Can we talk about end-of-year lists a sec?
Mine come out next week. Invariably the assembly of these lines requires a lot of scrambling to catch up with films I missed earlier in the year. Now and then I take a vacation. Sometimes, two new movies screen for Chicago critics on the same night on two different screens, meaning a choice must be made, and it's a probable 12-to-7 (to quote Stubby Kaye in "Guys and Dolls") that I backed the wrong horse. I seem to remember the Dwayne Johnson gorilla movie "Rampage" screening up against something that, in retrospect, was a little better. But I chose to cover "Rampage" because it was set and partly shot in Chicago. Same, I think, went for the Bruce Willis remake of "Death Wish."
So I've been catching up, and seeing some very good films, two listed below, along with three more that'll juuuuust miss my Top 10. You shouldn't miss them on those grounds, however. Those aren't grounds for dismissal. Oh, no. No. These five reward your time and attention, albeit for different reasons.
Best American movie released in 2018 that made less than $129,125 in theaters: "Support the Girls." Regina Hall won the New York Film Critics Circle award for best actress last week, prompting civilian moviegoers nationwide to murmur: What? What's that film, again? Well, it's the latest from one of America's essential unsung writer-directors, Andrew Bujalski, whose "Beeswax" and "Computer Chess," among others, reveal his love for enclosed, eccentric, humanely authentic communities.
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Most of "Support the Girls" takes place in a Texas "breastaurant" modeled on Hooters. Hall plays the beleaguered but resourceful manager; Haley Lu Richardson (so good in the recent "Columbus") takes supporting honors as the sunniest of her employees.
It's daringly light on conventional plotting, which explains the dollar figure up top there. American moviegoers show a reasonable amount of nerve with lots of things, but character-based work isn't one of them. At its best, "Support the Girls" recalls the heyday of Jonathan Demme in its wryly comic worldview and unerring casting. Now streaming on various platforms.
Outside of "Paddington 2," the most convincing argument that if you're kind and polite the world will be right: "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" Morgan Neville's heart-rending ode to Fred Rogers was the perfect tonic for the tone, insults and putridities of the Trump era. Now streaming on various platforms.
Reason enough to overlook the glaring deficiencies of the Netflix library: "Private Life." Tamara Jenkins, writer and director, created an actors' feast in miniature with her bittersweetly comic story of a Manhattan couple's infertility challenges. Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti: never better. Now streaming on Netflix.
A very good film that deserved a much wider audience: "The Hate U Give." A lot of 2018 titles fit that description, of course, but director George Tillman Jr. went to work on the YA best-seller with a terrific set of actors and a clear sense of mission. This one will hold up as the years go by. I hope it won't be as topical in the next decade.
Most urgent reminder that the best thing for an uneven director is to keep directing: "Black KkKlansman." This one I finally caught, and it's formidable. Spike Lee's latest melange, freely based on a true 1970s undercover investigation, looks, moves and feels more purposeful than anything he's done since "When the Levees Broke" in 2006. It's antic, serious, sledgehammer-blunt – and it calls out the current state of these United States like nothing else released in 2018.