As a perfect response to the incomprehensibly ridiculous world leader that now sits in the White House making plans to chat with totalitarian dictators, women in the film industry took this year by storm. Lucrecia Martel returned after almost a decade and made us wish she never left; Agnès Varda, at 89, proved that age need never be a barrier; Chloé Zhao stunned Cannes with her genius; and Brooklynn Prince and Haley Lu Richardson and Margot Robbie and Laurie Metcalf captivated the world. The below results – from Israel and Russia to San Francisco, from the 18th century to the future – represent the pinnacle of all cinematic endeavours undertaken over the last 12 months.
Beach Rats, BPM (Beats Per Minute), Call Me by Your Name, Dawson City: Frozen Time, EX LIBRIS: The New York Public Library, God’s Own Country, The Guardians, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Menashe, Lady Bird, Lean on Pete, The Other Side of Hope, Revenge, Sweet Country, Western, You Were Never Really Here
12. The Florida Project
11. The Death of Stalin
10. A Ghost Story
“I can always tell when adults are about to cry.” “You know, all of you can kiss my Russian ass.” “A writer writes a novel, a songwriter writes a song: we do what we can to endure.”
At my umpteenth time at the largest film festival in the world, four films filled me with hope, joy, and life, and sent me out beaming: the first was The Florida Project (two of the others can be found at #8 and #4 on this list). Sean Baker had already impressed me with Tangerine (so much more than “the iPhone movie”), and yet his follow-up slammed me sideways. Baker is a naturally gifted filmmaker, and the colour palate that he embraces as he follows Halley and Moonee on their journey is one of my favourite visual designs of the year. Willem Dafoe gives an understated, beautifully rendered performance, and Bria Vinaite reminded me of the exceptional Riley Keough in American Honey. In fact, the whole film reminded me of Andrea Arnold’s road trip opus, which is high praise indeed. And yes, Brooklynn Prince is an “instant tiny superstar“.
My review of The Death of Stalin, coming soon.
Perhaps the simplest reason that David Lowery begins my official top 10 is because his film feels so much like it belongs: as with The Tree of Life, A Ghost Story has nothing less on its mind than chronicling the passage of time in all its vastness, and as with Upstream Color, it presents its vision with such a bemusing combination of emotional abstraction and visual dexterity that it’s bewitching. Yes, there’s a relatively pointless section in the middle that lasts for close to 15 minutes, but the first and third segments are so strong – so wonderfully executed, so philosophically dense, so all-encompassing and fluidly orchestrated – that it’s the rare film with blatant missteps that transcends them to become something unforgettable anyway. Plus, Rooney Mara eats a pie (a whole pie).
9. Marjorie Prime
8. Faces Places
7. The Rider
“…it’s always getting fuzzier, like a photocopy…” “I’m always game to see simple landscapes, villages, faces.” “I gotta let you trust me.”
I will be eternally grateful for Marjorie Prime, and one of the reasons is Black Mirror: Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi anthology show has always frustrated me with its highs and lows; the lows have kept me from embracing it wholeheartedly, even though the concepts are fascinating. Marjorie Prime takes one of those concepts and delivers the whole package nearly immaculately. The story, based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play and scored by Mica Levi, is set in a world in which holographic projections are available once loved ones are gone, and Michael Almereyda uses this conceit as a jumping-off point for explorations of memory and mortality as technology overturns our historical notions about connection. Jon Hamm hasn’t been this good since Don Draper (or Black Mirror), and Lois Smith is absolutely radiant.
My review of Faces Places, coming soon.
My review of The Rider, coming soon.
5. First Reformed
“The problem with being a tour guide is that you stop seeking.” “These are frightening times. We have to be patient.” “I’ve completely had it with you.”
I was literally floored by Columbus in a way that I forgot was even possible. It reminded me of my introduction to The Great Beauty or The Forbidden Room. The music, the cinematography, the performances, the mood, the moments both large and small coalesced into an experience that felt out-of-body, or like something that I dreamed. It’s a film of simple, breathtaking, heartbreaking beauty that made me long to reconnect with nature, with history, with music, and with that special someone with whom you can share the world. John Cho is great, as is the supporting cast and the architecture that becomes its own character, but Haley Lu Richardson is a marvel: she’s so marvelous, it’s like she’s a beam of light from outer space, and I was left awash in its glow.
My review of First Reformed, here.
When I first saw Loveless, I fully expected it to top this list. Writer-director Andrey Zvyagintsev has been setting my expectations impossibly high since his momentous debut The Return in 2003, and he’s almost never disappointed. After Elena landed at #5 in 2011 and Leviathan landed at #1 in 2014, it was pre-ordained that Zvyagintsev’s newest would be in contention. But Zvyagintsev’s fifth film is actually somewhat of a return to his first and third outings, withdrawing a bit from the epic canvas of his 2014 masterpiece. As such, I was that much more overwhelmed by the acute sense of misery, grief, and corruption that was evoked from the story of a quarrelling couple whose child goes missing. Haunting and potent, with a social critique that cuts like a scythe and a morgue scene that shatters, Loveless shows a world-class filmmaker near the top of his powers.
3. Phantom Thread
“If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.” “Don Diego de Zama: he who did justice without drawing his sword.” “War is war. We’re at war here; let there be no doubt.”
PT Anderson’s costume drama may crack a higher spot on my top 5 upon further reflection, and landing at #3 takes nothing away from his latest achievement. Phantom Thread is so much: a cross between Barry Lyndon and Carol (and the most lavishly and lovingly crafted film on this list); a take-down, an example, and a defense of romantic obsession; a reason for us to try to convince Jonny Greenwood to start writing film scores full time; a stage for yet another phenomenal performance from Daniel Day-Lewis; and an opportunity for the breakout Vicky Krieps to one-up a retiring acting giant. A fascinating, fabulous near-masterpiece from one of the best American directors in the business, who continues to be audacious with every outing, and pulls each one off without a sweat.
My top films are stunningly consummated, staggeringly ambitious, humane works of art, and while I’m happy that several of them took me by surprise, Lucrecia Martel is never less than brilliant. It’s very possible that her wonderfully strange, oblique Zama would land at #1 on another day. A talented auteur that makes us wait agonizingly long periods between her films – is she trying to take up the mantle previously worn by Terrence Malick? – Martel last dazzled critics with The Headless Woman in 2008. A bold adaptation of a celebrated 1950s novel, Zama records the days of an 18th century corregidor in a remote South American colony. Somehow, Martel pivots and pieces together events and escapades into an incomparable artistic accomplishment, deserving mention in the same breath as Claire Denis.
Journalists were shocked when Foxtrot only picked up the Grand Jury Prize (2nd place) at the Venice Film Festival, even though director Samuel Maoz’s first film, Lebanon, had already won the Golden Lion five years before. No matter: Maoz’s sophomore feature is leagues better than its competition. It’s a darkly funny, ingeniously structured story about parents learning about the loss of their son, and the son’s challenges in conflict while manning a desolate military post. Patient, moving, unique, and timely, the best film of the year allows the audience to run through a mosaic of emotions en route to a heartbreaking finale, all with the sense that you’re in the hands of a master. After only two films, that’s exactly what Maoz is. Bravo.
A & S Year-End Awards
Picture: Eitan Mansuri, “Foxtrot” (runner-up: Vania Catani, Benjamin Domenech, Santiago Gallelli & Matias Roveda, “Zama”)
Director: Samuel Maos, “Foxtrot” (runner-up: Lucrecia Martel, “Zama”)
Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread” and Ethan Hawke, “First Reformed” (tie) (runners-up: Joaquin Phoenix, “You Were Never Really Here”; Aleksey Rozin, “Loveless”)
Actress: Maryana Spivak, “Loveless” (runner-up: Sarah Adler, “Foxtrot”)
Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project” (runner-up: Steve Buscemi, “The Death of Stalin”)
Supporting Actress: Lois Smith, “Marjorie Prime” (runner-up: Leslie Manville, “Phantom Thread”)
Original Screenplay: Paul Schrader, “First Reformed” (runners-up: Kogonada, “Columbus”; Andrey Zvyagintsev & Oleg Negin, “Loveless”)
Adapted Screenplay: Armando Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin & Peter Fellows, “The Death of Stalin” (runners-up: Michael Almereyda, “Marjorie Prime”;Lucrecia Martel, “Zama”; )
Editing: David Lowery, “A Ghost Story” (runner-up: Kogonada, “Columbus”)
Cinematography: Elisha Christian, “Columbus” (runners-up: Joshua James Richardson, “The Rider”; Andrew Droz Palermo, “A Ghost Story”; Alexis Zabe, “The Florida Project”)
Score or Soundtrack: Jonny Greenwood, “Phantom Thread” and “You Were Never Really Here” (runners-up: Daniel Hart, “A Ghost Story”; Mica Levi, “Marjorie Prime”)
Foreign Language Film: Lucrecia Martel, “Zama” (runner-up: Andrey Zvyagintsev, “Loveless”)
Documentary: Agnès Varda, “Faces Places” (runner-up: Frederick Wiseman, “EX LIBRIS: The New York Public Library”)
Most Promising Filmmaker: Chloé Zhao, “The Rider” (runner-up: Kogonada, “Columbus”)
Breakout Performance: Vicky Krieps, “Phantom Thread” and Haley Lu Richardson, “Columbus” (tie) (runners-up: Brady Jandreau, “The Rider”; Brooklynn Prince, “The Florida Project”)
Spotlight Award: Lucrecia Martel, “Zama” (runner-up: Paul Schrader, “First Reformed”)
2018 Most Anticipated
My, my, are we in for a treat: as most of the Internet is already aware due to the delightful trailer, Wes Anderson will bring us his next animation film in Isle of Dogs. Elsewhere, Jacques Audiard (“A Prophet”) and Ramin Bahrani (“99 Homes”) tackle high-profile literary adaptations, and David Robert Mitchell (“It Follows”) finally brings us Under the Silver Lake. 2018 also boasts a laundry list of returning cherished filmmakers like Asghar Farhadi, Claire Denis, Terrence Malick, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Richard Linklater, Mike Leigh, Jennifer Kent, Tamara Jenkins, Nicole Holofcener, Marielle Heller, David Lowery, and Lee Chang-dong, as well as still-untitled projects from Debra Granik and Noah Baumbach.
But the upcoming films for which I am most excited divide firmly into two categories: five directors that have recently released masterpieces and some of my favourite films of the last five years (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Pawel Pawlikowski, László Nemes, Mia Hansen-Løve, and Paulo Sorrentino) and five directors that have such unique visions, even flawed productions are typically destined to be unforgettable (Terry Gilliam, Lars von Trier, Yorgos Lanthimos, Harmony Korine, and Kim Jee-woon).