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Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

Now working with lower budgets, Lee has refined his aesthetic into a kind of hothouse poetry of compacted excess.



Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked
Photo: Focus Features

Artists, as opposed to sensationalist technicians, understand violence as a transmission of energy that’s repulsive yet hypnotic. There’s a reason people slow down to watch highway accidents and street brawls, or reliably patronize gory blockbusters and TV series. No contemporary American filmmaker grasps—or channels—this conflict of the rational (moral judgment, or superior pretense thereof) and the irrational (fearful animal urge to get off on annihilation) more vividly than Spike Lee, who’s in the midst of a fertile creative cycle that began with 2012’s Red Hook Summer.

Now working with lower budgets, Lee has refined his aesthetic into a kind of hothouse poetry of compacted excess. His cinema is presently a series of contrasts and frictions: between large and small scale (the latter often symbolizing the former), and reverent and irreverent tones. The chief ambiguity of the filmmaker’s work, though, is his attitude toward violence, and its intermingling with the sexual tension existing between the over-charged men and manipulative women that populate his cinema.

On the occasion of the release of Lee’s volcanic new film, BlacKkKlansman, which is profound for the way that it recognizes the dangerous and romantic simplicity of hatred and the violence it can spark, we look back at the filmmaker’s feature-length theatrical joints. Chuck Bowen

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

27. She Hate Me (2004)

Spike Lee’s She Hate Me begins with a montage of Dead Presidents that culminates with a shot of a three-dollar bill that links George W. Bush to the Enron scandal. This “All About the Benjamins” sequence sets up what begins as a promising critique of our greed-driven corporate culture. Throughout, Lee contrasts corporate and familial responsibility, and though he doesn’t seem to see a difference between what happens in the workspace and what happens in the bedroom, his barely articulate theories are undermined by his laughable notion of what lesbians want and how they want it. Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie), a rich brother working for a firm that’s on the brink of releasing an AIDS vaccine, turns whistle blower after stumbling over evidence of financial malfeasance. His higher-ups then turn on him, and once Jack’s bank account is frozen, the film transforms into a whack-off fantasy in which every lesbian in the world wants to get some of Jack’s “man milk.” Most contracts are negotiated with John Hancocks, but in She Hate Me, deals are sealed with hot lesbian action. Spike, get a clue. Gonzalez

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

26. Girl 6 (1996)

Spike Lee is plain out of his element here, and it’s no wonder he falls back on stunt casting (from a post-Erotica Madonna as the boss of an illicit “no rules” phone sex ring, to Quentin Tarantino as, well, his own questionable self) and a ceaseless handpicked playlist of his favorite Prince songs. Girl 6, the story of a girl and her stint in the phone-sex biz, is a sloppy and problematic film, no diggity. But the opening audition scene and its thematic reprise at the film’s end aren’t among its mistakes. Actually, they are among the film’s only signs of cognitively dissonant, Godardian life. Girl 6’s screenplay was written by a woman, Pulitzer-winner Suzan-Lori Parks, and Theresa Randle’s disrobe-under-duress is, in actuality, Parks’s own built-in reminder to everyone who’s actually telling the tale. Tarantino and Lee aren’t so stylistically exclusive that most wouldn’t recognize Tarantino’s obvious function as a stand-in. (Only the racial difference between them confuses the metaphor.) So what Parks demonstrates by forcing Lee to force Randle into the dressing-down room is exactly what Tarantino says: “It’s what the role requires.” Or rather, it’s what every current role for young black women requires. Eric Henderson

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

25. Miracle at St. Anna (2008)

A dollop of Saving Private Ryan, a dash of Letters from Iwo Jima, and a sprinkle of Italian neorealism characterize the style and sentiment of Miracle at St. Anna, a generally ludicrous and—at 160 minutes—punishing saga meant to be producer-director Spike Lee’s bid to memorialize the heroism of African-American soldiers during WWII. While Lee’s movies often benefit from excellent performances from first-rate actors and clever visual design, these positives are often overwhelmed by an over-the-top narrative style that works to kill the inherent intelligence and poignancy of the material. The film is strewn with betrayals—sexual, political, familial and otherwise—all the way to the requisite, Saving Private Ryan-like gun-battle climax, in which soldiers try to evacuate the village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema as Germans storm in. Amid the obligatory pell-mell of screaming and gunfire, Lee wedges in a seemingly miraculous intervention—call it deus ex machina or Hollywood contrivance—on which the whole of this Oscar bait of a production hinges. For every decently observed scene, there are a dozen dull, asinine ones to be endured, awash in over-orchestration and silly visual choices. Jay Antani

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

24. Oldboy (2013)

It’s difficult to see any real precedent for this kind of pulpy material in Spike Lee’s previous work, and it’s perhaps as a result that the former wunderkind is at his most anonymized and restrained here, plugging along in hired-gun mode. The pacing is well measured, and there’s professional skill in every frame but none of the ebullient verve of Red Hook Summer; Josh Brolin floating along atop the dolly for a few short seconds acts as one of the few instances of self-reference, which is odd for a director who usually packs his movies with as many signature touches as possible. Working off Mark Protosevich’s script, Lee does push up one interesting angle, flirting with a post-9/11 parable in the style of Steven Spielberg’s Munich, but the metaphorical implications of a man whipped into a frenzy by his thirst for revenge are undercut by the restorative properties of a too-neat conclusion. Where Park Chan-wook’s original imagined the wronged sibling taking revenge on the protagonist as a buttoned-down maniac mogul, the villain here takes the form of an obscenely wealthy, mustache-twirling British blue-blood (played tediously by Sharlto Copley), a choice that, combined with some other absurd touches, pushes the last act into full-tilt farce. In this and other instances, Oldboy seems to be responding to the sillier qualities of its source material by ramping up the ridiculousness, adding heightened violence to spice up the broth. Jesse Cataldo

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

23. Pass Over (2018)

Where many filmed plays attempt to “open up” their source material, Pass Over doubles down on its theatricality. The film was shot at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, and filmmaker Spike Lee worked in close collaboration with stage director Danya Taymor, sporadically wedding theatrical restrictions with cinematic compositions. With a few notable exceptions, the film is set on the Steppenwolf’s stage, which has been abstractly dressed to resemble an austere Chicago city block. Audiences may wish, however, that the mediums of theater and cinema had been more playfully merged, as Pass Over can use all the variety it can muster. Based on a play by Antoinette Nwandu, the film is concerned with restriction, which Lee and Taymor embrace with a purity of intent that’s remarkable and actively stifling. Bowen

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

22. Inside Man (2006)

Inside Man is so thoroughly crammed with symbolic undertones that virtually everything contains allegorical culture-clash potential. For instance, is there some hidden meaning behind Dalton Russell’s (Clive Owen) thieves entering the Wall Street bank in white painter’s outfits, but then changing into gray jumpsuits later on? And what does it say about Denzel Washington’s persecuted detective Frazier Keith that he ultimately, triumphantly, dons a dapper cream-colored suit? In Dalton’s forcing his prisoners to wear matching, identity-negating outfits, Lee seems to be critiquing racial profiling by challenging Washington’s hero to distinguish criminals from innocents without the benefit of knowing his suspects’ skin color. Yet despite its leads enthusiastically breathing life into their sub-Sidney Lumet characters, the languid Inside Man offers few insights into modern societal discord and provides only scant cops-and-robbers kicks. Perhaps not Lee’s dullest joint, it’s nonetheless one of his most sloppily rolled. Nick Schager

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

21. Mo’ Better Blues (1990)

Spike Lee’s tribute to jazz may not stand shoulder to padded shoulder with Do the Right Thing, but it represents cinematographer Ernest Dickerson’s masterpiece. The visuals give you life through a jazzman’s night-owl eyes, starting with an opening credits sequence that bathes a solitary trumpet in a sumptuous, shiny metallic blue light. Dickerson’s vibrant reds also dominate his canvas and are synonymous with sin: It’s in the bright red light that bursts forth from the open door of the jazz club as a man is dragged out to be beaten in the street, and in the same red dress that both of Bleek Gilliam’s (Denzel Washington) women wear to a meeting at which they weren’t supposed to simultaneously appear. Dickerson treats those cool blues and hot reds like the proverbial angel and devil on the characters’ shoulders. If only Lee had trusted these images more, instead of bogging them down with clunky dialogue and exposition. Because when he lets his directorial visions speak for themselves, the film’s flaws are temporarily forgiven. Odie Henderson

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

20. He Got Game (1998)

Considering Spike Lee’s fanatical courtside reactions at Knicks games, it’s entirely believable that He Got Game would regard basketball with a Pentecostal pastor’s fervor. The film even has a savior named Jesus (former Milwaukee Buck Ray Allen), whose high school athletic prowess practically guarantees ascension into the holy ranks of the NBA. Lee’s parable demands unshakable faith in the plotline that a warden (Ned Beatty) would spring Jesus’s estranged father, Jake (Denzel Washington), from jail so that he may convince Jesus to sign with the governor’s alma mater rather than turn pro straight out of high school. Jake has a week to make this happen while trying to re-establish a parental bond with his son. This plays out against a frantic quest by coaches and colleges for Jesus’s b-ball miracles, and Lee pulls no punches in showing the ruthlessness that accompanies billion-dollar sports organizations’ seduction of poor black kids with athletic promise, but that strength is undermined by the script’s reductive depiction of women: Jesus’s girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) is a manipulative, calculating gold digger and Milla Jovovich’s hooker with a heart of gold exists solely to provide Jake with some forbidden nookie. Washington gives Jake a hint of the meanness that would later fuel Training Day. His performance, along with Mayik Hassan Sayeed’s cinematography, help the film achieve a small form of grace. Odie Henderson

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

19. Passing Strange (2009)

Every now and then, Spike Lee puts his talent and production team to work in the service of someone else’s vision, creating a film that’s more document than documentary. Passing Strange was conceived and written by Stew (a musician whose full name is Mark Stewart) and his musical partner, Heidi Rodewald, both of whom also appear in the play and the film. Loosely based on Stew’s adolescence, it’s the story of a middle-class black kid (Daniel Breaker) who leaves Los Angeles for Europe to search for “the real.” A big part of that search involves breaking free of the stereotypes and expectations he chafed under back home—though, in one funny sequence, he winds up acting “ghetto” to win acceptance from the vaguely anarchic young artists he takes up with in Berlin. Lee’s cameras are able to take us briefly backstage with the jazzed-up cast during intermission, and he encouraged the actors to do an ecstatic reprise of “It’s All Right Now,” a song sung earlier in the play, at the finale. Watching the cast members bounce off of and embrace one another in those unscripted intervals adds another layer to the performance, letting us see something of what it meant to the actors themselves. But sometimes the camera feels intrusive, showcasing exaggerated, often bug-eyed expressions that look like mugging on camera but didn’t bother me at a distance. Elsewhere, the film is prone to cutting from one actor to another during high-energy group scenes rather than showing the group as a whole, chopping a portrait of widespread chaos or abandon into a series of individual shots. Still, Lee and his collaborators did the play proud, honoring its structure and rhythms. Elise Nakhnikian

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

18. Summer of Sam (1999)

Nineteen seventy-seven was a formative year for then-20-year-old Spike Lee. During the New York City blackout of that year, he shot footage that would become his student film Last Hustle in Brooklyn. Summer of Sam is set during that same year, but you won’t catch a whiff of Lee’s nostalgia throughout the film’s running time. Lee inherently understands the gulf between black and white urban experience in 1977’s New York. Indeed, as the filmmaker snarkily states on screen, David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz wasn’t shooting people of color during his killing spree, so blacks at the time felt that they had nothing to worry about. As such, Summer of Sam focuses on an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx where people cuss, fight, and screw while taking in the skeevier elements of a still-bankrupt New York. The characters’ panic roils through all of their vibrant personal interactions, which are haphazardly rendered in the wildly tone-shifting vignettes of the script by Lee, Victor Collicchio, and Michael Imperioli. With Brody’s punk character, Lee cannily taps into his familiar theme of the fear of the other and its repercussions. The director also milks a ’70s-movie vibe here, which greatly contributes to his gritty and dark mise-en-scène. Gaudy and imperfect, with scenes of graphic violence uneasily existing alongside broad ethnic comedy, Summer of Sam is one of Lee’s biggest, and most interesting, hot messes. Odie Henderson

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

17. 25th Hour (2002)

Feelings of anger, guilt, blame and responsibility rage like a tempest through Spike Lee’s 25th Hour. Approaching the topic by way of turning specific moods and emotions into allegory, it’s almost the equivalent of Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising (one of the Boss’s songs even plays over the end credits). But Lee, who’s always fashioned his populist diatribes for a public that doesn’t exist, isn’t sensitive enough a filmmaker to focus his awareness into shared empathy like Springsteen did. United by Lee’s perpetual need to inflame any debate into a full-fledged argument, the various elements of 25th Hour are invariably provocative. But the husk of the story isn’t up to the filmmakers’ challenge; it’s apparent in nearly every scene that the film is a routine moral drama with the tragic 9/11 template superimposed, and while Lee and screenwriter David Benioff have connected the two diverging threads masterfully, the original material isn’t able to handle its share of the load. Still, watching Lee throw everything on his mind into the fray, no matter how irreconcilable with the story, makes for an undeniably fascinating experience. Perhaps more impressive than the moment where Monty (Edward Norton), while glaring at himself in a bathroom mirror, verbally lambastes the various cultural faces of New York City only to wonder if he should be directing the hostility at himself, is the sequence that depicts Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) slipping in his determination not to take a bite of the forbidden fruit held by his student during a drunken nightclub encounter. Masterfully constructed so that each shot has both visual flair and deeper meaning, it’s the kind of scene that, like so many in 25th Hour, could easily be presented as a stand-alone short. Chuck Rudolph

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

16. Red Hook Summer (2012)

After the bloated and disjointed WWII epic Miracle of St. Anna, Spike Lee returns home to the present-day New York City borough of his youth with Red Hook Summer, the director’s fifth entry in his ongoing chronicles of “the Republic of Brooklyn.” A coming-of-age story at heart, the film follows a middle-class Georgia boy named Flick (Jules Brown) who’s forced to spend his summer vacation in the sweltering-hot Red Hook housing projects with his devout Methodist grandfather, Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters). It’s a seemingly straightforward fish-out-of-water scenario, one wrought with miscommunication, generational conflicts, and class division. But Lee complicates this familiar formula by playing against our expectations in regard to character motivation and tone, revealing dark truths beneath the routines of everyday life. Glenn Heath Jr.

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

15. The Original Kings of Comedy (2000)

Shot over two nights in Charlotte, North Carolina, this filmed record of the Original Kings of Comedy Tour showcased Spike Lee’s heretofore untapped talent for directing live performances and events. Lee seems to have lucked out here, capturing four of the biggest African-American comedians at the height of their stand-up game and all but guaranteeing box-office success. The now-ubiquitous Steve Harvey serves as master of ceremonies, getting in his comedic bits before ceding control to Cedric the Entertainer, D.L. Hughley, and the late Bernie Mac. Lee feeds off the energy in the room, calibrating his camera movements, shots, and edits to correspond with the different intensity levels of his hilarious performers. The camera seems to be everywhere, yet Lee never draws attention to himself. He knows the show belongs to his comedians, so he aids and abets from the shadows like the best of accomplices. The result is the Stop Making Sense of stand-up comedy movies. Odie Henderson

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

14. Clockers (1995)

Spike Lee’s opening credits sequences set the tone of his films, so the harrowing crime-scene photos that kick off Clockers offer fair warning that the viewer will not be coddled at any point throughout the film. Despite their slight desaturation of color, this violent imagery packs a nauseous, horrific punch. The film that follows is no different, with its scenes of intense, graphic violence and gunplay. Adapting his own novel, Richard Price gives Lee the story upon which to hang his Scorsese homage, with Scorsese himself overseeing production. Lee coaxes outstanding turns from his actors, especially Harvey Keitel, Regina Taylor, and Delroy Lindo. Keitel is stoic yet menacing as the cop investigating a murder he thinks a low-level drug dealer named Strike (Mekhi Pfieffer) has committed. Taylor is fiercely maternal as Iris, fearlessly battering Strike in an attempt to keep her son from being influenced by him. And Delroy Lindo, on his third tour of duty with Lee, turns in a ferocious, spoiled-child performance as Rodney, Strike’s boss and a man who should never be disrespected. The ending is a total optimistic cop-out, but Lee’s desire for some glimmer of hope to end on feels like an act of mercy. Odie Henderson

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

13. 4 Little Girls (1997)

4 Little Girls has the most explicit tie to BlacKkKlansman of any of Spike’s features, not just for their shared engagement with the racial terror committed by the Ku Klux Klan, but also for their mutal understanding that a not insignificant number of Americans are still beholden to, and enamored of, the atrocious beliefs espoused by the Klan. One need not ask what would happen today if a white supremacist murdered black people in a church, or whether racists would get preferential treatment by prominent politicians; just turn on the television in order to find out. Lee’s Oscar-nominated documentary pays tribute to Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair, who were murdered when Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed in 1963. This event led to a massive surge in the civil rights movement, but Lee’s focus here is to give these four little girls back the humanity that was taken away from them by maelstrom of hatred. Lee also scores a major coup in an interview with George Wallace, a scene that, for the way the former governor of Alabama drags his black nurse on screen to show how “progressive” he’s become, recalls the absurdist, pitch-black humor of BlacKkKlansman. Odie Henderson

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

12. Get on the Bus (1996)

Contrary to entrenched societal belief and decades of Hollywood misrepresentation, black people aren’t monolithic. We are not of one mind. And that is the point of Get on the Bus. Reggie Bythewood’s episodic screenplay follows a group of men traveling to the Million Man March in Washington, D.C., and while the plot puts a timestamp on the film, the characters’ viewpoints remain blazingly current. This is one of the most diverse depictions of the black male experience in America ever put on screen. Get on the Bus gives each character time to express their thoughts. The film doesn’t seek to paint any of these men as a saint. Rather, it proceeds as a feature-length discussion—an exploration of what can be achieved just by listening. Lee gets a veritable Murderer’s Row of actors who know how to compellingly talk—Charles S. Dutton, Ossie Davis, Andre Braugher—and his appropriate direction is uncharacteristically low-key. At least until the end, as Get on the Bus builds to a final shot of a broken shackle, a blatant but effectively symbolic representation of deliverance from the bondage of cinematic stereotypes. Odie Henderson

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

11. Crooklyn (1994)

Spike Lee’s nostalgic reminiscence is like childhood itself: messy, unstructured, and saved from spiraling into total chaos by its parent characters (Alfre Woodard and Delroy Lindo). Crooklyn is haunted by the ghosts of worry-free playtime, lost innocence, and the random details that remain stuck in memory until one is old enough to process them correctly. Written by Lee and two of his siblings, Joie and Cinqué Lee, the film feels like a family conversation where stories from the past are recalled and disputed. Crooklyn’s point of view reflects how foreign it must feel to be the only daughter (Zelda Harris) in a house full of sons or, in the case of one lengthy sequence shot through an anamorphic lens, what it’s like to be a city dweller visiting rural parts unknown. The film is also a mournful paean to the concept of a well-lived-in neighborhood, one where kids could whittle away time by simply being young and out on the stoop. Odie Henderson

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

10. When the Levees Broke (2006)

Throughout When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee foregoes useless speechifying, opting instead to create an epic document of New Orleans’s struggle both during and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that should prove instructive for years to come, if not in facts than for its emotional scope: an up-close, deeply empathetic and soulful journey through the stories that make up this catastrophe. The film works because Lee turns away from himself, and taps into the unvarnished pain of Gulf Coast residents, who understandably channel their frustrations toward a government that neglected them and whose aid continues to fumble. Sometimes it’s less about what President Bush or FEMA could’ve done (answer: a lot more) than the sentiment they send to the citizens they represent; Bush enjoys vacation and Condoleezza Rice shops for shoes while thousands drown in their homes. This attention to politicians’ behavior can get hackneyed—“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” is repeated three times, when it’s already been overdone—but the documentary always remains focused on the people affected by officials’ thoughtlessness. Paul Schrodt

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

9. Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014)

For Spike Lee, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus is an autumnal film—marked by an amazingly restless frenetic energy—that appears to represent the self-implicating gesture of a rich and successful artist who has, perhaps autobiographically, chosen to remake a film that’s famously about the assimilation of African-Americans into white upper-echelon society. This film is a parable of the parasitic divide between the haves and the have-nots, between men and women, between blacks and whites. It’s also about the loneliness and the social estrangement that characterizes life on any portion of this wide variety of social spectrums, uniting us, though it’s just as knowingly occupied with the cathartic pleasure of the rarefied life that’s enabled by mass suffering. Bowen

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

8. BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Spike Lee’s film registers an awareness for the narcotic qualities of cinema, particularly films that address matters of race, and as BlacKkKlansman distractedly flits between set pieces that catch Klansman in their comic crosshairs and fiery speeches of protest among Black Power activists, it takes care to lay charges along these fault lines, slow-burning to a potentially seismic collision of two discrete worlds. But the plot of BlacKkKlansman never quite gets its Do the Right Thing moment—maybe because Lee is even less optimistic today than he was in 1989 about America’s prospects of working things out and confronting its racial differences. That makes BlacKkKlansman a potently unresolved vision—hence a final montage sequence that includes footage from last year’s deadly riots in Charlottesville. Sam C. Mac

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

7. School Daze (1988)

Widely criticized as one of the more egregious examples of Spike Lee’s spin-painting approach to telling stories, School Daze is, if nothing else, a compelling time capsule of racial politics in the late 1980s, ethnographically sealed off in a hothouse micro-environment (an all-black college campus) that’s as constrictive as Lee’s varying plot threads and stylistic whims are profuse. Lee has always been an extraordinarily musical-influenced filmmaker, and many of his most famous set pieces have been as much edited and propelled by their musical thrust as by their narrative or thematic impact. Big Daddy Love’s roll call in Do the Right Thing, Flipper’s visit to the crack house in Jungle Fever, and even the cadences of Monty’s litany against every social subsection at the center of 25th Hour all ebb and flow like verse and chorus of a showstopping musical centerpiece. School Daze one-ups them all with a cornucopia of different musical montages, including one (“Straight and Nappy”) that sends up the Broadway-influenced tenet of having musical numbers act as an extension of the characters’ subconscious thoughts. The film isn’t going to convert anyone who considers Lee a filmmaker whose ambitions exceed his grasp, but for those who savor their arguments loose and full of tangents, it’s as rich in rewards as other second-gear Lee films. Eric Henderson

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

6. She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

Spike Lee’s first feature-length production was one of the lynchpins of the burgeoning American indie movement of the 1980s, but don’t hold that against it. Unlike the seemingly endless torrent of films tailor-made to cater to specialty divisions, Lee’s early work spoke on behalf of the black experience without just speaking to blacks alone. Stylistically, these films were as cheekily dialectical from the get-go as would later be celebrated in Do the Right Thing. As in that particular masterpiece, She’s Gotta Have It’s characters talk into the camera, but they do so in service of a Rashomon-tinged postmortem on how an artistic young woman couldn’t make polyamory work in her favor. Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) is the independent woman in question, and the entire movie is a multi-P.O.V. flashback to when she spent Thanksgiving time-sharing her vagina between Jaime (Redmond Hicks), a sweet-natured but oppressively traditional-minded monogamist, Greer (John Canada Terrell), a hard-bodied, soft-headed male model on the cusp of taking his bikini briefs onto the cover of GQ, and Mars (Lee), a runty bicyclist deliveryman who hasn’t delivered a package in two years but knows how to make Nola laugh. Even if Nola’s urban enclave ends up too close for comfort, Lee’s first film statement conveys the communal experience that would elevate even some of his sketchier efforts. Eric Henderson

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

5. Jungle Fever (1991)

The interracial love story that anchors Jungle Fever is the least interesting element of Spike Lee’s 1991 joint. It’s the dull circle from which more compelling plot tangents offshoot. While the director is game for a surface-level exploration of the trials and tribulations of forbidden love, his once-controversial subject matter is merely a selling point designed to get asses into theater seats. Once Lee hooks his audience with the promise of sin, he pivots his social commentary to a tragic secondary character, just as Douglas Sirk did in Imitation of Life. This is appropriate, because Jungle Fever is the equivalent of a 1950s message picture. Expertly wielding his influences, Lee throws a dash of Delbert Mann and a soupcon of Stanley Kramer into the proceedings. Though the outcome is at times woefully dated, it’s also the origin of several ideas Lee would return to in subsequent films. Odie Henderson

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

4. Malcolm X (1992)

The elements of popular cinema found in Malcolm X speak to the fact that the film is utterly unique—you won’t find an equivalent film about Martin Luther King Jr. or Stokely Carmichael—and the struggle Spike Lee faced in arriving at this stage of his career. The script, written by Lee and Arnold Perl, which follows Malcolm (an invigorating, masterful Denzel Washington) from his days as a cartoonish skirt-chasing hood to an imprisoned intellectual and finally to the deeply conflicted spokesperson for the Nation of Islam and Elijah Muhammed (Al Freeman Jr.), unfolds in linear time with brief flashbacks to his family’s struggles while the brutal murder of his father (by the Black Legion). Also, the use of a star such as Washington surrounded by strong but relatively unknown supporting players—Delroy Lindo, Albert Hall, Kate Vernon, Lee himself, and, most prominently, Angela Bassett as Malcolm’s wife—gives the film breadth without breaking focus from the central protagonist. As a political film, Malcolm X is frustrating, but not for lack of good reason. The truth is that the film is preposterously close to balanced: White people are evenly portrayed as bigots or fools, but Malcolm’s statements on J.F.K.’s assassination not only make him an enemy with the white majority, but become the major separating factor between him and the Nation of Islam. Lee has done the remarkable and portrayed Malcolm X as a true individual, not without a certain sense of hagiography. As a film that shows the American civil rights movement as a struggle powered and enlivened almost completely by brave and brilliant African-American leaders, Malcolm X remains an irrefutable revelation. Chris Cabin

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

3. Bamboozled (2000)

At the time of Bamboozled’s release, white liberal critics seemed perturbed that Spike Lee largely avoided such easy targets as wealthy media executives, instead attacking respectability politics, via the character of Delacroix, and white liberals themselves, via Dunwitty (Michael Rapaport), a Tarantino-esque figure who believes his engagement with black culture exonerates him from charges of racism. We like to imagine that America has “come so far,” but, as Ashley Clark shows in Facing Blackness: Media and Minstrelsy in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, the radical core of the film is “its steadfast rejection of a soothing narrative of progress in American entertainment and wider society.” Bamboozled is muddled at times and frequently lacking in self-criticism, but Lee’s aesthetic and satirical choices have been too easily dismissed as simply shoddy filmmaking. The film’s muddy digital look—a frequent sticking point for viewers—provides an ironic contrast to the clarity of the New Millennium Minstrel Show segments. Filmed in bright, color-saturated Super 16mm, the minstrel show itself provides an almost soothing counterpoint to the murky DV of the rest of Bamboozled, just as the stereotypes of minstrelsy offer an easily comprehensible understanding of race that the real world, with all its complexities, forbids. Keith Watson

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

2. Chi-Raq (2015)

Chi-Raq, Spike Lee’s most daring film since Bamboozled, is a liberal message movie staged as a fusion of graphic novel, music video, musical, action film, meathead comedy, August Wilson play, and chamber sex drama—all under the umbrella of contemporizing Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, an ancient Greek comedy that pivots on women withholding sex from men in an attempt to instill peace in their land. A fleeting paraphrasing of Walter Hill’s The Warriors late in the film isn’t incidental either, as Lee is courting and achieving precisely that sort of heightened, formally amazing, morally destabilizing force. Lee’s empathy and prodigious command of the dozen or so tones and formal devices that he’s juggling imbue the film’s more traditionally cautionary moments with a renewed ability to sting. One expects to see a mother weeping on the street in this sort of gangster film, but when Jennifer Hudson’s character scrubs her slain daughter’s blood off the asphalt, the grit of her fingernails audibly brushing the street, there’s a sense of chaos, of true, platitude-shattering violation. This scene doesn’t belong next to moments of high comedy or arousing sex-play. And that’s the point. Bowen

Fight the Power: Spike Lee’s Films Ranked

1. Do the Right Thing (1989)

In his uncontestable masterpiece (indeed one of American cinema’s absolutely unimpeachable classics), Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee deftly follows the actions of two dozen people on what turns out to be one of the longest, hottest, most memorable and maybe most tragic days of their lives. And he does it without so much as a single lugubrious or extraneous moment. Even before Bed-Stuy’s race relations unravel in the heat, Lee’s film strives for insistent political consciousness, which is to say he doesn’t just bring up political topics but dares to actually take positions. Some reviewers, largely the same nervous nellies who warned the film might incite race riots, took issue with Lee’s perceived free pass to eschew political correctness, especially in Bush I’s “kinder, gentler nation.” But that’s precisely the point of Do the Right Thing. It takes political concepts away from the lip service of cloistered authority figures (including the film’s dirty cops) and dissects them through the lives of those who are forced to live by them. In this context, the radio DJ Mister Señor Love Daddy’s stately, nearly two-and-a-half-minute roll call of great black musicians carries as much weight of the Emancipation Proclamation. Lee’s deceptively vibrant pop comedy (“Fuck Frank Sinatra!” “Fuck Michael Jackson!”) is both freewheeling and, as the film’s final half hour reveals, extraordinarily calculated. When tempers spiral out of control and grave injustice is meted out to one of Bed-Stuy’s inhabitants, the disruption is a direct slap to shake audiences out of complacency. Eric Henderson



2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions

How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways.



Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways. The hastily introduced and unceremoniously tabled (for now) “best popular film” Oscar. The impending commercial-break ghettoization of such categories as best cinematography and best film editing, but most certainly not best song and best animated feature. The abortive attempts to unveil Kevin Hart as the host not once, but twice, stymied by the online backlash over years-old anti-gay Twitter jokes and leading AMPAS to opt for George Glass as this year’s master of ceremonies. The strong-arming of its own membership to deter rank-and-file superstars from attending competing precursor award shows. If these end up being the last Oscars ever, and it’s starting to feel as though it should be, what a way to go out, right? Like the floating island of plastic in the Pacific, the cultural and political detritus of Oscar season has spread far beyond any previous rational estimates and will almost certainly outlive our functional presence on this planet. And really, when you think about it, what’s worse: The extinction of mankind or Bohemian Rhapsody winning the best picture Oscar? In that spirit, we press on.



There will be plenty of time, too much time, to go deep on the many ways Green Book reveals the flawed soul of your average, aged white liberal in America circa 2019. For now, let’s just admit that it’s as sure a nominee as The Favourite, Roma, and A Star Is Born. (There’s snackable irony in the fact that a movie called The Front Runner became very much not an Oscar front runner in a year that doesn’t appear to have a solid front runner.) And even though few seem to be predicting it for an actual win here, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman has an almost spotless precursor track record, showing up almost across the board among the guilds. Predicting this category would’ve been easy enough when Oscar limited it to five films, but it’s strangely almost as easy this year to see where the line will cut off between five and 10. Adam McKay’s Vice may be without shame, but you don’t have to strain hard to see how people could mistake it for the film of the moment. Bohemian Rhapsody is certainly lacking in merit, but, much like our comrade in chief, Oscar has never been more desperate for people to like and respect him, and a hit is a hit. Except when it’s a Marvel movie, which is why Black Panther stands precariously on the category’s line of cutoff, despite the rabid enthusiasm from certain corners that will likely be enough to push it through.

Will Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star Is Born, and Vice

Closest Runners-Up: If Beale Street Could Talk and A Quiet Place

Should Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Burning, First Reformed, Let the Sunshine In, and Zama

Best Director

Yorgos Lanthimos

Everyone can agree that Bohemian Rhapsody will be one of the best picture contenders that doesn’t get a corresponding best director nomination, but virtually all the other nominees we’re predicting have a shot. Including Peter-flashing Farrelly, whose predictably unsubtle work on Green Book (or, Don and Dumber) netted him a widely derided DGA nomination. The outrage over Farrelly’s presence there took some of the heat off Vice’s Adam McKay, but if any DGA contender is going to swap out in favor of Yorgos Lanthimos (for BAFTA favorite The Favourite), it seems likely to be McKay. As Mark Harris has pointed out, Green Book is cruising through this awards season in a lane of its own, a persistently well-liked, well-meaning, unchallenging throwback whose defiant fans are clearly in a fighting mood.

Will Be Nominated: Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), Peter Farrelly (Green Book), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), and Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)

Closest Runners-Up: Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk), and Adam McKay (Vice)

Should Be Nominated: Lee Chang-dong (Burning), Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Lucrecia Martel (Zama), and Paul Schrader (First Reformed)

Best Actress

Yalitza Aparicio

Had Fox Searchlight reversed their category-fraud strategizing and flipped The Favourite’s Olivia Coleman into supporting and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone into lead, the five best actress slots would arguably have been locked down weeks, if not months, ago, unless Fox’s bet-hedging intuits some form of industry resistance to double female-led propositions. As it stands, there are four locks that hardly need mention and a slew of candidates on basically equal footing. Hereditary’s Toni Collette has become shrieking awards show junkies’ cause célèbre this year, though she actually has the critic awards haul to back them up, having won more of the regional prizes than anyone else. The same demographic backing Collette gave up hope long ago on Viola Davis being able to survive the Widows collapse, and yet there by the grace of BAFTA does she live on to fight another round. Elsie Fisher’s palpable awkwardness in Eighth Grade and winning awkwardness navigating the Hollywood circuit have earned her an almost protective backing. But we’re going out on a limb and calling it for the rapturously received Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio. Voters could, like us, find it not a particularly great performance and still parlay their good will for her into a nomination that’s there for the taking.

Will Be Nominated: Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Closest Runners-Up: Toni Collette (Hereditary), Viola Davis (Widows), and Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)

Should Be Nominated: Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In), Toni Collette (Hereditary), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Regina Hall (Support the Girls), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)


John David Washington

Take Toni Collette’s trophies thus far in the competition and double them. And then add a few more. That’s the magnitude of endorsements backing First Reformed’s Ethan Hawke. And his trajectory has the clear markings of an almost overqualified performance that, like Naomi Watts’s in Mulholland Drive, cinephiles decades from now will wonder how Oscar snubbed. If Pastor Ernst Toller and Sasha Stone are right and God is indeed watching us all and cares what the Academy Awards do, Hawke’s nomination will come at the expense of John David Washington, whose strength in the precursors thus far (SAG and Globe-nominated) is maybe the most notable bellwether of BlacKkKlansman’s overall strength. Because, as with the best actress category, the other four slots are basically preordained. Unlike with best actress, the bench of also-rans appears to be one solitary soul. A fitting place for Paul Schrader’s man against the world.

Will Be Nominated: Christian Bale (Vice), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Closest Runners-Up: Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)

Should Be Nominated: Yoo Ah-in (Burning), Ben Foster (Leave No Trace), Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Meinhard Neumann (Western), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Supporting Actress

Emily Blunt

Every Oscar prognosticator worth their bragging rights has spent the last couple weeks conspicuously rubbing their hands together about Regina King’s chances. The all-or-nothing volley that’s seen her sweep the critics’ awards and win the Golden Globe, and at the same time not even get nominations from within the industry—she was left off the ballot by both SAG and the BAFTAs—are narrative disruptions among a class that lives for narratives and dies of incorrect predictions. But despite the kvetching, King is as safe as anyone for a nomination in this category. It doesn’t hurt that, outside the pair of lead actresses from The Favourite, almost everyone else in the running this year feels like a 7th- or 8th-place also-ran. Except maybe Widows’s Elizabeth Debicki, whose fervent fans probably number just enough to land her…in 7th or 8th place. Vice’s Amy Adams is set to reach the Glenn Close club with her sixth Oscar nomination, and if she’d only managed to sustain the same loopy energy she brings to Lynne Cheney’s campaign-trail promise to keep her bra on, she’d deserve it. Which leaves a slot for supportive housewives Claire Foy, Nicole Kidman, and Emily Blunt. Even before the collapse of Mary Poppins Returns, we preferred Blunt’s chances in A Quiet Place.

Will Be Nominated: Amy Adams (Vice), Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Emma Stone (The Favourite), and Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Closest Runners-Up: Claire Foy (First Man), Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased), and Margot Robbie (Mary, Queen of Scots)

Should Be Nominated: Sakura Ando (Shoplifters), Zoe Kazan (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Rachel McAdams (Disobedience), and Haley Lu Richardson (Support the Girls)

Supporting Actor

Timothée Chalamet

The same people who’re curiously doubting Regina King’s nomination chances seem awfully assured that Sam Elliott’s moist-eyed, clearly canonical backing-the-truck-up scene in A Star Is Born assures him not only a nomination but probably the win. Elliott missed nominations with both the Golden Globes and BAFTA, and it was hard not to notice just how enthusiasm for A Star Is Born seemed to be cooling during the same period Oscar ballots were in circulation. Right around the same time, it started becoming apparent that BlacKkKlansman is a stronger draw than anyone thought, which means Adam Driver (who everyone was already predicting for a nod) won’t have to suffer the representationally awkward fate of being the film’s only nominee. Otherwise, the category appears to favor previously awarded actors (Mahershala Ali and Sam Rockwell) or should have been previously awarded actors (Chalamet). Leaving Michael B. Jordan to remain a should have been previously nominated actor.

Will Be Nominated: Mahershala Ali (Green Book), Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Closest Runners-Up: Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) and Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)

Should Be Nominated: Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Hugh Grant (Paddington 2); Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Steven Yeun (Burning)

Adapted Screenplay

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Get beyond the best picture hopefuls BlacKkKlansman and If Beale Street Could Talk, which seem deservedly locked, and A Star Is Born, which is even more deservedly iffy, and you’ll see the screenwriters’ branch deciding just how seriously to take themselves this year, and whether they’re feeling like spiritually reliving the moments that found them nominating Bridesmaids and Logan. If so, then expect Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther to factor in here. If they most definitely don’t feel frisky, then maybe the foursquare First Man has a shot at reversing its overall downward trajectory. If they’re seeking that “just right” middle ground, then Can You Ever Forgive Me? and The Death of Stalin are in.

Will Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Death of Stalin, If Beale Street Could Talk, and A Star Is Born

Closest Runners-Up: Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and First Man

Should Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, First Man, Leave No Trace, The Grief of Others, and We the Animals

Original Screenplay

First Reformed

It’s not unusual for some of the year’s most acclaimed movies whose strength isn’t necessarily in their scripts to get nominated only in the screenwriting categories. First Reformed, which even some of its fiercest defenders admit can sometimes feel a bit like Paul Schrader’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” greatest-hits package, stands to be another of them. But it’ll be a close call, given the number of other equally vanguard options they’ll be weighing it against, like Sorry to Bother You, which arguably feels more urgently in the moment in form, Eighth Grade, which is more empathetically post-#MeToo, and even Cold War, which had a surprisingly strong showing with BAFTA. Given the quartet of assured best picture contenders in the mix, First Reformed is going to have to hold off all of them.

Will Be Nominated: The Favourite, First Reformed, Green Book, Roma, and Vice

Closest Runners-Up: Cold War, Eighth Grade, and Sorry to Bother You

Should Be Nominated: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Bodied, First Reformed, Sorry to Bother You, and Western

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The 20 Best Music Videos of 2018

The year’s best music videos reflect the way we live now: the technology we use, the power we wield, and the places we carve out for ourselves.




The 20 Best Music Videos of 2018
Photo: YouTube

The year’s best music videos reflect the way we live now: the technology we use (“Vince Staples’s “Fun!”), the power we wield (the Carters’ “Apeshit”), and the places we carve out for ourselves (“Anderson .Paak’s “Til It’s Over”). They also acknowledge the state of the world, from systemic racism (Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”) to institutional corruption (Jack White’s “Corporation”). Notably, a clear majority of the videos on our list were created by or for artists of color, whose stories serve as an act of resistance against a racist regime. The year in music video wasn’t all gloom and doom, though, as both identity and resistance manifested in profoundly joyous ways in Chaka Khan’s “Like Sugar” and Kali Uchis’s “After the Storm.” And Bruno Mars and Migos embraced playful, nostalgic visions of the past—though it’s hard not to question whether even those ostensibly frivolous throwbacks are rooted in self-care and a need to romanticize a seemingly simpler time. Sal Cinquemani

20. Prince, “Mary Don’t You Weep”

There are no guns or mass shootings in the clip for Prince’s posthumously released “Mary Don’t You Weep,” but their absence isn’t conspicuous. Gun violence is, more than anything else, about the aftermath—the loss, the grief, the haunted lives left in the wake of a fleeting shot. Amid politicians’ perpetual handwringing over when the “right” time is to talk about solutions to this epidemic, Salomon Ligthelm’s exquisitely lensed video testifies to the notion that, at least for tens of thousands of Americans this year, it’s already too late. Cinquemani

19. Rosalía, “Malamente”

Barcelona-based collective Canada marries the traditional with the modern—as in an eye-popping freeze-frame of a bullfighter facing off with a motorcycle—in this spirited music video for Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía’s flamenco-inspired hit “Malamente.” Alexa Camp

18. Ariana Grande, “God Is a Woman”

The music video for Ariana Grande’s sultry, subtly reggae-infused slow jam “God Is a Woman” finds the pop princess bathing in a milky swirl of vaginal water colors, fingering the eye of a hurricane, and deflecting misogynist epithets, a visual embodiment of her declaration that “I can be all the things you told me not to be/When you try to come for me, I keep on flourishing/And he sees the universe when I’m in company/It’s all in me.” Directed by Dave Meyers, the video mixes animation, digital eye candy, and references to classical artwork, as well as a few WTF moments, like a set piece in which a group of moles emerge from their holes and scream bloody murder. Pointed metaphors abound, from scenes of Grande walking a tightrope to literally breaking a glass ceiling. At one point, pop’s original feminist queen, Madonna, makes a cameo reciting the Old Testament by way of Pulp Fiction—with her own characteristic twist, of course, swapping “brothers” for “sisters.” Cinquemani

17. Bruno Mars featuring Cardi B, “Finesse (Remix)”

Bruno Mars directed the video for “Finesse” himself, and its note-perfect homage to the opening sequence of In Living Color shows him to be as adept a visual pastiche artist as he is a musical one. As with the song, however, it’s guest Cardi B who steals the show, dominating every second she’s on camera as the flyest of Fly Girls in tube socks, cutoffs, and larger-than-life hoop earrings. Zachary Hoskins

16. LCD Soundsystem, “Oh Baby”

Featuring masterful performances by Sissy Spacek and David Strathairn, LCD Soundsystem’s “Oh Baby” is a stirring saga of lovers venturing into the unknown. Directed by Rian Johnson, the video follows an aging couple who build a set of strange, inter-dimensional doorways. Enter one, and you can exit out of the other, but it’s never clear what reality exists between them. Simple, cinematic, and heart-wrenching, the clip is the perfect accompaniment for James Murphy’s ponderous, uplifting electro-pop. Paired together, Spacek and Strathairn convey love’s capacity to obliterate all barriers: loneliness, old age, even death. Pryor Stroud

15. Migos featuring Drake, “Walk It Talk It”

Migos’s “Walk It Talk It” takes place on a fictional television program called Culture Ride—a clear homage to the iconic show Soul Train. This isn’t the first music video to conceptually riff on the vintage variety show format; both OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and the Strokes’s “Last Nite” are set in Ed Sullivan Show-style sound stages. But the video is still a triumph of flashy, vintage style. Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff surround themselves with dancing spectators and major stars, notably Jamie Foxx and Drake, all of whom are transfixed by the music they’re hearing. And just as they are today, Migos is the center of attention. Stroud

14. Azealia Banks, “Anna Wintour”

Yes, those really are Azealia Banks’s nipples. At least according to the New York singer-rapper-lightning-rod’s perennially deleted Twitter account. But the music video for Banks’s single “Anna Wintour” is striking not just because of the artist’s ample bosom. Directed by Matt Sukkar, the clip was filmed in an empty warehouse using understated faux-natural lighting, an apt visual milieu for Banks’s declaration of independence: “As the valley fills with darkness, shadows chase and run around…I’ll be better off alone, I’ll walk at my own pace.” Shots of a scantily clad Banks strutting on a metal catwalk, posing in a full-length mirror, and striking a pose in front of a backlit gate pay homage to Janet Jackson’s “The Pleasure Principle,” an iconic video by another female artist who was once determined to assert control. Camp

13. Flasher, “Material”

The internet has rendered media consumption so isolating that it takes a work of profound ingenuity to remind us that art is inherently a shared experience—even if that experience is one of infuriating data buffering, inescapable clickbait, and micro-targeted advertising. Directed by Nick Roney, Flasher’s meta visual for “Material” proves that YouTube has become so engrained in the fabric of modern life that the simple action of clicking out of a pop-up advertisement is now part of our brains’ cache of muscle memory. Though the video isn’t actually interactive, you just might find yourself unconsciously reaching to take control of what’s happening on your screen. Cinquemani

12. Jennifer Lopez featuring Cardi B and DJ Khaled, “Dinero”

The music video for Jennifer Lopez’s “Dinero” is as over the top as the song itself, which finds J. Lo alternately singing over a tropical rhythm and rapping atop a trap beat—sometimes both—while fellow Bronx upstart Cardi B boasts of their borough-based bona fides. Directed by Joseph Kahn, the black-and-white clip brazenly takes the piss out of Lopez’s dubious Jenny from the Block persona—and she’s clearly in on the joke, bowling with a diamond-covered ball, barbecuing in lingerie and pearls while sipping a crystal-encrusted Slurpee, toasting marshmallows over a burning pile of cash, and walking a preening pet ostrich on a leash. The video also features a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by a Casino-era Robert De Niro. Camp

11. Tierra Whack, “Whack World”

One of the most ambitious music video projects of the year, “Whack World” is a full-length accompaniment to Tierra Whack’s debut album of the same title. Like the album, it’s 15 minutes long, with the Philadelphia-based rapper and visual artist performing a wildly different vignette in each minute. Both album and video make for an impressive sampler of Whack’s versatility as a performer—which, in visual form, translates to her inhabiting a range of quirky and inventive characters, from a facially disfigured receptionist to a rapping corpse in a sequined coffin, a sentient house, and others that defy description. With a highlight reel like this, it’s hard to image there being anything Whack can’t do. Hoskins

10. Janelle Monáe, “Make Me Feel”

Every segment of the “emotion picture” released by Janelle Monáe to accompany her third album Dirty Computer is visually striking and thematically rich in its own way. But it’s the segment for lead single “Make Me Feel” that arguably stands best on its own. Directed by Monáe’s longtime collaborator Alan Ferguson, the video features the singer and 2018 It-girl Tessa Thompson at what may be the year’s coolest party captured on screen. Widely viewed as a coming-out moment for Monáe—her pansexuality is dramatized in her interactions with both Thompson and co-star Jayson Aaron—the clip is rife with references to two recently canonized icons of sexual fluidity, Prince and David Bowie. Monáe’s choreography with Thompson and Aaron echoes Prince’s with dancer Monique Mannen in the video for “Kiss,” while the dynamic of a bold, flamboyant alter ego performing for the singer’s more reserved self is borrowed from Bowie’s “Blue Jean.” As with her music, however, Monáe is capable of wearing these influences on her sleeve (and her silver bikini top) while still making them wholly her own. Hoskins

9. Chaka Khan, “Like Sugar”

The music video for R&B legend Chaka Khan’s first single in five years giddily foregrounds a multiplicity of black bodies via vibrant, kinetic montage. The joyous clip represents a celebration of identity and persistence in the face of adversity, a thread that shoots through many of the year’s best videos. Camp

8. Anderson .Paak, “Til It’s Over”

The music video has always sat at an awkward intersection of art and commerce, having originated as short film clips serving quite literally as “promos” for new singles. It’s thus only a little strange that Spike Jonze’s video for Anderson .Paak’s “Til It’s Over” isn’t a conventional one at all, but rather an extended commercial for Apple’s HomePod smart device. In the short vignette, FKA Twigs comes home from a long work day and asks Siri to play something she’d like. After a few seconds of .Paak’s voice coming out of her HomePod speakers, she discovers that her dancing can make the physical properties of her apartment stretch and shift. Both the simple, human joy of Twigs’s movements and the technical wizardry of the expanding room are so arresting that you’ll almost forget you’re being sold something. Hoskins

7. Travis Scott featuring Drake, “Sicko Mode”

The album cover for Travis Scott’s Astroworld painted a vivid picture of the eponymous theme park as a psychedelic, vaguely sinister landscape, dominated by a giant inflatable model of Scott’s head and decidedly not to be confused with the real-life (and long-defunct) Six Flags AstroWorld. But it’s the video for single “Sicko Mode,” directed by Dave Meyers, that really brings the place to life, turning the bleak landscape of Houston’s inner city into a post-apocalyptic playground of talking train graffiti and video vixens on bicycles while Scott rides past a prowling police cruiser on horseback. Much like the multi-part song, the clip isn’t cohesive, as the scenes during Drake’s guest verse almost seem to be cut in from an entirely different video. But the abundance of bizarre imagery, both menacing and absurd, ensures that it’s never boring. Hoskins

6. A$AP Rocky featuring Moby, “A$AP Forever”

The camera is the star of Dexter Navy’s video for “A$AP Forever”: whirling in dizzy circles above A$AP Rocky’s head and pulling in and out of a seemingly endless series of television monitors, street signs, smartphone screens, and other images within images. In the final sequence, the camera moves one last time into Rocky’s eyeball, revealing a reflected image of the rapper rotating in an anti-gravity chamber. Also, Moby is there. What it all means is anyone’s guess, but the trippy effect is a perfect complement to the strain of 21st-century psychedelia in Rocky’s music. Hoskins

5. Vince Staples, “Fun!”

Directed by Calmatic, the video for Vince Staples’s “Fun!” is both an astute condemnation of racial tourism and a (perhaps unintentional) auto-critique of hip-hop’s exportation of the black experience to middle America. Like Flasher’s “Material,” it’s also a bleak commentary on the ways technology—in this case, satellite mapping—has simultaneously united and divided the human race. Cinquemani

4. Jack White, “Corporation”

Jack White’s “Corporation” is just as oblique, ambitious, and political as the artist himself. Over the course of seven minutes, a series of surreal, seemingly disjointed events occur: a cowboy puts on lipstick, a rave starts in a diner, a little boy steals a car. By the end, you learn that all of the characters are simply different manifestations of White himself, revealing the alt-blues pioneer as someone we already knew him to be: a complex, multifaceted artist whose neuroses are intimately tied to his genius. Stroud

3. Kali Uchis featuring Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins, “After the Storm”

Like the contemporary surrealist photos of its director, Nadia Lee Cohen, the video for “After the Storm” pairs a rich Technicolor palette with a playfully elastic approach to everyday banality: bringing P-Funk icon Bootsy Collins to (animated) life as a cereal box mascot and making rapper Tyler, the Creator grow from a garden like a literal “Flower Boy.” That these whimsical images appear alongside shots of singer Kali Uchis, dolled up in mid-century attire and staring blankly into the distance, suggest that they’re meant to dramatize the daydreams of a bored 1950s suburbanite. This makes the video’s final image, of Uchis and a fully sprouted Tyler acting out an idyllic nuclear family scene while their own disembodied Chia-pet heads look on from the window, as vaguely disquieting as it is humorous. Hoskins

2. The Carters, “Apeshit”

The Carters’s Everything Is Love may not have achieved the same cultural ubiquity as Beyoncé‘s Lemonade, or Jay-Z’s 4:44, but it spawned one of the year’s most poignant videos. In “Apeshit,” the power couple performs in a vacant Louvre, commandeering the world’s most famous museum without breaking a sweat. It’s a radical testament to their influence as artists, business people, and political players, as well as a bold statement about the overlooked primacy of blackness in the Western canon. Stroud

1. Childish Gambino, “This Is America”

Surprise-released to coincide with Donald Glover’s double duty as host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live in May, the provocative video for “This Is America” was already inspiring breathless think pieces by the following morning. Directed by Hiro Murai, Glover’s principal collaborator on FX’s Atlanta, “This Is America” shares with many of that show’s best episodes a knack for getting under viewers’ skins, presenting highly charged images with just enough ambiguity to encourage social media reactions of the “WTF did I just watch” variety. But if the last seven months of critical dissection and memetic recycling have inevitably dulled some of its shock value—and, by extension, its power as a political statement—the video remains an astounding artistic achievement. In a series of long shots cleverly disguised as one uninterrupted take, Glover pulls dances and faces from the intertwined traditions of pop culture and minstrelsy, seamlessly juxtaposed with eruptions of sudden, graphic gun violence. In both extremes, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him—which is, of course, the point. Like the never-ending train wreck that is American history itself, “This is America” offers entertainment and grotesquerie in equal measure. Hoskins

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The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

These performances share a commitment to achieving emotional vitality by any means necessary.




The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

This year offered a feast of cinematic acting that pivoted on surprise, in terms of unconventional casting that allowed performers to add new shades to their established personas, as well as in blistering work by newcomers. These performances share a commitment to achieving emotional vitality by any means necessary, shattering the banality of expectation to elaborate on universal feelings that are too easily submerged by us on our day-to-day toils. Which is to say that the finest film acting of 2018 was less indebted to the representational “realism” that often wins awards than to fashioning a bold kind of behavioral expressionism. Like many of their filmmaker collaborators, these actors are master stylists. Chuck Bowen

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Sakura Ando, Shoplifters

As Nobuyo, the default “mother” of an informal family of hustlers on the margins of present-day Tokyo, Sakura Ando enriches Hirokazu Kore-eda’s gentle social drama with her bracing articulation of her character’s self-discovery. Nobuya’s melodramatic arc—a woman with dark secrets whose hard-won redemption is inevitably undone by higher forces—culminates in an agonizing one-shot unraveling, but what makes her fate so devastating is the sense of surprise and liberation that Ando brings to Nobuya’s acceptance of new responsibilities, passions, and her own self-worth. Christopher Gray

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Juliette Binoche, Let the Sunshine In

For all of her versatility, Juliette Binoche has never particularly been noted for her comic skills, but she displays a subtle wit as the middle-aged and single Isabelle in Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In, often dismissing petulant, needy men with scarcely more than a mocking glance or a passive-aggressive comment. Binoche truly shines, though, in scenes that play up Isabelle’s feelings of panic and loneliness over having to date again, such as when Isabelle reminisces about her ex-husband and, in the process, a whole panoply of emotions, including resentment and wistfulness, flit anxiously across the actress’s face. Most moving of all is the outright panic that Isabelle betrays when a wonderful date urges her to take things slowly, triggering an existential attack over her perceived lack of time to find another partner so late in life. Jake Cole

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Emily Browning, Golden Exits

Golden Exits sustains a lingering aura of futility that’s counterweighted by the film’s beauty and by the exhilaration of seeing Alex Ross Perry realize his vast ambitions, as he’s made a modern film about relationships and social constrictions that clears the bar set by the work of John Cassavetes and Woody Allen. Perry also ultimately empathizes with Naomi, who’s paradoxically diminished by her status as the narrative’s center of attention. Regarded by her American acquaintances as a barometer of their own personal failures, Naomi is never truly noticed. She’s the gorgeous woman as specter, played by Emily Browning with an ambiguity that carries a heartbreaking suggestion: that Naomi’s unknowable because no one wishes to know her. Bowen

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Nicolas Cage, Mandy

Mandy‘s smorgasbord of indulgences is held together by Nicolas Cage, who gives one of the best performances of his career. Director Panos Cosmatos understands Cage as well as any director ever has, fashioning a series of moments that allow the actor to rhythmically blow off his top, exorcising Red’s rage and longing as well as, presumably, his own. In the film’s best scene, Red storms into the bathroom of his cabin and lets out a primal roar, while chugging a bottle of liquor that was stashed under the sink. Cage gives this scene a disquieting sense of relief, investing huge emotional notes with a lingering undercurrent that cuts to the heart of the film itself. Bowen

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Toni Collette, Hereditary

Flashes of insanity and malaise factor into Toni Collette’s performance in Hereditary, yet Annie cannot be defined by such traits often linked to the trope of a hysterical woman. Instead, Collette’s glares of frustration suggest a world of complicated emotions that extend well beyond pain. Terror and intense focus become indecipherable in Collette’s eyes as Annie, a diorama artist, is torn from her profession by conspiring forces, making the film’s outcome feel even more like a cross between a cruel joke and a rebuke of society’s stacking the deck through maternal guilt and shame against Annie’s aspiring career. Clayton Dillard

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

As Queen Anne and her rival sycophants, Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, respectively, establish a delicious series of manipulative, barbarous, and poignant emotional cross-currents throughout The Favourite. Stone and Weisz verbally parry and thrust at lightning speed, one-upping one another in an escalating series of duels that inspire the actresses to give among the finest performances of their careers, while Colman expertly operates at a slower, daringly draggy and exposed speed, painting a portrait of a woman imprisoned by entitlement. Collectively, this superb acting also achieves the near miraculous feat of rendering a Yorgos Lanthimos film authentically human. Bowen

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Matt Dillon, The House That Jack Built

It’s no secret that Jack (Matt Dillon), the viciously misogynistic serial killer at the heart of Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built, is at least partially a stand-in for the director himself, and the genius of Dillon’s interpretation of the character is that he never seems to be sucking up to the man who created it. He plays Jack as ruthless, self-pitying, and disturbingly empty—Hannibal Lecter without the wit or charm. No mere pawn of the Danish provocateur’s autocritical schema, Dillon both deepens and challenges von Trier’s intended self-portraiture with the uncanny blankness of his performance, creating in the process an absolutely chilling embodiment of evil. Keith Watson

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Adam Driver, BlackKklansman

Though BlackKklansman was marketed as the story of an African-American police officer impersonating a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, it also concerns a Jewish cop’s efforts to do the same by offering a white face to accompany a vocal charade. As said cop, Flip Zimmerman, Adam Driver deliriously plumbs head-first into a disturbing irony, acknowledging the catharses that can be had by indulging in disgusting epithets secretly at one’s own expense. Or, simply: Flip insults himself, and those close to him, and Driver elucidates the character’s disgust as well as the weird spiritual purging that can occur by indulging one’s basest instincts. One of America’s best and most sensitive actors offers perhaps his finest portrait yet of a soul twisted in contradictory knots. Bowen

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

It’s a testament to the authenticity of Elsie Fisher’s performance in Eighth Grade that you’d never have guessed she’d been in front of a camera before, much less that she’s been acting consistently for years. As Kayla, the awkward, unpopular tween protagonist of Bo Burnham’s film, Fisher infuses every stammered “umm” and stumbling “like” with a palpable sense of self-loathing and social anxiety. For anyone who ever felt like Kayla in middle school, Fisher’s painfully real performance is liable to induce PTSD. Watson

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace

Finally shedding his tick-laden parlor games, Ben Foster comes to life as an actor, connecting with Will and giving him a fearful thickness of being that’s only occasionally leavened by Tom, whom Thomasin McKenzie invests with the trembling, negotiating intelligence of an unformed prodigy. Will and Tom and Foster and McKenzie’s energies are beautifully in and out of sync, simultaneously. Foster confidently cedes the film to McKenzie, which parallels Will’s gradual relinquishing of authority to Tom. Both characters know that it’s unfair to expect Tom to inherit Will’s alienation, as she has the right to give this potentially doomed society a chance, to fight for it as well as herself. In Leave No Trace‘s heartbreaking climax, a relationship dies so that an individual, and maybe even a society, may be reborn. Bowen

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Hugh Grant, Paddington 2

Hugh Grant may well be more cartoonish than the animated bear protagonist of Paddington 2. As the film’s villain, a has-been thespian with the world’s most convoluted scheme to finance a one-man show, Grant can scarcely utter a syllable without throwing his head back and exclaiming it to the rafters, and the actor’s body language—a series of shocked gasps, wild-eyed stares, and manic grins—is similarly absurd. As Phoenix dons a series of ever-more elaborate disguises throughout the film, Grant’s acting somehow gets even broader, resulting in a work of giddy panto and one of the finest comic performances in recent memory. Cole

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Regina Hall, Support the Girls

It’s not often that we see decency and level-headedness radiated on screen as convincingly as it is by Regina Hall in Support the Girls, much less a film centered around such a performance. As Lisa, a put-upon restaurant manager enduring a particularly hectic day on the job, Hall suppresses the comic histrionics that she’s become known for in mainstream comedy movies in order to inhabit the delicate naturalism that writer-director Andrew Bujalski consistently cultivates in his casts. Slipping into this mode with grace, the actress conveys the sheer exhaustion and frustration of nine-to-five existence with just the subtlest of disruptions to an exterior of buttoned-up professionalism. Carson Lund

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

As the great blackness of night swoops in, we reach for assurances of “the everlasting arms,” as sung about in First Reformed‘s concluding hymnal. Ethan Hawke’s staggering performance is one of Ecclesiastian sympathy, with watchful longing and hungry silences in between reminders of Toller’s own impotence to change the world. The man’s face suggests a tragic predicament that the only ark to save us from an impending flood is in our illusions. Niles Schwartz

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Bill Heck and Zoe Kazan, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Nearly every actor in the Coen brothers’ newest anti-western is remarkable, but Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck are particularly heartbreaking, partly because the audience has been so expertly rendered vulnerable to the vignette in which they appear. By the time that we get to “The Gal Who Got Rattled” in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, we’ve seen so much brutality and cynicism that we’re hardened for more of the same only to encounter tenderness. As potential lovers who never get to be, Kazan and Heck dramatize the unmooring vulnerability of feeling attraction just when you suspect that you’ve aged out of it, informing the Coens’ florid, beautiful dialogue with trembling pathos. Bowen

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Brian Tyree Henry, If Beale Street Could Talk

For this critic, the lovers at the center of Barry Jenkins’s newest parable of racism are too gorgeous, primped, fawning, symbolic, metaphorical, and seemingly straight out of a coffee-table book. As a man recently out of prison after serving a stretch he didn’t deserve, Brian Tyree Henry does for If Beale Street Could Talk what he did for Widows and continues to do for Atlanta: informing potentially self-conscious conceits with a jolting burst of common-sense machismo. If Beale Street Could Talk‘s most haunting scene is a monologue that’s hypnotically uttered by Tyree, allowing this film, for a few minutes, to actually capture the brutal poetry of the James Baldwin novel that inspired it. Bowen

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Helena Howard, Madeline’s Madeline

The center of a film about commitment and disassociation, Helena Howard’s Madeline evidently relishes the opportunity to change identities in the blink of an eye. Director Josephine Decker contrasts the aspiring actress’s easy mastery of improv exercises with Madeline’s harried life outside of rehearsal, where she’s regularly manipulated by her mother and an overeager director as she struggles to control her mental illness. Decker’s film is willfully alienating in its commitment to Madeline’s tortured interiority, but Howard steers it with an undeniable power and confidence, making Madeline’s rootless chaos feel entirely legible. Gray

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Bhreagh MacNeil, Werewolf

Werewolf belongs to the extraordinary Bhreagh MacNeil. The film derives quite a bit of its power from allowing Vanessa to unceremoniously wrest the spotlight away from Blaise (Andrew Gillis), a lost and bitter man whose quest for recovery is probably hopeless. MacNeil doesn’t project Vanessa’s determination in a manner that’s familiar to rehabilitation fables, but rather physically embodies it, and McKenzie doesn’t mar her with any screenwriterly speeches. We see Vanessa’s strength in the steel of her eyes, in her willingness to ask family for help, and in her ability to get a thankless job at an old-fashioned burger and soft-serve ice cream joint, in which she grinds imitation Oreo cookies into pieces with a machine that resembles a sausage grinder. The fierceness with which Vanessa grinds these cookies—or attempts to master an ice cream machine that resembles a liquid methadone dispenser—is haunting. Bowen

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Rachel McAdams, Disobedience

Esti (Rachel McAdams), at first glance, is another type: an obsequious adherent to orthodoxy. When she passionately kisses Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), you understood the gesture as compensatory, to convey that I’m just not that into her anymore. But then McAdams caps the moment by quickly playing with Nivola’s beard, and the actress subtly communicates the sense of the genuine love that exits between this husband and wife—an impression that’s confirmed when Esti later repeats the gesture with Ronit (Rachel Weisz). Only theirs is a different kind of love, and we finally get a sense of what that is when, during a tryst in a hotel room, Ronit casually sends a stream of her spit into Esti’s mouth. This moment feels organically, almost miraculously stumbled upon—arrived at by two great actors wanting to convey the singular nature of their characters’ communion. Ed Gonzalez

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The pairing of Melissa McCarthy, a Hollywood A-lister, with Richard E. Grant, a sublime arthouse presence, is one of the most invigorating surprises of this year’s cinema. McCarthy avoids the pitfall of comic actors appearing in unusually dramatic material. Rather than restricting her emotional catalogue to a few grim gestures of purposefulness, McCarthy expands her repertoire, elaborating on the sadness that’s inherent in even her blockbuster roles—a sadness that also fuels her comic virtuosity. And Grant is complicit with McCarthy’s tonal dexterity in every way. Together they offer an irresistible portrait of a bittersweet paradox of companionable alienation. Bowen

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ben Mendelsohn, The Land of Steady Habits

The Land of Steady Habits benefits enormously from the casting of Ben Mendelsohn as an unexceptionally tormented upper-middle-class guy. Here, the actor submerges the aggression that’s often closer to the surface of his sleazy villain roles, giving Anders a mysterious internal tension that’s compelling and often funny. When writer-director Nicole Holofcener follows Anders around as he drifts in and out of the lives of Helene (Edie Falco) and his grown son, Preston (Thomas Mann), and their various friends, the film has a free-associational piquancy. Bowen

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Jason Mitchell, Tyrel

Sebastián Silva tasks Jason Mitchell with carrying the weight of Tyrel on the actor’s face; he’s asked to project toughness in reaction shots to aggressions both micro and macro from Tyler’s white bros, then later vulnerability as he steals away for moments of quietude to escape the ambiguous pain of social discomfort. While the scenario and performance is comparable to that of Daniel Kaluuya’s in Get Out, Mitchell’s Tyler isn’t given a catharsis of violent retribution. Mitchell’s expressions and gestures convey the betrayal of a daily life that never lets Tyler feel at ease, let alone at home. Dillard

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Michelle Pfeiffer, Where Is Kyra?

Michelle Pfeiffer’s ferociously vulnerable and intelligent performance elucidates the pain, resentment, and fear that springs from escalating disappointment. Pfeiffer informs Kyra with a fragile mixture of empathy and rage, which is particularly on display when Kyra cares for her mother, Ruth, who’s played by Suzanne Shepard with a wily and commanding dignity. Kyra is understood by Pfeiffer to be taking qualified pleasure in her own effacement, as it implies an escape from a world that has rejected her. Early in the film, we see Kyra preparing a bath for Ruth, and a mirror fashions a prism in which mother and daughter are cordoned off from one another yet simultaneously visible, evoking the punishing intimacy, and the comfort, of caring for a dependent. Bowen

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Meinhard Neumann, Western

Casting is everything, the saying goes, but that’s especially true when filmmakers elect to use nonprofessionals, in which case ineffable factors such as “presence” and “authenticity” become paramount. Meinhard Neumann, the grizzled, mustachioed brooder at the center of Western who director Valeska Grisebach came across on a whim at a horse market, has these qualities in spades, in addition to a seemingly preternatural capacity for playing to Grisebach’s roving handheld camera and finding his light. His taciturn, repressed Meinhard doesn’t have a wide expressive range, but when the character does undergo a few emotional breakthroughs in the latter half of the film, Neumann seems to be genuinely accessing reserves of pain and regret deep within himself. Lund

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Jesse Plemons, Game Night

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein assembled one of the strongest comedic ensembles in recent memory for Game Night, but a single performer still managed to steal the show: Jesse Plemons as the weirdo Gary, a sad-sack cop with a broken heart whose self-pitying glumness could ruin anyone’s vibe. Pitched perfectly at the intersection of creepiness and pathos, Plemons earns big laughs without really seeming to try. The hilarity arises instead from his expertly discomfiting embodiment of one of those off-putting personality types we’ve all unfortunately encountered: the guy you feel bad for but desperately want to get away from as fast as humanly possible. Watson

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Steven Yeun, Burning

Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is driven by a central mystery of purpose. To what genre does this film belong? Is it a horror film, a romantic triangle, a class critique, or a beguiling fusion of all of the above? Much of this mystery is embodied by Steven Yeun’s performance as a rich smoothie who’s far more appealing than the floundering hero, which strikes up a crisis in the audience’s empathy that resonates with our romantic preferences in real life. Turns out there’s a reason that confident people get all the lovers, because they are, well, confident. Yet Yeun laces his sexiness with the subtlest tint of passive aggression, so subtle that one wonders if it’s even there, investing Burning with a fleeting malignancy that’s worthy of Claude Chabrol. Bowen

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