The titles are listed alphabetically; let’s start with A to F
12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013) There’s a key line near the beginning of “12 Years a Slave, “ the new drama from “Shame” director Steve McQueen. Shortly after being shanghaied from his comfortable life as a freeman into a life of slavery Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) declares, “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.” Based on Northup’s 1853 memoir the movie is an uncompromising story about will, suffering and injustice. This is a harrowing, stark movie that is equal parts educational and devastating.
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013) “Before Midnight” is beautifully real stuff that fully explores the doubts and regrets that characterize Jesse and Celine’s love affair. Done with humor, heart and pathos, often in the same scene, it is a poignant farewell to two characters who grew up in front of us.
BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018) “BlacKkKlansman” is based on the strange but true story of Ron Stallworth. The true part sees the Colorado Springs, Colorado police officer join the KKK and even act as a bodyguard for Grand Wizard David Duke. The strange part is that Ron Stallworth is African American. Maybe that’s why director Spike Jones chose to open the film with the title credit, “DIS JOINT IS BASED UPON SOME FO’ REAL, FO’ REAL S***.” It’s a barbed satire with its feet firmly rooted in the realities of American life.
Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014) As a chronicle of our existence it’s an ambitious undertaking, a moving experience about the individual moments that make a life.
Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011) “Drive” is an art house thriller. It’s stylized, with lighting effects, lots of slow motion and interesting camera angles that create a sense of unease that permeates every scene. For every instance of brutal violence director Nicolas Winding Refn (“Valhalla Rising,” “Bronson”) also escalates the movie’s sense of heightened reality. Very long pauses punctuate most every exchange of dialogue and how is it that no one seems to notice that the Driver is drenched in blood as he walks through a tony Chinese restaurant? “Drive” exists in its own world, and it is a fascinating place.
Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham, 2018) Ever wonder what it must be like to come-of-age in an era of information overload, motivational YouTube videos and school-shooter drills? With “Eighth Grade,” a funny, blistering look at life in junior high, director Bo Burnham gives you a peak, morphing from creator/star of MTV’s “Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous” into the modern day John Hughes. “Eighth Grade” is an unvarnished, pimples and all, look at adolescence and the anxiety that comes with it. Kayla may not always be able to exactly articulate the way she’s feeling but the movie has no such problem. It’s a study in her innocence and awkwardness that uses carefully selected moments to highlight Kayla’s mindset.
The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018) To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, if you want to test a person’s character, give them power. That maxim is fully on display in “The Favourite,” starring Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, as two women vie for the attention of Anne, Queen of Great Britain. Director Yorgos Lanthimos has made a strange and beautiful movie, one that has the twilight zone feel of his other films “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” They all feel like real life, but tilted by 180 degrees. With “The Favourite” he has made a revisionist history that comments not only on personal politics but also how political power is open to the whims of who holds it.
First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2018) This is Paul Schrader’s ode to Andrei Tarkovsky and Ingmar Bergman, contemplative filmmakers of the past who essayed questions of theology and spiritual growth without judging their characters. Uncluttered and edited with laser like attention to detail, “First Reformed” is a thought-provoking movie that bears repeated viewing.
The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017) “The Florida Project” has heartbreaking moments but celebrates the power of friendship and the bond between mother and daughter. Six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) may be having a rough go of it now, but she’s not prepared to give up. Check out the unwitting metaphor for her own life she uses to describe her favourite landmark, a gnarled tree. “It’s fallen over,” she says, “but it’s still growing.”
Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, 2014) “Force Majeure” mixes the banal with the spectacular to create a provocative psychological thriller about the male ego and the power of putting the toilet seat down… or leaving it up.