The year of our Lord 2018 was a year where every single fucking day felt as if we lived in a dystopian narrative too ridiculous to ever actually get made. Vital storytelling persisted nonetheless, providing the hope I needed to continue through the daily burnout and the overwhelming existential dread. Here are ten films that made me believe I can make it another year:
10. You Were Never Really Here, Lynne Ramsay
Joaquin Phoenix plays a stoic outsider drifting through crime-ridden streets to unleash repressed anger onto those that deserve to suffer. Writer-director Lynne Ramsay creates a thrilling neo-noir to explore notions of masculinity and mental illness, adding nuance to an unstable antihero who tries to perform each action with genuine intent of doing good. It reinforces that one’s internal demons can transform a person into becoming a martyr, one that is true to their morals and is willing to accept the consequences of their means.
9. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Morgan Neville
Mr. Rogers nurtured an atmosphere of patience and serenity, a sense of tranquil ambience that is entirely lost in our obsession with digital connectivity. He believed that a child deserves thoughtful love and attention because every child’s emotions are just as strong – if not stronger – as those of adults. He reminds me that I need to slow down and reflect on singular moments of happiness, finding this within the mundane. Children are made to grow up faster than they should, and we should treat that with sensitivity.
8. If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins
Barry Jenkins has the magical ability to make every single one of his characters look like the most stunning human in the world. He explores what it means to be black in America through the lens of a young Harlem relationship. The opening lines from James Baldwin state that every black person has a piece of New Orleans in them, and Jenkins embodies that through Nicholas Britell’s sensual jazz score and James Laxton’s saturated palette. In the Mood for Love and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg are blushing.
7. Love, Simon, Greg Berlanti
This film is a studio-backed high school coming-of-age story that celebrates self-acceptance and communal love toward queer adolescence. It has a fun indie-rock soundtrack and also shows some positives that can come from finding others like you through online community. It’s awesome to know an entire generation of teens can see this comfort and grow more open-minded than generations before. I love when Jennifer Garner tells her son he can finally exhale.
6. A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper
This story has been remade five times (four with the same name) yet the melodrama hits you just as hard as ever. It reflects on contemporary media stardom and the changes that come with it, but what I love most about this film is that it doesn’t care to spend much time on the TMZ-side of things, opting instead to focus very narrowly on these two individuals. I have absolutely no idea how famous they really are because there’s nothing for comparison, but I admire the choice to forego that to maintain a specific emotional connection.
5. Private Life, Tamara Jenkins
Tamara Jenkins writes and directs a dramedy about a couple trying every process available so they may have a child. She gives a refreshingly delicate observation on the toll women go through to conceive, and presents a realistic outlook as to whether a couple needs a child to feel like their relationship is consecrated. Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti work so well with each other to build this artistic chemistry that also leaves room for discontent within their lives.
4. Annihilation, Alex Garland
This harrowing sci-fi expedition juxtaposes death and life to meditate on mental illness and its various chance manifestations. The film is ultimately about change and the fear of it, the desire to internalize depression and look away from the beauties of mutation. Natalie Portman in particular reflects on how her emotional scars have ignited this desperation to find herself, and when that being presents itself to her, she must learn to symbiotically choreograph her relationship with the counterpart that oppresses her.
3. The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos
While it may seem that we can’t possibly get a more unstable leader, frankly history is full of them, and this film presents an absurdist take on how governance and society at large do not matter at all when conducting policy for it’s really influenced by the pettiness of the people that legislate it. Yorgos Lanthimos is working off someone else’s script, yet he brings his deadpan style through the music and camera lens choices to really keep us both in and out of the story. May someone always be there to rub Olivia Colman’s leg.
2. Shoplifters, Kore-eda Hirokazu
This film is about a group of outcasts that decide to become a family because sometimes it’s better for one to choose their own. The family takes in a (perfectly-casted) young girl named Juri and we follow each individual as they make do with their respective situations. The film is drifting and quiet and it hits you in the gut slowly but intensely. It asks if one is really shoplifting if no one wants it to begin with, and it uses this headspace to provide gripping social criticism as to how we treat those that are forgotten from society.
1. First Reformed, Paul Schrader
Paul Schrader makes what honestly feels like the only rational response to 2018 (and claiming it as rational is already crazy enough). Ethan Hawke plays a priest who is confronted with an existential crisis when he counsels a man that cannot find justification to bring a child into a world that will be doomed within their lifetime. The priest falls further down the rabbit hole in environmental crises and capitalist ignorance, and he truly embodies what Christianity should be but what it currently is very far from.
Wildlife, Paul Dano
Skate Kitchen, Crystal Moselle
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
Lean on Pete, Andrew Haigh
Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham