Film flood

CN&R critic’s notes on an overflowing year in film

From left: <i>Isle of Dogs</i>, <i>Sorry to Bother You</i>, <i>Faces Places</i> and <i>Black Panther</i>.

From left: Isle of Dogs, Sorry to Bother You, Faces Places and Black Panther.

It’s mid-December as I write this, but even with more high points in the offing, it’s already clear that there has been quite a lot to like about the movies in 2018. So much, in fact, that the customary “Top Ten” list won’t do really do it justice.

A “Top Forty” might be closer to what’s needed. (See, for example, Richard Brody’s The Best Movies of 2018 list in the online version of The New Yorker: it has several dozen films on it, and he opines that there are many more standouts that he just hasn’t been able to see as yet.)

How good a movie year was it? Well, let me count the ways:

It was the year of Black Panther, Isle of Dogs, Roma, The Rider, Crazy Rich Asians, BlacKkKlansman, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, an unexpectedly intriguing remake of A Star Is Born, and Morgan Neville’s astonishing documentary portrait of Mr. Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

There was a whole array of outstanding films directed by women: Chloé Zhao’s The Rider, Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, Susanna White’s Woman Walks Ahead, Agnès Varda’s Faces Places (France), Claire Denis’ Let the Sun Shine In (France), Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro (Italy), Mouly Surya’s Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Indonesia), Valeska Grisebach’s Western (Germany-Bulgaria), Lucretia Martel’s Zama (Argentina).

It was a very good (and unexpectedly trenchant) year for westerns: The Sisters Brothers, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Woman Walks Ahead, Hostiles, The Ballad of Lefty Brown, The Rider, plus several masterful foreign variations: Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, Western and the Australian Sweet Country. Also a pair of anarchic parodies: Damsel and Paradox.

Three of the very best foreign films of the year turned up locally: Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless (Russia), Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman (Chile), and Michael Haneke’s Happy End (France). But there was an even better yield of foreign gems via streaming services: Roma, Happy as Lazzaro, Let the Sun Shine In, Faces Places, A Ciambra (Italy), Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghosts (France), Hong Sang-soo’s Claire’s Camera (South Korea/France) and Xavier Beauvois’ The Guardians (France).

There were charmingly regional pleasures to be had in lively films that were Oakland-centric (Blindspotting, Sorry to Bother You) and Portland-centric (Leave No Trace, Lean on Pete and Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot).

Joaquin Phoenix scored a low-key trifecta of sublime weirdness: The Sisters Brothers, You Were Never There, and Don’t Worry, He won’t Get Far on Foot.

It was a movie year that had room for some distinctly small movies, which were perfectly content in their smallness and unexpectedly eloquent in their respective offbeat ways: Alan Rudolph’s Ray Meets Helen; Ethan Hawke’s Blaze; and Robert Redford’s The Old Man & the Gun.

Paradox (written/directed by Daryl Hannah and starring Neil Young): a western in (video) sketch form, 60-plus minutes of guitar chords and counter-cultural goofing, homegrown in every way, endlessly watchable (because listenably laid-back?). Doesn’t belong on anybody’s Ten Best list, including mine. But, for a cock-eyed moment or two, it almost makes sense to consider it the film of the year.