Best Films of 2018

2018 was a pretty good year for films. I had a hard time picking my top 10, but I didn’t have a hard time picking my top 3. They are as follows:

Roma

A Stra is Born

First Reformed poster

Top 10 Films of 2018

  1. Roma

  2. A Star is Born

  3. First Reformed

  4. Sorry to Bother You

  5. BlakKKlansman

  6. Crazy Rich Asians

  7. Widows

  8. The Wife

  9. The Favourite

  10. Bad Times at the El Royale

Suspiria (2018) Movie Review

Suspiria 2

Not really a horror fan but every once in a while one will catch my fancy. Suspiria (2018) is just such a film. It is, I would say, a notch above the rest. Maybe two notches. It has everything going for it. Great writing, directing, acting, music, dance, costuming, art direction, and social consciousness. It has been described as an extraordinary work of art, grotesque, and savagely beautiful. Others have called it pretentious drivel. But, hey, it’s horror film. What do you want? At least it’s very artsy drivel!

Directed by Luca Guadagnino, it is a reimagined version of the original Suspiria (1977), a horror film cult classic, directed by Dario Argentento, which I must say I haven’t as yet seen, but I plan too as soon as possible. This version, at 152 minutes, is 54 minutes longer than the original. So, it is not only reimagined it is also greatly expanded as well. Coming in at just under three hours is pretty long for a movie, but I must confess, I didn’t notice it at all, as I was totally engrossed for the entire time.

Suspiria

The setting of the film is in divided Berlin in 1977, when the Baader-Meinhof Group was perpetrating terrorist acts all over the city. Rain drenched Berlin and the memory of the Third Reich hang over the Markos Dance Academy which is ruled by artistic director Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) and the grand dame Helena Markos. Patricia, a young student at the academy is convinced that the place is being run by a coven of witches. She tries to convince her psychoanalyst, Dr. Klemperer, who thinks she is delusional and so writes in his notebook. She disappears. Another dancer, Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) arrives on the scene fresh off a farm in Ohio. She auditions for a place in the Academy and greatly impresses Madame Blanc who immediately slates her as lead performer in her masterwork, “Volk.” During her audition, another dancer (Olga) who stormed out over a disagreement is trapped on a floor below in a mirrored rehearsal hall and is banged around and contorted with each dance move Susie makes until she is a pile of broken bones and a puddle of urine and saliva. One of the more horrible set pieces.

Dakota

This film is a feminist manifesto after a fashion about the empowerment of women. Other than the two cops who are sent to investigate the disappearance of Patricia, there are no other male actors in the movie, Lutz Ebersdorf not withstanding. If you are not in on the joke, I won’t spoil it for you here. The women cast a spell on the detectives and humiliate them unsparingly while at the Academy, then wipe their memories once they return to the station.

Thom Yorke from Radiohead provides a hauntingly throbbing soundtrack to the horror which accompanies the dance routines. The film incorporates stylized dance sequences choreographed by Damien Jalet. Volk is a dance created at the Academy that featured Blanc in the original role of the protagonist, the part Susie was auditioning for when she turned Olga into a human pretzel earlier in the film. And it’s actually based on a performance Jalet choreographed in 2013, called Les Meduses, that was staged at the Louvre.

The title of the film Suspiria, means sigh, as in the sighing of pain, or suffering.

Tilda Swinton alone is cause enough to want to see this remarkable film. She plays three characters each of which represents an aspect of the human psyche – the id, the ego, and the superego.

Tilda

This movie is not for everyone. Not for the squeamish nor the faint of heart. But if you like a good horror show, one that makes you think, and is well crafted, and beautiful to look at and listen to, then I recommend Suspiria.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Movie Review

Joan of Arc poster

La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (original title) is a silent film that was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer. I was motivated to watch this film as it was referenced by Paul Schrader as an example of transcendental film style in his book, Transcendental Style in Film:  Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer, and in recent interviews he has given about his latest film, First Reformed (2017). I wanted to see first-hand what this style of film looked like.

Joan of arc 4

In 1431, Jeanne d’Arc was placed on trial on charges of heresy. The church attempted to force Jeanne to recant her claims of holy visions. They tried various forms of coercion and threatened her with torture. Finally, in a moment of weakness, she confesses, but later in her jail cell she recants her confession and is then burned at the stake as a witch.

Joan og arc 2

There is transcendence here as Jeanne is in touch with God or rather He her. She has been sent on a mission by God to run the British out of France. Jeanne hears the voice of God talking to her but this not believed by the clergy who accuse her heresy.

Joan of arc 1

Jeanne d’Arc was a peasant girl living in medieval France who believed that God had chosen her to lead France to a victory in its long running (100 years) war with England. She convinced Prince Charles, who was later to be crowned King Charles of France, to allow her to lead a French army to the besieged city of Orleans where she won a decisive victory over the British. She was later captured by British forces and tried for witchcraft and heresy and subsequently sentenced to be burned at the stake. She was 19. From that moment on she was known as the Maid of Orleans. Jeanne d’Arc was canonized as a saint in 1920. In all there were 70 charges lodged against Jeanne for witchcraft, heresy, and dressing like a man. She was burned for dressing like a man, the most unpardonable sin of all, which according to the Bible was an abomination to the Lord.

Joan of arc 3

The film is considered to be a masterpiece of the cinema and I readily agree. It is shot largely in close-ups in crisp black and white against stark gray background. It is silent but the version I saw was accompanied by a musical score that was created for the movie in 1994 called Voices of Light composed by Richard Einhorn. It is an astonishing piece of work and is very effective in driving the action and setting the mood. I would, however, like to watch the movie sometime in silence as that is the way Dreyer intended it to be seen.

Joan of arc 5

The story is mainly told through the range of expressions on the faces of the characters as Jeanne suffers the agony of the trial. The camera work consists of low angle shots and high contrast lighting which made the faces priests and other interrogators look all the more grotesque. Jeanne, in contrast, was shot in soft even lighting. The character of Jeanne was played by Renee Jeanne Falconetti. Roger Ebert said in his review, “You cannot know the history of silent films unless you know the face of Renee Jeanne Falconetti.”

Joan 6

Based on the actual record of the trial of Jeanne d’Arc the entire film was shot in continuity. It depicts the suffering of Jeanne as she is tormented, humiliated and finally burned alive at the stake. This is the Passion of Jeanne which mirrors the passion of the Christ. Jeanne screams out in agony at the end of the film, “Jesus!”

Dryer presents this film as the triumph of the human spirit over the trials and tribulations of life experience.  He strives for new forms of expressionism as he focuses on the visual expressions of the human face.

My original motivation, as I stated earlier, was to view this film from an academic point of view in order to learn more about transcendental style, but I came away more enriched for having had the experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

L’Avventura (1960)

Movie Review

L'Avventura poster

Lavventura (1960) directed by Michelangelo Antonioni is a film about boredom. Boredom of the Italian bourgeoisie. Ostensibly a mystery and a detective story it depicts the emptiness of the lives of a group of rich Italians as they go through their daily lives striving to find something to stave off their deadly ennui. Usually they do this through sexual peccadillo and intrigue.

Albert Camus in his celebrated essay on the Myth of Sisyphus posited that there are only two valid philosophical questions: 1) in the face of the absurdity of existence and a life devoid of meaning should I commit suicide? 2) if no, the how do I overcome ennui? This theme is fully explored in L’Aventurra. While Camus says that in a life devoid of meaning we must give our lives meaning by our our own actions the characters in this film are merely going through the paces of living and relieving their boredom in the most meaningless way possible. In in the end they are mere empty shells truly devoid of  any meaning.

Anna & Sandro

The group of wealthy Italians head out on a yachting trip to a deserted volcanic island in the Mediterranean. When they are about to leave the island, they discover that Anna (Lea Massari) has disappeared. Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) , who is Anna’s fiance and Claudia (Monica Vitti) , Anna’s friend, try without success to find her. While looking for Anna Claudia and Sandro develop an attraction for each other. When they get back to land, they continue the search with no success. Sandro and Claudia proceed to become lovers, betraying the missing Anna. They then search the Italian countryside and various cities in search of her and have an adventure and fling of their own while doing so.

Claudia & Sandro

Beyond the meaning of the film there is there is the theatricality and cinematic quality of the camera work which serves to support the themes of the movie. Antonioni is known for his geometric compositions, static camera, and long takes. This is what I especially admire in his films and this one is no exception.

When first viewed by audience at Cannes it was booed. Later it won the Jury prize and has become acclaimed as a masterpiece.

 

I rate this film 8/10.