Best Movies of 2018

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CREDIT: Courtesy of the Studios

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

I saw nearly 200 new movies in 2018, a personal record, and yet, there were still a couple dozen that I wish had more time to see. If you had told me just three years ago how many movies I would see this year, I would assume that everything would be crossed off my 2018 cinema checklist. But as I get deeper and deeper into the world of film journalism and analysis, I become ever more aware of just how seemingly limitless the cinematic landscape is. Despite my shortcomings, I am confident that I managed to put together a top 10 list that at the very least hints at all the storytelling diversity that the medium had to offer this year.

But before we get to that, here are some more 2018 movies that I loved: Assassination Nation, Bad Times at the El Royale, Boy Erased, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Commuter, The Death of Stalin, The Favourite, Gemini, Green Book, The Hate U Give, Hereditary, Instant Family, The Old Man & the Gun, Paddington 2, Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Searching, A Simple Favor, Suspiria, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, Three Identical Strangers, Tully, and Venom.

10. Unsane – Claire Foy gets totally gaslit about her mental state, while Steven Soderbergh captures the whole charade on an iPhone. It’s more than a gimmick, as he expands his cinematic language, and a disturbing scam gets indicted in the process.

9. Isle of Dogs – Wes Anderson’s Japan-set animated canine adventure navigates some tricky business about cultural appropriateness, but it’s still a whimsical, yet thrillingly dangerous tale with delightfully quirky animation and an evergreen warning against tyrannical government.

8. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – The best superhero movie of 2018 was molded by the baggage of history while managing to also be revolutionary in a way that didn’t seem possible anymore in this era of comic book movie overload. Every Spider-Man story has partly been about how we all have the capacity to be heroic Spider-Beings; few prove it as imaginatively as Into the Spider-Verse.

7. Eighth GradeEighth Grade is basically anxiety distilled into its purest cinematic form. How could it not be? It focuses on a teenage girl in 2018 whose life is inexplicably tied to her screens, and it’s directed by Bo Burnham, who has captured his own anxiety for the raw material in his live shows. It sounds like a nightmare, and it kind of is, but it is also singularly exhilarating and inspiring.

6. BlacKkKlansman – Colorado Springs’ first black detective picks up the phone and cold-calls the KKK, setting off a batty infiltration that comments on the persistence of bigotry and the inspiration of blaxploitation. If Ron Stallworth’s story weren’t true, would Spike Lee have to have created it? He certainly had to do something to get us electrified in this still-way-too-discriminatory real world.

5. Widows – A trio of women lose their criminal husbands and are left to pull off a multimillion dollar heist in their (dis)honor. Meanwhile, Chicago’s political machine keeps dirtily chugging along. Steve McQueen’s top-notch skills elevate the message and thrills of every single frame.

4. First Reformed – The movie of 2018 that I’ve thought about the most since seeing it. Ethan Hawke plays Ernst Toller, a reverend counseling a man who has grown profoundly fatalistic over the state of a world ravaged by global warming. He catches something from this member of his flock – is it a disease, or perhaps an epiphany? If you’re alive in 2018 and cannot relate to Toller, you’re not paying attention.

3. The Endless – Two brothers are living on their own after escaping from the cult they grew up in, but they cannot quite escape the pull of its gravity. Upon returning for a visit, they discover the elliptical truth of what is really going on, and a new landmark vision of sci-fi horror comes to fruition.

2. Sorry to Bother You – Cash Green uses his “white voice” to become a successful telemarketer, and that’s only the start of capitalism taking him for all that he’s worth. Boots Riley’s incendiary clarion call to workers’ rights is bold, everything-AND-the-kitchen-sink filmmaking.

1. Annihilation – A group of scientists and doctors (who all happen to be female) head into Area X, where a bunch of weird goings-on confound and entrance them. All forms of life in this realm are more or less cross-bred with each other, creating utter strangeness, terrifying abominations, and above all, sublime beauty.

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This Is a Movie Review: BlacKkKlansman

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CREDIT: Focus Features

This post was originally published on News Cult in August 2018.

Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Jasper Pääkönen, Ryan Eggold, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson, Robert John Burke, Corey Hawkins

Director: Spike Lee

Running Time: 135 Minutes

Rating: R for Incendiary Language and Images, Plus a Few Outbursts of Violence

Release Date: August 10, 2018

Going undercover is the most nerve-wracking work I can possibly imagine. Living in a constant state of dishonesty causes so many problems. Maybe this is one type of lying that can be justified morally, but that does not mean it is without consequences. It warps your sense of self and tears at the seams of all your close relationships. I have never had to go undercover myself, and thank God, because watching it in movies is stressful enough. The undercover experiences of Jewish Colorado Springs detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) only serve to confirm this perception. But the approach of his black partner, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), reveals that at least one person is built to handle the cognitive dissonance of going undercover.

Stallworth and Zimmerman’s infiltration into the Ku Klux Klan is the electrifying and infuriatingly relevant story of BlacKkKlansman, one of the most crowd-pleasing and just plain best joints in Spike Lee’s career. My main reaction to this flick is that if the real Stallworth is anything like the way Washington plays him, then he is one of the most righteously insane people who has ever lived. This is the first black officer in the history of the Colorado Springs police department, and his instinct when he sees a classified ad in the newspaper for the KKK is to contact them for more information. Furthermore, he treats his phone conversations with David Duke (Topher Grace) as an opportunity to pull off a long con to prove to the notorious grand wizard that he is not so adept at telling apart the races as he thinks he is. Stallworth’s actions may put himself and his fellow officers in the line of cross-burning fire, and Zimmerman calls him out for treating what should be a job as a crusade. But when unabashed racism is still delivering deadly violence to its targets, bold action is required to keep people safe.

Lee, of course, does not shy away from the rotting, anti-humanist message at the core of the KKK, but directly calling it out for what it is can still be a lot of fun. The entirety of Stallworth’s dialogue seems designed to inspire the dual reactions of “Can you believe what he’s saying?” and “That’s probably exactly what we need to hear, though.” “With the right white man, we can do anything” might very well be the slogan of American as filtered through the lens of Spike Lee. The KKK members are also a hoot without hiding their despicableness, with Grace seamlessly capturing the banality of evil and Alec Baldwin cameoing as a bumbling propagandist. Laura Harrier is just as essential as a Black Student Union leader who Ron becomes romantically involved with. Their discussions about blaxploitation and where the soul of fighting for justice should lie are the stuff of geeky film buffs’ delight. If you’re looking to have a fun time, seeing BlacKkKlansman is a great option, but Lee makes sure to unequivocally remind us of what we’re fighting for by including a coda of real-life footage from the 2017 Charlottesville riots. The historical passage of time in America is in many ways not so linear, and Lee is doing his best to capture it like lightning.

BlacKkKlansman is Recommended If You Like: Malcolm X, Chi-Raq, American Hustle

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Crank Calls