Last year, when Aimee Murillo and Matt Coker revealed their five favorite films seen during 2017, they had no idea they were starting a year-ender tradition. And yet, here is their second-annual look back, with the same caveat that these are productions that were seen on any day and created during any year, so long as they saw them for the first time during 2018.
Penny Slinger: Out of the Shadows. Very rarely am I filled with a sense of awe when I watch a documentary, but learning about the artist Penny Slinger and her brand of fiery feminist artwork that explored themes such as BDSM, sexuality and the female body through a thick prism of surrealism made me not only a fan of the British-American artist, but also angry that I hadn’t heard of her sooner. Richard Kovitch gives the still-living artist her due in a thoughtful, well-researched documentary that expertly analyzes her oeuvre of work, stretching from the late 1950s through today. It’s a must for any fan of ’60s art, as well as a testament to how many boundaries she’s pushed just by being herself.
Eighth Grade. Bo Burnham’s darling indie comedy will steal the hearts of whoever sees it, mainly for its teen heroine navigating early adolescence in the midst of a social media age. Kayla (Elsie Fisher) posts tutorials for other awkward preteens out there trying to figure out the ins and outs of socializing, but her videos are really diary entries of Kayla trying to fit in with the cool kids at her school. On the cusp of starting high school and leaving childhood behind, Kayla throws herself into new social situations, often with mixed, hilarious results.
Hereditary. Simply put, this film terrified me. Although Ari Aster’s debut feature is mired in arthouse frills, there’s nothing lackluster in the dark atmosphere he concocts. Toni Collette plays an artist whose mother recently passed away, with her death setting off a chain of events that lead to the realization of a deadly prophecy she hid for years. Don’t watch this film in the dark.
Black Panther. All the praise (and potential Oscar buzz) for Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther has been stacking up, and it’s definitely one of the best superhero films I’ve encountered in a while. From the action to the mythical construction of Wakanda to the costumes to the cast and crew, everything was meticulously planned to make this a game-changing film, with a resonant moral to boot. Is anyone else anxiously awaiting a follow-up flick on the Dora Milaje?
Rope. I stumbled upon this 1948 Alfred Hitchcock film on the Boiler Room online streaming site 4:3. It’s apparently one of Hitch’s lesser-known, least-liked works, but its use of real-time scene acting draws out the suspense. In Rope, two academic scholars carry out a philosophical exercise of killing off a friend who, in their eyes, is an intellectually inferior person, then hold a dinner party right after to prove they can get away with the murder. I appreciated the one-shot camera illusion Hitchcock tried to pass off half a century before Alejandro Inarritu’s Birdman. The gay subtext embedded throughout the film is a huge plus.
Black Panther. This tops my list for all the reasons stated above, plus this bonus: It is the only superhero movie I have seen in years that did not put me to sleep. Honestly, it’s a real problem.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. I suspect this is another in a long string of movies by Joel and Ethan Coen in which some will dismiss it, a vocal minority will call it a masterpiece, and years from now, the early dismissers will rethink their original positions. (See: Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, A Serious Man, etc.) Scruggs is a collection of six morality plays set in the 19th-century post-Civil War era, and my favorite is about a grizzled old gold panner played by Tom Waits, whom I swore was Nick Nolte.
Roma. The first Hispanic and Mexican to win the Best Director Oscar (for Gravity in 2014), Alfonso Cuarón wrote, directed, shot, co-edited and co-produced this passion project based on his growing up in Mexico City in the 1970s, presenting it in glorious black-and-white. But the warts-and-all story is not told through the eyes of a young boy, his siblings or his upper-middle-class parents, but rather their housekeeper (Yalitza Aparicio, who amazes in her first film role).
1945. This Hungarian film, which was directed by Ferenc Török and also shot in glorious black-and-white, is a horror masterpiece without actual monsters. Three months after World War II ends, an older man (the late Iván Angelusz, who is also the producer) and his son (Marcell Nagy) step off a train outside a remote Hungarian village. The closer they get to their destination, the more the villagers freak out—to humorous, heartbreaking and tragic ends.
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami. The at times sad, at times invigorating, at all times splendid documentary from Sophie Fiennes (the sister of actors Ralph and Joseph) gives a revealing, nonlinear look at the music/fashion/gender-blender icon. Taking five years to make, as well as plane trips all over the world, the film reassures that Grace Jones is still out there, fighting the good fight in headdresses that cover her eyes.