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Best Movies of 2018 - First Reformed

As another great year of movies comes to a close, JoBlo.com staff will be curating our selection of the best films of 2018. Whether it be animation or live action, comedy or drama, horror or action (or maybe even a romance!), these are the movies that struck our staff more than any other. So enjoy our picks and let us know what your favorites were in the comments below.

Released on May 18th, 2018

WHAT’S IT ABOUT? Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) ekes out a meager existence as the pastor of the historical First Reformed church in upstate New York, a small denomination with only a handful of attendees that’s tied to the Abundant Life megachurch. While trying to manage his own ill health and crisis of faith, Toller makes the acquaintance of a young man who is part of a radical group of Eco-Terrorists, but has left that life behind to care for his pregnant wife, Mary (Amanda Seyfried). Soon, a violent incident sends Toller spiralling even deeper into his existential crisis, while drawing closer to the kindly Mary.

WHO’S IN IT? Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles (aka Cedric the Entertainer), Michael Gaston and Victoria Hill.

WHO MADE IT? Written and directed by Paul Schrader.

 

WHY IT’S ONE OF THE BEST FILMS OF 2018: I didn’t expect anything out of FIRST REFORMED. While I’ve always been a casual Paul Schrader fan, his movies have never been must-sees for me. I’ve yet to see some of his seminal films, such as MISHIMA, and while I’ve never all-out hated anything he’s done (I’ve yet to see THE CANYONS and THE DYING OF THE LIGHT was taken out of his hands), the films of his I love all come from the seventies (BLUE COLLAR and HARDCORE).

These so-called faith-based films are a much different thing from what I am talking about. They use all the traditional tools and they just assert Jesus or a minister into the formula—it is really no different. They aren’t about the church—they are about manipulation. If you want to make a film that says “Hitler Is God” or one that says “Hitler is the Devil,” it is the same film that uses all the same tricks. Just using these tricks to say God is King is not really different than doing the opposite. In order to get to that place where the holy resides, you have to get involved with withholding techniques. Taking things away from the viewer is the same as meditation. Good things happen to people who wait and making people wait until it happens to them is the delicate dance of a spiritual style. You have to use boredom like a scalpel to contour an emotional reaction without it becoming plain old boredom. – Paul Schrader – Interview (RogerEbert.com)

So, when FIRST REFORMED played TIFF in 2017, it’s landed squarely on my maybe list. Even when some other journalists covering the fest told me it was amazing, I passed, figuring it would be austere and pretentious. I was especially turned-off when I heard it was shot in a boxy 1:33:1 aspect ratio which, in this day and age, is just punishing the audience.

Just before it hit theaters, the Canadian distributor offered to set me up with a screener link after I missed the press screening, and I figured I’d give it a lot, not expecting much more than an interesting film. In fact, I watched it on my iPad while on a break from packing up my apartment for a move I planned on later that week. I was going to only watch one chunk that evening, another chunk the next evening.

As soon as I started it, I was riveted. Right from Ethan Hawke’s opening narration, as he describes his plan to write in a journal for a year and then destroy it, I was sucked in. I couldn’t turn it off if I tried. I was glued to my iPad the next two hours and I don’t mind saying it threw me for a loop, with the disturbing, open-ended ending sticking around in my head for weeks to come. It’s one of only a handful of movies I’ve watched multiple times this year, as it demands digging into, and it’s given me pleasure passing around my DVD copy (ah good old physical media) to various friends, all of whom have radically different takes on it. Most loved it, and all found it compelling.

To me, it’s a towering achievement for Paul Schrader, who’s pulling a John Huston (or Clint Eastwood) and doing some of his most vital work as he enters his golden years. His screenplay is layered and uncompromising. He never looks for easy answers. Hawke’s Toller is neither hero nor villain, capable of both cruelty and tremendous empathy. Ditto Cedric the Entertainer’s mega-pastor, who would have been a two dimensional baddie in another film, but here is presented as a reasonable realist trying to do the best for his flock, which includes Toller.

Hawke’s performance is nothing short of epochal. For me, the Golden Globes lost any and all credibility when they failed to nominate him for best actor. No one has given a better performance this year than he has. Toller’s descent is one of the most convincing of the year in that it’s played so subtly. As the movie goes on, Toller becomes a dangerous man, but just how so is never clear until a late revelation, but even then we’re not sure if he’ll go through with what he seems to be planning. Intriguingly, Schrader seems to suggest the ultimate answer isn’t that important either, with the open ending the kind that would usually drive me nuts, but seems appropriate here. I don’t need Schrader to show me what happens – I know what happens (although a friend has a radically different take that seems just as reasonable).

BEST SCENE: This isn’t the best scene per se, but it’s the only moment I feel comfortable with sharing given the narrative surprises the film has in store. Here, Cedric Kyles’s mega pastor tries to connect with Toller before it’s too late, only to be rebuffed and pushed to the limits of his patience by his naiveté as to how the business of a church works.

BEST LINES:

Michael: Can God forgive us for what we’ve done to this world?

Toller: Who can know the mind of God?

NOTEWORTHY PERFORMANCES: Basically everyone here does standout work, including Seyfried and a really effective Victoria Hill, who plays a worker at Abundant Life who wants to become part of Toller’s life, only to be rebuffed cruelly whenever she tries. That said, this is Hawke’s show through-and-through, and the fact that he was able to go straight from this to JULIET NAKED (a charming rom-com) and then direct another movie, BLAZE, all in the space of a year, proves what an exceptional talent this guy is. As far as I’m concerned, he should win every film award out there, although perhaps both the film and his performance are too challenging to gain mass recognition by the academy.

AWARDS WORTHY? FIRST REFORMED deserves a best actor nod for Hawke, best supporting actor and actress for Cedric Kyles, Amanda Seyfried and Victoria Hill, while cinematography and editing should also be considered. Lastly, Schrader deserves nominations for screenplay and direction. Heck, throw best picture in there too.

REWATCH-O-METER: I’ve already watched FIRST REFORMED three times this year, and I can see myself going back to it often over the years to come, if only to appreciate the craft of it. That said, I can understand perfectly why some people may only want to make this a one-time watch.

READ MORE OF JOBLO.COM'S BEST MOVIES OF 2018:

MANDY

A QUIET PLACE

Source: JoBlo.com

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