While there's still half of the summer roster to go and a slew of films that are going to be competing for awards once Fall begins, a few Sentries have gathered to reveal what their favorites are at the year's halfway point. How many choices will remain the same when we regroup next January?
Shawn Bourdo - A Quiet Place
In an era of sequels and big-budget tent poles, why was this my favorite movie of the year so far? I think I just answered it based on how I phrased that question. Although a sequel in the works for this film dangerously moves this to a category that I don't want to see it inhabit.
John Krasinski's third film as a director, though first I am aware of, is a based on the bit that you can't make a sound or the monster will get you. Any movie that bases itself on a stunt has two main rules - they must stick to the internal logic of the stunt and they must break the rule for a good reason. This movie did both things very well. It's a 30-minute idea that played out very well over 90 minutes. After watching 2.5 hour blockbusters, it's nice to get in and out of a theater in less than a drive from Chicago to Detroit. Much credit given for having a concept where we can start with Day 89 and not have to explain the back story. We get it. We've seen Predator and Alien. I don't mind the criticism that the movie is in love with its own concept. There are worse things in the world of movies. This film will stay fresh in my mind when other sequels have long been forgotten.
Dave Hollingsworth - Isle of Dogs
With Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson does it again! His trademark mixture of wit, intelligent, and humor with dark social commentary represents that he is one of the best directors that we have making films today. It shows you the bleakness of translation, and the all-too-human nature of failed translation. Set in a near dystopian Japan, a dog flu virus has spread, causing all dogs to be banished to Trash Island, where they're forced to find their own means of survival. Atari, a young boy journeys there to find his missing dog, Spots, and get helps from the other dogs. This also inspires other dog lovers to join in the fight against a corrupt conspiracy that eventually leads to a shattering climax for all involved.
This may be an animated film about dogs, but make no mistake, this PG-13 tale is definitely made more for adults, especially because of its rather grim story. As usual, the voice work from an all-star cast (Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Byran Cranston, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Greta Gerwig, and Liev Schreiber) elevates Anderson's prechant for quirky storytelling with a realistic twist. It also doesn't hurt that the animation looks and feels naturalistic and whimsical. This is bound to be another important classic in his ever-growing canon.
David Wangberg - First Reformed
Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is bleak and unsettling, but it’s also impeccably crafted. It’s a glimpse at all the turmoil taking place in today’s society, and how we try to maintain self-control while also putting forth our best efforts to right what we see as wrong. Ethan Hawke is a revelation as Reverend Ernst Toller, a pastor whose profession is to give everyone hope. Yet, he, himself, has none, as his past and present situations expose that he is a damaged individual. His lack of hope heightens when he becomes close friends with an activist couple (Amanda Seyfried and Philip Ettinger), and spirals out of control as the film reaches its climax.
It may be familiar territory for Schrader, but it goes to show that, no matter how many trips he takes down this road, there’s always something that will be there for him to knock us off our feet. First Reformed is a brilliantly executed work of art that stays with the viewer long after they leave the theater. It also shows us that Seyfried is able to put out a terrific performance, and Cedric the Entertainer has no issues transitioning into a much more serious role. It’s really something special.
Mat Brewster - The Rider
These things always come with an admission from me that I've not seen all the moves that have thus far come out in 2018. I've not seen even half of them. Ok, I've only seen eight of them. That's a small sample size, especially when half of those films either involve comic-book superheroes or force-enabled ones. But I did want to highlight a film from 2018 that won't be showing at your local blockbuster cineplex, but still deserves a watch.
With The Rider, director Chloé Zhao blends fiction and documentary in a most interesting way. It's about Brady Blackburn a young rodeo cowboy who suffers an injury after falling off a bull and literally getting his head stomped. Doctors warn him that if he continues to ride he'll likely die. Living in poverty on a reservation with his ultra-masculine dad and his sister with Aspergers, he doesn't know what else to do but ride horses.
It stars Brady Jandreu, who was an up-and-coming rodeo cowboy who suffered a head injury which keeps him from doing the one thing in the world he loves to do. His real-life dad and sister play their somewhat fictional counterparts, as do most of his friends and companions. Zhao plays it close to real life but isn't afraid to add in fictional moments to give the film the drama she needs.
It is a fairly simple, straightforward story that is told naturalistically, yet its themes of finding out who you are when that thing you thought you were born to do is taken away lingers with you long after the credits roll. Beautifully shot on location in South Dakota, it hones in on a part of American life we rarely see in cinema. Jandeu gives a beautifully understated performance that really shines when he's at home with his horses, riding them, training them, loving them. The Rider certainly isn't a big movie, but it's got a giant heart and is well worth seeking out.
Gordon S. Miller - Won't You Be My Neighbor?
While I was impressed by what the Marvel team was able to pull off with the years-in-the-making crossover of Avengers: Infinity War and was overwhelmed by the sheer delight of Paddington 2, my current favorite movie is Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary about children's television host and creator Fred Rogers.
Similar to the PBS special, Mister Rogers: It's You I Like, director Morgan Neville, an Oscar winner and Grammy winner for 20 Feet from Stardom, tells the story of Fred Rogers and his famed program. Through interviews and archival footage, it is revealed that Mr. Rogers wanted to use television to educate children, which the medium was lacking. But rather than subjects that schools would teach, like numbers and letters that Sesame Street would cover, Mr. Rogers wanted to deal with personal matters for children, such as divorce, the death of a pet, and even the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.
Although seeming meek and mild, Mr. Rogers was a fighter in what he believed in, testifying before Congress and challenging ideas about segregation, all to benefit children and, in turn, society. His spirit of generosity and kindness are quite lacking today, making the absence of Mr. Rogers, who died of stomach cancer in 2003, feel like an even greater loss to the world. With this film, Mr. Rogers continues to educate children and adults alike.
What's your favorite movie of 2018? Let us know in the comments.