The Best Films of 2018

There’s this axiom: “The worst your past was, the worse your present will be.” I’ll try not to get too dramatic as I don’t want this to degenerate into whining. I felt myself thin away and teetering toward oblivion throughout passages of 2018. Or: it wasn’t the best year. I started it off unemployed, laid off a week prior to Thanksgiving 2017 and forced to hustle a menial, demeaning job to make it through the holiday season. It was humbling (which more often than not reads as: terrible) and a casual reminder that the distinction between nightmare and reality can be blurred beyond recognition.

Good news was that I started a new position with one of the most renowned academic institutions on the planet in late January. The tide was turning, the molecules of the universe finally colliding in a way that actually benefited me. I never before felt like I was on the fringe, but I certainly felt less passive and more active in becoming a fully functional human being. 30 howled and with it a set of anxieties and preoccupations that, somehow, I seemed capable of handling. It hasn’t always been a picnic, but the alternative – unemployment, anomie – and its resulting anxieties have thankfully been kept at bay.

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Previewing the 5th Annual Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival

The litany of film festivals offered within Chicago and its surrounding suburbs during the calendar year makes the very thought of covering each one a daunting, frankly impossible, task. Part of me, however, feels like I’ve neglected some of my duties in running Chicago Cinema Circuit, especially when it comes to highlighting some of the local festivals in the area that would otherwise go unnoticed on a national stage. Case in point: the Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival. For the past five years, Michael Glover Smith has carefully programmed a small yet incredibly thoughtful festival that highlights local and national filmmakers. An emphasis is placed on providing a discourse between filmmaker and audience, with filmmakers frequently in attendance for post-screening Q&As. There’s an overwhelming quality to a lot of the larger film festivals in the area, where quantity tends to be valued over quality. With the Oakton PUFF, there’s significance placed on curation, on creating a fundamentally relaxed experience that values the film, the filmmaker, and its audience. That, my friends, is a fundamentally singular film festival experience.

The Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival begins Tuesday, November 27 through Friday, November 30 at the Footlik Theatre. All screenings are free and open to the public. For additional information, click here.

Previewing the 54th Chicago International Film Festival

Write about this festival long enough and you run out of things to say. I complain every year about the Chicago International Film Festival and there’s plenty to complain about (Asako I & II, Burning, La Flor, Her Smell, High Life, Hong Sang-soo, 3 Faces, etc. are all immediately felt absences in a line-up filled with a lot of, to say it diplomatically, filler). Blasé inclusions aside (The Front Runner is your Closing Film? And why is our After Dark programming year in, year out always so terribly sparse?), I’m going to try to stay positive.

I’m glad that Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma and Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind are screening in, you know, a theater. I’m happy that Oliver Assayas’ new film, Non-Fiction, is screening. Same for the new Christian Petzold, Jia Zhangke, and Dominga Sotomayor. And the stuff that I’m going to see before the end of the year (staying positive), like Steve McQueen’s Widows and Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite should benefit from a festival crowd. I don’t know what’s going on with their “Masters” programming, which is a hodgepodge of puzzling inclusions and equally perplexing exclusions (where’s the new Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Jean-Luc Godard, or Frederick Wiseman?). But it does feature the new Hirokazu Kore-eda and Pawel Pawlikowski, so – positive.  

Look, I won’t pretend like I know the economics or the web of complex relationships required to manage and maintain a festival. I don’t have the constitution to even consider all the handshaking and endless series of emails required to get so-and-so film to screen, or the logistics necessary to get this or that filmmaker in attendance. All I know is that New York City and Toronto and Telluride have those resources and Chicago does not. But what I guess I want to know is… why not?

The 54th Chicago International Film Festival runs from October 10 to October 21. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here.