1. WOMAN AT WAR. This movie made me proud to be human. Woman at War is a cathartic comedic gem with serious undertones. Anyone who is awake knows the planet is in peril and it is to the artists to be provocateurs of truth. Have a laugh here. It’s well earned.
2. 1917 Oh my lord…this is a cinematic masterpiece. You have perhaps heard the story by now, that Director Sam Mendes made an entire 2-hour movie that plays in one continuous take, from the opening to the closing shot. The story is a bit like "Saving Private Ryan" set in WWI. And It is one of the most poignant statements ever made for the utter horror and futility of war and belongs at the top of that genre.
3. KNIVES OUT This is one of the cleverest, most entertaining who-dunnits ever made. The writing in this (the bedrock of great cinema) is beyond clever and allows the actors to portray with utter clarity the lampooning of our species.
4. THE LAST BLACK MAN OF SAN FRANCISCO Last Black Man is so stunningly original that it pops off the screen in the first scene and never lets up. Roger Ebert Reviews says, "There’s a wonderful and inviting weirdness throughout.” The writing, the cinematography, the acting, the editing…a GEM all the way, and the most poignant story of gentrification of a city you will see.
5. PARASITE There is a reason Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite won the Palme d'or at Cannes this year (where he got an 8-minute standing ovation at end). It is that dang good. It is exceptionally written, the smartest most poignant film about the cannibalism inherent within capitalism (now the one-world wide system) and the damage it has caused all of us.
6. JOJO RABBIT So anyone who can make a film about a kid whose imaginary friend is Adolph Hitler has got guts. New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi pulled it off in a brilliant way in an “anti-hate” Nazi satire. JoJo is nominated for six academy awards.
7. QUEEN AND SLIM This movie is astonishing. It is the most important film of the year. It was made by black people for a black audience and everyone needs to see it. The beauty of the cinematography and design is breathtaking and reminded me of the beauty of "If Beale Street Could Talk.” …it also has my favorite sexiest dance scene in movies.
8. LITTLE WOMEN Greta Gerwig is a young master of a director. She follows up last year’s wonderful Lady Bird with Louisa Mae Alcott’s Little Women. What a delight this film is. It made me long for youth and family and sisters and romance.
9. A MARRIAGE STORY All great films have at their core, great writing, this by Director Noah BaumBach (Squid and the Whale and lots of other jewels). It is funny, touching, prickly, sad and ultimately reliable in the way of a story well told. It touches a part of us we all know
HONEYLAND This may be my favorite documentary film of 2019! It portrays the life of Hatidže Muratova, a beekeeper in the remote mountainous village of Bekirlija, North Macedonia and follows her lifestyle and the changes therein after the arrival of a nomad family in the neighboring house. A powerfully life-affirming film. Within its small story is the care, nurturance and love of the earth’s creatures and our surroundings that will prove the redemption or eventual destruction of our agonizingly beautiful planet.
11. THE BIGGEST LITTLE FARM This is the biggest little movie you will see this year. A story that will move you and inspire you with the kind of hope that is tangible and good and generative in your life. The story of a couple evicted from their apartment, who embarked on the outlandish dream, with no experience or direction, to become farmers.
12. VARDA BY AGNES Agnes Varda was one of the masters of the New French Wave in the 60’s. But as a woman, was swept aside by her more famous male contemporaries. She outlived them all however, by creating an astonishing life long body of work. She completed this a few weeks before she died. A film of her life that mirrors the style of her own films, blending documentary with fiction. I could see it a few times!
13. THE IRISHMAN Scorsese has done it again. For the genre he all but created (the 1950’s -1980’s Italian mob film), he owns it. And within that genre, this baby is a masterpiece. Robert De Niro did a quiet and sensitive acting feat here. To make us root for a brutal killer as the protagonist, no small thing.
14. THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON This film came out of nowhere to make my fave list. Set in the North Carolina Outer Banks, it is a shambling buddy movie and love story in one, starring newcomer Zack Gottsagen, a young man with Down’s syndrome who has a dream to be a professional wrestler. Shia LaBeouf, Zak’s unlikely buddy, is equally wonderful. This is a sweet comedy/drama with a potent sense of place, a backcountry twang all the way through that feels authentic, even when it goes over the top.
15. THE LIGHTHOUSE This is not a film for sensitive souls (unless you are a sensitive soul who appreciates an intensely hallucinogenic tale of two men in a remote lighthouse descending slowly into madness). Director Robert Eggers takes an unfinished tale by Edger Allen Poe and makes a film classic. The Lighthouse is hypnotic, atmospheric, haunting and stunningly original.
16. MILES DAVIS - BIRTH OF THE COOL If you want an introduction to the primal and monumental force that was Miles Davis, I’d start with this film. If you're already a fan, you ain’t gonna be disappointed. Great style, great story, great visuals and the talking head interviews from the likes of Flea, Carlos Santana, Wayne Shorter, Quincy Jones and a host of articulate writers were all dang compelling. This film honors and celebrates Miles, shadows and all.
17. JOKER Damn..this is one dark, dark classic. And Joaquin Phoenix deserves the acting awards he’s getting. I’ll never forget any of the dance scenes of him in this. Truly an epic portrayal of mental disturbance. It got called out for it’s violence, but it is mild compared to say, Tarrantino’s graphically violent stuff. This film is based on a comic book character but it doesn’t play like a comic book film at all.
18. AMAZING GRACE. You must witness Aretha Franklin’s face in this. It is a face transfigured by devotion to the Divine, opening to the Divine, the pure voice of spirit. I recommend you do not sit through this movie. Let it draw your spirit right out of your seat. Her humility, joy and profound dignity of sprit radiates through in every moment.
19. PAIN AND GLORY Everything Pedro Almodovar does is worth seeing. He’s one of the maestros of the ages. His films are like watching characters move through vivid paintings. No one gets color like he does. This is a story of an aging film director as he struggles with his past and a life that seems now bereft. Yet it is a redemptive journey. Antonio Banderas is great and so is as usual his real life wife Penelope Cruz as his mother in flashbacks.
20. BLINDED BY THE LIGHT Wanta feel better? Wanta have a hell of a good time? Springsteen meets Bollywood. Blinded by the Light is a clever film about high school, being a nerd writer, first love, conflicts with Dad and the joy of unfolding creativity. It’s a deft piece of work and fun as it gets while still undressing deep emotional chords of truth.
21. THE MUSTANG. This is a serious, beautiful film, a story as all great stories are, ultimately about empathy, in this case, between a hardened convict and a horse. Director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre spent five years studying the U.S. prison system and animal therapy and based her story on the real life program in some Western prisons of corralling wild mustangs (I hate that part) for use in rehabilitation therapy programs to train them to be auctioned off as working horses. Sometimes a tough film, but ultimately beautiful and deeply resonant with a universal impulse towards freedom.
22. HAIL SATAN? This is a hugely original film whose title may put you off – but don’t be deterred - notice the (?) question mark in it. Director Penny Lane focuses on members of The Satanic Temple, which was founded in 2013. They are not literally devil worshippers, rather a group of whip smart, courageous souls dedicated to keep church and state separate. These folks are on the front lines of social justice. It is one of the most satisfying films I have seen. I laughed out loud often. The main character is Lucien Greaves, a pale, smirking antihero with one glass eye—who loves putting people on. He and his band of brilliant dark clowns are, in my book, brave heroes of true democracy. We need more like them.
23. APOLLO 11 The real deal, a documentary that lands you front and center in the 1969 moon shot in an experiential way. Non-narrated and without any interviews, the audio is montaged together from 20,000 hours of tape from Mission Control and from inside the capsule, capturing both the sounds of the technicians and the astronauts as they toiled away, gossiped and worked through problems. This film was revelatory to experience, both in how it is portrayed and what is portrayed. To see how they actually pulled it off, to land a man on the moon, is a reminder that if we only had the collective will, we could accomplish so much good.
24. BOOKSMART Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut. Brilliant and funny. It belongs in the hall of fame of great high school movies.
25. ARCTIC This is the best survival film of the year. From first time director Joe Penna it stars Mads Mikkelsen as a man we meet surviving a plane crash in the arctic. There are perhaps 60 spoken words in the entire film and the cinematography is wonderful. Best of all Arctic is an editing gem.
26. A TUBA TO CUBA The leader of New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band seeks to fulfill his late father's dream of retracing their musical roots to the shores of Cuba in search of the indigenous music that gave birth to New Orleans jazz. A TUBA TO CUBA celebrates the triumph of the human spirit expressed through the universal language of music and challenges us to resolve to build bridges, not walls.
27. TONI MORRISON: THE PIECES I AM At the end of Toni Morrison’s book Songs of Solomon, her character Pilot bursts into a funeral scene and yells over and over, “She was loved!” That is the same outcome of watching this wonderful little documentary. Morrison was loved. And for good reason. She wrote some of the most luminous books ever created. She did it her way and created her own indelible mark on literature.
28. DAVID CROSBY - REMEMBER MY NAME One of the most ornery creatures of Rock n’ Roll. It’s a fascinating and unsettling ride. David Crosby was an asshole. He’ll be the first to tell you so. His self destructive ways took more than a few folks down with him. AND he was instrumental in the creation of three of the greatest bands of the 60’s: The Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, And CSN and Young.
29. LINDA RONSTADT - THE SOUND OF MY VOICE I wasn’t a fan of Linda Ronstadt, but this film makes me want to go listen to all her records. To see this movie is to come into contact with the power of her voice. Her sincerity radiates throughout - and you will be spared the cliché rock star descent into drugs journey and redemption that we see over and over again.
30. FLEABAG (Referring here to the live theater performance from National Theater of London - not the also wonderful Amazon series of the same name and also written and acted by Phoebe Waller-Bridge). In a blisteringly funny monologue, Phoebe deals head-on with every sexual taboo we have and it is high time. Our world culture has so perverted sex that it is hard to know what is up or down, right now. The idea of relationships and what they mean is also undergoing radical transformation. But Phoebe reminds us that beneath all the confusion and pretense, what so many of us really need is a good F#&k.
31. FANTASTIC FUNGI Who would have guessed that this year’s breakout documentary hit would be about mushrooms? In my town, it’s sold out for three weeks straight. The film got 100% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Mushrooms can save the world. That is the underlying take away from the film, and a compelling one
32 AMERICAN FACTORY A stunning documentary portrayal of two societies, China and the U.S. and their addiction to capitalism. It focuses on an auto glassmaking factory in Ohio that a Chinese company started in a town devastated by the closure of American auto plants. Take your pick, the inhuman militaristic approach of the Chinese, or the unhealthy fantasy of the American Dream, both cultures suggest a grim future devoted only to the unholy dollar.
33. THE TWO POPES A lovely conceived, written, shot, edited and acted film, about an unlikely friendship between Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) and his predecessor Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins). This movie is like "My Dinner with Andre" in the Vatican. It is a moving story about two opposed ideologies learning to speak and listen to each other. That is something our poor old world could use right now. …there is also a beautiful statement in the film about the cost of walls on the human heart and lives...
34. THE SERENGETI RULES This is a rare environmental movie. You will leave the theatre feeling hopeful about the resilience of nature to heal itself. It tells the story of five scientists who, collectively and individually over the last 40-50 years have discovered the common operating principal and organizational code within all ecosystems. In other words, they have discovered the key to help any ecosystem recover. Ecosystem by ecosystem, this film will show you the common link.
35. MAIDEN A feel good documentary about the first all-female competitors to enter a boat into the Whitbread Around the World Challenge. 33,000 nautical miles in total. An obvious storyline but really well made and leaves ya with a good feeling.
Notes: 1. I haven’t seen A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Uncut Gems, Hustlers or Woman on Fire yet, most or all of which I expect would make this list. 2. It is not an oversight that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is not on this list. Quentin Tarantino was on his way to a classic but his warped psyche had to thrash us at the end once more with his proto-revenge manboy violence porn. Why he gets a pass for this stuff is beside me and another sign of our corrupted culture. (It’s okay to celebrate hyper-graphic violence, but better not show genitals or authentic sex!) Okay, Have fun and kiss yer sweetie at the movies! -WASSY
Best Films of 2018
1. LEAVE NO TRACE - Debra Granick articulates a delicate and clear touch with human relationships here. My most moving film of the year. It features young newcomer Thomasin McKenzie as a teenage girl living on the fringes of society (in this case the lovely wooded lands of Oregon), with her father, a vet struggling with PTSD.
2. GREEN BOOK – Director Peter Farrelly served up the buddy movie of the year and a wonderful platform for the exquisite acting of Viggo Mortenson and Mahershala Ali. Every detail of the film (set design, costumes, hair, cinematography…) is expressed in an artistic continuum - a sumptuous visual feast.
3. RBG - A five foot four inch woman who stood up to a male dominated culture and changed the playing field for American women - Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The film is clever, profound and timely, both her personal story as well as her supreme court record of using the constitution to demand equal rights for women.
4. BlacKkKlannsman - Spike Lee’s adaptation of the true story of John Stallworth, the first African American on the Colorado Springs Police force and the man who infiltrated the KKK. I have never felt such silence as the silence I felt in a theater at the end of this movie.
5. ROMA - Alphonso Cuaron’s beauty of a film follows the humble story of a maid, Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio, in a middle class Mexican family in the 1970’s. Ultimately it is a story of family, not of blood family...but true family, the one Cleo is forced by circumstances to share her life with.
6. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? - Mr. Rogers was a gentle visionary who let kids know they were loved exactly as they are. He talked to them about peace and anger and loss and death and mostly about love. This film is a testimony to goodness and kindness and how it can radiate from every one of us.
7. WILD WILD COUNTRY - A Netflix documentary series about the controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho) and his community of followers in the Rajneeshpuram community located in Wasco County, Oregon. This chronicles the true story of how a Rolls-Royce driving Indian guru moved his alleged sex cult to central Oregon in the 1980s to form a spiritually enlightened city but ended up conducting the largest bioterror attack on U.S. soil. Voter fraud, bombings, orgies, and attempted assassinations all factor into one of the most gripping stories you’ll see this year.
8. ISLE OF DOGS - Some filmmakers are masters of story and some rare ones such as Wes Anderson are also masters of Imagination. His latest is a stop motion puppet animation delight starring dogs and voiced by top shelf voice actors, Bryan Cranston, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Ed Norton, Bill Murray and even Yoko Ono.
9. FREE SOLO - Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi are the best mountain filmmakers out there. This is the story of the greatest athletic achievement in the history of mankind (no lie). It follows Alex Honnold’s free climb of El Cap, in Yosemite; a wall of granite nearly a mile straight up. It will make yer palms sweat…
10. A STAR IS BORN - I was unable to tear my attention away from Lady Gaga. She is riveting and vulnerable. Her singing is astonishing. Made me forget Barbara Streisand.
11. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – The Coen Brothers serve up six short brilliant stories of the old west, full of dark humor, great acting and surprise endings. My favorite was one featuring Tom Waits and a mule…
12. MOUNTAIN - A film that is experiential and beautiful. A former high altitude mountain cinematographer, Jennifer Peedom’s love letter to the archetypal symbol, spiritual power and physical reality of mountains. Narrated by Willem Dafoe.</p><p> 13. FAHRENHEIT 11/9 - This is one of Michael Moore’s best. The only trouble with Michael Moore is people have a big attitude about him and miss out on seeing his movies for what they are. In short: Collectively, his films represent the most incisive and entertaining chronicles of America in the last 30 years.
14. THE DEATH OF STALIN - Centering on the gang of colossally brilliant and sick men at the helm of the Soviet Union after Stalin keeled over. Dark and hilarious. Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor and Simon Beale are as good together as the Monty Python boys.
15. BLAZE - Directed by Ethan Hawke, this is a heartbreaking beauty of a film, maybe the best told love story of the year. It’s raw and sweet and bright-dark, like a row of christmas lights up a set of stairs on a rainy night.
16. BIG SONIA - You ever seen a 94-year-old woman walk into a prison and bring hardened criminals to tears and inspire them to change their lives? That is only one piece of the utterly tender and beautiful story of Sonia Warshawski, who at four foot eleven, is Big Sonia.
17. RAM DAS: GOING HOME - The movie I want to see just before I die. Not coincidentally, this is Ram Das’s message to the world as he prepares to leave this planet.
18. WORLDS OF URSULA LEGUIN - This is a film for anyone who has been touched by Ms. LeGuin’s work. The best parts are the long screen time to bring some of her great stories to life, especially the Wizard of Earthsea series.</p><p> 19. THE RIDER - A hard-hitting drama made more effective through writer-director Chloé Zhao's use of untrained actors to tell the movie's fact-based and heartbreaking tale (phew-tough to watch at times!) of a rodeo star on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Cinematogrpahy is wonderful.
20. SADIE – Megan Griffiths dark gem of a film. It rises from the underbelly of the Pacific Northwest, set in a trailer park where teenage Sadie, captivatingly intense, does her best to control a world full of contradictions and emotional complications.
Haven’t seen: Wife The Favourite
2017 films I didn’t recommend last year but now would. "Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey" and "Jim and Andy: the Great Beyond"