Top 10 Films 2018

In 2018 cinema saved me thousands of dollars in counseling. In a year in which every other film was related to matters of the heart, from Forgetting Sarah Marshall to Revolutionary Road, the time invested watching them turned out to be therapeutic for my own. I am closing out the year with a mighty realization, one that would have taken longer to arrive, if it did at all, were it not for the probing properties of the movies. 
As is the case annually, I wish to publicly thank them. 

1. The Florida Projecthttps3A2F2Fblueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.com2Fuploads2Fcard2Fimage2F6998282F93d88f78-614b-479c-a463-449654509d2d

Boasting one of the most imaginative final scenes that I have ever seen, The Florida Project is unconcerned with the viewer’s preconceived notions of how the world works. The film’s power resides in choosing not to romanticize or exploit it’s themes-parenting,poverty,the dealings of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate-, resulting in a picture that at times feels like a documentary. By the time it arrives at its wrenching, traumatic conclusion, the viewer should ideally possess a different outlook on the follies of human justice.

2. Atonement

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There’s a scene I keep coming back to again and again. Robbie (James McAvoy) is confronting Briony (Romola Garai) about her sins, when he finally loses it. He snaps at her, and the only thing that saves Briony from the wrath of this wounded man is the only woman he’s ever loved. “Come back to me”, Cecilia (Keira Knightley) repeats gently, lulling him back to his senses. Briony gazes at the soulful tenderness on display, and her guilt threatens to suffocate her. Unable to stand it, she turns around. 
It is as powerful a moment as I have ever experienced, the unbearable pain of loss crashing drown, leaving me out to drown in my memories.

3. A Ghost Story

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A haunting exploration on the transcendental power of love, A Ghost Story is the closest companion to Upstream Color that I have watched since Shane Carruth’s 2013 cerebral masterpiece.

4. Phantom Thread

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A spellbinding film on sewing.

5. Mission:Impossible-Fallout

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While the halo jump scene was the one on everybody’s tongue now that the year is coming to a close, I have a different pick for favorite one. The motorcycle chase across Paris is absolutely breathtaking, a small miracle into itself for the way everybody involved managed to make every small detail come together perfectly. This is the greatest action picture since Mad Max: Fury Road, which in turn was one of the best films of its kind in cinema history, and further proof that Tom Cruise is the last remaining movie star.

6. First Man

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Perhaps having already received validation from his peers as somebody who’s really talented at his job, director Damien Chazelle shot for the moon this time. It worked splendidly, delivering not so much a testament to the greatness of America as a portrait of the great lengths humanity goes in order to live with their grief.

7. The Big Sick

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Dear reader, I have probably watched and re watched the final seconds of this terribly insightful and heartwarming picture more than five times already, grinning like an idiot every one.

8. Annihilation

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I refer you to an excerpt that I wrote on this ten months ago:

In an era in which Hollywood has to hold the audiences hand and lead them to the nicely tied in a bow ending in which good triumphs over evil, Alex Garland has provided a conclusion in which the answers only serve as springboards for more questions, for further prodding of every little thing that has preceded it. Such examination stimulates the intellect, invigorating the notion that cinema is truly the only thing that has the capacity to transport you to far away places, to challenge you, to question what it means to be human and what to do with the time we have left.

9. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

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Ambition is never synonymous with greatness. One has only to gander at the movie landscape to notice many movies with lofty goals that end up crashing and burning. Few are those who succeed at pairing their dreams with practical results, and director Tom Tykwer is one of them.

10. Every Day

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Steering clear from most of the genre’s trappings, this YA adaptation is surprisingly perceptive. It is an easy watch, barely 90 minutes long, wholesome, and with an ending that, considering its target audience, is entirely bittersweet.

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Top Characters in Film 2018

Carrying on the yearly tradition of listing the characters which caused an impression-sometimes good, sometimes bad, always memorable-, 2018 is a bit different: the list stops at 5, instead of the usual 10. This is certainly not due to a decrease in offerings; watching 130 films per year provides many candidates for this list. It’s just I did not find myself drawn to many of them the way I did in years past. Whether that’s a byproduct of the emotional and mental anguish 2018 had on me is debatable, though the inclusion of not one, but two characters who end up committing suicide on screen might be telling.
The 5 most memorable characters in film, in alphabetical order:

Dean and Cindy – Blue Valentine

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Making this list for the second year in a row, Ryan Gosling plays Dean, the once knight in shining armor to Michelle William’s Cindy. Alternating timelines between the effervescent exuberance of first love, and the soul crushing mundanity of living with the same person for the rest of days, Dean and Cindy make the picture come alive. You will never again listen to “You and Me”, by Penny and the Quarters, without thinking of the pair in a seedy motel. Raw and vulnerable, Dean and Cindy are the year’s most unfortunate role models, there to remind us that there’s more to love than the magical first kiss.

Jackson Maine – A Star is Born

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Resigned and weary, he sighs “maybe I fucked that up”. All too familiar with his failures, Jackson Maine, as embodied by Bradley Cooper, stopped giving himself any credit a long time ago. He hates the bottle, but it’s the only way he can feel, even if it’s only shame, because something is preferable to nothing at all. Jackson Maine is the manifestation of my greatest fears, those nights in which God is nowhere to be found and which all I’m good at is messing up.

Joe – You Were Never Really Here

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I’d name two actors who are unmatched at displaying differing levels of dejection. The first is Ryan Gosling, and the other is Joaquin Phoenix. The latter plays Joe in You Were Never Really Here, inhabiting a character that is full of sorrows, battling his demons with every breath he takes. There comes a point where watching Phoenix is actually discomforting, his character having already exhausted every possible outlet for his pain without finding any solace. And just when you think death is the only alternative, a girl reminds him that it is actually a beautiful day. If Joe can be saved, maybe so can all of us.

Patrick Kenzie – Gone Baby Gone

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Patrick Kenzie sits at the couch next to the girl now found, and asks about her favorite doll Mirabelle. “Annabelle”, the little girl replies. The enormous effect of this one line cannot be stated without effectively summarizing the entire picture. Suffice it to say that it’s an added burden on Patrick, as he silently stares into a television screen, before everything turns to black.

Peter Graham – Hereditary

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The scene which shocked every viewer that was brave enough to walk into Hereditary would not have been nearly as successful without the full, unbearable weight of regret that Alex Wolff brings to Peter in the seconds following an unspeakable tragedy. The camera, set on his frightened visage until it becomes his gaze, captures the pain of somebody with a million thoughts racing, each one concluding that his life will never be the same again. The way he asks, but doesn’t finish the question since he already knows, “are you okay?”, is haunting.

Atonement

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I’ve been staring at my keyboard for the past twenty minutes, debating on a multitude of possible paragraphs that could open this entry. An option I considered was outright stating that Atonement is the best picture I’ve seen all year, while simultaneously declaring that I will never again watch it. Another option included breaking down one of the many sumptuous and majestic shots that adorn the film, each one as breathtaking as the last, a postcard perfect rendition to love and war. It’s rare when I’ve no clue as to where to start discussing a film, or the emotions brought about by one; but then again, films with the devastating cumulative power of Atonement are as equally rare.

Loyal reader(s?) of this blog will know (bless you) of my visceral response to romance films. One of the palpable symptoms of being in love with a ghost is to be attuned to its stories. Yet emotions rarely cloud judgement. Take for instance Blue Jay, another melancholic look at the love that could’ve been. I reacted strongly to that film, while at the same time being aware of its shortcomings. But there are no flaws to be found in Atonement.

The performances are masterful. Consider the scene, very early on, in which Robbie (James McAvoy) apologizes to Cecilia (Keira Knightley) for giving her an anatomically explicit letter. Cecilia’s words imply outrage, but her facial expressions convey something else; amusement, even a certain amount of flattery. Their exchange lasts about twenty seconds, yet it makes everything that occurs immediately after appear natural, logical.

The photography is also heavenly. Nearing the end of the odyssey, Robbie stumbles upon a giant screen showing two lovers kissing. The nameless film is in black and white, and Robbie is shrouded by shadows; when he looks up and sees the kiss, he immediately drops his whole head down. It is an agonizing moment in a picture replete with them; the way the camera frames Robbie, slightly off center with the giant kiss happening in the background, is one of the most memorable shots I have ever seen, in terms of both beauty and storytelling.

And of course love and regret, two words (emotions?) that appear to go hand in hand. This is an achingly tender picture. The brief moments that Robbie and Cecilia share burrowed into my mind, replaying over and over during the sad spectacles that tears and keeps them apart. “Come back”, she says to him, and it’s not only Robbie craving to do so during the entire film, but myself as well, aching to encounter peace and happiness again. Every time the camera cut back to either lover, distant from the other by a thousand miles of pain and loss, my heart broke.

But the film, being as smart as it is, also presents the catalyst of this tragedy, Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), as somebody to feel tenderness for. The audience comes to understand her motivations, and while forgiveness may still be hard to come by, it is difficult not to be moved by her genuine regret. I will remember the last shot of her for a very long time.

Easily one of the most profoundly poignant pictures I have ever seen, Atonement crescendo’d its way into my very soul, and I’ll wager it will remain there for a while.

A+

 

Blue Jay

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The following is an email I received from my ex-girlfriend after not having seen each other for almost seven years. I email her from time to time, in those nights where nostalgia reaches its peak, but never expected to hear back from her. A week later I watched Blue Jay. 

It’s nice to hear from you. I’m sorry I haven’t responded in quite a while. My life is pretty hectic these days. 

My son starts school next week, I cannot believe that I have a son who’s nearly 4 years old. The last few years of my life have literally just come and gone in what feels like a few days.
I still do think of you sometimes. I try not to always think about what’s happened in my past, it does make things harder for me if I do. 
After all that has happened in my life I feel as if I am living such a normal life now these days. I wake up, drop my son off at daycare, work, pick him up and follow our everyday nightly routine. I do really love being a mom. Even if I haven’t become the person I thought I’d be one day,  I am glad that I have had the chance to raise my son. 

B+

The English Patient

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This morning I woke up thinking of her. Although I will think of her at least once during my day, be it by being reminded of her scent by a quick passerby or something she said by something I see, this memory was much more immediate. As the hours progressed I realized it was because I had dreamed of her the night before. The realization made me miserable. There I was, thousands of miles away, months removed from her kisses and completely unaware of the state of her life, and yet in my dreams she was as vivid as the cool breeze that swept the university campus at 11:30am. I sat down and cried for a while.

There are similar moments peppered throughout The English Patient. Count Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) lays in bed, burnt to a crisp, and gazes at nothing as he recalls fond memories of the woman he loves. And I thought to myself, “what that poor man must be feeling! what utter sadness his heart is drowned in!”

B+

6 Years

6-Years-PosterI find it infuriating how a couple can spend 2,191 days together in a relationship, and then decide they want to break up.

Forget about the time and effort you invested in the other person; never mind all the sacrifices made for the sake of love during their tenure.
No, what bothers me is that you gave your heart to the other person, and after a thousand adventures together they simply give it back, as if there’s an unsigned lifetime warranty on romance.

Of course, as 6 Years demonstrates, there’s an array of reasons why such a previously strong relationship can begin to crumble. After all, you can plan for everything except for life.
Is it worth it then, to invest in love?

“Don’t you get bored?”, Mel’s (Taissa Farmiga) friends ask her at one point. “Don’t you want somebody else?”
And while that mentality is valid, in the way that one will avoid various disappointments by saying no to commitment, it also demonstrates a very clear flaw.
If my only excuse to not engage in a serious relationship is because I will one day want someone else, does that not mean that I will a) have to settle with somebody eventually, as I cannot go around like a bee all my life; or b) end up alone?

What this tells me is that love is definitely not for the cowards. It takes guts to hand your heart over to somebody, knowing there is an implicit agreement that they now have full and complete power over it.
Love is also not for the stupid.

It is here where what C.S. Lewis once said comes into play.
“Feelings, feelings, feelings. Let me try thinking instead.”

The couple in 6 Years has many of the former, yet does few of the latter.
Even though the last thing I wanted them to do was to throw away their relationship, I knew a compromise had to be made.
Compromises are almost always difficult, yet not impossible to achieve. I believe that if you heed Lewis’s words, you might still have success.

It is possible to have a long distance relationship from Texas to New York. It would be near inhumanely hard, but I do think that if both parties involved truly want to make it work, it is possible. But that would require thinking with a cool head.
And our characters do not excel at that.

So we end up with shattered hearts, burning tears and 2,191 days that they will want to forever erase from their memory.
They’ll fail.

B+