All of these films first screened theatrically in Chicago in the first half of 2018. I’ve linked to my original reviews and podcast appearances where applicable and offer new thoughts on a few films I haven’t written about elsewhere. Enjoy.
20. Atoms of Ashes (Scrantom, USA)/Dancer (McCormick, USA)/Runner (Cooney, USA)
Three astonishing debut shorts by young female directors, all of which received their Chicago premieres at local festivals (Women of the Now’s Anniversary Showcase, the Chicago Underground Film Festival and the Chicago Critics Film Festival, respectively). The future – of cinema, of everything – is female. I wrote capsule reviews of all three for Time Out Chicago: Atoms of Ashes here, Dancer here and Runner here.
19. The Art of Sitting Quietly and Doing Nothing (Alonzo, USA)
I enjoyed this no-budget absurdist/minimalist comedy so much that I wrote about it twice (for Time Out Chicago here and Cine-File here) then moderated a post-screening Q&A with the cast and crew following the World Premiere at the Nightingale Cinema.
18. A Fantastic Woman (Lelio, Chile)
Not as rich as Sebastian Lelio’s previous film, the sublime character study Gloria, this is nonetheless well worth seeing for Daniela Vega’s fantastic lead performance.
17. Annihilation (Garland, USA)
Oscar Isaac is miscast but thinking-person’s sci-fi done large is always welcome and, for my money, this is a clear advance on Ex Machina for director Alex Garland.
16. Satan’s Slaves (Anwar, Indonesia)
I’m grateful that Cinepocalypse brought this Indonesian horror film to the Music Box. It’s superior to Hereditary if only because the “Satanic” elements seem deeply rooted in the culture and religion of the characters and not just shoehorned in because the director is a fan of Rosemary’s Baby.
15. Future Language: The Dimensions of Von LMO (Felker, USA)
Not just a music doc but also an impressive experimental movie crossed with a highly personal essay film. My capsule review at Time Out Chicago here.
14. Have You Seen My Movie? (Smith, UK)
A clever and stimulating found-footage doc comprised of clips from other movies . . . in which people are watching movies. I discussed this on the inaugural episode of Cine-Cast, the Cine-File podcast, here.
13. Ismael’s Ghosts (Desplechin, France)
This is Arnaud Desplechin’s worst film but it features Marion Cotillard dancing to the original Another Side of Bob Dylan version of “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” which elevates it to the status of essential viewing.
12. Savage Youth (Johnson, USA)
Fascinating true-crime tale acted to perfection by a terrific young ensemble cast. I reviewed it for Time Out Chicago here and interviewed director Michael Curtis Johnson for Cine-File here.
11. The Green Fog (Maddin/Johnson/Johnson, USA)
A hilarious and ingenious “remake” of Vertigo, which consists only of scenes from other movies and T.V. shows shot in San Francisco — though this won’t make a lick of sense if you don’t know Hitchcock’s masterpiece like the back of your hand.
10. Loveless (Zvyagintsev, Russia)
Andrei Zvyagintsev’s damning indictment of Putin’s Russia disguised as a dour melodrama. Smart, exacting filmmaking.
9. Bisbee ’17 (Greene, USA)
No American film this year feels more relevant than Robert Greene’s innovative doc about the U.S. government’s shameful deportation of recently unionized workers, many of them immigrants, from the title Arizona town 100 years ago. Capsule review at Time Out Chicago here.
8. Claire’s Camera (Hong, S. Korea/France)
This was dismissed or damned with faint praise as lightweight Hong in some quarters but those critics are dead wrong. I wrote a capsule review of this great comedy for Time Out Chicago here.
7. First Reformed (Schrader, USA)
I wrote on social media that I greatly enjoyed Paul Schrader’s “Protestant version of Diary of a Country Priest.” When asked by a friend to elaborate, I expounded: “Bresson has always been Schrader’s biggest influence and that influence is more pronounced in First Reformed than ever before. Some of the elements that can be traced back to Diary of a Country Priest specifically: the clergyman coming into conflict with his superiors for leading too ascetic a lifestyle, the way he bares his soul in his diary, his stomach cancer, his alcoholism, his search for grace in a superficial, material world, the austerity of the visual style, the transcendental uplift of the final scene, etc.”
6. Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (Dumont, France)
Bruno Dumont’s batshit-crazy electronic/metal musical about the childhood of Joan of Arc. I reviewed this for Cine-File here and discussed it on the inaugural episode of Cine-Cast, the Cine-File podcast, here.
5. The Woman Who Left (Diaz, Philippines)
A companion piece to Lav Diaz’s earlier Norte: The End of History, this nearly 4-hour epic — about a woman being released from prison after 30 years and searching for the man who framed her — has more intelligent things to say about “revenge” than all of Quentin Tarantino’s movies put together. Gorgeously shot in black-and-white and featuring a tremendous lead performance by Charo Santos-Concio (who came out of retirement to play the part).
4. Madeline’s Madeline (Decker, USA)
A theater director asks a teenage actress to mine deeply personal emotional terrain – including the tumultuous relationship she has with her own mother – in order to workshop a new play. This wild and beautiful film, a quantum leap beyond Josephine Decker’s first two movies, cuts deep into the heart of the dubious emotional exploitation inherent in all director/actor relationships. Imagine Mulholland Drive from a truly female perspective and you’ll have some idea of what Decker is up to — but this exhilarating film looks and sounds like nothing else. Helena Howard should go down as a cinematic immortal for this even if she never acts in another film.
3. Phantom Thread (Anderson, USA/UK)
PTA’s most perfect (though not greatest) film. I loved it as much as everyone and reviewed it for this very blog when it belatedly opened in Chicago in January. Capsule here.
2. 24 Frames (Kiarostami, Iran)
Abbas Kiarostami’s final film — and final masterpiece — contains the most innovative use of CGI I’ve ever seen. Capsule review at Time Out Chicago here.
1. Zama (Martel, Argentina)
Lucrecia Martel’s long-awaited return confronts colonialism and racism in 18th-century Argentina in a most daring and original way: by focusing on an entirely unexceptional man. It is also so radical and masterful in its approach to image and sound that it turns viewers into aliens (to paraphrase something Martel said to me in an interview, which you can read at Time Out Chicago here).