If Beale Street Could Talk
By Alex Sitaras
Barry Jenkins had a lot on his shoulders in following up Moonlight. Choosing If Beale Street Could Talk, the first English-language adaptation of a James Baldwin novel, to be his next film was a challenging endeavor, the novel highly revered and expectations of Jenkins’s work high. In If Beale Street Could Talk, Jenkins succeeded in creating a film that respected, and even elevated, the words of Baldwin’s novel while progressing a very visual and music-oriented directorial style. While color is a major aspect of If Beale Street Could Talk, it is the people situated in front of the color, their faces that are accented by colors, that are the focal points of If Beale Street Could Talk. In depicting the challenges faced by two African American families to attempt to prove the innocence of a family member wrongly arrested by a racist policeman, Jenkins humanizes the two families- and by extension the African American community- deeply.
By Ben McDonald
One of the most aesthetically gorgeous films to emerge from 2018 is Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War, an eccentrically terse tale of romance that recaptures in jaw-dropping black-and-white cinematography the zeitgeist of its titular time period. Beginning in the immediate, desolate devastation of post-WWII Poland and ending long into the height of Cold War-Europe, the film follows the toxic intermittent relationship between singer Zula (Joanna Kulig) and conductor Wiktor (Tomasz Kot). Despite its brisk 85-minute runtime, the film is inexplicably able to convey the feeling of an entire lifetime through its vignette-style narrative, skipping ahead in time with a manic indiscrimination that is endlessly compelling. Pawlikowski’s follow-up to his 2013 masterpiece Ida is certainly as bleak in its outlook, but its occasional moments of tenderness manage to penetrate the oppressive frigidness, making it perhaps a far more accessible expedition than its pious predecessor.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
By Matt Schlee
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was precisely the film that American audiences needed in 2018. The feel-good documentary about Fred Rogers, the man who raised America’s collective children, instilled faith in the implicit goodness of man that can sometimes feel all-but-gone in these divisive times. Morgan Neville tells the story of Mr. Rogers in a manner that reminds the viewer of the man’s many contributions to the children of the world, but doesn’t sugar coat the negative elements of his life story. Whether it’s addressing the unfair criticisms of Mr. Rogers by the outside world, or Roger’s own sheltered views coming from a devoutly religious background, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is willing to address the good and the bad. Still, when it’s all said and done, the film lulls the viewer into a sense of childlike security, reminding us of what it was like to have a reassuring voice telling us that everything will be alright as long as we are all nice to each other.
By Dalton Mullins
After receiving glowing reviews and being awarded the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, Green Book has received some awards season fanfare but also waves of backlash ranging from issues of historical inaccuracy to its portrayals of racism. However, if you can look past the criticisms, Green Book is an enjoyable film experience. What gives Green Book its magic is the chemistry between the two leads of Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen. Each actor plays their roles spectacularly and their personalities bounce off each other through moments of laughter and humor, as well as in the more tense moments of self-reflection as they ponder their position in a changing world. Mortensen as the brutish, raised-on-the-streets Tony Lip was completely convincing. He executed all the visual and verbal cues you would expect of a man raised on New York City streets. He could be rude, crass, and would punch out anyone who needed it. Ali’s Don Shirley, on the other hand, experienced a completely different lifestyle. He was polite, eloquent, and Ivy League educated. The two characters hold different values and beliefs but the two personalities colliding created great chemistry that was so clearly apparent on screen. The glimpse into the relationship between Don and Tony is what made this film special, despite its mixed reception.
Isle of Dogs
By Ian Floodgate
Like most fans of Wes Anderson‘s work, when I learnt he was making a return to stop-motion animation I was excited and Isle of Dogs didn’t disappoint. Each element in this film adds to its quirkiness, from the appealing visuals to wonderful sounds and score that complement the feature as a whole. Anderson films are known for their ensemble casts and Isle of Dogs has arguably one of the best the writer/director has had to work with including such regulars like Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. Anderson has proven with Isle of Dogs that stop-motion animation is still an impressive art form and that his filmmaking style is still one to be revered.
By Ben McDonald
Despite tragically missing the opportunity to see the 2018 Palme d’Or-winner at Cannes itself, I nevertheless consider Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters to be one of my all-time favorites of the year. A tour de force in empathetic filmmaking, Shoplifters is a delicate deconstruction of the familial unit- what it entails, how it is maintained, and ultimately why it is so necessary. Effortlessly dodging any semblance of melodrama, Kore-eda weaves together a deceptively forthright story about a shoplifting family that adopts a young girl into their household after she is seemingly abandoned by her abusive parents. Along the way, there are hints of mystery and internal strife alike, but much of the joy of watching the film arrives purely from basking in the comfort this family’s (very much lived-in) world brings. Their interactions are rich, lifelike, and deeply affectionate, saying so much with often the fewest of words. There’s a profound beauty in the simplistic, and Kore-eda’s uniquely empathetic blend of humanism and neorealism endows Shoplifters with a degree of emotional memorability that few films this year have been able to grasp with such quiet confidence.
By Kevin Jones
There are few cinematic experiences that offer what Steve McQueen’s Widows does. It is, on-the-surface, a terrific heist film. It is thrilling, well-constructed, and masterfully directed with the tension building throughout until the final release provided by the heist itself. As it serves this genre portion of the film, Widows is often nail-bitingly intense, especially whenever Daniel Kaluuya appears on screen. However, it is also a sprawling look at modern America, encompassing a look at politics, education, sex, race, marriage, gentrification, and the disintegration of the American dream. McQueen explores these ideas in the plot and the characters, but also in the cinematography and this element may be the most powerful at Widows’ disposal. This is a film where pretty much no element is out of place and every frame tells a story all its own. For Steve McQueen, it was his passion project and this passion is easily felt. In many ways, Widows is the culmination of McQueen’s work to date, offering a filmmaker firmly at the top of his game and managing to probe the worlds of his films with surgical precision. A great cast- especially Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki– rounds out Widows as one of the few films of the year that I have seen where everything not only works, but excels.
By Matt Schlee
The final film of legendary Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, 24 Frames rejected convention and expectation in a way that should prove challenging to even the most adept viewers of experimental cinema. Kiarostami was always one to redefine the way an artist may express themselves through the moving image. In 24 Frames, he expands on his love of photography, and turns 24 individual stills into four and a half minute sequences. The film is plotless and the message is obscured by pure, meditative beauty as Kiarostami steeps the viewer in the magic and sometimes the fear of the natural world. He explores the “human” emotions felt by all living things, the timeless nature of companionship, and the isolating loneliness of modernity. 24 Frames is by definition a moving picture, but whether it is more suited to be projected in a theater or hanging on the walls of a museum is hardly clear. What is clear is that this is a final great work of art from one of the great artists of cinema.