If you have Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, Showtime and HBO, you can see almost every film on this list today. In fact, well over half of these films are already free on some combination of the above networks. Because small indie films no longer have theatrical screens, they end up streaming almost immediately. And the bigger ones … well they deserve to be seen at the theater, so perhaps maybe it’s all working out. I still prefer the focus that a distraction free theater provides, but you can’t always get there. I did miss a few (Green Book, Beale Street, Can You Ever Forgive Me?), but here’s what I saw and loved.
- Leave No Trace – Dir. Debra Granik (Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie)
Like director Debra Granik’s breakthrough “Winter’s Bone,” this small and patient film’s setting (a cold and bleakly beautiful Oregon and Washington) plays as central a character as the other remarkable performances in the film. A damaged, PTSD stricken veteran father, played with excruciating sadness, by Ben Foster, is trying to raise his teenage daughter off the grid in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.
There is no doubt that this life is not the right life for a child, but the love they share is as believable as almost any you are likely to see this year. Eventually the wonderful Thomasin McKenzie finds the courage to tell her father that his problems are not her problems, and you see a connection as naturalistic as the film itself. The final scene of the film will leave you devastated, but will have you thinking about it long after the credits roll.
- Free Solo – Dir. Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vaserhelyi (Alex Honnold)
A film this big deserves to be seen on a big screen. I was lucky enough to see it on IMAX with an Alex Honnold Q&A afterwards, but even if I had seen it at home on Netflix, it would still be one of the best films of the year, even though you know how it is going to end. Most often predictability is a bore, but here the only outcome you want is the one that you know you’ll get to see. Despite this, the film maintains an almost relentless and gripping sense of suspense. Honnold isn’t so much a character whom you understand as much as he is a person who defies any and all reasonable questions, and exudes a kind of mechanical confidence and precision of thought and mind. Wrap this in some of the most beautiful shots of El Cap and Yosemite, and you have something truly extraordinary.
- The Favourite – Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos (Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz)
Following up on two broadly inaccessible works of genius (“Lobster” and “The Killing Of A Sacred Deer”) director Yorgos Lanthimos has finally delivered a more linear historical drama that allows just the right amount of comic modernity to elevate it well beyond the genre. He cast a dream trifecta of female leads, where Coleman, Stone and Weisz are each perfect in their portrayal of a certain kind of person in a certain kind of circumstance.
“The Favourite” intimates that all the cattiness, scheming, self absorption and competition that seems the fabric of today, is a human instinct that has always been there. The film is both laugh out loud funny and tragically real, and deserves this kind of art-house break out status in a age dominated by superheros and sequels!
- Roma – Dir. Alfonso Cuaron (Yalitza Aparicio, Andy Cortes)
There is no doubt that this film is a genuinely unique cinematic milestone. From the exquisite black and white cinematography that helps frame the time and place so effortlessly, to the way the story is more observed than staged and acted. The camera seems almost like a welcome voyeur following an endlessly moving and chaotic naturalistic childhood remembrance.
It is as much about the texture pace and setting as it is about any sort of linear plot line, but the emotional journey of the Cuaron’s childhood nanny is what keeps things tethered. She is both loved and appreciated but also hopelessly anchored to her place in society. Both nothing and quite a lot happen along the way, but in the end the world keeps turning just like the way the camera keeps rolling.
- Sorry to Bother You – Boots Riley (Lakeith Stanfield, Danny Glover, Tessa Thompson)
The first two thirds of this film is a surreal romp through the ironic hipsterism of gentrified America. Set in a kind of alterna-Oakland, the story follows the charmingly sarcastic Cassius “Cash” Green, from unemployment to the top of a bizarre telemarketing scheme selling a “Worry Free” life. If, perhaps, this sounds straightforward, it doesn’t take long before you begin to see director Riley’s vision and politics run wild.
It’s funny, or not, how inevitably success and money often brainwashes people into believing their own bullshit (a not so subtle jab at tech culture). The final third of the film watches like a kind of tripped out “The Shape of Water” complete with bizarre creatures trapped in a world run by humans. In the end the film is really a love story, a story about gentrification, and taking stereotypes and tipping them over until almost nothing makes sense but everything is crystal clear. Make sense? Probably not. See the film. [Read more…]