Of all the surveys of the best films of any given year, few are as rewarding to scan and study as La Internacional Cinéfilia, the annual poll conducted by Argentine critic and programmer Roger Koza. Presenting this year’s stack of 150 ballots, Koza notes that there are a few films listed on this epic scroll of a page that even he hasn’t heard of. Critics including Nicole Brenez, Adrian Martin, Cristina Nord, and Jonathan Rosenbaum, filmmakers such as Sean Baker, Denis Côté, Miguel Gomes, Alain Guiraudie, Radu Jude, Benjamin Naishtat, Joshua Oppenheimer, João Pedro Rodrigues, and Albert Serra, and programmers—Carlo Chatrian’s name leaps out; he’ll be the Berlinale’s new artistic director, starting with the 2020 edition—have been asked to name five top films of 2018, a film representative of the country he or she comes from, and a best first feature. Koza has tallied the votes, so let’s have a look at the collective top five.
- Jean-Luc Godard’s essay film The Image Book is divided into five chapters, one for each of a hand’s five fingers, and in the Notebook, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky reflects on hands as “a recurring motif throughout Godard’s body of work, connecting his sixties New Wave movies to the poetic and multi-layered audiovisual ruminations of his later years.” The Image Book also tops desistfilm’s poll of its contributors.
- Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro, which centers on an almost angelic tobacco farmer, blends realism and the gently fantastic. “Something has happened in cinema where it seems that we have to see with the eyes of the protagonist,” Rohrwacher tells Daniella Shreir in BOMB magazine. “I wanted to convey the feeling of a world looking at someone.”
- Mariano Llinás’s La flor, nearly ten years in the making and running just under fourteen hours, features the same four actresses in six stories spanning a range of genres. “There was a time when people went from telling us, ‘That’s not how things are done’ to telling us ‘That’s the way things are not done . . . except for you guys,’” Llinás says in Pablo Staricco Cadenazzi’s interview with him at Vague Visages. “That was a special moment . . . There is a kind of great inertia towards the idea that there is only one way to make films.”
- Orson Welles’s The Other Side of the Wind, finally pieced together and released more than four decades after it was shot, “is justly and gloriously indissociable from the uncommon circumstances of its creation,” writes Julien Allen at Reverse Shot. “And by existing, it has revealed itself as an even more powerful and multi-headed symbol: of the fundamentally collaborative nature of the medium; of Welles’s complex and tormented philosophy of life and work; and of his biggest and most consistent yearning as an artist—to change the way films could be made.” In his latest column for Sight & Sound, Brad Stevens remarks on how “a film so rooted in its time feels strikingly modern . . . Like the pianola described by Tanya (Marlene Dietrich) in Touch of Evil (1958), ‘It’s so old, it’s new.’”
- In her big end-of-the-year roundup at Film Studies for Free, Catherine Grant includes a dossier from Mediático on Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, a portrait of a family in Mexico City in the early 1970s as seen through the eyes of their maid and nanny. The Mediático essays address, in the words of editor Dolores Tierney, “a centuries-old structural relationship between Mexico’s white elite and a poor mestizo/indigenous underclass” as well as Cuarón’s style, Netflix’s role in the film’s realization, and the reception of Roma in Mexico over the past several weeks.
IndieWire has put out a call to filmmakers for their lists, and fifty-two have responded. It’s an illustrious bunch that includes Pedro Almodóvar, Josephine Decker, Yance Ford, Todd Haynes, Don Hertzfeldt, Lynne Ramsay, RaMell Ross, Paul Schrader, Whit Stillman, Sophia Takal, and Edgar Wright. Another long scroll worth spending time with is the Notebook’s eleventh annual writers poll in which contributors—more than fifty this year—pair a favorite new film with an old one seen in 2018. In all, this year’s yield numbers over one hundred “Fantasy Double Features.”
Other films with an established track record are being celebrated by Kristin Thompson, who’s written up a list of the ten best films of 1928—Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc is the clear favorite—and by Farran Smith Nehme, who’s written about eleven of her favorite viewing experiences this year. Her alphabetical list runs from Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds (1958) to Michael Curtiz’s The Sea Wolf (1941).
Since we last checked in on how the ranking of this year’s films has been going, several publications have polled their writers and editors and worked the resulting lists into freshly annotated presentations. There’s “no single right way to classify” the film that contributors to the A.V. Club have voted up to their #1 spot, writes A. A. Dowd, but he does offer a few possible approaches to Lee Chang-dong’s Burning: “A bone-dry comedy of class warfare. A perplexing missing-person mystery worthy of Hitchcock or Antonioni. An existential meditation on the little hungers and great hungers that drive us.”
The list at the Film Stage runs to fifty titles, and coming in at #1 is Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. Karyn Kusama, the director of Jennifer’s Body (2009) and The Invitation (2015) whose Destroyer starring Nicole Kidman has opened in theaters this week, tells Talkhouse that, when she saw First Reformed, she was struck by the young crisis-stricken man played by Philip Ettinger. “Seeing a character in active interrogation mode of the world we live in right now,” she says, “I thought, ‘Why don’t we see more characters in this space? Why does this feel so bold and new when this is the state of mind most of us are living in all the time?’”
Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, in which Daniel Giménez Cacho plays a Spanish officer stuck at an outpost in Asunción, Paraguay, tops the list at Little White Lies. “Even though the film is set centuries ago, there’s something futuristic, maybe even post-apocalyptic, about the frazzled, comically unfair world that Martel manufactures,” writes David Jenkins. Critics for Time Out London go for You Were Never Really Here, suggesting that “Lynne Ramsay’s brilliant thriller may yet evolve from cult fave into fully fledged classic.”
Introducing its collective top ten (Roma takes the #1 spot) as well as annotated lists from seven contributors, the Austin Chronicle notes that “five years ago, it would have been a dream to think that there would be more than one major studio film about the African-American experience, but this year we had BlacKkKlansman, Blindspotting, Sorry to Bother You, If Beale Street Could Talk—and it felt like the start of something, not just a moment.”
MUBI’s programmers present a unique set of lists of new films and revivals, albeit without notes, while Screen’s critics stick to this year’s releases. And contributors to BOMB and the Quietus each reflect on a remarkable screening or event, which brings us to several other recent and noteworthy lists from individual writers: Michael Atkinson, Jason Bailey (Flavorwire), Sean Burns and Erin Trahan (WBUR), Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Steve Erickson (Gay City News), David Fear (Rolling Stone), Craig Keller, Glenn Kenny, Luke McKernan, Mark Olsen (Los Angeles Times), Christopher Orr and David Sims (Atlantic), Keith Phipps, Ben Sachs (Chicago Reader), Nick Schager (Esquire), and Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times). Assessing the year in cinema more in the form of a personal essay than a numbered list are Roderick Heath, Linda Holmes (NPR), Tim Lucas, and Nadin Mai. And Michael Sicinski counts down his list of the top thirty experimental films of 2018 and writes about the state of the art for the Notebook.
No other single list is being as widely shared than the one former president Barack Obama posted this week. The man has taste, and New York Times critic Manohla Dargis speaks for many as, tagging Obama, she tweets, “Welcome to #FilmTwitter.”
Looking back on the year in Japanese cinema in the Japan Times, Mark Schilling notes that the “sensation” of 2018 was Shinichiro Ueda’s zombie comedy One Cut of the Dead, a “word-of-mouth smash” that’s already earned a thousand times its modest budget. “The hype is justified,” writes Schilling, adding that the film opens with “a crazed thirty-seven-minute take in which actors playing zombies are ‘infected’ by the real thing, but just as the joke is wearing thin, the film reveals other levels that deliver both more laughs and a heart-felt paean to filmmaking.”
In South Korea, big-budget projects “splashed on stars and effects and gambled with high-concept stories, but it was the smaller works with tighter scripts that really caught the imagination of the public,” writes Pierce Conran at the top of his list of the fifteen best Korean films of 2018. It’s hardly a surprise that Burning tops that list, but Conran is pleased to be able to include four titles from women directors in this year’s round.
For Filmmaker, Donna K writes up a list of her favorite ten films directed by women from around the world, counting down to her favorite, Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline. For the Guardian’s Adrian Searle, the top art event of the year was the trio of concurrent exhibitions of Tacita Dean’s films, photographs, paintings, and installations at three of London’s major galleries. Antigone, “a double-screen 35 mm film of great complexity,” is “Dean’s most ambitious work yet.” And ARTnews senior editor Alex Greenberger presents ranked lists of his “favorite screen-based works I saw this year in galleries, museums, theaters, computers, and wherever else.”
Meantime, contributors to Slant have written up an alphabetical list of the twenty-five best Blu-ray releases of the year. You can watch the lists of the best music videos from Pitchfork and Rolling Stone as well as Art of the Title’s top ten title sequences and Dan Schindel’s roundup of the “best video essays of 2018.” You can also gaze at designers Daniel Benneworth-Gray’s and Craig Caron’s galleries of their favorite movie posters of the year and listen to designers Brandon Schaefer and Sam Smith discuss their selections “while reflecting on general trends in key art, festival posters, design agencies, and other aspects of the industry.”
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