Yorgos Lanthimos’s wicked anti-costume drama reigns supreme in Chase’s 2018 countdown.
I’ll admit that I’m not fully happy with my list this year. What can I say? Life got busy and I just didn’t get to as many films as I have in years past. It’s also not fun to find yourself too tightly in line with so many other critics when making your year-end list. Was Film not quite as good this year, or am I just growing painfully conformist? (Note: it’s the latter.) I guess there’s always my “Black Panther is important, but not great” takes to double down on!
As always, this isn’t a best films list. Neither is it truly a favorite films list. It’s an amalgam of the two, trying to find a place for films that fall evenly into both of those categories.
But you’re not here for opening statements. You’re here for the list, so let’s get to it!
10. The Other Side of the Wind
Directed by Orson Welles
Orson Welles’s final film is a fascinating document from a director who was constantly ahead of his time. Welles shot intermittently from 1970 to 1976 and worked to transform the footage into a film until it became embroiled in a financial and legal battle. Left unfinished at the time of his death in 1985, producer Frank Marshall and director/film historian Peter Bogdanovich finally completed a cut of the film based on Welles’s notes. The results are captivating. The rapid-cutting mockumentary chronicles the last day of famed director J.J. Hannaford (John Huston) as he returns to Hollywood and hosts a screening party for his comeback film The Other Side of the Wind.
The meta-textual notes are inescapable. Hannaford is a giant of “Old Hollywood,” draped in laurels, but unable to finance new projects. Welles emulates new wave European directors, most notably Antonioni. Filled with gratuitous sex and violence, it’s pure Shakespeare: Sound and fury signifying nothing. Part satire, part mockumentary, part art film, it’s a film about legacy, and nearly 50 years after it began production, it still feels somehow ahead of its time.
9. Eighth Grade
Directed by Bo Burnham
Who would have guessed that the American stand-up scene would become one of the best sources of filmmaking talent over the last few years? From Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice to Michael Showalter and Kumail Nanjiani’s The Big Sick, our comedians have proved themselves to be a source of some of our most heart-wrenching drama. Add pubescent musical comedian Bo Burnham to that list of talent. Eighth Grade is less comedic than that group’s other work, but it strikes the heart through shared experience; Middle school sucks for basically everyone.
Kayla’s (Elsie Fisher) online presence speaks of confidence, self-love, and toothless platitudes in a series of ignored YouTube videos, but the real-world Kayla would be happy enough to go through middle school unseen. Unfortunately, middle schoolers have vicious eyes for physical imperfections and social anxiety. The film speaks to the difficulties of parenthood as Kayla’s warm-hearted dad (Josh Hamilton) tries endlessly to connect with her, but he’s unable to pierce her defensive exterior until the film’s cathartic climax. Anyone who’s ever shuddered at the thought of a pool party with their peers will have incredible empathy for Kayla and a first-time director in Burnham who’s grown up, but obviously hasn’t forgotten his youth.
Directed by Bradley Cooper
A Star Is Born is the type of film that’s easy to be cynical about. This story again? Lady Gaga acting? Phrases like “This is why we go to the movies” are easy to throw around, and few films deserve such an accolade. The fourth iteration (or fifth if you count origin story What Price Hollywood?) of this tale is a knockout. Star Power is a dwindling commodity in modern Hollywood, but the film sells itself with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s names, and the duo deliver in spades. Cooper looks and sounds like a piece of meat left too long in a smoker, and its impressive how willing Cooper, also directing, is to point the camera squarely on Gaga as the film’s beautiful ingénue with himself as her worn out counterpart.
Gaga is way better than she has any right to be, here stripped of her famous costumes and stage makeup. She’s vulnerable, which is something hard to anticipate from a world-famous pop star. She and Cooper may both be collecting acting statues come Oscar time. So might Cooper for directing. So might the film itself, and that wouldn’t be simple crowd appeasement. A Star Is Born is very good. Anyone who’s seen the first act-ending performance of “Shallow” shot onstage in front of a live crowd at Coachella has felt the hair raise on the back of their neck. Don’t be cynical. Stand up and cheer.
7. Minding the Gap
Directed by Bing Liu
From the stomach-churning Free Solo to the nostalgically tear-jerking Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the identity-seeking Three Identical Strangers, and many others, 2018 was a great year for documentaries. Hulu’s Minding the Gap by first time director and co-star Bing Liu is the best of the group. Liu began filming himself and his friends Zack Mulligan and Keire Johnson as the multi-racial trio skateboarded around their city as teens hoping to capture some cool skating footage, but his camera became an increasingly prevalent part of their lives as Liu began to capture not just their skate park escapades but the trials and tribulations of life in their dying Rust-Belt hometown.
Liu’s film takes an unflinching look at inherited trauma as these kids become men absorbing and then dealing out toxic masculinity, violence, alcoholism, and generational poverty. Skateboarding is a respite from the world, but it’s only a band-aid on the deeper issues affecting their lives. Some find purpose. Others find despondence. What they’re all seeking is a way out. Difficult, but never dour, Minding the Gap grows to be so much more than the skateboarding film it began as. It’s not just another documentary. It’s the Boyhood of skate culture.
Directed by Ari Aster
We’re experiencing a golden age of adult, critically acclaimed horror films at the moment — The Babadook, The VVitch, It Follows, Get Out, and It Comes at Night just to name a few excellent ones. Watching those films, I’d somewhat come to believe that I’d grown incapable of being scared by horror movies anymore. Those films are great, but I didn’t find them especially scary. Not so Hereditary: It scared the bejeezus out of me.
As Toni Collette gives a career-best performance as a mother of two trying to guide her family through difficult times, it’s easy to see director Ari Aster’s assertion that he originally intended to make a family drama before realizing a horror movie would be as easier sell to studios as a first time writer and director. The family drama comes first in this tale about grief where the hauntings are both emotional and metaphysical. Collette’s masterful performance as a woman breaking down over the loss of her mother is matched by the film’s impeccable craftsmanship. There’s enough hints in the script and striking, symbolic visuals to keep viewers absorbed for multiple re-watches – if you’re willing to delve into the film again, that is. Hereditary’s scares linger long after the film is over.