YALITZA APARICIO portrays Cleo in ‘Roma.’.
(photo credit: ALFONSO CUARÓN)
The past year at the movies brings to mind that Charles Dickens quote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
There were some truly great movies in 2018, but for there were also many disappointments. On any given weekend, the multiplexes were filled with undistinguished action movies, comic-book sagas and other big-budget fare so formulaic it could have been written by a computer. At times, it was enough to make even the most devoted cinephile want to stay home and watch television. And, just to make matters confusing, thanks to some high-profile projects commissioned mostly by Netflix, several of the best movies of the year were released simultaneously for home streaming and in theaters. Without doing a bit of research, it was hard to know which movies would be eligible for Oscars and which for Emmys, a turn of events that no one would have predicted even a couple of years ago.
As always, this list only includes movies that played at theaters in Israel during 2018, so some movies that have opened around the world but have not yet made it to the Jewish State won’t be found here. Sadly, many terrific indie movies which won raves abroad have not yet opened here and, in several cases, have no Israeli distributors (yet). I was lucky enough to see Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, a funny and unclassifiable blend of comedy, sci-fi and fantasy about an African-American telemarketer who sounds white, while I was visiting New York. It has only played in Israel once, at a festival.
Ditto for Aleksey German’s Dovlatov, a brilliant biopic about a Jewish writer in the USSR, which was the best film I saw at the Berlin Film Festival, but which was only screened once in Israel, although I’m certain audiences here would enjoy it.
One lesson is that it is worthwhile to frequent festivals, since you can’t count on the movies they show being available later.
The good news about these 10 best movies is that almost all either still in theaters or available currently on streaming platforms.
1. The Other Story – Avi Nesher’s drama about a father, long estranged from his newly observant daughter, who returns to Jerusalem to redeem himself, is emotional and moving, with a complexity that stays with you long after you leave the theater.
2. Roma – Alfonso Cuaron’s gorgeously photographed drama about a middle-class Mexican family and their housekeeper in the 1970s spotlights the lives of people so often overlooked, and hearkens back to the great neorealist Italian movies of the 1940s.
3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – The Coen brothers are back and entertainingly off-kilter as always with this Western anthology film, that combines a contemporary sensibility with a real love for the conventions of the genre.
4. Juliet, Naked – Nick Hornby’s touching novel about a woman whose boyfriend is obsessed with an obscure rock star and whose life is turned upside down when she actually meets the star was brought to the screen by Jesse Peretz. Featuring wonderful performances by Rose Byrne, Chris O’Dowd and Ethan Hawke, the movie is charming and entertaining.
5. Zohar – The Return – Uri Zohar, the renowned director, comedian and irreverent cultural icon who dropped out in the late 70s to become an ultra-Orthodox rabbi is one of the most fascinating and mysterious figures in Israeli life. Directors Dani Rosenberg and Yaniv Segalovich got him to open up and reminisce.
6. Bohemian Rhapsody – Some criticized this film as just a standard biopic, but this movie reveals Freddie Mercury’s fascinating backstory and captured his incredible energy and originality as the frontman for Queen. More than anything else, it’s fun.
7. Isle of Dogs – Wes Anderson’s bizarre, riveting dystopian fable about dogs exiled to an island is an intricate, visually stunning sendup of anime, featuring the voices of Bill Murray, Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban and many other wonderful actors, and even features a cameo by Yoko Ono.
8. The Death of Stalin – Armando Iannucci’s weird imagining of the power struggle following Stalin’s death featured Steve Buscemi as Krushchev, Michael Palin as Molotov and a host of other wonderful character actors in a chilling meditation on conspiracy, betrayal and corruption.
9. BlacKkKlansman – Spike Lee’s drama about a black cop who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan would have been unbelievable if it were not based on strange true story.
10. Shoplifters – A family that survives by petty crime is the subject of Hirokazu Koreeda’s latest film, a movie that leads audiences to question everything they thought they knew about the characters and about conventional morality.
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