Sunday, December 30, 2018

Best of 2018: The Top 10 Movies of the Year

On June 18, I was angry and depressed. This is not an uncommon state since Trump became president, but I felt it acutely that day as more information was becoming available regarding the administration's "children in cages" immigration policy. Looking back at my social media posts from the period, it's clear I'd been in a funk for days, but I was especially frustrated by how meaningless my sadness and rage were. I was furious about the country's direction, but I was also powerless. What was the point of getting so worked-up if, ultimately, I couldn't do anything about it? I'm not someone who's comfortable being angry; I don't like how it leaves me feeling out of control. As best I can, I usually try to push past those emotions in order to focus on a constructive way of handling the problem. But Trump is a toxin, and my usual workarounds were insufficient.

So that night I was sitting at home alone, utterly at loose ends, when I decided to just blurt something out on Twitter.

Within 30 minutes, I could tell that something was happening. The tweet was being retweeted like crazy, helped by the fact that Stephen Kinsella, an associate professor of psychology, gave it a signal boost by cleverly noting, "Siri, describe 2018 in one tweet please." Pretty soon, Kinsella and I were being inundated by commenters, who were offering suggestions about the best way to handle my dilemma.

Anybody who has a tweet go viral will soon experience the worst of Twitter, but I was pleasantly surprised by how generally positive and thoughtful the responses were. For the most part, people were letting me know that they felt the same way that I did -- and they weren't sure what to do, either. (That said, the comments I probably most appreciated were from people of color, who politely chided me for just now being aware that lots of folks have to learn to live with impotent anger.)

I write many things throughout the year: movie reviews, profile pieces, essays, lists. It is very likely that nothing I wrote in 2018 was as widely read as that tweet, which took me about 30 seconds to compose. That's an odd realization. On the one hand, I'm touched that anything I put out into the world could strike a chord with total strangers. But it's also a bit bittersweet to witness something of yours become so embraced by the culture that it stops being "yours." I've seen people online reference that tweet like it was a common expression -- it's now just something on the internet that's used as a shorthand to describe a specific mood. (I've never been to Portugal, but my words have. It's also the subject of a chapter in a forthcoming book.) And with each new global turmoil -- Brazil's election of Jair Bolsonaro, the ongoing Brexit debacle -- the tweet would find a fresh wave of visibility. My words were depressingly timely, over and over again.

Because that viral tweet has been part of my life for six months now, I've spent a lot of this year trying to figure out exactly why it resonated and what, if anything, I've learned from the experience. I'm not sure I have any good answers. All I know is I'm pleased to have heard from so many responders who essentially said, "Thank you for expressing how I've been feeling." I'm glad to have been able to help others in some small way. Futility isn't as crippling when you know there are others out there like you.

What I'm less proud about is that I haven't solved the conundrum I articulated. And by that, I mean I didn't do a lot to affect change in the world. I voted, to be sure, but compared to my incredible wife (and many of her friends), who went out and canvassed for Katie Hill, successfully flipping California's 25th district blue, I was too consumed with work to be as politically active as I should have been. I'm ashamed of that and need to do better in the future. I put out a feeling in the world, but I didn't act on it. I'm still not sure what to do with my anger.

* * * * *

Since my principal job is to write about movies, not bemoan the state of the world -- although it's funny how often those two interests intersect -- let me now offer my picks for the best films of 2018...

1. Burning
2. You Were Never Really Here
3. Annihilation
4. Widows
5. Cold War
6. Life and Nothing More
7. Roma
8. Mission: Impossible - Fallout
9. Makala
10. Let the Sunshine In

Looking at my picks, what stands out most strongly is that five of my Top 10 films are foreign-language, the highest total since 2015. And I've included links to Life and Nothing More and Makala's respective home pages since they're the two movies I imagine are the least well-known on my list. They're both remarkable, saved from distribution oblivion thanks to awards. (Makala won the Grand Prize at Cannes Critics' Week in 2017. Life and Nothing More took home the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards.)

My Nos. 11-15 were almost as beloved, with each film, at one point or another, seemingly a lock for my Top 10. Alas, there just wasn't room for (in order of preference) Private Life, Hereditary, If Beale Street Could Talk, Lean on Pete and Amazing Grace. (And if The Tale had gotten a theatrical release instead of airing on HBO, it probably would have landed on my Top 10.) Why didn't your favorite movie make the list? Because I am a bad person.

* * * * *

Professionally, 2018 was a year where I did my best to be grateful for all the terrific places where I get to write. I'm extremely lucky.

Take Screen International. Once again this year, I covered Sundance, Cannes and Toronto for the publication, including getting to write about Burning after its premiere. Also at Cannes, I wore a tux to see Lars von Trier's The House That Jack Built; amusingly, my review ended up being Screen's most-read of 2018. (People can't get enough of Matt Dillon serial-killer flicks, apparently.) I adore the entire team over there, especially my wonderful editor Finn Halligan, and it's an honor to be their Senior U.S. Critic.

Over at Paste, I got to write one of my favorite annual pieces, which is a deep-dive overview of True/False. This year's festival was especially strong, and I tried to do it justice, which required more than 6,200 words.

MEL continued to see its profile rise in 2018, which makes me incredibly happy. The staff and its freelancers are writing smart things on a daily basis, and I was thrilled to cross off some bucket-list interview subjects. I got to have a long conversation with Steve James. I interviewed Frederick Wiseman from Paris while he sat on a park bench and looked back on his career. Andrew W.K. was remarkably open about his struggles with mental health. Morgan Neville and I chatted about Won't You Be My Neighbor?, and the amount of traffic that piece generated suggested just how much viewers hungered for a film like that. And I talked to a bunch of sportswriters about the legacy of Jerome Holtzman and the save stat. I am eternally grateful to my editor and friend Josh Schollmeyer for giving me the latitude to write about so many different things over at MEL. (Being given the opportunity to write about Cannes entirely from the perspective of what it's like to watch nothing but subtitled movies for a week was a real blessing.) Looking forward to seeing what transpires for MEL in 2019.

And David Fear remains such a pleasure to work with over at Rolling Stone. I started the year spending time with Sebastián Lelio and Daniela Vega to discuss A Fantastic Woman, which ended up winning Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. (I was so glad I asked Lelio about that Alan Parsons Project song.) From there, I praised Annihilation and our era of trippy sci-fi films, and then proceeded to hang out with Lynne Ramsay and Joaquin Phoenix (during an earthquake) to talk You Were Never Really Here. (I'll always treasure the moment Phoenix introduced me to Ramsay by saying, "He didn't like our movie." You damn liar, Joaquin.) Other highlights: speaking with F. Murray Abraham after the passing of Milos Forman; dissecting the themes and allusions in Janelle Monae's Dirty Computer film; losing my mind over the Academy's brief flirtation with Best Popular Movie; interviewing Tilda Swinton and Olivia Colman (not at the same time); and revisiting Dogville.

My old pal Will Leitch and I spent another year hosting our weekly film podcast. Our collaboration didn't end there: We very much enjoy doing Debate Club over at SyFy when we're not contributing epic lists for Vulture. (We have a couple coming out in 2019 that are especially major and will definitely not elicit any argument online.) And don't forget: We even have a shirt.

I was tickled to contribute to the Los Angeles Times in 2018, examining the strange case of Bohemian Rhapsody, The Other Side of the Wind and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms: three movies with muddled directorial authorship. (If we had waited a little longer, I could have included Amazing Grace in there as well.) And over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I spent some time with John Cho to talk about fatherhood and Searching.

In terms of unexpected treats, AM New York asked me to write about the significance of Paul Simon's farewell tour, which gave me an excuse to interview smart music writers about the man's legacy. Oh, and there was the time John Carpenter sorta did an interview with me for Revolver. (He was more interested in the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.) And I did some Q&As I was pleased with, including speaking to the Boy Erased team and Morgan Neville for his other documentary, They'll Love Me When I'm Dead.

And that's enough. I hope you all have a great 2019. Thank you for reading what I write. And may someone look at you the way Kristen Stewart looked at Cate Blanchett at Cannes this year.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Crosby, Stills & Nash - "Helplessly Hoping"

Who would have imagined that a CSN song would be featured in the year's best sci-fi film? What an odd year 2018 was.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Best Genre Movies of 2018

We pick the five best for SyFy.

Some Thoughts on 'Vice'

Wow, did this movie annoy me. I talked about smug laughter (and Todd Snider and The Unknown Known) for MEL.

Monday, December 24, 2018

What's Robert Zemeckis' Best Film?

Will and I are over at Vulture today ranking the Oscar-winning director's best (and worst) films. I'm guessing most people will be OK with our pick for No. 1. You can check out the whole list here.

Some Thoughts on 'Bumblebee'

Why is Optimus Prime lame now? How happy are people that Michael Bay didn't direct the new Transformers film? And what's up with "The Touch"? I answer those questions, and more, for MEL.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Some Thoughts on 'Aquaman'

Superhero movies shouldn't be goofy. That's my problem with Aquaman, which I talk about over at MEL.

Some Thoughts on 'Welcome to Marwen'

The movie will sink like a stone, and it's not very good, but Welcome to Marwen is an interesting bad film. I talk about that over at MEL.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Manic Street Preachers - "Nobody Loved You"

A friend of mine and I have been talking about Manic Street Preachers a little lately. So I've been thinking of this song.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: The Best Films of 2018

It's that time of year again. Will and I reveal to each other (for the listener's enjoyment, I hope) our Top 10 lists. Hear the epic episode down below.

The Worst Genre Films of 2018

Sorry, bad movies, but you were bad. Our list of the worst is up at SyFy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

An Ode to 'W.'

Now that the Vice reviews are out, I can say this: W. is such a better Bush administration movie than Adam McKay's satire. I explain why over at Rolling Stone.

'Vice' Review

What a disappointment this Dick Cheney film is. I reviewed Vice for Screen International.

Some Thoughts on 'The Mule'

I wrote about The Mule for MEL, focusing on Clint Eastwood's obsession with characters who want to ride off into the sunset. (Also, I looked back at the man's musical career.) You can read it right here.

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Let's Talk About 'The Mule,' 'Beale Street,' Spider-Man and 'Vice'

We're nearly at the end of the year, but before we do our special Top 10 show, we have two more episodes for your enjoyment.

In the first, we review The Mule, If Beale Street Could Talk and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Then, we recorded a special show for Vice that would air after the film's embargo lifted. (It's a long story.) Lots to dig into below.

Friday, December 14, 2018

'Springsteen on Broadway' Review

Springsteen on Broadway comes to Netflix on Sunday. For MEL, I reviewed this fairly fabulous, candid performance.

The War on Drugs - "Thinking of a Place"

I like making fun of the War on Drugs, but their music sure can be purty.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

'Once Upon a Deadpool' Review

Do you need to see Once Upon a Deadpool if you like Deadpool 2? I don't think so, but it made me like the original more, in a weird way. I wrote about the PG-13 film for MEL.

'The Mule' Review

When Warner Bros. didn't show The Mule to critics in time for end-of-the-year voting, it was assumed the movie was a stinker. Turns out, it's totally fine. Not great, but good. I reviewed the true-life drama for Screen International.

A Few Words About Superheroes Who Cry

For MEL, I wrote about the fact that Captain America cries during the Avengers: Endgame trailer, and why that matters. You can read my piece here.

'Bumblebee' Review

Bumblebee is the best Transformers movie ever. (It helps that it's the only one that's even remotely good.) My review is up at Screen International.

'Aquaman' Review

Right, I get that it's supposed to be cheesy. But still.....

(Here's my review of Aquaman.)

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Reviews of 'Roma,' 'Vox Lux' and 'Ben Is Back'

This episode is unique because it features three films I haven't written about yet. So I had many things to say about Roma, Vox Lux and Ben Is Back. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, December 07, 2018

What's the Best Spider-Man Movie?

With Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse about to come to theaters, we decided to rank the best movies in the series. (This list will definitely change once Spider-Verse arrives.) You can see our rankings at SyFy.

The 1975 - "Love It If We Made It"

Matty Healy is probably a gigantic pain in real life, but as long his songs keep being this bold and vibrant, I'll let it slide. (And hopefully he's kicked heroin for good.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

My Interview With John Cho

For the Los Angeles Times, I spoke with John Cho about his work on this summer's Searching, which is getting some awards attention. The thing I found most interesting about our time together is how much fatherhood has impacted him. You can read my profile here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

I Talked to Spike Lee About 'BlacKkKlansman'

Why, yes, this is the third time I've interviewed Spike Lee. (You can check out our first two chats here and here.) For Screen International, the filmmaker and I talked about his Oscar contender, Donald Trump and neo-Nazis. Hope you enjoy.

Some Thoughts on 'The Christmas Chronicles'

For MEL, I wrote about Netflix's Kurt Russell movie The Christmas Chronicles. Why are we fine with terrible holiday films? Read on.

Monday, December 03, 2018

The Grierson & Leitch Podcast: Mailbag Show, 'The House That Jack Built' and 'The Player'

We answer your questions on this week's episode, which leads to conversations about Netflix and what makes for a great movie. Then, we review Lars von Trier's latest provocation. Finally, in our Reboot segment, we take a look back at The Player. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Five Genre Classics (That Ought to Get More Love Than They Do)

For Debate Club, we were asked to name five must-own films that most people probably don't know. It was a fun challenge. Our picks are over at SyFy.