2018 marked my fifth year writing for Screen Anarchy and I can’t tell you what an honour and treat it has been sharing my impassioned, oft-fevered cinematic opinions alongside a community of like-driven souls whom I’m proud to call colleagues.
Beginning my Anarchistic adventure in Austin, TX back in 2014, I’ve since covered five consecutive SXSWs, NYFFs, TIFFs (though since TIFF is my hometown fest, I’ve been unofficially covering it for my personal records since 1998), and in a few weeks I’ll embark on my fifth Sundance.
While ScreenAnarchy has blessed me with a public platform, I still consider my work here to be an extension of my personal records. As far as lists are concerned, I believe I made my first Top 10 in the miraculously good cinematic year of 1999. I vividly remember being reprimanded later in high school for passing notes in class and having said note confiscated. What Mrs. Minor discovered was my Top 10 Films of 2001 and after class, rather than being reprimanded, the conversation turned to the year’s quality output… which I’m getting to, I swear.
It is now exactly twenty years since my first list and I’m not remotely shocked to find myself continuing the beloved pastime with striking continuity. All of my favourite films from 1999 are still my favourite films, perhaps more so, and I’m quite confident that all of my favourite films from 2018 would also be my favourites had I encountered them at 15 years old. In the words of one of my all time favourite song-writers, Doug Martsch, “Hard to believe / That after all this time / After all this I’m / Still me”
Forgive the gravity of it all, but in the spirit of my five year anniversary writing for this fine outlet, if my tone smacks of wistful retrospect, it is because I will no longer be doing these year-end debrief articles. By no means will I stop making lists – hah! – however, I will be taking the proverbial chill pill in terms of my penchant for hooplah.
I’m flattered and humbled by anyone who gets something out of these year-end articles – or any of my articles for that matter – so to you, dear reader, I say, thank you, my friend. Above all, on this happy new year, I bid a loving thank you to all the auteurs, the music-makers, and the dreamers who dream. To those who dare to express at all costs. May 2019 bring works of innovative storytelling that scintillate, entertain and positively stain our brains for years to come. In the words of Takeshi Kitano, Glory to the Filmmaker! Thank you for continuing to make life interesting when oftentimes it is so very boring. Thank you, Mrs. Minor.
Twenty Years Ago Today
I’m really not looking to get too bogged down in the past here, but I thought in light of the anniversary of it all, another pastime in which I greatly enjoy indulging, I’d like to quickly catch you up as best I can on the last twenty years. Should you only be interested in 2018 works, I implore you to skip this section and forge on ahead with the matter at hand.
BUT if you’re a fellow Rob Gordonite who really gets into lists, please have a gander at my best attempt to relay my favourite films since I began listing, from the perspective of the person I was at the time, not that he’s changed much taste-wise. I did my best to limit myself to one film per year, but often there’s two, and sometimes I couldn’t not three. Since 1999 was so damn strong there’s an entire podcast dedicated to it, I’m just gonna slip in a little Top 5 for that gatecrasher.
As for my “official” personal records, my first SA Top 10 went down in 2014 and while I’d love to rewrite a lot of that stuff having accumulated five years of practice, what can you do? All in all, I’m glad they exist. Should you feel so compelled, please do throw your own twenty year retrospect into the comment section. I’d love to cross examine!
1999 – Election / Magnolia / Eyes Wide Shut / The Virgin Suicides / Fight Club
2000 – Requiem For A Dream / O Brother, Where Art Thou
2001 – Mulholland Drive / Waking Life / Ghost World
2002 – Adaptation
2003 – Lost In Translation
2004 – Kill Bill / Dig! / Before Sunset
2005 – No Direction Home / Broken Flowers
2006 – Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious… / Children of Men
2007 – I’m Not There / Red Road
2008 – Synecdoche, New York
2009 – A Serious Man
2010 – Best Worst Movie / Cooper’s Camera
2011 – Another Earth / Killer Joe
2012 – The Master / Moonrise Kingdom
2013 – Inside Llewyn Davis
2018 ON TV
If you’ve been following these lists, you may notice that I’ve succeeded in simplifying the process, which has been one of those recurring resolutions of mine. Fighting all of my obsessively completionist impulses, there are many, many year-end ‘contenders’ I have yet to see, and that’s finally okay with me. There didn’t seem to me to be much doing on the boob tube this year and good riddance.Like with film, I can’t say I experienced the vast majority of 2018’s offering, but in perusing lists of what was on this year, the only show I didn’t catch that seems like it might be of interest to me is something called, Love IslandThere are, of course, things I could shout out, but rather than half-heartedly doing so, let me just wholeheartedly single out the second season of Mike Judge’s Tales From The Tour Bus. In my list last year, I described the too-good-to-be-true-show as belonging in the same glorious lineage of graphic novelists who undertake holy nonfiction – Robert Crumb on the Blues, or perhaps on Harvey Pekar, or Harvey Pekar on the Beats, etc.Switching gears from heartworn outlaws to funk gods, Tales II tells the story of funk in all its astounding founding incarnations. From Soul Brother #1 to George ‘the Atomic Dog’ Clinton, Bootsy Collins to Betty Davis to Morris Day, Season Two is the most funkin, Baadaaass content to hit the screen this year. It’s hilarious and educational and awesome and it belongs on my graphic novel shelf. Five stars.
THE NEXT FIVE (alphabetical)
Fiction Mid90sThe Old Man and the GunThe Other Side of the WindTullyWe The AnimalsDocumentary Bergman: A Year in a LifeMatangi/Maya/M.I.A.They’ll Love Me When I’m DeadThree Identical StrangersThe Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling
BEST DOCUMENTARY: Carmine Street Guitars
Carmine Street Guitars is by far my favourite documentary of 2018. I’m not sure if we can actually call it a 2018 film, as I believe it’s still in its festival run, but since I won’t be returning next year, let me once more applaud Ron Mann’s charming ode to the old and fading rock and roll spirit of a bygone New York that only lives as a memory to its survivors. In my second article on the film (of two), I write, “In my first article , I call Carmine Street Guitars a stoic film about a custom guitar shop that repurposes some of the oldest wood in New York City into impeccably crafted instruments, “the most unassuming, sneakily beautiful, goddamn treat of a film I have ever seen”, and I do go on.” I could go on, but in the spirit of restraint, I won’t. In 2019, should the film come to a theater near you, do the right the thing.
TOP 10 NARRATIVE FILMS OF 2018
10: A Futile And Stupid Gesture Like a great work of classic National Lampoon irreverence, A Futile & Stupid Gesture tells the story of the seventies’ most captivating wise-ass and his band of merry comic legends. Its director, David Wain, handles the material with deep love, while also interjecting a modern perspective that cleverly addresses the elephant of how ‘of their time’ comedic works like Lampoon Magazine or Animal House were.At Sundance, I wrote: “Like a fever dream, the film exists in a uniquely wonderful world of collective imagination, where history and legend lucidly engage one another. In doing so, A Futile and Stupid Gesture cuts through the bullshit of its genre in a way that’d make the original Lampoon family proud”.
9: Thunder Road
At SXSW, I wrote, “Like the short film, Thunder Road is funny. Very funny. Similarly it’s also messy, cathartic and downright heartbreaking. Cummings, who has recently made an ongoing practice of the long take, continues along these lines without ever being showy about the device. He’s able to execute his perfectly constructed script of broken dreams and actively breaking hearts thanks to sharply modest filmmaking. Brimming with smart cinematography and editing, the film is immaculately presented, yet it would fail completely if not effortlessly brought alive by its players; a charming ensemble cast of sweet souls inhabiting a sweet world tainted by the cruelty of circumstances.”
“Don’t Call It A Comeback” is a headline I saw at some point around the film’s release, and damn straight. While I haven’t dug a joint quite as much as this one in some time, I’ve never ceased to admire Lee’s want to innovate storytelling in stating his case. This go-round we have a fairly long film that is a total breeze of a watch. The film plays as a comedic mis-adventure, and as such it’s a helluva romp. Then, just as you start having too much fun, Lee reminds us that just because this shit is so unbelievably absurd it verges on comedy, doesn’t make this ancient societal cancer any less real and unthinkably prevalent, which is, of course, TERRIFYING!
At SXSW, I wrote, “Ethan Hawke’s Blaze follows Blaze Foley’s troubled but storied life as a Texan troubadour while playing alongside his carefree days literally living in the forest with the love of his life, Sybil Rose. The film, co-written by Sybil and based on her memoir, “Living in the Woods in a Tree”, simultaneously depicts love in the most obscure of settings and the long shadow idyllic happiness can cast on one’s future. All the while Blaze was alone, the past was close behind, and in cross-cutting past with present of 1989, told from the retrospect of today, Hawke weaves a dense story that touches on so many facets of the life of the mindfully sensitive soul; those folks capable of feeling to profound degrees, for better or worse, and inevitably suffering for their courage to live openly.”
Mandy is a wondrous feast for the eyes and the subconscious, as we all well know by now. Panos Cosmatos’ film has defied the wasteland that has become the theatrical release landscape by finding fans far and wide clamouring at the bit to feed the snowballing demand. Yes, the reception has been nothing short of a cult fascination for this nightmarish fantasy about profound heartbreak and roaring primal rage, and, in my mind, few films of late are more deserving. Mandy is at once raw animal emotion and heady phantasmal catharsis full of strange beauty and mysterious entrancing imagery.
5: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Published in 1873 by Mike Zoss & Sons, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs gives us six distinct tales of ancient storied folks facing mortal encounters. Some are riveting, some ironic, one is amusingly zen, one is downright heartbreaking, but only one ends with a man singing his way to heaven, longing for a future when we can all, “shake our heads at all the meanness of the used-to-be.” This Coen sampler, written over the course of their entire career, I would think, would be a dream for fans. In any case, it certainly is for me, as the project carries with it a spirit that reminds me of Ethan Coen’s short story compilation, Gates of Eden; a book I cannot recommend highly enough. Furthermore, as anyone who collects the Coen’s published screenplays can attest, Mike Zoss & Sons are the type of authors or scholars you’d find prefacing their works. They’re like the great grandfathers of Mortimer Young of the Forever Young Preservation Society and for the brothers to adapt their ancient Western anthology is nothing short of a Coen mitzvah. Check out my interviews with two of the film’s protagonists, Buster Scruggs & Ms. Alice Longabaugh.
Since Children of Men first blew our minds in 2006 with its kinetic world of wartime chaos, director Alfonso Cuarón has become an increasingly immersive filmmaker. Gravity was one of the exceptions to the rule of the annoying 3D boom of the early 10s, with its skillful homage to the sensation Cuarón felt as a young boy watching Marooned (1969), a film that clearly had a profound impact on Cuarón’s eventual aspirations. Whatever his reasons for latching onto the stranded-in-space story he saw so long ago on the big screen – an event he recreates in his anti-Fellini-esque reminiscence, Roma – Cuarón is evidently an artist concerned with time, place, space, and implanting his audience in atmosphere. Cuarón has delivered the Marooned transportation sensation ten fold throughout his career and nowhere are his tactics more subtly or effectively employed than in his latest and most personal film to date, Roma, a stunningly panoramic memoir that would perhaps be best experienced in old-timey Cinerama, perhaps spread across The Hollywood Dome or some such eye-hugging screen… not Netflix 🙁
2: You Were Never Really Here
I can’t remember why I took a chance on Morvern Callar back at TIFF 2002 – I’m guessing it had something to do with Samantha Morton, who had bedazzled me twice in 1999 with her performances in Jesus’ Son and Sweet & Lowdown – but I’ve had nothing but admiration for its director, Lynne Ramsay, ever since. We Need To Talk About Kevin was one of the more memorable offerings of 2011, and now eight years later with only a short film completed since, 2018’s short and potent You Were Never Really Here is a cathartically violent masterpiece concerning rescue, survival, and life after survival. The revenge genre is one that in Action traditionally serves to offer its viewers catharsis via violent comeuppance. While Ramsey benefits from the exploitative nature of the genre’s inherent guilty pleasure satisfaction, by grounding the bleak material in reality, the film’s underlying soulful hope resonates as a thing of poetic beauty.
1: Lords of Chaos
The same year I was introduced to the work of Lynn Ramsay, I also caught a film called Spun and I fucking hated it. If you’d told me then that 16 years later its director, Jonas Akerlund, would make one of my favourite films of the following decade, I’d have asked you politely to shut your goddamn mouth. And yet, for my duckets, Lords of Chaos – a down-to-earth coming-of-rage film about the perils of growing up too fast and with far too heavy a satanic influence – is the most exciting docudrama of the decade. With riveting performances from the films’ young cast, especially Rory Culkin, Lords of Chaos tells the utterly shocking story of the Norwegian fathers of black metal, Mayhem, and all their ungodly antics. Back at Sundance, I interviewed Director, Jonas Åkerlund, Producer, Danny Gabai, and the film’s awesome cast; Rory Culkin, Sky Ferreira, and Jack Kilmer, except, regrettably, for the first time in my SA tenure, I wasn’t given the chance to see the film prior to the conversation. The piece is fine – there was plenty to discus – but I would love a re-do. Maybe I’ll throw hosting a twenty year anniversary screening on the old bucket to-do list. So, while Lords of Chaos isn’t coming out in the US until February 8th, again, I will not be back next year to sing the film’s praise. So for the last time, check it out. Check it all out. Rob Gordon signing off.