• Kyndall Cunningham

The best films of 2018 (in no particular order)

Updated: Jan 10, 2019


Photo courtesy: Netflix

Eighth Grade

My love for Eighth Grade is so heavily documented that I don’t need to say anything nice about it ever again. But for the purpose of this blog, I will reiterate that Bo Burnham’s debut feature is the best portrayal of female adolescence I’ve ever seen, and I typically defer from making broad statements like that about art. Burnham, the film’s screenwriter and director, captures the subtleties of social anxiety and the terror of puberty with a careful eye and empathetic lens to create an uncommonly visceral experience. The film is achingly resonant for anyone who struggles to take control their own narrative due to shyness or fear. Most notably, Eighth Grade is a feat for its lead, 15-year-old Elise Fisher, who gives a formidable performance worthy of best actress accolades this awards season.


Minding The Gap

Minding the Gap, directed by Bing Liu, is one of the most effective and devastating documentaries I've ever witnessed. Shot in his hometown of Rockford, Ill., Liu captures his skateboarding friends Kiere and Zack as they come to terms with adulthood, while also turning the camera on himself and his family's past. Besides skateboarding, a common thread runs through these men's upbringings - domestic violence. Kiere struggles to reconcile grieving his deceased father who used to abuse him. Zack, who claims he was physically disciplined by his parents and hints at violent behavior between the two of them, is an alcoholic who we discover abuses his girlfriend. The most heartbreaking moment is the conversation Liu has with his mother about his abusive stepfather. Liu sympathetically illustrates the cycle of violence and toxic masculinity that affects men and women while also challenging the men who willingly inherit this behavior.


If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkin's adaptation of James Baldwin's novel If Beale Street Could Talk is a sensual masterpiece. From Nicholas Britell's divine score to James Laxton's tender focus on touching hands, eyes, lips, scars and rugged objects to Jenkin's romantic dialogue, the visual and aural components of this period drama are mesmerizing. Beale Street is a tragic tale of injustice, following the complicated lives of two young, black people in love, that somehow manages to be as soothing and joyous as it can be at every available moment. Jenkins' successfully translates onscreen themes Baldwin harped on so keenly - love, racism, family, the criminal justice system. Two transcendent performances by Regina King and Brian Tyree Henry are deserving of Oscars, in addition to a perfectly cast ensemble. This film's ending is particular affected me deeply and left me in my seat for a longer period of time than I expected. I honestly can't praise this movie enough, so I'll just stop here.


A Star Is Born

As much as I resent the fact that this film will unjustly rack up a bunch of trophies this awards season, I can’t help but love A Star Is Born. The first time I saw this movie was at an early promotional screening inside a Dolby cinema. And I saw it again in a regular theater. Let me just say that Dolby’s premium sound quality makes a HUGE difference for this film’s viscerality. Nevertheless, it’s the pure, unadulterated melodrama, in addition to Lady Gaga’s spellbinding musical performances, that make this film feel like a two-hour joyride - but super depressing at the end. On it’s fourth remake, A Star Is Born fails to be subversive regarding the gender roles at its center. But it doesn’t need to be for the film to work. It’s a pleasurable classic amid a social media age.


Black Panther

I believe I would be exiled from my community if I didn't put Black Panther on my list, which isn't to say that I feel pressured to do so. For someone who could care less about comic book movies, I genuinely loved Black Panther. For the first time on the big screen, and practically any medium, I was able envision an African nation that hadn't been destroyed by colonization and was free from white patriarchy. Furthermore, I appreciated Ryan Coogler's effort and dedication to making the state of Wakanda so immersive, whether through costuming, architecture or the introduction of different tribes (something I wish Wonder Woman did with Themyscira). Maybe the most affecting aspect of the film, for me, was the array of fully-realized black, female characters who not only saved Wakanda, but did so in the face of brawling men.


Sorry To Bother You

If you haven't already read the reviews, Sorry To Bother You is a far from perfect film. It's a zany satire about a young, black man named Cassius who uses his "white voice" to excel at an entry-level telemarketing job. One shocking turn after another, he bears witness to the company's deranged labor practices and faces a moral crisis: remain an employee or join his friends and girlfriend in a boycott. The main intrigue, for me, is the film's notion of "white voice," which the story hastily veers from and into a million other ideas and plot points. Boots Riley doesn't exactly land every theme he tries to explore, but the narrative is so trippy that it works. LaKeith Stanfield gives a stellar performance. And Armie Hammer, who I've previously found to be a rather vapid performer, brings an eccentricity to the film's main antagonist. Overall, I found this film to be a lot of fun, sharp and hilarious.


Roma

Alfonso Cuaron's Roma is another film I've been raving about on social media and my blog since its premiere on Netflix last December. Like Cuaron's previous feature Gravity, Roma is a visual marvel. Shot in black-and-white, he uses large-scale cinematography, panning over vast fields, bodies of water, forests, and city streets, to tell the most intimate of stories. The movie follows two women whose lives unravel in tandem: a maid and live-in nanny named Cleo becomes pregnant and is abandoned by the father, and her employer Sofia has been neglected by her husband. The film offers a subtle but sharp take on masculinity while illustrating the survivalist nature of family. Yalitza Aparicio, who portrays Cleo, is ultimately the film's most valuable component, delivering a skillful, shattering performance.


To All The Boys I've Loved Before

2018 ushered in the revival of romantic comedies. To All The Boys I've Loved Before, Netflix's highly anticipated turn at the beloved genre, is a feat in film-making for the streaming platform. Starring Lana Candor as Lara Jean Convey, TATBILB is a charming tale about an introverted teenager whose affinity for multiple boys at her high school, including her sister's ex-boyfriend, is mysteriously conveyed to them by a secret messenger. In order to preserve herself from humiliation and drama, she enters a fake relationship with one of her crushes, Peter Kavinsky, played Noah Centineo, who is also trying to escape his suck-y girlfriend. The chemistry between Candor and Centineo has you rooting for their potential romance every time they're on screen together. This movie is a delightful, digestible, 90-minute treat that I went back to again and again.


Support The Girls

Andrew Bujalski's Support The Girls is an endearing workplace comedy set in a Southern Hooters-style sports bar. Regina Hall delivers a phenomenal and Oscar-worthy performance as the general manager Lisa, whose benevolence and overwhelming generosity for her employees rarely pays off and routinely comes at the expense of her own well-being. What's most refreshing about this comedy is that it's free from parody. The working-class women portrayed in this film are funny, messy, witty, naive, sarcastic and avoid being punchlines. Haley Lu Richardson and Shayne McHayle provide hilarious supporting performances in what feels like a Master Class in timing and delivery. During a time when everything is satirized, Bujalski offers warmth and absolute sincerity.