Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Best Films of 2018 Were Spoken in Foreign Languages: Spanish, Polish, German, Lebanese, and Wakandan


My favorite films, your favorite films. Everyone had their favorite films. Some lists include “The Favourite,” certainly a favorite film. Three of my favorite films of 2018 were in a foreign language. What does that say?

The three foreign language films were: Florian von Henckel Donnersmark’s “Never Look Away,” Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum,” and Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma.” No “Cold War,” you say? I found it a little…cold. But that one scene of Joanna Kulig dancing on a table top was memorable.

We all know about “Roma,” it’s masterpiece, and quite lovely. It will win a lot of awards. Cuaron makes it look easy. It’s not.

“Capernaum” is as about as good as filmmaking can be. Labiki has made her signature film for all time. It’s enchanting and serious at the same time. The score is like a character, and must be nominated for an Oscar. The kids are unforgettable.

“Never Look Away” comes from the director of “The Lives of Others,” which, in 2006 should have been a Best Picture nominee. It won Best Foreign Language film. “Never Look Away” is a masterwork. Is it better than “Roma”? Only in the sense that it isn’t a personal memoir. It’s a work of fiction inspired by the life of artist Gerhard Richter. von Dommersmarck presents a three act screenplay of uncommon vision. This is a movie that will be studied (if people still do that). Three hours go by quickly. You’re totally involved in the characters, the history. It’s almost built like a mathematical problem that resolves finally in a glorious sum.

The other best films of 2018:

“Green Book” and “First Man” were two of my top movies for 2018. Why they didn’t register with the audience — those are other other stories. I do think “First Man” was set up somehow in Venice– the idea that it wasn’t patriotic was ludicrous. That didn’t happen by accident. “Green Book” being backward or racist– that, too, is a set up. Universal simply didn’t know what to do when they were hit with this crap. But they are strong, fine films that will hold up over time.

First Reformed— Paul Schrader has made his best film from his best screenplay, and don’t forget he wrote “Raging Bull” and “Taxi Driver.” Ethan Hawke continues to astound. The fact that they couldn’t find a distributor until after the critics found it says a lot.

Blackkklansman — Spike Lee doesn’t get any more accessible personally over the years. But this is his most accessible work in decades. John David Washington and Adam Driver strike the right balance. The story is timely, and the ending is profound.

Destroyer — Nicole Kidman’s work here is so outstanding that you can forgive the film itself for being familiar. But Karyn Kusama has concentrated on Nicole, and she is glorious as a messed up, dirty cop too far gone to save herself. Kidman takes more chances than any other actor working, and is batting around a thousand. She’s so smart. She looks at a screenplay and knows if she can make it work. And then she does it. This is an Oscar performance.

A Quiet Place and Mary Poppins Returns had one important thing in common: Emily Blunt. How lucky is she that in 20 years she can write a memoir called “To Be Perfectly Blunt”? In the meantime, this actress (like Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Saoirse Ronan) will take up the next decade of Oscar nominations. Blunt is that magical mixture of Star and Actor. Plus her husband, John Krasinski, made one of the cleverest films of all with “A Quiet Place.”

Overall performance of the year-– Lady Gaga in “A Star is Born.” Bradley Cooper did a very good job making a strong, commercial hit. Somewhere in the middle the screenplay sags, but we’re so hooked on Lady Gaga that it doesn’t matter. She’s the performer of this generation, she can do anything.

In the end, who did I feel strongest about? Strangely enough, it was Glenn Close. Her performance in “The Wife” is just exquisite. That is a small movie with a big idea. And watching Close tango with Jonathan Pryce was one of the really transcendent moments of the year. I hope she wins the Oscar not just because it’s about time. but dammit– it’s about time. And she’s great in this role.

Equal to Gaga in every way– Rami Malek, as Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I loved this movie. No one directed it, everyone did, it was directed en masse. Rami wasn’t the first choice for Freddie. But he subsumed him. He played Freddie like he was a super-hero from a comic book movie. Hubris was Freddie’s Kryptonite.

One last note about “Black Panther.” Ryan Coogler has quickly established himself as a top tier director. “Fruitvale Station” was such a powerful entrance into the business. “Creed” hit all the right notes updating a popular piece of nostalgia. “Black Panther” made $700 million– it’s shocking– because it struck chords for so many audiences. It’s the best made comic book movie to date. I thought Letitia Wright was the breakout actress. Seeing Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman up there was thrilling, but the women made the movie. When Angela Bassett made her entrance, there were cheers in the theater. “Black Panther” made 2018 a special year in films.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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