Mandy, directed by Panos Cosmatos
Every once in a while Nicholas Cage stars in a movie that feels as crazy as the actor himself. With Mandy, director Panos Cosmatos just may be the first to out-crazy the famously eccentric actor. While the plot is standard B-movie grindhouse fare, the experience is an insane, phantasmagoric romp through heavy-metal pulp fantasy and acid-fueled madness. Visually, the film is jaw-dropping, offering some of the most strikingly beautiful shots I’ve ever seen in any movie. In addition to a stunning soundtrack by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, the film’s performances are tremendous across the board. Cage delivers an expectedly intense performance that starts quietly and builds across the film’s two hours until it reaches a fever pitch, becoming impossible to look away from. This is contrasted with Linus Roache as antagonist Jeremiah Sands, a self-professed savior hippy type who made my skin crawl from his first moments on screen. And anchoring the whole thing is Andrea Riseborough’s ethereal performance as the titular Mandy, who seems to exist somewhere between worlds. I’ve seen Mandy twice now, and both times produced powerful reactions in me: some moments made me recoil in horror, others made me leap out of my seat with excitement. If the goal of film is to produce these kinds of intensely visceral reactions, then Mandy is quite simply the best movie I’ve seen in years.
Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler
Wow, 2018 got off to an amazing start. While Avengers: Infinity War may have dominated the discourse with its bombshell ending, Black Panther is the superhero movie that I’ll be returning to years from now. I’m still a bit baffled by how great this movie turned out. It’s a wonderful stand-alone film a whole decade into the Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment; a deeply personal story that explodes into high-stakes CGI-assisted comic-book action; an idealized parallel sci-fi universe that attempts to reckon with the real world’s legacies of violence, oppression and colonialism. With possibly the most overqualified cast ever assembled in a superhero movie, and a visionary director in Ryan Coogler, Black Panther feels like a once-in-a-lifetime movie event, one that I doubt Marvel can ever surpass.
Isle of Dogs, directed by Wes Anderson
Like many of Wes Anderson’s movies, Isle of Dogs is something you probably already know if you going to like or not based on how you feel about the director’s other work. As a huge fan of his (particularly 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox) I was biased towards loving it, and while it sounds like damning with faint praise, Isle of Dogs comfortably managed to meet my expectations. The animation is gorgeous, and the central conflict between the authority of adults and the rebelliousness of youth is portrayed with Anderson’s trademarked subtlety and good-natured humor, to say nothing of the absolutely wonderful cast. This is just a great, fun movie, although I doubt I’ll think of it in the same pantheon as Mandy and Black Panther. But for a funny, heartfelt and adorable way to spend an evening, you could do quite a lot worse than Isle of Dogs.
Three Identical Strangers, directed by Tim Wardle
While we had a pretty great year for documentaries (Netflix’s Wild Wild Country and Hulu’s Minding the Gap were both very strong contenders), thinking back I can’t imagine picking either over the stranger-than-fiction story of identical triplets separated at birth: Bobby Shafran, David Kellman, and Eddy Galland. Although it starts as a pretty straightforward human interest story about a series of bizarre coincidences, Three Identical Strangers has some incredible surprises up its sleeve that I would never spoil here. Truly a fantastic, nigh-unbelievable story, ably told by director Tim Wardle.