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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The Best Films of 2017

With 2017, I spent more time confused than not. It’s been a sufficiently un-astonishing year that often left my mind in a state of perpetual limbo, forced to reckon with the static of a butterscotch goblin on a daily basis every time I turned on the television. Turn off that antennae and I’m still confronted with the kind of shoddy humanity that makes me wonder if the planet’s growth spurt toward mature, complex, and rational thinking will ever come to pass.

For what it’s worth, it’s made the people that I value all the more important to me. People capable of compassion, thoughtfulness, and empathy. If those traits were a deficiency of mine, they’re something that I actively work toward. I cannot resort to close-minded isolationism and intolerance. And it’s made the films of 2017, those that value warmth and tolerance as not vanity but virtue, all the more important to me. As 2017 comes to a close, it’s the films highlighted here that spoke to me most directly in this year of demolished sentiment - films that itch for solicitude, yearn for humanity, and resemble something unfashionably compassionate . 

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The Best Films of 2016

I took it easier this year. I didn’t watch as many films nor did I really want to. I read more, exercised more, and traveled a bit. I stepped outside of my comfort zone on at least two separate occasions, which for most might not seem like a big deal, but for me it was like a glass ceiling crashing down. Life can be a series of lateral moves, but I’ll celebrate those ever-fleeting upward ones every chance I get.

But for many, 2016 represented a decline in our dignity and empathy. They’re not wrong. Some of the films outlined in my top 25 spoke, prophetically, to this decline. Others looked at the tail end of the Obama years with a glimmer of hope.

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The Best Films of 2015

The act of watching is considered an external activity; you, sitting, observing, motionless; a receptor to whatever visual bombards you. There’s the adage of “shutting off your brain” for the duration of certain mayhem-extensive pictures, suggesting some sort of cosmic catharsis in disengaging with a visual text; ergo, it’s just more fun when you don’t have to think about what you’re watching. Just you, sitting, observing, motionless.

In 2015, purposeful or not, I ended up paying more attention to what was going on inside me while I was watching all these films. I was trying to engage with every text on a personal level, attempting to make sense of a visual language and breaking it down to a comprehensive syntax and grammar that I could easily master. That didn’t really happen, but it did accentuate certain details in films.

Like the scene in Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, where Dolan extends the expanses of the frame utilizing Ludovico Einaudi’s composition, “Experience”. It was a moment, perhaps the moment, of the year that effectively transcends the distance between the screen and spectator. Similarly, other films, like John Magary’s The Mend and Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days, had fun in subverting expectations, commanding attention through its purposeful and calibrated chaos. In them, you’ll find familiar stories told in dynamic ways, and in this way, the distance between screen and spectator is shortened.

So with that in mind, I present my top 25 (+1) films of 2015. A list and probably the closest I’ll get to the list. It was a good year. 

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The Best Films of 2014

Much of the discourse regarding 2014 has lamented how it was a year of decline: a decline in revenue, a decline in parts for women, and most ludicrous of all, a decline in our freedom speech. These superficial statements fester like a cancer and propagate among media outlets, inundating the masses into accepting them as fact. What was the big film news of 2014? The ra-ra-ra of American faux-patriotism following the would-they or wouldn’t-they release of The Interview. Why was there such clamor over this when Laura Poitras’ CITIZENFOUR submitted a far more audacious and palpable threat against our civil liberties?

Or perhaps it was the continued reign of terror that comes from contemporary superhero films, where studios exercise the possibilities of being in the business of anticipation - building anticipation for a product that, regardless of its quality, is sure to sell. It’s a wonder that Richard Linklater’s Boyhood managed to have any sort of profile amid the year’s news, though more often than not its coverage emphasized its perceived novelty rather than the quality of the film itself. 

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Thursday Ten - The Best Films of 2013

Where to start with 2013? Having seen few bad films and many great ones it makes the process of narrowing down a definitive top ten near impossible. Thematically, the year played heavily to the sound of excess. Like an echo chamber playing Lorde’s Royals on end, films like the underrated At Any PriceThe Bling RingSpring Breakers, and The Wolf of Wall Street all constructed new and complicated images on the concept of the American Dream. But this coincidental lap in concerns was really only one in many. So as an addendum to my annual top ten, I’ve included five groupings of some of the more interesting films of 2013 that share some unified thoughts and concerns - both as a means of discussing some great pictures while submitting to the fact that selecting only ten best films of the years was entirely inadequate. 

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