On New Year’s Day it’s customary to make a ritual sacrifice to the all-powerful List Gods, the extradimensional appetites of which demand that all things — like, say, the best (and worst) movies of 2018 — be ordered and numbered before the new year can commence. For some reason, the List Gods also demand that “Top Ten” items be ranked in reverse sequential order so that everyone has to read the whole damn article to see what came in first.
Editor’s note: in cooperation with scary net neutrality stuff, Motion State’s Top Ten this year was subject to audit and review before publication to ensure that none of this news is deemed fake. As such, the views expressed in this commentary are actually 100% correct, factually speaking. These ones are just the best.
10. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Someone recently said of the late Marvel Comics giant: “When Stan Lee made better comics, he made comics better.” Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the latest superhero movie in an industry landscape that sometimes feels like it’s traded originality for IP. But Spider-Verse is gleefully, genuinely, finally a better comic book movie — and it might make comic book movies better.
9. Three Identical Strangers
Identical triplets. Separated at birth. One goes to an affluent home, one to a middle-class home, one to a working-class home — stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Three Identical Strangers is a rollercoaster of highs, lows, wonder, confusion, investigation, fame, tragedy, and a peek into the haphazard history of American psychology. Strangers does find some purchase when it angles for the conspiracy theory, but its at its best when it’s just recounting the absurdist, joyous play-by-play of meeting yourself and then doing it again.
8. The Other Side of the Wind
Even a posthumous Orson Welles film cobbled together years after his death is still a masterful piece of cinema. Less a “love letter to the movies” than a deconstruction of the actual industry, the movie-within-a-movie framework always makes it feel like Welles is just offscreen conducting the frantic movements of what would be his final film. The behind-the-scenes documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (also streaming on Netflix) provides some additional context for the filmmaker’s state of mind, but The Other Side of the Wind does what it does on its own.
It matters little that the three main characters in Burning — the quiet loner Jong-soo, the free-spirited Hae-mi, and her coldhearted jock boyfriend Ben — seem to fill such familiar roles. Lee Chang-dong’s film might use that familiarity as a lure, but it puts a match to it before long. Turns out the classic pauper vs. prince love story is highly flammable.
Part of the unsettling tension of Burning resides in the assumption (or presumption) that this is a love story at all, or that Hae-mi is any sort of princess there for the winning. That presumption collides with Jong-soo’s beta-male resentment and Ben’s straight-up entitlement, and the eventual inferno will burn in your head long after the credits roll.
6. The Favourite
“The Favourite unfolds under the rule of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), when her old friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) starts feeling upstaged by newcomer Abigail (Emma Stone). Underhanded bitterness turns to outward hatred, and our own sympathy or enmity toward these three primary characters is constantly challenged. You’re likely to root for Abigail in one instance and feel more strongly about Sarah a few scenes later. And particular credit on this point should go to Colman, who makes Queen Anne likable, deplorable, regal, pathetic, and downright hilarious with a complicated performance that shifts allegiances by the minute.”
Read the full review.
“It would have been easy for Shoplifters to glamorize the criminal acts of its central characters. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest film follows an impoverished Tokyo family surviving on a hierarchical system of thievery, nicking small items where the opportunity arises or, more frequently, setting out on an express mission to steal that which they need. The setup, of course, is worlds away from the heist genre, but it’s still refreshing to experience these criminal acts for what they actually are: desperate, thrill-less acts devoid of meticulous planning or grifter’s luck.”
Read the NYFF review.
4. You Were Never Really Here
“You Were Never Really Here really excels because it has the thematic and symbolic subtext to support cinematography utterly uninterested in showing off. Phoenix plays a guy named Joe, an enforcer-for-hire with zero qualms about violence. But he’s almost playing two characters, and YWNRH pushes this idea forward as the film progresses: there’s Daytime Joe, the guy who quietly takes care of his aging mother, and there’s the Nighttime Joe, the guy who loudly takes care of anyone in his path.”
Read the full review.
3. Cold War
This stark and sweeping tale about musicians falling in love — no, not A Star is Born — would earn its place in the Top Ten for any one of several spellbinding components at play. Joanna Kulig gives a career-making performance (maybe a star is born). Ida director Pawel Pawlikowski paces out several decades with ease. And the early-Cold War global politics, more a tacit backdrop than an explicit force, still make the film feel relevant in 2018.
But taken together, those disparate elements make Cold War bewitching. It’s complete, both in the sense that we see the entire love history of the couple in question and in the sense of permanency, like their choices are written in stone. The nostalgic black-and-white presentation (very different than that of Roma) further ties this romance to the past, to a sustained longing, to what could have been.
“In refusing script edits, choosing not to seek the input of his filmmaker friends, and writing/directing/filming Roma all on his own, Cuarón has successfully revived the assertion of Stanley Kubrick — “one man writes a novel, one man writes a symphony…it is essential that one man make a film” — and he’s done so in an era dominated by blockbuster film-by-committee moviemaking. Instinctual, agendaless, pure and fluid, Cuarón’s meditation on memory is at once historical and relevant, hyperfocused and expansive, colorful and black-and-white. It’s almost painfully ironic: in resisting the urge to perfect Roma, Roma ends up being very close to perfect.”
Read the NYFF review.
1. First Reformed
Rarely does an explicit “man questions his faith” story pull off a true crisis within its main character. The most widely-controversial religious films (Passion of the Christ, Exorcist, Scorsese’s twins Last Temptation and Silence) tend to overreach in sowing the seeds of doubt. First Reformed instead just pressures one man, the Reverend Toller, slowly and from all sides.
Ethan Hawke has always been an Everyman, but his haunted performance as Toller is the best he’s ever given. “You’re always in the garden,” notes another character on Toller’s seemingly endless suffering. It took Paul Schrader’s concise script — the tightest this year — to make that been-there-done-that premise not only believable but challenging enough that we might wonder about our own faith. First Reformed makes the Eternal Question urgent and pressing, and it’s the one 2018 film you shouldn’t miss.
The Sisters Brothers, Under the Silver Lake, Fahrenheit 451, Aquaman, The Predator, Widows, Mute, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Wild Wild Country, Better Call Saul, Castle Rock, Maniac, Narcos: Mexico, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Game of Thrones, Atlanta
What were your 2018 favorites? Hit the comments.
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