1. Widows (dir. Steve McQueen)
Heat, The Town, Reservoir Dogs all high points in the Heist film genre. All have one other thing in common; little to no room for the Women in their respective worlds. Each also has their troubling portraits of women in these situations. Director Steve McQueen and Writer Gillian Flynn have concocted a heady brew from this vacancy and trouble portrayals of women. Widows comes fully formed and without reservation a blistering crime thriller with the women front and center. Widows is a high wire balancing; part Crime Thriller, part Political Potboiler, filtered through the lens of 2018’s tense social climate. The film isn’t just the best film of 2018 because it has so much to say about America at this moment but because it does so in such a populist commercial package you won’t even notice until it’s over. That is the ultimate power of Widows and why it will linger long after the end of the year.
1. If Beale Street Could Talk (dir. Barry Jenkins)
Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of If Beale Street Could Talk, his follow up to the Academy Award-winning Moonlight, is a love story of uncommon power. Adapting the novel by James Baldwin, Jenkins has made a film that is both a love story and social commentary without the clichés of either. What has been produced is not just a film for 2018 but a film for the ages. In an era of so much sound and fury and meaningless cinematic ventures, If Beale Street Could Talk eschews bombast and superficiality for warmth, understanding, and depth. Barry Jenkins has created another film unrivaled in its romance, hope, and humanity. What makes separates it from much of what we have seen in 2018, is that it understands that romance, hope, and humanity are all hard earned and worth fighting for.
1. First Reform (dir. Paul Schrader)
At 72-years-old Paul Schrader has made his masterpiece. First Reform is the type of cinema we rarely find; engaging mind, heart, and soul. The story of a man who is struggling with not only his faith in himself but in humanity. What is staggering is that it is a man of faith at the center of his storm, played by Ethan Hawke in a career-defining performance. The film is played out via journal entries from Reverend Toller (Hawke) as over the course of a year attempts to come to grips with his wavering faith in God. Few films have been honest about faith in the way that Schrader’s is. This is not some “faith-based” entertainment designed for comfort. Rather the film that Schrader has made is a serious discourse on the belief in God and Religion. Schrader pulls no punches here. This is not for the faint at heart nor those offended by heady critical looks at these religious governing bodies. The film isn’t a treatise on those governing bodies rather a look at what we have become and what we have done to the earth. From the beginning moments to the audacious ending First Reform is daring and meaningful cinema of the highest order.