In all through 2018 I saw 110 films and overall 2018 was chocked full of so many great ones. But now it’s the time to count down my top twenty, but first, because it was a helluva year, lets start with my 15 honorable mentions.
DISCLAIMER: Sadly I didn’t get the chance to see: Blaze, Border or Shoplifters. So they’ll obviously not be on the list. As well, I feel it’s important to say that I make this list attempting to balance my favorites of the year and what I feel are the flat out best films of year. So keep that in mind as you go through the list.
Honorable Mentions (In Alphabetical Order):
- Can You Ever Forgive Me?
- Eighth Grade
- The Favourite
- Free Solo
- The House That Jack Built
- Leave No Trace
- Mission: Impossible – Fallout
- The Other Side of the Wind
- Sorry to Bother You
- A Star is Born
- Thunder Road
- Vox Lux
An unnerving visual feast, Annihilation proves that Alex Garland is already one of our finest sci-fi filmmakers we have today. It’s an ecological thriller that dives into the haunting theme of self-destruction. It’s a movie that probes the interplay of beauty and terror to a fascinating nature. It’s a film that delivers quiet dissonant notes and the occasional grotesque body-horror, that all come together for the films forever haunting closing.
19. Happy as Lazzaro
From the opening scene, Happy as Lazzaro is a film that sets a table of bittersweet neo-realist and magical-realist delicacies. Happy as Lazzaro is a film, where you find yourself succumbed to its strangeness the way that a child is engulfed in a bedtime story. It’s the patient and light-fingered skill of Alice Rohrwacher’s writing and directing that prevails this film to acquire a steadily increasing depth of emotion as time passes. Though through it all, it’s Adriano Tardiolo’s silently radiant performance and Rohrwacher’s offhand audacity that produce their own bewildering cinematic tale.
18. The Rider
Chole Zhao’s The Rider is the closest film to capture the Terrence Malick-esque spirituality yet. It’s a film that strips away the American cowboy mythology to its rawest form. Through the magnetic lead performance from Brady Jandreau, this film is a slice-of-life drama that is steeped in reality and in the South Dakota environment.
17. Private Life
The long overdue return of writer-director Tamara Jenkins, Private Life is a painfully personal story about the passion and longing for parenthood. The always fluxing triangle that’s at the center of the film is brought to life brilliantly by Paul Giamatti, Kathryn Hahn and Kayli Carter. It’s a film that is always raw and constantly engaging, and it’s through Jenkins’ talent for rendering comedy and tragedy that takes this film through a roller coaster of emotions.
Paced like a steady narcotic drip that takes its time creeping into your veins, Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the 1977 horror classic takes the material to much more deeper places. The original Dario Argento film is one that is largely recognized for its extreme visual style, and here Guadagnino takes the style to the exact opposite. From the original’s neon rainbow color palette, to this films toned-down almost dreary palette. No matter how stylish this film is though, David Kajganich’s screenplay takes the original straightforward story to a places of much more depth. As this film is ultimately a tale of strong independent women who seemingly channel violent national trauma into vibrant art and boldly reject the repressive upbringings of the past.
A rising, falling roller-coaster through four decades of American History, Vice is a hectic blend of psychohistory, domestic drama and absurdist satirical comedy bound together through Adam McKay’s ingenuity and indignation. This film is as well a showcase for Christian Bale, who delivers a transformative, extremely uncharismatic performance, and justifiably so, seeing that the real life person he’s portraying is justly that. Vice through it’s entire runtime though is an two hour evisceration of America’s political system, it’s a portrait of soullessness, that could only be sidetracked with intervals of a failing heart.
14. Minding the Gap
The sole documentary entry on the list, Minding the Gap is a phenomenal work of observational documentary filmmaking. Minding the Gap is an essay that never feels like an essay, it’s an intelligent and compassionate wrestling with some of the most painful of issues. Through it all it’s co-subject and director Bing Liu’s infinite sensitivity that helps him delve into some of the most painful and intimate details of his friends’ lives and as well his own, and then layers all of his observations into a copious, devastating essay on race, class and masculinity in 21st-century America.
13. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coen brothers have done it again with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, as they’ve once again brought their signature mix of quirky comedy and strong bleak violence. Here with the Coen’s first dive into an anthology film, they’ve brought a film of mortal slapsticks, where death is a hilarious punchline until it happens to you. Whether it be the great performances from the likes of Tim Blake Nelson and Zoe Kazan or the ravishing cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel, it’s in the end that Joel and Ethan Coen assemble a film where life is full of people telling stories and jokes and engaging in mocking debates, not to arrive at any solutions but just to pass the time between now and the grave.
12. The Death of Stalin
The Death of Stalin is film that takes its turns at being both entertaining and unsettling, taking each of laughs and morphing them into gasps. Armando Iannucci has proven to be our finest satirist filmmaker we have today, and with this film he has quite possible delivered the finest political satire film since Stanley Kubrick’s, Dr. Strangelove.
11. The Sisters Brothers
Both a sprawling western and an intimate character study, The Sisters Brothers continues to display the masterwork of Jacques Audiard. With his English-language debut, Audiard continues here to be a pure poet of wounded masculinity. Of which is all shown through the stirring chemistry of Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly. The brotherly bickering of the two carries this film to its constant unpredictability and lingering wonder. It’s a film that yes, explores some familiar themes, but it’s the way that Audiard tweaks them into a new form that prevails this film to its highest points.
One important note: I feel it’s important to say that my love for the upcoming top 10 is incredibly strong, so strong that I would say that they’re practically interchangeable for each other. So here is my ranking of those 10 for the time being.
Hereditary‘s encompassing and clouding sense of dread is one the chilled me to the bone. It’s a film that commits emotional terrorism on its audience, and features two of the years finest performances in Toni Collette and Alex Wolff. It’s a tour de force directorial debut from Ari Aster, as with Hereditary he’s delivered a film that thrashes its audience with terror, while also being a familial drama about the grieving process.
For his directorial debut, Paul Dano’s Wildlife is a studied familial drama that flows like a steady Montana stream. Wildlife is a film that soaks in the moment and in all the meticulous accrual details. Its in the films miraculous three focal performances from Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ed Oxenbould that bring this films beautiful low-key hush feeling. And it’s through that feeling that makes this film not just a great debut film, but just a great film in general.
8. At Eternity’s Gate
At Eternity’s Gate is far and away the film that has best captured the essence of revered painter, Vincent Van Gogh. It’s a film that is incredibly transportive in nature, as it takes you to the fields with Van Gogh and shows you how his brilliant mind could make magic out of a landscape. From Julian Schnabel’s brilliant one of a kind direction to Willem Dafoe’s soulfully devastating performance, At Eternity’s Gate is portrait of an artist that only a true artist could make.
Seamlessly engrossing, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is part memory piece, part observational drama. Roma is a film that’s meticulous in its pacing, as it sets up each beat so well, as Cuarón seemingly waits for the film to swell and knock its audience down like a wave. It’s a look at someone who’s overlooked in not just many stories, but in life. It’s a film where we find ourselves watching the ghosts of the past reliving through all their pain and all their pleasures.
6. First Man
Mixing the visceral with the intimate, First Man finds Damien Chazelle with this third home run in a row. From the awe-inspiring moon surface to the suffocating cockpits the vision of this film is something of great astonishment. But most importantly this is a portrait of the rotting internalization of emotions and the last step in grief, all of which is balanced with one of the biggest feats in the history of the human race.
5. Cold War
Cold War is a film that packs so much in such little time (85 minutes to be exact). With such a lean runtime, what this film accomplishes is nothing short of extraordinary, as it covers 15 years in an aching, swooning romance of characters that are based on co-writer-director Paweł Pawlikowski’s own parents. Every last second of the film is incredibly dense with so much to say, not only from the focal relationship, but from the political backdrop as well. It’s a haunted postwar epic in miniature form, that holds incredible precision from Pawlikowski’s direction and chilly, etched beauty in Łukasz Żal’s cinematography. Cold War is a film that brings devastation and meditation, aching through the pains of impossible love.
4. If Beale Street Could Talk
A cinematic encapsulation of a love letter, If Beale Street Could Talk is a film that brilliantly interweaves the political and the personal. It’s love letter that is written in the moody, swirling score of Nicholas Britell, in the glowing warm cinematography of James Laxton, and in the dreamy close-ups of Barry Jenkins. It’s a film of magnificent warmth, that’s a stunning achievement in lyrical storytelling, loaded with ravishing poetic visuals and a rich plea to find love in times of despair.
3. You Were Never Really Here
The visual poetry of Lynne Ramsay is something the flourishes in beauty and horror. You Were Never Really Here is a film that entirely shows and never tells, going to points of showing flashbacks in literal flashes of 1-2 seconds. Then there is the heaping presence of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance that delivers an incredible amount of emotional torment. It’s a film that portrays depression in such an accurate light, it nearly pulls you into the rabbit hole mind of Phoenix’s character.
Part character study, part thriller, Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is a film that has ambiguity and mystery running through its veins and pumping through its heart. It’s a film that has a slow dramatic simmer that intensifies steadily through its entire two and a half hour runtime. The three focal performances from Yoo Ah-in, Jun Jong-seo and Steven Yeun are all great, but Yeun in particular delivers something special. Yeun’s performance, much like the film itself, has a lot of mystery to it. Yeun does so much with yawns and smiles, that it’s a feat all its own, and as well possibly the best supporting performance of the year. Through it all Burning one of the most absorbing films of the year. It builds and builds to a crescendo that will leave you breathless, as you continue to put together the psychological puzzle yourself.
1. First Reformed
Dealing with your spirituality in times of ugly despair, Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is film that howls with exquisite timeliness. First Reformed is a pulpy, blunt instrument of a film, as it asks such big questions in such a small setting. Paul Schrader, at the age of 71, has found himself in a place of fresh discovery. For someone who’s been writing and directing since the mid-1970s, here he has seemed to bring his elemental signatures, while also unveiling something new, that being tapping into his spirituality. To go along with Ethan Hawke’s astounding performance, as Hawke has found a way to have each one of his lines carry the weight of his character’s despair. First Reformed is a film that leaves it’s audience on the note of shock and pure disturbance. But leave it to Paul Schrader to deliver what a man’s apocalyptic crisis of faith looks like, and to as well deliver the best film of 2018.