Saturday, January 12, 2019

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Top Ten of 2018

With apologies to All is True, Bad Times at the El RoyaleBlack Panther, Can You Ever Forgive Me?Crazy Rich AsiansThe Favourite, Good MannersThe Hate U GiveHereditary, Leave No Trace, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Mary Poppins ReturnsThe Old Man & the Gun, The Other Side of the Wind, Paddington 2Shirkers, ShopliftersA Simple FavorSwing Kids, and Zama, may I present....

My Top Ten of 2018....after the jump.

In alphabetical order:

A Bread Factory
dir/scr: Patrick Wang
cin: Frank Barrera

You can see it as one film, you can see it as two (Part One: For the Sake of Gold and Part Two: Walk with Me a While), but either way, there is nothing out there like A Bread Factory. The titular structure was once, indeed, a bread factory, but now serves as a community arts center - but the community is gentrifying, the arts are getting commercialized, the center is shifting. Some fight it, some embrace it, others straight up leave. A beautiful, hilarious genre-hopper. I cannot do justice to all it contains, but if you get a chance to see it (check out for details), you must. You must!

dir/scr: Lee Chang-Dong & Oh Jung-Mi
adapted from: "Barn Burning" by Haruki Murakami
cin: Hong Kyung-Pyo

Rarely do I find a mirror image in cinema like Yoo Ah-In's Jong-Su, a man who describes himself as a writer but goes about doing anything - running, sleuthing, screwing, day jobs - rather than actually sit down and write. That's one smirk-worthy detail in Lee Chang-Dong's slow-burn about class and apathy in modern South Korea (even the propaganda blaring across the border is just white noise). Like Poetry before it, Lee has made a film that is both beautiful and disturbing...and requires a bit of a sit afterward.

dir: Sebastián Lelio
scr: Sebastián Lelio & Rebecca Lenkiewicz
adapted from: the novel by Naomi Alderman
cin: Danny Cohen

Yes, it addresses the conflict between religion and homosexuality, the insidious microscope of a small community, having to live up to expectations set upon you by your status. But it never dismisses anyone's point of view, making cases both for and against this particular small Orthodox Jewish community and the lesbians who shake things up. Serious-minded, erotic, and emapthetic Disobedience has that in abundance.

First Man
dir: Damien Chazelle
scr: Josh Singer
adapted from: First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen
cin: Linus Sandgren

The epic story of the Apollo missions and the moon landing becomes an intimate domestic drama of a stoic man consumed by grief. Space is the literal high, the escape from the depressing reality of home. Even the final shot, to me, reads more as the tragic truth of the Armstrong marriage than a tender scene of reconciliation - there will always be that glass, that barrier between them. Few films this year had such a handle on why the intimate is the epic.

First Reformed
dir/scr: Paul Schrader
cin: Alexander Dynan

It has been a long fucking year, with scattered priorities and a permanent sense of helplessness. Enter First Reformed, where a minister in the grips of a crisis of faith begins to consider another, more radical belief system, one that's a tad more - hm, how to put this? - destructive. But effective! Ethan Hawke's committed performance is perfect for Paul Schrader's pitch-black sense of humor and thoughtful reflection on faith and impotence.

Little Forest
dir: Yim Soonrye
scr: Hwang Seong-Gu
adapted from: the manga by Daisuke Igarashi
cin: Lee Seung-Hun

Light entertainment? Perhaps, but so much feeling in every scene. Yet there's no bombastic score, no climactic clinch - everything is gradual. Our heroine's story does not merely take place within the film, but before and after as well - what we see is but a moment in a life. Effectively conveys how each sense can stir a separate memory. Romantic and realistic.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
dir: Bob Persichetti / Peter Ramsey / Rodney Rothman
scr: Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman, story by Phil Lord
adapted from: Marvel comics and characters, Spider-Verse created by Dan Slott

Every element just works - I don't remember the last time a film's climax gave me such goosebumps, so perfect in its culmination of the narrative, emotions, action. A trip visually and sonically. And oh! how I cried!

The Spy Gone North
dir: Yun Jong-Bin
scr: Kwon Seung-Hwi / Yun Jong-Bin
cin: Choi Chan-Min

A thriller that's all talk; a drama that becomes a buddy film; a critique of government with patriotic heroes. Balancing hope and cynicism, positing that the relationship between the North and South Korean governments is, or at least was, far more symbiotic than they allow the people to realize. Caught in the middle are a South Korean spy and his North Korean contact, men loyal to their countries, men who believe in the values they are hired to protect.

dir: Luca Guadagnino
scr: David Kajnagich
adapted from: the 1977 film written by Dario Argento & Daria Nicolodi
cin: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom

What's it all about, huh? The witchcraft, the dancing, the Baader-Meinhof shit, the Holocaust guilt, the coven power struggle - taken altogether, what does it all mean? A changing world? A cycle of evil? A series of historical tragedies heralding the return of the Mother of Sighs? I'm still figuring it out. Maybe it's not that deep. I just know the chills I got watching it, the thrill I felt at its conclusion, the nausea I kept down during the more harrowing sequences.

The Wife
dir: Björn L Runge
scr: Jane Anderson
adapted from: the novel by Meg Wolitzer
cin: Ulf Brantås

Much of the conversation about this movie is focused on Glenn Close's incredible performance, deservedly so: the pas de deux between her and Jonathan Pryce nails the comfortable quiet of decades of marriage, wherein an entire conversation can be held in a look. But she's not working alone: screenplay, direction, score all work together to create a portrait of an unusual marriage whose power structures are more complex than they seem.

And there it is, the unranked Top Ten. The cream that rose to the top? You'll have to wait for Monday's Hollmann Awards Nominations...

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