It’s a been a while since I’ve posted anything on this blog, but I figured it’s about time I get back to it. I do plan on writing more often throughout the year, and I’ll do my best to make up for my recent absence from ‘The Cinephile Fix’ with some upcoming film reviews and analyses. Also, “The Cinephile Fix” is now on Instagram too. Please follow: https://www.instagram.com/cinephilefix/
The year has come to an end, and 2018 was generally a remarkable year for cinema. With films like “Rome” and “Cold War” garnering massive critical praise, you have two black-and-white foreign language films sweeping the awards season, which is quite rare in itself.
Some critically acclaimed films like “Cappernaum”, “Suspiria”, “Never Look Away”, “Mirai”, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”, “Minding the Gap”, and “RGB” are not included in this list because I simply haven’t seen them yet, and didn’t want to postpone posting this list any longer. Anyway, without further ado, here’s my take on the best films of 2018:
Happy as Lazzaro
An unconventional contemporary take on Italian Neorealism, Alice Rohrwacher’s miraculous “Happy as Lazzaro” is not only the best film of the year, it is one of the most tender, spiritual, and poetic films in recent years. This allegorical fable is based on a real-life incident that took place in Italy where the widow of a marquess exploited the seclusion of her lands to keep her peasants working as slaves.
A film as beautiful as this one must have been written by a very kind soul. Shot on 16mm, “Happy as Lazzaro” takes place in a cruel world that has no room for kindness, and yet somehow, watching this profound piece of work filled me with an urgency to be as generous as its protagonist, Lazzaro. Do yourself a favor and watch this transcendent masterpiece as soon as you can. It will linger in your thoughts for years to come.
I walked into this film knowing that I would be treated to some of the most striking black and white photography of the year and I wasn’t let down. After all, Pawek Pawikoski’s previous work, “Ida”, caught the world off guard with its stark imagery. “Cold War” is no different, the eloquent cinematography is something to behold. Lukasz Zal’s choices of camera angles are audacious and memorable. But make no mistake this isn’t a case of style over substance. There’s underlying emotional depth boiling beneath each and every frame; it drives the narrative to new heights.
Strong emotions are dealt with in a very understated way. There are no lengthy monologues bemoaning forbidden love; everything is expressed briefly or in whisper. In fact, most of the emotions are expressed through the framing of the actors within the scene, resulting in a film that is achingly beautiful. Joanna Kulig’s performance commands the screen. You can even feel her presence when she’s off screen, a feat few performers can pull off. “Cold War” is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking. The final moments in particular are breathtaking to say the least. The closing shot haunted my thoughts long after the credits started rolling.
The Wild Pear Tree
Nuri Bilge Ceylan is one of the most prominent filmmakers working today. When a Ceylan film gets released it should be a cause for celebration, and if you spot his wife’s name, Ebru Ceylan, in the credits sharing writing duties, you should know that you’re in for a treat. Heck, more than a treat, Ceylan’s films are so powerful, they have the power to change who you are and how you perceive the world around you. His latest, “The Wild Pear Tree”, is not even his best work, and yet it could be the most thought provoking film of the year.
The word masterpiece gets thrown around way too often, but Nuri Bilge Ceylan has a tendency to produce one after the other. I can’t imagine how anyone watching this film and not ending up with a deeper understanding, or rather acceptance of life. The film forces viewers to grapple with questions about the purpose of life. Would you rather live in a world where God exists, or one where he doesn’t? Can Islam, or any religion for that matter, adapt to the modern world? What is the role of truth in an artist’s work? Is acceptance the key to happiness?
With a filmography that now includes “Shoplifters”, Hirokazu Koreeda solidified himself as the most important Japanese filmmaker alive. “After Life”, “Like Father Like Son”, and “Still Walking” are some of the most moving films I’ve seen. Here, Koreeda presents another powerful portrait of a family household in modern Japan. Koreeda is constantly compared to the great Japanese masters before him from Yasujiro Ozu to Mikio Naruse, and you can clearly see why. The way he directs resigned family stories is seamless and effortless. You will barely feel his presence behind the camera at all.
The plot revolves around a family of low-income workers sharing a tiny space and shoplifting to get by their daily struggles. On one particular night, they decide to take in a little girl locked out in a balcony. What unfolds after that will make you question the idea of family and the moral values of parenting in general. The intimate exploration of social realism played like a Vittorio De Sica film. And much like a De Sica film, the ideas are multi-faceted and heart-wrenching. I can not recommend this highly enough.
After an eight-year absence, director Chang-dong Lee is back with perhaps the most suspenseful motion picture of the year. Based on the short story, “Barn Burning” by Haruki Murakami, the film never feels rushed and takes its time to unravel before our eyes. In fact, the slow-burning pacing and eerie atmosphere is what makes this Hitchcockian ride riveting from start to finish.
The film resembles a calm river with a raging current in its depth. The way Chang-dong Lee uses subtexts of class tension to make the audience feel powerless is fascinating. We end up just as helpless, angry and frustrated as the protagonist. The unbearable tension keeps boiling up till we reach an explosive ending that feels oddly satisfying, even though it shouldn’t feel that way at all. Chang-dong Lee’s “Burning” is filmmaking of the highest order.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is an anthology of six short films that take place in 19th-century post-Civil War era during the settling of the Old West. The Coen Brothers’ signature dry humor combined with breathtaking cinematography makes this gem a joy to watch. I can’t stress how much I enjoyed watching this film; I simply did not want it to end.
The individual tales are all unique and original, and when seen as a whole, we get a multifaceted picture of the Wild West. “The Gal who Got Rattled” and “Meal Ticket” are two tales that are worth the price of admission alone (Netflix subscription?). To reveal anything about the short stories would spoil the unexpected nature of this anthology, but one thing I can say for sure is, you will most likely walk out remembering at least one or two chapters of this delightful picture.
In Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed”, we witness the slow deterioration of a man’s mental state. Much like “Taxi Driver”, Schrader invites us to the mind of a man contemplating death and murder. Travis Bickle looked upon his city with hate, the pastor played by Ethan Hawke has his loathing eyes set on big corporations. He starts losing faith, not in God, but in humanity.
Schrader screenplay explores the mind’s vulnerability to extremism, especially in today’s world, a world where churches have turned a blind eye to the environmental destruction of God’s land. The film is meticulously photographed, written and edited. Nothing feels out of place in this disturbing yet timely descent into madness.
“Ride like it’s gonna be the last horse you ever get on. ‘Cause any bronc could be the last one.” We never find out in advance when “the last time” of anything we enjoy or love is about to take place, the last moments you have with a loved one, the last meal you have at a spot you love, the last conversation you have with someone you hold dear to your heart. If we knew in advance, we would surely try as much as we can to cherish it. Our protagonist, Brady Blackburn, explains this notion to someone practicing rodeo riding. He learned this the hard way.
Chloe Zhao delivers one of the most mature picture of the year with her directorial effort, “The Rider”. On the surface, Zhao painted and realistic picture of the world of rodeo riding, but the film uses that world as a metaphor for life. It’s arrives at the conclusion that you should give up doing the things you love the second it starts to affect you in a bad way. This applies to anything in life. We all tend to cling on bad habits be it smoking cigarettes, or any unhealthy hobby you can think of. In the case of our hero it’s rodeo riding after a near fatal accident. We The things we take for granted every day are far more important than the things we enjoy momentarily.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor
If this exploration of the life and legacy of the legendary children’s TV host, Fred Rogers, does not bring tears to your eyes, then you must be made of stone. More than a mere tribute to the man, this documentary does not shy away from the controversies of his life and show. What we end up with is one of the most genuine and honest portraits ever committed to film.
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” explores the life of a TV host, yet somehow it will make you think more about yourself than Mr. Rogers. It is one of the most inspiring documentaries ever made. I could not help but think of how we can improve as a collective civilization, and how we can improve individually as well. This heartwarming film will make you want to be a better person. It is the feel-good film of the year and will surely restore your faith in humanity.
The Other Side of the Wind
Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind” is finally here. Welles shot the movie between 1970 and 1976, but it took 48 years to finish the film’s post production. Perhaps we will never know if this is exactly the film he intended to make, either way, the genius of its maker can be seen on full display.
“The Other Side of the Wind” is shot like a documentary, or at least it is made to look that way, and it contains a film within a film. The vigorous editing, dynamic composition, jazzy soundtrack, combined with the punchy dialogue fuels the film with an energetic rhythm. It is bursting with life. “The Other Side of the Wind” is a remarkable achievement that should studied and analyzed in film schools, because it’s as much about the filmmaker as it is about filmmaking itself. It also happens to contain one of the most well photographed sex scenes ever.
Honorable Mentions: “Eighth Grade”, “Bisbee ’17”, “Dogman”, “Ayka”, “The Wild Boys”, “Coincoin and the Extra Humans”, “Roma”, “Let the Sunshine In”, “Hereditary”, “The Favourite”, “Annihilation”, “Leave No Trace”, “The Guilty”, “Ready Player One”, “Madeline’s Madeline”, “Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda”, “Letter from Masanjia”, “BlacKkKlansman”, “Sorry to Bother You”, “Beautiful Boy”, “Sleep Has Her House”, “24 Frames”