By: Henry J. Fromage –
This week I continued to catch up on 2018’s bounty, with a few must-see theatrical releases and a focus on indie films that slipped by me last year.
15. Private Life
Tamara Jenkins returns after a far too long directorial hiatus (since 2007’s The Savages!) with a film based on her own experiences (and those of many of her friends and acquaintances) trying to conceive at a later age. The result is a NYC domestic comedy with a perfect central duo of Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti that feels painfully real in its most intimate moments even if, like The Savages (although more of the point in that one), Jenkins may be a little too harsh on her characters and crosses over into making them borderline insufferable. Here’s hoping she makes her next in about a quarter of the time. Three Beers.
16. A Prayer Before Dawn
Joe Cole delivers the unsung performance of the year as a young Englishman, Billy Moore, imprisoned on drug charges in Thailand who becomes a Muay Thai boxer there. Cole’s animalistic brutality along with Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s muscular, horrifically immersive direction (think hand-held camera and only the absolutely necessary minimum of subtitles) and what can only be a real cast and setting entrap you alongside Moore in a world you’d never want to experience and likely won’t ever want to revisit (and that’s the point). Two Beers.
Paul Dano’s directorial debut (written alongside his wife, Zoe Kazan, his first and her second script) is as polished and considered a debut as you’re likely to see. The tale of coming of age in a rapidly breaking home in 1960s Montana does an excellent job of creating a fully realized period setting, and the cast of Jake Gyllenhaal, the young but impressive Ed Oxenbould, and a perhaps never better Carey Mulligan bring home the drama. Perhaps a bit too considered- there’s just a hint of icy remove here that doesn’t serve the film- but impressive nonetheless. Two Beers.
18. Thunder Road
Okay, Joe Cole might have the male performance of the year if not for this one. Jim Cummings, actor/director/screenwriter (and in past professional lives cinematographer and visual effects worker on Captain America among many other filmmaking hats), gives himself the role of a lifetime as a police officer whose life is coming apart around him in Job-ian fashion. Pitifully hilarious or laugh-out-loud tragic, however you fall on this insane committed character-work, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better example of comedy and pathos via performance this year. A Toast.
19. Bird Box
Netflix’s latest “blockbuster” sure seems to have captured the zeitgeist over a lazy New Year’s weekend, and its catchy, A Quiet Place-adjacent premise, some well-delivered tension by Susanne Bier, and stellar cast (whither John Malkovich these days?!) demonstrate why. It’s a bit overlong (which is starting to become a Netflix hallmark- sometimes an experienced producer who isn’t afraid to push edits isn’t a bad thing, folks), but another feather in the cap of one hell of a content-creating year for the streaming service. Three Beers.
20. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Wow, just wow. I was expecting something pretty good from all the buzz, but even with those heightened expectations I was blown away. Delivers on literally every aspect of the filmmaking experience- from psychedelic visuals to thumping score to spectacular voice and characterwork from all involved. Plus, hands down the funniest film of the year. Just purely, utterly entertaining. A Toast.
21. The Mule
This is not exactly a good movie- Clint Eastwood’s latter day, “first take is good enough” style reveals weaker actors and written scenes like a blacklight on cheap motel sheets. However, there’s no helping being impressed by the drive of the 88(!) year old director/star, and the fact that it’s ostensibly set in Peoria, IL is a nice little bonus for me at least. Certainly Eastwood’s most vivacious and entertaining film in several years- here’s hoping he and Bradley Cooper always find a place in their schedules for each other, because we’ll likely have a few more to look forward to. Four Beers.