Continuing America’s oldest tradition, one day before the 91st Academy Awards!
12. First Reformed:
First Reformed is not only the best performance of Ethan Hawke’s career, but represents a fine look at the modern cross-section between religion and science in today’s world. A pastor of the small-town congregation is asked to intervene in the marital troubles of a young couple (Amanda Seyfried and Philip Ettinger) who happen to be environmental activists. But it’s the husband who has increasingly radicalizization and paranoia as a result of the advocacy that is the source of their problems. While he’s the one in need of spiritual guidance from Rev. Ernst Toller (Hawke) the enlightenment ends up being the other way around. As he bonds with Seyfried along the way, we witness Toller begin to feel the pressures mounting on him from his superiors and from his declining health, as he comes to grips of what is an increasingly complex world. It’s a stellar drama, though not a movie Mike Pence would enjoy.
11. The Favourite:
When Yorgos Lanthimos is involved, you know things are going to get weird. That being said,Tthe Favourite might be his most mainstream movie yet. And, paradoxically, people who are used to only seeing mainstream movies will be the ones most likely to find the Favourite to be weird. Anyway, the 18th century dark comedy period piece takes some historical liberties as it depicts the bizarre relationship between Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman) and her two handmaidens (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone), which involves sexual liaisons, politicking and betrayal. The film really relies on the strength of its main female leads. Coleman took home the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a comedy, and while she’s worthy of winning the Oscar, I think it’s Glenn Close’s prize to lose for her excellent work in The Wife.
10. A Quiet Place:
When you see a movie early in the year and it sticks without several months later, you know it’s a good one. A Quiet Place doesn’t trouble us by explaining why the world it takes place in is post-apocalyptic, but instead enthralls us with something different entirely: silence. The twist that the aliens who’ve taken over have ultra-sensitive hearing, meaning those who survive are the ones who can stay the quietest. This detail puts more pressure are the film’s actors, who must communicate and emote simply through their body language in order to entertain the viewers. John Krasinski, who also directed the film, and Emily Blunt are more than up for the task. The film is captivating and gut-wrenching. Blunt surprisingly won Best Supporting Actress at the Globes, but failed to receive an Oscar nomination. It doesn’t detract from her great work here.
Director Adam McKay made no secret of his lack of empathy for Wall Street bankers in 2015’s The Big Short, a film that better helping us to understand the underpinnings of the economic recession of 2011. This time around, he gives us his probably mostly true yet revisionist history of why former vice president Dick Cheney is the root of all our contemporary problems. The movie pulls no punches, portraying Cheney as a conniving, cold, half-hearted political conspirator whose inner circle of cronies hijack the Bush administration to influence policy. Basically, he portrays Cheney as the exact person we all assumed him to be. The film will certainly be polarizing, but Christian Bale showcases every bit of his ability to transform himself and become a character. He’ll be Rami malek’s main competition to win Best Actor.
8. First Man:
First Man is an intimate story about an international milestone that gained so much attention that everyone who lived through it could tell you exactly where they were when it happened. But if you just awoke from a 50-year coma and were just learning about the moon landing through this film, you’d have never known that an entire world was contemporaneously waiting on bated breath. The biopic never loses its focus as we see the events completely through Neil Armstrong’s perspective, and how tragedy throughout his life motivated him to achieve international renown. When he accomplishes it, there’s no shots of a NASA control booth celebrating, no shots of families sitting on the edge of their seats in their living rooms; it’s just Neil, in space, taking in an emotional moment that was years in the making. Excellent cinematography and direction by Damien Chazelle and a fine performance by Ryan Gosling help make First Man one of the most underrated films of 2018.
7. Bohemian Rhapsody:
Bohemian Rhapsody and a Star is Born will be compared until the end of time, simply because they came out in the same year and both involve music. But while A Star is Born is about fictional musicians, Bohemian rhapsody is a musical biopic of the legendary Freddy Mercury and his band Queen. The film follows your standard biopic formula, blasting through Queen’s greatest hits along the way, but it does it immaculately. Rami Malek delivers a show-stopping performance as the dynamic frontman and will be fully deserving of an Oscar if he does indeed win it. Since Queen is a band that’s pretty universally liked, it’s no mystery why this movie was so popular.
6. The Rider:
The Rider received tremendous praise across the board when it was released in early 2018, and then people just kind of forgot about it. I wondered if it may get a little buzz come award season, but apparently the Academy’s desire to reward films of all styles and all budgets has not stretched to rural South Dakota — at least not yet. The Rider centers around life in one of the nation’s most desolate frontiers, where there isn’t much to do but honest manual labor, drink a few beers, and enjoy some bull riding. For our main character, Brady Jandreau (the excellent Brady Blackburn), bull riding is all he knows. But a major injury forces him to give it up, and without it his life lacks meaning. What makes this movie so special is that it comprises first-time actors who are actual bull-riding South Dakotans. And yet, the acting is phenomenal. It’s also a rare, cinematic glimpse into a lifestyle that most city dwellers and suburbanites (like me) can’t even fathom. Films like the Rider are the reasons why cinema exists.
5. If Beale Street Could Talk:
Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Moonlight didn’t receive quite as much fanfare, but it’s still damn good. It’s every bit artistic and moving as the 2016 Best Picture winner, and every bit as depictive of black life in America. It might even be too artsy for some people’s tastes. Centered around a young couple (Kiki Lane and Stephan James) in love in New York whose lives are torn apart by a wrongful conviction, If Beale Street Could Talk enchants with its acting, dialogue, score and direction. The film got little love from the Oscars, but it’ll make up for it when it awards Regina King a trophy for Best Supporting Actress.
4. A Star is Born:
The ending of a Star is Born hits you with such a punch to the gut that my immediate reaction while the credits were rolling was: “I need a strong drink right now.” Which is the goal of any movie, right? To make you feel something. Anyway, my view of this film has evolved by the day. When it was 75% done as I was watching it in theaters, I thought it was dragging and longed for it to end. Then the ending happened, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Weeks later, I wondered if I was overrating the movie because of the likeable chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, the allure of its hit song “Shallow,” and the emotional conclusion. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that A Star Is Born is worthy of all the praise, and will be remembered as a classic with a long-lasting impact. My biggest takeaway, though, is that when the actors aren’t singing or performing, the movie is almost dead silent. It lays all the dialogue and acting completely bare, and it succeeds because of it. It’s probably the most mainstream movie of the year, and awards for “Shallow” the past few months officially puts Bradley Cooper on EGOT alert. Lady Gaga, too.
When Spike Lee hits, he hits. Sadly, it’s just been a while. But Spike is in his element when he’s delivering a searing critique on contemporary issues. He burst on the scene with Do the Right Thing and he opened “Malcolm X” with footage from the Rodney King beating not long after it happened, long before we knew it would become a revolutionary moment in our country’s modern racial reckoning. Heck, he even did a movie in 2000 about blackface. It’s criminal it took this long for him to receive a directing Oscar nomination. In BlacKKKlansman, Spike Lee takes a little-known piece of history involving the Klu Klux Klan and turns it into an entertaining and surprisingly funny film, involving two police agents, one of them black (John David Washington the latter, and Adam Driver). It’s certainly a satisfying watch, if at times frustrating, especially when it ends with footage from a well-known press conference in 2018 from the most ignorant man to ever be elected president.
2. Green Book:
The feel-good movie of the year we all didn’t know we needed. Sure, Green Book may present a “white view” of race relations in the U.S., and to some critics, may conflate ignorance with tolerance, but, let’s just relax. It’s a movie and it’s trying to send a positive message. It’s a road trip film of blue collar Italian immigrant Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) escorting black pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) across the south during the pre civil rights era. A good number of white people – myself included – probably had zero idea that a “green book” even existed, and our privilege prevented us from thinking about why it was even necessary. Green Book reminds us and educates, even if it’s just a movie. And Ali and Mortensen are phenomenal, the former of which is the probably the front-runner for another best supporting actor win.
“Blah blah blah, of course he chose Roma as #1! It’s a foreign film, it’s black-and white, and it’s getting a ton of buzz. What a cop out!” No. Just no. Roma is a very deliberate film, particularly in its first half, but that’s because it’s developing a setting and a story. We are getting to know our main characters and see the day-to-day workings of their lives and the those of the ones who take care of them for a living. But even if you’re not completely enthralled, it’s almost impossible not to admire the filming techniques Alfonso Cuaron utilizes: long-take wide angle shots, where the camera slowly pans around a room where we see seven or eight people at work. For minutes at a time, the camera is rarely focused on one single character. The scene where the characters view the street rebellion from a shop window is a masterpiece that should be studied in film schools. The Acdamy did a nice job recognizing actresses Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira , and I’d bet my next paycheck that you’ll see Roma take home best picture and Cuaron win for directing.