This is my first year participating in Story Screen's top 10 lists, and I couldn’t be more overwhelmed! 2018 was a whirlwind of new responsibilities: life-changing doors opened, allowing me to shed former versions of myself, plunging into the unknown with a vigor I did not realize I could muster. With my day to day undertaking a major shift, and having moments for solace become few and far far between, the task of compiling this list was the necessary slow down I needed. In retrospect, the movies I chose were mainly comprised of female forces undergoing their own forms of metamorphosis, with some sprinkling in of good, solid entertainment. Thank you Story Screen for the opportunity to pay homage to 2018, and cheers to the new year ahead!
10. Red Sparrow
Red Sparrow may portray itself as an espionage flick, loaded with sexual overtures and a dizzying level of double agent twists, but in reality, this is a movie about Jennifer Lawrence. As one of her first roles picked up since the 2014 hacking scandal where private images of our starlet were smeared across the internet, it seems that Lawrence is taking ownership of her body and what she does with it. Her nude debut, though in the midst of an oppressive and objectifying theme, is handled artfully with just the right amount of censored shots and dignity. I commend Lawrence as an artist making this bold choice, reclaiming herself for all to see.
9. A Quiet Place
What might surprise some who understand my proclivity towards the ethereal and feminine (in terms of visuals) is that I love a good horror flick. Granted, I might watch the majority of them through my fingers, but a supernatural mystery is my bread and (vegan) butter. The main draw to seeing A Quiet Place was purely due to the fact that part of Main Street Beacon and our local Natural Market was shut down for filming. Familiar faces would gather around to catch a glimpse of director and leading man, John Krasinski, or his off and on-screen wife, Emily Blunt. I had to see what all of the fuss was about, and wound up pleasantly surprised. In a post-apocalyptic reality, silence has never screamed so loudly as a young family adapts to live amongst vicious predators with a heightened sense of hearing. It’s incredible how amplified the terror factor becomes when the audience is stripped of necessity.
8. A Star is Born
As the fourth iteration of a story dating back to the 1930’s, A Star is Born stands alone despite its deeply imbedded roots. Bradley Cooper wears many hats, playing Jackson Maine, a rocker with stereotypical drinking problems and a fading career, and as director, breathing new life into a piece that’s been done, and done again. Balancing Maine’s self-implosion, we have Ally, portrayed by Lady Gaga in her film debut. Ally is fresh to the music scene, packing an inherent star quality, and soon becomes Maine’s lover. Cooper takes us on an emotional ride as Ally rises to fame and Maine crashes, a portrayal of the pitfalls of fame that is both raw and genuine feeling. Quickly becoming a 2018 favorite among audiences, A Star is Born left us with a song in our hearts.
7. Black Panther
Considered one of the year’s best films, I would be remiss in neglecting to mention Black Panther, a superhero movie that supersedes its own genre. As someone who thoroughly enjoys action flicks, that’s the lens I had initially watched it through, to my own detriment. I screened it from the comfort of my home, alone with my cat and found it to be a wonderful “superhero” film, but thought the arch to be somewhat cookie cutter. After chatting with a good friend who saw it in theaters, in a swell of people whose energy was palpable, I reeled myself in and began to seriously consider what this film really is. Black Panther is the hammer shattering the glass ceiling. Black Panther is a representation the likes of which we rarely see in pop culture. Black Panther is not simply a “superhero movie,” it is a movement.
6. The Favourite
As January lagged on, I knew my time to see The Favourite was running out, particularly if it was to make this list. An absurd contemporary twist to what might be questionable as a “period piece,” I was thrilled to catch a screening. Intrigue, lust, and double crossings set in 18th century England (I’ve always been a sucker for drama and opulent attire) The Favourite did not disappoint. A strange world whirling around, anchoring acts from Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, is emphasized by Robbie Ryan’s cinematography, along with musical scores ranging from grand to experimental. This female fueled power struggle is the corseted tragicomedy 2018 needed.
5. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Having only maintained theater residency for a week, a now Netflix streaming The Ballad of Buster Scruggs might spit at the notion of inherent silver screen glamour with its raw Western appeal. A compilation of six grim folktales, the Coen brothers dangle before us isolated experiences in the same world and quickly dismantle the idea of stability – you learn right away not to become too attached to our leads. The frontier is a plain we’ve visited before; we’ve all met at high noon to watch as the man in white wins and the man in black falls, but what if everyone dies (or close to it)? What if it’s all senseless? What if that fact is kind of funny? A black comedy on horseback, Buster Scruggs came riding into my living room one sunny afternoon with a ditty and, at no easy feat, chuckled off into the bleakest of nights.
A suggestion led me into “the Shimmer,” and while I’ve never been too partial towards the science fiction genre, Annihilation offers up an equal amount of fantasy and beauty to avoid any form of clinical density. Opening with a meteor striking a lighthouse, “Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby, Stills and Nash seems to be an unfit choice of song, though the words “they are one person. They are two alone. They are three together. They are for each other,” echoes throughout the movie. Like peeling away the layers of a dream, we find cutout moments which inspire us to pay close attention to Lena’s (Natalie Portman) relationships. In the present, Lena is being questioned about her time in “the Shimmer,” (a large portion of rain forest affected by meteor emissions) but our story takes place within her memories. Just as dreams and memories morph and meld, our mainly female cast succumbs to environmental and physical evolution; they become nothing, they become everything. There is a depth to Annihilation that would be impossible to reach in just a few sentences. Go see it for yourself.
Suspiria had large shoes to fill as a “remake” of the 1977 horror classic, which moreover acted as an expansion on a surreal and dark world of cult-ish dance and blood magic – that’s right, blood magic. Seemingly removed from time and grounded in the bizarre, the viewer is trapped in beautiful insanity. Fragmented scene cuts, overstated audio, garish visuals and an undulating plot line left me spinning. A prestigious dance academy located in Berlin acts as a front for a witch’s coven, where seemingly innocent Susie (Dakota Johnson) had dreamed of attending all of her life; The Academy is also the backdrop of her severe metamorphosis. While the arch of the story is compelling within itself, the camera work is what harkens back to true 70’s cerebral and visceral terror. Ironically, the film is a rebirth ingraining the notion that we cannot escape our past – certainly not for the faint of heart.
Roma pulled me back to Earth with a saturated dose of reality. A year in the life of housekeeper Cleo (newcomer Yalitza Aparicio) is chronicled through a wide-angle lens, and despite the lack of color, we are offered lush vibrancy. Tending to the daily needs of an affluent family in 1970’s Mexico, we watch as Cleo systematically goes about her typical routine: cleaning up after the dog, laundering clothes, nannying the children. It’s all fairly mundane sounding, right? Without realizing it, pieces of a picture perfect image are subtly shifted, leading to an emotional mirror between Cleo’s employer, Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and our protagonist. The gradual build to an anxiety-inducing moment with Cleo and the children in her charge at the beach is presented by writer and director, Alfonso Cuaron, in stunning brilliance. Roma made its way this far up my list because of its thoughtful portrayal, where any and all shots could be a stand-alone, along with its delicately complex storyline based on Cuaron’s childhood experiences. It is a work of art.
The most jarring, question-provoking, terror-inciting movie of 2018 and my top choice is, hands down, Hereditary. Ominous music presides as Annie Graham (Toni Collette) addresses an unfamiliar mass that has gathered for her mother’s funeral. A secretive woman with “private rituals,” the late matriarch of the family left behind her daughter and two grandchildren, Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and Peter (Alex Wolff). Though we never know the grandmother, her presence is latent in every moment, whether we are initially aware of it or not. Annie’s visit to a bereavement group sheds light on a history of mental illness in her bloodline: a mother with a dissociative identity disorder, a brother who committed suicide convinced his mother had tried to “put people inside” of him, and Annie’s own issues with sleepwalking, leading to potentially fatal outcomes compounded by prospective D.I.D. like her mother. Then we have Charlie, a thirteen year old girl devoid of emotion, and tendencies towards macabre creations (utilizing the severed head of a pigeon to make a toy, for example).
“Klokk,” a playful and childish sound we’ve all made, is a compulsive tick of Charlie’s and soon becomes a trigger for the audience. A little past a quarter of the way through Hereditary, a character falls victim to what appears to be a horrific accident. At that moment, the already off-kilter-feeling story escalates in ways I could have never anticipated. Annie dabbles in communicating with and summoning the dead, Peter is plagued by spirits (ghosts or guilt? “Klokk,”) and the family, as a whole, begins to fray. Annie’s dollhouses marginalize the movie, which grows to stand as a metaphor for the Grahams and their role as playthings. It isn’t until we near the end, that the feeling of complete helplessness settles in, and our characters fall in line with what has always been destined for them. Surprising twists, echoes of the dead, a family torn, death, rebirth, mourning, mental illness, Hereditary will leave you in awe and genuinely wondering, “what the fuck did I just watch?”
...Or Stamper as she prefers, is a Beacon transplant having moved to town two years ago. With a background in photography, literature, and a fondness of nature she does well in keeping busy in this bustling little community.