And now for the top of the list! What worked best for me this year!
Like the worst of, this is a ranked order rather than alphabetical. Starting from the bottom of the top and leading up to my number one movie of the year.
31. Sweet Country (2017 in many festivals and lists, but I saw it at SIFF 2018)
Quoting my own review at watchplayread.com
The mistreatment of the native populations by white settlers is a subject of discussion around the world in recent years, as it should be. The beautiful, but harsh Outback is a fitting backdrop for the trial of an Aboriginal man Sam (Hamilton Morris) for the self-defense shooting of a white man in western Australia in 1929. One of the most heartbreaking and entrancing films I’ve seen this year, even outside of the festival, one can’t help but feel anger for Sam and the other indigenous (mostly non-actors giving solid work) persons forced in an uphill battle in a system built against them on their own land. The film feels honest and a natural in it’s world, helped along by Bob favorite Sam Neill (who co-led in his favorite film of 2016 – both at SIFF and on the whole- The Hunt for the Wilderpeople from Thor: Ragnarok’s Taika Waititi…. Seriously go watch that now) as Sam’s friend and white advocate. With resonating themes through a different cultural lens, Sweet Country is affecting and heart wrenching.
30 First Reformed
The newest film from writer-director Paul Schrader (best known for writing Taxi Driver) features the best male performance of the year – Ethan Hawke as a disaffected priest re-examining his life. A priest with a crisis of faith isn’t a new concept (and seems to be the go to for priests in dramas and horror), but they way it’s done here is stark and digs into Hawke’s and the viewers soul. Schraeder frames the film in a simple and quiet manner, allowing Hawke’s long stares into the middle distance to make one sit and ponder as well. Dying of an undiagnosed cancer along with alcohol abuse, Hawke meets Amanda Seyfriend, going through her own shit, together they try to focus their own lives. Stark and beautiful, Hawke continues on his career renaissance (streaming on Prime).
The Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke led film has been compared to a modern Heathers. I can see it, both are dark comedies focused on murder. But dont’ think this is just an update to the same concept, the tone, style, and focus are in different places. I love this dark comedy, and I hate it only made it to 29 on the list (as of 1/7, other films may pop up above as I fill in). Both leads are pitch perfect with Taylor-Joy as a bored rich girl with a shitty dad and Olivia Cooke as her sociopath tutor/former-friend. As they plan to murder the asshole dad, they hire local drug dealer Anton Yelchin in his last role. Of course, things go wrong, but not in the way you’d expect. The character dynamics and delivery of the sharp script are impeccable. Any fan of pitch black comedies should check this out now.
Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody’s series of films about the stages of women’s life continues with their best yet (I love you Juno but loved Tully even more). Charlize Theron gives an amazing performance as a over-worked mother of three with a newborn, as you’d expect her to do. But Mackenzie Davis as the titular character is a shining star. Tully is a “night nurse” hired by Theron to take care of the newborn so Theron can get sleep and become sane again. From the strong chemistry between the two, they build a bond to reawaken Theron’s lost self, explore motherhood and changing relationships, and the exuberance of youth. Hilariously funny and often brutally honest, Tully is another strong end for everyone involved.
This candy-colored French rape revenge (title!) film is everything you want it to be. Many will be suitably turned off by another film where a woman has to go through sexual assault hell to get pushed into action, and I can absolutely understand that. If you are reticent, let me assure you the act itself is awful, but short and is no way exploitative in the manner of something like I Spit on Your Grave. It is brutal in other ways when our heroine, left for dead, high on morphine and adrenaline, gets her deserved revenge. The film does follow the trajectory one would expect, the way it does so is incredibly shot and performed with pitch-perfect tone, appeasing you no matter your reason to watch. The climax, holy shit. I don’t want to spoil a thing but fuck yes. One of the best of year. So much blood. So much.
26 Mission: Impossible Fallout
After the series re-focus on the third entry, the Mission: Impossible series has grown bigger and better with each entry. In the first to be a direct sequel to the previous entry, Fallout deals with the … um.. Fallout of baddie Solomon Kane’s plans placed on hold at the end of Rogue Nation. While nothing is a butt clenching as the Abu Dhabi tower climb in the fourth entry, the action beats are on such a large level, I’m sure Tom Cruise is trying to get himself killed on film. The bathroom fight featuring Henry Cavill and his Superstache is brutal (I note the trailer makes it seem he’s fighting against Cavill and not with him but hell got a movie to sell). But the climax. I know I just talked about a great climax in Revenge but MI Falllout… I don’t think I breathed during the helicopter chase and everything around it.
25 Sorry to Bother You
The razor sharp satire of modern culture we need. Not only how African-Americans are given the shaft (the trailer concept of the “white voice” getting power” but of the worker and other disenfranchised people on the whole. It’s a giant Fuck You to so many aspects of corporate culture led by nothing but top notch performances by well knowns such as Tessa Thompson and Armie Hammer, but also by lead Lakeith Stanfield, who has been doing steady solid but underappreciated work for years. Boots Riley is a writer-director to watch, and I cannot wait for what comes next. You may say I’m being rather vague, but let me say where the movie goes is nowhere you’d expect and I love it for it.
24 The Guilty
The Guilty may draw focus from what can be seen a gimmick: the entirety of the film takes place in real time in just two rooms, with the majority of the interactions of emergency services operator Asger (Jakob Cederon) over the phone; but once the story starts moving the feeling of gimmick drops away. We are just as engaged as Asgar into hunting down the woman in trouble somewhere out on the road. Her ex-husband has her in a van and her kids area alone at home. We never see anyone on the other end, including police and service personnel, just Asgar as he tries to move all the pieces into place. The Guilty is an exercise in tension as the stakes build and change, both for the players on the roadPe and for Asgar himself.
23 Isle of Dogs
Damn you Wes Anderson. Making me say “I Love Dogs” every time I say this title out loud. I’m not the biggest dog person (and there go any readers I had) but I loved the pack here. The stop-animation is perfection, and mix so well into Anderson’s style. No, I’ve not seen Fantastic Mr Fox, and yes, I am a white guy in my thirties, how did you know? Oh yeah, I love Anderson. Ha. Anyway, the voice cast is perfection and the story is expansive and has a strong heart and wonderful humor. There are some issues, the lack of Japanese actors for a film set in Japan and a white girl solving the problems are both problematic.
22 Black Panther
I don’t think anyone expected Black Panther to resonate the way it did. There’s not much I can say outside of what others have said bigger and better. Marvel’s comic hero is a goddammned amazing film. Compelling hero, even more compelling villain, a cadre of kick ass smart and are actually better than the hero women; fantastic world building, and just an all around entertaining film. Yes, it does fit the Marvel formula but it’s a formula that works.
21 Prospect – REVIEW
Looking for a home-grown, low budget sci-fi western with strong family/coming-of-age themes? Look no further than Prospect. The Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington is made other-worldly in a simple yet fantastic fashion, creating the backdrop for a prospector father-daughter (Sophie Thatcher and Jay Duplass) pair to run afoul of a set of bandits (led by Game of Throne’s Pedro Pascal). I love the feel and look to the movie. There is the lived in 60s/70s Sci-Fi feel here and it’s delicious. Director pair Chris Caldwell and Zeek Earl are able to draw a great deal out a little. Go see this little indie that could.