Films We’re Digging This Year (So Far)

Very different sorts of bears in this list

Each week the Lewton Bus gang will get together and write up a brief account of something we’re digging hard on this week. It can be a movie, TV, music, or anything, really! Tell us what you’re digging in the comments.

This week, we’re seeing double and doing a special halfway-into-2018 check on what our favorite movies of the year have been in addition to our regularly scheduled digging. We’ve got a ton of great and unique choices to look through, so get ready for some really wonderful and insightful work from our contributors!

H.M. Flores – Black Panther

After his impressive appearance in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther quickly earned himself a place as a force to be reckoned within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This was reaffirmed in his solo movie, which I haven’t stopped thinking about since I saw it in the theater.

I’ve always been a fan of quiet protagonists who struggle in a chaotic world that challenges their state of tranquility. Which is why T’Challa became a character I hold very close to my heart. Chadwick Boseman allows us to see the King’s most intimate doubts and fears without ever sacrificing movie star panache.

Ryan Coogler’s keen eye for detail and dynamism make Wakanda an incredibly diverse place full of energy and myth. From the mesmerizing Ancestral Plane to the grit of the Warrior Falls, each location tells us something about the country’s culture and the history that shaped it. The action choreography is handled with striking precision, and it serves to heighten the Shakespearean drama on display.

In this harrowing time in history, Black Panther’s themes of philanthropy and leaving isolation behind hit like a freight train. It’s a film I’m very thankful for, and at this point, I can already say safely that it has a spot among of my favorite MCU entries.

Best of the Rest:

Avengers: Infinity War, Game Night, Cargo, Deadpool 2

Allen StricklandAvengers Infinity War

I’ll be honest, I’ve not seen a ton of movies this year, at least outside of the blockbuster and comedy groups. A downside of living in a small town is that a lot of the narrow release stuff doesn’t make it out here before they hit home media. So when it came time for me to evaluate what my favorite movie of the year thus far was, I turned to the crowd pleasers I’ve seen and one jumped out.

I had the privilege of reviewing Avengers: Infinity War for this site a couple months back and I’ll be honest, it wasn’t an easy task. Trying to craft a spoiler-free review of the most intense and plot dense Marvel mega-blockbuster to date was no small feat. The Russo brothers crafted a movie that can be discussed ad infinitum and finding a way to articulate my feelings without spoiling it was difficult.

Infinity War was the grand culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far and it absolutely delivered on its promise. Jaw dropping in scale, relentless in its pacing, and featuring one of the heaviest gut punches in the history of the genre, it is a blockbuster that must be seen to be believed. It is a feast for the eyes, ears, and mind and I cannot wait to revisit it on home media.

Best of the Rest:

Black Panther, Tag, Hotel Artemis, Deadpool 2

Jared EvesAnnihilation

Much was made about Annihilation’s ending (which I won’t spoil here) after release, and just what it all meant. People tried to dissect the logic of it, the specific chain of events, and what the true and complete ending of the film really was; but I think this misses the forest for the trees. The ending of the film is everything that came before.

Annihilation is a film fascinated with change – the ways as well as the whys of our own personal evolution through hardship and pain, some of it external and some of it internal in origin. The film wants to know, can we overcome ourselves, and if so, at what cost? Can we survive and still remain the same? Or does the act of survival necessarily alter us, stripping away all that does not aid that survival? The film is full of images of destruction and rebirth, of new life exploding outward from the old, sometimes beautiful, and sometimes horrific. I think the film is clear on where it stands (I will let you discover and decide for yourself), but explores its ideas with striking imagery and sound.

With only two (and a half, if you count Dredd, which Karl Urban certainly does) films under his belt, Alex Garland is proving himself to be a damn fine director, with strong command of his visuals and his themes, and a deft hand with his actors, pulling great performances from his leads in this and his previous film(s). Whatever he does next, I’m there.

Best of the Rest:

Deadpool 2, Avengers: Infinity War, Game Night, Incredibles 2

Adam BumasPaddington 2

The times we live in are particularly inhuman, and you have to think about how to deal with that, actively and artistically. There are a couple of standard ways to deal with this, but Paddington 2 doesn’t really use any of them: It doesn’t sink into despair or fly to escapism, but shows a vision of the real world at its brightest and most altruistic. It’s a kids movie about a talking bear who loves marmalade and goes to jail, and in so being it touches on prejudice, unemployment, gender politics, poverty, immigration, mental illness, the justice and prison systems and the deep-seated biases thereof, and – somewhere in there – how to make marmalade. The real trick, though, is that it deals with each and every one of these in the most optimistic, accepting, kind way possible. It can seem paradoxically dangerous, defiant, to be so humanistic in these inhuman times, especially when it all involves a little fuzzy bear.

Best of the Rest:

The Death of Stalin, Annihilation, Black Panther, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (not released in most places this year)

Diane C.The Rider

I’ve been thinking a lot about “belonging” lately; the nature of it, what it means to belong, how it feels to belong…and how it feels to not belong. We are in the midst of a grave Constitutional crisis, a dark period for democracy, and a time where belonging to one group or another is a knife’s edge that can help you or hurt you.

Belonging is also a theme in The Rider, my choice for my favorite film of the year so far. It is an incredible, semi-factionalized portrait of a Lakota rodeo cowboy who is injured after being felled from a horse and his struggle to regain both his health and his sense of belonging.

Chloe Zhao, who directed the film, imbues The Rider with a deep sense of familiarity. Brady, played in the movie by Brady Jandreau (the real-life rodeo cowboy who suffered a brain injury), belongs to a culture and a place bigger than himself. As Lakota, as a cowboy, as a man living in the rural world, he walks through the tall grasses like he’s done it a thousand times – and it’s because he has. Zhao wants the audience to have this journey with Brady, to feel the sun as he feels it, to sense the same exhilaration as he rides his horse, and to understand his pain. When you feel alive in the rodeo and it’s taken away, where do you belong? When you have lived in a country your entire life and it’s taken away, where do you belong? Brady fights to regain his future. So must we.

Over the last few months since seeing this movie I’ve thought about how The Rider continues to reveal parts of itself long after you’ve seen it. It’s a wonderful movie, and a masterpiece of cinema.

Best of the Rest:

First Reformed, Tag, Annihilation, A Quiet Place

Shannon Ellery HubbellThe Death of Stalin

Armando Iannucci has carved out a wonderful little niche. Between The Thick of It, In the Loop and Veep, he has established himself as your go-to guy when it comes to myopic bureaucrats ineptly stabbing each other in the back. With his latest film, The Death of Stalin, he has taken that beautiful formula, thus far given the context of a fictional modern day, and moved it into real-world history with the titular death of the Soviet despot.

That change is simple on the surface, but makes one hell of a difference. By placing his remarkable cast in these historical roles (Steve Buscemi as Khrushchev!) and viewing the whole thing through a darkly comic lens, he humanizes those characters in a way I don’t think a traditional dramatic treatment could. The shallow and short-sighted jockeying for power portrayed in In the Loop was dark enough, centered as it is on an Iraq-style run up to war, but by surrounding it with real-life purges, gulags, torture and murder (often just off camera) it makes things much darker. But it also pulls the teeth from figures we would generally consider monsters. People like Stalin and Beria aren’t inhuman. Indeed they are deeply human, exhibiting the worst traits that humans possess. Iannucci makes them buffoons for comedic effect, but also I think to illustrate that we are all one moment of idiocy, paranoia or fear from potentially committing crimes against humanity.

I think that makes this film timeless, but also very timely given our current moral and political situation. Let’s consider what happened when previous authoritarians put people in camps the last few times it was tried. Also, the movie is very funny. Unsettling, but genuinely hilarious.

Read our full review here.

Best of the Rest:

Annihilation, Black Panther, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (bring it!)

Mavis Roberta McGeeA Wrinkle in Time

I was planning on writing an article about this for the website’s Women In Film series, but due to various reasons I was unable to do that. So instead I’ll just cover most of my points about the film here.

A Wrinkle in Time is in many ways an anti-blockbuster – it has an all-knowing evil entity that the main characters have to defeat and all that jazz, but it doesn’t approach with the standard “punch punch shoot shoot yay he’s dead” way. It instead decides to focus almost entirely on its characters, with each new location being there to help unlock a piece of an emotional puzzle, and what few action scenes there are, are built around making sure that no one gets hurt instead of the aforementioned “punch punch shoot shoot” stuff. It is also a film that is filled with love for everyone in it, with an integral montage about halfway through showing how even the “antagonists” back on Earth still deserve empathy and support. The film ends not with a skybeam that everyone shoots at in order to turn off, but with an earnest declaration of love that leads to what may be the single most cathartic moment in film so far this year, a moment of true emotional resonance that feels straight out of the playbook of Lilly and Lana Wachowski. This is a Labyrinth/Dark Crystal-like cult-classic in the making, a film to be discovered on home video and streaming that will worm its way into the hearts of people for a long time. I absolutely adore it.

Best of the Rest:

Paddington 2, Black Panther, Ocean’s 8, Game Night

Will HylandFirst Reformed

I knew was all-in on this one about ten minutes in, when two characters engaged in a philosophical debate on the moral quandary of bringing a child into a world where God’s creation was destroyed by man’s failures.

Paul Schrader is back, y’all. 40 years after Taxi Driver, a movie in which Schrader scathingly condemned society for its failures, Schrader returns to do it all over again. First Reformed is a movie that encompasses all that Schrader is as an artist, from his rage against society, to the scars of his strict Calvinist upbringing, to his weird sexual hang-ups, to his fascination with dark, lonely men — it’s all in there. I consider Schrader to be one of the most overlooked auteurs of his generation. His directorial efforts, while typically inferior to his screenplay collaborations with Scorsese (until now), have always been a product of his absolute personal vision. From Hardcore to American Gigolo to Affliction to Auto Focus, nearly every Paul Schrader film is 100% a personal statement from him. And by that metric, coupled with the return to the rage and thematic territory of Taxi Driver and Ethan Hawke’s quietly thunderous performance as a priest with a severe identity crisis, First Reformed is a goddamn magnum opus.

The Best of the Rest:

You Were Never Really Here, Annihilation, Black Panther, Hereditary

Kevin KuhlmanBlack Cop

If you asked me for my favorite film of the year so far, or what I thought was the best film of the year so far, I’d probably have to debate between First Reformed (see above) or Blindspotting. But since Will already wonderfully wrote up the former, and the latter technically doesn’t come out until July, I thought it best to turn the spotlight towards a film much more in need of the attention: Cory Bowles’ debut feature Black Cop

This is a film filled with energy, anger, intelligence, and innovation. It utilizes a unique blend of spoken word, handheld found footage, and traditional narrative cinema and wields all three with an uncompromising vision. And that lack of compromise isn’t just found in the film’s technique — this is a film with zero fear and even less civility. Our titular character is pushed to a breaking point and forces us to witness Black-Cop-on-White-Person that is exactly the same as what we see in the racially reversed scenario. Bowles forces his white audience members to recognize the horror and atrocity police commit regularly to People of Color and just maybe realize how awful it is when white cops shoot, tase, choke, beat, and wrongfully arrest minorities.

Most of the white members of my festival crowd walked out, so unfortunately the message was clearly lost. Regardless, Black Cop is an incredibly made and inventive film that brims with intensity and rage. And it is currently on VOD and will be streaming on Hulu starting on July 25th. I implore you to watch it. It’s absolutely worth your time.

Best of the Rest:

First ReformedBlindspottingYou Were Never Really HerePass Over

Whew! That’s a lot! We hope you enjoyed our half-year check-in. It’s been a great year for cinema so far, and it’s just shaping up to keep getting better and better. Let us know what movies you’ve been digging in the comments, and let us know what you think of our choices!