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Nick Newman’s Top 10 Films of 2018

Written by on December 31, 2018 

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A limited-perspective snapshot of a perpetually moving target, and insistent on adhering to 2018 theatrical premieres — thus haunted both by the past and the specter of already-seen “2019” cinema that deserves notice as much as anything herein. Or: it is what it is.

Honorable Mentions

Mandy, A Star Is Born, Cold War, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, The Wandering Soap Opera

10. 24 Frames (Abbas Kiarostami)

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A push-pull experience par excellence: plainly beautiful for its still and natural landscapes, roughshod with the superimposition of effects; statically framed but open to variables, experimentation, “accidents” that are perhaps part of a larger plan, depending on what production story you buy; and thrilling for the breadth of its imagination while also a bit boring in the follow-through. More and more it seems our minds need opportunities to sit, wander, think for themselves amidst stimuli rendering the likes of 24 Frames all the more far-flung. Woe betide the audience saddled with the closing statement of a master filmmaker – arguably the greatest living in his time – but look and listen to its very end. Could anything else have said it more finely?

9. Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis)

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This great, difficult, imposing, sometimes outright-off-putting director’s breeziest (only breezy?) film is her most immediately enjoyable because she made it — its sensuousness, its sadness, its pinpoint-precise sense of humor — look easy. Which, as if it needs to be said, is a feature and not a bug.

8. The Green Fog (Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, & Galen Johnson)

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I might have fallen asleep for some of this, but had you projected it again then and there I almost certainly couldn’t tell you when. Best seen with a friend who understands exactly why it’s funny that Guy Maddin watched Terminator Genisys.

7. John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (Julien Faraut)

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Would deserve commendation had it merely documented the obvious visual and sonic beauty intrinsic to professional tennis; what a pleasure to bask in. But that’s finally window-dressing for the thorough study of something I can’t say occupies my mind so often: physical genius.

6. The Mule (Clint Eastwood)

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I Went to See an 88-Year-Old Actor-Director Grind on Scantily Clad Women Generations His Junior and All I Got Was This Measured Statement on Contemporary America, Its Institutions, and Its People.

5. Before We Vanish (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

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Consensus-best is, of course, a horrible metric, yet it’s only sensible that Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Before We Vanish is his consensus-best (but absolutely not his only worthwhile endeavor) since 2008’s Tokyo Sonata: within its ever-liquid widescreen walls are a familiar-while-surprising angle on the alien-invasion film — mechanics hardly explained, dangers perpetually felt. More credit for skirting emphasis on some what-it-means-to-be-human angle that hobbles many of its ilk. Is the deepest thing under Before We Vanish‘s skin love? Of course not.

4. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

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It’s not about climate change, it’s about PTSD.

3. A Paris Education (Jean-Paul Civeyrac)

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A promise: those who’ve gone this deep will find pleasure — masochistic, cringe-inducing, subject-me-to-more-please pleasure — in A Paris Education. The most giggle-inducing laceration of myopic cinephilia in quite some time (I could point only to an argument about Fincher and Verhoeven vs Ford and Vigo and leave it at that) is a great tale of bozos in their many forms — first comic, then tragic, and finally as a semi-stable state of contentment, deserved or otherwise. Civeyrac’s brilliance stands one-to-one with his idea: to watch this, something about which its all-too-real-seeming figures would debate in a perfectly attenuated shot-reverse dynamic, is to feel you’re within its confines. Not that I’d been unfamiliar at the start, or am leaving anytime soon.

2. Claire’s Camera / The Day After (Hong Sangsoo)

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Having only experienced Hong Sangsoo’s filmography chronologically, there’s the impression of these (which premiered within days of each other) as a logical one-before-the-next step: we start bright, sunny, funny, quiet plot machinations and possible (but not definite) structural oddities twisting us out of a clear time-space continuum, at last settling into the groove of life’s unforgiving shape; and then a deep, dark ebb from which color and life are drained, our mistakes coming back to us in a feedback loop. But the pleasures never cease. Hong’s scenarios are still so remarkably thought-through–for distance between us and the subject, the presences people communicate, body language as the universal dialect, and why the hardest failures, on a long-enough timeline, might inch us towards salvation. I hope he never stops, and he’s got at least one more great film coming in 2019.

1. Lover for a Day (Philippe Garrel)

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Every month that has passed since the frigid, solitary Saturday night on which Lover for a Day was viewed constitutes an argument for letting this stand unreturned-to. Garrel has spent half a century telling us we are nothing if not immensely complicated; what a gift that this may be watched in the time it takes most other films to develop a worthwhile image and idea.

“What did you talk about with your friends?”

“The war.”

“Which one?”

“The next one.”

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

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