – and even the space they wish they could inhabit – with grace and generosity, breaking its own rules when needed. Pauline Kael rightly said that great films aren’t always perfect ones, but this one is