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Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2018

See below for a list of the films that just missed making it onto our list of the best films of 2018, followed by our contributors’ individual ballots.

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Slant’s Top 25 Films of 2018
Photo: Grasshopper Film

From Chuck Bowen’s introduction to Slant Magazine‘s Top 25 Films of 2018: “Film critics find themselves in an exhilarating and frustrating situation: Cinema keeps getting better—more formally adventurous, auto-critical, and responsive to the chaos of the society that yields it—but at the price of being less and less seen. This was a banner year for cinema, but how many of the films below have been able to penetrate Disney’s essential monopoly on the mainstream populace’s adulation? Yet perhaps this widening gulf between artisan films and pop culture at large is benefiting the former. With a certain portion of studio filmmaking that’s essentially incapable of losing money in place, and with streaming sites that are voraciously in need of ‘content,’ other films are emboldened to be themselves and to follow their creators’ obsessions into increasingly wild-and-wooly places.” Click here to read the feature and see if your favorite films of the year made our list. And see below for a list of the films that just missed making it onto our list, followed by our contributors’ individual ballots.

26. A Bread Factory: Parts One and Two
27. Shoplifters
28. El Mar La Mar
29. Leave No Trace
30. Milla
31. Madeline’s Madeline
32. Bodied
33. Claire’s Camera
34. Isle of Dogs
35. The Rider
36. Minding the Gap
37. Caniba
38. November
39. Unsane
40. Jeannette: Childhood of Joan of Arc
41. First Man
42. Amazing Grace
43. Let the Corpses Tan
44. Before We Vanish
45. Araby
46. A Star Is Born
47. The Death of Stalin
48. Cold War
49. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
50. Notes on an Appearance

Chuck Bowen
1. Monrovia, Indiana
2. First Reformed
3. The Other Side of the Wind
4. Bisbee ‘17
5. Zama
6. Golden Exits
7. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
8. Claire’s Camera
9. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
10. Let the Sunshine In

Honorable Mention: A Bread Factory, Burning, Gavagai, The Green Fog, Isle of Dogs, Leave No Trace, Notes on an Appearance, Sollers Point, Unsane, Werewolf

Pat Brown
1. Burning
2. Bisbee ‘17
3. First Reformed
4. Shoah: Four Sisters
5. The Favourite
6. 24 Frames
7. Cold War
8. Let the Sunshine In
9. Western
10. If Beale Street Could Talk

Honorable Mention: 306 Hollywood, The Day After, The Death of Stalin, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?, Eighth Grade, The Green Fog, I Am Not a Witch, Minding the Gap, November, Of Fathers and Sons

Jake Cole
1. Milla
2. 24 Frames
3. First Reformed
4. Zama
5. Burning
6. The Day After
7. Prototype
8. If Beale Street Could Talk
9. Madeline’s Madeline
10. Let the Sunshine In

Honorable Mention: Annihilation, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Bisbee ‘17, A Bread Factory: Parts One and Two, The House That Jack Built, The Other Side of the Wind, Paddington 2, Roma, Support the Girls, Western

Greg Cwik
1. The Other Side of the Wind
2. First Reformed
3. The House That Jack Built
4. Prototype
5. Golden Exits
6. The Favourite
7. Let the Sunshine In
8. Monrovia, Indiana
9. Claire’s Camera
10. Shoplifters

Honorable Mention: Before We Vanish, The Day After, The Green Fog, Hereditary, Isle of Dogs, Notes on an Appearance, Ready Player One, A Star Is Born, Support the Girls, Western

Clayton Dillard
1. Burning
2. The House That Jack Built
3. First Reformed
4. Mrs. Hyde
5. Before We Vanish
6. Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc
7. Western
8. Tyrel
9. El Mar La Mar
10. Bodied

Honorable Mention: Blindspotting, Claire’s Camera, Isle of Dogs, Let the Sunshine In, Private Life, A Quiet Place, The Rider, Scarred Hearts, Summer 1993, Suspiria

Peter Goldberg
1. Zama
2. First Reformed
3. Dead Souls
4. If Beale Street Could Talk
5. The Other Side of the Wind
6. 24 Frames
7. Milla
8. Minding the Gap
9. Support the Girls
10. A Bread Factory: Parts One and Two

Honorable Mention: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Bisbee ‘17, Burning, The Day After, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?, Hale County This Morning, This Evening, I Am Not a Witch, Let the Sunshine In, The Rider, Western

Ed Gonzalez
1. First Reformed
2. BlacKkKlansman
3. Do You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?
4. Bisbee ‘17
5. Monrovia, Indiana
6. Paddington 2
7. Bodied
8. The Day After
9. The Green Fog
10. Let the Sunshine In

Honorable Mention: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Before I Wake, Claire’s Camera, Isle of Dogs, Leave No Trace, The Other Side of the Wind, Unfriended: Dark Web, Unsane, Western, Wild Boys

Christopher Gray
1. Let the Sunshine In
2. First Man
3. First Reformed
4. Zama
5. If Beale Street Could Talk
6. Minding the Gap
7. Bisbee ‘17
8. The Rider
9. Western
10. Leave No Trace

Honorable Mention: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Burning, El Mar La Mar, Happy as Lazzaro, Monrovia, Indiana, The Other Side of the Wind, A Quiet Place, Shirkers, Shoplifters, Unfriended: Dark Web

Wes Greene
1. Bisbee ‘17
2. Amazing Grace
3. Araby
4. A Bread Factory: Parts One and Two
5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
6. Support the Girls
7. The Green Fog
8. First Reformed
9. Happy as Lazzaro
10. Roma

Honorable Mention: BlacKkKlansman, The Day After, Gavagai, The Grief of Others, I Am Not a Witch, Let the Sunshine In, Notes on an Appearance, Paddington 2, Unsane, Zama

Carson Lund
1. Let the Sunshine In
2. 24 Frames
3. Monrovia, Indiana
4. First Reformed
5. The Other Side of the Wind
6. El Mar La Mar
7. Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?
8. Shoplifters
9. Hale County This Morning, This Evening
10. Unfriended: Dark Web

Honorable Mention: Classical Period, The Day After, Distant Constellation, Golden Exits, The Green Fog, Prototype, Roma, Support the Girls, Unsane, Zama

Sam C. Mac
1. The House That Jack Built
2. Dead Souls
3. Blind Detective
4. Golden Exits
5. Prototype
6. Isle of Dogs
7. A Star Is Born
8. The Other Side of the Wind
9. Shoplifter
10. Support the Girls

Honorable Mention: Before We Vanish, Bodied, Burning, Claire’s Camera, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?, Ismael’s Ghosts, Let the Corpses Tan, Notes on an Appearance, Revenge, Stranger in Paradise

Paul O’Callaghan
1. Roma
2. First Reformed
3. Burning
4. Custody
5. Leave No Trace
6. Madeline’s Madeline
7. You Were Never Really Here
8. Shoplifters
9. Sorry to Bother You
10. Vox Lux

Honorable Mention: BlakKklansman, Cold War, The Favourite, The Green Fog, Hereditary, Minding the Gap, Monrovia, Indiana, A Star Is Born, Suspiria, Sweet Country

Niles Schwartz
1. First Reformed
2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
3. Burning
4. The Other Side of the Wind
5. Let the Sunshine In
6. Zama
7. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
8. Unsane
9. The Rider
10. Roma

Honorable Mention: The 15:17 to Paris, BlacKkKlansman, Bodied, At Eternity’s Gate, The Favourite, Isle of Dogs, Leave No Trace, Mandy, Ready Player One, You Were Never Really Here

Diego Semerene
1. Shoah: Four Sisters
2. 24 Frames
3. Happy as Lazzaro
4. Burning
5. Western
6. Loveless
7. Caniba
8. The House That Jack Built
9. Of Fathers and Sons
10. Vice

Honorable Mention: Cold War, The Death of Stalin, Distant Constellation, A Fantastic Woman, The Favourite, If Beale Street Could Talk, Lover for a Day, Monrovia, Indiana, November, Tehran Taboo

A.J. Serrano
1. Mandy
2. First Reformed
3. The Rider
4. If Beale Street Could Talk
5. Hale County This Morning, This Evening
6. The Other Side of the Wind
7. Paddington 2
8. Burning
9. Roma
10. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Honorable Mention: 306 Hollywood, The Favourite, Infinite Football, Isle of Dogs, Private Life, Support the Girls, Suspiria, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, Unsane, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Derek Smith
1. First Reformed
2. Zama
3. Burning
4. If Beale Street Could Talk
5. BlacKkKlansman
6. Prototype
7. El Mar La Mar
8. November
9. The House That Jack Built
10. Let the Corpses Tan

Honorable Mention: 24 Frames, Bisbee ‘17, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?, First Man, The Green Fog, Happy as Lazzaro, Leave No Trace, The Other Side of the Wind, Paddington 2, Shirkers

Keith Watson
1. The Other Side of the Wind
2. Paddington 2
3. The House That Jack Built
4. Caniba
5. Support the Girls
6. Madeline’s Madeline
7. Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc
8. The Death of Stalin
9. First Reformed
10. Let the Corpses Tan

Honorable Mention: 24 Frames, Bodied, A Bread Factory: Parts One and Two, Distant Constellation, Infinite Football, Milla, November, Prototype, The Road Movie, Sorry to Bother You

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Berlinale 2019: A Dog Called Money, Lemebel, & Searching Eva

Alongside fiction films depicting emerging voices, nine of the Panorma sidebar’s 45 features are documentaries about creative talents.

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A Dog Called Money
Photo: Berlinale

The ostensible goal of the Berlinale’s Panorama sidebar is to offer a 360-degree snapshot of the current state of world cinema, but this year its curators seem inordinately concerned with the pursuit of artistry. Alongside fiction films depicting emerging voices—Honor Swinton Byrne as a fledgling filmmaker in Joanna Hogg’s sublime The Souvenir, and Mei Kayama as a cartoonist with cerebral palsy in Hikari’s sweet-natured 37 Seconds—nine of the section’s 45 features are documentaries about creative talents.

Among these, A Dog Called Money is perhaps the most fascinating, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Directed by photographer Seamus Murphy, it charts the making of PJ Harvey’s 2016 album The Hope Six Demolition Project, which was directly inspired by trips the pair took to Afghanistan, Kosovo, and deprived neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. The famously publicity-shy Harvey then took the unlikely step of turning the recording process into an art installation, setting up a pop-up studio in London’s opulent Somerset House, and inviting members of the public to observe her at work through a one-way mirror.

Though the project appears to have been a noble attempt on Harvey’s part to broaden her political and cultural horizons, A Dog Called Money demystifies her creative process in a manner that proves extremely unflattering. Murphy presents the overseas excursions solely as material-gathering missions: We see Harvey exposed to human suffering in various guises, and hear her recite song lyrics that matter-of-factly recount her observations, but are offered no insight into her overarching aims for The Hope Six Demolition Project, and no sense of how these experiences may have affected her worldview.

There’s something strangely distasteful about the way Murphy juxtaposes haunting footage of Middle Eastern warzones and American ghettos with scenes of Harvey, safely cocooned in her sleek studio, joking around with her overwhelmingly white band as they endeavor to distill the world’s misery into a whimsical art project. And frustratingly, the film fails to address the controversy surrounding album opener “Community of Hope,” which describes Washington D.C.’s predominantly black Ward 7 as a “drug town” full of “zombies,” and which led to a local official ridiculously saying that Harvey is “to music what Piers Morgan is to cable news.”

Joanna Reposi Garibaldi’s Lemebel, which just won the Teddy Award for best queer-themed documentary, does a far better job of representing the aspirations and achievements of a politically motivated artist. The film explores the career of late Chilean writer and activist Pedro Lemebel, who spearheaded a public LGBT rights movement amid the hostile environment of Pinochet’s dictatorship. Weaving together evocative archive footage, intimate talking-head interviews, and grainy home movies, Garibaldi charts the formation of Lemebel’s provocative queer collective dubbed the Mares of the Apocalypse, his flair for attention-grabbing performance art, and his masterly manipulation of Chile’s mainstream media.

An erudite raconteur, Lemebel is fascinating when discussing the intersection of LGBT and working-class communities, and appears remarkably ahead of his time when explaining his rejection of the word “gay” and his reclamation of derogatory terms like “maricón.” Occasionally it seems that Garibaldi, who befriended Lemebel years before attempting to make the film, is a little too close to her subject to offer an objective portrait. She fails, for example, to interrogate Lemebel’s conspiratorial views about the origins of AIDS. But given the fearless, trailblazing nature of his work, a somewhat hagiographic approach can be forgiven.

Many would surely balk at the description of Eva Collè, an obscure twentysomething blogger and Instagrammer, as an “artist.” But her scattershot, disarmingly frank musings on Tumblr have inspired a formally ambitious documentary feature, Pia Hellenthal’s Searching Eva. The film delivers an impressionistic account of this nomadic young woman’s compellingly chaotic existence, encompassing her move from conservative small-town Italy to hedonistic Berlin, her professional experiences as a sex worker and fashion model, her embrace of sexual fluidity, and her struggles with drug use and mental illness.

To underscore the fact that Collè elects to live out her daily dramas before an enthralled online audience, the film is narrated by anonymous comments lifted directly from her blogs. But while said comments tend to be either blindly sycophantic or scathingly judgmental, Hellenthal delivers a refreshingly even-handed assessment of the benefits and drawbacks of online culture. Eva seems to derive much of her self-worth from the knowledge that she inspires others to be their authentic selves. And there’s a sense that the barrage of criticism she faces only strengthens her resolve to carve her own path through life.

Hellenthal’s perspective becomes much harder to fathom when she’s exploring Collè’s life philosophy, which seems to boil down to a flat rejection of any label you might try and attach to her. At one point, Eva states her intention never to work a conventional job, on the grounds that the working class must refuse to be defined primarily as a workforce in order to make its mark. But it’s unclear whether Hellenthal regards this as a bold political statement or the pseudointellectual ramblings of a self-involved millennial attempting to justify her decadent existence. Those who suspect the latter will likely have a hard time fully embracing Searching Eva, but its assured approach to nonlinear storytelling makes the journey worthwhile.

Berlinale runs from February 7—17.

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Berlinale 2019: I Was at Home, But, So Long, My Son, and Ghost Town Anthology

These films depict in distinctive ways the process of coping with and even accepting the dead’s presence in our lives.

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I Was Home, But
Photo: Berlinale

The dead haunt Berlin. The Martin-Gropius-Bau, the museum building in which the Berlinale’s European Film Market is hosted, is still pockmarked with bullet holes from the Battle of Berlin—as are many other buildings in the center of the city. A 10-minute walk north of Potsdamer Platz, the center of the film festival, is the powerful Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and a 10-minute walk in the opposite direction down Stresemannstraße and you’ll see the bombed-out façade of Anhalter Bahnhof, once one of Europe’s most resplendent train stations. And all over Berlin, you trip over Stolpersteine (or “stumble-stones”), small, square, brass plaques laid into the sidewalk bearing the names of former residents of that street, dispossessed and killed by the Nazis.

Like any city, Berlin is many things, and it’s certainly most known today for much more than its tragic past. But the history of the 20th century is in particular written across its face, and while it can be easy to turn your gaze away from the dead, they remain a part of life in Germany’s capital. Several of the best films up for the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale contemplate the persistence of the dead in the lives of the living, depicting in distinctive ways the process of coping with and even accepting this presence in our lives.

Set in Berlin, Angela Schanelec’s I Was at Home, But opens with an anomalous prologue that foreshadows the film’s equal-parts mix of despair and world weariness, of tragedy and banality. A dog excitedly chases a rabbit; the camera catches the rabbit initially running, and then seeming to give up, panting on a rock. In the next shot, the dog is greedily pulling apart the rabbit carcass in its den, a dilapidated building it appears to share with a donkey. It’s a potentially fruitful odd-couple scenario: You can almost read subdued exasperation in the donkey’s face as it ignores its roommate’s greedy consumption of a fellow herbivore.

What does this prologue have to do with the remainder of the film, which concerns a woman, Astrid (Maren Eggert), and her children’s flailing attempts to process the grief of losing their husband and father? This quietly masterful film never even comes close to connecting these threads for its audience, requiring us to make connections on our own. We’ll see a foot being bandaged, but not the event that caused the injury, and characters dancing to entertain someone in a hospital bed, but not the person in the bed. Elsewhere, a needlessly obstinate Astrid demands money back for a perfectly reparable bicycle she bought on the cheap, and middle-school kids perform Hamlet in the most neutral of ways.

These still, vignette-like scenes elliptically narrate Phillip’s (Jakob Lassalle) week-long disappearance and return. Infused with the profound pain of grief and with the consciousness that such pain is both inescapable and futile, a universal tragedy that has played out innumerable times, each scene in I Was at Home, But could stand on its own. Assembled together, they comprise a story told between the lines. When Astrid theatrically collapses in front of a headstone, lying silent and immobile like a stage corpse, we don’t need the camera to show us the name on the grave to let us know which tragedy she’s currently performing.

Wang Xiaoshuai’s So Long, My Son is a pointed critique of China’s one-child policy, which was relaxed in 2013. Cutting between at least four different periods in the life of a couple, Liyun and Yaojun (Mei Yong and Wang Jingchun), whose family is shattered over and over again—first with a forced abortion, then with the drowning death of their biological son, and finally when their adopted son absconds from their home—the film is a stark condemnation of an inhuman measure undertaken for the sake of the ultimately abandoned dream of a workers’ utopia. Surprising for a film produced in a country with heavy censorship, the story is explicit in its political and ethical concerns, demonstrating how China’s strict rules in the 1980s imposed unjust sacrifices on the country’s people only so, as one shot set in today’s Beijing suggests, shopping malls could be erected behind statues of Mao Zedong.

Mixing around the story’s timeline, Wang opens with the death of Liyun and Yaojun’s son, and flashes forward to their adopted son, also named Xingxing, fleeing home, so that Liyun’s coerced abortion feels like a third loss, even though it actually comes first. This captures something of the temporality of regret: The abortion, which Liyun was pressured into having by Haiyan (Haiyan Li), a close friend and local communist party functionary, is the decisive tragedy of their lives. Having been denied the choice of having a second child, Yaojun and Liyun’s repressed grief and self-imposed exile away from the pain of their old relations has excluded them from sharing in the winnings wrought by China’s rise.

The unhappy accidents, betrayals, and suppressed resentment that make up the story could easily lend themselves to overwrought, melodramatic treatment, but Wang’s dedication to the details of Chinese working-class life grounds the film in a reality unmarked by melodrama’s hazy-eyed stylizations. Fine leading performances by Wang and Yong capture the simmering sadness of a life whose fulfillment was precluded by an overbearing ideology. So Long, My Son runs a bit long, piling a few too many poetic parallelisms into a protracted conclusion, but it’s a precisely constructed, deeply felt, and humane drama.

The wackiest of the competition’s films that contemplate loss is Denis Côté’s Ghost Town Anthology, which sees the Quebecois director returning to his favored rural Canadian terrain with an ensemble cast. Shot on grainy 16mm, and somewhat resembling a ‘70s-era drive-in cheapie, the film remixes the iconography of ghost stories and post-apocalyptic thrillers to narrate its characters’ collective confrontation with death.

A town of 215 residents somewhere in Francophone Canada is rocked by what their imperious mayor calls “our first death in a long time,” the presumed suicide-by-car-crash of the 21-year-old Simon Dubé. That Simon’s death is the first in a long time raises a couple of questions about the dreary and desolate village: Where are the old people and, for that matter, where are the children? Côté shows us some children, but they’re strange, impish creatures who wear clay masks and heavy ponchos, and they appear to live in the surrounding woods. When Simon’s car crashes, they play amid the wreckage; later, they chase the frightful, innocent Adele (Larissa Corriveau) into an abandoned garage, backed this time by a group of adults who stand silently behind them in the snow, simply staring forward.

It turns out that the dead are returning but not exactly back to life; this isn’t George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and the ghostly figures who begin sprouting from the snowy landscape don’t do much of anything but stand and blankly stare. The villagers, accustomed to a life close to outsiders—Côté makes his point clear when a hijab-draped official sent by the government to consult with the mayor elicits cool, suspicious stares from the denizens—are forced by the dead’s mere presence to confront what lies beyond their provincial life. “They’re like us, in a way,” one character muses toward the end of Ghost Town Anthology, a belated realization that the radical difference of death is also a commonality.

Berlinale runs from February 7—17.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Film Editing

Sigh, can we just edit this whole Oscar season from our memories?

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Bohemian Rhapsody
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Sigh, can we just edit this whole Oscar season from our memories? AMPAS has officially brought more queens back from the brink than this year’s season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars. Now that the academy has reneged on its plans to snip four categories from the live Oscar telecast, after first attempting damage control and assuring members that it will still run those four awards as not-so-instant replays in edited-down form later on in the show, we can once again turn our attention to the other editing that’s so vexed Film Twitter this Oscar season. We yield the floor to Twitter user Pramit Chatterjee:

Very fuck! The academy would’ve been shooting itself in the foot by not airing what’s starting to feel like one of this year’s most competitive Oscar categories—a category that seems like it’s at the center of ground zero for the voters who, as a fresh New York Times survey of anonymous Oscar ballots confirms, are as unashamedly entertained by a blockbuster that critics called utterly worthless as they are feeling vengeful against those who would dare call a film they loved racist. Interestingly enough, the New York Times’s panel of voters seems palpably aware that Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman is the nominee this year that’s going to go down in history as the “right thing” they’ll be embarrassed for not “doing.” No arguments from this corner. Lee’s film is narratively propulsive and knotty in ways that ought to translate into a no-brainer win here. (My cohort Ed recently mused that he’d give the film the Oscar just for the energy it displays cutting back and forth during phone conversations.)

We’re glad that the academy walked back its decision to not honor two of the most crucial elements of the medium (editing and cinematography) on the live Oscar telecast, but what we’re left with is the dawning horror that the formless flailing exemplified by the clip above might actually win this damned award. Guy Lodge sarcastically mused on the upside of Pramit’s incredulous tweet, “I’ve never seen so many people on Twitter discussing the art of film editing before,” and honestly, it does feel like Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody getting publicly dog-walked like this stands to teach baby cinephiles-in-training the language of the cut as well as any of the myriad montages the show producers intended on airing in lieu of, you know, actually awarding craftspeople. But only a fraction of the voting body has to feel sympathy for John Ottman (whose career, for the record, goes all the way back with Bryan Singer), or express admiration that he managed to assemble the raw materials from a legendarily chaotic project into an international blockbuster. The rest of the academy has their ostrich heads plunged far enough into the sand to take care of the rest.

Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Could Win: BlacKkKlansman

Should Win: BlacKkKlansman

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