Top 10 of 2018 (My 10th Top 10)

31 12 2018

My goodness, have I really been doing these for 10 years now? I know I play the gobsmacked card at just about every one of these milestones, but when you take a step back and think about how time moves both quickly and imperceptibly, it has the power to bowl you over.

It’s so interesting to look back at my various top 10 lists and see how my top choices reflect how I’ve changed since writing this blog. There was my anxiety about being a loner in high school (“Up in the Air,” “Black Swan“), the awakening of a political consciousness as I watched cinema respond to the Great Recession in real time (“Win Win,” “The Queen of Versailles“), a freakout about identity after a semester abroad revealed a new side of myself (“American Hustle“) and the desire for deep connection and feeling in a dark world (“Manchester by the Sea,” “Call Me by Your Name“). Oh, and there was also a period where I fully believe I chose inarguable masterpieces (“The Immigrant” in 2014, “Inside Out” in 2015).

Who knows how I’ll feel looking back at this crop of choices down the line? I can’t worry about it now or think like that, though. As I can now see, learning more about these movies has also led to me learning more about myself. One unifying theme I picked out of the 2018 list is that six are roughly 90 minutes or less, and none are over two hours long. I watched 173 new releases in 2018 and spent over 875 hours watching movies during the year (thanks, Letterboxd, for that frightening statistic). Making that time count and not wasting it apparently counts for a lot with me these days!

A final note for longtime readers of Marshall and the Movies – namely, friends and family – I’m sure you’ve noticed that I am posting less and less on the blog these days. My work has primarily shifted to doing freelance writing on other websites so I can make a little bit of money off my words. I don’t regret this pivot, but I do wish that I’d done a better job about communicating that change to people who mostly come here (and to the Facebook page) looking for those takes. So, in 2019, I resolve to be better about sharing my work to my first real audience.

Thank you all, as always, for your time and support. No matter how your 2018 went, I hope your 2019 is filled with joy and splendor, be it cinematic or real.

So, without further ado, my 10 favorite films of 2018…

#10

Custody
Written and directed by Xavier Legrand
Starring Léa Drucker, Denis Ménochet and Thomas Gioria

Xavier Legrand made the family film of the year – if, of course, we’re talking about a “family film” as a movie about the institution of the family. (What, you don’t use it in this way?) His searingly emotional portrait of domestic violence demonstrates how a father’s outrage does more harm a wife; it tears apart a family. Legrand confidently steers the film from courtroom drama to kitchen-sink realism before ending up at all-out terror, and the result rattled me to my core.

Read my capsule review at Vague Visages, my interview with writer/director Xavier Legrand at Slant and my plea not to forget the film on Crooked Marquee.

#9

“If Beale Street Could Talk”
Written for the screen and directed by Barry Jenkins
Starring KiKi Layne, Stephan James and Regina King

In the novel “If Beale Street Could Talk,” author James Baldwin writes of the death that befell too many black Americans: “the kids had been told they weren’t worth shit and everything they saw around them proved it.” Barry Jenkins, the first filmmaker to adapt Baldwin for the screen in English, never shies away from depicting (and confronting) this history of racial disparities in America. But the film soars because Jenkins also locates the rich, colorful beauty of the love that blooms in the shadow of inequality. Managing this balancing act of Baldwin’s two sides is a cinematic feat for the ages.

Read my interview with writer/director Barry Jenkins on Slant.

#8

“Cold War”
Written and directed by Paweł Pawlikowski
Starring Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot and Borys Szyc

I’ve rarely been the type that responds to historical epics on screen, so perhaps it comes as no surprise that Paweł Pawlikowski’s “Cold War” was right up my alley. The film chronicles 15 years in the shadow of the Iron Curtain in Poland, but it does so without any grand stagings of key events or long expository discussions. “Cold War” fulfills the oxymoronic label of intimate epic by registering tectonic shifts in history through a fastidiously composed image, an ellipse of years in the story or (most impressively) the ups and downs of a pair of star-crossed lovers.

Read my interview with star Joanna Kulig (coming soon).

#7

“You Were Never Really Here”
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
Written for the screen by Lynne Ramsay and Jonathan Ames
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov and Alessandro Nivola

Fittingly, the only movie on this list that I won’t have written anything about is the one whose power rendered me the most wordless. On both occasions I saw “You Were Never Really Here,” Lynne Ramsay’s command of the visual language of cinema left me completely rapt and stunned. Her ability to hit the key beats of a film while doling out as little information as necessary to move the story along is unparalleled. If genre-lovers are wondering where the next wave in thrillers will come from, look to Ramsay as a model. Less, in this case, was most certainly more.

#6

“Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?”
Directed by Travis Wilkerson

Many films in 2018 tackled racism from the perspective of those who it targets and disenfranchises. Travis Wilkerson’s documentary “Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?,” an investigation into his family’s lore about a relative murdering a black man in Alabama with no consequences, paints a damning portrait of racism’s perpetrators and beneficiaries – past and present. At the beginning of this paragraph, I originally typed “from the perspective of who it affects,” which I had to delete because it was incorrect. Wilkerson’s odyssey into the dark heart of American injustice demonstrates that racism affects us all, whether it props us up or pushes us down.

Read my plea not to forget the film on Crooked Marquee.

#5

“mid90s”
Written and directed by Jonah Hill
Starring Sunny Suljic, Lucas Hedges and Na-Kel Smith

I ended up becoming somewhat of a public cheerleader for “mid90s” with a pull-quote from my review receiving some prominent placements in trailers and on theater standees. I’m glad it happened for a movie that genuinely moved me so that those words weren’t just empty hyperbole. Jonah Hill’s first feature plopped me directly back into adolescence with his portrayal of finding your people, replacing your icons and unconfidently claiming your confidence. While my personal journey looked nothing like Stevie’s entry into the skateboarding community, that did nothing to hamper my identification and understanding of the characters. I still think about the force with which Stevie’s first big skate down the street, unfolding as The Mamas and The Papas’ “The One I Love” swells, hit me in that theater.

Read my review on Slashfilm as well as my interview with writer/director Jonah Hill and the cast on Slashfilm.

#4

Lean on Pete
Written for the screen and directed by Andrew Haigh
Starring Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny

No film in 2018 better captured the pastoral beauty and aching tragedy of America than Andrew Haigh’s “Lean on Pete.” This devastating film follows tender, innocent Charley (Charlie Plummer in the year’s breakout performance) as his need for love and acceptance gives way to a more immediate need for food and shelter. Thankfully, Haigh trusts the story and his performers to convey the stakes so he does not need to resort to cloying, gimmicky filmmaking. As harrowing as the film might sound from this description, “Lean on Pete” is not a total downer of a watch. But the relief derived from its ending is among the type only achievable by treading through some dark territory.

Read my review on Slashfilm and my interview with writer/director Andrew Haigh on Crooked Marquee.

#3

“Eighth Grade”
Written and directed by Bo Burnham
Starring Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton and Emily Robinson

Anna Meredith’s swelling electronic score might seem a bit out of place in Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade,” which details fairly ordinary occurrences in the life of a modern adolescent girl. Yet its grandiosity gets at what makes the film so great. Burnham captures the interior lives of an eighth grade girl, someone for whom getting up in the morning and facing another day in that gauntlet known as the school hallway feels like the scariest thing anyone has ever had to face. The film’s refusal to depict the middle school experience with condescension or derision is more than just a refreshing change of pace. It tells people still living through that pubescent war zone that their emotions and their stories are important.

Read my interview with writer/director Bo Burnham on Slant.

#2

First Reformed
Written and directed by Paul Schrader
Starring Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried and Cedric the Entertainer

With “First Reformed,” iconic writer/director Paul Schrader executes a film that achieves a remarkable duality. On the one hand, his rumination on religion and faith in a modern world beset by corporate greed and environmental calamity could not be more timely. Call it “the movie we need right now,” if you must. But at the same time, Schrader’s film connects the dots between his many works surrounding the dangerous “man alone in a room” and consummates his long-running obsession with transcendental film style. Not a shot or a moment feels out of place in this austere yet passionate masterwork.

Read my review on Slashfilm.

#1

“The Favourite”
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Written by Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis
Starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz

All culture seems to be political now, whether we like it or not. So it should come as no surprise that my favorite film of the year, aptly named “The Favourite,” should engage with that in some way without being about it or fixating on it entirely. I look forward to the day when perhaps Yorgos Lanthimos’ absurd sendup of the well-mannered costume drama in a royal court does not remind me of the current occupants of the White House. As two scheming underlings of Queen Anne’s seek to manipulate the throne for their own ends, “The Favourite” finds delirious joy in the bloodsport of political power games.

But the film is more than just the bickering, pettiness and quipping, which enjoyed on their own can often perpetuate a vicious cycle. Lanthimos grounds the film in deeply human longing: for love, for acceptance, for security. Towards the end, the humor abruptly stops, and we’re left with a scenario in which the game has been fought and won – yet no one is happy or fulfilled. Perhaps my love of “The Favourite” stems from a hidden desire to see us grapple with our current climate in these terms. Will vanquishing our rivals make us feel any better about ourselves? Will finding a more obedient supplicant bring us any more happiness? Does the drive for increased power and status change us fundamentally? Is there something about the very seat of power that makes us complacent and jaded? I don’t know, and (per usual) Lanthimos does not presume to answer any of these questions in the film. But I think we’d be better off as a people if we stopped and really thought about them.

Read my review on Slashfilm, my recap of a press day with Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Yorgos Lanthimos on Slashfilm as well as my interview with star Joe Alwyn on Slashfilm.

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One response

2 01 2019
Keith

Some really strong selections. I caught up with “Custody” just before I posted my list. I just landed outside of my Top 10 but I absolutely loved it. Great seeing someone else talking about it.

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