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The Best Films of 2018 (So Far)

Written by on June 20, 2018 

Lover for a Day (Philippe Garrel)

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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)

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. He is the anti-Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, an anthropomorphic triumph whose interactions with humans are always believable. – Christopher S. (full review)

The Rider (Chloe Zhao)

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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)

Summer 1993 (Carla Simón)

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I wish there was a way I could start this review of Carla Simón’s extraordinary Summer 1993 with its final scene. Not because there are eye-opening or plot-unravelling clues nestled inside it (like many other wonderful recent entries in the coming of age genre – think of Sean Baker’s The Florida ProjectSummer 1993 unfolds more like an episodic tale than a plot-thick, action-packed three-act drama), but because it crystallizes what makes Simón’s debut stand out as one of the most memorable in recent years: an effortless ability to capture what it is like to deal with a tragedy of the kind its young heroine undergoes – the way traumas can be compartmentalized, but may always resurface. – Leonardo G. (full review)

The Tale (Jennifer Fox)

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What does your life mean if the memories that have defined you are revealed to be false? What if the memories are tied to devastating trauma? For Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern), when letters are unearthed revealing more about a “relationship” when she was 13, she starts to not only investigate in the present-day, but excavates the memories that she’s repeated since the trauma and opens a dialogue with her younger self (Isabelle Nélisse). What she perceived as a relationship was, in fact, repeated rape. Directed by Fox herself, The Tale is an emotionally debilitating drama, the powerful kind that makes one want to scream rage at the events on the screen, but are choked by silence as the credits roll, comprehending the irrecoverable damage caused to the protagonist and the director, as the events are based on her own life. – Jordan R. (full review)

Unsane (Steven Soderbergh)

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The term “post-prime Federer” has recently come into the sporting lexicon as a way to describe the great Swiss tennis star’s career in the years since his supposed peak ended in 2010; the rub here being that this unique entity has actually won more Grand Slam titles than Andy Murray, to take one example. Similar innocuous comparisons could soon be made for the prolificacy of “post-retirement Steven Soderbergh.” Indeed, it was never going to be easy for the director of Sex, Lies and Videotape to step away from the camera — his finger has always been too close to the pulse to ignore it, his inputs too wired to the cultural zeitgeist. Despite being shot months before the New York Times and New Yorker aired Weinstein’s dirty laundry, his latest effort, Unsane — which is essentially a b-movie in many respects — is arguably the first psychological horror of the #MeToo era. – Ed F. (full review)

Western (Valeska Grisebach)

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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)

Where is Kyra? (Andrew Dosunmu)

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So much of so many film festivals — Sundance especially — feel enormously focused on metropolitan life, New York City in particular. In Where Is Kyra?, director Andrew Dosunmu finds fertile ground in this well-worn location. Starring an against-type and utterly fascinating Michelle Pfeiffer as the titular Kyra, the film narrows in on the tragedy of getting old in America. – Dan M. (full review)

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)

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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)

Zama (Lucrecia Martel)

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After helming some of the best films of the previous decade with La Ciénaga, The Holy Girl, and The Headless Woman, Lucrecia Martel returned with the much-anticipated 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, elusive achievement of composition and craft that only improves on repeated viewings. – Jordan R.

Honorable Mentions

While we could continue on and on, we’ll jump to some films that just missed the cut, including the hilarious studio comedy double dose of Game Night and Blockers, as well as comedies of the darker variety on the smaller-scale: The Death of Stalin, Thoroughbreds, and The Party. In terms of Asian animation, Have a Nice Day, Bigfish & Begonia, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, and Lu Over the Wall are all worth seeking out. On the horror end, HereditaryRevenge, and November will give you varying levels of fright.

There was also commendable output from directors we admire, even if it wasn’t among their best, including Gemini, Isle of Dogs, Black Panther, The Workshop, and Incredibles 2. Before BlacKkKlansman arrives, Spike Lee’s Pass Over is a powerful filmed production worth seeing. As far as documentaries go, The Workers Cup, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Good Luck, Three Identical Strangers, RBG, and El Mar La Mar round out the honorable mentions.

There’s also a number of American independent drama to see, including NANCY, Blame, The Strange Ones, and Love After Love. Lastly, we have foreign films that we couldn’t find a spot for, but should be seen: A CiambraAngels Wear White, Ava, Beast, Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc, Mrs. Hyde, and Sweet Country.

What are your favorite films of the year?

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