It’s that time of year again. The 2018 Film Season is officially wrapping up with the Oscars this weekend and I continue the trend of being the last person to post their best films of the year. The space between early December and now allowed me to see many more movies, reflect on my feelings on some and remove myself from any of the online narratives circulating. Yes, I’ve had to tiptoe around Oscar talk for the last many weeks, but that is easier to avoid influencing my thoughts and feelings on the majority of the films I saw from 2018.
2018 as a whole I thought was a pretty great year for film. There are a lot of films on this list that I think will only grow in appreciation on further viewings and I think my Top 10/20 is about as diverse a group of films as its been in sometime. There is a little something for everyone! I think, looking back in a few years, 2018 is going to stand right along any of the best years of this decade.
So, without further ado, let’s get to some awards and then The List!
Best Score: First Man by Justin Hurwitz
This film might be the most underrated movie of the year and it’s score is what elevated this movie to such heights for me. Whether it is a beautiful space waltz or an intense landing sequence, Hurwitz fills the soundtrack with not only the perfect music, but it’s essential in taking the film to where director Damien Chazelle wants us to go. Theremin for life!
Honorable Mentions: Black Panther – Ludwig Goransson, The Old Man & The Gun – Daniel Hart, Alexandre Desplat – Isle of Dogs & The Sisters Brothers, Paddington 2 – Dario Marianelli, Suspiria – Thom Yorke, You Were Never Really Here – Jonny Greenwood, Mission: Impossible – Fallout – Lorne Balfe, If Beale Street Could Talk – Nicholas Britell, Incredibles 2 – Michael Giacchino
Best Scene – Buying A Crib – Roma
So this is more like three scenes, but the chain of events that unfolds as Cleo, Teresa and Ignacio go out to buy her a crib for her child, oh man. This is the moment that the film coalesces and you realize all of the very skilful work Alfonso Cuarón has been doing, story wise, paired right along some of his best filmmaking in the whole film. It really is remarkable, intense, stuff and Yalitza Aparicio is just incredible in this sequence of events. This is where Roma feels most epic and is the high point of the film, and the year, in filmmaking for me.
Honorable Mentions: Free Soloing El Cap – Free Solo, Nightmare Bear and Alien Dance – Annihilation, The Landing – First Man, Butt Chug – Blockers, Deadly Dance and Finale – Suspiria, Basketball Court – Widows, The Escape Montage – The Old Man & The Gun, The Dance – Burning, Single Take Myers Is Back – Halloween, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs & Defending The Natives Charge – The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Standoff/Shootout – Hold the Dark, Any Montage – Paddington 2, Paris – Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Nice Off – Sorry to Bother You, Finale – Hereditary
Best Film (If Only The First Hour Counted) – A Star Is Born
I think I cried, like, 4 times in the first hour of A Star Is Born? The film is so affecting and the courtship of Jackson Maine and Ally is just so damn irresistible, you are fully on board with them and their journey, and then The Shallows happens and launches this film into the stratosphere. The come down is a shame, but I suggest you just go back and watch Bradley Cooper reacting to Ally as she gets her moment, warms my little heart and gives me the chills almost every time.
Most Underrated – Pacific Rim: Uprising
Here is a sequel to a film that when announced I was very much, huh, on. No Del Toro, who’s imagery was the standout of the first film, even if it was a narrative/character mess. But more Kaiju/Jaegers action could be fun. And when you sit down and watch John Boyega and Cailee Spaeny driving this silly, but knowing, riff on Top Gun with kids and giant monsters, it’s a lot of fun. The action is also pretty damn good to, bringing the fighting into sunlight and making things a lot clearer for the viewer. I don’t know, I dug it, and I think it got short shrifted for being exactly what it wanted to be. Justice for Mako Mori!
Some Movies I Really Wanted To See, But Haven’t:
Zama, Destroyer, Border, The Little Stranger, He Won’t Get Far On Foot, Mary Queen of Scots, Upgrade, Possum, Boy Erased, Love, Simon, We Are The Animals, Shirkers, Three Identical Strangers, Never Goin Back, Beirut, The House With A Clock In The Wall
To The List:
The Also Rans: (All Movies Worth Your Time And Discussion)
Blindspotting, Revenge, BlacKkKlansman, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Apostle, Lean on Pete, The Kindergarten Teacher, A Simple Favor, They Shall Not Grow Old, The Price of Everything, Creed II, Bodied, Cold War, The Rider, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, Skate Kitchen, Mortal Engines, Vice
This first attempt at a post Zack Snyder DC (which I liked!) was so big, silly and fun that I couldn’t help but enjoy the hell out of it. Jason Momoa is just having a blast. Nicole Kidman beats the crap out of dudes. Willem Dafoe rides sea creatures. Patrick Wilson is the Ocean Master! I mean, what’s not to love? James Wan also directs the hell out of this, crafting insane sci-fi imagery with the help of some amazing VFX work by everyone involved. Did I mention Aquaman rides a Kraken into the midst of a giant battle not scene since the days of Return of the King? See it, bad exposition dialogue and all.
A Star Is Born
I mentioned above my love for the first hour of the film, it truly is incredible, but the titular Star gets lost in the back half of the film as things focus much more on Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine. This isn’t bad, it’s just a whole other animal to wrangle with after watching this great romantic comedy for the first half of the film. There is less music, less joy, and I have to wonder if sticking with being a remake and not something new didn’t sink this movie’s greatness. That said, Cooper is AMAZING in this movie and the high drama he gets to play and Gaga is pretty great too, I just wish she didn’t get lost in the back half.
This buddy comedy knows exactly what it wants to be and executes it about as well as it can on a budget that might not quite support a movie with a completely CGI protagonist. Tom Hardy is so, so, so committed to this character, I could watch him for hours as either Eddie or Venom; preferably arguing with one another. The film is full of genuine comedic bits and is a blast any time we are with Hardy or Michelle Williams. Riz Ahmed is fun too as the over the top villain, I just wish the action would have been up to snuff. I can’t wait for the sequel!
This Jennifer Lawrence Russian sex spy drama sort of came and went, but Francis Lawrence put together a great little spy movie with enough twists & turns to keep you on your toes till the end. Plus, his cast is great, with Jeremy Irons, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Ciarán Hinds all supporting Lawrence doing something different and being great doing it, as usual. Don’t sleep on this one people, any fans of Lawrence or the spy genre should seek it out.
Grandpa. Ethan. Hawke. Need I say more? Yes? What’s wrong with you? This romantic comedy is a great little movie that would be hailed as a return to form for the genre had it premiered on Netflix instead of scraping by in theaters. Rose Byrne is perfect, as always, Chris O’Dowd plays the jealous guy wonderfully and Ethan Hawke plays a reclusive rock star grandpa! What more do you want! A lovely film.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Yes, I am a Star Wars fan. Yes, I like Solo. This shouldn’t be surprising. But with all the drama around this film I was happy to see the final product shook out as a great set up to a whole potential series of films set up in the Star Wars criminal underworld between Jedi and Force Awakens. The casting here is fantastic, I love the banter between everyone involved, the set pieces are fun and look great, and by the end the pieces moving forward were incredibly exciting to me. It’s a shame we might not get more of this side of Star Wars, it could have been something and explored some new corners of the galaxy we’ve barely touched on. Release the Lord and Miller cut!
This dramedy around the struggle of fertility issues and having children at an elevated age pulls no punches while finding heart and laughs along the way. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn are fantastic for Tamara Jenkins, full of depth and complexity as they navigate this expensive and soul crushing world of fertility and adoption. I might be underrating this one even, the film is so honest and real, writing about it makes me want to fire it up on Netflix again. More movies from Jenkins, please.
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
This documentary is a trip into a community that lets you just be a fly on the wall of the life of an African American in the American South and it is a mesmerizing experience. Filmed by RaMell Ross in Alabama, he captures so much of the vibe and spirit of the titular Hale County and the people in it, the stories that exist there and the day-to-day nature of these communities you rarely see in media. The filmmaking is also quite impressive at times, accompanying flashes of brilliance in the moments captured of the film’s subjects. Seek it out.
This is probably the best standalone movie in the MCU, but it’s not the best MCU movie; follow? No. Well… What I am saying is, the superhero elements were the weakest part of this movie (mostly just the opening and closing set pieces) and I would have gladly watched this same story told without it. But, because it is an MCU movie, I find its shortcomings on that front holding it back a bit. Still, the cast is amazing, Michael B Jordan, Letitia Wright, Andy Serkis and Danai Gurira in particular, the car chase is legit awesome, and I can’t wait to see what Ryan Coogler does with a blank check on the sequel. Wakanda Forever!
If Beale Street Could Talk
I don’t know if I was prepared for the tone of Barry Jenkins’ follow up to Moonlight. It is a beautifully told love story, with a matter of fact world view constantly trying to poison this elevated romance. Still, Jenkins’ goal of showing black love in a way that a film never really has had a chance to before succeeds wonderfully and the ensemble here is just wonderful across the board. Jenkins falls short of Moonlights excellence here, most films do, but I look forward to revisiting this knowing the vibe of the film going in. I never really got settled in till it was almost too late to fully appreciate what was put in front of me. Also, Colman Domingo should have been getting the most awards buzz out of this movie, and maybe should have won a few.
Natalie Portman owns this movie and she doesn’t even appear for half way through it. Big, brash and on the nose, Brady Corbet’s look at fame and a pop singers rise keeps its focus on the subject at hand through out, shining a light back at society for putting these people through some much BS after we elevate them out of things as awful as tragedy. In your face and not subtle, this one will rub some people the wrong way, but if you get on its wavelength there is a lot to enjoy. Also, Jude Law is amazing in this as well, while Raffey Cassidy continues to be on the verge of greatness after only three or four major roles. Get her in a movie everyone sees, or, go see the ones she is in!
Hold the Dark
Jeremy Saulnier’s fourth feature is a dark and cold crime thriller that intrigues and enraptured as it moves towards a confounding conclusion. Sounds great, right! Well it is, as you get to wallow in the misery of everyone involved, plus you get a James Badge Dale cop thriller thrown into the mix about half way through. Mysterious and unnerving, everyone is excellent here in this moody piece, but for people looking for the edge of your seat fun of Saulnier’s last two films might be disappointed. Still, come for the cast, get caught up in the mystery and contemplate the darkness around one of the best shootouts in cinema history sitting in the middle of this film.
I laughed a lot at Blockers, especially it’s three female leads (Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan and Gideon Adlon) and John Cena. The story of three girls who make a lose your virginity pact on prom night might focus a bit too much on the parents, but I won’t complain because that means we just got more Cena being fantastic. The heart of this film also worked wonders on me, as the relationships felt rather authentic and the drama these kids and adults are dealing with are things we should all be more open about when we are a parent or child. Above all of that, I laughed a lot, and we need more comedies like this coming out every year.
This movie will mess you up. The first two-thirds are mostly a straightforward family drama from hell, where mental illness and tragedy effect everything that is tearing these people apart; then it turns. THe final third is full of unsettling imagery, fucked up happenings and a finale that will knock your socks off. Ari Aster announces himself as a director to watch with this debut as he fills the frame with countless moments that will sear into your brain. Toni Collette is amazing and everything that happens around her character in the final minutes stand up as some of the best filmmaking and acting of the year.
Bad Times At The El Royale
Drew Goddard’s pulpy 90’s throwback feels so fresh and original in today’s studio landscape, you can’t help but get wrapped up with these characters and the weirdness that starts to unfold at the hotel. A stacked cast where a veteran (Jeff Bridges) and a newcomer (Cynthia Erivo) both steal the show as they play off one another, Goddard’s script is playful, while his filmmaking elevates everything we see on the screen. A second viewing of this could send this even higher up for me, as I was caught looking for a twist that wasn’t there thanks to a couple veiled tweets. Oh well, just know, Goddard is the real deal and it better not take this long to get another movie from him again.
David Gordon Green’s reboot of the Halloween franchise, erasing all the films but the original from the cannon for this entry, barely bests the original. Taught, fun, funny and full of suspense, Green gets back to basics and elevates the franchises original formula to a modern audience. Green and Danny McBride’s script is smart at every turn, respecting the original without bending over backwards to repeat and homage everything in it. The cast is also excellent, with Jamie Lee Curtis’ damaged Lori returning to be a great take on the trajectory of the victim of some babysitter murders. Andi Matichak also represents a great new face for the franchise going forward and I am excited to see what they do with the inevitable sequel, even if I think they should just stop while they are ahead with this pitch perfect extension of the story.
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s look at “family” and what that means is a heart warming and heart wrenching tale as this group of disparate individuals support and lift each other up as they take a new face into the fold. Gentle and deliberate, Kore-eda’s film slowly reveals it might be more than it seems, all the while everyone in the film is giving honest and mesmerizing work along the way. Sakura Andô should be in the Best Actress/Supporting Actress conversation, but regardless she gave one of my favorite performances of the year as the matriarch of this family. Shoplifters has gotten some attention stateside, but you should still put this underseen gem on your watchlist.
Another film I wish I got to see again, the tone and wavelength of this film is so specific, it might take you a minute to get on board. But when those credits roll, you immediately know you just saw something special and that you want to watch it again. Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke are both fantastic in the leads, hilariously bouncing off Anton Yelchin in one of his final performances. Cooke and Joy, you could just sit there and watch the two go back and forth all day, especially if Paul Sparks came in and interrupted them every 25 minutes or so. I surprising and twisted dark comedy, this one deserves a bigger audience than it got. Director Cory Finley is going places.
Lee Chang-dong’s mystery? film is a three hander, as we first meet Jong-su and Hae-mi (Yoo Ah-in and Jeon Jong-seo, respectively, are great), old classmates that reconnect, before Ben shows up in the middle of this love triangle. Ben is wealthy and exotic, Jong-su is penniless and boring, while Hae-mi is aloof and all over the place. Jumping between Paju and Jong-su’s home on the South Korean side of the DMZ, we don’t really know what to make of this trio as we get to know them, until we do. Or do we? Everything swirls around Ben, the excellent Steven Yeun, and Jong-su’s jealousy and untrustingness around him, before it begins to boil over. A mesmerizing movie and another foreign film you should check out if you haven’t.
Paul Dano’s directorial debut, with a screenplay by himself and partner Zoe Kazan, is a look at life of a family that’s a bit down on their luck, moving multiple times in only a few years, through the eyes of a teenager who is on the verge of entering adulthood. Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal star as the parents, with Ed Oxenbould staring as the teenager, and they all turn in fine performances, but Mulligan is on another level. She has never been better if you ask me, painting a portrait of a woman struggling with who she HAD to be and who she WANTS to be, especially as her marriage crumbles and her husband struggles with his own existential life crisis. In the middle of it all we have Oxenbould, who doesn’t know how to handle his evolving mother while his father is away, and gets steam rolled by a potential new man in his mother’s life played by a great Bill Camp. The story is pretty straight forward, but Dano crafts a beautiful and affecting film regardless, but Mulligan is the big reason to check this out; top-notch stuff.
The Top 20:
20. Minding The Gap
A great year for documentaries and skateboarding movies, this one combines the two to tell a story about abuse and the domino effect it has on the men that this film focuses on. Directed by Bing Liu, he starts off by following a couple of local Rockford, IL skaters and their rise in the local skateboarding scene, before getting to know more about them and realizing abuse in their childhoods might have driven them to the world of skateboarding. This connection pulls Liu into the narrative too, as his own past might fall right along with his subjects. Full of great archival skate footage and bracing interviews with these subjects, Minding the Gap is a surprising look at youth and its effect on one’s future.
19. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
The Coen Brothers made a new movie, of course it’s going to be on this list, but the anthology film stands along their stellar filmography. All the shorts in this collection focus on death in varying levels of entertaining capacities. From the absurdist fun of the titular tale to the grim realities of “Meal Ticket”, the film has a bit of something for everyone; well, everyone who loves the Coen brothers. The Gal Who Got Rattled, the film’s fifth entry, was my personal favorite, and it really allowed the Coen’s to show off everything they are great at, where most of the other films feel more focused on one idea. Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck and Grainger Hines are all excellent in this segment, the longest and most encompassing of the six stories, it has romance, comedy, action and tragedy. The Coens continue to be some of our absolute top-notch filmmakers, with Scruggs being another feather in a very crowded cap.
18. First Reformed
Paul Schrader’s look at religion and climate change will rattle you to your core, yet a film filled with so much despair and matter of factness about our planet’s future there is still some hope in the end. For me at least. How you view the ending will be open to interpretation, but what is not is Ethan Hawke’s’ excellence in the film’s lead as Reverend Toller. Hawke gives the performance of the year, as we watch Toller grapple with his faith, which he barely has a grasp on before becoming radicalized for the climate movement, and navigates building a relationship with someone again after losing all of the ones he cared about beforehand. An exacting and beautifully crafted film, Schrader proves he’s still a filmmaker to watch, as Hawke will probably see this film as the one people point to as the high point in his long career.
Steve McQueen’s social commentary/heist film felt a little lacking, missing that something-something on my first watch, but on a revisit I had no quibbles whatsoever. I’ve never liked Viola Davis a lot, but I get the hype here. Elizabeth Debicki is great as she show vulnerability and strength all at once. Michelle Williams also excels, delivering one of my favorite performances from her. Cynthia Erivo also kills it in her second big film role of the year, and second film on my list. Colin Farrell continues to be great, and so does Brian Tyree Henry, but Daniel Kaluuya steals the show. He’s so effortlessly evil and terrifying in this film, but you can’t help but have fun watching him all the same. He’s mesmerizing. He should be winning an Oscar for this movie, but, alas. Widows is McQueen’s most entertaining film, but possibly my least favorites, showing how strong his filmography is. You probably skipped this one, everyone did, correct that mistake.
16. Incredibles 2
Incredibles 2 is great, perfect even, but it is also living up to the greatness of the original Incredibles and somehow I feel like it is not the best movie of the year even though I wouldn’t change a thing. Well, maybe the fact that it feels like such a natural part 2 is part of the problem? They feel like one whole movie, quite intentionally, and the film maybe doesn’t stand out because of that? I don’t know. Holly Hunter is perfect. I love the fight with all the new Supers. Jack Jack is joy. I love the design and execution of the screen slaver. I might watch this movie the most out of any of the films on this list going forward, and will probably regret having it so low on this list. Oh well.
15. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
The best Mission: Impossible film? Probably. It’s this or Rogue Nation, but the non-stop bombardment of action really might put Fallout over the top. Tom Cruise has never had more to do, and he does it well. The supporting cast continues to be great and adds the great Vanessa Kirby to the mix. Everything in Paris is next level fantastic. The helicopter stunt work is INSANE. The film still has plenty of levity, we care about everyone, there are actual stakes in play here. The way they bring back Lane works perfectly and Henry Cavill is a fucking beast. This movie is pretty, pretty good. Also, probably should be higher.
Luca Guadagnino has become one of my favorite filmmakers and his reimagining of Suspiria is a mesmerizing experience. It’s no secret that this is a film about witches, but the horror surrounding them falls in between the cracks surrounding a look at the fractured state of femininity and the power that a woman possess over themselves and others. Tilda Swinton’s multiple roles allow the film to be populated entirely by women, even if one of the lead characters is a male, but Dakota Johnson really gets to stand out as Susie. Susie is strong, powerful and in constant control, but only at the end of the film does her strength come into focus. The end of the film is also one of the most insane things I’ve ever seen in a movie. Bring a raincoat for the bloodbath.
13. Sorry To Bother You
Boots Riley’s anti-capitalist comedy cuts so hard at our society, while also still making you laugh at the absurdity throughout the film’s entire runtime. Lakeith Stanfield finally gets to spread his wings in a lead role, and he soars. Armie Hammer is insane as a brilliant parody and take down of tech bro millionaires. Jermaine Fowler comes in and steals every scene he’s in. David Cross’ white voice is hilarious. Tessa Thompson also gets a meaty part as “the girlfriend” of Stanfield, but it’s so more than that, as she has her own side hustle all the same and is an important piece of the anti-capitalist message. Did I mention this movie is anti-capitalist? Also, best third act twist, ever? Ok, maybe not, but craziest third act twist? Possibly. Sorry To Bother You, don’t miss the best comedy of the year.
12. Madeline’s Madeline
This indie gem will be remembered as the movie that gave us Helena Howard, but Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline is a great film in its own right. Tackling the pitfalls of art, mental illness, parenting and what happens if you mash them all together in an experimental mess. Howard is mesmerizing, you can’t look away from her, while Decker crafts a film that just feels like we are looking into a world we shouldn’t be seeing. It’s nothing nefarious, but the look at the theater troupe at the center of the film feels like we are invading on their private space. Miranda July is nearly as great as Howard in the film, as her mother, while Molly Parker infuriates as the manipulative and conniving theater director. Madeline’s Madeline is as unique a film as you will find on this list, and possibly the least scene as well, let’s change that!
11. First Man
I know it is getting a bit redundant, but this is another film that could have jumped up higher had I seen it agin. First Man is a visceral trip through the Apollo missions, leading up to the moon landing of Apollo 11, and Damien Chazelle’s direction has never been better. The set pieces in this film are unreal, but they are brought to life so effectively you feel like you are right along with the astronauts as they defy all of the odds and physics of known reality. Ryan Gosling’s reserved performance as Neil Armstrong might come across as minor, but a charisma bomb like Gosling to hold this all in should be better appreciated. We believe the drive and determination of this man to just plow through as he runs away facing any of the tragedy in his life. Chazelle’s direction, Gosling’s performance and Hurwitz’s score meld into this awe-inspiring spectacle that everyone took for granted this year. SEE THIS FILM! Probably should be higher…
10. The Old Man & The Gun
This crime movie from David Lowery is the most gentle film of the year and I couldn’t be happier. Supposedly a send off for Robert Redford, you couldn’t ask for a better vehicle. Low stakes and next to no tension, the film roles along with charm and smiles for days, all fueled by Redford’s best work in ages. Getting together with the old gang is just a trading of stories. The police hot on his tail, delightful smiles abound at the cleverness of the criminal. Even the heists are about as low key and uneventful as you could imagine, but I loved every cozy minute of it. The anti-gritty film, Lowery crafts an entertaining and crowd pleasing picture for a time that doesn’t seem to want anything like this at the moment. And that’s a shame. Again, this film was under seen, do yourself a favor and see the great Robert Redford off in this gem.
9. Paddington 2
Paddington 2 is the perfect family film, but not that it is safe, unchallenging or something kids can watch too, in that it is literally a movie for everyone and can be enjoyed by everyone. The humor ranges from brilliant slapstick to clever double entendres. The life lessons will make more sense to the children, but should be heard more by the adults. The imagery is whimsical, colorful and beautiful. The plotting is perfectly crafted so that everything comes back together in the end. And, the film isn’t scared to get scary for a beat or two there, challenging the audience to contemplate the worst possible scenario. Plus there are silly songs and dance numbers. Paddington 2 has it all! Hugh Grant is also, probably, the villain of the year and gives one of its best performances. More Paddington, please!
8. The House That Jack Built
Lars von Trier is clearly not for everyone. His films are unsettling, unflinching and aggressively provocative to the audience. He’s always challenging his viewers to go to places they never dreamed of or were too afraid of the taboo, and his latest film is no different. Following the admissions of a serial killer, we are taken through five stories, and as many or more interludes, that take us into the male psyche and that of the director himself. And it might be the funniest movie of the year? The violence is brutal and over the top, the killer is misogynistic and obsessed with his supremacy over the world, but von Trier is skewering this masculine mindset at every turn. Encouraging us to laugh at this man and his world view. A world view that has only slightly been dialed to the extreme away from the way many men, powerful men, view the world and the others around them. As great a critique on toxic masculinity and our culture at large as you’ll find, and done so damn entertainingly. Matt Damon is also excellent in this film, nailing the tone and charm we can often assign to a serial killer in pop culture, while also never letting us forget, he’s the bad guy.
7. The Favourite
Yorgos Lanthimos is one of my favorite directors and his latest is his most mainstream effort to date. Ditching the stilted dialogue of his previous efforts, which were brilliant, he allows his three leading women to do their thing and bring so much wicked joy and insanity to life as two women fighting for the favor of Queen Anne. Starring Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, each of these ladies brilliantly bounce off one another as the duel for power, try to take one another down a notch or are just spinning in the absurdity of their own existence. Lanthimos is the perfect director to capture this sort of insanity of excess, power and royalty, and it is terribly exciting what he can do with material that isn’t wholly of his own making. As inventive and engaging from a filmmaking standpoint as it’s plot and actresses are compelling, The Favourite is a comedy that I will be rewatching for years to come.
6. You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsay is an amazing filmmaker, and I’ve only seen her most recent two efforts, and we can’t be going so long without work from her like this. Her latest dives into the psyche of an ex-military man, clearly being destroyed by PTSD, but is surviving by the will of his love to and from his mother and his ability to put his skills to work helping find young girls lost to the NYC underworld. This film focuses on what happens when he gets in too deep and he has to try to deal with all the fallout that begins destroying the fragile world around him. Intense and unflinching can be descriptors of both Ramsay’s filmmaking and Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, both of which grab you by the shirt and don’t let go till it’s over. Phoenix can’t be praised enough for turning in yet another brilliant performance, cementing himself as the best actor of the decade? Bold claim, but might just be true.
Alex Garland’s latest is what everyone should be asking for when it comes to our sci-fi pictures. Smart, trusts the audience, full of mystery, beautiful and bizarre imagery and metaphorical ruminations for days. Oh, and a mind-blowing barrage of imagery and alien dance-off for your life to top it all off doesn’t hurt either. Natalie Portman continues to be pretty great in everything, but Garland gets great work out of everyone in his supporting cast as well. Shimmering the film’s tone across romance, sorrow, depression, horror, adventure, wonderment, this film has everything going for it. Some of the imagery in this film will also stay with you long after if you leave the theater, as you will come to discover what a terror bear is and see what a man being torn apart and merging with algae looks like. None of these top the film’s finale though, an experience that blew me away in the theater and will keep you on the edge of the seat as the film leaves you in mystery at the end. Alex Garland is quickly becoming one of our great directors and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
4. Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson makes a movie. Zac loves said movie. Repeat. Isle of Dogs, I would change nothing about it, but again this speaks to how great a year this just might be in movies at how it is at number 5. The only thing this film has going against it is that I am forced to compare it against Anderson’s filmography to measure it’s greatness and they guy has made so many movies I just love unflinchingly that this feels slightly held back at the moment because it isn’t even my favorite stop-motion animated film by him. That title is held by my favorite film of Anderson’s, and my favorite movie of all-time, Fantastic Mr. Fox so Isle of Dogs had a hard road to climb before it even hit my eyeballs. It is truly a great, great movie. A movie I will watch at least once a year probably forever. And it is a movie that has everything going for it. Heartfelt, hilarious, beautiful and a cast that impresses from the smallest line to the biggest part. Tilda Swinton plays a pug named Oracle that watches TV and pawns it off as the future, how can you not want to watch that movie?
Alfonso Cuarón’s latest is a masterpiece, in a filmography that already holds at least a couple more. This portrait of a family, “and the women that run it”, is such a compassionate and honest look at the life of this upper middle class family in Mexico City during the early 70’s. More specifically, the way their house maid, Cleo, navigates her work, her relationships with the children and her own personal life. Taking place over about a year, we watch Cleo’s routine, we watch her share and receive love from the family, we watch her struggle with a relationship, we watch her friendships in and outside the house and we watch her grow and become more confident in herself as life experiences keep washing over her. It’s a beautiful experience and is equalled in its beauty with Cuarón’s filmmaking. He is a master and he shows it off without being as showy as he’s been in previous efforts. Every frame is perfect and he brilliantly builds his story culminating in the aforementioned scene of the year way above in this article. I also haven’t seen this movie at home yet, even though it is a Netflix release, and I’d recommend trying to see it in a theater if you still can. It’s made for the biggest screen possible and to command all your attention; and it deserves it.
Steven Soderbergh’s thriller is another take down of the way the world treats women and it is a pitch perfect experience from start to finish. Claire Foy stars as a woman who gets tricked into being put on voluntary psychiatric hold, and from there the film starts to play with our perception versus her reality and we aren’t quite sure if what is happening is real or a delusion. The hold seems to stir up feelings from her past, but is that past actually here? It’s a wicked and fun game trying to figure out what is really happening and Foy is perfect at the middle of the storm. Soderbergh is one our best directors because he fully gives himself over to whatever genre he is playing in and Unsane is no different. It feels like exactly the film it wants to be and executes perfectly at every turn. Unsane is a perfect movie.
1. Free Solo
Sometimes reality trumps fiction and I think that is the case here with Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s doc that follows Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan. A 3,000 foot wall that I’ve stood at the bottom of multiple times, it is insane to even think about climbing that without a rope, let alone watching someone actually do it. The film brilliantly builds up the stakes, even when it is pretty obvious why he shouldn’t be doing something like this, letting the audience know the most dangerous spots in the climb and the letting us sweat as he works his way through those sections. The climbing footage is incredible, with a team of filmmakers risking their lives as well to capture this imagery, and the final 20-30 minutes of the movie is often unbelievable to behold. Honnold’s feat is truly, probably, the greatest physical human feat? But, what makes the film so great, and so compelling, is that we get to see Honnold navigate his personal life, which really might be more challenging than the climbing for someone like him. All of the pieces in his domestic life are almost as interesting to watch as the climb. You’ve never seen a character like him on the big screen. He is probably a little on the spectrum, but the way he evolves and builds a relationship with a new girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, is as intriguing for his own personal evolution as it is for building the stakes of the final climb. Free Solo is the most intense experience I had in a theater this year and possibly its greatest character study.
It is my film of 2018.