Sunday, 6 January 2019

The Year in Movies – 2018

2018 was not an excellent year for this blog. Though I still saw many movies, and many brilliant movies, personal matters kept me from writing and posting reviews (which always takes longer than watching the movie itself). I underwent a handful of wondrous experiences, which I shared here, and a few more that I regret I was not able to share. I feel that I developed and learned more about the work of making movies and of discussing them, as well as about myself and how I view and appreciate them. I hope the chances will come for me to go further in detail in the coming year. A particular development for me personally was an increase in the number of television series I watched. I’ve hardly written anything about television at all, and before 2018 I generally found that work made for television did not meet my expectations of audiovisual artistic creation and revelation; however, my broadened horizons brought me to such wonders as Spike Lee’s miniseries remake of She’s Gotta Have It and Joe Swanberg’s miniseries Easy, which both expanded the form immensely in artistic consciousness and pure, joyous beauty. I look forward eagerly to finding more works like these and perhaps sharing them here with readers, together with the best cinematic works of each year.

Nobody reading this needs to be told that a selection of top movies is wholly subjective; a movie is good when you decide that it’s good, and the choice of the best movies out of any group is based entirely on your unique personal perceptions of each movie. Similarly, a movie becomes important not when it simply gets seen by many people, earns a lot of revenue, or is codified by a prestigious association, but when it makes a connection with the people who see it. The disappointment of the exclusion of Inxeba from the Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Language Film was quickly eclipsed by viewers’ strong appreciation of the work, and even the controversy surrounding it did not match the enthusiasm of the movie’s supporters.

My list of the sixteen best movies of the year is divided into two groups: those that were released in theatres in South Africa during the year and those that were not. That second group is becoming a more and more important part of movie-going culture, one that an increasingly large number of people — and no longer just cinephiles — are buying into, mostly through online subscription services such as Netflix and Showmax. However, among the movie reviewing services and other mainstream media in South Africa, very little attention is given to movies in this group. And, if viewers are ever directed to them, it’s only ever to titles on either Netflix or Showmax that are already widely known, and not to unknown or hidden works that deserve and require additional attention. Many of the best movies are being made on miniscule budgets, in places far away from Hollywood, and have little opportunity to be marketed. Sometimes, with excellent luck, a distributor like Netflix may acquire some of these movies — as it did with the fantastic independent movies Beach Rats and Shirkers, mentioned below — but often they move around in circles that only inside-cinema people can know about, and it’s the duty of those people to let others know about the gems that are hidden from wider view. A movie like I Am Not a Witch, also mentioned below, which is made in a country with a direly underdeveloped film industry, could prove to be an important movie to see for many people here in southern Africa as well as around the world, but very few people have seen it and even fewer of them are talking about it to others. It is much better known in the United Kingdom, where the filmmaker Rungano Nyoni has won a number of prominent prizes, and where she probably has the best chance of further developing her very promising career. We need our media gatekeepers to similarly promote and develop promising work here.

The Best Movies Released Theatrically

1. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson)

2. BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)

3. The 15:17 to Paris (Clint Eastwood)

4. Unsane (Steven Soderbergh)

5. Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)

6. Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)

7. Colossal (Nacho Vigalondo)

8. Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis)

9. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)

10. Inxeba (John Trengrove)

The Best Movies Not Distributed Theatrically (in alphabetical order)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen) (available on Netflix)

Beach Rats (Eliza Hittman) (available on Netflix)

A Ghost Story (David Lowery) (available on Showmax)

I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni)

Shirkers (Sandi Tan) (available on Netflix)

Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski)

Best Actress:
Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread
Juliette Binoche, Let the Sunshine In
Claire Foy, Unsane
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Regina Hall, Support the Girls
Anne Hathaway, Colossal
Lady Gaga, A Star is Born

Best Actor:

Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman

Best Supporting Actress:
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Rooney Mara, A Ghost Story
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Pearl Thusi, Catching Feelings

Best Supporting Actor:
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman

Best Ensemble Cast:
Phantom Thread
Lady Bird
Support the Girls
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Best Screenplay:
Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Christine Angot, Claire Denis, Let the Sunshine In
Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Konichi Nomura, Isle of Dogs
Andrew Bujalski, Support the Girls
Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs 
Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer, Unsane

Best Cinematography:
Phantom Thread (no credit)
Andrew Droz Palermo, A Ghost Story
Steven Soderbergh (as Peter Andrews), Unsane
Hélène Louvart, Beach Rats 
Chayse Irvin, BlacKkKlansman
Bruno Delbonnel, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs 
Agnès Godard, Let the Sunshine In
Matthias Grunsky, Support the Girls
David Gallego, I Am Not a Witch

Best Costumes:
Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread

Best Original Score:
Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread
Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs

You’ll find that there are many films that international critics are naming as the best of the year that we have not yet been shown in South Africa. Some of these are arriving in the coming weeks and months, including Beautiful Boy (4 January), The Old Man and the Gun (11 January), The Mule (18 January), On the Basis of Sex (25 January), If Beale Street Could Talk (25 January), The Favourite (1 February), Vice (1 February), Can You Ever Forgive Me? (8 February), and Green Book (15 February).

Other end-of-year lists
BTG Lifestyle (Stephen Nagel)
Because Everybody Else Has One (Ilan Preskovsky)
Big Screen Hooligans
City Press (Grethe Kemp) 
Channel24 (Ilan Preskovsky, Gabi Zietsman, Herman Eloff, Alex Isaacs, Bronwyn McKay, Leandra Engelbrecht)
Litnet (Suzette Kotzé-Myburgh)
RSG (Leon van Nierop)
Sunday Times (Pearl Boshomane Tsotetsi, Tymon Smith)

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