2018 has been a wild year for film, from wildly entertaining sequels (see Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and Paddington 2) to Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest in dry, yet tragic, humor to a horror film featuring tongue clicking, a nut allergy, and dead pigeons. It has been year for powerful women, both in front of and behind the camera, from the women of Annihilation to Crystal Moselle and her look into the world of women skateboarders. It has been a year to interrogate representations of masculinity, from Joe in You Were Never Really Here to Reverend Toller in First Reformed. It has been a year of terror, love, laughter, and exhaustion, both literally and cinematically. The films of 2018 truly captured the strange and turbulent atmosphere that has thrown us all into a state of near-constant anxiety.
The Much Ado team has relished in this anxiety, seeing many of 2018’s best, and worst films with the help of film festivals such as Cannes, NYFF, and BFI, MoviePass (RIP), and AMC Stubs A-List. After much deliberation, Letterboxd rankings, and last-minute trips to the cinema, we present Much Ado’s top 25 films of the year.
Going into Roma, the new film by Oscar winner Alfonso Cuarón, my expectations were quite high. It wasn’t only because he happened to be my favorite director growing up (and is still my favorite out of the three amigos), but finding out this was his comeback to México made me ecstatic. Call it Mexican pride, but I’ve always preferred the works he made here over his mainstream American ones. I’m afraid my anticipation might have clouded my judgement when I first watched the film, as coming out of the theater, my first instinct was to praise it for its technical achievements. But, there was this uneasiness that I just couldn’t shake, which only grew stronger as the days passed.
If you notice one thing about Roma, it will likely be its size. It’s a big, big, big movie, with landscapes that extend out into infinity, scenes that seem to last forever, and emotions so wide and deep they could swallow you whole like a well. It makes sweeping political commentary, shows births and deaths and poverty and heartbreak, focuses on the vastness of the ocean and the sky. Its camera likes to slowly sweep left and right, constantly looking outward and upward.
Through all this big-screen grandeur, it would be so easy for Roma to drown itself in itself—and in less skilled hands, it may have done just that. But with Alfonso Cuarón at the helm, creating the most personal work of his entire career, Roma is as sharply focused and intimate as it is grand, and it never for an instant loses sight of the woman at its center.
That woman is Cleo (played by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), a young, indigenous Mexican maid to an upper-middle-class family living in Mexico City in 1970, a time of state-sponsored violence against political dissidents. Cleo is thoughtful and deliberate, always tending to the needs of her employers, Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and their four children. But she is also keenly aware of her own needs and limitations, even as the line between work and life becomes more and more blurred.
Language creates an almost helpful boundary—Cleo speaks Spanish in Sofia’s home, but slips back into her native Mixtec with her friends and fellow maid Adela (Nancy García) in their little apartment above the garage. She and Adela find joy in each other’s company and do all the sorts of things young women do together—race through the city streets to get lunch, go to movies with their boyfriends, and exercise and gossip by candlelight every night so as not to waste electricity and disturb Sofia’s mother, Teresa (Verónica García). Even when surrounded by sequences of high drama, these small scenes of tender normalcy are some of the film’s most mesmerizing. Continue reading “NYFF ’18 Review: Even When Personal to a Fault, ‘Roma’ is Cuarón’s Masterpiece—and the Best Movie of the Year”→