Douglas Laman’s Top Twelve Cinematic Discoveries of 2018

And so, here we are on the first day of 2019. I cannot thank you all enough for reading my own writings as well as the pieces by my far more gifted colleagues on The Solute over the past year!

I’m still about a week or two out from having seen enough 2018 movies to publish my Best Movies of 2018 list, but I won’t be devoid of a Best of 2018 list until then! I, of course, don’t just review new movies, I also cover classic movies in my Doug’s Cinematic Firsties column (or my Classic Write-Up Reviews as they’re known on my own website!). Through this column, I managed to catch up on a lot of iconic movies in 2018 and keeping that in mind, I decided to close out 2018 with my Top Twelve Cinematic Discoveries of 2018, which serves as a look back at my twelve favorite classic movies that I watched for the first time in 2018! Like my lists looking at the best new movies in a given year, I sort these movies in alphabetical order, though I did reverse the order of the last two movies on this list just so I could close out this piece on an upbeat note!

OK folks, let’s count down the remaining seconds of 2018 by looking at my Top Twelve Cinematic Discovers of 2018! But first…an honorable mention…

Honorable Mention: Showgirls (Dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1996)

Yes, I finally got to experience Showgirls in 2018. Truly, my relationship with cinema has peaked, there is nowhere to go but down! In all seriousness, Showgirls, though being far from the best classic movie I saw in 2018,merits a mention on this list simply for the fact that I was able to see it in a theatrical 35mm screening at the Museum of Modern Art back in June 2018 (this is a great movie to see with a crowd) and for being one of the most audacious motion pictures I saw all year. A commentary on how society objectifies women and pits women against one another filtered through a prims that includes as much bonkers dialogue as it does nudity, director Paul Verhoeven swinging for the fences here results in something far messier than his best works but there’s no denying how wildly entertaining it is. How can I not enjoy a movie that Gina Gershon waxing poetic about her experiences with eating dog food? That alone earns its status as an honorable mention on this list!

Onto the proper to twelve movies…

Ali: Fear Eats The Soul (Dir. Ranier Werner Fassbinder, 1974)

How did I manage to be a die-hard devotee to cinema for so long without knowing who Rainer Werner Fassbinder was? Well, better late than never, especially when discovering who he was allowed me to see a movie as remarkable as Ali: Fear Eats The Soul. A story about two people, one a Morrocan worker and another a 60-year-old woman, falling in love and dealing with various forms of prejudice in then-modern day Germany. The humanity of the main duo is constantly captured by the thoughtfully restrained camerawork and the outstanding lead performances, particularly Brigette Mira as the main character of the piece. The fact that both of our lead characters here are so well-rounded ensures that the primary romance is one that’s so heavily absorbing and sweet. It also ensures that Ali: Fear Eats The Soul ends up being a masterclass in how to depict the anguish of disenfranchised populations without sacrificing their humanity in the process.

Before Sunrise (Dir. Richard Linklater, 1995)

Five years after watching and loving Before Midnight, it was a joy to finally discover the very first chapter of Jesse and Celine’s romance. Though it was never intended to be the kick-off for an expansive yet intimate saga, so many pieces of dialogue here feel like they were tailor-made for what would come down the line in subsequent installments. Before Sunrise impresses beyond just how it sets up future sequels in an inadvertent fashion though, Richard Linklater’s gift of being able to direct actors in a manner that has them authentically replicating the tiniest details of real human interactions is alive and well here. His direction allows Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy to excel as well as they do in the lead roles of Before Sunrise, I could watch their performances as well as a movie as good as this one for an eternity!

Boogie Nights (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)

In preparation for the then-impending wide release bow of Phantom Thread, I spent much of January 2018 catching up on Paul Thomas Anderson movies I’d never seen before. This allowed me the chance to see a whole bunch of great works from this outstanding filmmaker, but Boogie Nights might just be the best of the entire pack. It’s thoroughly impressive that a movie that’s this much fun to watch (John C. Reilly is a delightful hoot!) could also deliver such haunting moments like the conclusion to William H. Macy’s character’s storyline. A feel-good party can turn into something far more terrifying at any moment in the world of Boogie Nights, a world that delivers one of the most transfixing movies in Paul Thomas Anderson’s impressive body of work.

Bringing Up Baby (Dir. Howard Hawks, 1938)

2018 may go down for me as The Year That Katherine Hepburn Entered My Life. Yes, I finally watched Katherine Hepburn in a movie for the first time in my life and now I can’t imagine my cinematic diet without her in it!  It was a total Sophie’s Choice moment to pick only one of the many Hepburn vehicles I watched for the first time in 2018 (The African Queen totally could have filled this slot on this list!), but I had to go with Bringing Up Baby, not just because it was the first Katherine Hepburn movie I ever saw but also because it’s just a phenomenal comedy in its own right. Howard Hawks directed the quintessential of screwball comedies with this motion picture whose every detail left me in hysterics. Out of everything in the film though, the outstanding chemistry between Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn may have provided the most laughs though, those two are just so effortlessly hilarious in their witty back-and-forth banter. One couldn’t ask for a better introduction to the world of Katherine Hepburn than this gem of a comedy right here.

Desert Hearts (Dir. Donna Deitch, 1985)

Yet another widely well-known piece of cinema that I was completely ignorant on prior to 2018 kicking off, I had no clue Desert Hearts even existed prior to the very last day FilmStruck was operational yet it managed to became one of my most revelatory cinematic experiences of the year. A quiet tale of unexpected romance in Arizona in the late 1950s, director Donna Deitch lends a steady hand to this features quietly brilliant filmmaking while lead performers Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau lend exceptional levels of humanity to their richly drawn characters. There’s so much to praise in Desert Hearts right down to the tiniest details in the cinematography and acting and all it adds up to an emotionally engrossing motion picture, one that can reduce you to tears once its beautiful final scene transpires. I had no clue what Desert Hearts was before 2018 began but goodness knows I won’t ever forget it.

Drunken Angel (Dir. Akira Kurosawa, 1948)

There countless great movies made in response to the state of the world in the aftermath of World War II but among the very best of them is the Akira Kurosawa motion picture Drunken Angel. Though one of his earliest directorial efforts, there’s a masterful assured quality to the production that allows for plenty of opportunities for two of Kurosawa’s go-to performers, Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune, to deliver some of their best work as actors in portraying the relationship between a glib doctor and a young rambunctious patient. It’s a story that’s already so transfixing even before a perfect ending that sees Shimura’s doctor character embodying Kurosawa’s most pessimistic views on the world before one of his other young patients arrives to bring a glimmer of hope to the proceedings. This conclusion, which is aware of the bitterness of reality without giving up on hope entirely, serves as a microcosm of the aesthetic of the excellent motion picture Drunken Angel as a whole.

Harold and Maude (Dir. Hal Ashby, 1971)

Speaking of being aware of the harshness of reality while making sure that hope is not abandoned, I finally got to experience Harold & Maude this year and after watching it, it’s easy to see why it’s generated such a legendary reputation in pop culture. It’s impressive just how well this movie balances over-the-top elements without abandoning reality in the process, Harold and Maude is full of humorous stylized bits of dark humor  (like any of Harold’s suicide attempts) but it also treats elements like Harold’s desire to just vanish from a world he doesn’t fit into with immense amounts of empathy. Like the works of Yorgos Lanthimos and Wes Anderson that this feature would clearly inspire, Harold and Maude is full of idiosyncratic creative heightened touches that allow it to actually tap deeper into real-world experiences. Plus, the presence of a number of excellent Cat Stevens songs further enhances the quality of this already phenomenal motion picture.

Hausu (Dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977)

There’s been a lot of serious movies on this list so far and the 1977 Nobuhiko Obayashi horror/comedy Hausu is not bereft of thoughtful subtext for sure, but primarily, this is just an outstandingly fun movie that redefines unpredictability. The story of a girl named Gorgeous traveling to her Aunt’s house with her gaggle of broadly drawn friends in tow becomes a showcase for all kinds of exciting sequences of surrealism. I’ve well and truly never seen death scenes like some of the ones found in Hausu (one of which involves a hungry piano!) and it’s a riot to watch the assorted entertainingly arch characters encounter all of the madness that lies in wait for them. Mindbending, off-the-wall, dreamlike, however you wanna describe this piece of cinematic madness, one should also make sure to note that Hausu is, above all else, wildly entertaining.

Rushmore (Dir. Wes Anderson, 1998)

For only his second directorial effort, Wes Anderson makes a feature-length critique of a High School aged Wes Anderson character (named Max Fischer) who sticks out like a sore thumb in the real world. That’s a fascinating concept for a movie that Wes Anderson executes with flair in Rushmore, especially since he decides to also make it a coming-of-age story about a teenager coming to terms with how complex the real world actually is. On top of an outstanding screenplay, Rushmore also contains a lead performance from Jason Schwartzman that’s so effortlessly entertaining to watch even when the character is being intentionally insufferable like so many real-life teenagers are. Olivia Williams and Bill Murray turn in similarly exemplary work in key supporting performances while the cinematography by Robert Yeoman is impeccably realized. Rushmore is a sublime feature from top-to-bottom but its absolute best trait is how impressively it wrings effective bittersweet pathos out of Max Fischer’s saga of learning to make his behavior as mature as his intellect.

Schindler’s List (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1993)

Despite being widely accepted as one of the all-time great American filmmakers, Steven Spielberg never gets enough credit for just how well he can pull off historical dramas that manage to capture important moments from the past in a startlingly realistic fashion. Though his dramas are usually dismissed as simply ploys to score Oscars, a masterwork like Schindler’s List shows how Steven Spielberg’s skills as a director are able to make his period piece dramas so much more than just fixtures in award season chatter. The story of Oskar Schindler and how he managed to save countless lives during the Holocaust is an appropriately harrowingly bleak story, right down to a conclusion involving the end of World War II that doesn’t offer up a chance for celebration but rather for Oskar Schindler to reflect on how many more people he could have saved. Spielberg’s best historical dramas find the human beings in icons of the past and that trait is on display in this regret-drench scene as well as throughout the rest of the excellent Schindler’s List.

We Need To Talk About Kevin (Dir. Lynne Ramsey, 2011)

Lynne Ramsey is a master filmmaker in countless ways (she’s easily one of our best working directors) but perhaps her most impressive feature as a director is her ability to make cinema, like her 2011 movie We Need To Talk About Kevin, that truly gets under one’s skin and disturbs. We Need To Talk About Kevin has Tilda Swinton playing the mother of a male teenager who executes a school shooting at his High School. We never see her son actually shooting his classmates but we don’t need to to be transported into the fractured psyche of Swinton’s protagonist as we follow her trying to make a new life for herself in the wake of this tragedy as well as reliving past events that signaled to her that something was askew with her son. The past, the present, the future, they all haunt this character and Ramsey communicates what a psychological nightmare her very existence is in such a haunting manner that it’ll shake you to the core, especially since Tilda Swinton provides such a top-notch lead performance.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (Dir. Jake Kasdan, 2007)

Though he’s most well-known now for directing a Jumanji sequel that managed to gross over $960 million worldwide, Jake Kasdan will, to me, always be known as the genius who directed Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. One of the finest parody movies ever made, this lampooning of music biopics had me cackling non-stop during its runtime as it just nails every detail of the films it’s skewering while also creating absurdist gags that work exceptionally well on their own. The sight of John C. Reilly (an actor who just constantly impressed me with his performances throughout movies I watched in 2018) playing a Middle Schooler is funny no matter the context! It’s a hilarious comedy that gets a lot of mileage out of its stacked cast, including a hysterical supporting performance from Tim Meadows, and it also manages to have Reilly as the Dewey Cox character belt out a bevy of delightful tunes that are just awesome songs in their own right. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story is a hilarious motion picture that manages to be a, to quote the title of the final song on its soundtrack, “beautiful ride”!