Watch And/Or Listen to This: Shangela’s Spirit Award Best Feature Drag Medley

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CREDIT: Film Independent/YouTube

If you’re not watching the Spirit Awards, this is what you’re missing.

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.

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Eighth Grade’ is a Rewarding Portrayal of Adolescent Anxiety

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2018.

Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton

Director: Bo Burnham

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: R, Because The MPAA is Worried the Target Audience Can’t Handle a Frank Portrayal of Teen Sexuality

Release Date: July 13, 2018 (Limited)

I tend to be careful about recommending any movie that effectively showcases anxiety, because if it is well-made, it will all but guarantee an unpleasant experience for viewers who are prone to anxiety. In the case of Eighth Grade, which unflinchingly portrays the age that is for many the height of discomfort, it would seem to be the peak of a risky proposition. As 13-year-old Kayla, Elsie Fisher thoroughly embodies a state of constant uncertainty. If you have any empathy at all, it is a big ask on the part of the film to watch her story. But the end result is not a transfer of Kayla’s anxiety, but rather invigoration. It is quite the emotional wringer, but I am grateful for the experience, and I imagine you will be, too.

Writer/director Bo Burnham has talked about his own experiences with anxiety in his comedy performances, and he has found that teenage girls related to that side of himself more than any other group. Thus why he made a film about a middle school girl instead of what could have easily been something autobiographical. His understanding of permanent unease is clearly fundamental, which is abundantly clear in his sensory decisions. Kayla’s arrivals at various locations – school, the mall, a pool party – are accompanied by her own internal soundtrack. It tends to be exuberant party music, but overly busy with a staccato rhythm that gives it a jagged edge.

Kayla attempts to lift up herself (as well as anyone who might be out there listening) with YouTube videos offering advice about how to be more confident and adventurous in day-to-day life. Alas, we see her in a seemingly unending struggle to reap the benefits of following her own words. But by the end, she is genuinely excited for high school and in a much warmer place with her doting single father (Josh Hamilton). It seems like there really is a light at the end of the anxiety tunnel, and against all odds, Eighth Grade manages to leave me more hopeful than most movies. I hope that is not due to the randomness of my own shifting emotions, but rather genuine inspiration.

Eighth Grade is Recommended If You Like: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Inside Out, Emotional nakedness

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Guccis