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Favorite Films of 2018 (25-19)

2018 wasn’t the best year for blockbusters though movies like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians made history. The Oscar nominations are home to such dreck as Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book, which only goes to show how out of touch that institution is and how badly needs it to be overhauled. However, 2018 was a great year for documentaries, indie films, female directors and new talent in general, and I can easily see many of these films as the starts of long, fruitful careers or major influences on newer generations of filmmakers.

25. Shirkers

Dir. Sandi Tan

While it falls into a long line of documentary thrillers (Three Identical Strangers, Tickled, Dear Zachary), Shirkers stands apart in its focus on the filmmaking process, even as it goes into more conventional thriller territory (strange, considering how bizarre the man who stole their footage was). I loved especially the camaraderie of the three young Singaporean women who were making the film and how clear-eyed they were in their assessment of themselves and each other. Jasmine at one time declares that Sandi could be an asshole right to her face as she is interviewing her, a refreshing bit of candor and humor.

24. Minding the Gap

Dir. Bing Liu

Minding the Gap is kind of the inverse of Shirkers in that one young man takes footage that he has filmed for years to delve into trauma and the troubled pasts of all three young men featured in this film, including himself. For a first-time filmmaker, Liu has a keen eye for the beauty of the working-class town of Rockford, Illinois and he also has an unwavering, if not completely objective eye on himself and his friend, especially one friend’s abuse of his wife. It makes what was ostensibly one of the many skateboarding themed movies of 2018 and made it a vivid piece of neorealism.

23. Eighth Grade

Dir. Bo Burnham, starring Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton

I was peeking through my fingers for so much of this movie because, while it talks about the travails of growing up in a modern digital world where your shame can be recorded so easily for posterity, Kayla’s struggles to fit in and express herself are timeless. I feel this film really will hit hard only for people who had a hard time at her age and the kind of people who don’t get her probably peaked too early.

22. The Death of Stalin

Dir. Armando Iannucci, starring Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor

Honestly, Iannucci could have made this about any regime (Veep is very much an Obama era piece) but the sheer idiocy and underhandness of the Soviet officials is not just hilarious to behold but also rather terrifying in the ramifications of those thoughtless actions. For the most part, the movie plays almost as pure farce as ridiculous characters quibble over the smallest things like what type of streamers to use at the funeral. Then it ends on an especially dour note that reminds us that farce is often reality.

21. Blindspotting

Dir. Carlos Lopez Estrada, starring Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal

If you had told me what happened in the climax of this movie, I would have expected something a bit more precious and possibly pretentious. Instead, this film about a man trying to keep his head down so that he can leave his halfway house for parole is a loving look at this Oakland neighborhood, while it also is a exploration of how America’s history of prejudice and racism is so ingrained in this neighborhood and people’s psyche. It’s not a joyless movie as there is a lot of humor but there is a frank admission of just how stacked the deck is against the people of this city and how that may never fundamentally change.

20. Sorry to Bother You

Dir. Boots Riley, starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, et al.

This was probably the boldest, weirdest movie I saw this year. Lakeith Stanfield plays a telemarketer who manages to get ahead by having a good “white voice.” If the film had just been a straightforward exploration of this idea, I would have liked it quite a bit. Instead Riley runs with that basic plot and leaves the damn football field behind. Even if I wasn’t a hundred percent on board with how it developed, I applaud mightily Riley’s dedication to make the film he damn well wanted. It’s a sharp, Swiftian satire on commercialism and racism that is not so much prescient as giving only slightly exaggerated versions of the institutions that foster inequality in our society.

19. Lean on Pete

Dir. Andrew Haigh, starring Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Zahn, et al.

While Lean on Pete is an absurd title for a film that seems like a children’s movie if you just heard the plot, this is a somber look at the isolation of Charlie Plummer’s character as he tries to find a place where he and his horse Lean on Pete can be accepted. It’s saved from complete dourness through Plummer’s performance and Haigh’s sure hand at directing melodramatic material with a really clear vision, never dipping into sentimentality or masochistic self-pity. It’s a beautiful, dark poem on how the whole world can be constantly against you and that you should appreciate whatever empathy actually comes across your way.

 

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