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The Best Films of Sundance Film Festival 2019

Written by The Film Stage, February 4, 2019 at 9:31 am 

With over 50 films viewed and more coverage coming from the Sundance Film Festival, it’s time to wrap up the first major cinema event in 2019. We already got the official jury and audience winners (here), and now it’s time to highlight our favorites.

One will find our favorites (in alphabetical order), followed by the rest of our reviews (from best to worst, including previously premiered features). Check out everything below and stay tuned to our site, and specifically Twitter, for acquisition and release date news on the below films in the coming months.

American Factory (Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert)

When the Rust Belt was hit hard in the financial crisis of 2008, the blue-collar workers of Dayton, Ohio found a savior in a Chinese billionaire. Six years after the lifeblood that was a General Motors plant was shut down, the car-glass manufacturers Fuyao opened up their first American factory in the town, meaning thousands of new job opportunities. The promise of a steady income lifts the spirits of the workers, but an East vs. West clash of working methods quickly emerges, causing labor division, personal strife, and some unexpected camaraderie amongst the workforce. Directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert–who were Oscar-nominated for another look into the recession, The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant–capture this conflict in it all its complications, humor, and heartbreak in their thoroughly engrossing documentary American Factory. – Jordan R. (full review)

Cold Case Hammarskjöld (Mads Brügger)

In 1961, Secretary-General of the United Nations Dag Hammarskjöld was killed in a plane crash in Africa under mysterious circumstances. Beginning as an investigation into his still-unsolved death, the trail that Mads Brügger follows in Cold Case Hammarskjöld is one that expands to implicate some of the world’s most powerful governments in unfathomably heinous crimes. Without revealing the specifics of the jaw-dropping revelations in this thoroughly engrossing documentary, if there’s any justice, what is brought to light will cause global attention and a demand for some kind of retribution. – Jordan R. (full review)

Divine Love (Gabriel Mascaro)

Last year’s Sundance Film Festival opened with Tamara Jenkins’s Private Life, a thoughtful, witty drama exploring the struggles of infertility faced by a couple in New York City. Premiering at this year’s festival, Gabriel Mascaro’s strange, alluring Divine Love examines similar hardships, albeit in an entirely different place, time, and aesthetic conceit. Set in the near-future of 2027 in Brazil, Joana (Dira Paes) is a deeply religious woman who is trying to conceive a child by any means necessary. Through his exquisite vision, Mascaro tells a curious tale of spiritual commitment, marital strife, and the blurred separation of church and state, leading to an ultimately surprising, powerful conclusion. – Jordan R. (full review)

The Farewell (Lulu Wang)

There’s something special about The Farewell. Written and directed by Lulu Wang and starring Awkwafina, this is the kind of film that feels specific and universal all at once. The film opens with the title card: “Based on an actual lie.” Wang builds this narrative from personal experience: her family chose to hide a cancer diagnosis from her grandmother (Zhao Shuzhen) and spend the final days celebrating instead of mourning. Or at least that was the idea. A fairly elaborate plan is hatched, involving a sham wedding that forces an abrupt reunion back in China. – Dan M. (full review)

Hail, Satan? (Penny Lane)

Amusingly, Penny Lane’s documentary Hail Satan? is interested in clarifying one critical misconception about the Satanic Temple: its members don’t, in fact, worship the Devil at all. Rather, the organization—or religion, as they’d prefer to be called—is, essentially, an ultimately altruistic group of people, typically self-proclaimed misfits, who wish to highlight the double standards of the so-called separation of church and state—all while co-opting Satanic iconography to get a rise out of Christian conservatives. – Jake H. (full review)

Hala (Minhal Baig)

Geraldine Viswanathan, welcome to the rest of your career. The young star, who stole scenes in last year’s comedy Blockers, is the lead in Hala, written and directed by Minhal Baig. She plays the titular character, a Muslim teenager coming to terms with her parents’ expectations, her religion’s expectations, and the expectations she has for herself. Sundance has offered plenty of coming-of-age stories throughout the years. Few are as effective as this one. – Dan M. (full review)

Knock Down the House (Rachel Lears)

Rachel Lears’ Knock Down the House is a fun, emotionally powerful, inspiring look at the incredible wave of would-be politicians that sought, in 2018, to challenge status quo Democrats and enact meaningful change—all while refusing money from Wall Street fat cats and big business super PACs. Jake H. (full review)

Light From Light (Paul Harrill)

If the jump scares and horror set pieces of Paranormal Activity or The Conjuring franchises were exchanged for an authentic reckoning of the tangled emotions the departed may leave behind, you have something close to Light From Light. There’s a palpable tension to this story of paranormal investigating, but rather than injecting the expected terror, the film’s power lies in never seeing ghost hunting depicted so grounded and character-driven before. This is the kind of film where the minutiae of insurance policies are discussed before any haunting may begin. Those going into Paul Harrill’s second feature looking for frights will be rewarded with something more substantial: an experience rich with atmosphere and humanity, and drama ultimately more enlightening than the cheap thrills that pervade the dime-a-dozen ghost stories we’ve seen before.Jordan R. (full review)

Luce (Julias Onah)

Star of the debate team, straight A student, soon to be high school valedictorian: from his handsome looks and stellar CV, Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is the shining example of the all-American teenager—minus, of course, his history as a child adopted from war-torn Eritrea. As a name, Luce means “light” in Latin, the idea being Luce, a now-beaming youth in the Arlington, Va., area, was removed from unimaginable darkness. But there’s another spin on the allegory here that’s just as meaningful: when people are placed into boxes—stereotypes, to be clear—only so much light can filter in and out of them.Jake H. (full review)

The Mustang (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre)

Can we talk about Matthias Schoenaerts? The Belgian actor made a splash on the festival circuit with Bullhead in 2011, leading to roles–both lead and supporting–in everything from Rust & Bone to Red Sparrow. Since his breakout though, he’s never matched the same attention despite a decade’s worth of good work. With Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s The Mustang, let’s hope that changes. The prison drama is a well-worn sub-genre, ripe with predictive beats and expected narrative turns. Those behind this picture are determined to subvert those expectations, and the attempt–though not fully realized–is much appreciated. – Dan M. (full review)

Native Son (Rashid Johnson)

In Native Son—artist Rashid Johnson’s feature film debut and adaptation of the 1940 Richard Wright novel of the same name—Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders finds himself once again in a similarly complex, utterly electrifying coming-of-age triptych. Fortunately, in this 2019 Sundance highlight, Sanders is given a canvas all his own: one that’s spacious enough for him to fully let loose and create that rare sort of character that feels like a force of nature. – Jake H. (full review)

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Posterized February 2019: ‘Hotel by the River,’ ‘Birds of Passage,’ ‘Cold Pursuit,’ and More

Written by Jared Mobarak, February 1, 2019 at 9:46 am 

“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.


It’s a rough month for posters thanks to an influx of sequels and remakes. I just don’t have it in me to talk about how staid the character sheets are for The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (February 8), Alita: Battle Angel (February 14), and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (February 22); how forgettable Miss Bala (February 1) is; or air-brushed and Photoshopped Fighting with My Family (February 14) and What Men Want (February 8) prove. Rounding their titles up here is enough.

Luckily there are a few gems down below to ensure things aren’t at a total loss. Let’s a give a round of applause to the small shingles providing foreign work the type of stunning artistic complements necessary to stand apart from the glossy Hollywood machine.


On the vertical axis

If you’re going to do a vertical axis collage of characters, you could do worse than The Refinery’s The Unicorn (limited February 15). Is it kind of a poor man’s Bad Times at the El Royale aesthetic that loses LA’s atmospheric mood? Sure. But I like the flatness to it with bright colors lending a graphic feel above photo-realism. This isn’t a “real” neon sign nor are the palm trees giving us a sense of place beyond drug-addled trip into psychedelia. Throw a filter on the actors so their portraiture matches the pared down periphery and you have something.

Doing a bit better on this trend is The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (limited February 8) with the artist pretty much taking the look of Empire Design’s Inglourious Basterds and giving it a more throwback illustrative sense of flair a la John Alvin and his contemporaries. I could do without the dueling Sam Elliotts, though. If you already have him in the foreground as the de facto leader of this motley crew of character actors, you don’t need a giant smiling face as a backdrop above such a somber environment.

The swastika meets bigfoot print is a nice touch albeit thrown in somewhat awkwardly. I could see it being used as an insignia of sorts either to take center stage on a teaser or interact with the laboriously long title. It’s the latter that I cringe to look at. A quick glance and you assume the articles to be The Hitler and The Bigfoot—killer of both lost in our quest to move on before fully comprehending what it is we saw.

Lords of Chaos (limited February 8) uses its vertical axis for symmetrical purposes rather than a backbone for totem heads and its poster proves a captivating one. The backdrop silhouette of Rory Culkin ruins the uniformity by being in profile, but I guess a little chaos in visual language to go with nightmarish carnage works for the theme.

The central image of a burning cathedral is provocative and beautiful in equal measure, the stylized title utilizing its mathematical palindrome to create a visual one. You feel like you can fold the page in half and somehow the knife bladed “L” and “S” will cancel each other out perfectly, the whole a demonic Rorschach test of violence and evil.

The alternate sheet by B O N D just doesn’t live up to this electricity with its subdued typography (I do love the font, though) and black and white Culkin portraiture. It’s a bit boring by comparison and frankly makes me wonder if Rory should have been cast as the new Crow.

For a good example of (mostly) full symmetry, look no further than The Gospel of Eureka (limited February 8). It’s a really simple representation for the culture clash between Evangelical and LGBT communities without any earmarks for the sort of hate and abuse we’d expect from such a pairing. This Jesus has arms wide open with a rainbow of colors providing halos as though forming a tunnel towards His light.

I love the under-saturated trees distilled into a monochrome just barely supplying depth of field above the pitch-black background. Those rainbow arcs are crisp yet thin, emanating out of the statue as radiant positive energy. The stacked title is unwieldy in its attempt to mirror the white/rainbow coupling due to its thick font, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Put them all together and you get a uniquely minimalist work that packs a surprising wealth of context.


The silent void

There is one remake/sequel this month with a pretty decent campaign: Cold Pursuit (February 8). We shouldn’t be surprised since it stars Liam Neeson, comes out in the Jan/Feb winter months, and somehow wields the straight-to-DVD qualities of lower-brow genre fare with enough gravitas to make waves at the box office. So why not give the actor’s choices some extra marketing dollars to tip them over the edge? Why not let someone design something instead of slapping faces onto a sheet of paper with fire effects?

This Americanized version of a popular Norwegian film starring Stellan Skarsgård has a key element to combat the latter trait being that it is set in the snow. No need for fires here when frostbite will suffice. So LA leans into the whiteout nature of a blizzard with the sheet, filling two-thirds of the page with weather effects before showing us Neeson dragging a dead body in front of his snowplow. It’s not the greatest variation on this compositional theme and the imagery looks really fake regardless of production value, but it stands out.

I personally prefer Empire Design’s teaser simply because of its wild subject matter. A car impaled on a tree? How can that not pique your interest? That type of death paired with the pleasantries of a “Welcome to Kehoe” sign projects the kind of tone we should expect and frankly what more do you need?

Hotel By the River (limited February 15) conversely does a much better job at the whiteout look by retaining a photo-real quality that the pasted on Neeson couldn’t. This is a scene captured rather than manufactured. The snow is real rather than a layer of translucent white superimposed above another manipulated piece.

The layout is gorgeous with two virtual silhouettes standing in the pure white field of snow, popping out to grab our attention next to a solitary tree. If for some reason you don’t see them first, the centered “V” in “River” above serves as an arrow to direct us down so their gaze can bring us back up to the town in the distance. And what a great imperfectly rendered font of circles as lights, suns, snowballs, or simple glares to both scream its name against the darkened sky and whisper its presence as it floats for a second before shimmering away.

BOND is using snow in a different way with Arctic (limited February 1). Instead of having it be a way to separate us from the scene, they use it to isolate the character at its center. It’s the perfect “survivalist” trend—an expanse of emptiness with nowhere to turn. You simply cannot match this vantage point’s dread with one that’s straight on (see the firm’s second design at right with crashed helicopter and foreboding storm clouds). The latter still gives you a destination and a sense of coming and going. The former being uniform in every direction means there is no beginning or end. You could run in circles and never know.

No matter how effective that poster proves, however, it’s the one for Styx (limited February 27) that will “wow” you. The alternate version at right is more similar in its bird’s eye view of the unknown (see The Shallows and many others before it too), but the one above taps into the psychological consequences of the scenario’s despair.

Rather than just be ocean water, its fractured triangles puzzled together create some wholly new nightmare out of time and space. Are those waves upside down? Are those swaths a rocky pattern to salvation or disjointed possibilities ready to slice you to pieces? Add the red title that isn’t afraid to get lost in the texture of reflections and foam and you will find yourself as disoriented as the character we’re sure to meet lost within. You’re lucky if you don’t get a little seasick after peering into its labyrinth too long.


Strikingly different

The whole title on its side effect doesn’t always work for myriad reasons: the letters/font leave weird negative space, the word(s) is/are too long to take up enough real estate, or the stuff put on or around it detract from the boldness of the maneuver. Donnybrook (limited February 15) doesn’t have these issues. Well, it doesn’t the way this poster’s artist handles it.

Where the effect works best is with a short word like Blind (added style points from HANDVERK for using it as an obstruction to mirror one definition of the word). Because Donnybrook is ten letters broken in half between syllables, you can stack them together for added surface area. That’s not enough to avoid the wonky angle of a “Y” and “K,” though—especially when both fall on the same end. So you flip the one half. “Donny” is read bottom to top and “Brook” top to bottom. The “Y” and “K” are now positioned kitty-corner instead of side-by-side, and our eyes continue reading the whole as a single unit by snaking around the top.

Honestly, that alone would have made this a good poster. Red text with director name in the triangle of the “K” and cast list (with subtly “top-billed” Frank Grillo raised slightlyabove the title’s horizon) alongside the “Y.” So the decision to put faces in proves another slippery slope to contend with if you’re not careful. Once again, though, the artist is up to the task with monochrome profiles exiting out from the center like the film’s world is literally born from this poster and desperate to escape.

Another design trend you see once in a while (The Greasy Strangler comes to mind) is graffiti. Sometimes it’s just a pre-packaged font superimposed atop the imagery, but other times it’s actually integrated into the scene. P+A’s Velvet Buzzsaw (Netflix February 1) is strangely similar to Greasy in its use of a frame. The reason is different (this one deals with the art gallery world), but the visual possibilities remain.

Netflix posters are tough since so often they arrive as teasers and final key-art in one because the time between announcement of release and release can be truncated. I wonder then what the next step in this campaign might have been. This is a good start, but also a rather sterile one.

Why isn’t the title itself bleeding over the frame like its river of drips? The effect is messy enough to go with it and the “V” and “W” are close enough to flirt with that edge. I’d understand wanting to “frame” the text, but then the drips would be behind said frame. And I know it’s nitpicky, but the names at top are really distracting too. They’ve made the light fixture’s support system go off-center to allow Jake Gyllenhaal’s letter-count and yet the “J” still goes beyond its edge anyway. Just put the names below the light and remove the vertical bars completely. We’ll believe there’s a bar affixing the light to wall that it blocks from view. Voila.

I commend the concept, but mourn the execution.

One of my favorite design tricks movie posters use a lot is the dramatic cropping of faces. The simple ability to draw us into the emotion of the characters rather than leave us watching a scene can have a profound enough impact to burn the title into your brain. ARSONAL’s Everybody Knows (limited February 8) is one such example. We see the desperation on Penélope Cruz’s face and wonder about the hidden Javier Bardem behind her. Is he sad and contemplative? Or manipulative and domineering, blocking her from turning back? Cruz’s eye staring us down makes me think the latter.

As far as the rest of the poster goes, the firm simply lets things lie as they normally would without any threat of distracting us from that powerful gaze. Everything is centered at bottom in the usual hierarchal way, the title gradually blurring left to right the sole flourish of note.

Now compare this to Goodlab’s Italian sheet. Now you have text bold and all over the place in differing transparencies. You have a red filter atop the image in a heavy-handed display of warning. And the camera has pulled out to remove emotion, drama, and intrigue. Cruz is no longer looking at us, but towards the distance. Both their faces are now rendered sad and worried. There’s no mystery, only some ham-fisted tension. The changes are tiny, but the result night and day.

Pushing trends aside, I’m going to finish this column with what should prove one of the year’s best one-sheets simply because it rejects convention to deliver something unlike anything else by its side. Just take a gander at P+A’s Birds of Passage (limited February 13) and absorb its beauty, dread, and fine art sensibilities.

No disrespect to Dan Petris’ work, but P+A takes the delicate composition of his unforgettable photography and cursive type (see right) and repackages it to deliver a slap to our face. Look at he added grunge and texture taking us from crisp photography to aged and saturated painting; the addition of the gun and disturbing skull recesses in the cloth (the moody weight recalling Storm Thorgerson’s cover art for The Mars Volta’s Frances the Mute); and the strong yet ornate serif text blocked to become one with the layout rather than separate above it.

Where Dan showed us a scenario constructed, P+A provides the power of its message. One is a behind the scenes look and the other the final result in all its glory.

What is your favorite February release poster? What could have used a rework?

The True Showdown in ‘Glass’ is Doubt vs. Faith

Written by Brian Roan, January 22, 2019 at 2:34 pm 

The fundamental problem with anticipation is that what we see as an active engagement with something is actually just the uncontrollable force of our own desires filling a vacuum. When we say that we are looking forward to receiving or experiencing something—a gift, a date, a new piece of art—what we perceive to be a vote of confidence and support is actually just a selfish hunger based off what we believe we will receive. We anticipate a present because we suppose that when we unwrap it the gift will be something we want. We anticipate the date for the promise of a fulfilling romantic encounter. We anticipate art because we hope to receive from it the same things we received from the artist’s previous works. Looking forward to something is a judgment on what came before, and is more of a curse to the promised “next” than the leg-up we assume it to be.

This is all a long-winded and perhaps too-cerebral way of saying that if you are one of the many who had been anticipating Glass as a follow-up to Unbreakable, you may have been disappointed. If you are one of the many who anticipated Glass as a follow-up to Split, your disappointment may have been less, but still present. Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan—a man whose career will someday make a great FX Networks original series for all of its ups and downs—created a movie that moves at its own speed, exists to fulfill its own goals, and seems to have given only enough consideration for what fans may have desired from it so that it might subvert that expectation. Glass is less interested in being a sequel to Split and Unbreakable than it is in being the Scream of comic book movies—with a dash of Shutter Island thrown in for good measure.

Beginning three weeks after the end of Split, and 19 years after the end of Unbreakable, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is now a vigilante superhero known as The Overseer, helped in his crusade against street-level crime by his son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark). The duo is currently on the hunt for Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy), whose animalistic alter-ego The Beast has been kidnapping and cannibalizing young women since his emergence. A common Marvel or DC film might make this game of cat-and-mouse the whole of the film, but Shyamalan is less interested in watching two strongmen fight than in exploring what makes these characters tick psychologically. Thus, after their first bout, both men are captured by Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychologist who specializes in treating those with delusions of being superheroes, who has already taken over the treatment of Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), who prefers his self-selected moniker “Mr. Glass.”

At this point, what had promised to be a duel between good and evil becomes a much murkier and more interesting battle between belief and doubt. Rather than having to struggle against one another, The Beast and David have to struggle against themselves, their own uncertainty about their place in the world and the authenticity of their gifts. Dr. Staple, in an attempt to “cure” the two men and keep them out of prison, slowly chips away at their sense of self, attempting to peel back layers of self-mythologizing in order to find the mundane truth at the foundation of their lives. Shyamalan has, in effect, made a movie where the hero and the villain are both on the same side, the side of wanting to believe that something spectacular is possible, and the antagonist is the system—and the people with the system—attempting to keep everyone from believing that there could be something more.

It may seem insane for a movie to spend so much time trying to convince two super-powered beings that they are normal, especially to an audience who has seen their genesis and know the truth of their conditions. However, much like the full arc of the narrative of the film itself, this mind game isn’t meant for the audience; it is meant for the characters. The tension for the audience isn’t whether or not Dr. Staple’s hypothesis is right, it is whether her injections of doubt will be successful in poisoning these two into abandoning their gifts.

The film’s biggest narrative coup, however, is when the true hero of the piece emerges in the form of Lex Luthor-style supervillain Mr. Glass. In a story in which doubt, discouragement, and renunciation are the greatest evils, the man who stands up for faith, confidence, and glory is the ultimate champion. Though his methods are morally reprehensible, resulting in death and destruction, Mr. Glass is the only person whose faith never flags, and who is actively working to help those around him embrace and fulfill their true potential. Jackson, who is clearly having a ball playing a physically weak but intellectually powerful villain, is the heart of the movie, the one who we hope to see succeed. His giddiness and steely certainty in his own plotting are infectious.

All the while the most important people in these men’s lives—Anya-Taylor Joy as Casey Cook, Charlayne Woodard as Elijah’s mom, and Treat Clark as David’s son—provide commentary on the proceedings based off of comic book tropes. Rather than looking at this as the work of someone out of step with our current boom in comics literacy, I prefer to view it as the pure point of the film, the true apotheosis of what was begun in Unbreakable. Comics, in the world of Glass, aren’t just pulp fun, but rather the outlet for our subconscious yearning for what we know to be true. Holy texts pointing us toward the truth, born out of our Jungian collective unconscious. In a world in which we are fairly drowning in comic book movies, these observations can seem a little tired and obvious, but to the characters in the world of Glass, these are the signs in fulfillment of a prophecy, the necessary steps to be taken in order to usher in a new world. A world of heroes and villains, united by their possession of singular gifts and talents.

Walking into Glass, it would be forgivable to believe that the climax of the film will be David fighting The Beast. The previous decade-plus of superhero movies would lead us to believe that was so. By the end of Glass, however, it is clear that the ultimate victory won’t be dictated by the outcome of the fight, but rather the existence of the fight itself. After a whole movie with not-so-subtle hints at the most likely setting of the climactic battle—a large modern tower that recalls both Nakatomi and Stark Tower—the muted and ultimately aborted final conflict happens in a parking lot. The possible cost in life and property, the very means by which other films like Avengers and Justice League measure their stakes, could not possibly be lower. And yet in no other film is the existential purpose of the fight so ultimately meaningful. Plotted to fulfill the dictates of the comics medium, the “showdown” becomes the ultimate goal, the evidence required to prove to the world that the impossible is possible.

So at the end, even when David and Kevin and Mr. Glass (who probably prefers that name to Elijah) are all dead and their loved ones are left standing confused in the ashes of the admittedly micro conflict, it might be easy to feel betrayed. Dr. Staple is shown to be a member of a secret cabal whose purpose is to suppress the existence of super-powered individuals. Her attempts at “therapy” were actually a pilot program at gaslighting people into doubting their gifts to keep them in line. That we have never heard of or seen hints of this group before makes their victory feel like a cruel trick, but really they are just the most concrete form of a universal force anyone who has ever tried to do something great has felt before.

Most importantly, though, this group did not win. Their purposes isn’t to kill heroes or villains. Their purpose is to hide the truth and keep people from meeting their potential beyond what the cabal deems to be acceptable, and they failed. Mr. Glass—again, the titular hero of this film, despite his seemingly evil mien—wants to show the world what can be done, what is real and what is possible, and his master plan is a success. David and Kevin have died, but not before scoring the only victory that truly mattered; embracing and accepting and demonstrating their true power. Mr. Glass has, over the course of 19 years, gone from super-person finder, to super-person recruiter, to super-person promoter, and his life’s goal is fulfilled. The people left behind, those who supported and understood these three men both, get to use their legacy to usher in a whole new universe.

In our world, where superhero films are supposed to be about the good guys defeating the bad while setting up the next chapter, to see such an amorphous, existential, and ultimately morally anarchic objective put on screen feels revolutionary. Of course, any revolution will have its dissenters and detractors, not to mention those who fight in the name of the status quo. All the same, given the creeping homogeneity of the usual superhero fare, it would be a mistake to damn or belittle Glass for trying to show us something truly special. Regardless of what one may have been expecting, it would be a mistake to call this movie a failure—it’s simply possible that you didn’t realize the real battle it was fighting all along.

Our 20 Most-Anticipated Sundance Film Festival 2019 Premieres

Written by Jordan Raup, January 21, 2019 at 11:50 am 

Comprising a considerable amount of our top 50 films of last year, Sundance Film Festival has proven to yield the first genuine look at what the year in cinema will bring. Now in its 41st iteration, we’ll be heading back to Park City this week, but before we do, it’s time to highlight the films we’re most looking forward to, including documentaries and narrative features from all around the world.

While much of the joy found in the festival comes from surprises throughout the event, below one will find our 20 most-anticipated titles. Check out our picks below and for updates straight from the festival, make sure to follow us on Twitter (@TheFilmStage, @jpraup, @djmecca, and @joshencinias), and stay tuned to all of our coverage here.

20. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (Joe Berlinger)

From Brother’s Keeper to his Paradise Lost films to Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, documentary extraordinaire Joe Berlinger is returning to the realm of narrative feature filmmaking for the first time in nearly a decade with this drama about serial killer Ted Bundy starring none other than… Zac Efron. Even in less-than-stellar films, the actor proves his charisma, so it’ll be intriguing to see what he does with more dramatic material here in the film which looks to explore more of his family life and his unassuming wife, played by Lily Collins.

19. The Sound of Silence (Michael Tyburski)

One of the more compelling-sounding films in the Sundance Film Festival is the directorial debut of Michael Tyburski, which follows Peter Sarsgaard as a self-described “house tuner.” His career path takes him into people’s homes (notably Rashida Jones’ character) to analyze their aural experience and if it’s creating a disturbance in their lives. The director was a feature film fellow for Sundance Institute’s Music and Sound Design Lab at Skywalker Sound, so with this plot and that experience, we imagine this will be something special.

18. We Are Little Zombies (Makoto Nagahisa)

After winning the top short film prize at Sundance two years ago with And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool., Japanese director Makoto Nagahisa returns this year with his feature-length debut We Are Little Zombies. Following a group of thirteen-year-olds whose parents die, they form an eccentric rock band to help heal the wounds. A seasoned director in the world of commercials and music videos, we imagine this will be a kinetic, dazzling debut.

17. Knock Down the House (Rachel Lears)

Every year there are so many timely documentaries at Sundance, one always hopes they aren’t rushed to the finish line and have at least a bit of perspective with the subject(s) they are depicting. One that has our attention is from Rachel Lears as she focuses on four women in the primary race for Congress: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amy Vilela, Cori Bush, and Paula Jean Swearengin. When it comes to AOC rightfully disturbing the peace in her new position, we imagine Lears may still be editing this one right up until the premiere.

16. Ms. Purple (Justin Chon)

Two years ago, Justin Chon brought his L.A. riots drama Gook to Sundance Film Festival where it picked up the top prize in the NEXT section. He’s now back with his follow-up Ms. Purple and he’s stepped up to U.S. Dramatic Competition. Once again focusing on Los Angeles, this story follows Kasi (Tiffany Chu) who works as a doumi girl in Koreatown’s karaoke bars as she reconnects with her family when her father’s caretaker departs. Chon showed his gift for cultural specificity with his debut and we imagine it will be carried through with his second feature.

15. Hail, Satan? (Penny Lane)

For many, the Satanic Temple only enters their radar when they make headlines, whether it is suing the producers of Sabrina for using the likeness of their deity or putting their stamp of approval on The Witch. At Sundance this year, one can dive much deeper into the religious movement with a new documentary from Penny Lane, the filmmaker behind The Pain of Others, NUTS!, Our Nixon, and more. Lane has always been a playful director and we can’t wait to see what devilish fun she has in store here.

14. The Sunlight Night (David Wnendt)

Five years ago, David Wnendt brought his debut Wetlands to Sundance and it was among the talk of the festival for its shocking take on the coming-of-age story. He’s now back this year with something that at least on the surface might be a bit more palatable, but hopefully retain his distinct touch. Starring Jenny Slate, Zach Galifianakis, Alex Sharp, and Gillian Anderson, The Sunlight Night follows a woman who has reached a dead end in her life in America and ventures to a Norwegian island for an art residency that becomes much more strange then expected.

13. Them That Follow (Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage)

An outsider’s look into strange communities seem to be a running theme when it comes to Sundance premieres and the most promising one this year is Them That Follow. Starring Olivia Colman, Kaitlyn Dever, Alice Englert, Jim Gaffigan, Walton Goggins, and Thomas Mann, the film follows a community of Pentecostal snake handlers in rural Appalachia. If that’s not enough to sell you, Goggins plays the lead pastor of this insular, strange group, which should prove a meaty role.

12. American Factory (Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert)

Oscar-nominated filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert return to the arena of blue-collar industry with their latest documentary, American Factory. Back in 2014 at a defunct General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opened a Fuyao glass factory, which meant thousands of new jobs in the area. Bognar and Reichert were on the ground to capture the excitement, the cultural collision, and more in what promises to be a documentary that’s a microcosm of our global marketplace.

11. Judy & Punch (Mirrah Foulkes)

Australian actor-director Mirrah Foulkes (who you may have seen in Top of the Lake, Animal Kingdom, and Sleeping Beauty) makes her feature-length debut with Judy & Punch. Starring Mia Wasikowska, it follows her story as she takes revenge on a cohort in a marionette theatre act they run after he beats her senseless. Joining the recent streak of movies in which the actress ingeniously humiliates self-serving men (after two other Sundance films, Piercing and Damsel), this is a thematic trilogy we can get behind.

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Our 100 Most-Anticipated Films of 2019

Written by The Film Stage, January 10, 2019 at 8:15 am 

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After highlighting 50 films that we can guarantee are worth seeing this year, it’s time we venture into the unknown. Rather than regurgitating a list of dated-years-in-advance studio releases, we’ve set out to focus on 100 films we’re genuinely looking forward to, regardless of their marketing budgets. While the majority might not have a set release–let alone any confirmed festival premiere–most have wrapped production and will likely debut at some point in 2019, so make sure to check back for updates over the next twelve months and beyond. Be sure to keep the following one-hundred films on your radar (with release dates, where applicable). If you want to see how we did with our picks last year, head on over here.

100. Matthias & Maxime (Xavier Dolan)

matthias-maxime

While the five-year stretch that comprised his first five films resulted in Xavier Dolan’s rise in international prominence, the last years haven’t been as kind, with It’s Only the End of the World and The Death and Life of John F. Donovan receiving less-than-stellar reviews and distribution woes. One hopes that Matthias & Maxime–which recently finished production–is a return to form. Starring Dolan, Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas, Pier-Luc Funk, Antoine Pilon, Samuel Gauthier, Adib Alkhalidey, Catherine Brunet, Marilyn Castonguay, Micheline Bernard, Harris Dickinson and Anne Dorval there are no plot details yet, but we imagine it’ll land on the festival circuit this year. – Jordan R.

99. Star Wars: Episode IX (J.J. Abrams; Dec. 20)

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After perhaps the best entry in the entire franchise, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, J.J. Abrams has a difficult task ahead of him in following up the much-needed rejuvenation of the Star Wars saga. Considering how safe he played it when it comes to The Force Awakens, hopefully his trilogy-capper will enter more daring territory while keeping the same level of entertainment. And if all else fails, we can’t wait to see Richard E. Grant join this universe. – Jordan R.

98. The Woman in the Window (Joe Wright; Oct. 4)

After hitting a career low with The Darkest Hour, there’s nowhere that Joe Wright can go but up when it comes to his next project. Reteaming with Gary Oldman, but led by Amy Adams, The Woman in the Window finds the director in Hitchcockian thriller territory in the Tracy Letts-scripted adaptation of A.J. Finn’s novel. Also starring Julianne Moore, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, Fred Hechinger, and Anthony Mackie, it follows an agoraphobic child psychologist who sees a crime occur at her neighbor’s house. – Jordan R.

97. My Zoe (Julie Delpy)

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Though her last film, the French-language Lolo, didn’t gain as much attention stateside as her 2 Days films, Julie Delpy’s next feature will likely reach a larger audience. My Zoe follows “a divorced mother looks to protect her daughter after an unexpected tragedy.” Starring Delpy, Gemma Arterton, Richard Armitage, and Daniel Brühl, expect a festival premiere this year. – Jordan R.

96. The Kindness of Strangers (Lone Scherfig)

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This year will mark a decade since Lone Scherfig made a splash with An Education and since then we’ve been waiting for a film that lives up to that debut. Her next feature has quite a bit promise, set to open this year’s Berlinale with the cast including Andrea Riseborough, Zoe Kazan, Tahar Rahim, Bill Nighy, Caleb Landry Jones, and Jay Baruchel. The film follows various storylines that intersect at a Russian restaurant in New York City and hopefully makes for a compelling small-scale drama. – Jordan R.

95. Bad Education (Cory Finley)

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Released last spring, the dark comedy Thoroughbreds felt quite accomplished for a directorial debut and now Cory Finley is stepping up his scope with his follow-up. Tackling the true story of the Roslyn superintendent who embezzled over $11 million, it’s written by Mike Makowsky, who actually attended the school at the time of the scandal. Starring Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Ray Romano, Geraldine Viswanathan, Alex Wolff, Kayli Carter, and Rafael Casal, we’d imagine a fall festival bow is in the works. – Jordan R.

94. Queen & Slim (Melina Matsoukas; Nov. 27)

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After his break-out in Get Out, Daniel Kaluuya had supporting turns in Black Panther and Widows, but he’s back in a leading role this fall. Scripted by Lena Waithe and Melina Matsoukas’ directorial debut, Queen & Slim follows a man (Kaluuya) and woman (Jodie Turner-Smith) on a first date who get stopped by a cop and kill him in self-defense, then go on the run. With the makings of an unfortunately timely, thrilling drama, it should be a must-see this fall. – Jordan R.

93. Lucy In The Sky (Noah Hawley)

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After an adventurous 2018 with her sci-fi odyssey Annihilation and ambitious pop star drama Vox Lux, Natalie Portman will head to (or rather, return from) space this year. She’s leading Lucy in the Sky (formerly Pale Blue Dot), a drama which follows her character as an astronaut whose life unravels when she returns from a mission. Coming from Noah Hawley, it will mark his directorial debut and we’re curious to see how his experience creating Fargo and Legion translates to the big screen. – Jordan R.

92. Going Places (John Turturro)

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Per the Coens’ wishes, we won’t ever get a sequel to The Big Lebowski, but the universe of their cult hit will live on in John Turturro’s next directorial effort. Going Places is not only a spin-off featuring the return of his Jesus Quintana character but also a remake of the 1974 French film by Bertrand Blier. Also starring Bobby Cannavale, Audrey Tautou, and Susan Sarandon, it will follow the adventures of a trio of sexually deprived misfits. With filming completed back in 2016, we’d be surprised if it didn’t see the light of day this year. – Jordan R.

91. The Story of My Wife (Ildikó Enyedi)

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After earning the Golden Bear and an Oscar nomination for On Body and Soul, director Ildikó Enyedi will return this year with The Story of My Wife. Starring Léa Seydoux, the film is an adaptation of Milán Füst’s 1942 novel, which tells the story of a Dutch sea captain who makes a bet that he’ll marry the next person who walks into the cafe he is at. After doing so, questions of infidelity will cause a crisis. Marking the sixth feature from the director, we expect Seydoux’s attachment will lead to even further recognition. – Jordan R.

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The 18 Best Movie Moments from 2018

Written by Leonardo Goi, December 29, 2018 at 8:42 am 

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A while back, struggling with the frustrating task of year-end list-making, I jotted down a top ten of the scenes I enjoyed the most from the year. Scenes, not films–for as the task soon made clear, the alternative ranking did not necessarily reflect the top ten features I had begun curating way too early for its own good. The list expanded, and eventually turned into a tradition of sorts: a means to patch together, remember and celebrate some of the year’s best moments in film. Minor spoilers abound, and there’s no guarantee as to whether the order will stay the same after subsequent viewings. But at the time of writing, these are the 18 moments from 2018 I will be treasuring in the months and years to come, and here’s to a 2019 blessed with new great films, and plenty more scenes to marvel at.

18. “Does it matter?” in The Other Side of the Wind

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Tucked deep into the posthumous The Other Side of the Wind is a scene that encapsulate the maddening and confounding flair of Orson Welles’ farewell. After raving at the LA villa of director J.J. “Jake” Hannaford (John Huston), young filmmaker Brookes Otterlake (Peter Bogdanovich) leads the party attendees to a drive-in theatre, where Hannaford’s comeback feature –a cat-and-mouse silent arthouse feature parodying Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point and starring Welles’ own partner, Oja Kodar–unspools. Except when the screening begins, a guest runs to the projectionist in horror: “Someone must have given you the wrong reel!” Indifferently, the man replies with a shrug. “Does it matter?” Watching The Other Side of the Wind is to get lost in Welles’ multi-layered, meta-textual edifice: embrace the disorienting feeling, and enjoy the ride.

17. “I hope this is a positive thing.” The campfire scene in Eighth Grade

eightgrade

Elsie Fisher’s Kayla has a box stashed with memories from childhood. It’s a time capsule whose top reads: to the coolest girl I know. Well into Bo Burnham’s charming coming of age Eighth Grade, Kayla asks her father Mark (Josh Hamilton) to help her burn it in the backyard. If last year’s poignant parent-child moment was Michael Stuhlbarg’s monologue as professor Perlman in Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name, Burnham’s campfire scene may well go down as this year’s. Except in Eighth Grade, parents are no less vulnerable and unprepared than their kids. Kayla’s struggle to come to terms with an encroaching adulthood is just as tangible and endearing as her father’s anxieties before parenthood. There is a whole film in the moment she burns “just [her] hopes and dreams” and he stares at the fire, wringing out all his affection toward her with a searching, “I just hope this is a positive thing.”

16. “Biscuito?” The first bath of a stray dog in Isle of Dogs

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Saying I thoroughly enjoyed Anderson’s latest is an understatement. While it may not measure up to The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs remains one of the quirkiest and most endearing offerings from an unmistakable canine-lover–for you need to be seriously in love with dogs to come up with a definition at once so accurate and charming as Liev Schreiber’s Spots gives of himself to young Atari (“I’ll be protecting your welfare and safety on an ongoing basis–in other words, I am your dog“), and to craft a scene as memorable as the first bath of a stray dog.

15. The school shooting in Vox Lux

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I can’t help but think the critical output that’s scolded Brady Corbet’s second feature as an exercise in shock value ultimately plays in the director’s hands. Far more than a darker cousin to A Star is Born (the other stardom film from 2018 which Corbet’s was inevitably compared to, and which, on the whole, Vox Lux far surpasses) Corbet’s follow up to The Childhood of a Leader is a bilious portrait of a society high on short term thrills and numb to horror–with a cantankerous and eccentric Natalie Portman as its synecdoche. The school shooting the film opens with sets the tone for the film’s entrancing 110-minute ride, and confirms Corbet’s as one of the most interesting young U.S. auteurs working today. Not since Gus Van Sant’s Elephant had a scene of such unspeakable horror been filmed with such a disturbing, matter-of-fact vividness.

14. Susie’s bone-wrenching dance in Suspiria

suspiria

Long before Suspiria made its way to Venice, a handful of lucky ones were able to catch a short clip at CinemaCon in April. The clip included the stunning – and literally bone-wrenching – dance sequence that sees Dakota Johnson’s routine telepathically reducing another ballerina to a ball of jumbled limbs. Rumor has it people left the hall traumatized. Understandably: the sequence is possibly the most gruesome from Guadagnino’s rendition of Dario Argento’s 1977 classic, and by far its most spell-binding.

13. “You have to tell the kids, Neil” in First Man

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For a film zeroing in on man’s greatest outer space adventure, Damien Chazelle’s wondrous First Man feels surprisingly domestic, and as much as I enjoy Gosling’s lunar meanderings–the spacecrafts he hops on and maneuvers reduced to claustrophobic and howling metallic graves–it is the interactions between him and Claire Foy that take the film to another level. Watching her demand Gosling to confront the kids ahead of the Apollo 11 mission, and Gosling announcing he may in fact never return in press conference fashion, was one of the greatest memories from this year’s Venice Film Festival.

12. “Honey, I’m not going to be good at this” in Thunder Road

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Jim Cummings’ everyday bloke and goofy cop Jim Arnaud has just lost his mother, and now watches as his estranged daughter Chrystal drifts farther away from him. Thunder Road is a savagely funny and moving portrait of a man struggling to reconnect with his child–a struggle that symbolically begins and ends with a hand-clap game, by far one of the most uplifting scenes of the year.

11. “Don’t run away from this moment” in A Bread Factory

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Running through Patrick Wang’s terrific A Bread Factory–a two-part, four-hour look at a community arts center in a fictional upstate New York town grappling with the arrival of a couple of glamorous installation artists from China–is a timeless leitmotif: “care for what you create.” Nowhere does the lesson feel more acute than in the pep-talk veteran journalist Jan (Glynnis O’Connor) gives to her intern and budding reporter Max (Zachary Sayle) after he turns in a sloppy article. This is a film of vignettes and episodes, of chats and monologues, and this scene–graced with the warmth and cantor O’Connor puts into her words–is a gem to marvel at over and over.

10. Qiao’s hug in Ash is Purest White

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Halfway through her meanderings around China, Zhao Tao’s ex-con heroine Qiao has just agreed to follow a perfect stranger and conspiracy theorist to look for jobs that may or may not be related to an alleged UFO invasion in China’s interior. Moments later, the man confesses to be a fraud; Qiao nods, says she understands. The embrace he envelops her in, so relieving and liberating, is a moment of pure magic.

9. “We’re far from the shallow now.” Cooper and Gaga’s first onstage duet in A Star is Born

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Early into the fourth chapter of the timeless A Star is Born franchise, Bradley Cooper invites Lady Gaga to perform Shallow to a sold-out stadium. We’ve been there before (watching Cooper’s version is to conjure up the ghosts of Gaga’s predecessors, from Janet Gaynor and Judy Garland’s Esther Blodgett(s) to Barbra Streisand’s Esther Hoffman), so that this remake of a remake of a remake still buzzes with so much electricity is nothing short of extraordinary. Part of it owes to this pivotal juncture: watching Gaga brewing hesitation and excitement and finally wading past acolytes and sycophants to join Cooper and ascend to planetary fame was possibly the goosebumps-inducing moment of the Venice Film Festival. It is true that the film never reaches that emotional height again, but is that even surprising, given the benchmark the scene sets?

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Jared Mobarak’s Top 10 Films of 2018

Written by Jared Mobarak, December 29, 2018 at 8:00 am 

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It’s a rare year when your top twenty-five films find the room to allow their usual Oscar-bait dramas to co-exist with foreign favorites, heartfelt documentaries, surreal comedies, and superhero fantasy adventures. Rarer still is a period of time such as 2018 wherein it happens two or three times over. And it’s not just about familiar faces leading the way either as the extensive list of first-time filmmakers who saw their works distributed in theaters nationwide the past twelve months goes a long way towards ensuring cinema has a bright future ahead.

Add the full-blown infiltration of streaming giants with Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu all possessing true contenders (along with the first signs of positive compromise as far as collaboration with big screen purveyors in advance of day-and-date releases goes) and the industry is literally adjusting its blueprint for success in real-time. There’s excitement in that as both a critic and fan of the medium. And it’s no coincidence that underserved communities are wielding this sweet spot of affordable technology, unorthodox distribution patterns, and an empowered call for equity to bring their art to the masses. They’ll either force change within the Hollywood studio system or watch as it crumbles under an archaic stubbornness against evolution.

As long as we receive the spoils in the form of uniquely unforgettable roller coaster rides marrying emotion, entertainment, and artistry together in order to cross genre, demographic, and cultural lines so film can once again transcend shortsighted notions of disposable escapism devoid of meaningful substance, the old ways can burn to the ground. This year has delivered the type of work hearty enough to rise from the ashes when that hard reset finally occurs.

Honorable Mentions

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, We the Animals, Disobedience, On Chesil Beach, and Hereditary

10. Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley)

sorry-to-bother-you-1

It’s one thing to talk about fresh voices in cinema and another to actively support one without an industry track record providing investment security. But that’s exactly what Annapurna Pictures did by scooping up rapper Boots Riley’s debut Sorry to Bother You. What begins as an astutely laugh-out-loud comedic representation of office life and the rigid dichotomy holding underlings in check with the false notion of promotion through subservience (born from the filmmaker’s own telemarketing experiences) soon adopts a kitchen sink surrealist flair that must be seen to be believed. Riley spotlights the carnage of our increasingly volatile and shrinking world by calling out our own complicit desire to willfully embrace consumer culture and become the very thing holding us back.

9. Madeline’s Madeline (Josephine Decker)

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Writer/director Josephine Decker makes good on the horror-like intensity of her previous two features by rendering Madeline’s Madeline an unabashedly performative exercise centered upon a young girl fighting to survive the continual theft of her identity by adults who should be protecting her. Miranda July and Molly Parker deliver roles steeped in terror with disarming smiles as they strip their ward/muse/plaything of her unique voice in order to make it their own. Helena Howard’s Madeline is ostensibly sold as a masterpiece of their creation until a rousing finale of sensory overload can allow her the space to reclaim what they’ve stolen. Hers is a mesmerizingly raw and authentic debut that cuts through our hearts as her trauma is misappropriated as entertainment.

8. American Animals (Bart Layton)

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The timing couldn’t have been more perfect: the subjects of Bart Layton’s American Animals exiting prison as the documentarian was ready to fictionalize the reason for their incarceration. His film therefore exists as a hybridized docudrama shifting between third-person fictionalization and first-person recollection to deliver one of the year’s most uniquely fascinating cinematic experiences. Some events are fact, some embellishment, and some outright lie. Ask each subject and they may have a different answer as far as which is which. Layton cuts between life and legend with a deft hand, each interjection of commentary critical to understanding the mindset and motivation behind scared kids who prove how anyone is capable of horror when privileged boredom warps the integrity of their values.

7. Wildlife (Paul Dano)

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Director Paul Dano and co-writer Zoe Kazan’s Wildlife could have easily found itself unraveling into a “he said/she said” battle of attrition. The pair instead paints their material’s parental fracturing with compassion and complexity from the vantage point of a son (Ed Oxenbould) desperately attempting to preserve his love for them separately despite how their individual frustrations and yearning for more risks implosion. Some of the year’s best performances (anchored by Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal) help portray these diverging trajectories as a revolt against an archaic way of life that stifles potential for societal homogeneity. We’re watching a sea change of cultural taboo wherein each character takes an evolutionary step forward to spotlight three new and parallel beginnings rather than one collective end.

6. First Man (Damien Chazelle)

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It’s easy to compare First Man to Damien Chazelle’s breakthrough Whiplash since both are dealing with men under pressure to be the best they can while losing who they are beneath the veneer that particular mindset creates. So while hearing twisting metal cut to absolute silence against space’s backdrop might prove a universally religious experience, it remains tethered to Neil Armstrong’s personal journey with tortured psyche laid bare. Ryan Gosling internalizes his pain and grief so that those long years of work can exorcise his unique demons just as America expels its own in a gloriously iconic instant. The moment’s hugeness was thus torn from Armstrong’s hands so that a nation could rejoice in patriotic excellence. Finally its stolen intimacy has been returned.

5. Minding the Gap (Bing Liu)

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Minding the Gap epitomizes the power of cinema as an artistic medium for change. To watch the footage first-time director Bing Liu shot years ago is to see a group of young skateboarders attempting to immortalize new tricks and hype them up with friends. It’s a look at kids with different backgrounds and issues escaping troubled lives and unwittingly finding a resonant point of catharsis. Inevitably growing older to find their struggles compounding, they refuse to shy from the toxic cycle of abuse uncovered. Liu morphs from camera-operator to subject alongside two men who trust him enough to bare their souls and expose their secrets—joyous and damning. The result is an unforgettably human depiction of honest self-reflection and transformative possibility.

4. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)

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Lynne Ramsay’s unparalleled exercise in economy You Were Never Really Here cements her status as a cinematic master. This brutal thriller runs a deliberate yet swift 89-minutes, its central character a man of few words with violence bubbling just beneath a too large heart for the hostile world that’s forced him to retreat within. The whole is built upon purposeful machinations as spare as they are beautiful, its stoic façade a means towards surviving the authentic horror lying amongst the shadows we’ve been conditioned to pretend don’t exist. Joaquin Phoenix imbues his lead with a palpable ferocity—an anti-hero resigned to the fact that his soul cannot be saved. And somehow that torturous self-hate and defeatism lends his unrelenting carnage grace.

3. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)

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Art like James Baldwin’s and Barry Jenkins’ provides truth to remind us of the sacrifice and heroism through survival some will never endure or experience themselves. The power in this is unquantifiable and, much like he did with Moonlight, the latter seeks to express it through the poetic construction of resonant images, sounds, and ordeals that comprise his adaptation of the former’s If Beale Street Could Talk. He brings us into this world of aching love and romance tinged but never tainted by the horrors of what looms above. Impossible as a word becomes erased from these characters’ vocabulary because whether or not their actions succeed, the attempt cannot be diminished. Love will protect them and love will set them free.

2. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)

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After three features utilizing the same humanistic approach of bringing stories about marginalized and often-taboo communities to cinemas, I still found myself staring in awe at Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace. Her subject matter is the sort Hollywood exploits for cheap melodrama and politicized messaging and yet she unearths the beauty, humility, and grace existing within. She exposes PTSD’s sobering complexity here rather than the explosiveness agenda-driven editorializing revels in spotlighting. Through it arrives the pain and sacrifice of love once individual strengths and necessity become paramount to the co-dependent safety a parent/child unit provides. And with a stunning debut by Thomasin McKenzie opposite the always-superb Ben Foster, we bear witness as two empathetic souls acknowledge this devastating and inspirational truth.

1. Custody (Xavier Legrand)

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A riveting sequel to Xavier Legrand’s equally tense Oscar-nominated short Just Before Losing Everything is the type of film that leaves you speechless—a fact only augmented by its lack of score and deafening cut-to-black silence. In my mind Custody is the most accomplished and assured directorial debut (and film, period) of the year with Legrand’s skill at coaxing heartrending performances from veterans (Léa Drucker and Denis Ménochet) and newcomers (Thomas Gioria) alike matched only by his technical prowess to construct the type of edge-of-your-seat terror this raw depiction of domestic abuse horror deserves. He puts you into the desperate mindset of a family struggling to escape a monster. As they hold their breath in a permanent state of anxiety, so too do we.

Continue: The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2018

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The Best Movie Posters of 2018

Written by Jared Mobarak, December 27, 2018 at 10:00 am 

“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is a proverb whose simple existence proves the fact impressionable souls will do so without fail. This monthly column (with a special year-end retrospective today) focuses on the film industry’s willingness to capitalize on this truth, releasing one-sheets to serve as not representations of what audiences are to expect, but as propaganda to fill seats. Oftentimes they fail miserably.


If there’s one consistency throughout the sixty-plus posters I shortlisted this year for Top Ten glory, it’s a conscious desire to play with and spotlight unique typography.

Big Hollywood studios are often too old school to want anything but the same bold sans serif with high-contrast color differentiation that pops their title off the page. It’s a generic, numbers-driven format that sees them refusing to let their designers find a complementary balance between type and image as though legibility can’t be achieved alongside a little fun.

To therefore gaze upon so much cursive, period-specific lettering, and full-blown contextual and aesthetic integration below is exciting. The art of movie poster design is gradually overtaking its capitalistic utility for the kind of pop cultural longevity that can survive any shortcomings of the product its selling. While you can’t blame a studio for thinking outside the box when hocking a false bill of goods with a clunker, it’s difficult not to applaud them for taking risks on the sure-things too. A one-sheet will often serve as the final visual distillation of the whole. That’s a role worthy of its own genius.


Honorable Mentions


#25
A Cool Fish
Unknown

#24
Suspiria
Sara Deck for Mondo

#23
Proud Mary
LA with Cullin Tobin

#22
Slice
BOND

#21
The Endless
Brandon Schaefer

#20
Madeline’s Madeline
Brandon Schaefer

#19
Private Life
P+A with Chris Ware

#18
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami
Unknown

#17
A Simple Favor
LA

#16
The Commuter
LA

#15
Wildlife
P+A

#14
Boy Erased
BOND

#13
Shoplifters
Huang Hai

#12
Flower
Gravillis Inc.

#11
First Reformed
P+A

Top Ten

#10
The Sisters Brothers
BOND

To spy BOND’s sheet for The Sisters Brothers from across the room is to see a visualization of the film’s atmospheric mood. John C. Reilly’s name is still top-billed (he’s been the driving force behind the project since buying the novel’s rights in 2011), but he is not in our face to spark any misconceptions towards comedy. Instead it’s all about the sunset purples of a western-setting shrouded in mystery as death lingers above these outlaws’ heads. The title pops, interacts with the imagery, and crackles like fire beneath the smoke of a foreboding skull. The whole sucks you in and dares you to come along for the arduous journey that awaits.

#09
Tully
ARSONAL

ARSONAL outdid themselves with their poster for Tully because their brilliant concept is the type that could have easily been phoned in. They could have picked a glamour photo devoid of shading or chosen a profile view rather than two-thirds to avoid any contouring when “applying” their stickers. Instead we receive the dramatic lighting and off-center crop to bring the dejected mood that sells Charlize Theron’s character’s fatigue and futility to life. The rainbow barely hangs on. The stars glimmer. And the title owns its fuzzy, puffy construction as it wraps across her cheek. This is a self-portrait perfectly embodying its all too relatable subject.

#08
Zama
Unknown

There’s a great duality this advert for Zama that cleverly depicts the dynamic between colonizer and colonized. First is the Spaniard gazing home, back to the land he’s conquered. Second are this new world’s trees imprisoned within the confines of the title’s large letters—one struggling free to breathe the air of freedom. The color contrast of cool against warm conjures juxtapositions of relief/anxiety, power/oppression, and a climate disparity between European comfort and South American heat. Add an exacting compositional grid with the “M” calling its focal point out and you have a work that knows exactly what it’s doing.

#07
A Fantastic Woman
Dan Petris

The simplicity to Dan Petris’ portrayal of Daniela Vega’s A Fantastic Woman is incomparable. He’s chosen an image suspended in motion with wisps of hair flowing bright as flames behind a somber, blue-tinted face. There’s excitement and chaos with an energetic space above towards which she can ascend if/when the tragic circumstances rife with prejudice faced cease. The hand-written title appears atop her cheek, drafted in light to ensure we know she is whom those words describe. Rotated 90-degrees, they trend upwards with optimism and hope. We see Vega as an angel unafraid to reveal herself to the world.

#06
The Favourite
MIDNIGHT OIL

While many prefer The Favourite‘s surreal festival sheet, it’s MIDNIGHT OIL’s more straight-forward hierarchal depiction that delights me. Along with its quick overview of character dynamics with Emma Stone on the outside looking in is a minimalistic visual panache. The frame around Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz signifies their literal coupling as well as the figurative construct of which their new acquaintance seeks to infiltrate. It’s both there (the royal gown hanging atop its bottom stanchion) and not, regal portraiture and prize to destroy. The attitude of the film oozes from its comparably just left of center period aesthetic.

#05
BlacKkKlansman
Gravillis Inc.

Gravillis Inc. distilled BlacKkKlansman to its purest form with this unforgettable poster of John David Washington donning leather jacket and KKK hood while holding pik and fist in the air. The iconography is blatant enough in its juxtaposition to keep us off-balance about whether to laugh or cringe—much like the film itself. You want to guffaw at the absurdity of it all yet don’t want the cause of your mirth to be misconstrued. It speaks to the importance of the subject matter and why it matters to help fight against injustice even if doing so seems impossible or against your narrow definition of “best interests.”

#04
Angels Wear White
Huang Hai

This brightly-colored, graffiti-grunge, painted pop art curio has haunted me since watching Angels Wear White a year ago. Its giant Marilyn Monroe legs dwarfing Meijun Zhou as waves of tradition crash ashore mix all the themes of sexuality, abuse, conservatism, and escapism you need to truly appreciate what director Vivian Qu has crafted. These are worlds and cultures colliding while unfortunate universal tragedies mar everything on their path to dismantle humanity in the name of progress. Purity is tainted with ignorance, trust broken by shame, and idols transformed from hopeful beacons to harbingers of darkness.

#03
November
Unknown

It’s apt that the year’s eeriest sheet is for Estonian fantasy horror November. A stunning black and white mood piece with demonically-possessed objects, mud-slinging devils, and witches helping regular folk descend into madness should be represented by a goat’s empty eyes peeking out from behind a woman frozen as though underwater. This is the sort of ghostly apparition to earn the necessary mindset to appreciate its lunacy while the trisected title in rough, bold letters screams for us to acknowledge the beauty and terror of a disturbing yet funny fable depicting the inevitable sorrow born when sacrifice trumps obsession.

#02
American Animals
Empire Design

The inspiration was flowing when Empire Design took Bart Layton’s docudrama hybrid American Animals from film to page. They craft masks from John James Audubon’s The Birds of America—the object of these trenchcoat-wearing amateur thieves—before tearing the page in a way that makes us want to lift those disguises to see what’s underneath. But what would we find? The real culprits who periodically arrive to tell their version of events or the actors channeling their bored adolescent audacity? Or are those avian visages of wild animalism their true identities once they relinquish their humanity to do what must be done?

#01
We the Animals
The Boland Design Company

Discovering the crayon-scrawled field of color atop The Boland Design Company’s We the Animals poster is an animated effect used throughout the film only makes its lo-fi, confrontational declaration of existence more powerful. By itself it’s the visual manifestation of the boy’s silent yell, the title exiting its acidically yellow breath of wild rebellion and juvenile excess. How that infers upon what’s put onscreen therefore magnifies its emotional outburst, the poetically composed tale of a boy finding his place within an ever-cruel world of contradictions exploding out of frame so as not to consume its subject whole.

What is your favorite poster of the year?

See more year-end features.

Christopher Schobert’s Top 10 Films of 2018

Written by Christopher Schobert, December 25, 2018 at 9:00 am 

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It was a year of triumphant returns—for Barry Jenkins, Alfonso Cuarón, Paul Schrader, Joel and Ethan Coen, Steve McQueen, Pawel Pawlikowski, Spike Lee, Marielle Heller, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Orson Welles (!), and, of course, Paddington. And, it was a time in which new(ish) voices asserted their authority. Consider the likes of Boots Riley, Chloé Zhao, Paul Dano (and co-screenwriter Zoe Kazan), Ari Aster, and, yes, Bradley Cooper. Any cinemagoer who calls 2018 a disappointment simply was not looking hard enough.

Interestingly, my own top ten list features four foreign language films and two “kids” films. These categorizations are flawed, of course. Language makes no difference here, and anyone who considers Paddington 2 and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to be kid-only movies is certainly close-minded. So let’s dispense with the categories and merely say that listed here are 10 gems (and five honorable mentions) that struck me as bold, original, breathtaking films to remember–and to watch again.

Honorable Mentions

Widows, Sorry to Bother You, Wildlife, Mission: Impossible — Fallout, and Annihilation

10. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr., Rodney Rothman)

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the seventh big-screen entry for Marvel’s beloved webslinger, is the only animated film this year that can comfortably fit on the top 10 list for a 10-year-old superhero junkie and a paunchy, late-thirtysomething film critic. Thanks to a stellar creative team (including directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, as well as co-producers Christopher Miller and Phil Lord), Into the Spider-Verse is the finest superhero film in a year that featured some pretty darn good ones. Here is a superhero film that feels utterly fresh, offering stunning animation, legit humor, and the most likable onscreen Spidey yet. While there are moments that recall some of the character’s greatest big-screen adaptations, Spider-Verse swings to its own bold beat.

9. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)

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It hurts to watch the films of Yorgos Lanthimos—emotionally, yes, but there are times when one can almost feel the physical pain endured by the characters on screen. In the case of The Favourite (as well as The Lobster and Dogtooth), this is a compliment. The Favourite is a film of repellant behavior, 18th-century grime, and utter degradation. It is also gleefully hilarious and luridly intoxicating. Featuring career-best performances from Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz as her closest friend and confidante, and Emma Stone as the servant who comes between them, The Favourite practically dares the viewer to turn away—and knows there’s little chance of that happening.

8. Burning (Lee Chang-dong)

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Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, adapted from a Murakami short story, takes its time to unfold. Indeed, there are stretches in which it is nearly impossible to know where the story of an aimless young adult, the girl who mesmerizes him, and her wealthy, enigmatic friend will go next. The answers make this Tom Ripley-esque tale one of the year’s most unsettling experiences. Highlighted by Steven Yeun’s performance as Ben, an unnervingly confident frienemy, Burning is half-class study, half-modern masculinity-nightmare. After this masterpiece of psychological cinema, you’ll never look at a greenhouse the same way again.

7. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel and Ethan Coen)

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The Netflix release of the latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen probably meant The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was destined to be underrated. However, that should not be the case. It is too early to say whether Buster Scruggs is top-tier Coens, but there is not doubt the Old West anthology is every bit as accomplished as, say, True Grit and Hail, Caesar! The six stories that comprise the film are simultaneously funny, harrowing, moving, and sour. “What’s your favorite Buster Scruggs segment?” could be Film Twitter’s “Who’s your favorite Beatle?” Suffice to say, I cannot stop thinking about “The Gal Who Got Rattled” (especially the performances of Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck) and the bitter, haunting “Meal Ticket.” The ending of the latter… my goodness.

6. Paddington 2 (Paul King)

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Paddington 2 is a genuine delight, a sequel that improves upon its (very good) predecessor. It is also the rare family film that has appeal for everyone in the family. As with 2014’s Paddington, director Paul King has zeroed in on the inherent magic of Michael Bond’s classic stories while incorporating scores of Wes Anderson-esque sight gags. Plus, there is a game cast of British heavyweights—Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Jim Broadbent, and, this time around, a superb Hugh Grant—and gorgeous London locations. Most of all, there is the titular bear himself, a wondrous CGI creation sweetly voiced by Ben Whishaw. It is not hyperbolic to call Paddington one of the most adorably life-like computer-animated characters in cinema.

5. Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski)

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In a year of beautiful, painful love stories, Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War ranks near the top. The Polish director’s follow-up to 2015 Oscar-winner Ida is a 1950s-era drama about the multi-year love between a singer (a stunning Joanna Kulig) and the musical director (Tomasz Kot) who discovered her. The characters undergo dramatic physical and emotional changes during the course of the film, culminating in an unforgettable final scene. Pawlikowski has solidified his place among the world’s most talented filmmakers.

4. Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

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The most heartstopping, suspenseful moment in 2018 cinema is also one of the quietest. It occurs near the end of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or-winning drama, Shoplifters. A secret is revealed that shakes the foundations of all we’ve seen before, and leads the audience to rethink how this offbeat, poverty-stricken family of shoplifters should be viewed. Kore-eda, the director of Like Father, Like Son and After the Storm, excels at this type of emotional detonation. With Shoplifters, he has made his most devastatingly powerful film to date.

3. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

first-reformed

Who would’ve expected that 2018 would see the release of Paul Schrader’s greatest achievement as a director? After a number of years in the wilderness—The Canyons, The Dying of the Light, and Dog Eat Dog are undeniably fascinating, but none are classic Schrader—the writer-director roared back with First Reformed. With a career-best Ethan Hawke in the lead, Schrader deftly explored some of his recurring thematic concerns. But in this, the story of a small-town pastor drawn to a similarly sad pregnant woman, Schrader found an opportunity to make the most psychologically probing, dramatically profound film of his career. First Reformed also ranks among the most spiritually insightful motion pictures ever made.

2. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)

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There isn’t a stretch of 2018 cinema that is as emotionally affecting, dramatically powerful, and effortlessly beautiful as the last twenty or so minutes of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. The conclusion of the filmmaker’s heartfelt story of a wealthy family in early 1970s Mexico and its devoted housekeeper is not surprising, exactly; there are signals of what’s to come throughout. This Netflix-released, black-and-white masterpiece is the year’s strongest memoir, and ranks as Cuaron’s most mature effort to date. Roma is a staggering achievement, and one that will resonate with audiences for years to come—no matter how you watch it.

1. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)

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Comparing a director’s latest film to his or her previous effort is almost always unwise, or at least, a bit foolish. When both films are extraordinary achievements, however, pondering the works in tandem seems fruitful. This is certainly true when looking at Barry Jenkins‘ newest film, If Beale Street Could Talk, and his last, Moonlight. The latter deservedly took home an Oscar for Best Picture, and heralded Jenkins as a filmmaker whose empathetic touch knows no bounds. Now comes his James Baldwin adaptation, which reaches the same magnificent emotional register as Moonlight. Jenkins has written and directed an exquisite, timeless film about a place and historical period—Harlem in the 1970s—that feels painfully connected to the present. It is a film both tender and tough, with a time, a place, and a story to lose oneself in. Sublime in its depiction of an emotional connection and subtle in its layers of systematic oppression, Beale Street is a major work from a filmmaker whose gifts are clearly boundless. It is undoubtedly the finest film of 2018.

Continue: The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2018

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The Best Performances of 2018

Written by The Film Stage, December 24, 2018 at 9:05 am 

best-performances-of-2018

Following our top 50 films of 2018, it’s time to zero in on the best performances of the year. Rather than divide categories into supporting or lead–or even male or female–we’ve written about our thirty favorite performances, period. (A few more, if you add some pairings we couldn’t leave out.) Check out our countdown below and start watching the ones you’ve missed here.

30. Michelle Pfeiffer (Where is Kyra?)

where-is-kyra

A pervading sense of isolation and despair runs through Where is Kyra? and Michelle Pfeiffer carries it all with an emotionally resonant performance of subtlety and deep ache. The story of a woman struggling to make ends make following the death of her mother, Andrew Dosunmu’s drama is keenly attuned to the pressures of living in a city that doesn’t care whether you’re there or not. Bradford Young’s distinct eye for solitude also painstakingly paints Pfeiffer’s character into the desolate corners of her locale until there’s no route to take except for the most difficult one possible. – Jordan R.

29. Blake Lively (A Simple Favor)

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So far the movies haven’t known what to do with Blake Lively. They either obsess with her beauty (The Age of Adaline) or try to make her “unattractive” for capital-a-“acting” purposes (The Town). They either see her as a damsel in distress (Green Lantern) or a destructive femme fatale (Savages). But Lively contains all of those and all at once, as she reminds us in A Simple Favor, where she plays Emily Nelson, the sardonic, mysterious working mom who becomes the object of craft vlogger Stephanie’s (Anna Kendrick) devotion. Clad in tuxedos that she turns severe or disarming with a glance, Lively’s Emily is the embodiment of creepy chic and modulated warmth. She’s the woman everybody wants to be. She’s Carole Lombard and Marlene Dietrich, Lucille Ball, and Eartha Kitt, Garbo and Marilyn… you get the point. – Jose S.

28. Claire Foy (Unsane)

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Released early in 2018 and seemingly forgotten, Steven Soderbergh’s iPhone-shot horror film Unsane was one of the year’s best offerings, and in huge part due to the wide-eyed anxiety of Claire Foy. The fuzzy, deep depth-of-field of the iPhone combined with stilted framing/cutting and sudden camera moves follow Foy through her descent into the hell that is the American privatized healthcare system as she’s involuntarily held in a psych facility so that they can profit of her workplace insurance plan. Foy transitions with ease from understandable paranoia/panic to playing the agreeable roles expected of her while she’s being gaslit and stalked within the narrative (and the subjective, voyeuristic style) to a full-blown combination of the two as she works her way through physical/emotional assaults of her abuser and claustrophobic headspace he put her in, and eventually overcomes that monster only to have the lasting psychological consequences of the experience linger. – Josh L.

27. Laia Artigas (Summer 1993)

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Preternaturally talented is a praise that gets sung a little too often that it should, but there could be no better way to describe the extraordinary 10-year-old newcomer Carla Simón has cast as the lead actress in her riveting debut feature, Summer 1993. As Frida, a 6-year-old who suddenly loses both parents to an unspeakable tragedy and leaves native Barcelona to settle with her uncle, aunt and little cousin in the Catalan countryside, Artigas handles a harrowing material with an endearing mix of intelligence and grace. Watching her “play the adult” with her younger cousin, instructing her to “call her mum” only to ask not to be bothered in a typical parent lingo – “I’m too tired to play, darling” – is a miracle of stage chemistry, and one of the most poignant scenes of the year. – Leonardo G.

26. Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie and Ben Foster (Leave No Trace)

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Leave No Trace, Debra Granik’s first narrative film since Winter’s Bone, finds Ben Foster and newcomer Thomasin McKenzie at the heart of a subtly calibrated tearjerker on finding bonds (and communities) of support that exist outside the norm. Foster’s performance as a rugged, introverted veteran—cast aside by civilized society and living an ostensibly feral lifestyle with his daughter—is a layered one, filled with pain and heartache at the idea that he might be imposing his own inadequacies on her. Meanwhile McKenzie has an even trickier job of balancing her curiosity (that eventually gets them both into trouble with the police and children’s aid) and desire for change/growth with her deep-rooted affection for her static father. The cumulative effect of the two being a heartbreaking catharsis at the idea that your kids will be better than you; and that that’s okay. In fact, that’s how you know you did your job. – Josh L.

25. Meinhard Neumann (Western)

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In a year filled with films led by non-professional actors, one of the most distinctive performances came from one such performer: Meinhard Neumann, the lead of Valeska Grisebach’s Western. His presence, founded largely upon the weathered stoicism of his physical bearing, is key to the film’s transplant of the eponymous genre’s tropes onto a story of garbled communication between German workers and Bulgarian villagers. As he attempts to bridge this divide, Neumann’s quiet confidence radiates outwards, instilling the film with its own odd, palpable sense of urgency. – Ryan S.

24. Hugh Grant (Paddington 2)

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There’s an abundance of glee in Hugh Grant’s mustache-twirling Phoenix Buchanan, the narcissistic has-been actor behind all of Paddington 2’s mischief. Writ large, the self-parody inherent in the casting is its own treat, but ingrained in Grant’s bonkers dramatist, ever the chameleon, is an unhinged egomaniac. Traversing London’s landmarks as a tramp, a knight, or an unusually attractive nun, Buchanan is a conspiracy of one, with only his bygone roles for company. Whether in earnest or self-mock, Grant makes a meal out of it, leaving teeth marks all over the scenery, and immense delight in his wake. – Conor O.

23. Lady Gaga (A Star is Born)

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In a way Lady Gaga has been building to this moment her entire career. Musicians have been moving into the shimmering glow of cinema for nearly the entire history of the medium, and for the last great MTV music video icon the move was seamless. Playing a struggling musician whose career explodes through a viral video is essentially a mirror. What truly made her stand out, however, wasn’t the musical performances, it was the dynamic physicality she shared with co-star Cooper. They were beyond just chemistry. They sold the idea of love. The entire movie hinges on her ability to convey her deserved stardom and their unstoppable love for one another, and Gaga? Well, she did both better than anyone would have rightly expected. – Willow M.

22. Adriano Tardiolo (Happy as Lazzaro)

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While we teach our children to be virtuous, honest and kind, these traits are far too often misread or exploited as weaknesses in adulthood. In Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro, a saintly and pure-hearted peasant works tirelessly, completing any orders barked at him without complaint, until fates outside of his control conspire to reshape his world forever. As Lazzaro, first-time actor Adriano Tardiolo projects heartfelt sweetness with a boyish charm and sincerity, a divine man of few words. What is most remarkable about Tardiolo’s performance, and the fact that we view certain plot reveals from Lazarro’s point of view, is the way it helps the rather shocking narrative twists to impact with such resonance, all the while remaining grounded in a tangible emotional reality. – Tony H.

21. Richard E. Grant and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

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The pairing of Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant is not the first one that would immediately come to mind, which is precisely what makes watching them spar in Marielle Heller’s chilly but surprisingly tender Can You Ever Forgive Me? so mesmerizing. They have a natural comedic energy, landing hysterically acidic one-liners and barbs at each other’s expense. But the real joy of watching the two of them together is seeing them try and mask the hidden pockets of loneliness and sadness that plagued McCarthy’s Lee Israel and Grant’s Jack Hock, right up until their final stunning scene in an empty bar room, where it dawns on them how they just might be the only two people in the world who actually understood one another. – Stephen H.

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