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The 50 Best 2018 Films We’ve Already Seen

Written by on January 8, 2018 

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We don’t want to overwhelm you, but while you’re catching up with our top 50 films of 2017, more cinematic greatness awaits in 2018. Ahead of our 100 most-anticipated films, we’re highlighting 50 titles we’ve enjoyed on the festival circuit this last year (and beyond) that either have confirmed 2018 release dates or are awaiting a debut date from its distributor. There’s also a handful that are seeking distribution that we hope will arrive in the next 12 months. U.S. distributors: take note!

Lover for a Day (Philippe Garrel; Jan 12)

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Philippe Garrel, the 69-year-old veteran of the French New Wave, has produced a casual, bittersweet, and intoxicating study of relationships in flux starring his daughter Esther. In this swift, touching ode to lovers with heart-breaking, irreconcilable differences, the drama appears conventional on first glance, featuring that older-man-younger-women relationship frustratingly perennial in French art cinema, but this is a work of rare clarity by a director whose experience shows. – Ed F. (full review)

Mary and The Witch’s Flower (Hiromasa Yonebayashi; Jan. 18)

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The environments are beautiful and packed full of detail. Both a mundane garden shed and a magical laboratory are drawn with tools that look thoroughly used. Every setting feels lived-in, like it comes with a whole history. The animation is fluid even in the most quotidian movements, like young protagonist Mary pratfalling her way through her attempts to help out around her new home. Even an animate broomstick is imbued with personality. There are also a few sequences made for the cartoonists to flex their skills, such as a nighttime chase in which creatures seemingly made of quicksilver constantly change their shape, appearing not to fly but flow through the air. Ghibli’s famed skill at depicting incidentals comes through here as well, such as in the myriad way Mary’s cat companion reacts to the world around him. – Dan S. (full review)

A Ciambra (Jonas Carpignano; Jan. 26)

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After making a splash with Mediterranea, Jonas Carpignano is back with the Martin Scorsese-produced A Ciambra. We reviewed Italy’s Oscar entry at Cannes, saying, “It would be a stretch to say that Carpignano diverts in any major way from the gritty aesthetic that has become synonymous with post-Dardennes (and, in particular, post-Rosetta) social realist cinema — all overcast clouds above and gravel below — nor those films’ favored narrative arc. It does, however, pulsate with true authenticity, surely down to the fact that the director has quite literally been here before, having made a short (A Ciambra) that focused on the same real family, the Amatas, three years prior.” – Jordan R.

Have a Nice Day (Liu Jian; Jan. 26)

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Liu Jian’s Have a Nice Day won’t be mistaken for anything less than an utterly contemporary piece of Chinese filmmaking but, as the title might tell you, it’s also a film seeped in 1990s American pop culture. Channeling the Coens, Quentin Tarantino, and Cormac McCarthy, Jian’s film has the swagger, dedication to homage, and effortless cool of that decade’s cinema but with plenty of things to say about present-day China. The story revolves around a very McCarthy-esque setup: a bag of money has been stolen for decent reasons by an apparently otherwise decent guy and — as tend to be the case in McCarthy’s novels — a selection of somewhat less-decent people (each with their own motive) end up hunting him down. – Rory O. (full review)

24 Frames (Abbas Kiarostami; Feb. 2)

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Passing away at the age of 76, Abbas Kiarostami was one of our greatest directors. The Iranian filmmaker was able to extract the essence of the human soul throughout his career, leaving behind a number of essential films. For his last work, he directed the experimental project 24 Frames, which is a collection of four-and-half-minute films that takes inspiration from still images, including paintings and his own photographs. For the few of us that have been able to see it’s already been divisive; some were mixed, while others proclaim it to be the future of cinema. Would Kiarostami have wanted anything else?

A Fantastic Woman (Sebastián Lelio; Feb. 2)

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A bolder more progressive awards season might have looked to Daniela Vega among Best Actress contenders, an event that would’ve hit front pages as the first time a transgender actress had been so considered. And Chilean Sebastián Lelio’s film can’t be faulted for not being upfront about sexuality. Unlike some of this year’s other great performances in LGBT movies – in Call Me By Your Name, God’s Own Country, for instance – Vega’s Maria doesn’t hide her sexuality, but sometimes she might want to. Despite a proud, passionate performance, Vega is able to deliver scenes of aching fragility, such as one devastating sequence when she’s casually assaulted at her boyfriend’s funeral by his own family. And somehow, every time, Maria gets back up again. Vega is, well, fantastic. – Ed F. (full review)

Before We Vanish (Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Feb. 2)

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There are few directors who would choose to take a semi-sincere approach to a lengthy pseudo-philosophical science-fiction film — especially not one that lightly pries into our fundamental psychological foibles — but there are few directors quite like Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The prolific Japanese filmmaker behind such varied genre gems as Pulse and Tokyo Sonata has constructed a sort of skittish and overlong, albeit pleasantly existential oddity in Before We Vanish, an alien-invasion B-movie packed with A-grade ideas and craft. Nail down your windows. Lock your doors. It’s the invasion of the concept snatchers. – Rory O. (full review)

Golden Exits (Alex Ross Perry; Feb. 9)

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There are no screaming matches or overt arguments, nor is there any sort of frenetic camera work, yet Golden Exits is unmistakably the work of Alex Ross Perry. The insecurities that bubbled up and exploded through his characters in Listen Up Philip and the even-more-heightened Queen of Earth stay grounded with his relatively small-scale latest film, these anxieties rather becoming the subtext for nearly every conversation. It’s a work of small decisions and jabs, glances and non-action. Should I stay at this bar where temptation exists? Should I continue staring at a woman that will only bring upon personal suffering? – Jordan R. (full review)

Loveless (Andrey Zvyagintsev; Feb. 16)

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Like Andrey Zvyagintsev’s last movie, Leviathan, his latest takes headlines for another excoriating look at contemporary Russia and the simmering resentment beneath its imperious, corrupt social structures. True and relevant as that is, it’s not what makes Loveless another masterpiece. The director’s pitiless gaze at the ruinous breakdown of a marriage and the disappearance of a child concerns more with the moral pit of modern humanity, run riot at want of things – sex, money, fashion, power – but not of love. Filmed with icy precision in cold, anonymous Moscow, with some of the year’s best cinematography – by Zvyagintsev regular Mikhail Krichman – the film is upfront, provocative and, in its bitterly satirical testimony of the decay of Russian cultural life, according to some critics blunt. But it’s in that vein that Zvyagintsev so powerfully confronts the domestic terror of the central missing-child drama. Really, Loveless is the great horror film of the year. – Ed F.

The Double Lover (François Ozon; Feb. 14)

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L’amant double is the sort of film you wouldn’t mind seeing Roman Polanski take a stab at. Shot in chic but soulless Parisian interiors, it’s the type of thing that controversial figure tends to relish: all claustrophobia, body horror and pseudo Freudian sexual nightmares. Instead it’s in the hands of its writer-director François Ozon, who never quite manages to lift his material above the realm of psychosexual camp. Then again, perhaps his aim isn’t any higher. It’s the story of a beautiful young woman who loses herself in an erotic love triangle with a pair of opposing twins, both of whom are psychoanalysts. Depending on what you’re into, it’s about as fun as that sounds. – Rory O. (full review)

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