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The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

The will to view films of the past, and the infrastructure to support this spectatorship, is alive and well.



The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018
Photo: Janus Films

When AT&T decided to drop FilmStruck from its future streaming initiative, cinephiles let out a howl of rage against the machine in the form of a petition hoping to save FilmStruck that garnered over 93,000 signatures. It’s a tale as old as film’s origins, of corporate interests dictating production and distribution, giving the ax to anything not designated a cash cow.

While numerous think pieces have debated FilmStruck’s worth and legacy in the last month and a half, one thing remained constant: the endurance of physical media. As always, cinephiles could still count on Criterion, like Arrow Video and others, to announce their upcoming Blu-ray and DVD releases, thus reminding us of their devotion to keeping physical media alive.

Whether or not physical media remains the best and most enduring means of accessing high-quality transfers of classic and niche films remains to be seen. What is certain, though, is the increasing popularity of boutique home-video labels. Vinegar Syndrome made and sold over 3,000 copies of their limited-edition release of 1983’s Mausoleum during a Black Friday sale alone—a title that’s now fetching over $100 on eBay. Kino Lorber continues to distribute solid HD transfers of films from across film history at a rate so quick that it’s hard to even keep pace. And almost weekly, Twilight Time announces on their Facebook page which of their limited-edition releases have sold out.

The will to view films of the past is alive and well. The 25 Blu-ray and DVD releases chosen as our best of the year highlight the different hungers—for classic art-house films, for ‘70s horror, for silent cinema—that these labels continue to satiate. Clayton Dillard

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

The Ancient Law, Flicker Alley

While works of silent cinema continue to receive top-notch restorations from a number of distribution labels, it’s Flicker Alley that often produces some of the finest and most complete releases in terms of image and sound quality and supplemental materials. The crown jewel of their 2018 line of releases is Deutsche Kinemathek’s digital restoration of The Ancient Law, which offers stunning new evidence of Ewald André Dupont’s talents as a filmmaker. The long-unavailable 1923 film now appears in a transfer that has been struck in large part from a combination of two nitrate prints, with color tinting looking especially vibrant. (The film has also been restored to its original 135-minute runtime.) The extras delve into Dupont’s German-Jewish background, including an excellent essay by Cynthia Walk that also highlights the historical circumstances that led to the film’s production. There’s also an essential surviving excerpt from the 1923 documentary Der Film Im Film, featuring on-set footage of Dupont, Fritz Lang, and Robert Weine. Dillard

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

The Big Country, Kino Lorber

Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray transfer of The Big Country highlights the film’s extensive use of deep focus in wide shots to an extent that previous home-video releases of William Wyler’s classic haven’t. The result is nothing short of remarkable. Early scenes of McKay’s (Gregory Peck) arrival in the Old West are best at highlighting the film’s depth of field, with figures moving in a multitude of directions behind the action in the foreground, all in sharp focus. On his feature commentary track, historian Sir Christopher Frayling brings his usual acumen to the film’s production, themes, and critical reception. Those familiar with Frayling’s excellent commentaries on releases for Sergio Leone’s films will find his musings to be of equal quality here, particularly in discussions of image construction and how The Big Country fits within the scope and history of other revisionist westerns. Equally useful for William Wyler fans or historians is a one-hour biographical episode of American Masters from 1986 titled “Directed by William Wyler.” Clayton Dillard

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival, The Criterion Collection

The image on the Criterion Collection’s previous Blu-ray of Monterey Pop was respectable in its clarity, but there’s no denying that this 4K restoration of D.A. Pennebaker’s 16mm film marks a significant leap in quality. The loud colors of the era’s hippie fashions are far more pronounced now, with purples and reds in particular shining with new intensity. The original stereo tracks were cleaned up by legendary sound engineer Eddie Kramer for the last release, and they still sound rich and full. All of the previous Criterion edition’s extras are accounted for here, including an extra disc that contains nearly all of the performances from Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding’s respective sets. Now more than ever, it’s impossible to deny that Monterey Pop is the definitive live document of the hippie era, a vivid portrait of a cultural movement still in its ascendancy. Jake Cole

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

De Niro & De Palma : The Early Films, Arrow Films

While his twisty, highly stylized exercises in suspense are his brand, Brian De Palma is also one of Hollywood’s most acerbic social satirists. Greetings, from 1968, is a ferociously incendiary, humorously episodic account of young men looking to avoid being drafted. The film features Robert De Niro in his first major role, one that he reprised in 1970’s Hi, Mom!, where his Jon Rubin tries his hand at pornographic filmmaking before landing on domestic terrorism. The former was the first film to be slapped with an X rating by the MPAA and the latter is infamous for its “Be Black, Baby” performance art sequence, during which hoity-toity white audiences are brutalized in a simulation of the black experience in America. Throughout these films, De Palma walks a fine line between the funny and frightening—cackling with us but also sometimes at us. Hi, Mom!, Greetings, and 1969’s The Wedding Party have all been restored for this Arrow Films box set, which is stocked with a plethora of juicy extras, from an appreciation of De Palma and De Niro’s collaborations by critic and filmmaker Howard S. Berger, to a predictably engaging, authoritative, and bullshit-free commentary by film critic Glenn Kenny. Niles Schwartz

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood, The Criterion Collection

The rapturous Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood affirms the profound emotional power of the art born from one of Hollywood’s most influential and idiosyncratic collaborations. Joseph von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich fashioned a fantasy world that embodies the longing that drives one to cinema: for a grandeur that invites our complicity with icons, rendering our anxieties into pop myth. In their unreality, these six films elucidate our sexual hungers as well as the miscommunications and insecurities that often prevent said hungers from being satiated. It’s difficult to communicate the beauty of these six films together in words, and critics Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin circumvent this problem by offering an evocative juxtaposition of quotations and film footage in their video essay Bodies and Spaces, Fabric and Light. López and Martin manage to elucidate the existential loss of identity that’s communicated by von Sternberg’s obsession with ornamentation, and their work here is one of this package’s highlights. Bowen

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

Distant Voices, Still Lives, Arrow Academy

Not the least among its achievements, Distant Voices, Still Lives offers a crystallization of the appeal of the musical. An odd linkage, to be sure, since the genre’s trademark studio boisterousness would seem a world away from the kitchen-sink dreariness of the director’s mood piece about his years growing up with his working-class family in post-WWII Liverpool, dominated by his abusive ogre of a father. Terence Davies’s meticulous blend of realism and impressionism looks resplendent on Arrow’s transfer, which was sourced from the 4K BFI restoration. The grimy and worn façades of buildings are rendered clearly, and appear authentic in their muted drabness, while the vivid colors of the characters’ costumes and their enhanced memories (such as the ghostly lighting of the father on his sickbed) blaze intensely against the film’s naturalistic backgrounds. This release includes a deeply personal commentary track from Davies, a Q&A with the filmmaker, an interview with art director Miki van Zwanenberg, and more. Cole and Fernando Croce

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

Godard + Gorin: Five Films, 1968 – 1971, Arrow Academy

The anti-Gaullist riots of May 1968 galvanized an already radical Jean-Luc Godard to approach his profession, itself a product of American capitalist industry, from a socialist angle. Teaming up with Maoist student Jean-Pierre Gorin, Godard formed the Dziga Vertov Group, so named for the Russian constructivist theorist and director, and set about creating a series of films that break apart the formal rules of cinema for the purposes of remaking existing film language and subject matter around socialist ideals. Arrow Academy has bundled five of these films, and together they represent some of the most difficult work of Godard’s thorny career. Where the director’s classic work mixed formal experimentation with genre deconstructions and impish satire, these films opt for socialist-realist asceticism and foregrounded political theory. Rescued from decades of neglect, these look so startlingly clear on home video that it’s easier than ever to appreciate them as crucial stepping stones in Godard’s mutable, constantly self-analyzing career. Cole

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

The Great Silence, Film Movement

Sergio Corbucci makes haunting use of The Great Silence‘s snowy landscape, crafting a purgatorial area of endless white. This vision of the Old West contains none of the promise of freedom that even the western’s most revisionist entries indulge before then subverting. The film is so drained of color its practically monochromatic, and Film Movement’s 2K restoration highlights the extreme contrasts of Silvano Ippoliti’s cinematography. The Italian soundtrack is crisp and features wide spacing of sound elements, with added emphasis on the long stretches of silence throughout the film’s confrontations. Two alternate, studio-mandated endings, both more upbeat than what made it into the final cut, are included on the disc, which notably includes an interview with filmmaker Alex Cox, who extols the virtues of The Great Silence and Sergio Corbucci in general. Cole

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

The Hired Hand, Arrow Academy

In 1971, Dennis Hopper starred in and directed the audaciously self-lacerating The Last Movie, which nearly destroyed his career, and Peter Fonda directed and appeared in The Hired Hand, a western that divorces Easy Rider‘s alienation of its glorifying self-pity, offering a morally thorny examination of loyalties that seem to cancel themselves out. The image on Arrow’s Blu-ray release has a wonderfully gritty earthiness, with colors that are appropriately muted yet robust. Blues and browns are particularly vibrant, and the delicacy of Vilmos Zsigmond’s prismatic sense of lighting has been well preserved. Among the notable extras on the disc: a 2003 documentary, “The Return of The Hired Hand,” that includes evocative interviews with most of the film’s key collaborators; an audio recording of Fonda and Warren Oates’s appearance at the National Film Theatre in London in 1971; a short tribute to the film by Martin Scorsese; and a lovely essay by film critic Kim Morgan. Bowen

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema, The Criterion Collection

Criterion’s Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema box set doesn’t quite contain everything the Swedish master ever made, but it comes close. The 30-disc set includes 39 of Bergman’s features, a few of his rare shorts, numerous documentaries on his life and work, and a gorgeous 248-page book of photographs and essays. As a consumer, the whole thing can seem rather daunting. So kudos to Criterion for grappling with how to invite a us into this massive body of work by boldly presenting the films not as a dull chronological retrospective, but rather in the spirit of a film festival, kicking things off with an “opening night” spotlighting one of Bergman’s most likable films, Smiles of a Summer Night, wrapping the set up with the filmmaker’s nostalgic masterpiece Fanny and Alexander, and featuring three “centerpiece” presentations of some of Bergman’s most acclaimed works along the way. The set provides a unique opportunity to luxuriate in the progression of Bergman’s imagery, from the high-key naturalism of his earlier works to the haunting, shadowy close-ups of his middle period through to the blazing use of color in his later films. Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema may be exhaustive, but with all the indelible beauty it contains, it’s never exhausting. Watson

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

It’s Alive Trilogy, Shout! Factory

Despite how they were advertised over the years, the It’s Alive films are more than a prolonged riff on Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. Writer-director Larry Cohen’s trilogy owes more to films concerned with radioactive fallout and its effects on communities, such as Ishirô Honda’s Godzilla and Arthur Crabtree’s Fiend Without a Face. It’s easy to see how, in the years after the release of the films in Cohen’s series, subsequent staples of this genre, from Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes to Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case, took the premise of a mutant offspring running rampant as a starting point for redressing the atomic and familial anxieties of their respective eras. On Shout! Factory’s three-disc set, each film in the series boats evenly balanced color saturation. Almost all signs of dirt or damage have been removed from the original negatives, while healthy grain levels are on display throughout. On the extras front, the set is most memorable for the three commentary tracks with Cohen and a new featurette that includes interviews with the filmmaker and Actors James Dixon, Michael Moriarty, and Laurene Landon. Dillard

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

The Last House on the Left, Arrow Video

In his feature-film debut, Wes Craven oscillates between broadly comic and nihilistic tones and between moments of trashy amateurishness and piercing existential poetry, criticizing the very notion of tonality. Arrow Video has delicately toggled a fine line between clarity and the look that’s most appropriate to the film, and this balance extends to the monaural soundtrack, which is a little flat and soft in places, though greatly improved over the mixes of prior editions, especially in terms of diegetic effects. And the disc’s supplements package is comprehensive even by the obsessive standards of Arrow Video, consisting of dozens of featurettes that have appeared on various editions of The Last House on the Left over the years as well as a few choice new additions. Inevitably for a film that’s been repackaged so often, there’s quite a bit of repetition here. Over the course of many archive featurettes and two archive commentaries, writer-director Wes Craven, producer Sean S. Cunningham (of Friday the 13th fame), and the cast and crew discuss working on the film and their subsequent relationship with it. Bowen

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

The Last Hurrah, Twilight Time

A lack of simultaneousness plagues American political films, which often follow a protagonist in an elected position who neatly handles one self-contained crisis after another, in succession per the necessities of a narrative that’s engineered to impart a moral lesson. In actuality, politicians are endlessly bombarded by varying factions, conflicting loyalties, and unresolvable issues. In this context, John Ford’s The Last Hurrah is a refreshing anomaly, a rare film to wrestle with the ongoing rhetorical tap dancing that’s necessary to keeping a public career afloat. In a superb audio commentary included on Twilight Time’s discs, film historians Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo, and Lem Dobbs discuss Ford’s artistry while confronting his legendary eccentricities and abuses of power—particularly his bullying and attitudes about class and race. The historians also draw resonant parallels between Ford’s stock company of actors, the characters in this and other films, and Ford’s family. Meanwhile, a fascinating debate runs through the commentary, particularly between Kirgo and Dobbs, as to whether The Last Hurrah is charged with youthful vitality or is weighed down by the sagging energy of Tracy and maybe Ford himself. Bowen

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

The Last Movie, Arbelos

With The Last Movie, Dennis Hopper fulfills the promise of Easy Rider, detonating and embracing American genre myths, fashioning a visionary personal cinema that blends improvisation, documentary, and traditionally scripted fictional forms. Before watching this Arbelos disc, I most recently saw The Last Movie in the Library of Congress archives, and the print was murky and hazy, suggesting that the film had been shot through a muddy filter. Quite a bit of grit and grime has been removed from this transfer, allowing the film’s colors to resound with a newfound vibrancy. The Last Movie is now conventionally beautiful, which offers a piercing counterpoint to Hopper’s formalist experimentation. And on the extras front, Alex Cox’s “Scene Missing” offers unflinching oral recollections on the making of the film. Other notable extras include a new documentary that investigates how The Last Movie production felt from the vantage point of the community that got enmeshed in Hopper’s fever dream. Arbelos offers a landmark restoration of a raw, self-devouring work of auto-critical cinema that was decades ahead of its time. Bowen

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

The Magnificent Ambersons, The Criterion Collection

The Criterion Collection continues its heroic restoration of Orson Welles’s lost and unappreciated masterpieces with this extraordinarily beautiful presentation of The Magnificent Ambersons. This disc’s 4K restoration of the film is positively transformative and gorgeous. The foregrounds, middle grounds, and backgrounds of the images have equal crystal clarity, allowing one to fully appreciate the virtuosity of Orson Welles’s cinematic imagination. And the expansive and detailed supplements package offers varying perspectives on how the film influenced Welles’s subsequent career, and was shaped by historical events such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Many familiar Welles authorities have been recruited here, from film historians Simon Callow and Joseph McBride, who turn up in interviews filmed in 2018 exclusively for this edition, to filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, who speaks with Welles in archive conversations that were recorded for Bogdanovich’s essential book This Is Orson Welles. Unsurprisingly, these supplements focus quite a bit on the gutting of The Magnificent Ambersons by RKO, and on the fall from grace that Welles suffered after the controversy of Citizen Kane and the mixed preview screenings of The Magnificent Ambersons. Bowen

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

Night of the Living Dead, The Criterion Collection

The Criterion Collection’s knack for netting existing commentary tracks if what they could come up with themselves wouldn’t be markedly better works once again in their favor. Because it’s hard to imagine besting the two existing cast-and-crew tracks with George Romero, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, John Russo, Russell Streiner, Vincent Survinski, Judith O’Dea, S. William Hinzman, Kyra Schon, and Keith Wayne. They’re convivial and informative, and worth the price of admission alone for the running joke that Eastman absconded with every piece of furniture and every prop she could get away with once the shoot was finished. The other meatiest supplement is the original 16mm work print of The Night of the Living Dead, then under its original title Night of Anubis. While mostly of historical interest, it also is reportedly missing the scenes that Romero excised before the final edit and were later destroyed in a flood. That being said, there’s a reel’s worth of dailies that feature some of that extra footage that fans are likely to be craving. Elsewhere, Guillermo del Toro, Robert Rodriguez, and Frank Darabont pay tribute to the film’s impact and legacy, and cast and crew members are featured in interview excerpts both new and old. In short, only fans of the short spoof Night of the Living Bread are likely to be disappointed. Eric Henderson

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

The Outer Limits: Season One, Kino Lorber

Over 50 years after its cancellation in 1965, The Outer Limits still exudes a distinct and wonderful strangeness. A horror and science-fiction anthology series that was inspired by Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, and which would subsequently inspire countless other film and television productions, The Outer Limits is a heady cocktail of Cold War anxiety, film noir, Brechtian theater, creature feature, and gothic expressionism. In one of his audio commentaries for the set, film historian Tim Lucas describes certain reactions that he encountered online to the news that Kino Lorber would be restoring The Outer Limits for Blu-ray. Many people, die-hard fans, felt that their DVDs would be good enough, and would better honor the rough look of the show. As Lucas observes, this assumption is incorrect, and the proof is in the pudding of this stunning transfer. And on the extras front, the various audio commentaries by a collection of critics and experts offer a peek behind the curtain of a classic production. Also of note is “There’s Nothing Wrong with Your Television Set,” a 40-page booklet essay, written by Schow, tht offers more notes on the genesis of The Outer Limits as well as capsule reviews of every episode, including discernments of when the episodes were produced versus when they actually aired. Don’t let the short list of supplements fool you: This package is an essential and mammoth undertaking. Bowen

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers, Kino Lorber

A collection of over 50 shorts and features directed by women, Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers adds substantial momentum to the recent, and long overdue, push to reestablish the crucial roles that female filmmakers played in developing cinematic form and defining genres during cinema’s infancy. Kino Lorber’s six-disc set celebrates the work of virtually unknown directors alongside slightly more established figures such as Alice Guy Blaché and Lois Weber (each of whom are given a disc dedicated solely to their work). Among the more notable works are Zora Neale Hurston’s ethnographic films; 1916’s The Curse of Quon Gwon, which is the earliest known film directed by an Asian American, Marion Wong; and 1917’s ‘49-‘17, the first western made by a woman, Ruth Ann Baldwin; as well as a multitude of other films that address such taboo issues as abortion and birth control. Smartly packaged with a beautiful 80-page booklet filled with essays, pictures, and capsules about every film, Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers vibrantly traces a neglected period in film history. The array of interviews with film preservationists and historians also included in the set help to contextualize the reasons why so many of these films remained in dusty film canisters for nearly a century. Derek Smith

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

Rocco and His Brothers, Milestone Films

Milestone’s Blu-ray release of Rocco and His Brothers is an impressive feat of restoration. The searing black-and-white cinematography gleams with the appropriate contrast, especially in outdoor scenes lit with natural light. Grain and emulsion is present throughout, suggesting that the image hasn’t been compromised by extensive digital enhancement. The monaural track is clean and crisp, without distortion. Dialogue is mixed at a consistent level, as is Nino Rota’s unforgettable score. In an in-depth interview, Caterina d’Amico, daughter of screenwriter Suso Cecchi D’Amico, details how her mother worked with Visconti on both this film and others, including 1957’s White Nights. D’Amico puts much of the film’s production into context, claiming at one point that nearly 40 scenes were cut from the original screenplay during pre-production. Furthermore, she delves into how the film generated controversy at the Venice Film Festival in 1960. The disc also contains an archival interview package with cast and crew, compiled with permission from Caterina d’Amico and the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. Dillard

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

Suspiria, Synapse

Synapse Films’s 4K restoration of Suspiria‘s original uncut, uncensored Italian 35mm camera negative has been under discussion in cinema circles for a while now. This transfer is an obsessive labor of love, a miraculously dense and beautiful work of historical preservation. Younger audiences seeing Suspiria for the first time, and accustomed to beautiful Blu-ray releases on a weekly basis, may take this disc for granted, but those of us who’ve suffered through butchered, severely letterboxed prints of Dario Argento’s film will understand the gift that Synapse has imparted. Colors are not only breathtaking, they’re viscerally present in the film as additional characters. The soundtracks are even more revelatory, imbuing Suspiria with an immersive soundstage that hasn’t been equaled by prior home-video editions. As crazy and seemingly in its own headspace as the film seems to be, it was researched and deeply rooted in history, literature, and contemporary pop culture. The disc’s extras thoroughly parse Argento’s various influences, from his obsession with modern art, witchcraft, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to his collaboration with his co-writer and lover Daria Nicolodi. Bowen

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Vinegar Syndrome

A cinematic fusillade melding gonzo humor and guerrilla filmmaking tactics, Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is at once an intellectual enterprise and a communal rallying cry. Vinegar Syndrome has done everything within its power to make this 4K transfer the definitive version of the film. A pre-feature card acknowledges that there are some sections of the film’s existing source materials which are damaged beyond complete repair. Fortunately, those instances are few and far between, totaling only a few minutes of the film’s entire running time. The remainder of the restoration is a revelation, with superb color saturation and image clarity throughout. The finest extra is an extensive Q&A with Melvin Van Peebles following a screening in 2013 of the film at the Maysles Center in Harlem. Van Peebles addresses how the Black Panthers made the film a success, why he doesn’t comment publicly on contemporary black filmmakers, and how his upbringing bestowed a fearlessness in him that he tried to bring to his filmmaking. It’s an added bonus whenever the camera pans to the audience, which reveals Albert Maysles sitting, and grinning, near the front row. Dillard

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

Time Regained, KimStim

A master of visualizing the slippery, illusory nature of memory, Raúl Ruiz was the ideal director to tackle Marcel Proust’s opus In Search of Lost Time. Nominally adapting only Finding Tie Again, the seventh and last volume of the novel, Time Regained acts as a feverish recapitulation of the entire work, with scenes depicting the final years in the life of Marcel (Marcello Mazzarella) interspersed with various flashbacks to the narrator’s past as he lived through the massive upheaval of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Sourced from a restoration by the Centre National de la Cinématographie, this Blu-ray captures Time Regained‘s intense beauty. The smoky, greenish hue that suffuses Ruiz’s film glows with inviting warmth, while background detail is rich with vivid colors. On the extras front, critic Bernard Génin contributes an interview in which he discusses In Search of Lost Time‘s circuitous route to the screen, from a Harold Pinter-penned screenplay for a Joseph Losey film that was never made to Ruiz’s successful adaptation of the seventh volume. Génin offers copious information on this film and how it differs from other cinematic stabs at Marcel Proust’s opus. Génin in particular praises the manner in which the director avoided mere plot adaptation to transpose the novel’s crucial impressionistic perspective into cinematic terms. Cole

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

The Tree of Life, The Criterion Collection

If The Tree of Life can be called a cinematic cathedral, then the Criterion Collection treats the film with a magnificence that verges on the holy. Terrence Malick and Emmanuel Lubezki supervised this disc’s 4K transfer, which was scanned from the film’s original 35mm camera negative. Among the remarkable extras collected on the disc is Kent Jones essay on the film, a video essay by Benjamin B on Malick’s new approach to cinematography, and, of course, the extended version of The Tree of Life, which incorporates 50 additional minutes into the film. This new version of the film is one of Criterion’s biggest projects to date, as Malick and Lubezki apparently gave the entirety of the extended, 188-minute cut a new color grade. But Malick doesn’t want people to consider this a director’s cut, nor a better version of the original release. I sympathize with something Seitz says in his video essay: that The Tree of Life feels unfinished and may be unfinishable by design. But by letting the branches grow a little more unwieldy, this new version brings the film closer to completion. Niles Schwartz

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

Underground, Kino Lorber

The Blu-ray itself is a barebones affair, with only a trailer to accompany the main feature, but two DVD discs contain the complete TV cut of the film, alternately titled Once Upon a Time There Was a Country. This cut uses its additional two-and-a-half hours of running time to dig into the story’s satire at a more leisurely pace, resulting in a fuller study of the characters and historical context compared to the theatrical version’s more impressionistic feeling of madness. The DVDs also come with behind-the-scenes footage, as well as a 75-minute making-of documentary, “Shooting Days,” that not only shows the intricacy of Emir Kusturica’s technical achievement, but also the careful consideration beneath the filmmaker’s seemingly freewheeling aesthetic, such as the way that recurring images act as anchors for the film and help to mark the passage of time. Finally, a booklet contains an essay by critic Giorgio Bertellini that digs further into the controversy that greeted Underground while also explicating the complexity of the film’s themes. Cole

The 25 Best Blu-rays of 2018

Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection, Universal Studios Home Entertainment

While it seems that almost every year brings some form of a new release or restoration of Universal’s 1930s monster movies, it’s 2018 that will likely be remembered as the apex, if not the stopping point, for fans of these films. Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection is the studio’s most comprehensive effort to date, compiling pristine, HD transfers of 30 films from 1931 to 1956 into a lovely box set that, while hulking in size, gives enough breathing room to each film to avoid compression issues, with the majority of titles receiving their own disc. The set “showcases all of the original films featuring the most iconic monsters in motion picture history,” including Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon (there’s even Universal’s 1943 adaptation of Phantom of the Opera). Bonus features will take days to comb through, with 13 feature commentaries, featurettes on Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, and a 48-page book that’s unique to this release. Dillard



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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