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The Best Double Features of 2018

Written by on December 18, 2018 

Drive-in theaters may not be the popular viewing spot they once were, but with the overwhelming accessibility we now have, one can program their own personal double bill with back-to-back features that hit a specific thematic sweet spot. Today, we’ve run through the gamut of 2018 films to select the finest pairings (and a few triple features). Check out list the below, and we’d love to hear your own picks, which can be left in the comments.

Roma and Shoplifters

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What makes a group of people a family, and what makes families so resilient? Markedly different in settings and plots, two of the year’s greatest achievements in film, Alfonso Cuarón’s Golden Lion winner Roma and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or recipient Shoplifters, follow tight-knit groups of people in their struggles to stick together against all sorts of adversities. In Roma, Cuarón’s elegiac childhood memoir of a middle-class family in Mexico City, a wife watches her marriage collapse and grapples with a future as single mother of four–but the whole drama is seen and told from the perspective of the family maid, remarkable newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, whose proximity to the family makes her part of it too, conjuring up some extraordinary moments of tenderness. In Shoplifters, another household struggles to make ends meet by relying on subsidies, pension money, and petty thefts. Dark secrets lurk, but it is only when a new child is brought under the same roof that the past resurfaces, and the family must re-negotiate their bonds, lest it be shattered altogether. This is cinema at its most humanist heights, glowing with the aura classics are made of, and tipping its hat to a few of them; should you wish to make the duo a trio, consider (re)watching De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. – Leonardo G.

Minding the Gap and Skate Kitchen

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Debuting at Sundance Film Festival this year, these two skateboarding films—one documentary and one that blurred the lines of fiction—went beyond the standard sports film to not only depict one’s passions for their obsession, but the people behind it. In Minding the Gap, Bing Liu took a gut-punchingly personal look at his past and the demons both in his life and those of his friends–and how skateboarding was a salve to heal the pain. In Skate Kitchen, Crystal Moselle once again intimately explores NYC’s Lower East Side, this time with the all-female group Skate Kitchen at the center. While Moselle’s film is an empowering coming-of-age tale, Liu’s debut takes a look at the heartbreaking effects of a damaged childhood. – Jordan R.

A Star Is Born and Vox Lux

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Arguably the most obvious pairing of the year (and definitely an obligatory double feature for all Venice Film Festival and TIFF attendees this September), Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born and Brady Corbet’s Vox Lux zero in on two women skyrocketed to planetary fame, but with starkly different genesis stories. Natalie Portman’s cantankerous, foul-mouthed and all-out bonkers Celeste becomes an overnight sensation after surviving a school shooting as a teenager and singing a hymn of hope during the vigil; Lady Gaga’s Ally (a 21st century rendition of the Esthers that preceded her in the franchise’s 1937, 1954 and 1976 chapters) is catapulted in the spotlight after a chance encounter with a fading star (Cooper’s Jackson Maine). Much has been written about the freshness of Cooper’s directorial debut and Gaga’s riveting performance, but do not let Corbet’s second feature slip past you. It’d be tempting to write off Vox Lux as A Star is Born’s darker cousin, but I fear this would fail to encapsulate it in all its complexities. A bilious portrait of a bulimic society high on short-term thrills, success, and dangerously numb to violence, Vox Lux is a far cry from a sanitized rags-to-riches parable; more than watching a star being born, this is an entrancing portrait of a star being made, with all the excesses and neuroses of the society she crystallizes. – Leonardo G.

The Rider and Lean on Pete

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Equestrian enthusiasts were served a stable of riches at the cinema this year with Zama, Western, Damsel, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Sisters Brother, (though not The Mule), and a pair of the best in this regard: The Rider and Lean on Pete. With both films galloping deep into the world of midwestern horse racing, they provided profoundly heartfelt portraits of the economic realities of today’s America and, at the center of each, a mutual connection between wayward souls. – Jordan R.

24 Frames and The Other Side of the Wind

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The swan songs of a pair of cinema’s greatest directors arrived this year, one in a more completed form when the director passed and another less so. However in both each gazed into the future of the medium and pushed boundaries in thrillingly divergent way. Through a number of techniques, Abbas Kiarostami’s 24 Frames questions and plays with the very foundations of what we perceive filmmaking to be, all while delivering a chilling view of his final cinematic breaths. In The Other Side of the Wind, Orson Welles imagines a future of filmmaking as a barrage of cameras with off-the-cuff filmmaking, i.e. what passes for most television these days, not to mention the kinetic speed in which most blockbusters are patched together. For a triple feature, follow Welles’ film with another look at resurrecting an unfinished film, also on Netflix, with Shirkers. – Jordan R.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Free Solo

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This year gave us not one but two viscerally exciting portraits of genuinely stunning athletic performances by egomaniacal assholes with a death wishes; Mission: Impossible – Fallout, featuring long stretches of a millionaire action star briefly touching death in slick, crystal clear photography for our entertainment; and Free Solo, featuring the first climber to ever ascend Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan without the safety of a rope. The upper hand in this comparison must go to Tom Cruise on this one, his clear commitment to sacrificing his body trying to bring the American action blockbuster into the realm of eastern martial arts athleticism and cartoonishly insane, Rube-Goldberg-machine setpieces is a noble one that activated a raw, lizard brain desire in 2018 audiences to see (and truly see) something amazing when most blockbusters are deploying some photoreal animation calling it a day. As documented in Free Solo, however, Alex risks his life purely out of a selfish, abstract desire for personal stimulation which, though still technically amazing to watch, leaves a bit ickier of a sensation as you watch him hurt the people around him on his quest for some sort of vague transcendence. – Josh L.

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