More 2018 Movies to See

So all this Top 10 stuff gets a little bit too competitive for me sometimes. There can’t be a “winner” anyway, in art. It doesn’t work like that. This has been a really good year and I’ve seen a lot of stuff I not only enjoyed, but loved. For various random reasons, they couldn’t be highlighted on a Top 10 but I would be totally remiss if I didn’t mention them. A lot of these are smaller films, without any “names” in them. They either were barely released, or released only VOD, and therefore buried in the avalanche of “content” (Grrrrr).

So here goes.

Very Good Films of 2018

All About Nina

dir. Eva Vives

I reviewed this wonderful film for Ebert. It really didn’t get much play, not in the theatres, not in the commentary, not anywhere. People were too busy bitching about Bradley Cooper loving Lady Gaga’s nose (eye. ROLL.) This is a really well-done film about a standup comedian hovering on the edge of what appears to be a nervous breakdown. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is phenomenal as Nina, an alcoholic wild woman, who’s burning bridges faster than they can be built. So many female stars now need to always “win” in every scene they do. Even when they “lose” it has to somehow be noble. They don’t want to be judged. It’s a real problem (for me, at any rate. I’m bored.) Winstead doesn’t give a shit. She goes where the character goes. The character does some crazy shit, shit that can’t be explained by a “rational” person, but … duh … that’s what happens when you start to crack up. I really loved this film and I wish it had generated more chatter. Check it out.

We the Animals

dir. Jeremiah Zagar

I reviewed this for Ebert, and although I called out some of the things that didn’t work for me, overall this is an overwhelming piece of work, mostly in a sensorial way: sounds, light, music, shadows … all pouring into the story being told, a parents’ troubled marriage seen through the eyes of their three rambunctious sons. Excellent work with the child actors (many of whom were total non-professionals), as well as the adult performances from Sheila Vand and Raúl Castillo, both superb. For me, it’s the LOOK of the thing that is the real draw – it’s beautiful and poetic, not realistic – emotional. Terrence Malick-influenced, for sure. The visuals are tactile, urgent, immediate.

Elvis Presley: The Searcher

dir. Thom Zimny

The doc was criticized for “soft pedaling” some of Elvis’ more scandalous behavior, or not addressing the critiques, etc. Oh, please. Critics have had their fun and free rein for 40 years and counting. No one will stop you from continuing to tear him down. There is literally not one corner of this man’s life that hasn’t been picked through, criticized, lampooned. And okay, fine, he’s a big target. I get it. But that’s not all there is, and this documentary, as I wrote in my review is a long overdue act of artistic redress. Sometimes, because he was so huge, the image is so separated from the actual guy and his work – it’s like screaming into a void if you try to talk about him seriously. (As I just experienced in Memphis, though, people are hungry to talk about him seriously.) Like, enough already. And again, just because ONE documentary doesn’t focus on how awful he was doesn’t mean jack-squat. Or what it MEANS is is that SOME people think his work is worth talking about. If you don’t agree, big whup. It’s a free country. What is great about The Searcher is that it tracks his artistic journey, his “search,” while also giving informative background about the phases of his career, the music that came out of each phase, what he was trying to work through, how connected he was to the things that influenced him. Like Peter Guralnick’s two-volume biography, it humanizes him – without becoming hagiographic. It may SEEM hagiographic to those who can’t stand him … but it’s not. It’s trying to correct the skewed record, it’s trying to tip the scales back – just a little bit – to consider the work. It’s about freakin’ time. Gorgeously shot, too. William Eggleston-inspired. Haunting. It’s like he just left the building yesterday. Thank you, HBO.

Destination Wedding

dir. Victor Levin

This movie has a lot of problems, the main one being the overwritten script. You can see the words on the page as the actors speak the lines. HOWEVER. Watching Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder talk and bitch and argue and debate definitely has its pleasures – and honestly I’m listing it here mainly because of the sex scene, which is one of the funniest sex scenes I have ever seen in my life (the funniest sex scene is Burt Reynolds and Sally Fields in The End). As my online pal Willow Catelyn Maclay said, when she referenced this movie on Facebook: “That scene is peak Keanu.” Totally. The sex scene unfolds in one long take which adds to the funniness of it. These two actors had to create that RIDICULOUS event from beginning to end, with no cuts. This accomplishment should be celebrated. So here I am. Celebrating it.

Nappily Ever After

dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour

I was assigned this one to review for Ebert, which was a real treat. Sanaa Lathan is one of my favorite actresses (wrote about her here), and yet she’s rarely at the center of a story. (See Something New as soon as you can. I never get sick of that movie. Also Love & Basketball, which I adore.) Here, in Nappily Ever After, she’s at the center (and perhaps it will be the start of a franchise? I’m not sure. I don’t remember the movie getting much “play” and there are no comments on my review at Ebert. This was an easily findable film, streaming on Netflix, so I’m not sure what the issue was). One of my favorite acting moments of the year is Lathan’s, in Nappily Ever After, which I wrote about in the piece. She’s not just a really good actress. She is BOLD, she makes BIG choices, but these choices are always connected to something real, something honest. Like I said in the piece I wrote about her, she’s a Leading Lady. It’s where she belongs, so it’s fun to see her run with it.

Mercury 13

dir. David Sington and Heather Walsh

Another fortuitous Ebert assignment. Here is my review. I stan for NASA and for this whole story, the space race, astronauts, the revenge of the nerds, the accomplishments, the whole nine yards. I find it endlessly fascinating. One of the reasons Hidden Figures hit me so hard was that I know so much about this era and all the players … but I didn’t know THIS. And now I am so glad I know! Hidden figures, no more! (Incidentally, as I mentioned on Twitter, my Nasa-stan stance was one of the reasons I had problems with First Man, even as critics were hailing it as the film of the year, a masterpiece, a “humanist” work, getting all lyrical (It may be a character flaw, but I get suspicious when writers get lyrical. Unless you’re Truman Capote or Tennessee Williams, you would be better off staying away from trying to be lyrical.) Mercury 13 tells the story of a group of women who went through astronaut training in its initial stages. Just like John Glenn and Neil Armstrong and Gus Grissom and Buzz Aldrin and all the rest. Many of these women are still alive, and they are interviewed, and of course we all know the end of the story: there were no female astronauts. It would take 20 years for that to happen. So what happened? I mean, it’s obvious: rank sexism and ridiculous patriarchy holding onto its privilege. Nothing new there. But HOW it happened, and what these women went through – is a fascinating glimpse of yet another group of “hidden figures,” many of whom did BETTER on all those tests and drills than the men who eventually went to the moon. I highly recommend this very well-done and informative documentary.

Black Panther

dir. Ryan Coogler

One of the few “Movie Events” of the year, the sense of excitement was palpable. Although I knew I would eventually catch up with it, I didn’t go during its release, because superhero movies do not interest me. Before superhero fans FLIP OUT, let me ask you: are you interested in Emperor Diocletian’s palace? In the minutia of the Politburo archives? In James Joyce’s juvenilia? No? Well, your disinterest doesn’t invalidate my interest. I don’t need approval from others – or a consensus – to feel like I’m “allowed” to love the things I love. And believe me, people have had weird prickly responses to my interests over the years, which has always seemed absurd to me, but there you have it. “I guess I’m dumb because I like Tom Clancy, huh” was an actual unprompted question by a regular commenter on my site years ago during Bloomsday. It is literally impossible for anyone to invalidate me loving the shit I love, even if they say to my face “I don’t love those things.” Okay, fine, you’re you and I’m me. Shrug. Whereas superhero fans need everyone to bow down in compliance or they suffer PTSD flashbacks to being bullied for being a nerd in grade school. But that is so ridiculous because superhero/comics fans have won the culture wars so completely and in a way few subcultures ever get to experience. You’ve WON. You get 10 of your movies a year. Endless franchises. The entire industry bows down before you. You have bent the industry to your will. You’ve WON. But as we saw in This Is the End, James Franco goes to Hell for being “a sore winner.” Y’all are sore winners. Preamble over: I don’t give a shit about superheroes. However, I DO give a shit about Ryan Coogler (whose Fruitvale Station and Creed were BOTH standouts in their respective years). I think he’s a major MAJOR filmmaker, and his accomplishments here are quite literally dazzling, in all the ways that matter. The cast is superb from top to bottom, the characters are well-developed, interesting to watch, the action was gripping, not too video-game-y, and the FEELING in the whole project was exciting, energetic, and NEW. It’s 100% a total blast, but it doesn’t sacrifice emotional underpinnings running really deep. There’s a lot of emotion in this movie, and you can feel it.

En el Séptimo Día

dir. Jim McKay

I loved this movie so much! I was assigned to review for Ebert and it was SUCH a treat. I loved it so much it was on my Top 10 for quite a while before the fall and I started catching up on other stuff. But it’s that good and it made that much of an impression. This is not a serious down-trodden drama, although its topic (undocumented immigrants trying to get by in New York) is quite serious. Instead, it becomes – practically – a gripping sports movie in its final sequences – where I actually found myself clapping aloud in impatience and stress, wanting him to succeed, pushing him to succeed, saying, “Oh come ON” when something got in his way. I loved it so much.

A Simple Favor

dir. Paul Feig

I saw this movie twice in the theatres – here’s my review for Ebert – and I will see it again. It’s got it all. I realize that Black Panther will probably win an Oscar for Costume Design, but I think a Special Award should be given to Renee Ehrlich Kalfus for the costumes for A Simple Favor. Blake Lively’s wardrobe alone! My God, it’s fantastic. It’s unexpected. Another film would have put her in short skirts, high heels, a nod to “She’s gorgeous” and call it a day. Not here. She wears pinstripe suits with watch chains. A tuxedo suit without a blouse. Every outfit more outrageous – and yet more perfect – than the last. You never ever know what this character will do, based only on the clothes she wears. Excellent performances from everyone, a byzantine plot that makes less sense the more you think about it, and yet never once less than totally entertaining. Anna Kendrick’s offscreen line “I’m concerned about your knees right now” is still making me laugh.

The Last Movie Star

dir. Adam Rifkin

Little did I know that my review would be a pre-emptive obituary, but it is. A summing-up of this man’s career, the gift of it, the gift of who he was (still was at that point), and what he has brought to our culture – rare and precious, really. It will seem more precious the further away we get from it. He had many career disappointments (many of which were self-inflicted), but he was an honest to God movie star, and The Last Movie Star was a reminder – a necessary reminder – as to WHY.


dir. Quinn Shephard

A couple of people I respect who also reviewed Blame didn’t care for it all that much, but I loved it. Here’s my review. Written by an actual high school girl (who also starred AND directed), it takes the “mean girls” genre and launches it to a whole other weirdo sicko level. Mysterious, fraught with emotional peril, beautifully shot … it’s sometimes silly, but never un-interesting, and it resists cliches. It’s brave enough to take on some topics adults might shy away from. Chris Messina is just great as the semi-loser wannabe-actor drama club teacher, who – honestly – should not left be alone with teenage girls. Very good performances from this young group of actresses. Believe me when I say: it’s not what you think it is.

The Happy Prince

dir. Rupert Everett

The movie is not perfect, but I treasure it for Everett’s insight into Wilde, in particular his insight as a gay man. So often the story of Oscar Wilde ends with the trial, with him a martyr on the block. Which, indeed, he was. But he lived for three more years, and those years are FASCINATING in what they reveal, but also in their sense of blank utter fucking tragedy. Everett understands and he does not try to “excuse” Wilde for living life dangerously, or for making “poor choices” (enough with critics weighing in on someone’s “poor choices” … if I wanted to join the PTA I would have joined the PTA, not decided to write about ART.) Everett understands that Wilde’s “choices” came out of “the closet” so to speak, and how gay men operated – in total secret, taking HUGE risks – was part of the draw. Oscar Wilde’s story has always moved me, and The Happy Prince brought me to tears. Here’s review.

Support the Girls

dir. Andrew Bujalski

I’ve been iffy on Bujalski’s stuff in the past. But I loved this, and could not be more thrilled that Regina Hall won Best Actress at the NYFCC voting. GOOD. I’m so happy! The second I saw her performance, I knew it would be one of the performances of the year for me – it’s my kind of acting, what can I say – and I’m just thrilled that so many other people feel the same way. The film is a day-in-the-life of her character, a manager of a family-friendly (?) Hooters-type establishment, her staff a makeshift family, whom she looks out for, but whom she keeps on a short leash too. She has issues with her husband, with the restaurant owner, with the cable company, and she’s just trying to get through her DAMN DAY. All of the acting is top-notch, and I fell in love with the rhythm of the whole thing, its slow build of emotional tension, and how strongly its style and mood helped me invest – TOTALLY – in all of these characters. And watch for the scene where Regina Hall sits on the curb outside the restaurant, talking to the cable guy about getting the TVs turned back on – and then having to deal with another call coming in from a landlord trying to set up an apartment showing. This scene is what I mean when I say it’s my kind of acting. Nuts-and-bolts stuff. You don’t hear the voices on the other end. You totally believe there are other voices on the other end. Regina Hall CREATES them. Phenomenal.

Kindergarten Teacher

dir. Sara Colangelo

Maggie Gyllenhaal gives one of the performances of the year in this, the underseen and not-talked-about-nearly-enough-if-at-all Kindergarten Teacher. I’m slightly cranky and don’t have an optimistic view of life. I’m not Eeyore, but the insistence on happy endings, morally uplifting stories, and “it all turns out right in the end” is DEEPLY alienating to me. I can groove on stories that aren’t tragic, of course. Many of the films I love show INSANE triumphs which THRILL me. But when there’s a feeling that things have to be clear, unambiguous, everyone’s choices being “right,” people trying to “be their best selves,” and that’s the only way to live … okay, that’s fine … but it’s not a requirement of art to run by those rules. The character Gyllenhaal plays in Kindergarten Teacher is extremely challenging – not for her, but for an audience. I CRINGED watching her, I gasped like “Oh my God, no, she didn’t” at her choices. I could see how this woman was way WAY off, and that taking a poetry class had made her … tip over the edge. Gyllenhaal does not judge her character, or condescend to her. She BELIEVES what this woman believes. You can see why her family loses patience. But you can also see where she’s coming from. She’s bored out of her mind. She’s been teaching 5 year olds for 20 years. She’s DYING for intellectual stimulation and – and here is where it gets dark as pitch – to feel like she’s special. Gifted. Talented. But not everyone is gifted or talented. Some people are just ordinary. This is such a bitter pill to swallow that her character basically refuses, and how she deals with this is so stressful to watch I found it hard to even finish the movie. It was a TORMENT. And I appreciate a movie that leaves room for torment. My view of the world is dark. I know people can go nuts, for no reason other than they’re lonely and lost. I went nuts because I was lonely and lost. People do unthinkable things for reasons that make total sense to them, reasons that “uplift” them, make them feel good. And the world cries out in horror (and rightly so). This is the realm Gyllenhaal, always a bold actress, unafraid of “not looking good”, lives in. She’s so so good in this.


dir. Brett Hanover

My fellow jury members and I voted this best Hometowner Narrative Feature at Indie Memphis. It’s not distributed yet, and it’s not available to seen anywhere, so although it might be unfair to include it here, I figured it might be good to keep this title – and this young Memphis filmmaker – on your radar. It’s not an easily classifiable film. Is it a documentary? Yes. Kind of? But … not really either. I wrote more about the film here. It’s haunted me ever since I saw it. Hanover is young, but he’s a bit of a phenom. An original eye.

Mr. Soul!

dir. Melissa Haizlip

One of the docs of the year for me – not released yet. It’s currently scooping up awards around the country (including at Indie Memphis, where I saw it). There’s no distribution yet, but I predict this film will be HUGE. It unearths a gigantic cultural history, super important to 20th century understanding, a short chapter (the PBS show Soul! – which came and went in a 5-year period but had enormous reverb (many people who went on to be gigantic show-biz icons got their debut on this show). I wrote about it as well at the Indie Memphis roundup. Not only is the story itself interesting, but Haizlip is a talented filmmaker, a gifted interviewer – and the sheer amount of footage she had to put together for this film is awe-inspiring. She did an incredible job.

Shoot the Moon Right Between the Eyes

dir. Graham Carter

A magical sweet film, which we saw and loved at Indie Memphis. I wrote about it here. It’s difficult to describe its magic, because it’s quiet, unobtrusive, but pierced through with a kind of sweet romanticism – gentle humor – that felt sincere, organic – like, this is how Graham Carter sees the world. The film is funny, and stylized – people periodically burst into song (John Prine songs, all), but it’s also so grounded in its own sensibility, its objectives. I loved its gentleness, its rough edges, its humor. It’s a small miracle.

If Beale Street Could Talk

dir. Barry Jenkins

I can’t even tell you how intense the mood was in the packed theater at Indie Memphis for the regional premiere of Barry Jenkins’ latest film, a gorgeous adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel of the same name. If you’ve read the book, then you know it doesn’t take place in Memphis, but “Beale Street” – in Baldwin’s words – has a larger meaning, connecting the black community. Stephan James is amazing (he’s had an amazing year. He was also fantastic in Homecoming, opposite Julia Roberts. He was an acting student of a friend of mine! She adored him!), but the whole cast is incredible. It is THRILLING to me that Regina King – whom I have loved since Jerry Maguire – scored the Best Supporting Actress win at the NYFCC. I don’t think I’m talking out of school when I say the surge of excitement about that vote was palpable, as was the surge of excitement when she won. Her portrayal of a mother desperate to save her son – the lengths she will go to – the mistakes she makes (there’s a scene in Puerto Rico where you feel like you’re going to explode watching – and when she bursts out sobbing, so did I), and how she digs her heels in to follow through on the courage of her convictions. It’s an insanely moving performance. It wore me OUT. Barry Jenkins’ visual style is swooningly poetic, moving the story into an almost abstract realm (in one shot, in particular), which suits the story’s gigantic implications. It’s a beautiful film.


dir. Steven Soderbergh

This was the “series” by Soderbergh which you downloaded onto your phone, and then chose how you wanted to watch it. A Choose Your Own Adventure. It was all about the byways, the different inroads, the complicated intersections of disparate people. There was a lot of WTF with this, but I thought it was so much fun, and I got lost in the maze. Sharon Stone is fantastic – perfectly cast, “all” she had to do was show up – but that’s the thing: Sharon Stone is so rarely cast where she had to “just” show up. Garrett Hedlund is always fun to watch. I thought it was a hoot.

Wild Life

dir. Paul Dano

Actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut. He’s got an eye. An eye for landscape, an eye for behavior, how to place people in the frame, how to widen/narrow the frame. He knows what he’s doing. An ambitious debut, I suppose, although ambitious connotes – somewhat – reaching for something. This doesn’t feel like a reach. There’s a What Maisie Knew quality about this film, although the kid in this film is older, and when he sees stuff going on with his parents, he knows more, he can put 2 and 2 together. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a good-natured guy, a talker, a charmer, who’s really just a Big Kid. A man who is married, with a kid, and he takes those responsibilities seriously, but he also kinda doesn’t “get it.” He gets fired from jobs a lot for overstepping boundaries. They’ve had to move multiple times. Mom – played by Carey Mulligan, in one of the best performances of the year – is tougher, harder. When Dad decides to join the crew fighting a forest fire far away, she’s like, “What the hell are you doing?” You get paid nothing, and you will be GONE. Why can’t you just be NORMAL and a REAL MAN? While Dad is gone, Mom starts to act out. Almost immediately. And it’s there that the story really begins. What Mom does is pretty outrageous, and calls into question the situation set up in the beginning sequences – that Mom is responsible and Dad is irresponsible. It’s fascinating. Carey Mulligan has a sharp perpetually disappointed look on her face. You can’t blame her for having HAD IT with her husband, but … there’s stuff going on with her that is way WAY beyond what her husband would be capable of. I’m not a Mulligan fan. I’ve said this before. She’s not a Leading Lady, in the romantic sense of the term. I don’t buy her in a romantic context. Her “Daisy” was … not good. To me, she’s like a big blank on the screen. However, Mudbound – which I wrote about a lot – was great for her, because she didn’t have to carry the thing, and she was part of an ensemble, and she also didn’t have to be figure of romantic desire/aspiration. (When I mentioned my lack of thrill surrounding Carey Mulligan on my site, someone asked me if I saw Mudbound. It’s okay if you don’t read me every day, but that’s the only way to keep up. Mudbound was on my Top 10 and I wrote about it extensively, here, and also for Ebert.) So anyway, despite the fact that I had never liked her in anything, I recognized what she brought to Mudbound. She’s even better here. Maybe when she’s in stuff where you’re supposed to like her, admire her, want her, I’m just not seeing it. She’s so blah. But when she’s in stuff where she’s supposed to be part of the background, and pissed about it, she’s better, she’s got edges, she’s PISSED. Maybe she’s pissed that she’s NOT the Leading Lady. (Not HER the person, but the characters she plays.) That’s what’s going on in Wild Life. Her behavior is really quite appalling, and she not once pleads for our sympathy. She doesn’t give a shit. I admire the HELL out of this quality in an actress. It’s rare. I also admire her for her answer to the RIDICULOUS question asked at a QA about how she could play such an “unlikable character.” We are a soft soft people, we have created people who ask such stupid questions, whose engagement with art is ONLY on a moralistic basis. And these people are liberal/progressive, so don’t feel all superior. Don’t these people realize that “unlikable” (so-called) characters are the meatiest, the best roles? Of COURSE she wanted to play this mother role. It’s one of the best roles she’s ever had. She’s phenomenal.

Tehran Taboo

dir. Ali Soozandeh

Very depressing animated film, following a series of characters – who all live in the same high-rise – in modern-day Tehran, who break all the taboos in the culture – and, of course, there are many taboos. Endless taboos. They don’t break the taboos to be “daring” or to “stick it to the man.” They break the taboos because they are forced to. Such a rigid culture allows no wiggle-room. And so prostitution flourishes. Unwed mothers flourish. Lost Boys with nowhere to go flourish. Tehran seethes with discontent, with sneaking around, with a black market – all of which are – actually – healthy responses to an insane environment, rampant with a double-standard for men and women. Human beings are going to figure out ways to survive, even if you set rules meant to limit their choices. This is a bleak film, with beautiful rotoscope animation.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead

dir. Morgan Neville

I wouldn’t call this a particularly well-done documentary, but I would call it essential viewing, especially if you are going to watch Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind. It contextualizes him, it, that time in his life, and after, the mistakes he made, the mystery of him. Morgan Neville had another busy year, with this and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

You & Me

dir. Alexander Baack

A beautiful, funny and thought-provoking rom-com, about a deaf woman who falls in love with a blind man. Hillary Baack, the actress, is deaf, and Paul Guyet, the actor, is blind, so this setup has a verisimilitude it would lack if abled actors had been cast. The script (by Alexander and Hillary, who are married) is funny and touching – illuminating about disability and how disabled people are treated – but the touch is light. You get the point, it’s not hammered at you. Both actors have tremendous natural charm, and their chemistry feels real, based on similar senses of humor. Sally Struthers is incredible as the man’s mother, happy her son has found someone, deeply invested in the couple’s happiness. But also hilarious. The performance has it all. My wonderful brother, Brendan O’Malley, plays the “sidekick” to the lead, a sidekick who has his own life going on, his own goals and dreams. He’s an essential addition to the story. I’ve seen the film a couple of times, and it has worked every time. You care about what happen to these people. I interviewed Alexander about the film. It’s streaming now. Go find it!

Never Look Away

dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

This movie is kind of difficult to describe – although I attempted to do so in my review. I loved it so much. It’s kind of sort of the story of Gerhard Richter, a German painter, still alive and still productive after six damn decades of making work. But this is no ordinary biopic. It’s a portrait of a kid who grew up in Dresden, surrounded by Nazis (his father refused to join the Party), who is then trapped behind the Iron Curtain after the war. All along, his feelings about art are developing. But they’re not allowed to develop, because any ideological political group – like the Nazis, like the Communists – have a vested interest in controlling artists, telling them what they can and cannot convey, or whatever they DO convey they are told HOW to convey it. (There is a connection here to the guy who asked that question of Carey Mulligan. It’s an ideological question. He was trying to seem “woke.” Don’t you want to play an empowered woman? If you were “in charge,” sir, you would set about telling artists what to convey and how to convey it, I have no doubt.) So this kid is caught in the crosshairs of these ideologies. Gerhard Richter eventually escaped from East Germany into West Germany, where it was like emerging from a time machine. Surrounded by interpretive art, surrealist art, “installations,” performance art pieces – the whole ridiculous nine yards – he starts to think about who he is, what he has to say. Again, this doesn’t really describe the film, or how it does what it does. It’s a very moving panorama, but – lest it sound totally serious – with some really light-hearted moments, almost slapstick, particularly in his romance with a young fashion designer student. There are connections to be made, under the surface, political realities to be faced – former Nazis turned into good Communists – the whole texture of his world. I love Gerhard Richter (as I wrote about in my review), so this movie was a feast for the mind and soul. I learned a lot. Loved it.


dir. Barry Levinson

Not to be rude but I do try to avoid most critical commentary. Especially in real time. I go back to re-visit what critics were saying after I see the thing. But I try my hardest not to be drenched in other people’s opinions before I see something. I had no real desire to see Paterno, mainly because I find the whole story so disgusting, and the culture of Penn State even more so, and after a couple of years dealing with headlines about these sociopaths, I was done. But one day I decided, Sheila, it’s Pacino, you HAVE to watch it. I read some critiques later which said they didn’t like the film because it focused too much on Paterno and not the victims. Memo From Sheila: The film is called Paterno. Of course its focus is Paterno. Review the movie that’s there, not the one you think the artists should have made. Besides, the victims HAUNT this thing, even MORE so in their absence. The absence of them highlights Paterno’s absolute incomprehension and indifference about what had gone on on his watch. It takes him FOREVER to get the magnitude of it, and also how much trouble he is in. That nothing, nothing, will go back to normal. And maybe people watching didn’t give a shit? Who cares about an old man who doesn’t get it? was maybe how they thought. Well, okay. Shrug. If that’s what you think. But from my perspective, what is interesting is the sociopathic narcissistic one-thing-only focus of that football program, and how it was the cover for a predator, and how Paterno – as the creeeeeepy final shot shows – knew, or at least sensed. He was not an idiot. He knew. He just didn’t care. Just speaking for myself, but that’s a far more interesting story. Or, at least, this is the story of Paterno. What helps all of this is Al Pacino’s performance, one of his best in years, one of his best in general. What I loved so much about it is that Paterno the character “robbed” Pacino of his schtick. Pacino’s schtick is “I talk very softly for a while, and I am calm and rational, and then I SUDDENLY START SHOUTING FOR A LONG TIME … WITH BIG PAUSES … AND THE WHOLE ROOM STOPS BECAUSE I AM SO POWERFUL AND FILLED WITH CONVICTION.” And listen, he’s great at it. But it is schtick, make no mistake. It’s his fallback position. Joe Paterno is so repressed, so single-minded (always yearning with his body and mind to get back to his man-cave where he can watch football), that he descends into a kind of dementia right before our eyes. He does not understand what is happening. He is 10 steps behind. Surrounded by family members and lawyers, all of whom GET how huge this is going to be, Paterno is a baffled hunched-over passive presence, who continues to think this will all blow over, who has no sense of what is the right thing to do because he’s not getting it in the first place, who cannot “step up” into a leadership position – despite his status at Penn State – because there’s honestly NOTHING there. There is NOTHING going on with the man but football. And so Pacino couldn’t throw a satisfying tantrum, couldn’t even flare up in anger or self-defense. This man is too confused, too passive, too utterly incompetent to respond in any way. This is a very brave performance because it doesn’t allow him to do the things he always gets kudos for, the things that are considered “good acting.” All of that is stripped away. And he looks very old, very tired, and – worst of all – very confused. It’s a really really good performance.

The Favourite

dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

As a single person in a culture which prizes coupledom, I found Lanthimos’ dystopian weirdo The Lobster thrilling (my review here). But he’s hit or miss for me. The Favourite is racking up awards, and appearing on many Top 10s, and I don’t quite see it. It’s definitely not one of the best of the year, not even close, but it does feature three great performances, from Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, and the machinations of that royal court are very entertaining. Normally we see men jostling for power. Here it’s women. What was interesting to me was the different kinds of power being jostled for, and how this highlighted a conflict particular to women: Rachel Weisz’s character uses her closeness to the Queen to wield real political power. That’s why she does what she does. She is an advisor, a chief of staff, the Queen is so out of it that she needs this input. Everyone turns to Weisz for decision-making. She’s making enormous choices about troop deployments and military activities. This is HER power. For Emma Stone it’s different. Getting close to the Queen for her means a safe haven, an umbrella where she can live her personal life as she sees fit. Marry, party, whatever. She needs the power of the Queen to get there. Rachel Weisz’s character wants to be in the man’s world, where real power lies. Emma Stone couldn’t give a shit about that. She just wants to be ensconced beside the Queen so she has protection. This battle, this conflict of interests, still goes on in the ranks of feminism, and it’s a worthy fight to have. Focusing only on personal empowerment is – in many ways – the definition of privilege. Of course men don’t have to choose between the personal and the political. And they’ve botched it all up. But women botch it up too. And there isn’t room for more than ONE woman in the hornet’s nest, there’s only one “favourite.” Who’s it gonna be? Still, the rapturous response to this film is slightly baffling to me. It just didn’t have that effect on me.

Cold War

dir. Paweł Pawlikowski

As a companion piece to his extraordinary 2014 film Ida (my thoughts here), Cold War shows another side of Poland’s frozen-in-time culture during the decades of Soviet domination. In both films, music plays a huge role. In Ida, there are jazz clubs, a saxophonist, clubs. In Cold War, there’s “traditional” folk music of Poland, and then there’s rock ‘n roll, and jazz. There’s a chilling portrait here of how a folk-music and folk-dance company was put together, their successes, their travels – but you know that this is really just a propagada push from the Polish Communist overlords, and their Soviet puppeteers. Nationalism was something to be co-opted and used – it could not be allowed to flourish on its own. You’re not Polish, you’re Socialist. Severing people’s loyalty to their countries – severing that identity – was a huge part of Soviet policy towards the nations under its umbrella. There’s a reason why immediately following the Berlin Wall crumbling, genocidal wars broke out all over the place. Nationalist movements exploded. It was always there, just iced over by the Communists. So this folk-music group is totted out to admiring guests, some of them Western, to basically say, “Look at our happy peasants! Singing the folk songs and doing their traditional dances they’ve been doing for centuries. Nothing wrong here! They love being Socialists.” They sing with a gigantic banner of Stalin behind them. So this was one of the most fascinating aspects of Cold War, which takes place over a 10, 15-year period. But, in essence, it’s a love story, and a painful heartbreaking one at that. Monica Castillo wrote about the love story aspect of it over at Ebert.


dir. Jason Reitman

I had a pretty vehement disagreement with a young dude on Twitter about this movie. One of his comments was: “Why was abortion never mentioned?” It was such a clueless comment I didn’t even know how to respond. You think every woman who gets pregnant – even unexpectedly – thinks of getting an abortion? Kiddo, you’ve gotta get out more. Stop trying to be “woke.” This is a married couple, and yes, the pregnancy is unplanned, they’re already overwhelmed, but … what … they’re gonna abort the baby? In what universe? Why? I know plenty of women who are pro-choice but would never in a million years get an abortion themselves. I know plenty of married women with a couple of kids already who would never in a million years get an abortion. Not for religious reasons, but because they themselves will accept a baby if it comes. THAT’S WHAT BEING PRO-CHOICE MEANS. CHOICE. THE WORD CHOICE IS DELIBERATE. CHOICE. CHOICE. There are some aspects to this film that didn’t work for me. It doesn’t quite hang together. But what does work, works like gangbusters. Charlize Theron’s performance in Young Adult was one of my favorites in recent memory. If the world were fair, she would have won the Oscar for THAT and not Monster. She’s so believably out of it in Tully that you ache for her to get some sleep. When Tully – a so-called “night nanny” shows up – played by Mackenzie Davis, an actress I’m really excited about (every since Always Shine, my review here – things start to shift. And things start to get weird. I have not had a child, nor will I ever have a child, but I have enough friends who have to know that this is a creepily accurate portrait of just how devastating pregnancy can be – physically. Your body’s a mess, your hormones are all over the place, you’re in a brain fog, you’re sleep-deprived … everyone wants something from you, your obligations never end. And you’re not COMPLAINING because you love your kids, but STILL. Tully is funny and smart and disturbing.

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10 Responses to More 2018 Movies to See

  1. mutecypher says:

    Re: The Favourite

    Based on your comments, I can’t say I saw anything in it that you didn’t. The humour and rivalries and performances just hit a sweet spot for me. I found Olivia Colman completely fascinating. Her Queen Anne was just a disaster that I couldn’t look away from. Her physical and emotional pains were so fully realized that it made me feel overwhelmed with pity for her despite her pettiness and weakness and susceptibility to manipulation. I treasured her moments of pleasure, even if I wouldn’t want to spend a moment in her presence. Watching her eat the (presumably French!) cheese and vomit was a Cronenberg-level of body horror. The scene where she is on the floor writhing in pain, and Lady Sarah asks if she should come back later – and the Queen says yes and says that Sarah is a salty treat that causes no pain – I just enjoyed the twisted nature of the whole thing in a Janis Joplin Get It While You Can way. Find your pleasure when you can, poor thing.

    I also got a kick out of the dancing.

    A few things bugged me. I’m not sure of the physics that allowed the blood of the bird that Abigail shot to get spattered on Sarah, considering everyone’s placement. I’m not sure that Abigail would be so surprised at being goosed when she got out of the carriage that she would fall face-down into the mud. But the mud scene was intercut with Abigail’s introduction to Sarah, and ES doing her monster faces/noises – so that wtf flew on by. I thought of her Melody Bos-TIC reading when she was doing the monster faces. I wasn’t convinced of the mean girl turn that Abigail took. I was also a bit surprised at her diving into the decadence after she “won.” But with access to all the pleasures of the court, and a disposition inherited from a father who would sell her in a card game, I could kinda see where that came from.

    Ultimately, I found so much to enjoy that the things above didn’t ruin the movie for me. They did bug me, and I don’t think I’ll watch it again.

    One of the cool things for me is the indication of what a strong year for movies this is when The Favourite is so far down on your list of things to see.

    • sheila says:

      Mutecypher – thanks for your thoughts! I didn’t really put these up in any order – not ranked anyway – they’re kind of in the order in which I saw them (somewhat).

      I’m glad you dug it! I wish I had dug it more. I thought the costumes were worth the price of admission, though. Just magnificent work – amazing colors.

  2. gina in alabama says:

    Thanks for calling Mercury 13 to my attention. I was not aware of its existence. I will find some way to see it.

    • sheila says:

      Gina – I’m so glad I had to review it. It was really interesting! and I just love all these old lady astronauts who are interviewed. Tough cookies! A whole section of this history not included in any of the history books!

  3. peter says:

    I wish my home cinemas would play all these movies

  4. Bill Wolfe says:

    Thanks for bringing “All About Nina” to my attention. I thought Mary Elizabeth Winstead was terrific in “Smashed” (2012) and I’ve tried to keep up with her work ever since.

  5. Jessie says:

    I’m loving reading your eoy wrap-ups and summaries and wish I could comment more — but your notes on Pacino’s and (M) Gyllenhaal’s performances intrigue so much! The Pacino in particular that sounds like just the kind of performance I groove to. Thank you!

    (Regina King is the greatest! I have not seen nearly enough of her work. There is a scene in Southland which I will never forget — she is a detective protecting a child during a home invasion and the way she blends together and shifts between urgency and reassurance and physical competence is electrifying. The way she pumps a shotgun! Like you say with Regina Hall — those moments when you just entirely forget that an actor is making believe, not just in terms of having emotions but physically, practically.)

    • sheila says:

      Jessie – thank you!

      Yeah, Pacino is in a fascinating zone here – it’s actually not a zone he’s ever been in, not that I can think of. He always plays a dominant one, the one who forces action forward – even Michael Corleone, who can be so quiet, is not at all passive or … confused.

      He actually makes you feel bad for Paterno – which is really saying something, considering his legacy. He makes you see that Paterno was a very very very very limited man, who only did one thing, and then when called upon to really be a leader – couldn’t even understand what had happened and why it should impact him. It’s brutal.

      and yes: Maggie G!! This is my kind of acting – way out on the edge. You see why she does what she does, but you still cover your eyes.

      and oooh I need to see Regina King pump a shotgun! She was so great in Jerry Maguire – that could have been a nothing part – but she turns it into something else. She (and her marriage) are the catalyst for poor Jerry to get his shit together. That movie needed a performance like hers – her howl into the phone, “My life just does not WORK without him!!” – I have goosebumps just thinking about it.

      She’ll probably get an Oscar nom for Beale Street and I say it’s about time!!

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