Best in Film 2018
I spent a lot of time watching movies this year, just as I did in the streets protesting! I see my role as a critic as sharing with you those creative works which made me feel human, helped me identify with the feelings of others and inspired me to have hope. (Yes you can pass the popcorn now.) Print space restraints require much of what I want to share will have to go to WestView online. Find my Best in Documentaries/Performances and Honor Roll. Please, if you choose to stream at home, invite a few friends over! Do discuss. The works here are neither fluff nor cotton candy. They are made to stimulate you head-to-toe!
Let’s Go to the Movies:
Best in Narrative:
#1 El Séptimo Día (On The Seventh Day)
Director: Jim McKay
“Bicycle delivery guys, construction workers, dishwashers, deli workers and cotton candy vendors, they work long hours six days a week and then savor their day of rest on Sundays on the soccer fields of Sunset Park. José, a bicycle delivery worker, is the team’s captain—young, talented, hardworking and responsible. When José’s team makes it to the finals, he and his teammates are thrilled. But his millennial boss throws a wrench into the celebration when he tells José he has to work on Sunday, the day of the finals. If he doesn’t work, his job and his future will be on the line.” This is the conflict. McKay has humanized these undocumented workers seeking a better life. Like those I see enroute to the subway, heads down, at 11 p.m. when the restaurants close. It tops my list and was probably made for the cost of the Vice trailers.
Director: Adam McKay
Finally, Lynne and Dick Cheney get credit for the harm they have done to the Constitution and our Democracy.
#3 And Breathe Normally
Director: Isold Uggadóttir
Winner at Sundance, this poignant story of migration has stayed with me all year. Debuts January 4th on Netflix.
#4 Ben is Back
Director Peter Hedges
What would you do if you saw your child dying in front of you? Addiction has crossed over from minority communities into the white middle class. Hence films like Ben is Back and Beautiful Boy that focus on what black families have suffered for decades. In Ben is Back, Peter Hedges with his excellent actors Julia Roberts (career performance peak) and Lucas Hedges (yes, son) brilliantly universalize the devastation, helplessness and fierce fight to save a child that transcends class and race. Ben is Back carries an underlining message warning that recovery is a fragile thing and needs to be tended to on a daily basis despite the length of sobriety.
Peter Hedges spoke to Gary Thomas of the Philadelphia Inquirer about Ben is Back: Hedges said “…it’s a substantial role for his son, but the movie really looks at the problem of a child’s addiction through Roberts’ character, and from the standpoint of a confused and terrified mother.”
“We parents are always second-guessing ourselves. Was there too much tough love? Was there too much smothering? We never feel like we did it right. But the truth is, the disease is so massive and unmanageable that it brings us all to our knees.”
“I was moved to write and direct the movie after seeing so many relatives and friends (including Philip Seymour Hoffman) succumb to addiction.” He knew that Hoffman had been in recovery for many years, and had worked hard on it, which is part of what made the relapse devastating.
#5 FIRST REFORMED
Director: Paul Schrader
By Paul Schrader, award-winning director and screenwriter, as well as Professor at Columbia University, First Reformed is a story about a priest played by Ethan Hawke. He experiences a moral and ethical crisis after his advice to a parishioner blows up in his face. In a larger context, Schrader appears to be speaking through this priest about how a citizen deals with the political crisis that America is going through right now after the 1% coup of the Congress and the Presidency. David Poland interviews Schrader about First Reformed and its values. Schrader considers this film his career culmination. (Paul Schrader speaks https://youtu.be/7yOZB2MJOL) For Ethan Hawke, it is a career peak performance. First Reformed also challenges how some organized religions put rhetoric above sensitive, personal practice and compassion. Schrader always rattles the moral skeletons that Hollywood tries to keep in the closet. Here he rattles the bones as if he were St. John the Baptist who suddenly popped up on a golf course, where the rich are playing, holding his cultural weapon of choice—his vision and his camera in hand.
#6 SORRY TO BOTHER YOU
Director: Boots Riley
Boots Riley jumps from politically charged rap music (The Coup). He took his hometown, Oakland, and wrote songs about reality rather than fantasy. In this, his debut directorial feature film, Riley makes his transition to film by lacing his political agenda with pastel sheen as a trop. With subtlety, discipline, and humor, he warns black youth not to be seduced by capitalism (I told you he is political). Riley, never didactic, fuses compassion for black youth with a teaching lesson that feels like being at a jumping party until the police break it up. He focuses on how a group of young women and men facing a future of economic survival make time to flirt and enjoy life. Riley constructs a film that is a JOY to watch. One of the funniest scenes in any film this year is here when Danny Glover tries to teach Lakeith Stanfield how to be a successful telemarketer. He challenges him to find “his white voice” and demonstrates how! Hilarious and serious at the same time.
#7 If Beale Street Could Talk
Director: Barry Jenkins
How do you follow up the award-winning Moonlight was the challenge director Barry Jenkins was facing. Projects were offered to him. But he waited until he could feel the same kind of human connection that made him want to make Moonlight. He resisted until he read a novel by James Baldwin published in 1974: If Beale Street Could Talk is a love story set in Harlem. Jenkins had his next film. Like Raoul Peck in I Am Not Your Negro, Jenkins chose to have a voiceover storyteller as a cinematic device to move the story forward. It would be Tish, the young black woman, one of the two featured lovers in the film. Beal Street is about a family held together. Survival as a family unit dealing with all the secular concerns both within the nuclear family and the extended family was foreground as a crisis hit. Tish’s strong sister was Black Panther influenced. She always has Tish’s back, and would whisper into her ear the voice of rejection of traditional roles women in the black community were expected to play. If Beale Street Could Talk is a love story that confronts the stereotype of a young black man and the woman who fall in love. How their families react. It is not a romance film based on romantic fantasy. The reality of a couple, even in Harlem, of falling in love and dealing with racism in a very personal way is what makes Beal Street so deeply moving.
Jenkins told Indiewire critic Tambay Obenson how he struggled being a man, writing from a woman’s point of view (https://www.indiewire.com/
“It was terrifying,” he said, adding that he was warned by women filmmaker friends about certain problematic ‘male gaze’ scenes. “I’m glad they felt comfortable to tell me because there were changes we made to rectify them,” he said.
Taking Baldwin’s storytelling and cinematically retelling it, Jenkins makes the story as contemporary today as it was when first written. Set in the reality of being black today. Of being a black man in love (eg Moonlight), a black man and woman and their families confronted with how racism has depersonalized each of them and explores the solution each member makes to feel whole… Wow!
#8 The Hate You Give
Director: George Tillman, Jr.
#9 Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Director: Marielle Heller
#10 Private Life
Director: Tamara Jenkins