Top 15 Films of 2018 – Allen’s Picks
Spike Lee’s career has spanned decades, resulting some of the most important American films ever made, and yet in many ways he’s still underrated. BlacKkKlansman is not only one of the best films of 2018, but one of the best films Lee has ever made. This is a hilarious, urgent, and powerful look at an African American police officer (John David Washington) who – with the help of his Jewish American partner (Adam Driver) – successfully infiltrated a KKK branch in Colorado in the 1970s, getting so deep that he actually established a relationship with Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). Like Lee’s previous efforts, this is a penetrating examination of race relations in a country that is still dealing with it to this day. He ties events of the past to the events of the present, showing us how – despite all the progress that has been made – much more still needs to be done.
Here is a man who seemed so plain, so simple, even a little goofy, and yet he encompassed a perspective that touched the hearts of countless people. Morgan Neville’s documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? traces the life and legacy of TV personality, Fred Rogers. With his low key, calm demeanor, Fred Rogers was emblematic of what it meant to be kind, what it meant to listen, and what it meant to have empathy for others unlike us. In his own unique way, Rogers took his show and used it to help parents and children deal with very serious issues. He was a pioneer disguised as your mild-mannered uncle. It’s hard to watch this and not be moved by this one person’s sincerity and good will. He was exactly who was, with no hidden agendas or selfish aspirations. This shows how much kindness can be given and returned – a lesson that many of us may have forgotten in recent times.
8) The Guilty
Gustav Moller’s Danish film, The Guilty, is a white knuckled thriller headed by a superb central performance by Jakob Cedergren. Cedergren plays Asger, a police officer demoted to working at a small emergency dispatch office. His slow night quickly turns bad when he gets a call from a woman who has apparently been kidnapped. In a runtime of less than ninety minutes, Moller amps up the suspense as Asger tries to piece together the clues to the woman’s location, all while dealing with his personal demons. The majority of the narrative has us staring right at Cedergren’s face, and his tense, increasingly desperate performance keeps us glued in the entire way through. This is a perfect example of minimalist filmmaking done masterfully.
Barry Jenkins follows up his Oscar winning Moonlight (2016) with the beautiful, lyrical If Beale Street Could Talk. Adapting the book by acclaimed writer James Baldwin, Jenkins follows a young African American couple (Kiki Layne, Stephan James) and their relationship through a turbulent 1970s Harlem. But this is a not a dour experience. This is a moving, romantic, and hopeful story of love persisting in many different forms. There’s the love between the two leads, symbolized in a pregnancy. And there’s the love of family, and how one mother (a fantastic Regina King) will go above and beyond to help the couple when one gets arrested for a crime they did not commit. It’s a story of light shining when everything seems to be at its darkest. It’s poetic without pretension; it’s dramatic without cliché. Beale Street imbues its characters with the humanistic touch of a filmmaker at the height of his powers.
First Reformed is a combination of two forces coming together. The first is writer/director Paul Schrader, delivering one of his finest films to date. The next is Ethan Hawke, who gives a career-best performance as Father Toller, a minister of a small church in upstate New York. Schrader and Hawke work in conjunction, showing how this man of religion slowly unravels. When Father Toller meets a young couple (Philip Ettinger, Amanda Seyfried), he enters a crisis of faith in which he questions everything he believes in, and wonders if extreme measures must be taken to make a real difference. First Reformed operates as a spiritual follow up to Taxi Driver (1976) – also written by Schrader – containing the same dark story of a character wanting to make a change and going to any lengths to do it. It’s twisted and strange, but utterly absorbing and fascinating. This is the kind of film that deserves multiple viewings to analyze everything that is going on.