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: Steven Soderbergh Captures Claire Foy Possibly Losing Her Mind in His Latest ‘Unsane’ Experiment

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CREDIT: Fingerprint Releasing/Bleecker Street

This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Claire Foy, Jay Pharoah, Joshua Leonard, Aimee Mullins, Amy Irving, Juno Temple, Polly McKie

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rating: R for Pill-Induced Distortion, Unsanitary Use of a Tampon, and a Violent Spree

Release Date: March 23, 2018

Steven Soderbergh has made a career out of messing around with the standard bounds of cinema, often in ways that could come off as a gimmick in the hands of a less assured director. His latest, Unsane, sets itself apart with its iPhone 7 Plus 4K cinematography (credited to Soderbergh himself). Smartphone photography is certainly advanced enough to make a feature film look as professional as it ought to, so for those who are capable, the smartphone option simply deserves to be added to the docket of available cameras. Thematically, an iPhone fits Unsane’s story of a woman committed to a mental institution against her will, as it compresses the depth of field and lends a dull sheen that lingers in the uncanny valley between intimate and detached.

Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is a businesswoman rising up the corporate ladder, but she is haunted by a troubled past and feelings of loneliness in a new city. The nature of her job is never fully specified (kind of hilariously), but it appears to have something to do with customer service, and she also appears to have power to hire and fire. She has been dealing with occasionally crippling anxiety caused by a stalker . After one particularly bad episode, she drops by for a therapy session, which leads to her signing some forms, which somehow results in her being committed to a mental facility and unable to leave, as she has been declared a danger to herself and to others.

Sawyer’s circumstances quickly become too sinister for this to be a simple mistake or an innocent misdiagnosis, suggesting that a conspiracy is afoot. A staff member (Joshua Leonard) appears to be her stalker in disguise – has he orchestrated the whole thing? Or is the truth to be found from the most well-adjusted resident (Jay Pharoah), who divulges to Sawyer that she is the victim of an insurance scam in which the institution forces people to be committed for as long as their coverage will pay for it? Or is it some combination of forces, working together, or simultaneously coincidentally all ganging up on Sawyer? Of course, there is also the possibility that this could all be in her head, as everything unspools from her point of view the whole time.

This could be a formula for devastatingly unsettling ambiguity, but Soderbergh is not especially concerned about questioning the nature of reality. This is more just a setup for him to explore his particular tastes in psychological and claustrophobic thrills. In many respects, Unsane is satisfying simply on a lurid and pulpy level. Soderbergh does definitely dig deeper than that, presenting in stark terms how both institutional and corporate life can be dehumanizing, their loss of morals too easily justified with a sweep under the rug. Those moments of carelessness and lack of empathy do not usually result in ordeals as dangerous as Sawyer’s, but the opportunities for abuse are there for those who want to take advantage of them.

Unsane is Recommended If You Like: Side Effects, Shutter Island, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Gone Girl

Grade: 4 out of 5 Medical Forms