Last November, I wrote about five 2018 movies — all of them critical successes — that I regretted not catching. Since then, I’ve knocked them out and have come up with an overarching theme that encompasses all of them. It’s a little thing I like to call, “Whoops, shoulda seen that earlier.” Not necessarily to include them on my end-of-year wrapup (though “Annihilation” and “Widows” did make my Top 10 list), but because if I had seen these five excellent films earlier, I could have talked about them a lot more by now.
Four widows take on their criminal (and dead) husbands’ last job in an attempt to make millions and save their own lives. “Widows” is not only one of the best crime movies in years, but one that places the heist genre in a fully feminine space. The disparate women don’t have to like one another, but they do have one thing in common that forces them to work together — they’re women in a world that deems them all but worthless. This isn’t “Ocean’s 8”; this is “Heat” led by women scorned.
I gave in and saw this because a friend wore me down. I will now wear down everyone else until they see it. “Annihilation” is similar to “Widows” in that it’s a genre film (sci-fi, in this case; an all-female group goes to a place where weird stuff is happening to figure out what that weird stuff is) that is so much more. Science fiction is about examining the human condition in nonhuman situations; “Annihilation” is about what happens to our ideas of womanhood when women are entirely removed from a world with men.
I had heard this was Spike Lee’s best work in years, and it is. “BlacKkKlansman” has so much of Lee’s signature style: his sly wit, his ability to pack an emotional punch seemingly out of nowhere, and (unfortunately) his tendency to hit his points a little too hard and let scenes go on a little too long. Still, the offbeat relevance of the film’s story — the real case of a black police detective who infiltrated the KKK in the 1970s — is tailor-made for Lee. The final moments should send shudders down the spine of every viewer
‘The Death of Stalin’
A comedic romp set in the immediate aftermath of the death of a genocidal dictator seems like an offbeat choice, but boy did writer-director Armando Iannucci pull it off. A phenomenal ensemble cast — led by Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev — goes at it as if the characters were on the Soviet version of “Survivor,” trying to outwit, outplay and outlast the other second-tier Communist officers. It’s political intrigue, it’s farcical, it’s hilarious and smart and dark — in short, it’s exactly what satire should be.
‘Lean on Pete’
This kid-and-a-horse film is very much NOT “Black Beauty.” It’s about what happens to boys (and, consequently, men) who live in a world that consistently tells them their need for emotional connection makes them weak. Charlie Plummer’s performance as a 15-year-old largely on his own vacillates between making you want to hug him and making you want to flee from him in terror. “Widows” and “Annihilation” are about women in community; “Lean on Pete” is about a man in isolation. Both are types of films we need more of.