Roma (2018) dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón)
Best Actress (Yalitza Aparicio)
Best Supporting Actress (Marina de Tavira)
Best Original Screenplay (Alfonso Cuarón)
Best Cinematography (Alfonso Cuarón)
Best Foreign-Language Film (Mexico)
Best Sound Mixing (Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan and Jose Antonio Garcia)
Best Sound Editing (Sergio Diaz and Skip Lievsay)
Best Production Design (Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez)
Cuarón’s vision of 1970s Mexico speaks to moments of the human condition with such devastation and simplicity that one is left rendered speechless by the time the credits roll. In the Roma district of Mexico, we watch Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and her occupation as a maid to a middle-class family (Marina de Tavira as matriarch) gradually and forcefully evolve into an endoscopic narrative of human interaction, loss, and displacement.
Historicized within the Corpus Christi Massacre (El Halconazo) of 1971, Roma expands an existing cultural image of a historical moment that, in turn, grants focus to the individual, placing identity and isolated moments of experience to the forefront of trauma and devastation: a perspective that rings with vitality in the faceless presentations of mass trauma serialised in the media. Its spaces are flooded with white heat and nostalgia for Mexican summer and unmediated expression, synchronising to voice Cleo’s experience and her personal orientation of trauma and devastation before we as audience become conscious of it ourselves.
Cuarón writes “When setting up Roma, I wasn’t concerned about narrative, I was concerned about memory…I was concerned about spaces, textures, and trusting that all of that together would interweave a narrative by itself…a cinematic narrative.” Collective, historical memory is redefined. Cleo becomes the vehicle by which Cuarón unravels ideas of the human condition, and we feel so deeply every second we are beside him.
metacritic score: 96
wasteland rating: 5/5
winner of Best Picture
winner of Best Director (Alfonso Cuarón)
winner of Best Actress (Yalitza Aparicio)
winner of Best Foreign Language Film (Mexico)
winner of Best Cinematography (Alfonso Cuarón)
BlackKklansman (2018) dir. Spike Lee
Best Director (Spike Lee)
Best Supporting Actor (Adam Driver)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee)
Best Original Score (Terence Blanchard)
Best Film Editing (Barry Alexander Brown)
The entertaining, partially biographical universe of BlackKklansman is formulaically comparable to the tale of a superhero. John David Washington plays protagonist/cop Ron Stallworth and the narrative revolves around his performative white identity and infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan, in which he imitates a white national socialist with the help of fellow officer Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver (nominated for Best Supporting Actor).
A lot of the BlackKklansman’s cultural gravitas does not rely on the violent crime-comedy aesthetic, of which the film presents in excess, but on the withstanding radicalism of being a black police officer in a time of police brutality. Watching in the context of movements such as Black Lives Matter, BlackKklansman expands the parameters of what we understand as the ‘historical film’, for its thematisation of race self-consciously and deliberately addresses the present with more vivacity than a comparison between two different epochs. We don’t draw a line between the history of then and now, we see moments as continued, repeated, speaking the same cultural language.
Spike Lee succeeds in transforming what feels like a graphic novel to the screen, and we are thoroughly entertained as we begin to unpack what is often presented to us as distant history in its memorialised representations, of the civil rights movement, the KKK, police brutality and systemic racism, reconsidered as contemporary realism.
metacritic score: 83
wasteland rating: 3.5/5
winner of Best Adapted Screenplay
Cold War (2018) dir. Pawel Pawlikowski
Best Director (Pawel Pawlikowski )
Best Cinematography (Lukasz Zal)
Best Foreign-Language Film (Poland)
Pawel Pawlikowski fits a surplus of entertainment in the timeline of Cold War. Its rapidity is so sophisticated and endearing that we only notice how nuanced each frame is when it’s too late and we’re already absorbed in the next faultless moment.
There is a simultaneous amount of intensity and softness within its mastery, and this spreads into the romance narrative and its comedy. The dialogue feels stripped back, with every word bound exclusively to absolute truth and expression. We skip the trivialities with a wariness that we are missing them. Each moment feels meticulously planned yet also spontaneously, wildly authentic in equal measure.
metacritic rating: 90
wasteland rating: 4.5/5
The Favourite (2018) dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
Best Director (Yorgos Lanthimos)
Best Actress (Olivia Colman)
Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz)
Best Original Screenplay (Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara)
Best Costume Design (Sandy Powell)
Best Cinematography (Robbie Ryan)
Best Film Editing (Yorgos Mavropsaridis)
Guided by his (potentially too literal) playfulness with camera work, we view Yorgos Lanthimos’ construction of The Favourite, and everything it contains, with a clinical distance. Sobered of conventional character-audience empathy and intimacy, we find ourselves equipped to embrace the surrealism and demanded to reconfigure our relation as spectator with character and content. What is otherwise a narrative of sexual and power competitiveness between Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, winning the affections of the superb Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, becomes exponentially chaotic and disorderly at a pace that is both acclaimed and expected from Lanthimos’ films.
Lanthimos boasts his obscured, theatrical universe, our vision distorted by a fish-eye lens and very stylised mise en scène, and construes how we expect aristocracy and monarchy to be captured. We experience a disconnect between our expectations of a period film and Lanthimos’ reality, between convention and action and between camera and audience. We are, in watching, given the role of observer, to a comic exhibition of the eccentricity of people, or at least how Lanthimos imagines them.
metacritic score: 90
wasteland rating: 3.5/5
winner of Best Original Screenplay
winner of Best Costume Design
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) dir. Barry Jenkins
Best Supporting Actress (Regina King)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Barry Jenkins)
Best Original Score (Nicholas Britell)
The fiction of essayist and novelist James Baldwin translated into cinema would never be anything short of exceptional. Whilst so much of If Beale Street Could Talk’s excellence is indebted to its actors (Best Supporting Actress nominee Regina King as one notable exemplar), what succeeds in the novel-turned-film is its inexorable power in amplification. Barry Jenkins holds a camera and a microphone to one of the loudest voices of twentieth-century literature, and Baldwin’s vision is only strengthened as it harmonises with Jenkins’ ingenuity.
metacritic score: 87
wasteland rating: 4.5/5
winner of Best Supporting Actress (Regina King)
A Star is Born (2018) dir. Bradley Cooper
Best Actress (Lady Gaga)
Best Actor (Bradley Cooper)
Best Supporting Actor (Sam Elliott)
Best Adapted Screenplay (Eric Roth, Will Fetters & Bradley Cooper)
Best Cinematography (Matty Libatique)
Best Original Song (“Shallow” Music and Lyric by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt)
Best Sound Mixing (Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder and Steve Morrow)
Bradley Cooper’s modern addition to the remake-trilogy of A Star Is Born attempts to reimagine the same pop-culture, Hollywood infected version of what is essentially a rags-to-riches narrative, and a love story between artists Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) and Ally Campana (Lady Gaga). Although its aesthetic is often glorious with its de-chained exploration of nightlife in early scenes and of the expansive Arizona desert, A Star Is Born does somehow fall short.
It has been criticised for its undeniable tone of music elitism, a tone so all-consuming that we are supposed to identify career differences as a major cause of the issues between country rocker Jackson Maine and popstar-in-the-making Ally. It seems that popstar Ally cannot succeed without her personal life falling into disarray, and that she can only spiritually connect with her more alternative partner Jackson once her career comes to a halt. It’s unclear whether or not we are supposed to believe that Ally is fated to a downward spiral the more she conquers the mainstream music industry, but it seems implied.
Maybe there are some problematic ideas of gendered success to unpack here, directorial perspectives as well as protagonistic. But because A Star Is Born is ultimately devoted to showcasing the powerhouse of talent that is Lady Gaga, it can be pardoned, and if not pardoned then overlooked, even if only to allow more time spent celebrating the unrelenting musical and acting talent of Gaga. This film should be viewed as a celebration of Gaga, her extremely successful film debut through which she effectively manoeuvres a rather uninspired plot and carries much, if not all, the excellence of the film.
metacritic rating: 88
wasteland rating: 4/5
winner of Best Original Song for “Shallow”