Photos courtesy of IMDB
We’re halfway through the year, and the future of films has never seemed brighter. In the six months of 2018, a plethora of well-made movies graced the silver screen, and it’s time to reflect on the films that have already made their mark. Read below for the best movies of the year, so far.
“You Were Never Really Here”
Topping this list is “You Were Never Really Here,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Lynne Ramsay. Now, I had been excited for the film for quite some time prior to its release. The trailer looked slick and interesting and Phoenix is one of those actors who never seems to turn in a bad performance, no matter the film. And, thankfully, I was not disappointed in the slightest. The film allows Phoenix to deliver a truly moving yet subtle performance. He plays a mentally disturbed character, and his portrayal always feels natural. The other most exciting aspect of the film is Ramsay’s direction. The camera work and shot composition adds to the film immensely and creates a dark, dreary atmosphere that is impossible to get out of your head. I’ve heard some complaints that the movie is “trying too hard” to be artsy, but I disagree entirely. The scene in the film that could be considered the most “artsy” is also the scene where Ramsay provides the audience with the best chance to learn more about the motivations and emotional standpoint of the main character. Every scene in the film adds to the cultivation of character and atmosphere, and nothing felt unnecessary or forced. The movie tells a kind of story that can easily grip audience members from the start, leaving a lingering, haunting stream of thoughts that follow you far after you exit the theater.
When writing this list, I was struggling to determine which film should hold the top spot. Both “You Were Never Really Here” and “Hereditary” blew me away in their stylistic presentation, and I consider them to be almost equals. Just as “You Were Never Really Here” benefits from a strong and assured direction, “Hereditary” would not be the same film with Ari Aster at the helm. This is his first feature film, and I’m certainly excited to see where he takes his career next. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say that the movie’s cinematography is extremely purposeful and well-thought-out. Every frame had a vision behind it. Another similarity to “You Were Never Really Here” is the film’s fantastic lead performance. Toni Collette delivers an Oscar-worthy and emotionally raw performance. The more she is on screen, the more we learn about her character and her motivations. The movie is also genuinely scary. There are zero jump-scares, allowing for the creeping atmosphere and tension to do the work in psychologically damaging the audience. Even if one isn’t scared by the film, the dramatic elements of the movie hold up extremely well. The first hour or so of the movie functions more as a family drama, and this is bolstered by fantastic performances from every member of the main cast, particularly Toni Collette and Alex Wolff. This is one of those movies where the more I think about it, the more and more I enjoy it.
“Isle of Dogs”
At this point in his career, Wes Anderson has perfected the style that he is known for. “Isle of Dogs” fully utilizes Anderson’s unique sensibilities to create a sweet and engaging movie. The movie is animated, but this doesn’t stop the performances from shining through. With an all-star cast, Anderson’s writing is allowed to come off just as charming as it typically is, forcing the audience to become dreadfully attached to a gaggle of rough-and-tough strays and a trash-covered island. It’s clear that the symmetry-loving director has a passion for each project he orchestrates. Despite this being only Anderson’s second animated film, followed by the ever-charming “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” the animation in “Isle of Dogs,” is some of the best and most meticulously crafted I’ve seen in a modern animated film. If one walks into a theater to see “Isle of Dogs,” they are almost certain to leave with a glowing smile and a newfound appreciation for man’s best friend.
“Thoroughbreds” is a character-driven film through and through. The two main characters really allow the movie to shine with their palpable chemistry and wonderfully off-kilter dynamic. To set the scene, as they say, one of the main characters, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, is a relatively emotional teenage girl and the other is a teenage girl, played by Olivia Cooke, who can feel no emotion … at all. The two embark on the heroic quest to kill the stepfather of Taylor-Joy’s character because she doesn’t like him. The simple premise allows the audience to have a great time just hanging out with these two interesting, likable characters. And, interesting and likable characters are hard to come by in modern movies. Both actors do a fantastic job portraying their roles. Cooke, in particular, is able to pull off a kind of performance that is truly unique and memorable. Well-shot, well-lit, well-acted, well-written, the movie easily delivers a purebred cinematic experience.
I hate the phrase, “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen,” when discussing movies, but “American Animals” does deliver something truly unique and creative. The movie is centered on the real-life story of four college students who rob priceless books from a library. The story is portrayed through actors, but throughout the film, the director chose to splice in interviews and reactions from the real subjects of the story. This makes the already well-executed sequences that much impactful and fascinating to watch. Part documentary and part heist film, the movie is able to establish well-defined characters who are impossibly searching for something in life that can give their existence some sort of real meaning or worth. And just maybe, they think, this heist can be that missing thing. This philosophical quandary is emotionally engaging throughout the movie and allows for the inclusion of the real perpetrators of the heist to carry real weight. This element along with great acting, slick camera work and a strong direction from Bart Laydon forces audience members to sit back in their seat and ponder: “How can I make my mark?”
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is a beautiful film. It’s a documentary, focused on the life and times of Fred Rogers, who famously starred in the children’s TV show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The movie details the great lengths Rogers went through to connect and teach children of all backgrounds and ages. It follows the show’s evolution into a household name and dives into the heartfelt relationships that Rogers held dear. However, the movie is not just a documentary but a meditation on what it means to love and to be loved. The film uses its real-life subject to pass on the lessons that he helped to spread, leaving not one dry eye in any given theater.
“Tully,” a film about the trials of motherhood and physical and emotional stages of one’s life, fully utilizes the talents of Charlize Theron to deliver a warm, meaningful experience. The movie made an abysmal $10 million at the box office but deserved so much more. Where tired cliches could have filled such a script, “Tully” feels like it was written by an actual, human person and not a committee working for a massive corporation. Everything about the movie feels honest, in fact. It’s filled with charming, realistic dialogue, and the story takes a turn that is unexpected but fully earned. Strong relationships and charged emotional moments abound, “Tully” is simply lovely.
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