Release Date: February 23rd
Who’s in It? Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac
You Gotta See This: In its finest moments (and there were a lot of fine moments), Alex Garland’s Ex Machina managed a nifty trick: It looked like a million bucks, launched big questions of philosophy, morality, ethics, and being in one’s mind, and appeals directly to that emotional animal brain we each possess, all at once. It couldn’t sustain those heights for its entire duration — what film could? The answer, apparently, is Annihilation. An elliptical, emotional adaptation of the Jeff VanderMeer novel of same name, the film centers on five women (all brought to life with world-class performances), who each agree to enter a seemingly lethal “shimmer” in the name of science, though their reasons for agreeing to the trip are deeply personal and far from scientific. What happens after dances on the edge of reality, and little is explained. Mistrust everything you see, hold on tight to everything you feel, and revel, or tremble, in the world Garland creates. –Allison Shoemaker
Extra! Extra! Read Clint Worthington’s full review here.
04. The Rider
Release Date: April 13th
Who’s in It? Brady Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, and Lane Scott
You Gotta See This: Films like The Rider come along but once in a generation. A curious blend of docu-fiction and neo-Western art filmmaking, Chloe Zhao’s barely fictionalized retelling of rodeo star Brady Jandreau’s recovery from a life-threatening rodeo injury infuses a heartbreaking amount of poetry into the everyday tragedies of life on the fringes of forgotten America. Jandreau’s entire family acquit themselves magically on the screen, but Brady himself is nothing short of mesmerizing – an old soul trapped in a young man’s body. When Zhao’s painterly eye isn’t focused on the sunset-draped Dakota plains or the breathtaking majesty of Brady’s steeds, it studies this wounded young man’s every mannerism with a heartfelt intimacy. Through Brady’s eyes (or the extended sequences in which he breaks in real horses with the stoicism and wisdom of a Jedi Master), The Rider finds breathtaking new ways to deconstruct the Western, creating something entirely new in the process. –Clint Worthington
Extra! Extra! Read Clint Worthington’s full review here.
Release Date: June 8th
Who’s in It? Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, and Gabriel Byrne
You Gotta See This: Hereditary’s pre-release buzz might be partly to blame for the horror film’s lackluster reception among the general public, who helped Ari Aster’s debut feature land the rare D+ rating from CinemaScore. A modern Greek tragedy clad in modern horror trappings, the film’s scares aren’t the kind you’re likely to find at the cineplex, which tends to traffic in jump scares, CGI blood, and needlessly mythic redemption narratives. Hereditary sidesteps all of that, drawing its horror not just from Aster’s silent, indelible images and relentlessly probing camerawork, but also the broken bonds strung between its core characters, all of whom have poisoned blood running through their veins. Aster’s film is remarkable because it seamlessly weaves a terrible and sad rumination on the generational effects of mental illness into a rich, uncanny tale of perverse spirituality. Too often, a horror film’s central metaphor will eclipse the actual threat; in Hereditary, however, the stakes remain high as the omniscient reigns cruel. As with 2015’s The Witch, Hereditary’s real monster is the one we never see. —Randall Colburn
Extra! Extra! Read Randall Colburn’s full review here.
02. You Were Never Really Here
Release Date: April 6th
Who’s in It? Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Judith Roberts, and Alessandro Nivola
You Gotta See This: The dread arrives early in You Were Never Really Here, Lynne Ramsay’s first feature since 2009’s similarly apocalyptic We Need to Talk About Kevin. Joaquin Phoenix’s ex-military “tracker” Joe may be a cipher, but the pain behind his eyes is so palpable that his screams for help are apparent long before the film makes them literal. As Joe attempts to rescue a young girl from a sinister, politically tied sex trafficking ring for wealthy clients, his own trauma drags itself to the surface, building alongside a stellar, dissonant Jonny Greenwood score to a climax of primal terror. Ramsay’s film understands well that rage and abuse are bottomless pits, but even in a world as despairing and fully realized as the one she creates, there’s also still the possibility of salvation. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.
01. The Tale
Release Date: May 26th
Who’s in It? Laura Dern, Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Ritter, Isabelle Nelisse, Ellen Burstyn, Frances Conroy, John Heard, and Common
You Gotta See This: Often when we call something “meta,” we’re referring to a kind of Family Guy-esque wink, an oh-ho-ho moment designed to make one feel like they’re in on the joke. The Tale does something else entirely with the concept. Documentarian Jennifer Fox’s first feature-length narrative film is an adaptation, of sorts, of a story she wrote when she was 13 about her first sexual experience — with her adult running coach. In this film, Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern) comes to terms with the fiction in the story she told herself in order to survive, as Jenny Fox, age 13 (Isabelle Nélisse), is manipulated and abused by the adults charged with her care. Because Dern’s Jennifer Fox is also a documentarian, the film relies on the trappings of documentary to remind us of the story’s basis in reality, but like other great works of art, it also uses the conventions of storytelling to heighten the truth that sits at its center.
It might be easy, before seeing the film, to dismiss this story of survival — survival of a practical, rather than triumphant, kind — as HBO’s take on a Very Special Episode. That would be a mistake. The Tale is quiet but frank, shattering in a way not designed to shock, but to lay bare the facts. It’s impeccably acted, carefully wrought, and so grounded in truth that it’s difficult to shake for hours, days, weeks after. You may never shake it. I certainly haven’t. –Allison Shoemaker
Extra! Extra! Read Allison Shoemaker’s full review here.
First published at Consequence of Sound. 28 June 2018.