9) Troy’s Pick – Blaze
Ethan Hawke decided to stay on my radar this year with Blaze and First Reformed. While First Reformed is A-MAZING, Blaze hit the personal sweet spots that I love. A biopic about an underground artist (Blaze Foley) that only the most hipster of postmodern country fans acknowledge. If that wasn’t enough, it was Hawke shooting a film almost Linklater style using a small circle of friends. The recipe is there for artistic stroke piece, but this was probably the most intimate love story of 2018.
9) Daniel’s Pick – Paddington 2
As a father of two, I sit through a lot of kids movies. Thankfully I have still a predilection for enjoying children’s fare, but there’s no denying that the vast majority of “family cinema” is forgettable pablum. This is especially true when it comes to live action children’s entertainment these days. Lucky for me, Paddington 2 is mana from the cinematic heavens.
This film is one hour and forty-four minutes of pure joy. I cannot think of a single moment during its duration where I did not have a smile on my face. I think I actually loved it more than my kids did. Parents, seek this one out. And for those of you who do not have spawn of your own? Get off your sorry ass and watch it anyway!
9) Mike Flynn’s Pick – First Reformed
Paul Schrader is back with a vengeance. The demons of Schrader’s strict Calvinist upbringing have never been angrier, if not clearer, than in First Reformed. Such a crisis of faith has powered the writer and filmmaker’s existential angst since the beginning of his career, but never with the scorched-earth nihilism that this packs. It’s a pointed culmination of Schrader’s career, merging religious doubt with the unstable-loner archetype that has loomed in his work since the 70’s. Ethan Hawke finds an astounding personification of Schrader’s existential hell as Ernst Toller, a kind-souled reverend whose heart is weak to exploitation.
More stunning is Amanda Seyfried, giving career-best work as the concerned, pregnant wife of an environmental activist that exposes Toller’s flaws. 42 years after Taxi Driver, Schrader brings his core themes together with disturbing grace (Toller even writes a diary not far from Travis Bickle’s compositions). His observation of evangelical faith is slowly, astutely horrific, especially in an era where the bureaucracy of religion launders hypocrisy on a daily basis. The true sin, Toller learns, is that we are only human, and our resources are beyond divine intervention. For that, First Reformed doubles as a horror film and reiterates Schrader’s importance to cinema.
9) Jamie’s Pick – The Sisters Brothers
Jamie liked it when they all died. I asked who died? He just giggled and kept huffing his glue bag.