Bill Bria’s Top 25(ish) Of 2018

While it feels like the year was a bit of a cinematic dud (thanks to December’s release of three big budget sequels to franchises either long dormant or not particularly beloved), it only takes a cursory look back to realize that the films of 2018 contained a lot of stellar work. So much so that, once again, I’ve written a “top ten” list in name only, keeping it to 25 entries that contain a lot of ties (the list actually contains 37 movies!). So, without further ado, here are the films of 2018 that deserve special mention. 

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25. Game Night & Red Sparrow (tie)

w: Mark Perez (Game Night), Justin Haythe (Red Sparrow). d: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Game Night), Francis Lawrence (Red Sparrow).

Big studio films tend to not take too many chances these days, as executives continue to greenlight sequels, remakes, reboots, and cinematic universes. Given their rarity, it’s a delight when big-to-mid budget studio movies are made that are not pre-packaged material, and are wildly unique to boot. Consider this year’s best studio comedy, Game Night, a high concept film that could’ve easily been too loud, obnoxious, and brash as it follows a group of friends getting unwittingly caught up in actual criminal shenanigans, but instead is a tightly plotted and hilariously sharp comedy, with excellent character work from Jesse Plemons and Rachel McAdams. Consider, too, Red Sparrow, which set itself apart from the current spy movie boom by being unabashedly noir-ish and sleazy, featuring a protagonist who, similar to Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde, is a mercurial presence for the entire movie. It’s one of Jennifer Lawrence’s best performances (yes, even with the accent and wig work) as she slinks through Francis Lawrence’s attractively composed frames. It’s movies like these that keep the term “studio movie” from sounding like a bad thing. 

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24. The House With A Clock In Its Walls & Summer Of ‘84 (tie)

w: Eric Kripke (The House...), Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith (Summer Of ‘84). d: Eli Roth (The House...), Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell (Summer Of ‘84).

We’re well into the era of filmmakers who grew up on the Amblin adventure films of the 1980’s making their own tribute films to those all-ages genre classics. Some of these tributes seek to recapture the feeling of those movies for a new generation, and others look to use their iconography to evoke their tropes, in order to subvert them. As an example of the former, The House With A Clock In Its Walls excels at telling a story that appeals to a variety of ages, missing the pitfall of becoming just another loud “kids movie.” Eli Roth, who’s always been adept at mimicking the styles of the directors he idolizes, does a great Tim Burton impression here, all while making it his own—the film contains some of the most disturbing images of the former horror director’s career. Meanwhile, with Summer Of ‘84, the Canadian directing collective RKSS continue their streak of making original films soaked in the ‘80s media they loved as children that slyly zig where those well known classics zagged. Dismissed by many as a sub-“Stranger Things,” Summer is a film that may consciously look like E.T. and The Goonies, but is grounded hard in reality, resulting in one of the most disturbing endings to a film this year. Both films concern the painful and awkward processes of the end of childhood, a rite of passage that can either be exciting...or terrifying. 

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23. Revenge 

w&d: Coralie Fargeat

The rape-revenge subgenre is a relic of the exploitation crazy 1970’s, best left to that era’s concerns with rural crime, women’s liberation, and lazy titillation. Yet 40 odd years later, female directors are finally bursting into the mainstream movie scene en masse, including and especially the horror genre. It’s into this climate that writer-director Fargeat brings her reclamation of the subgenre, entitled Revenge (a pretty big clue as to where the film’s emphasis lies). More than just a look at the subgenre from a feminist viewpoint, Fargeat proves herself to be a top-notch stylist with a flair for brutal, visceral setpieces. Her career could go literally anywhere from this point, from more horror films to action movies to elsewhere, and it’s exciting to see the debut of a filmmaker with such a strong voice. 

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22. A Star Is Born

w: Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters. d: Bradley Cooper.

On paper, 2018’s A Star Is Born sounds like a forgettable disaster. The third (or fourth, depending on whether or not you count 1932’s What Price Hollywood as the origin point of the story) version of the 1937 original, a hoary melodrama involving a fading star mentoring a rising talent in the midst of a whirlwind romance, the second (following 1976’s version starring Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson) set inside the music industry rather than the movie business, co-starring a supremely talented yet unproven actress and co-written, starring, and directed by an unproven A-list star filmmaker. What keeps ASIB 2018 from being a shabby mess of a vanity project is Cooper’s commitment to authenticity, going so far as to take his co-star Lady Gaga’s advice and record all the musical performances live (or with live elements), as well as shooting the bulk of the film handheld. The story is still the showbiz melodrama it always was, but the efforts of the two leads lend it the raw, naked emotion it always needed. All that, and the original songs are damn good, too.

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21. Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, & Ant-Man And The Wasp (tie)

w: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole (Panther), Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Avengers), Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari (Ant-Man). d: Ryan Coogler (Panther), Joe and Anthony Russo (Avengers), Peyton Reed (Ant-Man). 

The great Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment continues to be a gift year after year, not just to comic book fans but to franchise filmmaking as well. Ant-Man And The Wasp expanded and improved upon its predecessor, taking that film’s loose heist movie structure and morphing it into a slice of early-‘60s sci-fi adventure, with rich, likeable characters, including and especially the villains. Black Panther not only single-handedly lifted a previously obscure Marvel character to immensely popular heights, it acted as a groundbreaking film in its own right, bringing a much needed POC POV to blockbusters, and providing a compellingly fresh afrofuturist landscape in the process, making the film as visually pioneering as the original Blade Runner. The entire MCU enterprise, however, paid off with Infinity War in a huge way. There are a lot of cultural moments that happen every year, of course, but relatively few cultural events, and Infinity War was a capital E-Event. Somewhere between a geek pipe dream, a fan fiction fantasy, a television season finale, and a Shakespearean tragedy, the film proved that a “cinematic universe” really works only when the characters are this loveable, this relatable, this flawed, and this respected. Instead of the end of the Marvel Universe, movies like this make it seem like merely the beginning.

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20. The Strangers: Prey At Night, Hell Fest, & Halloween (tie)

w: Bryan Bertino and Ben Ketai (Strangers), William Penick, Christopher Sey, Akela Cooper, Seth M. Sherwood and Blair Butler (Hell Fest), Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green (Halloween). d: Johannes Roberts (Strangers), Gregory Plotkin (Hell Fest), David Gordon Green (Halloween). 

The slasher film made a huge resurgence in 2018, starting with a John Carpenter (and Sean S. Cunningham/Brian De Palma/etc.) throwback, a sequel to 2008’s quintessential home invasion film, The Strangers. Rather than following the cinema verite, bleak original installment, Prey At Night goes from a loving homage to ‘80s horror to the best Jim Steinmann musical ever made. The ‘90s slasher boom of 20 years ago also got some love in the form of Hell Fest, an overlooked solid exercise in smart, hip young characters trapped in a plausible and brutal predicament. Of course, the slasher granddaddy came back, too, sloughing off all continuity issues to tell an anniversary story of an older Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, still locked in a brutal cat and mouse game. Finding out just who the cat and the mice are is one of the true pleasures of David Gordon Green’s modern update, helped by a new masterpiece of a score by Carpenter himself, along with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies. Slashers have such a rock solid inherent structure that they’ll never go out of style, and these films made sure they didn’t. 

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19. A Quiet Place & Upgrade (tie)

w: Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, and John Krasinski (A Quiet Place), Leigh Wannell (Upgrade). d: John Krasinski (A Quiet Place), Leigh Wannell (Upgrade).

As has been the case since the 1970’s, there were a plethora of genre films released in 2018, but none more pure and expertly constructed than these two. John Krasinski finally escaped his “Jim from The Office” status and entered into the pantheon of great blockbuster filmmakers with A Quiet Place, a movie that commits so hard to its “don’t make a sound or the creatures will kill you” premise that it’s almost all setpieces, almost a “greatest hits” of a clever concept. Leigh Wannell’s Upgrade took the “fear of sentient technology” trope and made a symbiotic action thriller out of it, one that not only had some of the most clever action sequences of the year but also contained a clever script structure with twists that are hard to see coming. These films are proof that great genre entertainment doesn’t need to be complex to be smart.

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18. You Were Never Really Here & Destroyer (tie)

w: Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never…), Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi (Destroyer). d: Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never…), Karyn Kusama (Destroyer).

How great is it that two of the most gritty, bleak, hard-hitting neo-noir films of the last ten years have been made by women directors? Both You Were Never Really Here and Destroyer are consummate noir tales by being character studies above all else, telling the tales of broken individuals who are attempting to right wrongs and atone for their sins before they burn out completely. Their styles couldn’t be more different—Ramsay chops up and fragments You Were..., reflecting Joaquin Phoenix’s Joe’s hazy perception of his reality, while Kusama shows Nicole Kidman’s Detective Bell’s world to be bleached out and mournful, haunted by a past she can’t escape. But both pack an intense emotional wallop at their climaxes, and will stay with you long after you see them. 

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17. The Favourite

w: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. d: Yorgos Lanthimos

For the last few years, director Yorgos Lanthimos has been making singular, dark, disturbing films that seem beamed in from another planet. His trademark deadpan, cutting dialogue comes from characters who seem too cruel, petty, and uptight to be naturalistic. How funny, then, that when telling the tale of Queen Anne and her lovers/political aides and all the drama of the English court, that style would have found its natural home. The Favourite is by turns austere, unsettling, and hilarious, all without losing the tragedy and cruelty of the women at its core.

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16. BlacKkKlansman & Sorry To Bother You (tie)

w: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Boots Riley (Sorry To Bother You). d: Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Boots Riley (Sorry To Bother You).

As much as ignorant people would like to believe, racism is still rampant in America in 2018, and it’s films like these that are vital to combatting the scourge of hatred, kicking complacency directly in the face. In addition to being an angry state of the nation, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is a riveting cop movie, reclaiming and reconfiguring Blacksploitation tropes. Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You, on the other hand, is a singular work all its own, as much Kurt Vonnegut as James Baldwin (or early Spike Lee, for that matter), raging not just against racial issues but class, the economy, the media, fame, and more. I’m not saying that skipping these films contributes to ignorance, but I’m not not saying that either.

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15. Vox Lux 

w&d: Brady Corbet

A film about pop music and the 21st century for an audience that both loves and loathes those things in equal measure is not going to be an easy sell. Fortunately, Brady Corbet’s second feature is well observed enough to be enjoyed on a purely aesthetic level, as his camera captures impeccably composed shots of Natalie Portman’s pop diva who found fame through tragedy and became tragic herself, a person transformed who transformed the world in turn, a stand in for the insanity that has become the new millennium. All that, and new Sia songs that totally slap. 

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14. Overlord

w: Billy Ray and Mark L. Smith. d: Julius Avery.

Before Overlord even gets to the Nazi zombie rage monsters, it’s already one of the most harrowing and powerful films depicting on the front lines battle during World War II. The opening transport plane attack rivals Steven friggin’ Spielberg in its authenticity and drama, as director Julius Avery sets up a story about war being literally and figuratively Hell. Then come the Nazi zombie rage monsters. One of the best horror-action movies of the year, that never devolves into a gimmicky grindhouse pastiche, but remains grounded in the horrors of war. Well, grounded in a pulp-y way, of course.

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13. Mom And Dad & Mandy (tie)

w: Bryan Taylor (Mom And Dad), Aaron Stewart-Ahn and Panos Cosmatos (Mandy). d: Bryan Taylor (Mom And Dad), Panos Cosmatos (Mandy). 

2018 was the Rebirth Of Nicolas Cage, a return to form and popularity for the one time A-list actor. He started the year off right, starring in Brian Taylor’s nutso horror satire Mom And Dad, a film about parents and children and their deep seated resentment of each other blossoming into murderous fury. He continued with one of the highlights of his entire varied career, Panos Cosmatos’ grief-stricken revenge movie fantasy horror dirge Mandy. In both films, Cage gives performances that are as outsized and outrageous as he’s been famous for giving for decades now, but each also contain nuanced moments of depth, as Cage reveals the bitter regret of one character and the deep well of distraught, manic, all consuming sadness of the other. If you know someone who rolls their eyes at the mention of his name, show them these films to help show them the path of the Cage. 

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12. Blindspotting

w: Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs. d: Carlos Lopez Estrada.

Easily one of the most unique movies of 2018, Blindspotting can’t be easily categorized or labeled. It’s part indie dramedy, with Daveed Diggs’ ex-con trying to find his place in his hometown while maintaining a relationship with his best friend (and worst influence,) played by Rafael Casal. The two real life friends’ chemistry is undeniable, and it’s a joy to watch them share the screen. But Blindspotting is also part political, dealing with of-the-moment issues, and the medium by which it deals with them is so heartfelt, musical and poetic, that it becomes transcendent. 

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11. Mission: Impossible—Fallout

w&d: Christopher McQuarrie

Six (6) movies in, the Mission: Impossible series shows no signs of slowing down. Even wilder, it seems to be speeding up, as star Tom Cruise pushes his physical limits further and further in order to keep audiences entertained. Yet despite all his running on a broken foot feats of endurance, one of the smartest things Cruise ever did as a producer is handing the reins over to Christopher McQuarrie, whose style as a writer is notable for its intelligence and depth, and whose style as a filmmaker is remarkable in his precision and skill at capturing crisp, clear, riveting sequences of suspense, intrigue, and action.  

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10. First Reformed 

w&d: Paul Schrader

Paul Schrader has never really left cinema since he exploded onto the scene in the 1970’s, and his popularity has waxed and waned depending on what new experimental muse he happened to be following during any given moment. With First Reformed, however, Schrader isn’t just running an exercise in transcendental cinema, he’s also made his most passionate, disturbed film since Hardcore, with a protagonist who earns the right to be compared to his iconic creation for Martin Scorsese, Travis Bickle. Ethan Hawke’s performance as Reverend Toller is the apex of the actor’s career, a man who is by turns incredibly empathetic and unsettlingly selfish, who sees himself as the answer to the world’s current plight of a slow death via pollution. Schrader’s genius is showing just how relatable Toller’s train of thought is—there but for the grace of God go we.

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9. Hereditary

w&d: Ari Aster

Ari Aster is clearly working through some shit, as his debut feature is a relentlessly harrowing portrait of a family disintegrating from the inside, with prejudices and dislikes and resentments (and, possibly, mental illness) festering away until they explode at the dinner table (as Toni Collette’s award worthy performance shows). There’s also a demon cult to contend with. Aster may be on record as not being a huge fan of the horror genre, but he certainly has an innate mastery of it, creating haunting dreamlike imagery that seems to have been beamed directly onto the screen from a nightmare he once had. Hopefully Aster’s demons have been released through the film—they’re so powerful, they may even help you with yours.

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8. Thoroughbreds & Assassination Nation (tie)

w&d: Cory Finley (Thoroughbreds), Sam Levinson (Assassination).

Heathers was released (more or less) 30 years ago this year, and it still holds up as a scathing satire of the far-right Reagan era as well as the potential for cruelty between teenagers, especially girls. Thoroughbreds is the successor to the sociopathy seen in Heathers, concerning two young women so disaffected by their posh lives (including one who literally feels nothing) that they decide to commit a series of escalatingly criminal acts. Assassination Nation is The Purge without mercy, an angry satire of not just the state of teenage cruelty but the state of anonymous cruelty perpetuated on a daily basis by Americans against each other, especially proud young women. Both genuinely upsetting films that reflect present day social norms in a brilliantly bold, angry fashion. 

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7. The Old Man & The Gun

w&d: David Lowery

David Lowery is, at this point, a master at the quiet, elegiac film, treating material as varied as a sheet-covered ghost and a flying dragon with the same empathetic touch. His farewell film for star Robert Redford is both a fond goodbye to the screen legend as well as a meditation on aging, on the legacy we look to leave behind for our families or even just ourselves. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a warm hug farewell. 

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6. Bad Times At The El Royale

w&d: Drew Goddard

Prestige television is still in its golden age, though the deluge of programming has diluted some of the good work that’s out there right now. With Bad Times, however, Drew Goddard has made a film that feels like a full season of television in just under three hours, a richly detailed and layered story of several strangers spending a long, deadly night at the kitschiest motel of the 1960’s—even if it turns out not quite all of them are strangers. Goddard’s clever, twisty, compelling story of the moral corruption of the ’60’s is one of the most rewarding watches of 2018, like a good TV series—or perhaps a dusty, dog-eared novel.

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5. First Man

w: Josh Singer. d: Damien Chazelle.

It’s still mind boggling to think that only 50 or so years ago, human beings shot themselves into the coldness of space, and eventually, landed on the moon. Doing so in the first place seems absurd, an unpractical feat that has no empirical, immediate value. But like the man who climbed Everest famously said, the moon was there, and it would be reached. Damien Chazelle, who had previously told stories about emotionally stunted, driven men consumed with ambition, brings his talents to bear on the story of Neil Armstrong. That that tale isn’t a dry biopic but is instead an emotionally taxing journey of a heartbroken man raging against fate and nature itself is just one of the most surprising and remarkable things about this gorgeous movie.

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4. Suspiria & Cold War (tie)

w: David Kajganich (Suspiria), Pawel Pawlikowski, Janusz Glowacki, and Piotr Borkowski (Cold War). d: Luca Guadagnino (Suspiria), Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War).

Two films (ironically, both released through Amazon Studios) that deal with the cancer caused by the invasions of a corrupt political regime into the lives of two powerful women. How these women deal with the cold war as a backdrop is very different but similarly strong. In Cold War, Pawlikowski tells the tale of Zula, a woman who strikes up a turbulent yet passionate relationship with Wiktor in Poland during the late 1940’s, following how the two use each other and their love of music as an escape from oppression. In Suspiria, Guadagnino brilliantly remakes Dario Argento’s original 1977 film as a story of young dancer Suzie Bannion’s encounter with a corrupt regime in microcosm to reflect the larger one outside in 1970’s Berlin: a coven of covetous witches. Both are testaments to the power of women during politically oppressive times—something quite relevant in 2018. 

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3. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs

w&d: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen.

The western is a genre that, while once dominant, is now all but relegated to niche. Yet while it may feel that every conceivable story about the Old West has been told, along come the Coen brothers to put their unique stamp on the tropes and style of the genre, and I’ll be damned if they haven’t revitalized it in the process. This portmanteau movie concerns elements as various as singing cowboys, men covered in tin pots, dogs named after obscure presidents, paraplegic performers, and Tom Waits as a prospector. Yet, taken as a whole, it’s an exploration of the nature of death, a ripe subject for a time period that was both cruel and indifferent, perfect for the existentialist interests of the Coens—sooner or later, we’re all visiting that dark hotel for an extended stay. 

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2. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

w: Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman. d: Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman.

Before December, not only were American animation films relatively uninspired, but the idea of yet another Spider-Man film sounded incredibly exhausting. So along came Into The Spider-Verse to prove absolutely everyone wrong, presenting a feat of animation so groundbreaking and entertaining that it makes the prospect of a whole new slew of Spider-Man films (in a similar style) sound incredibly desirable. Spider-Verse isn’t just a brilliant adaptation of one of the most fun story arcs from the Spidey comic book (the idea of multiple Spider-Men and -Women existing in infinite alternate universes), but a story that gets at the core of the Spider-Man mythos in a way that feels fresh and vital—we all have power and responsibility, and “anyone can wear the mask.” 

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!. Annihilation 

w&d: Alex Garland

50 years ago this year, Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking 2001: A Space Odyssey was released, and contrary to its present-day reputation, the reception the film initially received was fairly confused and cold. As I sat watching a 70mm print in theaters earlier this year, I wondered how 1968 me may have reacted had I been born a few decades sooner. Then I remembered seeing Alex Garland’s Annihilation, and realized I already knew. Garland’s film isn’t Kubrickian, nor is it really trying to be, but it contains the same pioneering spirit, a desire to take science-fiction seriously and push its limits, both narratively and visually. Indeed, Annihilation isn’t necessarily purely science-fiction—it may contain the single most terrifying sequence of 2018, and as you can see from the rest of this list, that’s no mean feat. What’s so amazing about the film is how it’s simultaneously like many previous genre classics, and not at all like them. It’s a movie that’s subtextually about so much, everything from death, to self-destruction (whether deliberately or subconsciously inflicted) to disease, to transformation, to rebirth. It’s far and away the most original movie of the year, one that takes not only the genre but the medium of cinema to new places. After all, every few years or so, an act of creation must take place, no matter how violent or jarring. That’s how movies remain so important, and so damn good. 

Honorable Mentions: Isle Of Dogs, Unsane, Tully, Deadpool 2, American Animals, Hotel Artemis, Eighth Grade, The Sisters Brothers, Mid90s, Creed II, Roma, Anna and the Apocalypse, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Other Side Of The Wind/They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, Cam, Apostle, Hold The Dark.

Not Seen At Time Of Writing: The Death Of Stalin, Blockers, Beautiful Boy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Bodied, Shoplifters, Mary Queen of Scots, The Outlaw King, Vice, Gotti.



























THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX Deserves Better Than Your Laptop

In the Cloverfield franchise, the element of surprise is paramount. Initially, in 2008, it meant a cryptic teaser trailer attached to a major summer tent pole film that had people speculating for months what the movie was even called, let alone what it was about. In 2016, it meant a trailer dropping for the “sequel” (a loose amount of Easter egg connections between the films being the M.O., essentially making the series an anthology), which had been shot in secret, a mere two months before the movie was in theaters. In 2018, it means secretly selling the latest installment to Netflix and dropping it online immediately after the Super Bowl. Producer JJ Abrams and his “mystery box” methodology never fails to disappoint on the surprise element, and the Cloverfield series is where it shines brightest.

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So after the cleverness of the release strategy, is the resultant film any good? Rumors swirled online that Paramount Pictures, the financier of the movie and the studio that released the prior two installments theatrically, were nervous about the movie and wanted to experiment with the surprise Netflix sale/release rather than risk a middling theatrical run that would hurt their bottom line. Certainly they’d already publicly done just that sort of bet hedging with Alex Garland’s upcoming Annihilation, dumped to Netflix overseas due to a bad test screening that branded the film “too intellectual” for audiences. Obviously the prospect of sweet, sweet cash money from the streaming giant now was a more attractive proposition than a potentially poor exhibition. Fortunately, after all this, I can say that The Cloverfield Paradox (the final iteration of the movie’s title) is very good.

Essentially, the movie belongs to the grand tradition of “space station thrillers”, sci-fi parables that have been a cinematic staple for decades, with examples ranging from Saturn 3 (‘80) to Gravity (‘13). The Earth is undergoing a massive energy crisis, and a consortium of international governments (along with their representative astronauts) have pooled their resources to build the Cloverfield station (named for who or what, exactly??) which contains a particle accelerator, in the hopes that it could be used to create a new sustainable energy source. When a routine test of the accelerator goes awry, the crew of the station find themselves suddenly transported far away from the Earth...or are they, in fact, in another dimension?

While the original Cloverfield (‘08) was a found footage version of a kaiju “giant monster” movie, and ‘16’s 10 Cloverfield Lane was a slow burn of a long con about whether there was a alien threat outside a shelter or just a human one inside, Cloverfield Paradox is a jack-in-the-box sci-fi horror film where the rules of reality are broken and anything could happen. Up and coming director Julius Onah stages sequences for maximum shock effect, and as a result a perpetual sense of “oh my god what is happening” pervades the movie. Structurally, it operates like a monster/slasher movie, with each member of the crew being menaced and then bumped off. Only here, it’s not one creature or multiple creatures doing the bumping, but the dangerous collision of two realities on top of each other—think Final Destination(‘00) in space. All of this means the movie is a delight to watch, with a new gag or setpiece around every corner, each one being equally unpredictable.

As is producer Abrams’ trademark, the human crew is beset not just by immediate survival concerns but personal ones as well, and the film has a very effecting emotional core, helped in large part by the uniformily excellent cast. As the lead, Ava Hamilton, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is fantastic, able to handle the physical demands of the role but also letting every bad decision of her past and harrowing choice about her future register on her expressive face. Backing her up is Elizabeth Debicki, doing her always watchable serpentine act as a mysterious crew member who materializes after the station has moved. Daniel Bruhl is solid as always in the role of the station’s lead physicist, and Chris O’Dowd takes a comic relief role that could have been grating and makes him completely charming. Onah stages the movie in such a way where, even if it’s impossible to know where M-deck is in relation to Z-wing, it’s always clear where each character is and where they are in relation to each other. This attention to geography makes the movie’s crew feel truly like an ensemble. It’s a hard balance to strike in movies like this, and here it works excellently.

Not that there aren’t bumps in the road, or glitches in the system. For as many surprising elements the script (by Oren Uziel and Doug Jung) throws at us, there are some painfully cliched moments—if you’ve seen one heroic sacrifice scene, you’ve seen ‘em all. The unpredictability also means that some gags never get quite enough explanation, with people being offed in spectacular but confusing fashion. The Cloverfield series connections here are mostly the same as the previous films: a Tagruato sign here, a Kelvin sign there, a Slusho sign over here. However, there’s a running subplot with Hamilton’s husband (Roger Davies) stuck on Earth as it goes into chaos following the station’s disappearance. Davies does a good job, and the sequence is as well shot as the rest of the film, but it nonetheless feels aimless, a bit of character work for no discernible purpose. Until the twist ending, which, thanks to the subplot’s existence, isn’t much of a twist, as it’s rather properly set up. The subplot feels like a cliff’s notes run through the Cloverfield films, as Davies goes from a disaster area to a bunker, and it sticks out as a (likely) addition to the movie to tie it into the other films, but it’s not clear why they went to such a degree of trouble.

Despite the structure being a bit awkward, The Cloverfield Paradox is a super entertaining and thought provoking slice of Twilight Zone-esque sci-fi horror, and a gorgeous looking and sounding one to boot. Onah’s cinematographer Dan Mindel makes the movie look exceptionally handsome, the sound design from Justin M Davey and Ken McGill is pervasive, eerie, and booming, and the visual effects from Industrial Light And Magic are top notch. In short, the movie absolutely deserves to be exhibited theatrically. Rather than being a grand experiment to subvert the film industry standards or cause a buzzworthy news cycle of surprise, Paramount’s dumping of the film onto Netflix is nothing more than a vote of no confidence, in the film or the brand. They took a look at the poor theatrical runs of Life and Alien Covenant (both last year) and concluded that big budget space station action/sci-fi/horror no longer deserves a big screen. It’s a troubling precedent, and the fact that, given Netflix’s current business practices, the movie may not only never see a theater screen but also may never appear on hi-def Blu-Ray/4K is a travesty. Seeing a movie with as many wacky surprises as this would be a fantastic communal experience, as opposed to seeing it alone late on a Sunday night curled up in your bed on your computer. The series may still have a buzzworthiness for now, but when it comes to devaluing an artistic medium, it may prove to be a new kind of Cloverfield monster.

Bill’s Top Twenty-Five(ish) Movies Of 2017

It’s become a tired cliche to say “movies have been really good this year!”. Of course they have; any artistic medium will have at least some works of note produced in any given year (okay, maybe not 2004, I’ll have to double check). That being said, 2017 has been a year where the films have been not just good, but overwhelmingly great, as the tumultuous times we live in (not even just politically—socially and economically as well) have birthed some truly groundbreaking works and a handful of all-time classics. This list has 25 entries, but contains 33 films, and could have contained many more. It showcases an art form that, just a mere century old, still has a lot to say about humanity’s past, present, and future. Here, then, are my favorites of the year—ranked for the fun of having a countdown more than any judgement of merit. The real winners are us, the audience. 

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25. The Post

w: Liz Hannah and Josh Singer  d: Steven Spielberg

The typical cycle of filmmaking these days means that the majority of movies that are released in a year were conceived, written, and shot the year prior, making each of them just the tiniest bit dated. Along comes our greatest living legend director Steven Spielberg to shatter that concept, producing, shooting, and releasing The Post in a matter of months. The resulting film has an urgency to it, a desire to shout from the bullpens about the need of a free press, and is as on the nose as any Spielberg film before it about that message. What’s so impressive, then, is how it not only evokes the tense paranoia and cloak & dagger feeling of the best ‘70s thrillers, but how each scene is staged and blocked for maximum effect. People talking in small, crowded rooms doesn’t sound cinematic, but Spielberg makes it sing. He’s helped immensely by the (first time!) pairing of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, bringing dignity, determination and class to the real life figures of the bullheaded editor who took risks and the brave publisher who broke new ground for women and journalism alike. 

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24. mother!

w&d: Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky has always been a filmmaker deeply interested in religious mythology, and even his non-Bible tinged works have a deep well of spirituality to them. mother! is simultaneously his most religious and most secular film, one that can be read as everything from a Biblical allegory to a pro-environment manifesto to a damning confession of Aronofsky‘ own failings in relationships. The director’s craft has never been better than here, taking the audience on a demented carnival ride that starts as a farce and ends as an apocalyptic scream into the void. Star Jennifer Lawrence makes what looks difficult (carrying such a wild movie as well as being Aronofsky’s partner) seem effortless. 

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23. Logan Lucky

w: “Rebecca Blunt” d: Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh has been a cinephile darling for arguably longer than he’s been a prolific filmmaker, and his “retirement” of the last few years has consisted mostly of directing prestige TV series and cutesy blog posts in which he re-edits 2001 or some such. All of that meaning that it was easy for me to forget that, when he makes a movie, he’s one of the best around, and Logan Lucky sees him come back to the heist subgenre that he’s mastered many times before. Only here, it’s the opposite of the Oceans films, as Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum, playing it with a quiet dignity) and his family aren’t high class rollers but working class heroes taking on The System. The entire film is done with a minimum of snark (180 degrees from where the Coen Brothers would take such material) and a maximum of heart, resulting in a scene that may be the best use of a John Denver song in a year full of movies using Denver songs. Plus, Daniel Craig with bleached hair playing a demolitions expert named “Joe Bang”. Welcome back, Steven. 

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22. The Big Sick

w: Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani  d: Michael Showalter

The romantic comedy has been in a creative rut for decades now, and the movie to finally save it is neither constructed nor marketed as one. The Big Sick is a rom com, backstage biopic, true life drama, and charming indie film all rolled into one, transcending any rote genre and existing in its own special space. Nanjiani has quietly been a star as a supporting actor for some time now, but shines even brighter in the leading role here, playing himself. Zoe Kazan does smart work making a memorable character who’s on screen time is rather short, and her parents, as portrayed by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, are two of the best characters on screen this year. Director Showalter, who previously deconstructed the rom com in his film The Baxter (‘05) returns to perfect it. As someone who’s been in Emily’s place before, stuck in a hospital bed while loved ones wait for me to wake up, the film is especially moving for me. I guarantee that you’ll find something special in it for yourself, too.

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21. Ingrid Goes West

w: David Branson Smith & Matt Spicer  d: Matt Spicer

The ubiquitous influence of social media on all of our lives is a seismic social upheaval that we’ve only begun to process. Vanity, ego, an obsession with celebrity and a need to be validated are all human issues that are as old as time, but Smith, Spicer and producer/star Aubrey Plaza (in a career best performance) give their bitingly satiric take on them here, filtered through the bizarro world of Instagram, making the film a Taxi Driver (‘76) for the Internet age. Crucially, the film never judges nor praises its characters. They’re all shown to be phonies of one sort or another, but that doesn’t mean they’re unworthy of love. The question is, should they get it, or is that just making it all worse? 

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20. The Bad Batch

w&d: Ana Lily Amirpour

With her second feature, Amirpour builds on the promise of her debut A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (‘14), proving herself to be an uncompromising artist exploring issues of race, gender and class as filtered through genre tropes. What starts as a grisly cannibal film quickly turns into a “party people” post-apocalyptic rave picture, with the denizens of an endless desert of social rejects either pissing their lives away or literally consuming each other. With a minimum of dialogue (except in the case of Keanu Reeves, clearly having a blast here as a skeevy wasteland demigod), Amirpour posits a better way to move society forward, rather than keep it in the decay it’s in. 

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19. The Disaster Artist

w: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber  d: James Franco

The irony of a movie about the infamous cinematic disaster The Room (‘03) being one of the best movies of the year is delicious. The fact that it’s made by and stars Hollywood’s most bankable charismatic art weirdo James Franco is even better. Through Franco, The Disaster Artist, rather than just being a goofy trek through the history of a cult phenomenon, becomes a treatise on the relationship between art and artist. Achieving a longtime dream doesn’t always happen and yet having that dream isn’t something to be derided, no matter what bizarre creature happens to have one. One of the most hilarious movies of the year also happens to be the most kind. 

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18. Raw & Nocturama (tie) 

w&d: Julia Ducournau (Raw), Bertrand Bonello (Nocturama)

Two of the most challenging and incisive films of the year hail from France, born in a film industry without the same social norms. How else do we get stories where the protagonists are murder-prone insatiable cannibals and disaffected young terrorists? When you get past the sensationalism of these films (which is admittedly pretty sensational), you’ll find some bold, vibrant filmmaking. Raw explores a young woman’s coming of age in an uncompromising light, with the girl’s (literal) appetites shown to not be an aberration but a natural phenomenon that must be reconciled. Nocturama’s youth in revolt aren’t radicalized monsters, but people without direction and even identity, a Dawn Of The Dead (‘78) in which the (metaphorical, this time) zombies are the protagonists. C’est bon.

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17. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor Ragnarok, & Logan (tie)

w: James Gunn (Guardians), John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna, Christopher Ford, Jon Watts (Spidey), Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost (Thor), James Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green (Logan

d: James Gunn (Guardians), Jon Watts (Spidey), Taika Waititi (Thor), James Mangold (Logan)

The superhero film is here to stay awhile, and just like the popular genres of previous eras, it’s being forced to evolve lest it die. Unlike the stagnation present in the DCEU films, the output of Marvel Studios (along with Fox’s Marvel properties) has grown bolder and more experimental, while still maintaining fidelity to the comic shop source material. All four of these films this year packed an emotional wallop. Gunn’s Guardians is not only a Technicolor space opera, but a story of escaping abuse in order to forge a new family. Watts’ Homecoming is the story of a young man making his first hard choices as to who he wants to be in his life, sacrificing his social life and even his reputation in order to save lives. Waititi’s Ragnarok is about the inevitability of change, and the positive and negative implications of that. Mangold’s Logan is about legacy, trying to leave the world behind a little better than you’d entered it. All the personal crises that these characters go through make these films feel fresh, new, and compelling, while still delivering on the crazy superhero fights. There’s seemingly no limit to where the genre can go now, and we have these films to thank for that. 

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16. Colossal & Lady Bird (tie)

w&d: Nacho Vigalondo (Colossal), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)

Cinema needs more female characters who drive the story, and two of the most shining examples of that can be seen in these films. Both have a whimsical, giddy approach that allows their directors to expand into deeper themes and moments without sacrificing the element of fun. But as great as the music, editing, and direction in both are, neither film would get anywhere without their dynamic leads. Anne Hathaway’s Gloria in Colossal is a total mess of a person who uses her reluctant journey home to discover that she has an inner strength (that manifests itself as a giant Kaiju in South Korea) and that the men surrounding her are either holding her back and/or are literal monsters. Saorise Ronan’s Christine in Lady Bird is similarly a force of nature, boldly attempting to forge a path for her future while not being at all sure where it leads. With all of their imperfections, the two characters become some of the most iconic and inspiring of the year.

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15. T2 Trainspotting

w: John Hodge  d: Danny Boyle

There is a large amount of nostalgia in our culture, and a reason for that is that there’s a large amount of nostalgia in ourselves. Whether you moved away from your old home decades ago or are still living there, the times you spent with friends and family are gone forever, and everything has changed, most of all you. T2 is thrillingly, lovingly concerned with the proverbial chickens coming home to roost in the lives of Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his old Edinburgh circle of addicts. The meta text comments on not only the huge leap in social change from the ‘90s to today, but to sequels in general, what they mean and why they exist. Youth can’t ever be recaptured, but that feeling, that rush, can be rediscovered. 

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14. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

w&d: Martin McDonagh

Throughout his career, Martin McDonagh has played one of the most challenging and difficult roles an artist can play, that of the uncompromising provocateur. It can be all to easy to tip over one side or the other, into kitschy shock value or careless offensiveness, and many argue that McDonagh has done it before, or even has now, with this film. I personally am of the mind that his work is vital precisely because it says with a blunt force what many kinder artists can not or will not, and yet does so with, I think, a large amount of nuance and intelligence. This film, about the anger and rage of people who have been oppressed (like Frances McDormand’s grieving mother, in a all timer performance) or (in the case of Sam Rockwell’s racist cop) merely feel oppressed, is an exploration of how to live, move on, and grow out of tragedy and injustice. It’s a film vital to our times, because, just as in real life, there are no easy answers, but there may be hope. 

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13. The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

w: Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou  d: Yorgos Lanthimos

And here is a story in which there is no hope, but the easiest answer possible. Loosely adapting a myth from the history of his native Greece, deadpan surrealist/satirist/sadist Lanthimos weaves the tale of a moderately happy surgeon (Colin Farrell, quickly become the perfect leading man for the directors tales of tragedy) who is visited by the son of an ex-patient (Barry Keoghan, redefining onscreen sociopathy) and given an ultimatum. This choice must be made, and there’s no escaping it. Lanthimos deals with the concepts of sin and poetic justice in so surreal and harrowing a manner that, if you’re like me, you’ll be literally breathless during the final scenes. Pure, powerful filmmaking.

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12. It, Happy Death Day & Super Dark Times

w: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga & Gary Dauberman (It), Scott Lobdell (Happy), Ben Collins & Luke Piotrowski (Super)

d: Andy Muschietti (It), Christopher Landon (Happy), Kevin Philips (Super)

Horror had a fantastic year in 2017. Not that the genre has ever gone away, but it came roaring back into the mainstream this year, where the major choices for horror fans was no longer limited to some supernatural jump scare machine or some wacky indie throwback film. There are a wealth of great ones to choose from, but the three that I found so effective this year were these. Muschietti, his remarkable ensemble cast of young adults and a majorly chilling Bill Skarsgard completely nailed Stephen King in a way that hasn’t been done since the days of Frank Darabont, making the first legit mainstream horror hit that didn’t involve a ghost haunting a family in what feels like forever. Landon & Lobdell brought back the slasher movie with a Groundhog Day riff that, far from being tired, felt fresh and inspired, and contained a stellar lead performance from Jessica Rothe. Philips, Collins and Piotrowski’s film unquestionably got a smaller release than the other two, but in telling the tale of a group of young boys who make bad choices that lead to even worse choices, they managed to create a King-esque modern classic that will mesmerize people who discover it for years to come. Each of these movies are visually rich, thoughtful, and creepy, the best of what the horror genre can provide. 

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11. Good Time 

w: Ronald Bronstein & Josh Safdie  d: Benny & Josh Safdie

The Safdie brothers bring back a New York City that both hasn’t existed for a while and yet never left. It’s a place of great promise, but also traps at every turn, a place where you can possibly get away with breaking outside of the system, if you can deal with the fact that the system will be trying that much harder to close around you if you do. Robert Pattinson’s Connie is an iconic screen character from the first minutes of the film, a street punk who’s smarter than he seems and dumber than he should be. Co-director Benny Safdie is also a co-star, in which he plays Connie’s mentally handicapped brother Nick, who Connie spends one desperate night to save from incarceration. Safdie’s work is incredible, layered and observed. That goes for both Safdie’s, in fact, as they (helped in large part by a dream creep electronic score from Oneohtrix Point Never) take us into the underworld of the outer boroughs. 

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10. Dunkirk

w & d: Christopher Nolan

Nolan is an artist who is taken to task fairly often these days, in large part due to the fact that, now 10 films into his career, his predilections, style, and interests can be easily quantified and parodied. There are no “dead wives” in Dunkirk, but there are certainly IMAX cameras shooting real 70mm film, and a structural conceit that recounts singular experiences within the titular retreat/battle from three different locales within three overlapping time periods. What Nolan is still able to do, and does here brilliantly, is marry his interest in overwhelmingly loud and large moments, structural tampering, and the like to the material at hand. Never before have I watched a war film where I felt inside the film, the sheer white knuckle tension and fear overtaking me with each tick of the clock. If movies are “empathy machines”, as Roger Ebert once said, than Nolan has done a masters job here of making me empathize with those who fight wars, making their eventual escape from Dunkirk one of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve had on screen this year.

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9. Atomic Blonde & John Wick Chapter Two (tie)

w: Kurt Johnstad (Atomic), Derek Kolstad (Wick)  d: David Leitch (Atomic), Chad Stahelski (Wick)

In 2014, directors and longtime stunt coordinators Chad Stahelski and David Leitch blew up the action movie with John Wick, a no-nonsense ass kicker that showcased real actors and stuntmen really kicking ass. For the Wick sequel, Stahelski flies solo, and helps make Chapter Two a feast of not only action but visual spectacle as well, expanding the unique comic book-esque world of Wick into Italian catacombs, impossible lengthy subway battles, and a literal hall of mirrors. In a world where (seemingly) everyone is an assassin, Keanu Reeves’ Wick is a lone samurai type character who is the only possible person that could even hope to take on hundreds of challengers. Bringing things more down to Earth (but no less stylized), Leitch’s Atomic Blonde is a brutal tale of the death of spycraft, and one woman’s gambit to punch and scheme her way out of it. The film’s neon soaked Berlin locales look luscious and gritty all at once, and the greatest hits of the ‘80s pump on the soundtrack while each punch that Charlize Theron takes and dishes out looks and sounds like it stings. If you’re looking for a new mythic hero or a female James Bond, look no further. 

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8. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

w & d: Rian Johnson

In a lot of ways, The Last Jedi feels like the apotheosis of the trend of putting auteur writer-directors onto big budget franchise films. From the maker of Brick and Looper comes the friggin’ next chapter of the Star Wars saga?! After all, however, the original film released 40 years ago was a George Lucas joint through and through, and it’s that similar clarity of vision that allows The Last Jedi to be the most dynamic, progressive, and vital Star Wars film in decades. In making a movie about destroying cycles, systems, and the past, Johnson speaks not only in a meta sense about our entertainment but our times as well. At the end of a harrowing year, our foremost modern mythology is here to remind us to not fight what we hate, but save what we love. Star Wars was and is always going to be a popular phenomenon for all ages, but with this entry, it now belongs in the same breath as deeply thoughtful and nuanced works like those of Tolkien, an epic saga that can speak truth about and to any age. 

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7. I, Tonya

w: Steven Rogers  d: Craig Gillespie

I, Tonya is one of the rare films I saw this year that I actually gasped in shock during. What you might think before watching the film is that it will be a Scorsese-tinged edgy recounting of the life and times of ex-Olympic skater and once upon a time media phenomenon Tonya Harding, and of course you wouldn’t be wholly wrong. What you might not be prepared for, as I wasn’t, is that the film is not only darkly funny (with the bumbling idiot criminals Jeff Gillooly and Shawn played perfectly by Sebastian Stan and Paul Walter-Hauser) but is a unflinching look at abuse in all its forms. Allison Janney and Margot Robbie do career best work here, playing people who can’t easily be filed away as foolish, monstrous, or victimized. By the time the film gets around to pointing out the cycle of abuse continues with you, the person watching, you just might gasp, too.

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6. Phantom Thread 

w & d: Paul Thomas Anderson

Paul Thomas Anderson and his sometime muse, Daniel Day-Lewis, get a lot of mileage out of fostering their public personas as being inscrutable artistes. It gives them an air of class, a respectability, an austereness, not unlike the character Day-Lewis plays in this film, dress designer Reynolds Woodcock. So it’s a pleasant delight to see a film like Phantom Thread that reminds you that these guys are fucking weirdos at their core. Anderson shoots the story of Woodcock and his muse, Alma (played with a “holy crap who is she” fearlessness by Vicky Krieps) in a detached, impeccably composed manner that reveals itself to be incredibly fetishistic while sexless. The sex is brought to screen thanks to stalwart composer Johnny Greenwood, whose lush compositions hide endless secrets. In liquid-like 70mm film, Phantom Thread is a movie that hides more than it reveals, but what it eventually uncovers is a Gothic Hitchcockian romance that’s deliciously demented. 

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5. Alien Covenant

w: Jack Paglen, Michael Green, John Logan & Dante Harper   d: Ridley Scott

For a while, the Alien franchise was the playground in which emerging young auteur directors could come and play, building upon what had come before in the series but wildly changing the look and tone like a creature feature version of round robin. With 2012’s Prometheus, the original Alien director Ridley Scott took control of the series, steering it in a bizarre new direction involving a secular look at religious philosophy and mad scientist body horror. This year’s Alien Covenant doubled down on that direction while adding the titular Xenomorph back in, and the result is one of the best adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft that the prolific horror author never wrote. Actually, it’s more Lovecraft meets Shelley, as Michael Fassbender’s David (one of the best performances of the year) is both Frankenstein and his monster, a being that creates and destroys within a single thought. Covenant was not well received upon release, being too bleak, brutal, and cruel for most people. If “bleak, brutal and cruel” sounds like the perfect description of the Alien to you, as it does to me, then you’ll love Covenant, too. 

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4.  The Shape Of Water

w: Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor  d: Guillermo del Toro

Never let anyone tell you they love monsters more than Guillermo del Toro, who proves his monster-loving bonafides literally with this film. The Shape Of Water isn’t particularly deep, as it simply reverses the dynamic of the old monster movies of the ‘50s, where the square jawed white male hero is the true monster. But it is important, and incredibly moving, to see a story of heroes whom society would normally cast aside (because of disability, age, gender, color, country or even species). del Toro’s movies are impeccably designed, and as such the entire film looks and feels like a magical world that allows just these specific characters to live within it. It’s the year’s most swooningly romantic film, with a score by Alexandre Desplat that sounds transported from ‘30s Paris. As del Toro himself said in a recent Q + A, “emotion is the new punk”, and this beautiful movie is full of emotion.

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3. A Ghost Story

w & d: David Lowery

Even for a indie movie studio like A24, David Lowery’s A Ghost Story sounds like box office poison. A film intentionally shot in the 1.33 ratio that contains maybe 2 minutes of dialogue, following the meandering journey of a dead man covered in a Halloween ghost sheet? A near 9 minute scene where Rooney Mara eats an entire pie? It’s a wonder that A Ghost Story got made at all, but an even bigger gift is that the movie is this beautiful and—yes—haunting. For anyone who’s laid awake at night contemplating what might lie after death, whether we as people make a lasting difference in the world, and even what happens to our old homes once we leave them, this is for you.

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2. Baby Driver

w & d: Edgar Wright

In New York City, where I live, I’m never outside without a pair of headphones on. Walking everywhere, every day while listening to music can cause me, even unconsciously, to catch rhythms, to move to the beat, essentially, to have my life soundtracked. Music isn’t just incredibly important to me, it’s part of me, what I live on, and that is exactly true for Ansel Elgort’s Baby, and (I have to assume) Edgar Wright. Wright makes a film here that he’s been building to pretty much his whole career, a non-stop jukebox musical where every sound and movement is designed and choreographed to source music. It might sound easy, but get behind some editing software for a few minutes and you’ll start to realize what a massive undertaking this was. Baby Driver also functions as a driving stunt show, with real stunt drivers pulling off some crazy tricks. The characters are all archetypes; they have to be, since the real function of the film is to provide as much aesthetic pleasure as possible. Movies are, at their core, a kind of magic trick, and Wright has pulled off one hell of a good trick.

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1: Blade Runner 2049

w: Hampton Fancher & Michael Green  d: Denis Villeneuve

There have been many formative films in my life, but 1982’s Blade Runner found me at a relatively early age. It whisked me away to another world, one that I didn’t necessarily wish to visit but found myself dreaming about getting lost in anyway. Ridley Scott’s film was undeniably bleak, but spoke to the core of what it means to be human (or more than human) in a fashion that has stuck with me through my years. When it was announced that a sequel was being made, and that it would be released on my actual birthday, it felt like a kind of a cosmic joke. Fortunately, Blade Runner 2049 was a gift, a vision that I can’t believe exists, a film that I still can’t get out of my head. Villeneuve brings his trademark beguiling tension to the Philip K. Dickian universe of replicants, their makers, and their hunters. Roger Deakins shoots a world that both feels like an evolution of the original film and totally fresh, a world where the disaffection and loneliness we’re seeing now has been increased a million fold. Fancher and Green’s script attacks the concept of what it means to be human with a ferociousness even the original didn’t possess, as if they and we were in immediate danger of never having the question ever answered. Building on the film noir trappings of the original, characters here are revealed to be simple rubes, unimportant cogs in an unfeeling system, who nevertheless can find meaning and transcendence in as simple a thing as an introduction, or watching the snow fall. What does being human even mean? In such a cold, bleak, and dimly hopeful work of art, I found an answer to why I want to continue to ask the question. 

Honorable Mentions: Split, The Great Wall, Get Out, The Girl With All The Gifts, Kong: Skull Island, The Devil’s Candy, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, Ghost In The Shell, Free Fire, It Comes At Night, The Beguiled, The Little Hours, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets, Detroit, Brigsby Bear, Wind River, Molly’s Game, Okja

Have Not Seen At Time Of Writing: Call Me By Your Name, The Florida Project, Mudbound, Darkest Hour, Downsizing, Personal Shopper

Happy New Year, everybody! Hope it’s a great one, and see you at the movies.