Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Best of 2018 So Far

Image result for 2018 films
This is not a "Best of 2018" list exactly. Rather, this is a ranking of the best films I have seen that were released in 2018 as of this date. As such, some films that have been highly praised will not appear on this list because I have not seen them.

Over time, I expect to see more 2018 releases, which will perhaps invite this list being revisited. For now, let's go over the Top Ten Films I have seen this 2018.

Number 10:
Disobedience snuck up on me with its tale of forbidden love and redemption in a Hasidic British community. Rachel Weisz is extraordinary as this woman yearning for acceptance but continuously struggling between the world of her youth and the world of her present. As the obscure object of desire, Rachel McAdams more than matches her costar. For me though, it is Alessandro Nivola as the rabbi full of faith caught between these forces that delivers the best performance in the film.

In any sane world Disobedience would be the talk of awards, but it has fallen through the cracks, a real shame given how good the three leads are.

Number 9:
A Quiet Place

I was most reluctant to watch A Quiet Place as I am not a fan of horror films. However, cowriter/director John Krasinski created an intelligent film more about family than about aliens. Few films have used both silence and sound to great effect. Moreover, A Quiet Place has us care about this besieged family and the parents willing to do anything to protect their children.

A Quiet Place is really more about parental love and the struggles of protecting children from 'monsters' than it is about aliens. It's a very human story among the creatures, and one that works both as a straight horror/science-fiction film and allegory about love.

Number 8:
Green Book

Green Book has been sold as a male Driving Miss Daisy, which is both a good description and a subject for ire.  Green Book is loved and hated in equal measure, seen as both a film about two different men who find an unlikely friendship or a film that almost trivializes racism, making it almost adorable.

I am in the former camp. I can see where the latter side is coming from, and the film is not without flaws. However, I found it entertaining and thought it was more about two wildly different men looking past their own prejudices racial and social than about overall racism. It's an interesting story that held my attention and did make me think more about the barriers individuals put up due to class than to race.

Number 7:
The Favourite

I do not think The Favourite is historically accurate: there is scant evidence that Queen Anne indulged in 'the pleasures of the flesh' with her female courtiers, or even her male courtiers in her widowhood. However, who does not love a little royal decadence, complete with racing ducks?

What lifts The Favourite are the triumvirate of Olivia Colman as our somewhat bonkers Queen Anne and her dueling ladies Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. Each commands the screen in this wild tale of court intrigue and one-upsmanship, with power at stake. One can be Team Sarah or Team Abigail as the film really does not take sides. The Favourite is more than a film about three 'wicked' women. It's about power struggles both political and social, with some kinky royal sex, racing ducks and literally wigged-out Prime Ministers.

Number 6:
I Can Only Imagine
If films are about emotional experiences, I still continue to be moved by I Can Only Imagine, the biopic of Mercy Me frontman Bart Millard. I confess to not being a Mercy Me fan, but the song I Can Only Imagine has hit people of all faiths or lack of faith on a deeply emotional level, that longing for those loved ones now gone and 'what it would be like to be by Your side'.

It has its moments of comedy and may play fast and loose with chronology & facts, but the overall story of this one man's life, filled with loss, love, pain and ultimate forgiveness external and internal is just as impactful as the song itself. It also has strong work by J. Michael Finley, an actor better known on Broadway than in film, as Millard. It's so good you pretty much forget he's far too old to play him as a high school student, but you roll with it.

Number 5:
If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk does better what films like The Hate U Give tried for: discuss and advocate for social justice without being lecturing, at least until the end. It does this by giving us a tender and beautiful love story with beautiful people whom you care about. The film has a lyricism and poetry that envelops and welcomes you. It has beautiful performances all around and evokes a tenderness within it.

It does not shy away at the end from its message about the high rate of African-American men in prison, especially those caught in an unfair and uncaring legal system. It's an important message though the ending delivery of it caused the film to stumble a bit. That, however, does not take away from the gentility and beauty of this beautiful love story.

Number 4:
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse surprised me tremendously. Spidey has been much-abused in film: Spider-Man 3 is still among the worst films ever made, and the Andrew Garfield films have much to answer for. Even the Tom Holland films, while good, I found lacking, making Peter Parker into a total idiot. I found it acceptable in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but by Avengers: Infinity War I was hoping our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man would disappear...permanently.

With this animated version we get a somewhat new Spidey in Miles Morales, who proves himself to be a fantastic version: a mix of what made me love Peter Parker with his own combination of swagger and confusion. The animation is simply beautiful, thrilling and true to comic book format. The fact we have so many multi-verses where our various Spider-people (and Spider-Pigs) can mix well into the story also helped me get past a plot point involving Miles' version of Peter Parker.

I should note Peter/Spidey is the comic book character I hold closest to my heart, so for a while I was emotionally devastated. However, when I remembered there are millions of multi-verses, I felt better and could love Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse all the more.

Number 3:
Won't You Be My Neighbor?
The first of two documentaries on my Top Ten List, one leaves Won't You Be My Neighbor? with a greater respect and appreciation for Fred Rogers. This is not a hagiography or celebration of Mr. Rogers, nor does it revel in any 'cute' aspects of the 'persona'.

We find that Fred Rogers was as he appeared to be: a good man who wanted to make the lives of children better. There was no 'dark' side to Mr. Rogers, but there was a complexity, touches of eccentricity (his obsession with the number '143') and a greater depth than his detractors did not perceive.

I left Won't You Be My Neighbor? determined to be a healer not a hurter, someone who wanted to do good for his fellow man. I can't think of a greater legacy that any man could leave his fellow men.

Number 2:
Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is an astonishing work, with two of the best performances of the year.

Ben Foster has never broken through to the level his talent deserves. Leave No Trace is another addition to his extraordinary catalog of performances. He captures the complexity of the character, this haunted man who loves his daughter but who also damages her in that love.

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie is a real revelation as his daughter, a girl who loves her daughter and who has never questioned her circumstances, at least not openly, until a new world starts emerging to her.

Leave No Trace is a beautiful and haunting film that like A Quiet Place and If Beale Street Could Talk touches on the bonds of family, only this one shows that they do carry a price that may be too high.

Number 1:
Three Identical Strangers

The second of two documentaries on my Top Ten List, Three Identical Strangers is perhaps the wildest film of the year, shifting from a feel-good story of three separated triplets brought together by the most bizarre set of circumstances to a horror film about essentially mad scientists and their fiendish experiments.

Three Identical Strangers takes all these turns where three men are found to be similar yet different, their lives simultaneously enriched and wrecked by outside forces working in some bizarre version of a Mengele-like universe. It's one of those 'you can't believe this even if it is true' films, something that leaves one simply astonished, shocked, angered and heartbroken.

Next Time, no surprise, my Ten Worst Films of 2018 So Far.

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