Top ten films of 2018: Roma, Active Measures, Black KkKlansman, Black Panther, Cold War, First Reformed, The Other Side of the Wind, Sorry to Bother You, Support the Girls, Suspiria.
Runners up: Active Measures, Blindspotting, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Leave No Trace, Shirkers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, First Man.
Snap your fingers, like Thanos, and half of all existing motion pictures turn into a shower of disintegrating pixels. Imposing scarcity is a tragic task, but it had to be done to make room for more tent poles. Just ask the FilmStruck proprietors, who made so much vanish so that deserving stockholders might affix ermine mud flaps to their Porsche Cayennes.
The process needs no empurpled Josh Brolin, though. The decay-prone qualities of an all-digital media are bad enough—as opposed to 35mm, which can survive decades in a frozen dump. Preserving all this digital cinema is going to be a technical challenge for anyone watching a hundred years from now. (Of course, you could be like that now-infamous professor who opined in the Washington Post that the loss of FilmStruck just cleared the deck of a lot of moldy old films enshrining racism and sexism, so why not dump it and make room for something new.)
But the contradiction of supposedly having everything at hand—we certainly don’t—is aggravating. So much of the lineup on streaming services is “for us to know and for you to find out,” a self-fulfilling forecast of “content” unwatched.
Happily, Roma, did create a buzz through the old way of word of mouth. And all honor for exhibitors such as 3Below, taking a gamble that people would want to see a real movie in a real theater even while it played on Netflix.
Yet some of these names will be unfamiliar. The documentary Active Measures took the spot reserved for Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Tender and moving as that profile of Mr. Rogers was, you ought to give primacy to the kind of documentary filmmaking that could get a reporter killed. The analysis of Putin skullduggery was as menacing as supervillainy in any Marvel epic.
Black KkKlansman and Black Panther are forever linked by titles. The first is a New York film school-style attack on a wild tale, based on a true story the way a cube of bouillon is based on an ox. It’s a reminder of how much infuriating fun Spike Lee can be—there’s still a point on that Spike. And there isn’t a white American alive who should miss Harry Belafonte’s lecture on the weight of cinema. As for Black Panther, it just may be another Wizard of Oz someday.
Cold War opens in January, an ironical black and white romance of missed connections amid the Soviet days. It has the lyricism of the best of Nabokov.
First Reformed’s somber tone and the mussy ending is a challenge, but Paul Schrader’s mystical cinephilia deserves all the honors its getting.
Speaking of cinephilia, the completed Other Side of the Wind shows the limberness of late-period Orson Welles. What else might be resurrected?
In Sorry to Bother You, Boots Riley uses comedy to cut up racism, matching the vigor, ferment and outlandishness seen in last-century counterculture satire, from the Firesign Theater to Lindsay Anderson’s Candide story O Lucky Man! (1973).
Viva Support the Girls, one of the best yet least known on this list. Andrew Bujalski’s study of a titties-and-beer bar in suburban Texas honors the ingenuity of a sharp middle manager (an endearing Regina King) intervening between the friendly young imbeciles she employs and her swine of a boss.
Luca Guadagnino’s deeply frightening 1970s-set Suspiria remake is my idea of a solstice movie, since a season of darkness is perfect for tales of death and night and blood. More on its satanic powers later when Amazon decides to “drop” it for streaming (the word is significant, somehow—it can mean either “bestow” or “get rid of”).