by InRO Staff Feature Articles Featured Film Year in Review

Top 20 Films of 2018

December 29, 2018

Toxic masculinity had a year; scan the top three titles on this list and you’ll find three films about self-involved men belaboring the value of ‘their art’ — made by three self-involved men belaboring the value of their art. That may seem like a dispiriting regression, especially considering where we were as a culture like 24 months ago, and in many ways 2018 has been a backslide of a year. But take a closer look at those three films — or another, just a bit further up our list, that’s often (dubiously) been compared to Taxi Driver (no, not the one directed by the guy who wrote Taxi Driver), or the one after that, about the exploits of a two-timing Lothario made by an outed two-timing Lothario. Look closer at these films because they’re more than just a return to, say, the machismo of 1970s classic Hollywood — and that includes the one that literally returns us to the 1970s glory days of classic Hollywood machismo. What stands-out about many of the male-centric movies on our list this year is that they tend to make a conscious effort to deflate the male ego; to dismantle the toxic culture that has allowed it to flourish; and to reframe masculinity itself as a fundamentally diminished property, a relic discarded along with the progress of the times. If that doesn’t seem like a seismic step, it isn’t: There are only three women filmmakers to the seven men that made it into our top 10, and that’s no way to support the girls. But terrible men were never going to slink away quietly, and if they’re going to stick around, we might as well watch them spiral endlessly into the deepest pits of hell…or mutilate their bodies with barbed wire…or blow their brains out all over the brunch special. Sam C. Mac

Honorable Mentions:
Prototype, Burning, Claire’s Camera, Roma, El Mar la Mar, Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?, Bisbee ‘17, Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Eighth Grade, Isle of Dogs,Classical Period, Cold War, Shoplifters, Den of Thieves, Dead Souls, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, and The Rider.


20. Following Milla (Severine Jonckeere) and her boyfriend Leo (Luc Chessel) — squatters in an unoccupied beachside home — director Valerie Massadian charts life on the fringes of a community in France. As the couple play house, Milla accumulates quotidian detail; Milla and Luc live an unconventional life, but they seem happy, and Massadian refuses to make them victims, capturing the full range of their experiences: counting out spare change, scrambling to eat, but also making love, and finding a kind of communal, familial acceptance at a local pub. When Milla discovers that she’s pregnant, suddenly, Massadian employs the first of several bold ellipses, skipping ahead several months to find Milla now alone, working as a housekeeper, and extremely pregnant — with Leo no longer in the picture. Another narrative jump, later, and Milla has a toddler, and is seen struggling as a single parent. Despite these temporal manipulations, though, Milla is very much a ‘present tense’ film: There’s no backstory here, nor much interest in traditional character psychology. Massadian focuses on small, specific, lived-in moments — much like Pialat or Cassavetes, but without the histrionic and neurotic bluster of their machismo. Scenes are held, uncannily, for the perfect amount of time, and they capture an almost preternatural sense of movement, and gesture, that keeps the action on a human scale — while hinting at something larger. In one of the finest moments in any film this year, Milla finds herself stumbling across a live performance of the Violent Femmes’s “Add It Up” — a song cue that’s returned to several times over the course of the film, tying together Milla’s disparate sections. As the scene collapses diegetic and non-diegetic sound, a disarming moment of magic realism occurs that, like the film as a whole, registers as a quiet epiphany. Daniel Gorman


19. Purportedly conceived in serialized form, Joel and Ethan Coen’s latest, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, makes for a far stronger work as an assemblage — an anthology film. Packaged in this way, Buster Scruggs cannily deconstructs the western, parceling out the genre’s myriad tropes and motifs across six segments that feature a singing cowboy; revel in the strange decadence and melancholy of sideshow oddities; and slow down for an affecting portrait of blossoming romance on a wagon train. Taken separately, these moving parts might have evinced a specious inequity uncharacteristic of the Coens’ work; cumulatively, these tales of capitalist pursuit and innocence betrayed build power through their structural interconnectedness, and through varied gradations of thematic heft — a reading made more emphatic thanks to a darkly spirited storybook framing. While the sense of playful orneriness here makes for a pleasing enough trifle, the always-reflexive Coens also use Buster Scruggs to prove that their deconstructive tendencies have expansive implications; typically known for busting genre modes, here, their intentionality in exploring the depth and breadth of a single genre tradition signals a more thoughtful and ambitious undertaking. Still present are the bumbling, slapstick criminals and pulpy violence, the sneaky pathos of tragedy, the steadying normality of an everyman surrounded by eccentrics, and notions of rebellious innocence in worlds of corruption and self-interest; only this time, in a nod to their own outlaw mythos — and mirroring their segmented approach to the western —  the Coens have dissected themselves, and laid bare their findings in six parts. Luke Gorham


18. A group of all-male German migrant workers “build infrastructure” at the outskirts of a Bulgarian village in director Valeska Grisebach’s Western, which takes a well-observed, realist aesthetic and suffuses it with the genre elements and the iconography evoked by its title. Instilling ideas of greater significance — ones uniquely linked to the language of cinema — in a mundane depiction of quotidian experience in contemporary Europe is an approach fairly typical of the Berlin School filmmakers (Christian Petzold, et. al), and as well the younger generation who’ve more recently come to prominence (e.g. Maren Ade, whose Toni Erdmann mounts a serpentine subversion of the corporate world’s social niceties). It’s this latter group, though, that Grisebach has often been lumped in with, and the designation fits: Western turns the dynamic between residents and migrants into a tense contest of power, and develops as a study in avoidant, passive-aggressive, non-confrontational masculinity. Grisebach’s camera watches as confrontations inevitably bubble up; her compositions, saturated in a humid, midsummer’s glare, patiently emphasize the barriers constructed, collapsed, and navigated between in a society, making her film a fascinating chronicle of community formation that’s committed enough to a sense of integrity about its realism (the cast is made up of almost all nonprofessional actors) as to excuse touches like the heavily loaded image of a white horse, and other bits of on-the-nose symbolism. Charles Lyons-Burt


17. If The Blair Witch Project made the woods feel unsafe and Paranormal Activity did the same for the home, then Unfriended: Dark Web seeks to destroy the last vestiges of comfort we might still derive from going online. Taking the spooky-scary ghost premise of the original Unfriended, but attributing ‘supernatural’ surveillance and voyeurism to the unnamed trolls who occupy areas of the internet that we cannot access, first-time director Steven Susco teases out a kind of pathos from his performers only glimpsed in Unfriended. The screen-captured, found footage conceit is galvanized by Susco’s lack of interest in cutting — in fact, the film plays as a great demonstration of Bazin’s realist theory: However insanely constructed the frame actually is, we’re granted free rein here to focus on anything — minus some sound design flourishes that consciously gin-up the tension. It turns out that seeing how a person uses a computer, intimately, forces an identification with that person that traps us later, as morbid curiosity begets a Nocturama-esque experience of bearing sadistic witness to a terrible fate. The emotional core of Dark Web, though — the relationship between app developer Matias and his deaf girlfriend, Amaya — vindicates the more theoretical aims of the film. As Matias tries desperately to use technology to communicate better (he’s a novice at ASL), the very mode of this communication (an app he’s developed) is weaponized against him (c.f. our hacked Skypes and Facebooks). So just as this film defines new forms, taking the stream of information we ourselves generate as its medium, it also emphasizes an imminent obsolescence. Can’t think of anything scarier than that. Joe Biglin


16. In drawing upon the lives of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), and Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), Yorgos Lanthimos renders a drama between historical figures as an appropriately farcical play of power and intrigue. What makes The Favourite such a success, though, is that it’s less concerned with illuminating its audience about any particular truths concerning human behavior or politics than it is in providing sequence after sequence of pure comedy. Lanthimos’s slapstick is exquisitely timed, his film’s dialogue is as witty as it is acerbic, and its title cards function as setups for jokes, since the quotes they feature are ones later spoken by the characters. In a way, the lives hidden from commoners during the 18th century are now revealed in all their grotesquery; thus, the film serves as a mirror to the voyeuristic delight people take in observing the absurdities of today’s Western politics. That none of this vile behavior comes off as revelatory points to why The Favourite might be Lanthimos’s darkest tragicomic film to date. Joshua Minsoo Kim


15. As in previous iterations, the performances are the engine of this A Star Is Born: It may seem like a no-brainer, but suddenly Bradley Cooper is completely believable as an incredibly famous musician just hanging out, backing up his protege on stage, while Lady Gaga, who routinely sells-out stadiums, totally convinces as a woman who’s initially sort of afraid of performing on a stage. Cooper’s film is also a rather elegantly unreconstructed melodrama, unostentatious in its delivery of expected beats, but with details sensitively modernized (Jackson Maine is less jealous of Ally’s newfound success than he is convinced that he’s unable to support her properly). A few jabs at the modern marketing machine aside, there’s no labored attempt at dissecting pop music as either a cultural force nor a road to inevitable self-destruction; instead, there’s the cold comfort of trauma and tribulation being fuel for creative fire. Whatever doesn’t kill you, etc. Tying it all together is Cooper’s clean and purposeful direction, his focus on faces (especially Gaga’s and Sam Elliott’s), and the occasional flourish (police lights approaching a house) that never feels affected. One can’t help but wonder what A Star Is Born would have been like with Clint Eastwood at the helm and Beyonce in the starring role, as was once intended. But it’s also hard to imagine that their film could’ve been any finer. Matt Lynch


14. The American Midwest is whatever you want it to be! It is, at once, an entirely negligible expanse of land, best used for routing trucks and growing corn — and it’s also the Rosetta Stone with which we can decipher our current political moment. The Midwest is an abstraction, it exists over there, it does not have the luxury of self-definition, but is defined by the ways in which it is not one of America’s dueling coasts. The irony, of course, is that in their shaping of the Midwest, America’s metropolitan class have created something that confounds and upsets them. Sure, the opioid crisis sucks… but aren’t they all racist? Monrovia, Indiana does not set out to answer that question so much as to push back against the inclination to even ask it. At age 88, and over 50 years into his career, Frederick Wiseman has made his most philosophically challenging film; his recent works are, in fact, all quite excellent, but each operates within institutions, and by the logic of certain thematic ideas, that his audience is predisposed to appreciate. Monrovia knowingly addresses an audience that comes to it bogged down with assumptions and suspicions, and has the audacity to ask them to accept everything as it is. Not every stereotype is subverted, not every subject is pleasant, but none of this is really all that foreign. That said, the film is so much more than an argument on behalf of the universal; it’s something far more realistic and necessary, an invitation to engage with Middle Americans sincerely, and to recognize that their woes will soon be ours as well. And it’s more than fitting that this is where Wiseman would find himself, now, after 50 years spent documenting American institutions and quietly filming a country in the throes of a collapse that’s actually been brought on by those same broken institutions that he’s dedicated his life to critiquing. M.G. Mailloux


13. The late Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami often collapsed boundaries in his work: between fiction and documentary (Close-Up, a recreation of a director-imposter case with the roles played by the real people involved, incorporating actual courtroom footage) or between cinema and art installation (Five Dedicated to Ozu, Shirin). Kiarostami’s swan song, 24 Frames, audaciously combines cinema and photography to create a haunting and death-suffused, yet puckishly playful and romantic, artwork. Kiarostami was inspired by a nagging thought: What occurs before and after the still images that are created by painters and photographers? 24 Frames consists of 24 vignettes, each four-and-a-half minutes — “frames” digitally animated. Kiarostami kicks it off with Bruegel’s famous painting The Hunters in the Snow, to which he adds falling snow, chimney smoke, flying crows, walking cows, and in a show of irreverence from the old master, a dog pissing on a tree. This establishes the template for frames to follow, each of which are based on images from Kiarostami’s own photography, and dominated by animals — birds, cows, sheep, cats, deer, lions, and other creatures cavorting within serene pastoral landscapes. Oddly, for such a famously humanist filmmaker, humans are largely absent — except in two of the frames. In the final image of Kiarostami’s singular filmography, a sleeping woman is seen at a computer playing a clip of a man and a woman embracing, accompanied by a soaring rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies.” Here, the romanticism that’s been suppressed comes roaring back in a beautiful capper to Kiarostami’s final gift to his fellow cinema travelers. Christopher Bourne


12. If Joseph Kahn ever decides he wants a rap name, he should consider “Lil LVT.” No one besides Cannes’s once-and-future persona non grata made a film this year more intent on subverting itself, on hedging its worst and most racist or culturally insensitive or sexist ideas by subsuming them in a self-aware autocritique that’s actually meant to make us question the specific ways we take offense to things. Which is to say that Bodied bears as much the mark of the guy who made hyper-meta teen sci-fi/slasher/pop culture regurgitron Detention as it does the auteurist stamp of its executive producer, Marshall Mathers. As with Eminem’s best material, Bodied presents itself as something like a game of chicken, daring us to cluck our tongue at brainy white rap nerd Adam (Calum Worthy) as he constructs an entire verse around Asian racial epithets, just so the film can dizzyingly implicate our own sense of privilege, or expose our concern for the accosted Korean MC as hollow and even a bit condescending. Because this trick itself can get old, arrogant, and yes condescending — not unlike Em’s music — it’s a relief that Kahn is here, and that his prevailing conscience, and his belief in the capacity of socially meted-out justice, allows for his film’s monster to end up, ultimately, as damned as Lars’s. SCM


11. Spike Lee is our most American filmmaker, the John Ford of his generation. And BlacKkKlansman is his The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Like Ford, Lee filters a lifetime of work, the exploration of the essential contradictions of the American experience, through the medium of a popular, if disreputable, genre. In Liberty Valance, that meant examining the traditions of community and politics and the blind and bloody violence through which they were manifested in the confined interior spaces of the TV Western. Lee interrogates the dynamics of structural racism at work in an ostensibly liberal American culture through a crowd-pleasing, heroic cop drama, and then oscillates steadily between the idea that the good, enlightened (white and sometimes black) cops can and will save us from the bad guys and the blunt fact that they never, ever have — that for all their supposed triumphs against these particular racists in Colorado in the early 1970s, David Duke is still a thing, white power marches are still a thing, and American martyrs like Heather Heyer are still being created. BlacKkKlansman is structured around contradictions: every element, every scene is balanced by its negation. The film steadfastly resists resolution, as compounded in its multiple endings, where victories both dramatic and comic are balanced by the stark reality (metaphorical, in Lee’s signature tracking shot, and literal in the film’s closing news footage) that the struggle for the soul of America never ends. Sean Gilman


10. Fresh off a history-making Best Picture win with his previous film, Moonlight, Barry Jenkins is back with a similarly melancholic tale of acceptance in the face of tremendous adversity. Adapted from James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, If Beale Street Could Talk raises issues of racial discrimination that are sadly still prevalent in American society today, in the form of a lament for two young lovers from Harlem who are separated when one is wrongfully accused of a crime and imprisoned. While this year’s The Hate U Give already addressed the volatile relationship in America between the police and the black community, with a forceful sense of anger directed at the apparent status quo, Beale Street is a quieter film that offers a deeper look at one particular family impacted by prejudice in ways completely beyond their control. What’s particularly heartbreaking is that, to some degree, these characters have to accept inequality and injustice and simply learn to survive the consequences of it. Jenkins’s approach to the sensitive source material is especially graceful; the budding central romance between Fonny and Tish (expertly played by Stephan James and Kiki Layne) is handled with great gentility, while there’s much to relate to in the lived-in togetherness of Tish’s family. The film is beautifully crafted, too, from the flavors of fall present in James Laxton’s warmly-hued cinematography to the subtle horns in Nicholas Britell’s moody, jazz-incorporated score, which brilliantly captures the vibe of an early 1970s New York. Calum Reed


9. Alex Ross Perry’s garrulous characters talk quite a lot but rarely listen. They live in enviable Brownstones, wear stylish sweaters, marry attractive women; and yet they’re still afflicted with a most profound ennui, trudging through lives they neither want nor appreciate. In Golden Exits, the apogee of Perry’s Sad White Men movies (next year’s Her Smell switches things up, chronicling the maladies of a drug-addled, monstrous female rock star), Adam Horovitz plays a middle-aged man who, having once strayed from his wife, now lives forever in the proverbial doghouse. When a beautiful new assistant, Naomi (Emily Browning), comes sauntering into his life, the tumult of past indiscretions tears open unhealed wounds. Further complicating matters is Naomi’s old family friend (Jason Schwartzman), who’s also stuck in an ostensibly unhappy marriage, and who shows up (at his mother’s request) to guide (and guard) Naomi until he, too, becomes inveigled by her. “It’s not like other people clamor for my company,” he grouses over lunch. “Does your wife clamor?” she asks. “She does not clamor.” Golden Exits has a patience, a persuasive and pervasive melancholy but never self-pity that could be culled from Husbands and Wives, or even Interiors. And like those films, with their crestfallen, woebegone characters, its humor is acerbic, subdued; a wry line here, a wayward glance there. The film is like a local bar on a Thursday night: no one leaves happy. Greg Cwik

235735433-48. Hong Sang-soo is so prolific that year-end lists seem hardly able to keep apace; whatever the director has completed most recently, we here in North America are always a few films behind it. The Day After competed for the Palme d’Or in May of 2017 — the same year that Cannes also showed another Hong film, Claire’s Camera — and was soon succeeded by this year’s world premieres, Grass and Hotel by the River. Yet despite the routine deluge, any new Hong picture is as easy to identify as a Rembrandt or Vermeer — of a piece with the corpus, but completely individual, and in all but superficial ways, unique. The Day After concerns what might be called a case of mistaken infidelity: The wife of a publisher harangues the new girl at her husband’s office she wrongly assumes is his long-time mistress, whereupon various tirades, tearful apologies, and trysts predictably ensue. On the margins of it all, sucked into a vortex of pitiful male bedlam, is Areum, played by Kim Min-hee, whose own, real-life affair with Hong has, across so many of their recent films together, been excruciatingly chronicled. She is the victim of yet more cruelty and the kind of callous indifference that in Hong’s films always feels confessional; she’s seduced, made accomplice in adultery, and tossed aside again coldly, all in a fleet 90 minutes. But she is also adored by the camera, which dotes and fawns, relishes and lingers, lavishing her with attention. This almost obsessive fondness is responsible for The Day After’s indelible central image: Kim, in the back of a taxi cab, window rolled down against the twilit snow, her face aglow with the warmth of a blameless intimacy. Calum Marsh

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7. Every moment of Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here feels just the tiniest bit wrong. And not simply “wrong” in the sense of some moral depravity, but “wrong” on a level in which reality is so fundamentally broken that there is no actual morality. It’s a film that posits that the notion of a social contract is a lie and always has been, and that’s the only way that Joaquin Phoenix’s Joe can function in a world where he’s expected to share space with other people. He does that poorly, for what it’s worth. Phoenix’s own deep weirdness has never been put to better use, either, as he manifests Joe’s PTSD in ways that only approximate what polite society has collectively deemed humanity. Joe’s current form scares the vestigial version of himself still firing in the synapses of his brainstem as much as he scares everyone except for his poor doomed mother. The fleeting moments of grace he shares with his mother and, later, with Ekaterina Samsonov’s Nina, are all that keep him tethered to life in a world that never offered better except as illusions. Joe is tasked with rescuing Nina, but the questions of from what and from whom and for how long and to what end are the horror of You Were Never Really Here. “It’s a beautiful day,” Nina tells Joe, and she’s been sufficiently traumatized to know how ephemeral that promise of solace is in a world where there is no bottom. Jonathan Keefe

6. The psychology of Don Diego de Zama, an embittered, low-ranking government official languishing in a 17th century Spanish colonial purgatory, unravels faster than his foppish wig in Lucretia Martel’s sharply satirical Zama. At some point in the midst of waiting to be transferred away from his existential nightmare, Zama comes to recognize the absurdity of colonialism: The occupiers are plagued by imaginary villains pursuing worthless treasure, and trapped in a convoluted web of their own spinning. Not unlike Buñuel’s savage, satirical masterpiece The Exterminating Angel, the characters of Zama are seen as either unable, or unwilling, to acknowledge any culpability, and their brooding ennui and delusions of power keep them trapped in their own personal hells. As she did with her last film, The Headless Woman, Martel brilliantly creates a peculiar sense of alienation and dread, deploying long takes and descending tones as Zama loses his marbles. And yet what’s often been overlooked by critics is just how funny Zama is. Don Diego isn’t a pitiable figure; he’s a man of much-deserved ridicule, a living representation of bureaucratic inanity that perfectly encapsulates colonialism’s insidious folly. But his Sisyphean quest to escape a Kafka-esque limbo of middle management becomes the film’s most hilarious running joke, brought to life through gentle surrealism and trenchant social critique. There could scarcely be a better encapsulation of our global political moment; Zama is dogma without reason, confidence without the proper facts to back those feelings up, power without a sense of responsibility, and absurdity without self-awareness, as set in a world run by self-absorbed clowns and petty tyrants. It’s 2018’s most devastating political satire. Mattie Lucas


5. Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls makes no hay of its title’s double meaning; at Double Whammies, the Hooters-like sports bar in which the film is set, that noble/sleazy split is just a fact of life. Indeed, such dualities — and the plausible deniability that they afford — are in some ways the driving force of the larger ‘breastaurant’ industry itself. Though Double Whammies’ harried manager Lisa (a superb Regina Hall) repeats the assurance that the establishment is “a family place,” there’s little to really bolster that statement. True, over the film’s one-crazy-day timeline, she treats her employees with an all-too-rare, almost maternal compassion. But the (American, capitalist) structures that she works within mean that such concessions are not without their consequences, so Support the Girls proceeds as a series of negotiations in which no one wins — not Lisa, not her pair of trusted employees (Haley Lu Richardson and Junglepussy), not the too-clever girls just looking for work (“I’m, like, a marketing major”), not even the restaurant’s racist owner Cubby (James LeGros). Evincing its origins as a TV pitch, Bujalski’s script contains ostensible gaps in backstory that are never filled in; and yet, much like his confident direction, Support the Girls is keener and wiser for being so outwardly lax and unemphatic. Rule No. 1 — the prime capitalist dictate — is “No drama!” By the end, the women are left to vent their frustrations on a rooftop, faced with a tangled network of Texas highways and underpasses, their screams carried off down a road to nowhere. Lawrence Garcia

4. Made as a lark during production delays for the much more ambitious High Life, Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In nevertheless manages to alight on some very profound subject matter: namely, love, and the hours upon hours we spend conceptualizing it, pursuing it, and tripping over ourselves trying to just make it happen. Occupying a genre (romantic comedy) that’s typically thought to be the domain of the frivolous, Denis’s film doggedly details the love life of bohemian divorcée Isabelle (Juliette Binoche), a woman of deep sensitivity and resilience, and one for whom all other day-to-day concerns — her painting career, her family, the obstacles of living life in modern day Paris — become secondary to the hunt for her own romantic ideal. Though Isabelle’s superlative man is never explicitly defined by Denis, nor discovered by Isabelle herself, this film’s narrative does circle around a cluster of eligibles who fall short: the rapaciously horny Vincent (Xavier Beauvois), the emotionally out-of-step Marc (Alex Descas), an unstable and possibly alcoholic actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle), an ex-husband (Laurent Grévill) who still swings by for afternoon lovemaking, and a few others who briefly catch Isabelle’s fancy. Less oblique than usual, Denis’s filmmaking is intimately tethered to the temperament of her protagonist and the remarkably vulnerable performance of her star. When Isabelle’s in the throes of desire, the camera swoons along with her; when she’s defeated and confessional, it regards her with an honest, unmediated clarity. By turns gut-wrenching and revitalizing, Let the Sunshine In is anything but a fluffy diversion; its ostensible lightness cuts right to the heart of the matter. Carson Lund

3. Matt Dillon’s titular serial killer in The House That Jack Built likens himself, and his gruesome crimes, to a litany of more obvious historical figures — Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini among them — but there’s one choice that seems odd: classical pianist Glenn Gould. Jack claims both he and Gould make art with the tools that they’ve been gifted, creating “beauty” in a needlessly cruel world. If director Lars Von Trier were to take this same approach and compare himself to a contemporary tortured musical artist, one strong candidate might be Kanye West. Both men have faced near-universal animosity in the past decade for their irrationally selfish public outbursts (one compared himself to a Nazi; the other openly supported one), yet neither has shied away from these criticisms in their own work — they’ve actually embraced them. It’s within this mode of introspection that The House That Jack Built serves its most integral purpose: as a damning self-critique in which the Danish provocateur depicts himself as a narcissistic abuser who’s willing to destroy anyone and anything to achieve the greatest potential his craft affords him. Part essay on society’s indulgence of violence, part black comedy of pathetic, egotistically-fueled pride, Jack is at times an overwhelming experience due to just how demandingly it intellectualizes this material, never once wavering from its commitment to scrutinize the most grotesque hegemonic masculinity. Yet Lars, much like Kanye, ultimately believes that “the most beautiful thoughts are always besides the darkest”; he even offers some faint optimism, suggesting that the only way to purge these demons is to confront them head-on. Paul Attard

2. In between posting problematic, unfiltered-uncle updates to Facebook and appearing at any repertory screening of his work that will have him, Paul Schrader found time to follow up his two recent Nicolas Cage thrillers with the year’s most uncompromisingly personal auteurist statement not directed by a dead man. Arriving early-ish in the year, First Reformed had both the initial bite and lingering toxic aftertaste of the alarming Pepto-and-whiskey cocktail “enjoyed” by its protagonist (and the memory of its power might have tempered the zeal with which subsequent inevitable list-toppers were greeted). If the title wasn’t enough of a clue, the opening shot here — which dollies through a churchyard to the entryway of a 250-year-old Dutch Reformed Church in Snowbridge, New York — announces this as Schrader’s most direct reckoning with his severe Protestant (in his case Calvinist) upbringing, and its place in a modern world of environmental decay and religious commodification. The focus on a solitary man, Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Ernst Toller, marks the film as another Schrader work indebted to Robert Bresson (particularly Diary of a Country Priest) and both the culmination of, and afterword to, the writer-director’s God’s Lonely Man, “monocular films” project that began with Taxi Driver. DP Alexander Dynan’s grey-white-brown Academy ratio frames, and the ambient churn of scorer Lustmord, help to sustain the bleak air established early by despondent climate collapse prognostications from Michael (Philip Ettinger), suicidal husband of Mary (Amanda Seyfried). And though a hearty Cedric “The Entertainer” Kyles — and a risky, touchingly lo-fi interlude of Toller and Mary’s imagined flight over virgin natural landscapes — do somewhat cut the woe, the film’s clammy carryover effects will cling long after most of its contemporaries are forgotten. Justin Stewart

1. It may be very far into the future before we figure out what Orson Welles’s late magnum opus is up to; words like ‘masterpiece’ don’t feel that appropriate, not yet. Then again, The Other Side of the Wind is such a unique, bizarre object that it may forever be beyond our grasp: over thirty years in the making, with a chunk of that time allotted to legal wrangling and combing through millions of feet of footage, it is, frankly, a miracle that it even exists, in any form. And the form that it does exist in is beastly: a free mix of pseudo-verite, black and white documentary footage on 16mm, and a film-within-a-film shot in full color 35mm. Welles attempts to encapsulate his thoughts on the New Hollywood generation while taking shots at Antonioni-esque European arthouse cinema; he settles old scores; and he deals with his own exile from the studio system. As a kind of last will and testament, The Other Side of the Wind is as disturbing as it is fascinating, a messy kind of self-examination — a meta mea-culpa by a once-powerful man now clearly at the end of his tether. Welles always saw himself as a Falstaff-type figure, and the bitter ending of Chimes at Midnight very much informs The Other Side of the Wind, an angry film that is infused with a special kind of energy. This is Welles’s final, throw-anything-at-the-screen attempt to impugn both the French New Wave and the Easy Rider generation. It’s an impotent scream into the abyss by a forgotten titan that is invigorating and infuriating and that we are absolutely privileged to have. DG