10 movies that were worth going to the theaters to see in 2018
A year after the #MeToo movement shook up Hollywood, the aftershocks continue to reverberate. But the signature theme of 2018 is the increasingly complex, if not cannibalistic, relationship between movies and television.
Movie theaters are becoming more like living rooms (reclining seats, ready access to alcohol) to draw people out of their homes to the theaters. At the same time, however, more first-run movies are coming out simultaneously or nearly so on television. Will anyone emerge intact from this circular firing squad?
Pittsfield's Beacon Cinema on North Street provides a window on these complexities. Struggling financially, the cinema was sold by its local owner to the Phoenix Theatres group, which has a solid reputation as an owner and manager. Phoenix wasted little time in introducing new projection and sound systems, along with heated seats, which has the symbolic value of demonstrating to the community that the new owners intend to invest in the Beacon for the long term.
Critical to the deal with Phoenix was Mayor Linda Tyer's agreement to relieve the debt burden on the theater, and while there was grumbling from a few city councilors and some in the community, the alternative was to let the theater go dark — which is not an alternative given the theater's importance to downtown. The Beacon has been buffeted over the years by forces that have shaken the entire American movie industry. The most recent buffeting has come from the streaming giant Netflix, which after sending shock waves through the cable TV industry has now emerged as a major player on the movie scene. The concerns of the movie theater industry exploded into panic this month when Netflix introduced "Roma," a contender for an Oscar for best picture, on its television platform at the same time it released the movie in a handful of theaters.
Netflix, which received more Emmy nominations this year than any network, has joined other streamers to inspire cable cord-cutting and dish-dumping among viewers. The first major internet invasion of movie theaters could cause similar havoc. Your old school correspondent, who prefers seeing movies on movie screens when they are first released, saw "Roma" at Spectrum 8 in Albany, (it also played at Images in Williamstown), but will that option continue with future releases by Netflix — or Amazon or another streaming giant?
The communal movie-going experience is to be cherished (ringing cell phones aside) and it would be a shame to lose it. More practically, movie theaters, like the Beacon and the Regal Cinemas theaters, that are practically the only going concern at the Berkshire Mall, are economic generators and people-gatherers. If they go the way of local bookstores, supermarkets and clothiers, the loss will be a painful one, both financially and in terms of a community's fabric.
Doom and gloom aside, movie theaters are still open and they offered a number of films worthy of getting in the car to go see in 2018. Here's a Top 10 list.
1. "BlacKkKlansman": In director Spike Lee's best and toughest film in years, two Colorado Springs cops infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan chapter — an African-American who is the voice on the phone (John Washington) and a Jewish detective who attends the meetings (Adam Driver.) While the movie amusingly mocks these rube racists, it is also clear about the threat they possess at a time when neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville, Va., can get a pass as "good people" by the nation's president.
2. "The Death of Stalin": This blackest of comedies about the death of the Soviet dictator and the struggle to succeed him among the dangerous buffoons of his inner circle is a fractured history lesson — the names have not been changed to protect the guilty — and a witty and brilliantly acted satire on the ambition and ruthlessness of politicians everywhere — not just in the old USSR.
3. "First Man": Director Damien Chazelle portrays Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), the first man to walk on the moon, as the nerveless hero he was, but also as a conflicted and deeply internalized human being. The visual effects are stunning, as is a sound track that gives us the creaks and groans of the space capsule and the theater-shaking roar of the Saturn rocket engines.
4. "Roma": Visionary director Alfonso Cuaron ("Gravity," "Children of Men") offers a modest tale of his Mexican childhood of the 1970s centered around an unassuming maid (Yalitza Aparicio's Cleo) that builds slowly into a powerhouse. Aparicio is remarkable, and Cuaron's camera, particularly in a routine scene that erupts into a street fight among college students and government troops, is as sure as in any of his flashier films.
5. "Black Panther": The best superhero movies have contemporary relevance ("Wonder Woman"), and "Black Panther" is among the best, a celebratory tale of blacks taking their rightful place on the world stage. In this case, it is the mythical African nation of Wakanda and its young leader (Chadwick Boseman), who overcomes his own self-doubt to build a benign but powerful new nation.
6. "The Favourite": It looks and sounds like another prim PBS film about the history of the royals, until the R-rated jokes and physical comedy emerge. Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone battle for the favor of Olivia Coleman's sad and unpredictable Queen Anne in a tale of palace intrigue that revels in the deceit of all parties, from lords and ladies to the lowest of housemaids.
7. "Annilhilation": A deeply disturbing science fiction film in which five women go into the "shimmer" cast by an otherworldly force that alters the DNA of all who enter. It is as perversely beautiful and original a film as it is unsettling in its implications.
8. "Green Book": A based-on-fact story of an elitist black pianist (Mahershala Ali) and the dems-and-dose Bronx bruiser (Viggo Mortensen), who serves as his driver on a concert tour of the Jim Crow South in the early 1960s, is as manipulative and cheesy as a holiday-season Hollywood epic can get. Nonetheless, the leads are so good and the tale so kind-hearted (the baddies aren't that threatening) that it is difficult not to be manipulated.
9. "Operation Finale": A team of Israeli intelligence officers go to Argentina to kidnap Nazi SS leader Adolf Eichmann and return him for trial in a story based on actual events. Ben Kingsley impresses as the low-key and diabolical Eichmann in a film that declares the past can never be forgotten, even if a nation, in this case Israel, is ready to leave the past behind to move forward to new challenges.
10. "Isle of Dogs": The second stop-motion animated film by eclectic director Wes Andersen (the first was the fantastic "Fantastic Mr. Fox") sends a young Japanese boy to an island where dogs are quarantined to find his lost pet and uncovers a government conspiracy with the help of a group of exiled mutts. Dark, witty and inventive.
"Schindler's List," re-released this year on the 25th anniversary of its original release, isn't a new film but it feels new in disquieting ways. Based on the true story of a cynical German industrialist who risked everything to save the lives of his Jewish workers and their families, the film, back in the safety of 1993, came across as a searing chronicle of a portion of the Nazi Holocaust that must be memorialized. Today, given the racist revival in the United States and the similar rise of racial enmity in much of Europe, "Schindler's List" seems like a cautionary tale.
Other honorables: "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs," "A Quiet Place," "Deadpool 2," "You Were Never Really Here."
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