Pi Arts & Culture’s ‘Best of 2018’ series highlights the favourite things we’ve seen, heard and read this year. In this first article, our writers discuss their favourite picks from the silver screen.
I saw Beautiful Boy (dir. Felix van Groeningen) back in September and am still regularly thinking about it. Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet give stunning and layered performances in this heartbreaking film that deals with addiction, relapse, and the consequences they have on familial relationships. The cinematography is beautiful (although the film is set in Northern California so the setting is pretty attractive by its own virtue) and the shifting chronology draws unsettling parallels, contrasting snapshots of the main character, Nic, learning to surf with his father, and overdosing on meth in the bathroom of their favourite cafe, decades later. It’s also set in the 90s so the soundtrack is excellent. Cannot recommend enough.
After a seemingly long period of inactivity, this film is Spike Lee’s resurgence into his craft of weaving socio-political issues into his films. BlacKkKlansman is filled with dramatic potency, and further backed by strong performances from John David Washington and Adam Driver. Lee’s themes are powerfully embedded in the narrative, which relies on absurdist humor perfectly coherent with the story of a black police officer (Washington) undercover as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The story is, in fact, based on true events, recalling an era of blatant racism that Lee dramatically adapts to both give us a disturbing, penetrating look into the past, and present the racism inherent in American society, a persistent cancer that still has not been cured.
Five Men and a Caravaggio
Xiaolu Guo’s newest documentary film Five Men and a Caravaggio tells a cross-continental story centred on a copy of Caravaggio’s John in the Wilderness, which takes on unique meaning for the cast of characters. From the expatriate London bohemians to the Shenzhen-based replica painter living in uncertain times – Brexit and a rapidly changing China under president Xi – the shared experience of negotiating artistic creativity, self-expression, and survival bring them together. Five Men breaks audience expectations of the category of documentary; the merits of this remain up to discussion, but the film makes for an interesting take on contemporary issues nonetheless.
In this subtly nostalgic film, writer and director Greta Gerwig has managed to pen one of the most accurate portrayals of teenagehood. Her eponymous protagonist, Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson, struggles through adolescent friendship, first love, second love, leaving home and a fractious mother-daughter relationship. Something must be said of the stellar casting: Saoirse Ronan as the quirky lead, Beanie Feldstein as the lovable best friend, Timothée Chalamet as the incredibly attractive but painfully pretentious boyfriend, and Laurie Metcalf as the fiercely protective mother. Lady Bird is both a love-letter to Gerwig’s hometown of Sacramento and an ode to growing up – it totally stole my heart.
The Old Man and the Gun
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Many, many, it would appear, for bank robber Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford). Sad and sweet, funny and bitter, the movie paints the image of a lonely man addicted to robberies in search of an identity for himself. Gradually, he is eaten inside by his feelings and the guilt of his lies. Until love barges in, that is. Life is too short for this witty, wild spirit. But life is not a quiet river, and reality crushes your hopes…until the next robbery.
Shoplifters, the latest work by Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda, has earned him his first Palme d’Or. The key component is once again the concept of family, in all its contradictions and ambiguities. This time, Koreeda portrays an unconventional and borderline family, where no one is related and everyone contributes more or less legally to earn a living. One of the best films released in 2018, Shoplifters is a quiet and delicate story that succeeds in arousing strong emotions through plain gestures and looks: a triumph of understatement, mindful of Yasujiro Ozu’s masterpieces and worthy of great esteem.
For this rework of iconic 70s horror Suspiria, director Luca Guadagnino operates at the peak of his artistic powers. Conjuring a parallel universe to build on the one before, he transforms the original’s bombastic madness into a slow-burn arthouse wonder. If the source material is a bright splash of colour on a child’s bedroom wall, this is the work of a grown-up. She opts for a cream overcoat, leaves a faint outline of playfulness behind, and paints an elaborate mural on top of it all. The original is a beautiful mess, and this is a calculated beauty – a thankfully welcome addition to the Suspiria universe.
Widows, directed by Steve McQueen and written by McQueen and Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn, focusses on the intersection between organised crime and local politics. The titular widows attempt to emulate a prolific robber against the backdrop of an alderman election between a nepotist’s son and a former crime boss. One of the film’s key assets is its ensemble cast; there are strong acting performances all round, particularly from Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez. Above all, the film’s lead Viola Davis is superb. Davis’ emotional range stretches from wounded grieving to grim determination, often within the same scene; minute details in her every expression create a heroine for audiences to root for despite a seemingly cold exterior. This excellent heist thriller respects the intelligence of its audience and touches on the important modern-day issues of class, race and gender.