A look back at some of the best films in 2018, as curated by your friendly neighborhood critic.
What a year it has been for your friendly neighborhood film critic. Besides the typical responsibility of keeping a critical eye on the films opening in our market, I assumed the role of curator/programmer for the Over-the-Rhine International Film Festival (newly rebranded after a strong run as ReelAbilities Cincinnati).
Expanding my purview of the film scene has had a direct impact on my approach to this 2018 top 10 list. I want readers to appreciate how these narratives speak, not only to each of us, but also to one another. Imagine a Robert Altman-esque dialogue taking place over the course of the year, with me serving as your own private translator. Here’s what I think this year wants you to remember.
1. Shoplifters – We are all born into the family of Man, but writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda’s Palme d’Or winner (from this year’s Cannes Film Festival) posits that the more powerful bond truly uniting us comes when we choose, with open hearts, those we’re willing to let inside. There was no better expression of this lesson in 2018.
2. Cold War – Speaking of choice, writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski (Ida) seems to believe that you have no choice in matters of the heart, so all that’s left to do is love the one you’re fated to as hard as you possibly can. In the end, love is the eternal battlefield.
3. Eighth Grade – Bo Burnham’s searingly honest and loving look at a girl (Elsie Fisher) on the cusp of a major transition in her young life joins Debra Granik’s Leave No Traceand Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete as signs that we need not fear for the youth of today or the future.
4. First Reformed – Moral crises can harden hearts, but writer-director Paul Schrader (screenwriter of Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ) — in a miraculous return to form — proves that such trials can also free entrapped souls. As the minister of a small congregation questioning his faith, Ethan Hawke joins Joaquin Phoenix as the most unlikely pair of holy warriors this year.
5. Vice – There is daring bravado and shrewd calculation in Adam McKay and Christian Bale’s guided journey into one of the darkest hearts and minds (while constantly casting doubt on the functionality of said organs) of the modern political era: Dick Cheney. McKay makes the ride engaging and diverting without rocketing off-course, while Bale’s uncannily immersive performance holds everything in place.
6. If Beale Street Could Talk – The lyric poetry of James Baldwin gave voice to the rage and righteousness of a generation that was no longer willing to sit quietly and wait for change. Yet, in every incendiary moment, he never let us forget the intimate impact on individuals. Barry Jenkins, in a few films (this adaptation, Medicine for Melancholy and the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight) secures his status as Baldwin’s modern cinematic counterpart.
7. Amazing Grace – Documentaries dominated 2018, especially examinations of iconic figures (see: The King, Quincy, RBG, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Pope Francis: A Man of His Words), but Sydney Pollack’s unearthed recording of Aretha Franklin’s two-night performance at the New Bethel Baptist Church in 1972, captures the one true Queen of Soul in all her majestic glory. Don’t believe me? Check out fanboy Mick Jagger who pops in during the second night of filming and can’t contain his excitement.
8. Blindspotting – After decades of hustling to earn critical respect, Hip Hop culture took the indie film world by storm in 2018, with Of Monsters and Men and Sorry to Bother Youanchoring somewhat disparate ends of the narrative spectrum, but Carlos López Estrada’s raw and humanistic drama brought the beats and rhymes to life.
9. Shirkers – Sandi Tan, the writer, director and subject of this curious documentary, took a moving snapshot of a generation of young artistic outcasts in Singapore in 1992, searching for identity and a sense of belonging. But the frames were snatched from her. Twenty years later the footage was recovered; Tan’s unrelenting reclamation project is a fantastic odyssey.
10. At Eternity’s Gate – I suppose it takes a painter (turned filmmaker like Julian Schnabel) to present the passion of artistic expression, but without the presence of Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh, At Eternity’s Gate would just be a collection of pretty images on a moving canvas. Dafoe represents how genius steadies the frame and our attention.