Colonialism can suck it, and if that’s a mindset you share then do I have a movie for you. Zama follows a Spanish officer stuck in a sweaty Paraguayan city waiting for a promotion and transfer will never come. He takes advantage of locals as is his perceived right, but fate and the callousness of others see the tables turned in ways that frustrate him but entertain viewers. A historical drama by way of farce, the film is an exquisitely shot critique against the sins of colonization, and its effortlessly dark humor adds to the dark fun.
Adam McKay’s The Big Short (2015) uses smart writing, insane energy, and a lot of attitude to entertain and educate viewers about 2008’s Great Recession, and he brings those same skills to his biopic about Dick Cheney. The big difference here, though, is that his anger has overcome his sense of humor. There are far fewer laughs here despite some darkly humorous observations, but the film fascinates and entertains as it ties various elements together to paint a picture of the nightmare that overtook our government. Good thing we’d never let that happen again.
7. You Were Never Really Here
You don’t see a lot of genre films earn critical accolades, but Lynne Ramsay’s latest has achieved that minor rarity. The story is generic in the exploitative realm as a man fights against sleaze merchants in an attempt to rescue missing children. It’s a job, not a calling, but his latest case leads to shocking revelations and a personal awakening regarding the business he’s in. Joaquin Phoenix gives one of his finest performances (in a career already full of them), and Ramsay crafts a film built only on the essentials. It’s thriller perfection.
6. Happy as Lazzaro
The world may not deserve the innocence of Lazzaro, but he’s here in this small enclave of indentured servants anyway helping everyone in any way he can. They’re all being taken advantage of by a greedy land owner, but when fate and the modern world intervene it leaves these victims unsure and clamoring to live under her thumb once again. The film’s second act takes a surprising left turn bringing a magical bent to Lazzaro’s predicament and a sharper eye to its criticism of humanity.
A man arrives in pursuit of his abducted fiance, but his perception of the way things are might not be how they really are. The Zellner brothers have crafted a smart western that offers a nod the classic of the past while also slamming expectations with modern truths. The film explores male entitlement in brutal but hilarious ways, and while the journey is fun it’s also filled with violence. It’s a slow-burn, but genre fans open to mixing America’s west with sharp commentary will have a grand time.
Two young women reunite after growing apart through high school, and while one feels the world is against her the other feels nothing at all. Olivia Cooke and AnyaTaylor-Joy are wicked delights with characters feeling each other out under the guise of friendship, and as their union takes a murderous turn the film’s darkly comedic heart beats even closer to the surface. The film is also one of the last featuring Anton Yelchin, and his turn as a sad sack lowlife just might break your heart.
Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda’s latest film introduces us to a ragtag “family” of unmoored adults and an unwanted young boy as they steal in an elaborately coordinated effort, and while it’s clear they’re lawbreakers it’s equally clear they’re still good people. Giving shelter and food to a hungry little girl left out in the cold puts their livelihoods at risk, but it’s their immediate bond and affection that see us falling in line with them. Their journey is one of warmth, laughter, and heartbreak, and it’s one guaranteed to leave you crying with both joy and sadness.
2. Borg vs McEnroe
It’s not saying much to call this brilliantly crafted and performed ode to the champion spirit the best tennis movie ever made — although it is — but it’s also one of the best sports movies period. The film focuses on the first championship between the two and splices in scenes from their childhood and later years that shaped the champions they would become. It’s a fascinating look at two very distinct personalities that celebrates the shared inner struggles between them.
2018 saw several movies focused on race (including Sorry to Bother You, BlacKkKlansman, and The Hate U Give), and all of them offered necessary voices and varied strengths, but Carlos Lopez Estrada’s feature debut lands with the most powerful beats. Written by its two leads, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, the film is a masterful blend of personality, comedy, and absolute gut-punching moments. We laugh along with these two friends only to go wide-eyed with distress moments later — as with life itself, shit is unpredictable but inevitable. The film has stuck with me like no other as its anger and outrage lands with an intense and understandable force. This is important entertainment.