Top 10: Films of 2018
2018 marks another astonishing year in cinema! Like we'll probably say every year: it was difficult to whittle down our favorites to a list of only ten. But, as is the end of the year tradition, we've braved through the difficulty and crafted our picks for what we consider to be the most unique and masterful standout films of the past year.
We're a smaller indie blog and don't get the opportunity to see every film, so this is solely based on the 100+ films we were able to see. Also, as the subtleties of taste buds seem to differ from person to person, it's highly unlikely that we'll be in complete agreement, but if you let us know your thoughts in the comments section below, we'd love to have a conversation over the past year's lot of fantastic films.
Without further ado, here's our top picks for 2018:
10: The Favourite
Director Yorgos Lanthimos brought his idiosyncratic flourishes to the period drama, and we ate it up like gluttonous pigs. Slathered in lavish interior, adorned in opulent garb, and streaked with excessive amounts of make up, The Favourite is sharp, biting and infinitely quotable, with dialogue that leaps right off the screen and slaps you in the face. The razor-sharp wit of the writing is brought into joyous reality in the incredible performances of its leads, all of which shine so brightly that it’s extremely difficult to give any one the edge over the others. Completing the whole experience is Yorgos Lanthimos’ fantastic eye and top notch direction, full of camera movement and wide and fish eye lenses, Robbie Ryan’s lush cinematography, and the exquisite art direction from Fiona Crombie, Caroline Barclay and Dominic Roberts. Its twisted antics run a bit long and encroach on repetitiveness, but the experience prevails. There’s a lot to love about this film that’s so cleverly executed, morally loose, and exuberantly full of pet rabbits, duck racing, and breathtaking sets/costumes; it’s everything we could hope for from a 18th century period piece and some.
With writer/director Ari Aster’s debut feature, Hereditary, he cultivates a moody sense of foreboding that ebbs throughout the film like a seasoned veteran. The film is extremely well crafted and thoroughly unnerving, filled with great moments of tension and nightmarish imagery, and its persistent creep and unrelenting squeeze left us feeling completely disturbed. However, Hereditary cannot simply be reduced to a solid horror entry. No, the film serves dually as an effective family drama that explores the destructive power of grief when gripped with a terrible tragedy, as well as a perturbing genre film full of seances, spirits and spooks. The acting is absolutely fantastic, especially Alex Wolff and the incomparable Toni Collette, both of whom deliver powerhouse performances and are deserving of an Oscar nod (at the very least) for their work here.
Roma contains some of the richest, most textured and mesmerizing cinematography all year, as well as some of the most fantastically arresting direction, and natural performances. This is a slice of life story that you lose yourself in. Cuarón has tapped into an emotional plane a la Bergman with a Tarkovskian sensibility and Felliniesque moments. His framing and composition is next level, and structurally, the story creates an interesting cycle, which you’ll catch if you’re paying close attention. Easily Cuarón’s most mature film, and his best since Y Tu Mama Tambien (in our opinion), Roma is subtly affecting and ripe with emotionality, despite being somewhat detached from its characters. Though this is a personal story to Cuarón, it’s as if he’s saying that this could be any housekeeper working for any family during 70s in Mexico City.
Lee Chang-dong’s masterfully erected and quietly affecting Burning, paints in the gaps of Murakami’s haiku-like source material to craft a slow-burn thriller that lingers like the smell of smoke long after the credits roll. Haunting and beautifully cryptic, it uses ambiguity to its advantage, building up to the inevitable while subverting certain expectations, to deliver a climax that gratifies as much as it denies fundamental answers. Very casually, Chang-dong works his way under the skin with masterful precision. He playfully toys with anticipation to create moments of unsettling tension before lighting the match and setting everything ablaze in a moment that neglects complete catharsis in place of something far more resinous. In order to stick the landing, it’s vital for us to feel connected to these characters whose souls are about to be forever changed by their clashing intersection, and they are brilliantly brought to life by Yoo Ah-in, Jeon Jong-seo, and Steven Yeun. Chang-dong, like Murakami, makes the mundane into something magically beautiful and questions the concept of reality. Intriguing in its obscurity, Burning paints an alluring portrait of loneliness, appetite, and desire that remains long after the fire is extinguished.
6: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Just when we thought that superhero films have grown stale, here comes Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse swinging in with its wit, swagger, and groundbreaking animation. We found it absolutely incredible how accurate directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman (and team) had filmically captured the feel of a comic book, complete with panel-by-panel moves, thought bubbles and description boxes, and all. The film is a serious achievement that is nothing short of thoroughly engaging, fun and entertaining, emotionally resonate with heart and oozing with clever banter. The story packs in action, emotion and laughs, while maintaining the most important message of all: “Anyone can wear the mask. You can wear the mask.” We were rendered nearly speechless by this and consider it the new animation high bar, well deserving to be among the ranks of other superhero masterpieces like The Dark Knight and Logan. Whether you’re a diehard comic nerd or just looking for a good time, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has something for everyone and will not disappoint.
With Shoplifters, Japanese writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda is back with another deeply humanistic film that centers around family. This time around he focuses on the notion of what constitutes a family with a sweetly jagged effect, and his aimless, yet confident style wraps the viewer up into the lives of its protagonists’ — a ragtag family unit forced to live on the edge of society — touching on an array of emotions along the journey that all hit home. Its twists and revelations don’t come as a major surprise, but the film is still supremely effective at everything it does. Its success revolves around its array of rich characters, who earn every bit of adoration they receive from the viewer, and the sharpness and poignancy of its script, which smartly chooses to show more often than it tells. Joyful and tragic; the film leaves a bittersweet sting that stuck with us long after it was over. Full of beautiful, naturalistic direction, tight editing (also conducted by Kore-eda), and ripe with spectacular performances, Shoplifters is a subtle powerhouse in an understated package.
4: The Rider
The western genre is not exclusive to Americans or men, and if anything, Chloé Zhao’s fresh outsider perspective on The Rider yielded some wonderful results that quite honestly rendered us stunned. A smart blend of true life (using the actual people involved as its actors) and fiction, The Rider paints a wholly authentic picture of cowboy life that is equal parts heartbreakingly tragic and beautifully inspiring. With influences that include the likes of Terrence Malick, Werner Herzog, and Wong Kar-wai, it should come as no surprise that Zhao sees the poetry beating within the story and gives her subjects the empathy and humanity they deserve. The film also boasts some the year’s most quietly impressive cinematography and spectacular performances from its slew of non-actors, particularly its central lead, Brady Jandreau who is softly electric. Discreetly affecting and absolutely touching, we were moved to tears by the film’s final moments that remind us to never give up on our dreams.
3: You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here is an enigmatic slow burning neo-noir, based off the novella of the same name by Jonathan Ames. More concerned about the man behind the hit than it is the hit itself, Ramsay delivers a wickedly dark character study veiled as an action film that still manages, despite its efforts to deny the gratification typically found in an action thriller, to be a unique, viscerally gripping cinematic experience that will hit you with the blunt force of a ball-pein hammer. Joachim Phoenix delivers one of his best performances to date, and Jonny Greenwood furnishes the film with a sonically interesting blend of harmony and dissonance that perfectly marry Phoenix's character's despair. Ramsay's craft on display here is an absolute tour de force full of brutality and fragility, and its effects lingers long after its over.
With MANDY, writer/director Panos Cosmatos takes everything B movie trash and sacrifices it on the altar in the name of high art as an offering to the midnight movie cinema gods. The result is a blood-soaked Nicolas Cage at full-tilt and a movie-going experience that’s so drenched in LSD that you may catch a contact high. MANDY is one of of those films that is less concerned about story than it is mood and feeling, two things Cosmatos knows intimately to a masterful degree. He paints with a lush palette of vibrant colors and lathers his film in hypnotic undulations of foreboding that eventually explode into all out badassery. He also gave us Cheddar Goblin — the greatest 2018 invention of all. Honestly, watching MANDY is like taking drugs — and you won’t need to be under the influence of anything chemically for the film to have this effect on you, either. It takes about 45 minutes to kick in, but when it finally does, it kicks hard, sending you spiraling into new visual, aural and spiritual dimensions. After the carnage settles, you’re left with a unique experience that every cinema lover ought to subject themselves to; this is one ride that will melt your face off slowly with a blowtorch of pure cinema.
Before we cruise to our #1 pick, here's a few special honorable mentions we’d like to recognize:
Sorry to Bother You
Writer/director (and vocalist of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club) Boots Riley exploded onto the film scene with Sorry to Bother You, an absurdist dark comedy fable with aspects of magical realism and science-fiction. Filled with a great cast and an ambitious script, it was easily one of the most intelligent, inventive and batshit-crazy fun films we saw this past summer, and it’s something that we strongly encourage everyone to check out. Though we couldn’t find room in our top 10 for this special film, we wanted to give it the shoutout it deserves.
Writer/director (and comedian) Bo Burnham has conjured up something special with his film debut, Eighth Grade, a gloriously "Gucci" snapshot of the achingly awkward, cringe-inducing days of early adolescence, a time when bodies are changing and clumsily struggling to find their own way. Wrapped in a very effortless and underplayed package, Eighth Grade is universally relatable, painfully touching, and radiating with love and kindness. Like Sorry to Bother You, we love this film a lot and just couldn’t squeeze it into our top 10, but wanted to give it special recognition.
Here’s a few other films that just missed the cut:
The House That Jack Built
And without further delay, our #1 pick for 2018 is...
1: First Reformed
Everything in Paul Schrader's life has lead him to this moment; all his time spent in the seminary, his adoration (brought on by his brief career in film criticism) for the directors Yasujiro Ozu, Robert Bresson, and Carl Th. Dreyer, as well as his own prolific career as a screenwriter and filmmaker (particularly Taxi Driver and his solitary man films) culminate to a beautiful, albeit ominous head with his stunning modern masterpiece, First Reformed. The film is a thoroughly engrossing slow burn that gives you much to chew on, including its momentous final moments, and it has the potential to quite literally leave you shaken. The story continuously unfolds in unexpected ways and takes you on a darkly thought-provoking trip of hope versus despair. With both Hawke and Schrader at the top of their game, First Reformed is ripe with cinematic perfection. We are so vehemently ecstatic about this film that we believe it’s not just the best film of the year, but one of the best film's of the modern era, which is why it's our number 1 pick.
Did we leave any of your top picks off our list? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!