5. Ready Player One (dir. Steven Spielberg)
One of the more divisive films of the year worked like gangbusters for me. Not only is it a great bag of popcorn (complete with a few all timer Spielberg setpieces), but it has a lot to say about our relationship with pop culture. In a time where you can’t blame anyone for wanting to escape into a rosey, nostalgia fueled past, Ready Player One is the movie of our moment. In true Spielberg fashion, it also ends with some good Dad advice. He knows we love our stories, but he wants us to go outside and play with our friends for once.
4. Hereditary (dir. Ari Aster)
This was my most anticipated movie of the year, and the reason it was so successful for me was that it sidestepped my expectations. Many of the recent top horror films have worked as direct allegories- for grief, fear of death, emotional trauma, you name it. Hereditary has that, but also recalls a classic age of prestige horror (The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby) in which evil is real, and pulling the strings more than you know.
3. Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland)
Why do we humans never seem to get things right? Why, when everything might be going our way, do we have to almost compulsively fuck it up? Using the DNA of Tarkovsy’s Stalker and Zulawski’s Possession, these are some of the questions that Alex Garland seems to have grappled with for his second feature, the gorgeously terrifying Annihilation. Or rather, those are the questions I came away with, as no two people who see it seem to have seen the same movie. Like the giant growing translucent organism at the center of the movie’s plot, “the shimmer,” it’s the type of cerebal science fiction where you get out of it what you put into it.
2. Leave No Trace (dir. Debra Granik)
It took Debra Granik eight years to follow up 2010’s Winter’s Bone with another narrative feature, but it was well worth the weight. Leave No Trace is another story about an American family living life on the margins, in this case, a traumatized veteran and his teenage daughter (Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie) who live off the land in the woods outside of Portland, Oregon. They are thrown into crisis when the authorities intervene, taking them in and trying to get them to adopt and embrace a “normal” life in society. Foster, who usually plays his parts wide eyed and crazy, is a restrained revelation here, as is McKenzie, who reminds me of the young Jennifer Lawrence we first saw in Winter’s Bone. Come prepared to let more than a few tears flow.
1. The King (dir. Eugene Jarecki)
If you are the kind of person who learns about history best through a pop culture lens, then The King is for you. Documentarian Eugene Jarecki aims for the upper deck in his media analysis and folkloric deconstruction of the titular King, Elvis Presley, using his life as a metaphor for the rise and fall of post-war America- all while driving his fucking Rolls Royce across America, picking up gifted and knowledgeable interview subjects to pick their brains. Even when his metaphor feels like a bit of a reach, it’s a joyous thing to witness and take part in, like a table of loud mouthed, intelligent friends at a dive bar spitballing about music and history. Some of those friends here are Ethan Hawke, David Simon, Chuck D, Emmylou Harris, to name just a few. I was over the moon for this, and haven’t stopped thinking about it. While it isn’t going to leave you feeling great about the current state of America, it makes the pain go down easier, just like a ballad from The King himself.
and five more: A Quiet Place, Black Panther, Disobedience, First Reformed, Mom And Dad.