So, another Seattle International Film Festival is in the books. As usual, I watched a crap-load of movies over the past six weeks—SIFF is nothing if not a marathon. My total topped 60 this year, which isn’t even half of the features. (On the final night, I encountered someone on their 123rd movie.) Overall, it was the strongest field in a few years; I routinely found myself pleasantly surprised by movies I didn’t expect. With that in mind, here are my favorites of SIFF 2018, in no particular order.
As usual, there were a few movies I anticipated that disappointed, as well as a few I never heard of that straight up ruined me. There are a few movies I missed—Skate Kitchen, Sorry to Bother You, and most of the horror slate. Sometimes you just don’t want to slog out to a movie at 9:30 at night when you have to wake up at 5:30 the next morning. Self care is important, people. And though there were films I didn’t care for, I don’t remember any I truly, truly despised, so that’s nice.
It’s been a long road and I need a nap, but it was fun, and I’m sure I’ll be back at it in some capacity next year. I always am.
This is one I’ve been foaming at the mouth to see for a while now, so when it showed up on the list, I was psyched. And French director Coralie Fargeat’s brutal, stylized, feminist-as-fuck spin on the rape revenge narrative lives up to the hype and will make you ask, “Exactly how much blood does the human body hold?”
85 minutes of a man sitting in a room talking on a telephone shouldn’t be thrilling, but thanks to director Gustave Moller and star Jakob Cedergren, The Guilty twists and turns in clever ways, squeezes every possible drop of tension from the concept, and leaves you breathless.
Hearts Beat Loud
This could have easily fallen into overly twee indie dramedy territory, but Hearts Beat Loud is a sweet, joyous, earnest exploration of a father-daughter dynamic that flips the usual script on its head. Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons have one of the best parent-child relationships I’ve seen on screen and the whole thing is just so freaking lovely.
I basically ugly cried through all 74 minutes of Supa Modo. This tale of a Kenyan village coming together to make a young, movie-obsessed, terminally ill girl into the real life superhero she’s always dreamed of becoming, is devastating and life affirming all in the same breath. I really hope this finds a way to a wider audience, because it’s something truly special.
Tigers are not Afraid
A dark fantasy fable that wears its Guillermo del Toro influences on its sleeve, Issa Lopez’ Tigers are Not Afraid shows the horror of the drug war in Mexico through the most vulnerable segment of the population, the children directly in harm’s way. A dreamy, magical realistic fantasy, it’s haunting and gorgeous, and both unrelentingly bleak and upliftingly joyous.
I saw someone—sorry, I don’t remember who—say First Reformed is the movie about both Christianity and environmental collapse we need right now. That stuck with me and feels very apt. It also sees both Paul Schrader and Ethan Hawke not only working at the top of their respective games, but also close to as good as either has ever been.
In rapidly changing Oakland, a recent parolee tries to avoid going back to the clink, a feat made difficult by his wild lifelong BFF. Part buddy comedy, part scathing look at race, police violence, gentrification, toxic masculinity, and class Blindspotting offers an explosion of rage and frustration. It should also make Daveed Diggs a star; after watching this, there’s no doubt he’s a leading man.
Three Identical Strangers
One of those stories that’s far too bizarre to be fiction, the saga of triplets separated at birth who find each other through chance and happenstance starts off strange then become so much darker and more twisted than I ever could have imagined. At various points, I half expected someone to pop up and admit it was all a joke, but it’s real, and entertaining as all hell.
This One’s for the Ladies
Who expected a documentary about the world of underground male strippers to be intriguing, heartfelt, and touch on issues of race, gender, identity, addiction, family, community, and more? I certainly didn’t, but here we are. And there’s dong.
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts
One of two movies I saw at SIFF 2018 where a woman carts around the severed head of an abusive man for most of the movie, and one of many films that fall into the rape-revenge category—there was, admittedly, a lot of rape and sexual assault this year. Stark and gorgeously filmed, this tightly controlled surface barely contains a seething fury beneath.
Leave No Trace
It’s been a minute since Debra Granik graced us with a movie, but when she gifts us films like Leave No Trace, it’s worth every second. Following a troubled vet and his 13-year-old daughter as they live off the grid in the wood of the Pacific Northwest, it’s two phenomenal performances that drive the story. Ben Foster barely utters a word, but says so, so much, and Thomasin McKenzie, who plays his daughter, is a revelation.
Blue My Mind
The opening paragraph of my review sums it up pretty well: “A delicate coming-of-age story and tale of female friendship mixed with squirm-inducing body horror, Lisa Bruhlmann’s debut, Blue My Mind—which also happens to be her film school thesis—cast shades of Raw, TheLure, and Cronenberg.”
There are a ton of others I could include on this list. Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the Mr. Rodgers documentary, will reduce many of you to happy tears. After A Prayer Before Dawn, we can never say A24 never gave us a gritty Muay Thai prison drama about drug addiction and redemption. Chedeng and Apple is like a cross between Thelma & Louise, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, and an adorable senior citizen road trip. Bodied is the sharp rap battle satire we didn’t know we wanted. Naples in Veils, C’est la Vie, We the Animals, and Killing Jesus are all excellent. This list could go on. Like I said, it was a banner year at the SIFF house.