The Top Ten
10. Incredibles 2
In yet another year stuffed with one too many superheroes, Pixar’s long-awaited sequel is the closest thing to perfection, combining stellar animation, breathtaking action, and just the right dash of whip-smart family comedy. Unlike Marvel and DC, the Incredible family haven’t worn out their welcome, more than ten years later feeling like the warm embrace of an old friend, and it doesn’t hurt that animators can do things with superpowers that no live-action farce could ever achieve. Holly Hunter gives good as Elastigirl, the mother/wife now at the forefront of the growing family’s heroic endeavors, much to Mr. Incredible’s chagrin. Filmmaker Brad Bird does what he does best, employing retro-futuristic detail and breaking down the nuclear family to the tune of a billion dollars.
Oh, what biting wit, what silver tongues and golden chalices. Working from a brilliant script by newcomers Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis, Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos rises to the occasion, forgoing the stolid craft of his previous efforts for something just as weird, patient, and all the more impressive. Using symmetry, floating dollies, and 18th century art, his every frame is a brief work of art itself, a world of intrigue to learn of and move in, much like chess players Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) and Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). They are lone pieces on a chess board fighting for the same queen, one for love and influence, the other for love of status, and their world is one to regard with delight and an oddly enjoyable form of disgust. Stone is best in show, and Olivia Colman proves her mettle as well as the inscrutable Queen Anne.
A black powerful true joint about Ron Stallworth, a black man who joined the Colorado Springs police department and eventually infiltrated and harangued their local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan with an ingenious tag-team undercover operation complete with “King’s English” phone calls and Adam Driver’s White-Jewish Flip Zimmerman playing the face to those calls. This is Spike Lee’s best work since Inside Man, a righteous crusade against old ways that are new again, the rising tide of proto-fascism that only needed a familiar face and a suit to re-enter the mainstream. If you’re Joe moviegoer you’ll love the buddy cop comedy, if you’re Joe cinephile, you’ll love the Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind takedown, stories which, in manners big and small, laid the foundation for so much of yesterday’s (and today’s) feckless tyranny. No matter who you are, the stunning ending will leave you silent.
7. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Morgan Neville’s genuinely moving documentary is a portrait of kindness and sincerity. It’s a breathe of fresh air in 2018, a unicorn in a world of cynicism and undue sarcasm. Neighbor comes close to hagiography without committing fully to such folly, and in the process manages to both celebrate and sometimes critically study the man behind the sweater. Within the confines of his show it may have been difficult for many to view Rogers as anything more than an after-school entertainment, unaware of his time in front of Congress or his ability to bring social issues to a mainstream audience. Utilizing archival footage, interviews, and episodes of his groundbreaking show, Neville’s film highlights all that made him a transcendent star and human being. It’s the rare doc to make you think and feel, not only about its subject, but about the state of the world then, now, and going forward.
6. If Beale Street Could Talk
A James Baldwin novel writ large and in living color, a vibrant palette of primary colors and rich, evocative textures. 70’s New York has never felt so real and so alive thanks to Barry Jenkins, a director with evident style and soul to spare as he tackles the story of two people in love and the unjust world trying ever so desperately to keep them apart. Distracting VO notwithstanding, Beale Street is a compelling tapestry of life as a black man or woman in America, always in danger of a potential white devil ’round the corner who might throw you in jail or throw you out on the street. Pedro Pascal, Dave Franco, and especially Bryan Tyree Henry make lasting impressions in short but sweet cameos, while Kiki Layne and Stephan James are more than prepared for the heavy lifting as Tish and Fonny. Regina King and Colman Domingo provide ample support as Tish’s parents, and Jenkins brings gravitas, weaving an intimate tale from page to screen to something terrifically universal.
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