Best Films of 2018 (So Far)

Critical Review written by Saad El-Asha on Thursday 13, December 2018

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In alphabetical order, here is my list of favourite films this year, so far (Updates are being made)

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In alphabetical order, here is my list of favourite films this year, so far (Among the ones I was able to see): Bar Bahar: (Palestine/Israel, Feature) Maysaloun Hamoud starts her filmic journey with a feminist scenario that proudly fails the Bechdel test because it carries no ideology on its shoulder. This portrayal of three young Palestinian women making their way in Tel Aviv is groundbreaking in the sense that it seeps through the day and night scene from the perspective of honest people, unapologetic and at peace with themselves. It's the story before THE story; that's why offers none but a slice of a life. Burning: (South Korea, Feature) A humanist poet of a small filmography, Chang-dong Lee comes back with anger. Violence, physical or emotional, has been a thematic staple for Lee, where the films spring from psychological upheaval to character study. Here, it's an unusual slow-burning thriller with an unusual ending. I haven't read Murakami's story (The source material) but the adaptation alone – the shifting from Murakami's world to certain particulars of contemporary South Korean youth – is a courageous gesture of innovation, not strange to Lee. The Death of Stalin: (UK, Feature) What happened when Stalin died? Many things; some you might find here (dipped in laughter) and some you should find in books, and some you wouldn't find anywhere, as is the case with the death of any national leader, especially with the case of an extraordinary dictator such as Stalin. If you watched In the Loop, you should expect a similar physical comedy, on the one hand, and on the other, what should constitute a satire, brilliantly performed by some of the best old men in British cinema today. Plus Steve Buscemi. And Jeffrey Tambor. Eighth Grade: (USA, Feature) To my mind, Eighth Grade is the wisest, most beautiful middle school film to come out of the USA; a stunning debut of a sensitive soul about a sensitive soul and for sensitive souls. Elsie Fisher finds in Kayla, the lead character, a star maker and suggests a future career beyond what a "child actor" is. First Reformed: (USA, Feature) Paul Schrader's career has been one of assimilation and revolt. At 71, he's rethinking, revisiting the transcendental style he's been working on/with for over four decades. Ethan Hawke reaches new heights in a central performance of a man agonized, angered, and redeemed, and within the confines of a diary and visual asides, this is a tale of climate change into the sublime. Schrader has finally made his late-period masterpiece. Foxtrot: (Israel, Feature) It's not the first time for an Israeli filmmaker, in general, and Samuel Maoz, in particular, to face backlash from both right-wing Zionists and "moderate" voices within the establishment. Following his masculine Lebanon in 2006, he now revisits the soldiers of his world with absurdist fatalism, stressing familial bonds and post-tragic changes. The performances can't be more revealing. The Guilty (Denmark, Feature) This is a piece of assured filmmaking with high command of language and tone. Stripped to the bone, The Guilty lies heavily on the central performance and what goes on, in sound, out of the frame (Itself bound in an alarm-dispatch station) with one of many stunning directorial debuts this year. What you see is what you get: the film is a serene thriller, painting an unbiased picture of the human condition, a detective-story to question the culpability of our acts, and there's no room for sensationalism, with or without its heartbreaking twists. Lean on Pete: (USA, Feature) In Hollywood, I have rarely seen an authentically warmhearted teenager with more stoicism than Charley Thompson, the tortured soul of this graceful Americana. Haigh's writing and direction, with the help of Charlie Plummer's facial expressions, remind the viewer that coming-of-age stories are the stuff that life itself is made of. What Kelly Reichardt did with Wendy and Lucy, Haigh does with expansive scenery. The people in this film are usually seen once a year; a fitting opportunity for listing films. Leave No Trace: (USA, Feature) With Winter's Bone, Debra Granik, the filmmaker, explored a forgotten culture on the fringes of Middle America. Again, here she is building a connection with people we rarely see on screen. I can hardly think of a dozen films this decade which effortlessly embrace both the buoyant energy for life and silent despair of the modern world. If you saw Captain Fantastic and like it, this one goes beyond ideology; it digs deep into why and when we choose the way we live. To her credit, Granik has given us Jennifer Lawrence. Here she gives us a young star named Thomasin McKenzie, bleeding a heartbreaking performance, matched only by the usual commitment of Ben Foster. It's a father and daughter fable unlike any fable you've seen before. Let the Sunshine In: (France, Feature) Claire Denis directs and Juliette Binoche performs. Enough said. But not exactly; there is always something to be said about Denis, a seasoned artist who should teach many young filmmakers with the sheer act of watching her films. This is a screenplay based on a text by Barthes, a philosopher I only know through one book of literary theory and short essays of film theory. The film is a woman's journey to entrap love and rediscover her crying fits and acquaintances. Denis' observations on sex and her response to the characters' responses are refreshing throughout the film, into a finale that walks us outside the scenario, an exercise that Denis does perfectly. Loveless: (Russia, Feature) As the title suggests, your viewing won't be full of love. Andrey Zvyagintsev does not make bleak films so that film students talk nihilism and Russian literature. His oeuvre suggests compassion and deep wishes of reconciliation. Recognizing one's demons infiltrates the sense of loss we see in almost every frame. If you want to witness a circle of hate that begins there, takes a shot at loving, and eventually ends in hate, then you are at the right place. I call the film a masterpiece with certainty. The Rider (US, Feature) Realist cinema is rife with non-professional actors. The ones we see here are not only non-professional, but they're reenacting their real lives. The film tackles an existential crisis of a contemporary cowboy, effortlessly played by real-life character/star, Brady Jandreau. One might think it would take, consequently, a local historian of a withering Americana to operate such a promise, but no; the screenwriter /director is Chloé Zhao, a Chinese citizen with American education. This should serve to confirm that natural, universal cinema never excludes a non-native voice to immerse oneself in a completely foreign culture. Even when we feast our eyes upon scenes we would deem merely poetical, we do believe it's "real" as the hooves sound of unbroken horses crackling against the badlands of a small town in North Dakota. Roma: (Mexico, Feature) Panning right and left, up and down, occasionally dollying and observing in static shots, Roma (Golden Lion Winner) is Cuarón's autobiographical love letter to his maid, mother, childhood, and cinema. It's the early 70s Mexico City, a lovable and much loved domestic worker (Played by the beautiful Yalitza Aparicio) would give a patient viewer the stairway to an inner divinity, mostly wanted in the era of blockbusters. I personally list this visual poem among the favourites of all my films. If loveless is a masterpiece of human cruelty, this one is made with and about love; the kind of love you only sense wordless. Summer 1993: (Spain, Feature) In the third bildungsroman and third debut in the list, Carla Simón draws from her own memories a beautiful cinema of innocence lost. Set in rural Catalonia, the film observes with "transcendental" lens everything we do and don't know of our early memories. Unlike Eighth Grade and Lean on Pete, nothing actually happens in here but everything happens inside of a little girl trying to come to terms with loss. Here's a film where the most powerful moments are seen with no music and close-ups. There is no need for them. The Wild Pear Tree (Turkey, Feature) Following his Palm d'Or winner, Winter Sleep, Ceylan extends his characters obsessions into other three hours, crowded with an immersive sequence of dialogues and silences. The themes are sparing, all upon the shoulder of a young emotional misanthrope as he forges his path into writing. You'd find debates on the limits of creative licenses, Islamic philosophy, the nature of a career, and many more. To Ceylan fans, such as I, a minor shift of visual style could be detected, but the soul remains: a great artist loving his craft. Won't You Be My Neighbor? (USA, Documentary) Fred Rogers is perhaps the only good guy in the history of American television. He is certainly one of the rare nice people in TV all over the world. Non-Americans – and to a lesser extent, non-Canadians – such as I, don't know who the man was. I knew of him a couple of years ago and this film does a great job not only introducing the character and legacy of Mr. Rogers, but also doesn't shy away from eulogy. After all, great films don't seek to tell or preach; this one to me only asks and discovers, and that's the best way to approach a biographical documentary. Honourable Mention: (Spolier Alert) Bradley Cooper's remake of A Star Is Born may not get into the list of favourites, but a few notes are due. The film utilizes contemporary times to add things I deemed beautiful and worthy; here, Cooper's character contemplated suicide at an early age, giving the film the virtue of mental illness awareness. The character's relationship with his older brother climaxes with an unsentimental scene where he reveals that he was the one deemed a god and not their abusive father. This is quite rare in the movies: showing the difficulty of expressing love among men. Not to mention the film's surprising: an honest and compassionate performance by Lady Gaga. ………………………………… Is battle rap necessarily mean-spirited? Can we use racism to battle it? Is a battle rapper not a good person? These and more questions are boldly asked with a comedy that merely contains its maniacal energy. Written by a battle rapper and produced by none other than the great Eminem, Bodied is a 2018 film, par excellence; it restores sanity to cultural debates we see in brainless Facebook comments and talk shows. Whether or not you believe in cultural appropriation (I don't), the film is likely to provoke and entertain. ………………………………… The only film I've seen from Zambia, I'm Not a Witch is brave cinema. There are some striking images here to serve the purpose of telling an important story of almost unbearable bigotry. Yet another promising voice of a year crowded with powerful debuts. The film never compromises and offers no redemption. You can almost hear the anger behind the camera. Rungano Nyoni, the filmmaker, must have felt the urgency without which she wouldn't have invaded the world of feature films. ………………………………… Perhaps the only film on/in this list that I wouldn't enjoy watching again, but this is unlike any animated tale I've seen. Have a Nice Day is influenced by the stylized writings of Tarantino and co., the filmmakers weave slick 77 minutes of crazy twists and occasional comic outbursts. It takes a hardcore cinephile to transform a genre into one's own milieu. We see a follow-the-money mob tale in Southern China through the eyes of a nascent industry, willing to explore what live-action films can't. ………………………………… The sole reason of honourably mentioning this film is the evolution of its maker, Annemarie Jacir, a sensible artist who started with an angry, often misguided, film to a second, mature tale of the 1967 war in Palestine, who finally reaches the epitome of style and content with Wajib where she managed to unite real-life father and son in front of the camera. The paused moments through the script, with or without dialogue, speak volumes of things that are Palestinian in details (A debate Palestinians know best: what it means for those living inside of Israel and those visiting or leaving). But the film also contributes something, in style, to the universal father-and-son stock, thankfully with a steady hand. ………………………………… I have to admit the year 2018 in cinema was the year of warm-hearted teenagers; the coming of age of these children stem from resilient observances. In Wildlife, the way Ed Oxenbould passively responds to the dissolution of his family is one reason why Paul Dano's directorial debut offers a glimpse to brilliant careers, in front of and behind the camera. Carey Mulligan is exceptionally powerful in portraying a woman's awakening, only a few years before the second-wave feminist movement in the west. The camera is a character itself, caught in the confusion of a repressed era.
   

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