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The 50 Best 2018 Films We’ve Already Seen

Written by on January 8, 2018 

Western (Valeska Grisebach; Feb. 16)

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It is, undeniably, a bold decision to title one’s film Western: on the one hand, the word carries geopolitical weight and a cultural hegemony that the cinema is dominated by; this truth remains an important one at the Cannes Film Festival, where white men dominate the competition (Western opened in the sidebar program, Un Certain Regard). On the other hand, of course, Western implies a cinematic reference—a genre, in and of itself. A genre, to be clear, with tropes galore that are just as problematic as the industry that propagates them. In titling her film as such, however, Valeska Grisebach’s contemplative, brilliant film sparks a dialogue on all of these components, prompting us to think critically on their intersections. – Jake H. (full review)

Foxtrot (Samuel Maoz; March 2)

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A couple grieves the loss of their child, a group of adolescent soldiers ponder the sense of life spent waiting for war. Emerging therefrom is a contemplation on the Israeli fate both eloquent and uncommonly refined. Demonstrating tremendous narrative versatility that sees him switching gears between emotionally heightened chamber drama and lively, theatrically enhanced interludes, Maoz treats the sensitive subject matter with the gravity it deserves while using moments of levity or visual pizzazz to drive home his most intrinsic points. The breadth of the Jewish experience opened up by this tonal richness is kaleidoscopic, breathtaking. – Zhuo-Ning Su

The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci; March 9)

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Armando Iannucci doesn’t make movies and TV about politics. He certainly features politicians and their endless petty squabbling and power struggles, but that’s adjacent to (though obviously entangled with) the real work of political organizing. Most notably, essentially all of the characters in the likes of The Thick of It, Veep, In the Loop, and now The Death of Stalin are politicians, but I honestly couldn’t tell you a single actual political belief any of them are stated to truly hold. That, of course, is a key part of Iannucci’s satire – that these conflicts are over power for its own sake and not for the betterment of anyone’s welfare, that this world is one of pure venality. Death of Stalin ramps this up to its purest form, depicting a sphere of government within which the will of the people is dismissed as irrelevant, and the stakes of political battles are not just jobs but life and death. – Dan S. (full review)

Ismael’s Ghosts (Arnaud Desplechin; March 23)

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Pasolini included an “essential bibliography” in the opening credits of Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, proffering five philosophical titles by the likes of Roland Barthes and Maurice Blanchot to help viewers navigate his rich and daunting Sadean masterpiece. The closing credits of Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghosts also feature a reading list that could be called essential. Of the four authors listed therein, one in particular might hold the key to interpreting Desplechin’s exhilarating, overflowing mindfuck of a movie: Jacques Lacan. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

The Endless (Aaron Moorhead & Justin Benson; March 23)

To resolve is to settle, finding the determination to do something rather than simply wait for something to happen to you. A resolution isn’t therefore a firm ending. On the contrary, it serves to provide beginnings. That decision has the potential to set you onto a path towards freedom either from the danger of outside forces or the complacency rendering you immobile within. So to look upon the conclusion of Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson’s debut feature (as a tandem) isn’t to relinquish hope. The being — their riff on H.P. Lovecraft’s “Unknown” — that watches the events in Resolution does want stories, that is true. It craves them enough to ensure its characters arrive in time for their test. To assume it seeks tragedy, however, is to ignore complexity. – Jared M. (full review)

Lean on Pete (Andrew Haigh; March 30)

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Adapted from Willy Vlautin’s 2010 novel, Lean on Pete begins and ends with a young man running, somewhat existentially, like Antoine Doinel did in The 400 Blows. However, it’s a film of walking, and lots of it. His name is Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer, a stand-out in King Jack), a 15-year-old boy who, having never known his mother, lives cordially if frugally with a man named Ray (Travis Fimmel) in a small town in Oregon. They strike one first as brothers but Ray is in fact his father, an age proximity that might shed some light on the reasons for his mother’s leaving. – Rory O. (full review)

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay; April 6)

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On the surface, Jonathan Ames’ You Were Never Really Here seems like an odd fit as source material for a film by Lynne Ramsay. Ames’ novella is a pulpy genre exercise about a hard-bitten vigilante, one of those lone-wolf types who abides by a strict code of ethics and practices his chosen métier with fanatic professionalism. It’s the kind of character that usually appeals to macho filmmakers such as Jean-Pierre Melville or Walter Hill, not to a poetic feminist of Ramsay’s kind. Unsurprisingly, she’s appropriated the material for her own purpose, paring down the already slender narrative and plunging deep into the tortured psychology of its protagonist. The results are breathtaking, and You Were Never Really Here stands alongside Claire Denis’ Bastards as one of the most ferocious indictments of systematic abuse of power and gender violence ever projected on a screen. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

Chappaquiddick (John Curran; April 6)

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I’m not certain if the truth ever came out about that evening’s events beyond speculation, but I don’t think anyone would question the believably authentic script that Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan wrote for Chappaquiddick. They depict that night with the melancholy and hopelessness Ted (Jason Clarke) would have felt so soon after the death of his third brother. It was a time of self-reflection rather than political aspiration, one forcing him to question how far he wanted to go. Was the Senate enough? Was he fighting for his brothers’ legacies, his father’s (Bruce Dern’s Joe Kennedy Sr) ambition, or his own desire? Add some alcohol and the faces of Bobby’s former secretaries surrounding him with optimism that he could persevere and you can imagine the dark, haunted thoughts he’d have. – Jared M. (full review)

The Rider (Chloe Zhao; April 13)

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What does a cowboy do when he can’t ride? Chloe Zhao’s absorbing South Dakota-set sophomore feature has its titular rider come to terms with such a fate, in a film that’s a beguiling mix of docudrama and fiction whose story echoes much of history of its actors’ own lives. Zhao’s combination of the visual palette of Terrence Malick, the social backbone of Kelly Reichardt, and the spontaneity of John Cassavetes creates cinema verité in the American plains. – Ed F. (full review)

Zama (Lucrecia Martel; April 13)

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After helming one of the best films of the previous decade with 2008’s The Headless Woman, Lucrecia Martel returned last fall with Zama. Produced by brothers Pedro and Agustin Almodóvar, Argentinean author Antonio di Benedetto’s 1956 novel has been adapted by Martel, which follows a story set in the late 18th century in Paraguay, tracking Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), an officer of the Spanish Crown, who is tasked with going after a bandit. The film is a towering achievement of composition and craft and while I can see why our Venice review was mixed due to the narrative’s elusive nature, I’m dying to experience this one on the big screen again. – Jordan R.

Disobedience (Sebastían Lelio; April 27)

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It starts with a London-based rabbi speaking from his heart about the complexities of life. He stammers through — obviously ailing — until collapse. Suddenly we’re in New York City watching a photographer in-session with tattooed seniors. The phone rings and we know. She (Rachel Weisz’s Ronit Krushka) is the daughter of that rabbi and he has passed away. The assumption is that both these worlds will subsequently collide in reunion. Tears will be shed and hugs had. But that’s not quite the case with Sebastían Lelio’s Disobedience. Ronit has been gone for some time and the leaving wasn’t under good terms. Her arrival is thus met with shock, bewilderment, and perhaps some anger. We sense the old wounds shared by all and ready to witness as they’re ripped open. – Jared M. (full review)

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (April TBD)

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If the phrase “tell-all” hadn’t been coined before 2012, Scotty Bowers’ memoir Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars would have done the job. Here’s a Marine Corps veteran of World War II born in Illinois who decided to land in Hollywood upon his return on a whim. He answered a “wanted” advertisement to work at a gas station, was hit on sexually by Walter Pidgeon while pumping gas, and realized he could use this well-trafficked locale to help pair off closeted male movie stars with young hustlers like himself for twenty bucks a pop. From there he met Cary Grant and Spencer Tracy, had a threesome with Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, and eventually spilled the beans about it all. – Jared M. (full review)

On Chesil Beach (Dominic Cooke; June 15)

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It’s 1962. Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) have just been married. She’s from a wealthy family and he a provincial one; her desire to be active in world affairs beyond her status’ ambivalence and his hope to be accepted as an intellectual with the potential of outgrowing a brawler reputation placing them at odds with the environments that raised them to seek escape. And they are in love: a true, deep, and unstoppable love that allowed their differences to take a backseat as far as community and parentage was concerned. It’s propelled them towards a hotel honeymoon suite on the water, an isolating venue affording them the privacy such auspicious occasions crave and the stifling quiet able to intensify their utter lack of sexual experience and wealth of insecure awkwardness. – Jared M. (full review)

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