As it’s officially June, here’s our midpoint rundown of the year’s best films so far.
Films big and small have caught our attention to date, and weâve purposefully left off movies weâve seen at last yearâs festivals, in order to give fresher titles a fairer hearing. As this is just a taking of the temperature, rather than a full diagnosis of the year in film, the absence of certain movies doesn’t mean we didn’t like them.
Weâre right smack in the middle of summer blockbuster season, too. âAvengers: Endgameâ is likely to prove the biggest movie of the yeaâin sheer production size and box-office takingsâbut a look at the schedule for popcorn flicks doesnât inspire much confidence, it must be said. Still, Marvelâs âSpider-Man: Far From Homeâ (yet another Marvel joint) is likely to give us plenty of bang for our buck, but the rest of the slate looks a little dull.
Above: To infinity and beyond! Robert Pattinson in âHigh Life.â
A motion capture performance for the ages: Rosa Salazar in âAlita: Battle Angel.â
Alita: Battle Angel
With James Cameron busy making numerous âAvatarâ sequels, the director passed on bullhorn duties to Robert Rodriguez. A long-time project for The King of the World, Cameronâs adaptation of the âMangaâ comic âBattle Angel Alitaâ proved to be in good hands and Rodriguez turned in one of the best films of his career to date.
A major triumph was the casting of Rosa Salazar. The actress brought so much heart and passion to her role as a teenage cyborg with superpowers. The pairing with Christoph Waltz also proved a winner, their father-daughter relationship beautifully played. Mixed reviews and disappointing box office be damned, time will be kind to âAlita: Battle Angel.â
âHigh Lifeâ is arthouse sci-fi, not a film for mainstream audiences.
French auteur Claire Denisâs foray into English language cinema starred Robert Pattinson as an astronaut on a dangerous mission in outer space. Glacially paced, weird and gruesome, âHigh Lifeâ is a singular and bleak sci-fi drama from one of the worldâs greatest living filmmakers.
A group of criminals have their death sentences commuted and instead theyâre sent into the universe on a mission to locate an alternative energy source for our dying planet. Denisâs typically sensual and often grotesque investigation into the human condition might not be everybodyâs cup of tea, for sure, âHigh Lifeâ is bold and confronting.
Timothy Olyphant (left) and John Hawkes (right) in âDeadwood: The Movie.â
Deadwood: The Movie
13 years after its cancellation by HBO, David Milchâs acclaimed television series, âDeadwood,â returned to our screens for a one-off movie event. That it exists is something of a miracle, as getting the old gang back together was not easy and writer Milch announced to the press he is suffering from Alzheimerâs disease. âDeadwood: The Movieâ truly feels like a ânow or neverâ venture, and thankfully it came to fruition.
Set 10 years after the end of the television series, fans will delight in seeing their favourite characters for one last hurrah, with Milchâs richly imagined screenplay providing a fitting farewell.
Adriano Tardiolo in âHappy as Lazzaro.â
Happy As Lazzaro
Alice Rohrwacherâs âHappy as Lazzaroâ picked up the Best Screenplay prize at Cannes in 2018. A magical realist fable using themes of economic disparity and worker exploitation to examine and explore inequality in Italy, âHappy as Lazzaroâ is a haunting and thoroughly humanist depiction of lives lived, first under feudal-like servitude, and then under todayâs rampant neoliberalism. As a localised story, Rohrwacherâs portrait of her country is powerful and disturbing, but it is a film with universal impact and ultimately a vision not just of Italy, but a western world which has tragically lost its way.
Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman in âThe Favorite.â
Olivia Colman received this yearâs Best Actress Oscar, for her role as Queen Anne, in Yorgos Lanthimosâ black comedy, âThe Favorite.â
Itâs been one of helluva decade for the Greek director, who wowed critics with his second film, âDogtooth,â and proceeded on one of the most remarkable runs in recent times. Every film heâs made since âDogtoothâ has wowed critics and audiences alike, and even when he switched to English-language filmmaking, he did not compromise or soften his aesthetic vision. In this vein, itâs hard not to see âThe Favoriteââa film about power struggles in a royal householdâas a kind of coronation itself. Arise, King Yorgos.
KiKi Layne and Stephan James in âIf Beale Street Could Talk.â
If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins followed his Oscar-winning âMoonlightâ (2015) with a gorgeous and deeply affecting adaptation of James Baldwinâs 1974 novel, âIf Beale Street Could Talk.â
Maintaining the 1970s setting of the novel, rather than updating it, the story takes place in Harlem, New York, juxtaposing the horrors of racism and social prejudice with the pure love experienced between Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James). No matter what life throws at the pair, their love and long-standing commitment acts as a protective shield. The leads are terrific and so too is Jenkinsâ sense for poetry in the everyday.
Just when you thought zombie movies had run out of steam, along comes ÂâOne Cut of the Dead.â
One Cut of the Dead
Shinichiro Uedaâs micro-budgeted zombie film, made for the equivalent to $25,000 dollars, became wildly popular in Japan, spurring international festivals into programming it for audiences. Its reception at film festivals subsequently led to global distribution.
âOne Cut of the Deadâ begins with a movie crew shooting a zombie film in an abandoned warehouse. Then, in a delightfully absurd twist, a real zombie apocalypse appears to kick off. To divulge further plot details would lead to spoiler territory, but we can say where âOne Cut of the Deadâ goes from its opening act is both surprising, funny and charming.
John C. Reilly (left) and Joaquin Phoenix (right) in âThe Sisters Brothers.â
The Sisters Brothers
Another world cinema heavyweight made his English-language debut this year. Jacques Audiardâs quirky western starring Joaquin Phoenix, Riz Ahmed, John C. Reilly and Jake Gyllenhaal won the Silver Bear Best Direction prize at the 2018 Venice Film Festival.
Drunken, rambunctious, accident-prone Eli and Charlie Sisters (Phoenix and Reilly) are bounty hunters sent to track down and kill a runaway scientist (Ahmed). As they travel across country, the brothers get into all kinds of scrapes and incidents. What unfolds is a funny and surprisingly tender (if occasionally violent) depiction of brotherhood and redemption. âThe Sisters Brothersâ is one of the yearâs hidden treasures.
Andrew Garfield as a creepy slacker playing detective in âUnder the Silver Lake.â
Under the Silver Lake
David Robert Mitchellâs Los Angeles odyssey about a young man attempting to track down a missing neighbour premiered at Cannes last year. The film is deceptive and ingeniously so, appearing to be a detective story when something far more intriguing and sinister is going on. Casting likeable screen presence, Andrew Garfield, as an entitled slacker type, who isnât all he appears, is a stroke of genius, too. If youâre prepared to go down the rabbit hole with âUnder the Silver Lake,â the rewards are great.
Jordan Peeleâs horror movie tackles the economic divide in America.
Jordan Peele has quickly established himself as a writer-director who loves telling weird tales with socio-political subtexts. His Oscar-winning âGet Outâ keenly put a nightmarish spin on the African American experience in a whites-dominated society and his second feature took on class conflict between the haves and have nots.
Jordan Peele has quickly established himself as a writer-director who loves telling weird tales with socio-political subtexts. His Oscar-winning âGet Outâ keenly put a nightmarish spin on the African American experience in a white-dominated society and his second feature took on class conflict between the haves and have nots.
Grander in vision and scale than âGet Out,â Peele showâs a maestroâs grasp of what makes horror movies tick and his background in comedy (being part of the duo Key & Peele) leads to instances of deliciously dark humour. American cinema has a new master of horror.
Images Â© respective film studios.