Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
On my personal blog, I summed up what were the major headlines from the movie industry in 2018, as well as listing thirty and more films that I thought were the best of the past year. I made a note of the films that were at the top of the box office and the films that were clearly popular and successful. I even recognized a few of the films that will be up for Academy Awards or Oscars. As often is the case, my personal list is none of those things. My favorite movies usually aren’t popular, mainstream or ones that win Oscars. Nevertheless, these are the films that I champion and would highly recommend that people see.
10. ON THE BASIS OF SEX / GAME NIGHT – It’s a tie for this spot. I had ranked the comedy Game Night out of my top ten, even though it remained at the top of my list since I first saw it back in February. However, it was probably the most fun I’d had in the theater, watching something original. It was probably the film where I laughed the most. An experience like that is rare for a cynical film critic, which I can sometimes be, so I couldn’t stop thinking about it. At the same time, the legal drama On the Basis of Sex is something I couldn’t stop thinking about either. Legal dramas are in fact my favorite genre and this one about young Ruth Bader Ginsburg is undeniable as many classic legal dramas are.
9. BEN IS BACK – I am a fan of Julia Roberts and she stars in this film as a concerned mother of a drug addict, played by Lucas Hedges who is the Leonardo DiCaprio for millennials. Hedges may not have the boyish looks and poster boy sex appeal, even though he could if he leaned into it more, but Hedges is just as great an acting talent and holds his own opposite a heavyweight and luminous veteran like Roberts.
8. NIGHT COMES ON – This is a film that never made it to any theaters on Delmarva. It’s instead only available via digital platforms now. This is probably because it’s an independent film, directed by a woman, written by a queer woman of color, about a queer girl of color and starring unknown actors. It probably wouldn’t have been a blockbuster hit in the rural multiplexes of this peninsula but who knows? It’s a powerful story that one has been unlike any thing else this year. It’s also the kind of films that I love to champion because it is such a knockout even in its simplicity.
7. THE RIDER – Chloé Zhao is a Chinese filmmaker. She was born in Beijing. She studied in London and New York. She settled in California. This is only her second feature film, but, based on the strength of this film, she’s now going to direct a big-budget Disney/Marvel Studios film. This one is rather unique though. It’s about a young man in South Dakota who is from the Lakota Sioux tribe. What makes it unique is that she’s telling a true story and she’s using the actual person from that true story. She doesn’t use an actor to play him. She uses the real-life guy to play himself. Normally, that doesn’t go well as Clint Eastwood proved in his film that did the same thing. Zhao’s film is wonderfully performed because it doesn’t feel forced or contrived but natural. It’s also more emotional, if sentimental but effectively so.
6. HEREDITARY – This film is just a crazy, horror film that starts out not really announcing that. It lulls you into thinking that it’s just a dark family story with a central performance from Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) that is intense and incredible. The last half of it gets a little bonkers where supernatural stuff starts to happen. It’s reminiscent of prestige horror pics from movie studio A24 like The Witch (2015), but I like how it lulled me into thinking it wasn’t that. The director just crafts it so well that it’s enjoyable, putting it into the same category as Rosemary’s Baby or other classic horrors.
5. PRIVATE LIFE – This is probably the best comedy of the year. It was directed by Tamara Jenkins about a New York City couple trying to have a baby through various means. The majority of the film focuses on the couple getting a surrogate, a young girl who also comes to live with them. Watching the generational divide between the young girl and the middle-age couple, as well as the issues with surrogacy or even in vitro is brilliantly explored in Jenkins’ yarn.
4. ANNIHILATION – I love science-fiction, but it’s rare to get really good or clever sci-fi that doesn’t explore oft-explored topics in ways that are interesting or different. Writer-director Alex Garland intrigued people with his previous sci-fi thriller, which was about robots. He tops himself with this psychological journey that’s about an alien invasion on its surface but really is about probing the depths of fears and insecurities of several women who enter into a forest looking for the source of an alien crash. It’s terrifying like Ridley Scott’s Alien and trippy like the ending of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
3. BEING BLACK ENOUGH – It’s rare that we get good satire in mainstream films any more. This one was a very small and independent film that was mainly overlooked. This is because it only played in one theater in Los Angeles last year before being released on VOD. However, this movie was extremely well done, given that writer-director Devin Rice worked with very little resources. Yet, it felt like early Spike Lee. Spike Lee released a film this year called BlacKkKlansman, which will probably get a few Oscar nominations, but this film to me has more heart and even more fire than Lee’s film this year. Rice examines what it means to be African-American in today’s age and it’s so insightful and piercing that it can’t be denied.
2. BLINDSPOTTING – Daveed Diggs is best known for his role in the Broadway musical Hamilton. He’s popped up in other things since then, but this film is probably his major debut. He not only stars but it was also co-written by him. It focuses on his hometown of Oakland, California. It also focuses on his relationship with his best friend, which he has to reevaluate in the wake of moments of violence. It tackles issues of Black Lives Matter but not in the way that’s obvious or like any other film or TV show. It also tackles issues of racism in ways that aren’t expected and more compelling than in any film lately.
1. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK – Filmmaker Barry Jenkins won several Oscars, including Best Picture for Moonlight (2016). He was an interesting director to watch before then, but that film cemented his status as one of the potential greatest directors of his generation. His films are beautiful. The look and feel are always so sumptuous and gorgeous. He’s done a romantic film before, but this one might be even more romantic but in a more tragic sense. It’s very bittersweet. It’s an adaption of a James Baldwin novel in a very faithful fashion. It brings to the big-screen what is rare and that’s love between two African-Americans. This one is lovely and hopefully will make stars out of Kiki Layne and Stephan James.