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The 25 Best Films of 2017

Many of these films dramatize a struggle to connect while elaborating on the realms existing within one’s mind.

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The 25 Best Films of 2017
Photo: Universal Pictures

Cinema is an art of collaborative effort that speaks implicitly and often explicitly of the values of community, which often seemed in short supply this year. We live in an age in which articles are written daily on the need for “checking out” of online culture, so that we may disconnect from the bombardment of grotesqueries that keep us in an emotional tailspin. Both coincidentally and by pop-cultural osmosis, many of the year’s best films ask how deeply we may be permitted to check out and how far we should risk and extend ourselves for the prospect of personal and social rehabilitation.

The break-out horror film of the year suggests that outwardly tolerant sections of white America are driven by a hideous hypocrisy, confirming the worst nightmares that many African-Americans have about venturing outside their designated “places.” These nightmares are also elucidated by one of the year’s best documentaries, which merges personal poetry with a brief history of social atrocity. An indie sensation shows the impoverished hell—overseen by a man of astonishing kindness—that neighbors a global fantasy land right across the road, while a Portuguese mind-bender utilizes religious iconography to tell the story of a man who’s essentially alone, requiring direct authorial intervention to achieve transcendence.

Three of the year’s greatest films are neurotically charged chamber dramas in which artists struggle with their self-absorption and self-loathing to salve their fear and loneliness—a salve which is more readily available to them via their art. Many of these films dramatize a struggle to connect while elaborating on the realms existing within one’s mind, riffing on the at once freeing and imprisoning temptation to write off the outside world.

With this context in mind, French filmmaking legend Agnès Varda and street artist JR offered one of the most resonant metaphors in this year’s cinema. Emphasizing images of people’s faces, they turned their art into a rallying cry for unity between the self and the best and worst of society. With cinema, we can be alone together, but fulfillment is tethered to risk, which is reliant on submission to the chaos of unmediated life and the evolving curiosity, empathy, and courtesy that it requires. Chuck Bowen

Editor’s Note: Click here for individual contributor ballots and a list of the films that ranked 26–50.

The 25 Best Films of 2017

25. The Meyerowitz Stories

Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories is a rich conglomeration of autobiography, screwball comedy, and existentialist ennui. Think of the filmmaker’s latest as a spiritual sequel to 2005’s The Squid and the Whale if the principal characters of that film were 30 years older, with the grumbling patriarch (played here by Dustin Hoffman) still unsatisfied and unsuccessful in his artistic ambitions. Caught amid his stifling tyranny as an artist and father are his three grown children, whose festering resentments, which stem from a history of complex interpersonal relationships, rise to the surface with each new confrontation in the wake of their old man’s hospitalization. The film’s defining sequence involves Jean’s (Elizabeth Marvel) late revelation that she was sexually harassed by one of her father’s friends as a child, which prompts brothers Danny (Adam Sandler) and Matthew (Ben Stiller) to retaliate by vandalizing the now senile perpetrator’s car. Despite their satisfaction, Jean tells them: “I’m glad you guys feel better. Unfortunately, I’m still fucked up.” As in The Meyerowitz Stories, Baumbach’s work is most insightful when characters perform an ugly tightrope walk between fashioning themselves as triumphant rebels and having to confront their own abject state of being. Clayton Dillard


The 25 Best Films of 2017

24. Mudbound

Like Hillary Jordan’s source novel, Dee Rees’s Mudbound feels like a summoning of William Faulkner, given how intensely focused it is on the generational legacy of hate. Its focal points are two families, one white and the other black, the McAllans arriving through hard luck and bad faith on the dismal land that the Jacksons had to struggle to earn. Split perspectives between and within the families illustrate mounting tensions as the McAllans treat the Jacksons as the help, if not unwelcome intruders. Rees deftly teases out various strains of white rage, from the freely aired bigotry of the decrepit grandfather (Jonathan Banks) to the subtler hostility of the patriarch (Jason Clarke), who has a habit of telling, not asking, the Jackson family to help out whenever he needs it. The filmmaker also pays careful attention to a white sharecropper who cannot psychologically cope with the thought of being on equal economic terms with black farmers and is driven to terrifying, violent madness. Only a cataclysmic event like World War II hints at the possibility of sparking change, but the system’s deeply entrenched protocols ensure that no bonds can be forged without vicious conflict. Jake Cole


The 25 Best Films of 2017

23. The Ornithologist

No orgy is complete without the participation of at least one person for whom the word “prophylactic” means “pocket protector.” João Pedro Rodrigues isn’t the only filmmaker contributing to our current and unmistakably pink-sploitation renaissance. But with all due deference to this, the year of the peach, Rodrigues is arguably the only one who consistently makes films without a safe word. Such is his dogged pursuit of culturally hyperconscious pleasure that he even inverts what would be typically thought of as text and subtext in arty rough trade. Rugged naturalist Fernando’s (Paul Hamy) picaresque river trip bears surface comparisons to the life of St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of missed connections. But, long before the director himself emerges to add meta to his money shot, The Ornithologist is cruising the nooks and crannies of its creator-protagonist’s amygdala, from the rope burns of bondage to covert, subterranean piss play. If Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake transmogrified into Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World,” that would only begin to suggest the ways that The Ornithologist’s survivalism playfully distorts the earlier film’s death impulse. Eric Henderson


The 25 Best Films of 2017

22. Song to Song

The shift of Terrence Malick’s stories toward more contemporary settings and his aesthetics toward increasingly experimental directions reaches new heights with Song to Song, a romantic drama of such spatial and temporal fluidity that it could accurately be described as Joycean. Career ambitions, romantic longing, and self-doubt—all common elements of the romantic drama—are fragmented and reconfigured in radical ways, filtered through a stream of consciousness where desires and feelings are in constant flux. Lovers crisscross the screen with fleeting intensity, leaving vapor trails of sense memories as markers of their presence. Guided by an erratic breadcrumb trail of such moments, Song to Song is a pointillist study of the interactions that shape its characters’ lives. There’s so much to process here, a reflection of the impossibility of understanding the significance of any given event or relationship as it happens in real time. As such, what wisdom and clarity there is to offer comes from the older rock stars who litter the film’s periphery, as in a scene of Iggy Pop speaking soberly about his experiences as the camera scans the latticework of scars on his chest that testify to a hard road taken toward peace of mind, or Patti Smith’s heart-wrenching odes to her late husband. This is Malick’s most radical feature to date and, as a nearly one-to-one match between image and feeling, the purest expression of the style he’s been chasing for more than a decade. Cole


The 25 Best Films of 2017

21. Behemoth

Ostensibly a nonfiction tour through the seamy underbelly of contemporary China’s flagrant economic excesses, Zhao Liang’s staggering exposé gets extra juice from a few poetic touches threaded through its otherwise rigorous realism. With opening imagery paralleling that of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, Behemoth introduces its nameless, Dante-quoting narrator prone and naked at the edge of a strip-mined wasteland, his pale body glimmering amid the dun-colored carnage of the quarry site. Where Rand’s farcical libertarian fantasy cast hero architect Howard Roark as a figure of pure predestination, his towering creations conceived as outgrowths of his perfectly sculpted form, here the human vessel is the canvas, a surface upon which the traumas of environmental abuse are painfully revivified. Mostly migrant laborers flung by the vagaries of modern economics from one side of the country to another, the workers who construct and inhabit these expressively conveyed nightmare zones are presented with empathetic reverence, some suffering so badly from black lung disease that they can only survive hooked up to breathing machines. As blast furnaces roar and the desolate, dystopian landscapes of vacant planned cities silently unspool, the film returns again and again to people, rendered tiny and irrelevant by comparison. Those profiled here never speak, but their deformed postures, soot-smeared faces, and framed photos of deceased relatives communicate the toll—the quiet horror of bodies broken to form the foundation for a luxurious modern lifestyle. Jesse Cataldo


The 25 Best Films of 2017

20. Marjorie Prime

As science fiction, Michael Almereyda’s Marjorie Prime derives its haunting power as much from its speculative elements as from the cozy familiarity of its mise-en-scène. Exploiting a multi-generational beachfront family cottage designed in a warm midcentury modern style as its setting, as well as comforting splashes of Beethoven and the Band on its soundtrack, Almereyda’s spare restaging of Jordan Harrison’s talky play imagines a near future where holographic simulations of dead loved ones (also known as “primes”) have placed familial relations in peril, providing unprecedented grief-coping opportunities on the one hand but enabling an echo chamber of delusion and emotional confusion on the other. Starring Tim Robbins, Geena Davis, Lois Smith, and Jon Hamm as the corporeal and projected personae of a bourgeois family bound by a history of half-clarified emotional wounds, Marjorie Prime consists of a series of charged one-on-ones between humans and uncanny A.I. contraptions that progressively muddy the tenuous distinction between truth and selective memory—in addition to showcasing the ensemble’s dexterity. As with 2015’s Experimenter, Almereyda excels at running a tight ship (the film was shot in 13 days with limited resources) while still bringing out the best in his collaborators (cinematographer Sean Price Williams and composer Mica Levi both do daring career-highlight work here), and his elliptical treatment of the script’s central existential dilemma—the havoc wreaked in transcending the absolute finality of death—is enough to justify a sly visual nod to Last Year at Marienbad. Carson Lund


The 25 Best Films of 2017

19. The Salesman

In Death of a Salesman, it isn’t difficult to sympathize with Willy Loman, who embodies America’s propensity for self-pity. Arthur Miller invites us to celebrate ourselves as the tragic figure of our lives. Asghar Farhadi, a tough, self-questioning, and unceasingly curious humanist, has no use for such narcissism, fashioning The Salesman’s Willy Loman figure into a peeper, an unglamorous outsider who challenges our self-glorification. The aging, overweight Naser (Farid Saijadi Hosseini) is so slumped, breathless, and poignantly defeated that we barely take him for a man let alone a sexual predator, thinking of him instead as a member of the de-sexed “elderly,” who exist primarily to scold us and to sit in rocking chairs. It’s this sort of perception, a prison, which drives Naser to commit violation, reaching out for the newness and now-ness of the youthful fling he had once before. When Naser weeps, out of guilt and panic, he seems to be doing so over the deep chasm of isolation and alienation that awaits us all, the chasm with which the protagonists must acquaint themselves if they are to inform their own production of Death of a Salesman with soul. Bowen


The 25 Best Films of 2017

18. Starless Dreams

Mehrdad Oskouei’s Starless Dreams relies largely on that most common of documentary techniques: the interview. Inside one of Tehran’s juvenile corrections facilities, teenage girls tell their stories to the camera with remarkable candor and a heartbreaking self-awareness of the injustices they’ve suffered. Oskouei understands that the most vital role he could play in his own film is a minimal one—so only his voice is heard, off-camera, gently prompting the young women’s broader considerations on the nature of happiness, forgiveness, and faith. His filmmaking offers poetic expressions of the thoughts and ideas expressed by his subjects: When one girl describes the corrections facility as a place where “pain drips from the walls,” Oskouei punctuates the lament with an image of thawing snow on a windowpane, suggesting not only the sadness of the girl’s reality, but also the hope for change that Oskouei has invested in her. These gestures deepen this concise, 75-minute film’s sense of artistry, but its depth comes from its humanist ambitions. Much like Edet Belzberg’s magnificent Children Underground, Starless Dreams transcendantly gives a platform to otherwise voiceless youths of boundless strength and character. Sam C. Mac


The 25 Best Films of 2017

17. Tempestad

“Now that I see this film from a distance,” said director Tatiana Huezo in a 2015 interview, reflecting on her documentary Tempestad, “I realize that there’s an invisible war in Mexico; nobody recognizes it as such, but we’re like orphans from justice, from institutions, from authorities.” Interweaving the stories of two such “orphans”—Miriam, a young passport official thrown in a brutal prison on spurious charges of human trafficking, and Adela, an older circus performer whose daughter was mysteriously kidnapped by a drug cartel—Huezo’s film pulses with outrage at Mexico’s endemic corruption and criminal impunity. But Tempestad is no polemic. Rather, it’s an anguished, intensely intimate excavation of two lives scarred by trauma. Huezo hauntingly layers her subjects’ first-person retrospections over footage of vehicles slowly heading down highways, landscapes glimpsed out of bus windows, day laborers absorbed in their work, buildings decaying from neglect, and circus acrobats contorting their wiry frames. Tranquil yet foreboding—like an eerie calm in the midst of a raging storm—Huezo’s mix of sound and image seems to transport the viewer directly into Miriam and Adela’s bruised but resilient psyches. Tempestad also connects us to something larger: Enveloping us in an atmosphere of dread and disquiet, the film evokes nothing less than the fears and anxieties of an entire nation riven by violence. Keith Watson


The 25 Best Films of 2017

16. The Florida Project

Sean Baker spends much of The Florida Project charging in vigorously nimble fashion up and down the stairs of the Magic Castle, in and out of its rooms, investing the minutia of the down-and-out lives within this little ecosystem with a bittersweet energy and significance. And almost always the camera is yoked to six-year-old Moonee’s (Brooklynn Prince) present-tense point of view, which explains why the forces battering these lives from all sides remain largely outside the film’s purview: They’re not only too big for this little girl to both completely imagine and understand, but it’s outside her field of vision where the film’s adults are content to keep these forces. One take on the project of the film’s title is the unspoken social contract that binds these lives: the understanding that they’re in this life together, united in their love for their kids. A bitter irony here is that, when the shit hits the fan and Moonee’s eyes open in ways they never have before, she makes a heartbreaking, last-ditch effort to run toward the dream that adults have kept alive the her, fulfilling something that her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), could never give her. But I’d like to think, given this girl’s precociousness, that she’s also hell-bent on destroying this dream, if only to dream bigger: of a world not so small, after all, and as such not predicated on the self-containment that enables capitalism and turns us into its suckers. Ed Gonzalez


The 25 Best Films of 2017

15. I Am Not Your Negro

Except for some questions he’s asked by interviewers and a few puny would-be rebuttals by smug debaters, whom he swats away like so many intellectual gnats, James Baldwin’s diamantine words—sometimes spoken by the writer himself on video and sometimes read by a subdued Samuel L. Jackson—are the only ones heard in I Am Not Your Negro. Fueled by a perpetually simmering cauldron of grief and rage yet unfailingly compassionate and open-minded, the elegantly world-weary Baldwin traces the thick vein of racism that runs through the heart of U.S. history and culture, identifying it as the original sin the nation must come to terms with if it is ever going to become what it claims to be. “What white people have to do is find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place,” he says, just before uttering the phrase that gives the film its title—though he doesn’t use the word “negro.” Raoul Peck borrows his film’s structure from an unfinished work in which Baldwin had planned to compare the lives of three black civil rights leaders who were assassinated: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. The film sketches out the differing approaches adopted by the three leaders only broadly, but Baldwin’s analysis shines through with brilliant clarity. While Jackson reads from both published and unpublished texts, archival video bleeds into recent news footage about travesties like the Trayon Martin killing, making it clear how distressingly urgent Baldwin’s words still are. Elise Nakhnikian


The 25 Best Films of 2017

14. The Death of Louis XIV

Following up on Story of my Death, Albert Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV again works an old story into a phantasmagoric pageant of somberly extravagant decay, unearthing more murky modern parallels in the twisted sagas of the past. Sumptuous and slow-paced, the film depicts the Sun King’s gradual demise from a gangrenous leg wound. Around the failing body of this once-potent demigod assembles a coterie of vultures, concealing their eagerness to attend to the transition of authority beneath fawning expressions of concern. Attempts to save his life are rendered as liturgical rites, conducted largely by a panel of feckless, squabbling charlatans, pushing one another aside to gain greater proximity to the fading flame. In the end, the ruler shrivels into the trappings of the throne, Jean-Pierre Léaud’s deflated performance finding intense poignancy in the sad spectacle of a man realizing that he isn’t omnipotent, only the measly mortal icon for the ethereal specter of state power. When a person dies there’s devastation and mourning. When a king dies, there’s only the stifling cloak of ceremony, the ritualistic passing down of control from one ceremonial vessel to another. Cataldo


The 25 Best Films of 2017

13. Faces Places

It isn’t hyperbole to say that Agnès Varda’s Faces Places, co-directed by street artist JR, is a road movie unlike any other: a documentary as journey through space (France’s countryside) and time (Varda’s past). Crammed into JR’s photo-booth truck, the filmmakers’ quaint aim to make life-sized portraits of working-class people across a nation rouses a surfeit of philosophical inquires. Varda and JR make their way across beaches, through fields, stopping at farms and small villages, their inviting personalities ensuring that every stop becomes a magnificent story. The lives of factory workers, a coalminer’s daughter, goats, even a mailman become not unlike fragments of parables depicted in a stained-glass window. In a register wholly and uniquely Vardan, the filmmaking straddles the line between the first, second, and third person. Humane is a word that’s batted around for just about every documentary, but how else can one describe a film whose subjects are simply, finely, connected by their shared sense of pride in their lives? Populist, though content not to invoke any particular brand of politics, Faces Places is a study in openness under the signs of a fire-hearted sense of personal dignity and glassy-eyed wonder. Peter Goldberg


The 25 Best Films of 2017

12. Get Out

Get Out’s central conceit, about a Stepford Wives-ish plot by blithely entitled suburban whites to colonize black people’s bodies, is a trenchant metaphor for white supremacy. The timing, character development, and gift for social satire that writer-director Jordan Peele honed as a sketch comedian all translate effortlessly to horror, allowing the first-time filmmaker to entrance his audience as deftly as Catherine Keener’s Missy mesmerizes Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris with that tapping teaspoon. The Sunken Place where Missy maroons Chris is the film’s most indelible image, a stomach-churning representation of how it feels to be stripped of your autonomy and personhood by a dominant culture that remains cruelly blind and deaf to your plight. In a world where almost no one is what they initially appear to be, Get Out anatomizes the evil lurking in the relatively benign-seeming prejudice that plays out as fetishization or envy, a form of racism that doesn’t see itself as racist at all. Elise Nakhnikian


The 25 Best Films of 2017

11. Ex-Libris: New York Public Library

Frederick Wiseman’s Ex Libris: The New York Public Library plays as a natural extension of the inclusive humanist vision that the filmmaker articulated in 2015’s In Jackson Heights. Just as the startlingly diverse Queens neighborhood of Jackson Heights became, under Wiseman’s inquisitive eye, a microcosm of America at its best in its openness to different cultures, the New York Public Library system is portrayed here as a vast network with the power to unite people from all walks of life in the eternal search for knowledge and enlightenment. But Wiseman, as ever, is hardly simple-minded in his perspective. Through many backroom scenes with members of the library’s board, Ex Libris reveals the economic difficulties of maintaining such a system, with the survival of an institution meant to benefit the commonwealth placed ironically in the hands of the wealthy. And yet, through the generous sprawl of three-plus hours, as Wiseman presents us with scenes and shots of intellectuals holding court, students being taught by instructors, and individuals soaking up knowledge on their own, Ex Libris constantly reminds us of the necessity of keeping libraries alive, exulting in the democratic ideal they represent. Kenji Fujishima


The 25 Best Films of 2017

10. Call Me by Your Name

Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name chronicles a moving and compassionate queer love story driven by universal representations of sensuality and erotic exploration. Desire is located mainly in furtive glances and brief, suggestive caresses but also in the oddest, most unexpected of places, be it a lustful handling of a pair of worn swim trunks or use of a juicy peach as a receptacle for an orgasm. Guadagnino fills the gaps between nascent longing and sexual gratification with tender, seductive scenes showing the two men striving to interpret and respond to codified postures, movements, and behaviors as they attempt to surreptitiously bridge a rift that societal norms and mores have placed between them. As Elio moves from admiring Oliver’s (Armie Hammer) statuesque physique and occasionally bumbling foreignness from the same calculated distance from which his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) reveres ancient Greco-Roman sculptures to embracing it in all its splendor, Call Me by Your Name creates an intoxicating atmosphere, with the aid of its gorgeous, pastoral setting, that fully embraces passion while remaining grounded in its scrupulously constructed, lived-in world. But even when things shift toward a nostalgic melancholy, Guadagnino retains traces of hope in his doomed romanticism through the poignant ways in which his film answers one of its central questions: “Should I speak or should I die?” Derek Smith


The 25 Best Films of 2017

9. Dawson City: Frozen Time

An elegy for lost cinematic treasures and a vanished way of life, Bill Morrison’s Dawson City: Frozen Time is a ghost story of sorts that reminds us of the fragility of film as a physical medium. Juxtaposing documentary footage of the gold rush in the Yukon Territory at the turn of the 19th century with clips from decayed silent film reels previously unknown to exist or thought to be totally destroyed, Dawson City: Frozen Time feels like cinema dreaming of its own faded, half-remembered childhood. Morrison provides an engrossing history lesson about the business of early film while telling the story of the dying Old West as personified in the boom and bust of Dawson City, a once thriving mining town that’s since faded into almost complete oblivion. As he’s done in his previous films, Morrison displays half-destroyed old nitrate film reels, which were notoriously unstable and flammable, as art objects in and of themselves, independent of the stories they once told. Taken out of their original context, the snapshots of life contained within these ghostly frames give us an unprecedented feeling for this time and place, with its Wild West melodrama and Gilded Age optimism. The film serves as an exquisite reminder that the cultural detritus of the past can become an artistic bonanza for future generations. Oleg Ivanov


The 25 Best Films of 2017

8. BPM (Beats Per Minute)

The queer art of survival through debauchery and improbable alliances meets the French gift for conversational sparring in BPM (Beats Per Minute), which dramatizes the frantic lives of ACT UP activists in Paris in the early 1990s. The result is one gut-wrenching ode to joie de vivre—a political orgy of sorts where queer kinship is the only buffer zone keeping dying and desiring from becoming the exact same thing. An army of lovers debates without end, like cruising, as if trying to speak their way out of death, or into it, ultimately exacerbating human condition’s most basic tenet: brevity. The average heart rate indeed. BPM avoids archival, pedagogical, and sentimental approaches to its material by placing a believable love story at the very core of its militant bacchanalia, provoking precisely the type of identification, or recognition, that ACT UP’s theatrical activism aimed to forge. Derek Jarman took ACT UP’s slogan, “Stop looking at us, start listening to us,” to its most radical cinematic conclusion in Blue, stripping the frame from everything but a single color. Writer-director Robin Campillo has more graphic demands in mind: the ruby redness of fake blood staining corporate carpet, the melancholy lilac of Kaposi’s sarcoma dotting the bodies of lovers-cum-makeshift-immunologists, the gut-wrenching darkness of the wake in the final sequence where friends and lovers show up to smooth over the edges of departure—and the deceased boy’s mother lets out, matter of factly, “Already?” Diego Semerene


The 25 Best Films of 2017

7. The Lost City of Z

“I will help you, because you will make sure that nothing will change,” says a plantation owner and rubber baron (Franco Nero) dressed in a fine white suit and fanned by a native slave, to Major Percival “Percy” Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam). The baron assumes that Fawcett’s mapmaking expedition in the Amazon is meant to maintain the constancy of early 20th-century colonialism—of occupations that mitigate conflict through control. But in actuality, like Marion Cotillard’s Ewa Cybulska in James Gray’s earlier The Immigrant, Fawcett exists outside of the strictures of his time—a deliberate anachronism. The man’s break from the era’s accepted social norms, his belief in exploration as more than a means of exploitation, and his dreams of the future as a corrective for the past reflect both his repentance for an “unfortunate” ancestry (his father was a gambler and a drunk) and broadly represent emergent 20th-century modernism. Gray’s opulent formalism channels Fawcett’s delusions of grandeur, making for an intoxicating adventure film. And the director’s typically bracing intelligence—employed here to examine the psychological toll of obsession, and the philosophical weight of understanding, and accepting, change—lends the narrative the scope and detail of a classical epic. Like The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z is about ideologies out of step from the present moment of the world they exist in, and is itself a film out of its own time. Mac


The 25 Best Films of 2017

6. Personal Shopper

Kristin Stewart shops, Olivier Assayas buys, and cinephiles everywhere throw away the receipt. Assayas’s latest and potentially greatest indulgence in diva worship seems rigged to pin Stewart like a butterfly in cinematic isolation for as long as the apparatus can get away with it. Stewart stars (and rarely has the word “stars” felt so inadequate) as a spiritual medium moonlighting in Paris as a buyer for a hangry fashionista, and desperately trying to come into contact with her recently departed twin brother. Filmed in a sense like an exorcism of its leading player’s own fame-making turns in pop-horror blockbusters, the stages of grief embodied throughout Personal Shopper are at once redolent of funereal urban ennui and wrapped too tight. By the time Stewart is spending the film’s thrilling and entirely dialogue-free central act nervously trading texts with “Unknown Caller,” Assayas has encroached fully upon her space while depicting her, in every sense, alone. Not since Kyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse has a ghost story more closely replicated the anxiety of modern communication. And not since Vertigo has the act of dressing up felt so illicit. Henderson


The 25 Best Films of 2017

5. Good Time

Manny Farber’s conception of a film defined by “unkempt activity” often gets shortened to “termite art,” even though his full, original designation was “termite-tapeworm-fungus-moss art.” The unwieldy term seems precisely the point: Wild and ferocious, such a film wants to worm and rip its way through your viscera with little concern for the damage incurred. In Good Time, directors Josh and Benny Safdie tailor a shredding electronic score by Oneohtrix Point Never to energize the caustic, Christmas-set NYC tale of Connie Nikas (Robert Pattinson), an anti-Santa Claus who leeches his victims, including Nick (Benny Safdie), his mentally challenged brother, of their possessions and trust. Right from the devastating opening, in which Connie snatches Nick from a therapy session as the latter is on the verge of a breakthrough, the Safdies convey Connie’s desperation not through backstory or exposition, but as a compulsory, breathless sprint toward destruction. A handful of African immigrants are caught in the crosshairs of Connie’s mad dash of a day, with their professions and lives routinely jeopardized by his sociopathic behavior. The systemic danger of white-male anger, especially as it’s informed by Connie’s vaguely defined sense of personal injustice and self-righteousness, has rarely been represented in American cinema as an urgent public health hazard, with its noxious effects no different than the choking, billowing haze of an exploded dye pack. Clayton Dillard


The 25 Best Films of 2017

4. Lady Bird

With her screenplays for Frances Ha and Mistress America, Greta Gerwig proved to be a formidable surveyor of the intricacies of female relationships, but her solo writing and directing debut, Lady Bird, while evincing her customary wit, articulates an even deeper and more profound humanism than her earlier work. The self-involved Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson’s (Saoirse Ronan) fraught relationship with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), over the course of the former’s senior year in high school serves as the catalyst for Gerwig’s nuanced exploration of the tension between our youthful ego and the realization that we’re not the center of the world, merely minor individuals in a vast ensemble made of infinite narratives. As Lady Bird’s complicated and often revelatory confrontations with other characters spur the development of her sensitivity to the multifaceted lives of those around her, the empathy with which Gerwig has imbued her film shines through in the singular perspective of her protagonist, marked by a symphonically comedic rhythm of dialogue and gesture. Gerwig’s singularly offbeat vision of Sacramento contributes a specificity of place to this rare, unsentimental portrait of youth that feels unabashedly, bracingly alive. Wes Greene


The 25 Best Films of 2017

3. Nocturama

A coterie of gangly young terrorists, frustrated with society, concoct a plan to synchronize attacks around Paris: from shootings to bombings to fires set to statues, all to interrupt the quotidian stagnation of modernity. Their motivations are somewhat nebulous, and their end goal unspecified, but they commit to the plan—if not any discernible purpose or impetus—and pull it off. Subways act as their underground tunnels, a shopping mall their eventual bastion. They seem edified, discussing Pinochet’s Chilean regime in cafés, the ethical quandaries of terrorism, the perils of consumerism, but also just as susceptible to the allure of stuff; inside the mall, they regress into emulations of the people they hate, of the mannequins on display. This is terrorism as pop-art. Behind Nocturama’s glistening surfaces and pretty faces is an emptiness, a dearth of conviction. This is, of course, by design. As depicted by Bertrand Bonnello, who has a penchant for voluptuous camera movements, Paris is decadent and vile. Even the idealists aren’t immune to the city’s sybaritic sickness. In a coruscating materialistic world, there’s a profusion of reflective surfaces and no self-awareness. For all the gazing the young characters do—at televisions, out windows, into mirrors—they never see what’s staring back at them. Greg Cwik


The 25 Best Films of 2017

2. A Quiet Passion

Like a certain American whisper-mongering auteur with whom he shares a first name, it appears that the drive for big questions has found Terence Davies upping his ante in terms of productivity. The filmmaker’s portrait of Emily Dickinson, A Quiet Passion, charts the poet’s course from a silver-tongued teenager (Emma Bell) to a sly recluse (Cynthia Nixon). The narrative is spindled around less than two dozen lines of Dickinson’s posthumously published words, and by the time they’ve run out, the pleasures of nonconformity within high Massachusetts society have given way to the creeping disappointment of a chaste middle age. Davies shows the agony of Dickinson’s kidney disease in unsparing long takes, anchoring her story, for all its high-mindedness, to the same mortal coil that unites us all. Call it transcendental pessimism. The film fits snugly among Davies’s (indeed, quiet) masterpieces for the way it wrings the sublime from the strained confines of everyday life, refusing the luxury of easy liberation on either side of the screen. By the time Dickinson asks her sister, Vinni (Jennifer Ehle), “Why has the world become so ugly?,” this tender and heartbreaking film has taught us better than to expect an answer. Steve Macfarlane


The 25 Best Films of 2017

1. Phantom Thread

Imagine a version of Rebecca staged with the offbeat majesty of Barry Lyndon and you’ve just begun to limn the uncanny, gorgeously sustained tenor of Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film about a megalomaniacal, self-obsessed artist and the women who love him unconditionally. The World War II-era couture fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an impeccably groomed British fussbucket, a man of elaborate routines whose freedom to create comes from the labors of his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville). Their traditions are disrupted after Woodcock discovers a muse in Alma (Vicky Krieps), an immigrant waitress who proves determined to earn and keep her position in Woodcock’s affections, along with his business. The vast majority of Phantom Thread is confined to the ivory-hued interiors of Woodcock’s home office, but the eccentric love triangle that ensues is a luxuriously expansive discourse on creation wrapped in a perfectly concise, endlessly surprising period drama. Assisted by Jonny Greenwood’s staggeringly dextrous score and a trio of beguiling lead performances, Anderson digs into his characters with exquisite sensitivity, lingering on flushing cheeks and a taxonomic array of moony, mischievous smiles. Even his more self-conscious flourishes—scenes that track and circle alterations and fittings with surgical quietude—espouse an intimate, love-drunk restraint (Anderson shot the film himself under a pseudonym), a sensibility matched by a screenplay that sneaks the coked-up syntax and repetition of the director’s early work into a reverent but chastely kinky period piece. (With its abundant plates of eggs, toast, and pastries, the film is at its most ravishing at the breakfast table.) Rhyming love’s fickle rhythms with the fundamental ephemerality of high fashion, Phantom Thread gradually becomes a singular musing on the artist’s legacy. To think any piece of clothing or unfettered emotion will last forever is a uniquely human folly, but each of Anderson’s unforgettable characters prove rapturously committed to the notion. Christopher Gray


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Awards

2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions

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

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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.

Picture

Vice

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?)

Actor

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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Features

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.

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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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Features

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

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

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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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