The Best Performances and Scenes of 2018

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I recently shared my Top 20 films of the year, and there’s still time to look back at 2018 once more to name my favorite lead and supporting performances, along with my favorite scenes of the year and “The Year in Miscellaneous Superlatives.”

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The Top 20 Films of 2018

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If Beale Street Could Talk

The Netflix-ization of film culture, great movies about the black American experience, and a lot of Rachel Weisz are just a few of the themes of my Top 20 films of 2018. What are your favo(u)rites?

Special Mention: The Other Side of the Wind
Regrets: Burning; Hale County This Morning, This Evening; 24 Frames

A list of all 2018 releases I’ve seen is available on Letterboxd here, with short reviews and thoughts on each one. Read more…

Shoplifters (2018)

Shoplifters / Hirozaku Kore-eda / 2018 / fourstar

Active Ingredients: Flawless cast; Subtle family drama
Side Effects: High-concept machinations

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[Shoplifters plays throughout February at the MFA’s Boston Festival of Films from Japan.]

This year’s Palme D’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival, Shoplifters feels like both an anomaly in director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s filmography and another of the subtle, well-observed humanist dramas he’s known for. That’s likely because Shoplifters chronicles the everyday pains and pleasures that come with the bonds of family, but this time it’s a makeshift family, a collection of isolated souls living on the fringes of society. This tension between their individual pasts and the shared connection that makes them a family is what animates the film. Read more…

The Other Side of the Wind

The Other Side of the Wind / Orson Welles / 2018 via 1970-1976 / fivestar

Active Ingredients: Metatextual playfulness; Daring visual style
Side Effects: Lack of direction to the central party sequence

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The Other Side of the Wind is a metatextual masterpiece, a troubled production about a troubled production whose troubled production is itself the text of the film. That Orson Welles’ disorganized and unfinished project was ever released at all is a small miracle, yet both in spite of and because of its reputation The Other Side of the Wind actually feels remarkably cogent artistically. Welles met chaos with chaos, and this is a record of the encounter rescued from the ashes. Read more…

Monrovia, Indiana (2018)

Monrovia, Indiana / Frederick Wiseman / 2018 / 

Active Ingredients: Rural landscapes; Portrait of everyday life
Side Effects: Lack of a unifying theme or institution

[Monrovia, Indiana plays this month at Boston’s MFA.]

Nearly every year like clockwork, it seems, master documentarian Frederick Wiseman releases another great film examining a particular location, community, or institution. His methods are rigorous and his eye is unerring, making his body of work one of the most consistent and important in American cinema. If you’ve seen Ex Libris or In Jackson Heights, or indeed any of his other nearly 50 feature films, you’re familiar with the way he works, the way he constructs detailed portraits from discrete moments like mosaics. But Wiseman’s new empathetic look at small town Middle America shows that each of his films reveals its own unique insights. Read more…

Ex Libris – The New York Public Library (2017)

Ex Libris – The New York Public Library / Frederick Wiseman / 2017 / 

Active Ingredients: Incisive editing linking ideas
Side Effects: Occasionally too swift despite runtime

Copyright – The New York Public Library

[Ex Libris – The New York Public Library screens at Boston’s MFA from October 1 to October 18.]

The pace and structure of Frederick Wiseman’s latest in-depth exploration of an American institution will be familiar to those who have seen his recent work, or indeed any of his nearly 50 films in as many years. With patience, curiosity and an unerring sense of rhythm, Ex Libris documents the people that come and go through the New York Public Library’s many branches and outreach efforts, from high-profile speakers to local community organizers, from board members shaping the entity’s mission to workers sorting book returns in the bowels of the library. All are components of the same whole, Wiseman shows us, just as he has with London’s National Gallery, or Berkeley University, or the streets of Jackson Heights. But the familiar pace and structure of Wiseman’s films shouldn’t blind us to his indispensable brilliance. Each of these works are masterpieces of the poetry and politics of the everyday, and Ex Libris is no less incisive and revelatory. Read more…

A Ghost Story (2017)

A Ghost Story / David Lowery / 2017 / 

Active Ingredients: Cinematography; Music and sound design
Side Effects: Jarring changes in scope; Monologue

A Ghost Story is a huge step forward in lyricism and stylistic confidence compared to David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. It’s a singular work with some moments of haunting beauty and others of metaphysical introspection, even if I did feel at times that it lacked a clarity of vision.

Lowery wrings emotion from the authenticity and naturalism of Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck, but the real stars are those strange glints of light you see on walls, or particles of dust illuminated by windows. Read more…