You won't find the the usual titles in this eccentric and eclectic list of hits and misses from a film critic's viewing year.
Sondra Locke and Keith Carradine in Alan Rudolph's Ray Meets Helen. Image: TriCoast Entertainment.
In August 2018, I posted on Facebook what I considered to be an especially powerful and poignant screenshot from a wonderful new film I had just seen. It was Alan Rudolph’s very low budget, independently produced, digitally shot Ray Meets Helen (2017) – the first movie he had managed to make in 15 years. Rudolph himself is now 74, and the average age of his cast members (including Keith Carradine and Jennifer Tilly) is 63. Lesley Ann Warren (71), the star of Rudolph’s 1980s arthouse classic Choose Me, is a co-producer. But my screenshot was of the 'leading lady', Sondra Locke, looking straight into the camera, at the conclusion of the film’s first major shot, at the age of 73 – and, off-screen, struggling with cancer.
Sondra Locke in her final role. Screenshot from Ray Meets Helen.
In the context of Ray Meets Helen, this image is devastating. And it’s even more so now, in the light of Locke’s death in November 2018. There were vigorous complaints about the 'entertainment news' obits reporting her passing: typed as the embittered ex-lover of Clint Eastwood', there was no mention of the four features she had herself directed – or of Ray Meets Helen.
Most of my favourite films of 2018 were in fact made in 2017 – it still takes a while for most movies to percolate through the various channels of distribution, whether theatrical or digital – and none of them are the most recognisable Hollywood blockbusters. Lucrecia Martel’s dazzling Zama, Paul Thomas Anderson’s devilish Phantom Thread, Joseph Kahn’s outrageously bold Bodied and Clare Denis’ unexpectedly hilarious sex-and-relationships comedy Un beau soleil intérieur (mistranslated as Let the Sunshine In) head the list alongside Ray Meets Helen. I celebrated the miraculous reconstruction of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind in a previous Screenhub column.
Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson's devilish Phantom Thread. Image: NBC Universal.
Not far below this crest line is a diverse bunch, most of which were underrated or under-seen: Mathieu Amalric’s dreamy biopic Barbara, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s unnervingly quiet vision of the apocalypse in Before We Vanish, Andrew Bujalski’s rousing portrait of ordinary workers in Support the Girls, Kim Ui-seok’s grim testament After My Death, Gus Van Sant’s unsentimental tearjerker Don’t Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot (with a superb performance from Joaquin Phoenix), Brian Taylor’s wildly anarchic Mom and Dad (my preferred Nicholas Cage special) and John Cameron Mitchell’s delirious sci-fi/teen movie How to Talk to Girls at Parties.
I also have a soft spot for The Spy Who Dumped Me, I Feel Pretty, A Simple Favor, A Quiet Place and Thoroughbreds. Among Australian features, I valued Alena Lodkina’s Strange Colours and Mairi Cameron’s The Second.
On the other side of the coin, I was sorely disappointed by Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy, Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country, Ari Aster’s Hereditary and John David Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake.
Television, for its part, continues to produce treasures. Nothing could equal 2017’s Twin Peaks: The Return phenomenon, but we had the final season of The Americans, the first season of Killing Eve, Park Chan-wook’s gripping mini-series The Little Drummer Girl, the continuing chronicle of The Deuce, the cruelly cancelled Here and Now, and the first half of the concluding mayhem of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – but, on that note, I am getting ahead of myself, because the romantic-neurotic adventure of Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) is certain to top my list of 2019.
© Adrian Martin, December 2018
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