Best Films Watched in 2018

Thanks to the irresistible temptations of Netflix and the unfortunate discovery of podcasts, I watched less than 100 movies in 2018, far below my usual tally.

Ah, but in my defense, the proportion of good movies to bad ones was better than average.

I finally got around to compiling a “Best of…” list featuring, as usual, films from just about every genre and era, with a marked preference for original, daring movies that push the envelope and challenge audiences, rather than catering to the lowest common denominator.

No comic book movies, rom-coms or steroid cases in tights. Great cinema is at a premium these days as Hollywood continues to dummy down its “product”; one has to seek further and further afield to discover innovative, artistic visionaries who reject formulas and stereotypes and instead present us with an entirely different perspective, worlds we never imagined before:

“Sorry to Bother You” (2018)  Directed by Boots Riley

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (2017)  Directed by Martin McDonagh

“You Were Never Really Here”  (2017)  Directed by Lynne Ramsey

“Killing of a Sacred Deer” (2017)  Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

“Cash Only” (2015)  Directed by Malik Bader

“Kaleidoscope”  (2017)  Directed by Rupert Jones

“Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”  (1972)  Directed by Luis Bunuel

“Viridiana” (1961)  Directed by Luis Bunuel

“Exterminating Angel”  (1962)  Directed by Luis Bunuel

“Good Time”  (2017)   Directed by Josh & Benny Safdie

“The Wife”  (2018)  Directed by Bjorn Runge

“Land of Mine” (2015)  Directed by Martin Zandvliet

“Mute”  (2018)  Directed by Duncan Jones

Honorable Mentions:

“In The Loop” (2009)  Directed by Armando Iannucci

“Death of Stalin” (2018)  Directed by Armando Iannucci

“Belle de Jour”  (1967)  Directed by Luis Bunuel

“The Milky Way”  (1969) Directed by Luis Bunuel

“Dunkirk” (2017)  Directed by Christopher Nolan

“Get Out” (2017)  Directed by Jordan Peele

“Night and the City”  (1950)  Directed by Jules Dassin

Best Documentaries:

“Icarus” (2017)  Directed by Bryan Fogel

“They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” (2017)  Directed by Morgan Neville

“Going Clear”  (2015)  Directed by Alex Gibney

“United States of Amnesia”  (2013)  Directed by Nicholas Wrathall

“Film Worker”  (2017)  Directed by Tony Zierra


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Censorship at the CBC

Speaking of censorship…I responded to Eli Glasner’s choices as the “best” pictures of the year on CBC’s website and my comment was “disabled” because, apparently, the administrators thought I was too mean for pointing out that Eli’s pick for the second best film of 2018 was an ANIMATED SUPERHERO MOVIE.

I took a screen shot of my disallowed, censored comment and you can judge for yourself if I was out of line.

Er, I spot a typo, that line should read “positively Mamet-ian brilliance”.


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Val Lewton: A Master of Suspense

I have to give a plug to the folks at The Secret History of Hollywood.

I’ve spent the last couple of days listening to podcasts of their comprehensive, 6-part documentary on the life and career of an under-appreciated cinematic genius, Val Lewton.

After a lengthy apprenticeship to David O. Selznick, in 1942 Val Lewton was lured away by RKO Pictures to head up a new department specializing in horror movies. RKO had nearly gone broke backing Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” and “The Magnificent Ambersons” and their board yearned to emulate the success Universal Pictures was having with their stable of movie monsters.

Lewton had little interest in producing such lowbrow fare as “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman”, etc. but all of his life had retained a taste for the macabre. Working with a team of collaborators that included, at various points,  Jacques Tourneur, Mark Robson, Nicholas Musuraca, DeWitt Bodean, Ardel Wray and Robert Wise, Lewton reinvented horror cinema, employing shadows and “dark patches” with skill and inventiveness. During his tenure at RKO, he produced modestly budgeted gems like “Cat People”, “I Walked With A Zombie”, “The Seventh Victim” and “Ghost Ship”.

“Shadows: The Val Lewton Story” is diligently researched, vividly presented. Mark Gatiss does a magnificent job as narrator, but the entire production is a credit to all involved.

This podcast gets my highest possible recommendation.

You can find the first episode here.

This series of one of the finest podcasts I’ve yet encountered, a testament to the power of that medium.



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Best Movies of 2017

For the second year in a row I managed to watch over one hundred movies in 2017.

Here is a roster of my favorite cinematic experiences of the past year:

“I, Daniel Blake” (Directed by Ken Loach)

“Dogtooth” (Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)

“45 Years” (Directed by Andrew Haigh)

“The Saragossa Manuscript” (Directed by Wojciech Has)

“The Hourglass Sanitarium” (Directed by Wojciech Has)

“Blue Ruin” (Directed by Jeremy Saulnier)

“Kill List” (Directed by Ben Wheatley)

“Stalker” (Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky)

“Le Corbeau” (Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot)

“Faust” (Directed by F.W. Murnau)

Honorable Mention:

“The Four Hundred Blows” (Directed by Francois Truffaut)

“A Touch of Sin” (Directed by Jia Zhangke)

“The Rover” (Directed by David Michod)

“Disorder” (Directed by Alice Winocour)

“Hell and High Water” (Directed by David McKenzie)

“The Lure” (Directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska)


“Merchants of Doubt” (Directed by Robert Kenner)

“Muscle Shoals” (Directed by Greg Camalier)

“The Wrecking Crew” (Directed by Denny Tedesco)

“Kedi” (Directed by Ceyda Torun)

“Red Army” (Directed by Gabe Polsky)

“Twenty Feet From Stardom” (Directed by Morgan Neville)

“Lo and Behold” (Directed by Werner Herzog)

Honorable Mention:

“Bergman’s Island” (Directed by Marie Nyrerod)

“The White Diamond” (Directed by Werner Herzog)

“The Corporation” (Directed by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott)

* I had the great fortune to see both “Stalker” and “Faust” on the big screen, which only enhanced the genius present in those masterpieces.

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Silver Saucers & Bug-Eyed Monsters

Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties (21st Century Edition)
by Bill Warren (Introduced by Howard Waldrop)
McFarland & Company Inc., Publishers (2010)

A thoroughly remarkable tome. At once an invaluable, nay, exhaustive resource and a fun, nostalgic read, replete with reproductions of movie posters and plenty of stills from the literally hundreds of (mostly terrible) science fiction films released during the 1950s.

They’re all here, from the semi-classic–“Forbidden Planet” and “The Thing”–to the outright dreadful–“Mesa Of Lost Women”, “Voodoo Island”, “Robot Monster”, “Invasion of the Animal People”, (etc. etc.). Each film, regardless of its merit (or lack thereof), receives a full summary, including production notes and credits. There are many delicious details, amusing anecdotes from some of the people involved. Bill Warren knows his stuff and I doff my hat to him for compiling an authoritative, entertaining and dense (nearly 1,000 pages, including the Index) book that aficionados of science fiction and cult movies will absolutely treasure.

The retail price is a tad steep but Keep Watching the Skies would be a welcome addition to any cineaste’s collection, the kind of volume that makes geeks swoon in ecstasy when they find it under the tree Christmas morning.

Highest recommendation.

Essential reading.



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Film quote

“Could it be that some film directors (like Hitchcock), if they are to gaze with such longing, are safer and freer if they don’t ask too much about their own motives? Is it possible that a similar liberating restraint applies to us, the viewers? One of the charms of ‘I am a camera’ was always its insinuation that if you become that mechanical you may not need to think or question what you are doing. The same facility is useful in torture or playing golf.”

David  Thomson, The Big Screen

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“Kedi” (Turkey; 2016)


(Documentary; 79 minutes)

Director and Producer: Ceyda Torun

My wife and I spent ten days in Istanbul during the summer of 2016.

Despite arriving only a short time after an attempted coup, we found the atmosphere of the ancient city calm, though obviously its population had some misgivings regarding the schemes and mindset of the country’s autocratic president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. That unease turned out to be more than justified as, sadly, Erdogan’s thuggish behaviour has only gotten worse. This is not the proper forum to discuss such matters, so I’ll only say that for the sake of the average Turkish citizen, we’ll hope and pray Erdogan’s tenure will soon come to an end.

In Istanbul, cats were everywhere we looked: in the narrow lanes and passages, tiptoeing along rooftops, sprawled on awnings, slipping through the smallest openings, mooching food at outdoor cafes. Locals not only tolerated the feral cat population, many of them left food and water for them, regarding them with rough affection. On a tour bus to Troy, we asked our guide, Mustafa, if cats were granted freedom of the city to reduce the rodent population but he insisted they were “blessed creatures”, deserving of special consideration and kindness. He seemed genuinely appalled when we described how strays were rounded up in North American cities and, in many cases, euthanized.

Film maker Ceyda Torun took it upon herself to document the lives of some of the felines inhabiting Istanbul since its creation, nearly two millennia ago. Displaying enormous ingenuity, she manages to give us a “street’s eye” view of their world and the humans they sometimes interact with. Her subjects are skittish, mercenary, cranky, urbanized; seasoned survivors. Fiercely independent and unlikely to accommodate intrusive cameras or a structured, controlled filming environment.

Nevertheless, the resulting movie is a delight, charming and thoughtful, a meditation on the relationship between people and their animal companions, a mutually beneficial co-dependency going back uncounted thousands of years. Among the city residents interviewed for the film are men and women who have taken it upon themselves to feed the many strays, spending hard-earned money on groceries, carefully preparing meals for their hungry charges…and they have done so as part of a healing process, serving a vulnerable population with no expectation of reward. Meanwhile bearing the haunted, shattered visages of most confirmed saints.

But it’s the cats who steal the show: “Deniz” and “Bengu” and “Duman” and “Gamsiz”. Ms. Torun and her cameraman, Charlie Wuppermann, reveal their secret lives and hidden places while, simultaneously, giving us the rare pleasure of experiencing one of the world’s eternal cities, the jewel of Byzantium, from a perspective previously denied us.

For that, we can only say to all parties involved: “Tesekkur ederim”.

ΩΩΩΩ (Out of 5)


Note: “Kedi” is currently playing at the Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon–you’ll find show information here.

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