2018: The Greatest Year for Movies of this Decade?
Consider that this piece is being written in early October. If you cast your mind back to 2017, by this point in the year there were really only two films that were clearly destined to be classics: Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Christopher Nolan’s epic Dunkirk. (I might throw in Edgar Wright’s thrilling B-movie-with-an-A-movie- cast heist film Baby Driver as well). But now, as we look back at 2018 so far, there are at least a dozen films that have a chance of standing up well to the only true test of film and all art for that matter: time.
Let’s begin with the fact that this is clearly the greatest year in the history of Hollywood for African-American directors. Black Panther is already a classic, the only one of this endless spate of superhero films besides Nolan’s The Dark Knight that rises above its genre and stands as a great movie, period. Its director, Ryan Coogler, has only directed two other films, both of which are brilliant: 2011’s Fruitvale Station and his unexpectedly wonderful reboot of the Rocky saga, 2015’s Creed. This year also gave us Sorry to Bother You, a sharp and incisive social satire from the new filmmaker Boots Riley. Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs and his team took us on a tour of his native Oakland in Blindspotting, the tale of a parolee trying to stay clean in the handful of days before his parole is up. And, of course, there was the long-awaited return to form of an old master, Spike Lee, whose BlacKKKlansman was easily his best work since 2003’s The 25th Hour.
And so many other happy surprises! Comedian Bo Burnam’s first film, Eighth Grade, which documents that year in the life of a 13-year-old girl, is as accurate a rendering of that most difficult time in life as we have ever seen in American film. Debra Granik’s lovely Leave No Trace, her first narrative feature since she made Jennifer Lawrence a star in Winter’s Bone, reminds us that there is no director working today who is better at creating a sense of place. Alex Garland, director of the wonderful sci-fi film Ex Machina, returned this year with Annihilation, a genre piece on a larger scale starring Natalie Portman and a predominantly female cast. Perhaps most startling was the return to form of one of the great figures of the American New Wave of the 1970’s, Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver and directed American Gigolo among his many other credits. His bleak, spiritual First Reformed, featuring what may be Ethan Hawke’s best performance, is a wonderful throwback to that brief period where Hollywood was ruled by the directors.
And that’s just the live-action narrative films. Many feel that the year’s best movie is Wes Anderson’s completely charming Isle of Dogs, a tremendous feat of creativity and originality using stop motion animation, as he did with the classic Fantastic Mr. Fox. And Pixar fans might shout for the inclusion on this list of the (extremely) long-awaited sequel to The Incredibles. Fans of documentary had a new Michael Moore film, plus incredibly powerful documentaries about Justice Ginsberg and Mister Rogers. And there is more to follow. Damien Chazelle, the youngest winner ever of the Best Director Oscar for La La Land, is just coming out with his Neil Armstrong film, First Man. Barry Jenkins, whose Moonlight memorably beat out La La Land for Best Picture two years ago, returns with an adaptation of one of the great James Baldwin’s best-loved novels, If Beale Street Could Talk. And any film lover has to be excited about the arrival of a new work by the Coen Brothers; this November brings us The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a Western anthology film.
One thing about the abovementioned films is that with the very noticeable exception of Black Panther, none of these films would ever be seen at the local multiplex at the mall. If you watch your movies at the plexes, you might see 2018 as just another year of predictable Hollywood product. But if you have spent a large part of your movie-going time this year in art houses, then you might agree with me that this year has been an extraordinary one for a medium that has supposedly been dead creatively for years now.