Well, here we are, nearly two weeks into the new year of 2019. In this time, we’ve seen the release of Escape Room, Replicas, and A Dog’s Way Home, none of which I have seen but all will surely be instant classics well regarded long after January 2019. After all, January isn’t known as the fertile film soil of the year for nothing.
With nothing to see, I may as well wrap up last year. The previous post chronicled 10-6 of the best of the year and lets bid farewell to 2018 by celebrating the 5 best movies I saw this year.
5. BlacKkKlansman, directed by Spike Lee
Of all the various pictures I saw this year, I don’t think any of them stuck with me as long as BlacKkKlansman. I discuss in my brief review how the ending was a very interesting choice, but it cannot be denied that I continued to think about the film for quite some time. John David Washington and Adam Driver are a stellar team-up, they ooze charisma and character, with Topher Grace (bless his soul) putting in a suitably sinister performance as David Duke. As a director, Spike Lee has bowled back into the public eye with this powerful piece. With an infusion just enough of that Spike stylization, BlacKkKlansman manages to stay grounded, a perfect blend of historical and modern. The dialogue subtly twists and inserts some choice modern dialogue into the early ’70s, highlighting how little we’ve come in regards to the rotting racist cancer of America.
I often complain that films set around or dealing with the Civil Rights movements/20th Century American Racism pull their punches for safe, feel-good-white-people moments and, particularly, endings (cough cough I’m looking at you Hidden Figures and Green Book). Klansman pulls no such punches and is far better for it. The most powerful movie I saw in 2019, watch it.
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman.
As far as sheer enjoyment goes, I have not enjoyed a movie in a long time nearly as much as I enjoyed Spider-Verse. From the very opening credits and logos, the rip-roaring pace of this positively excellent flick had me leering off the edge of my seat to soak in as much of this frantic beauty as I could. Every other comic-book movie (particularly the Spider-Man movies) have been put to shame by the sheer world-building, character, and heart this film sprints through. A stand-alone Miles Morales film manages to not only introduce Miles and the perfect Peter Parker but cleverly slips in a handful of villains and a plethora of Spider-People, all done even better than I could have imagined. Stylish and slick, Spider-Verse is spectacular to look at, with some of the best animation design I have ever seen. With all honesty, I cannot heap enough praise upon this movie. Thematically appropriate for children and adults, a tale of true superheroes and strength of heart, Spider-Verse will go down in history as one of the greatest animated films of all time.
Go see it, if you still can, give it all your money.
3. Roma, directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Netflix you spoil us, you really do. First a Coen Brothers movie and now Alfonso Cuarón? I thought I couldn’t love you any more than I did…
As someone born in the tail end of the twentieth century, it’s easy to relegate black and white films to the circumstance of simply not having color available, but Cuarón reminds us the stark simple beauty of greyscale. His choice of black and white for Roma is immediately visually arresting, over the course of the picture creating a timeless and evocative piece.
Like a lot of my favorite films, not a lot seems to happen in Roma but through the actions and daily moments of these characters, a thousand stories are told. Like a haiku, Cuarón uses a mere 17 syllables to create a cinematic poem worth ten thousand words. A story of a maid working for an upper-middle-class family in Mexico during the early ’70s, this is a film full of warmth and of heart. In her debut performance, Yalitza Aparicio is flawless, effortlessly giving the sense of being within the family, yet distinctly apart. Roma is an absolute must-watch, Cuarón’s most personal piece yet, and all the better for it.
2. First Man, directed by Damien Chazelle
I’ll tell you this right now, Damien Chazelle, we let you down. We don’t deserve you or your movie. First Man is one of the most unique and intriguing historical films I’ve seen, and we all let it die at the box office. Shame on you, and I say you because god damn it I sure went to go see it in IMAX and I am so very glad that I did.
The majority of First Man is a grounded, introspective look into a cold Neil Armstrong, a very different take from what you may expect from such a ‘biopic’. Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy work wonders as the, respectively, distant and tender Armstrongs. While being a great film as it’s earthbound, First Man excels particularly when they blast off. I have never been more slack-jawed in awe and amazement both in regards to the film and the act being portrayed than I was while watching this movie. Space travel has never been more intense, more breathtaking, or more incredible than it has in First Man. Justin Hurwitz knocks socks off yet again with his powerful score. Damien Chazelle, as a wise man once said, “We will watch your career with great interest”.
1. Annihilation, directed by Alex Garland
And here we have it, my favorite movie of the year. Alex Garland, with this and his debut picture Ex Machina, has quickly risen to become one of the most prominent up-and-coming directors of our generation.
Annihilation is about pain and identity, cycles of self-destruction, a Lovecraftian descent into the dark. When I got home from the theatre after watching this, I sat on the curb, listening to the score and staring at the black twinkling void with mounting horror. Annihilation disturbed me. There’s something to be said for a non-horror movie, especially science-fiction, that can unsettle the mind with such provoking glimpses into the unknown and the weird.
Alex Garland takes the Hollywood sci-fi flick and tosses it in the trash. Quiet moments, exponential weird-ness, gorgeous visuals, and shockingly good endings dominate his films. The visual design work here is so unique I’d read an entire book on how they came up with it all. If you have not yet had the chance to see this movie, you are robbing yourself of an experience.
Some honourable mentions I loved this year and would recommend watching, that didn’t quite make the list: Death of Stalin, Isle of Dogs, A Quiet Place, Bad Times at the El Royale, Mission Impossible: Fallout, A Simple Favor, Mid90’s.
Well, there we have it. That was 2018. I know I missed a couple big flicks (I’d like to personally apologize to First Reformed, You Were Never Really Here, and If Beale Street Could Talk. I promise I’ll get to you soon), but it seems there’s never enough time to see everything. Hey, that’s what the new year is for right? You hear that 2019? I’m coming for you. Wishing you all a swell 2019 full of splendid movies. Cheers, sports.