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story.lead_photo.caption Mary (Amanda Seyfried) is a troubled young wife who seeks the counsel of a burnt-out priest in Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, a late career revelation from one of America’s most interesting writer-directors.

As usual, midyear finds me behind in my movie watching.

I have yet to see A Quiet Place, Hereditary, Annihilation (which taunts me from my iTunes queue every time I fire up the Apple TV), You Were Never Really Here (though I read and reviewed the book and was set to interview Jonathan Ames, the writer, if the film ever opened here) or either of the last two Star Wars movies. I haven't seen Tom of Finland, Borg vs McEnroe, or Tully.

So what I'm offering this week is my blinkered version of what the best films of the year have been so far. By mid-December I'll have seen all the above, and 300 or so other movies. But, as Townes Van Zandt says, that's just the way it goes.

Speaking of Townes, my favorite performance of the year so far is guitar hero Charlie Sexton's portrayal of the arch-songwriter in Ethan Hawke's Blaze, which should show up here sometime in October. (As it's been explained to me, the rollout strategy has it opening first in Austin and some other Texas cities, then moving to Little Rock and a few other markets the next week. Stay tuned for more information.) I knew Sexton was a competent actor, but his portrayal of TVZ is sad and empathetic and startlingly precise.

Blaze is definitely in the top rank of the movies I've seen this year, and not just because it stars Little Rock native Ben Dickey as Arkansas native Blaze Foley. Hawke has made a very strong impressionistic film about the cost that making art extracts from the would-be artist. It will connect with a lot of people but might be too subtle to be anything like a box office hit. It's the sort of unconventional movie we need to encourage.

So is First Reformed, which I saw last weekend and I'm still reeling from. Paul Schrader is equal parts philosopher and theologian as well as one of the original movie brats. And Hawke, who stars in this film as another one of God's lonely men , has matured into a remarkably committed and nuanced actor. There are some echoes of Taxi Driver here, as well as Robert Bresson's 1951 coolly emotive masterpiece The Diary of a Country Priest, and I imagine that I'll be living with it for a long time.

Same goes for The Rider, Chloe Zhao's naturalistic story of a broken man putting his life in order that also evokes Bresson in its use of non-professional actors. I love the deliberate pacing and the painterly, understated cinematography and the way it allows its characters their dignity.

That's the first rank, films I'll remember for years, that barring an unprecedented second half I'll be writing about in my end of the year pieces. I doubt any of them will generate much Oscar buzz, although Sexton and Hawke might have a chance in, respectively, the best supporting actor and best actor categories, but it seems unlikely any of the directors will get a sniff.

And, while I'm alert to the criticisms of appropriation some have leveled against it, I have a tough time seeing Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs as anything other than a charming and heartful film, full of well-observed details driven by clever and inventive stop-motion animation. It might be Anderson's best yet, and I like a lot of them.

I appreciate the popularity of RBG and liked the film well enough (see my review in last Friday's newspaper), but if I was picking my favorite documentary of the year so far, I'd have to go with Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, Alexandra Dean's film about a movie star and how she invented a frequency-hopping radio communication system that's integral to modern weapon systems. I saw it at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival before it showed up on PBS and home video earlier this year. This is an engaging and ultimately infuriating movie about a woman who lived a consequential life yet could never escape the caging assumptions of Hollywood culture.

Armando Iannucci deserves to be called a satirist, and his The Death of Stalin is the funniest movie I've seen this year. I don't know how it will wear -- a lot of dark comedies seem not to age well -- but it's a savvy essay on the authoritarian impulse and our shameful love for tyrants.

I'll add that I liked Black Panther better than almost any other superhero movie, but don't see it as quite the transcendental experience others claim. No matter. I remain highly respectful of Ryan Coogler's talent. He'll make better movies.


MovieStyle on 06/15/2018

Print Headline: So far, so good: The best movies I've seen of 2018

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