My Favorite First-Time Watches of 2018  

Columbus, dir. Kogonada

 

The visual essayist’s visually lush directorial debut tells a poignant story about an unlikely friendship that was unfortunately overlooked upon its low-key 2017 release.

 

Manifesto, dir. Julian Rosefeldt

 

Turns out that this experiment, which comprises the Australian actress Cate Blanchett acting out the monologues of philosophers, filmmakers, and other public intellectuals in various attire and locales, is a masterful, surprisingly hilarious cinematic tome.

 

Light Sleeper, dir. Paul Schrader

 

Schrader’s comprehensively despondent study of a drug dealer’s midlife crisis features uniformly terrific performances from Willem Dafoe, Susan Sarandon, and Dana Delany.

 

A Virgin Among the Living Dead, dir. Jesús Franco

 

This Spanish Z movie doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but its chimeric scenery and unnerving, fantastical story renders it an unforgettable exercise in low-budget horror filmmaking.

 

Beats Per Minute, dir. Robin Campillo

 

I was extremely moved by this intimate, nervy dramatizing of the lives of AIDs activists in 1980s France.

 

Faces Places, dir. JR and Àgnes Varda

 

This documentary was many things: a chronicle of the heartwarming friendship between the enigmatic visual artist JR and the iconic French filmmaker Varda; a testament to aging’s bittersweet beauty; a portrait of small-town living; an appreciation of fiercely idiosyncratic art; and more. But nothing about Faces Places feels manufactured or purposeful; it is prismatic in the way life is.

 

Josie and the Pussycats, dir. Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont

 

Perhaps this movie’s indictment of the music industry and consumerism in general teeters on the much: the ubiquitous presence of advertisement is arguably hypocritical, and the fierce rejection of poptimism might strike some as being pessimistic and condescending. Still, I found the film’s broad-stroked  satirization thrilling, in large part, because of its inescapable hyperbolization.

 

Saraband, dir. Ingmar Bergman

 

The Swedish filmmaker’s last movie, which is also a sequel to his Scenes from a Marriage, from 1973, is a chillingly bleak look at an erstwhile couple’s separate lives years after their divorce. Not for the faint of heart.

 

Imitation of Life, dir. Douglas Sirk

 

Sirk’s last movie under the tutelage of the Hollywood studio system is often considered his best — a rhetoric I found myself agreeing with after watching it for the first time earlier this year.

 

Right Now, Wrong Then, dir. Hang Sang-soo

 

The prolific Hang’s trippy quasi-romantic drama studies the rapport of a man and a woman who happenstatially meet one wintry afternoon. The film is divided into two parts: the first sees their relationship through a rather antagonistic lens; the second makes for an inverse. Cerebral filmmaking of its caliber tends to be cold, but Hang’s directing strikes a nerve.

 

High and Low, dir. Akira Kurosawa

 

This epic morality play is often overlooked in Kurosawa’s packed filmography, and unfairly so: its provocations and themes leave an imprint.

 

Solaris, dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

 

Solaris, long dubbed Tarkovsky’s magnum opus, is a disturbing, sci-fi-tinged meditation on loss that I couldn’t stop thinking about this year.

 

Sign ‘o’ the Times, dir. Prince

 

For decades, Sign ‘o’ the Times, a concert movie released in tandem with Prince’s 1987 album of the same name, was notoriously difficult to pin down — limitedly distributed, never officially released on home video, and out of print since the early 1990s. But recently, the cable television channel Showtime acquired the rights, and has made it, finally, easy to watch. That Sign ‘o’ the Times has gone largely unseen for the last 30 years is a travesty: it is on par with Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense, the Talking Heads-based rockumentary largely considered the high point for the subgenre.

 

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, dir. Luis Buñuel

 

The Spanish filmmaker’s antepenultimate feature is a razor-edged absurdist comedy that makes a good case that the final stretch of Buñuel’s career was arguably his most wicked and inspired.

 

Branded to Kill, dir. Seijun Suzuki

 

This cult yakuza-focal comedy thriller exemplifies the thrillingly odd star power of the cartoonishly cool actor Joe Shishido.

 

Daughters of Darkness, dir. Harry Kümel

 

You can’t call yourself a true fan of vampire-centric entertainment until you’ve seen Daughters of Darkness, Kumel’s unfathomably sexy and stylish horror masterstroke.

 

The Last Days of Disco, dir. Whit Stillman

 

Stillman brilliantly juxtaposes the end of a musical era and the end of college life in this biting comedy from 1998.

 

There Will Be Blood, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

 

As embarrassing as it may be to admit that it was not until this year that I’d seen Anderson’s study of avarice, it ended up being worth the unintentional wait: I was enthralled by Anderson’s splendid vision, and by the ferocious lead performance from Daniel Day-Lewis.

 

Damage, dir. Louis Malle

 

Malle’s pentultimate project — a British drama starring Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche — is a rancorous tale of erotic obsession.

 

The Grifters, dir. Stephen Frears

 

It isn’t easy to make a consistently on-edge, abidingly twisty con melodrama, but Frears has done it with The Grifters. The 1990 psychological thriller, which stars John Cusack, Annette Bening, and Anjelica Huston as a triumvirate of grifters, is an ace cat-and-mouse chase with an unexpectedly personal touch.

 

True Stories, dir. David Byrne

 

The idiosyncratic, offbeat style of Byrne, the frontman of the New Wave quartet Talking Heads, isn’t for everyone. But his filmmaking debut, True Stories, individualistic as it is, feels made for everyone: it’s an appealing tall tale whose quirks amplify allure.

 

Desert Hearts, dir. Donna Deitch

 

This independent romantic movie, now considered a landmark for LGBTQIA+ representation in film, stars Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau as women who embark on a passionate affair under unusual circumstances. It was rousing when it premiered, in 1985, and it’s rousing now. It is a shame that Shaver and Charbonneau didn’t become bigger stars: their performances are preternally nuanced.

 

The Friends of Eddie Coyle, dir. Peter Yates

 

This movie is a character study — concerned with an aging criminal — disguised as a heist thriller. Its melding of genres is uneasy, but Robert Mitchum’s career-best portrayal of the titular anti-hero keeps it grounded.

 

Norma Rae, dir. Martin Ritt

 

The blue-collar drama, which earned the inimitable Sally Field an Oscar, retains a one-of-a-kind immediacy.

 

Down with Love, dir. Peyton Reed

 

One of the most underrated movies of the early aughts is Down with Love, a stylistic mimeographing of 1950s romantic comedies that comes with a subversive twist.

 

Angel Heart, dir. Alan Parker

 

Angel Heart is frequently remembered for being the film in which the Cosby girl Lisa Bonet made her official transition into actorly maturity. But the movie — a foreboding admixture of detective noir and the macabre — is a high-water mark for 1980s horror.

 

Bride of Frankenstein, dir. James Whale

 

Bride of Frankenstein, the follow-up to 1931’s Frankenstein, clarified, early on, that it is possible for a horror sequel to be its own formidable animal.

 

Paris, Texas, dir. Wim Wenders

 

Wenders’ heartrending paean to alienation is regarded as a masterpiece — and deservedly so.

 

The Earrings of Madame de …, dir. Max Ophüls

 

The glamorous atmosphere of this romantic tragedy isn’t just decorative. Rather ingeniously, it adds meaning to the film’s narrative.

 

An Angel at My Table, dir. Jane Campion

 

When most people think of the New Zealand-bred Campion, they think of 1993’s The Piano, her Academy-adored erotic drama featuring an indelible performance from Holly Hunter. But I much prefer the film she made before it: 1990’s An Angel at My Table. A low-key, moving dramatization of the life of the writer Janet Frame, it makes for a rare biopic that overcomes the genre’s limitations.

 

watched a lot of movies last year. Here are some of my favorite discoveries that were not released in 2018, in no particular order.

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Jan. 2, 2019