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The 10 Best Films of the 2018 Berlin Film Festival

Critics Guy Lodge, Jay Weissberg and Jessica Kiang selected some of their favorite films of the 2018 Berlin Film Festival, including titles from Wes Anderson, Alonso Ruizpalacios and Julien Faraut.

Isle of Dogs

After the non-events of “Nobody Wants the Night” and “Django” in the last two years, Berlin’s opening-night slot needed a shot in the arm. Luckily, Wes Anderson was on hand to deliver the best Berlinale opener since, well, his own “The Grand Budapest Hotel” in 2014. Independent cinema’s reigning king of quirk returns to the stop-motion territory of “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” but to weirder and more beguiling effect this time. A gorgeously rendered man’s-best-friend adventure mixed in with intricate Japanophilia and a low-key liberal message, it was a welcome shot of inspired silliness in a festival otherwise short on laughs. – GL

“Transit”

In a low-key Competition lineup short on major auteur names, Germany’s Christian Petzold was marked early on as one of its star attractions — and he lived up to it, though not without throwing many critics for a loop along the way. Revisiting the themes of WWII trauma and identity confusion that dominated his previous film “Phoenix,” Petzold’s has made a devastating companion piece with a daring twist: “Transit” is a Holocaust drama in modern dress, the disconnect between its historical context and contemporary appearance open to chilling interpretation about the rise of far-right politics today. – GL

“Shock Waves: Diary of My Mind”

Made for Swiss TV and clocking in at 70 minutes, Ursula Meier’s fact-inspired chamber piece may be a modest affair, but it packs as bruising a punch as any film in this year’s Berlinale. A student-teacher drama for which I can’t think of any remote precedent, this story of an enterprising French literature teacher forced to reexamine her teaching methods and responsibilities when one of her students commits double patricide — and chooses to make her his confessor — it’s a moral drama of remarkable restraint and gravity, brilliantly performed by Fanny Ardant and Kacey Mottet Klein. – GL

 “The Heiresses”

Favored to win major awards at the 2018 Berlinale and with good reason, this impressive debut feature from Paraguayan writer-director Marcelo Martinessi is a nuanced character study of two middle-aged lesbians trying to keep their status among the traditional elite despite major financial problems. A subtle screenplay combined with terrific performances make this prime example of Latin American art house cinema a likely pick-up in international markets. -JW

“Sunday’s Illness”

There was no buzz on this title coming into Berlin, but there’ll be plenty coming out. Ramón Salazar’s exquisitely elegant mother-daughter tale takes a potentially melodramatic story about a fortysomething woman finding the mother who abandoned her as a child and turns it into a moving exploration of expectation, anger and release. Plus it has the best on-screen wardrobe in recent memory. – JW

“Central Airport THF”

There are plenty of documentaries about the refugee crisis, which is a necessary thing, yet few will match the way Karim Aïnouz manages to combine a refined eye for architectural spaces with a humane understanding that empathy comes not from large numbers but from individual stories. Filming inside and out of the refugee center in Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, the director captures the longing for stability among a few people trying to build new lives but unable to forget their old ones. – JW

 “Museum”

Alonso Ruizpalacios’ sophomore film “Museum” is a breathlessly entertaining, but also supremely stylish, cine-literate and touching romp inspired by the true story of a 1985 robbery at Mexico’s National Museum of  Anthropology. Gael García Bernal gives a lovely, wry performance as the hapless but oddly principled robber, but he really should share top billing with cinematographer Damián García and composer Tomás Barreiro. Their inventive, surprising contributions to this heartfelt tale of hubris and history are so spectacular you almost don’t notice how much you’re learning about ethics in the museum trade, and the dangers of angering ancient Mayan deities in your misbegotten bid to earn your distant Dad’s respect. – JK

“Styx”

Like the small sailboat on which it is set, Wolfgang Fischer’s extraordinarily gripping account of a one-woman solo voyage across the Atlantic that is suddenly interrupted when she comes across a sinking trawler overloaded with refugees, is brisk, efficient and thrillingly dynamic. Setting up a provocative and impossible moral quandary amid fathomless blue waters and infinite horizons, the lean narrative is further sculpted by Susanne Wolff’s exceptional, physical performance, radiating capability and expertise, but also the ethical agony of a doctor unable to help those in need. The allegory in relation to Western inaction over the crisis is pointed, but the visceral elegance of the filmmaking spares us any didacticism, instead delivering the lesson straight into the veins. – JK

“In The Realm Of Perfection”

If a documentary about tennis legend John McEnroe sounds like it might be for aficionados only, rest assured, Julien Faraut’s awestruck, elegantly offbeat film is not anything like a traditional biodoc. Instead, he uses Mathieu Amalric’s voiceover and a wealth of stunningly filmic 16mm footage of the 1984 Roland Garros tournament to tease away at ideas of performance, drama and image, as embodied by McEnroe and as recorded by obsessive director Gil de Kermadec. The result is a fascinating and immensely fertile melange of sporting documentary, philosophical investigation, psychological profile and rampant cinephilia, that finds an undiscovered space at the nexus of sport and moviemaking, and proceeds to dominate the court. – JK

“Infinite Football”

The hangdog humor of Romanian New Wave helmer Corneliu Porumboiu finds a perfectly droll subject in Laurentiu Ginghină, an old acquaintance who lives in Porumboiu’s hometown, works as a mid-level civil servant in its byzantine civic bureaucracy, and who dreams of ripping apart and remaking the sport of soccer. Political parallels abound, given the country’s troubled history with authoritarianism, dissidence, rule-breaking and revolution, but somehow the less realistic Ginghină’s pipe dreams of octagonal pitches, multiple new play zones and a game that makes the ball and not the player its star, the more profound and necessary becomes the act of dreaming. – JK

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