great films i saw in 2018

an exciting time for me. graduated from university and moved to ny. found some exciting new filmmakers (for me anyways) and a bunch of other stuff. onto the movies. no order to the things i talk about; just have a list of great ones and here we are.

i made significant progress into the filmography of abel ferrara this year and i’m now convinced he’s among the all time greatest directors, definitely among my favorites so far anyways. this year, of those i saw, i thought Go Go Tales (Ferrara, 2007), King of New York (Ferrara, 1990), and The Blackout (Ferrara, 1997) were all miraculous pictures. Go Go Tales is maybe the best of the bunch, one of the most gut-wrenching productions i’ve ever seen perhaps because it acknowledges how beautiful life’s little moments can be and shows how horrible it can be to lose those. his gangster pic is one of the most mature films i have seen in how it discusses class and its relation to crime and perceived authoritarianism in particular. The Blackout is a cinematic version of hell, really. frightening material.

in addition, i saw several films for the first time by takashi makino. i really did love all of them, they had different soothing and aural effects on me, but it was 2012 (Makino, 2013) that really made the strongest impact on me… it’s a 3d film that makes me feel like the entire medium can be reinvented. like there is more to cinema than initially promised. in addition, i adored another avant-garde short: this one by ito, who i’ve always liked. Thunder (Ito, 1982) combines all of his usual spacial manipulations and pairs it with his most bizarre imagery and the film comes together in a super flashy but sleek several minutes that completely capture and surprise me.

i like but don’t love the two musicals i’ve seen thus far by minnelli, however i am considerably more wowed over by his dramatic work. this year i saw Some Came Running (Minnelli, 1958) which is up there with some of the best melodrama ever; a rhapsody of tragedy and loss, reminds me of simultaneously kazan and sirk, in a good way. the pathos in this one felt to me as if the world was ending, like there was no way to go on in a world that treats its inhabitants this cruel; shocking from mr. Meet Me in St. Louis.

this year i also saw several films by jon jost, who i have tried to show to people but not many have taken a look at him yet unfortunately (they should). probably makes my top 20 american directors if not better and i still have at least a couple of major films of his i need to see. i saw six of his features and three were definitive all-timers: Sure Fire (Jost, 1990), Bell Diamond (Jost, 1986), and The Bed You Sleep In (Jost, 1993). Sure Fire is an american tragedy with these monologues done in a kind of basic but arty way and seems to anticipate a certain sequence of The House That Jack Built of all things, and it’s up there for how well jost balances working class existentialism with its own isolationism. Bell Diamond operates in largely similar fashions, being of and about the lower class and the inability to communicate (this one tackles particularly toxic masculinity in super non-preachy ways) and got me pretty teary eyed. The Bed You Sleep In may very well be his magnum opus though; not even sure how to quite process something that feels this tragic, the whole world crashing down on you like this. please watch this man’s movies.

i saw a couple of pictures by tsui hark that were excellent, but i think the best one was Green Snake (Hark, 1993). it’s at once an exciting wuxia production and a condemnation of the values associated with films of its mold; completely balls-to-the-wall bonkers and tender at the same time. love how maximal his films get while remaining wholly unique. nice gender deconstruction here too.

one of my biggest interests in film is scifi and this year i saw some incredible works in that genre. one of those was Space is the Place (Coney, 1974), an afrofuturist production that is the definition of fun as i know it; over the top, obnoxious, silly, but with a deep line of jamming going on throughout. however i believe the best new scifi i saw this year was After Last Season (Region, 2009). an extremely off-the-wall, puzzling, and experimental film, region’s lone feature has been met with extremely divisive reviews but i’m of the belief that it reinvents not only how cinema is told but how it is processed, akin to the way that parajanov went for in The Colour of Pomegranates.

animation kinda sucks to me but i believe there is great merit in Tower (Maitland, 2016). at once a tragedy, it steadily progresses into something more ambiguous, becoming a beautiful rendition of bravery in the face of said tragedy. there are so many ways to do this that come across as preachy or bootlicking but i don’t get that vibe at all here. plus the animation is among the most beautiful i know of, probably because it goes so far against norms.

saw a lotta good horror this year as well, much of it through remi. one of those pictures was Halloween II (Zombie, 2009), a film that feels like a two hour panic attack in cinematic form. it’s basically committed to being about the ptsd of the lone hero after a slasher film and i’m convinced that the whole film is just playing out in her own fantasy and is not akin to the reality around it. such a difficult film to process emotionally, hit me very hard.

another great horror i saw was Xtro (Davenport, 1982). this take on the evil alien trope is also doused in a strong dose of depression as it goes through hooper-esque motions of insanity, attention to architecture, and an almost spiritual transcendence by the end of it. it’s up there with the finest films hooper made and i believe that it’s a must-see for any horror fan.

i also saw a sex horror, the film The Untamed (Escalante, 2016). basically this movie is like if Possession was actually really really good and didn’t burn out in the last 30 minutes. insane filmmaking, very erotic, tragic at times, and i think the effects and the mood are some top notch stuff in horror. better than any a24 film working in this mediu for sure, i look forward to escalante’s future efforts.

this year i saw a few chinese films, but none impressed me more than Devils on the Doorstep (Wen, 2000) and Youth (Xiaogang, 2017). Devils on the Doorstep is a tight balancing act of a bunch of comedy tropes and the horrors of occupied china, and it’s extremely technically proficient while also having a ton of heart – it’s a well regarded film surely but i would love if it saw more viewership in my circles. Youth is peak melodrama, chinese oscar bait that is so wholly successful it makes me wonder how it’s possible for western stuff to be lagging this far behind (sans lonergan i guess).

i technically saw it at the end of 2016 but i didn’t write on it so let me mention Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Aldrich, 1962) which is a bit of a baity prestige pic of sorts that aldrich is just completely committed to transforming into something greater, more solemn, more haunting. great eye for images and startling dialogue; altman could easily be up there with the goats, just need to see more of his material.

at long last, i checked out a film that’s highly admired in my circles, which is Youth Without Youth (Coppola, 2007). what is surely among the brightest of a dim year, coppola’s tragedy weaves through countless moods and textures (becoming a period superhero film for a brief while) and culminates in a finale of melodrama and fantasy. honestly too maximalist for me to hammer at with words alone.

on a whim, i checked out A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (Iwai, 2016). structurally this film is kind of all over the place; i had no idea what it was going to be about for a good chunk of its 3 hour runtime. but the direction it goes is so soothing and emblematic of what i would define as our “time” that it moved me to tears when it concluded. a beautiful film in every way and i think it’s going to always be something i have to force people to see.

after several years of procrastination (mostly due to unavailability) i finally watched Extraordinary Stories (Llinas, 2008) which was every bit as great as i had heard. sidewinds through a number of plots with loosely constructed theories that reminded me of rivette, but llinas is more focused on the abject drama and reveals truths less than lies. it’s funny, touching, and extremely entertaining for the entire 4 hours. high cinema.

in addition to scifi i’m sort of big on low fantasy for similar reasons, and this year Celine (brisseau, 1992) which knocked my socks off. it’s hard to really explain because it’s such an impressionist film, but i would best describe it as the fabric that keeps interpersonal relationships bound is the celluloid this film is made of. it’s the tears of cinema, extreme emotion one way or another, fully in spectra.

some more off-beat genre films i saw were Green Snake (Hark, 1994) and Reflections of Evil (Packard, 2002). both very maximal works of art. hark’s film takes on wuxia and, in verhoeven fashion, embraces and deconstructs it simultaneously and ends with a sfx extravaganza i can’t help but love. the packard film is definitely in that flawed masterpiece zone where it’s so brimming with ideas that i can forgive whatever editing setbacks it has here and there. basically if lynch had a few different interests.

and now, onto the top five films i saw in the calendar year.

5. I Know Who Killed Me (Silvertson, 2007)

this is sort of a dream movie for me. it has a lot of things i love (hyper maximalism, easy to follow, packed with emotions, sort of genre-y, trashy as can be) and it just excels at this “film school ripoff version of david lynch” aesthetic that i adore. there are like random bouts of violence, campy one-liners all over the place (that it RECOGNIZES ARE CAMPY how hard is this), i am just in love with every single aspect about this goofy film. it synthesizes like dozens of different films into one and yet it feels like a totally singular vision in the way that few films are able to do. one of the greats of filmmaking.

4. Ludwig (Visconti, 1973)

my thoughts on visconti are sort of all over the place, but when he hits he hits hard. this is my favorite of his pictures. four hours, exuberant decadence. lots of gay themes and probably characters, i think it’s one of the most personal films visconti made as his royalty surely clashed with his artistic endeavors. the movie otherwise is paced well, has a bit of a watkins effect with the characters referencing the titular one in interview format. it’s super entertaining as well, i think visconti’s eye for dramatics is sometimes overlooked. somehow makes me want to see his other films even more than before.

3. Tea and Sympathy (Minnelli, 1956)

mindblowing that 1956 had something like this. i can’t believe that this form of masculinity was addressed at the time and with this much thought behind it; it tackles the institutions as head on as it possibly can, then concludes with some freudian stuff to hopefully distract the censors from those aspects. minnelli is so good at melodrama it makes me want to see his non musical work for dayz but i have a hard time believing anything with this much feeling for its people exists there, but then again every filmmaker wishes they could make something half as good as this.

2. Blood Beat (Zaphiratos, 1983)

remi exposed me to a bunch of z-horror this year and i sort of have varying levels of appreciation on them but this right here is probably the peak of the genre. this one-off film from a euro director has this overwhelming feeling that takes me back to camping in missouri, while the soundtrack is definitely among the top ten or twenty that i know of, it’s so well paced and just insane on a narrative level and it’s so fun and gruesome and constructed so beautifully i just cannot get enough of this movie. i want to watch it over and over and over and pray that this director did more material; i hope in another world he has. sublime.

1. Francisca (de Oliveira, 1981)

i spent a few words above praising a bunch of artworks that have a really special place in my heart that i saw in the last gregorian calendar year but this is sort of head and shoulders above them which is weird to sort of say out loud. it’s like this mishmash of brecht, bresson, duras, and dreyer all with a classic de oliveira spin that comes together in a masterpiece of distancing. there is so much purple prose in this, stylized as you can get, and the score makes it seem like some demonic work with religious value versus “simply” the cinematic. funny at times to boot, but more haunting for its 3 hour runtime. film rarely gets much better than this; a potential top 10 of all time for me.

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