Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Top 20 Films of 2018

The time has come to review the year that was 2018 in film. From the big blockbusters, to the smallest of indies, the year offered a variety of stories that deserved to be told. Various directors, writers and actors delivered career defining or career best work and are rightfully earning the highest honor possible, making the Top 20 list for this critic.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coen Brothers once again return to the west for a tale of despair and dark comedy told over six vignettes, each beautiful in their own way. Some are better than others, with highlights coming in “Meal Ticket” and “All Gold Canyon”, but the whole endeavor is more than worthy of your attention.

The Rider
Chloé Zhao crafts one of the year’s most soft spoken yet deliberate films in The Rider. Utilizing untrained actors to portray characters that are largely based on their personal stories is a bold choice, and one that pays off tremendously for Zhao and company. It’s deeply emotional and challenging film, one that’s likely to overlooked by most, but should be seen by everyone.

Cold War (Zimna Wojna)
Nothing if not beautiful, Cold War takes a romantic and tragic gaze at love in a time of political turmoil and oppression. Through small moments and a delicate touch, director Pawel Pawlikowski showcases two tremendously talented leads trapped in a romance that is equally doomed as it is inevitable.

20. Leave No Trace
Perhaps presenting the world with another incredible find similar to her introduction of Jennifer Lawrence to the world in 2010’s Winter’s Bone, director and writer DebraGranik has provided another future star in Thomasin McKenzie. The young actress and her co-star Ben Foster deliver two of the best performances of 2018 and Debra Granik directs the film with a gentle and purposeful touch that could stand next to any other director’s work this year.

19. The Hate U Give
Far removed from her performance as Rue in The Hunger Games, Amandla Stenberg has delivered a breakout performance as Starr Carter, alongside a brilliant and award worthy turn from Russell Hornsby, an exceptional adapted screenplay, and the balancing of various tones from director George Tillman Jr. The Hate U Give proves that the trend in adaptation of Young Adult novels isn’t going away anytime soon, just evolving with the times.

18. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Anchored by two career best performances from Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me? features most of 2018’s allotment of dry wit and dark humor. With deeply unlikeable characters at the center, the precision required of director Marielle Heller and writers Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty is nearly impossible, and yet, these filmmakers delivered a film that’s equal parts funny and melancholic.

17. Shoplifters (Manbiki Kazoku)
The deeply affecting, deceptively quiet film from Hirokazu Kore-eda is utterly aimless for a majority of the runtime, relying entirely on the performances and the characters to entertain or enthrall. However, Kore-eda takes a turn as the film draws to a close, and requires that the viewer re-examine everything that has come before, and re-think what the meaning of family may truly be.

16. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Without a doubt the best action film of the year, Mission: Impossible – Fallout takes the impossible to an entirely new level with the sixth entry to this franchise. Sleek and ridiculously fun, Fallout features all the thrills and stunts one would expect and then some, with leading man Tom Cruise continually pushing the boundaries of safety to get the perfect shot or most realistic take possible, and it absolutely works.

15. Wildlife
There is a quiet rage burning beneath the surface of Wildlife, an anger that could boil over at any moment and take down an entire family in the process. The deeply sad and affecting film owes so much to a career best performance from Carey Mulligan and the understated touch from first time director Paul Dano, that make this dreamlike portrait of family in strife a must watch.

14. A Star Is Born
On the fourth version of largely the same story, nothing is easy. And yet, somehow, Bradley Cooper has made it look incredibly easy. Directing, writing, and starring in the latest version of A Star Is Born, Cooper manages to astound on all fronts and place himself smack dab in the middle of various awards races. It helps that his co-star is immensely talented Lady Gaga, who has her own coming out party here, and may just join Cooper with a trophy of her own come February.

13. Black Panther
Rarely does a film satisfy the comic nerd in me and the film nerd in me all at once. The Dark Knight did it over a decade ago, and Black Panther has done it in 2018. Director Ryan Coogler delivers one of the best superhero offerings to date, packing a powerful punch, emotionally and physically, and one of the best villains of the year in Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger. The film is a technical beauty, with a fantastic score from Ludwig Göransson, impeccable costume design from Ruth E. Carter, and an imaginative world that rivals anything put to screen this year.

12. Paddington 2
This is not a film we need right now, it’s a film we deserve. Despite a reality that continues to get worse with each new day, Paddington 2 shines through to provide just a little more joy to the world. Equal parts heartwarming and pure entertainment, Paddington 2 is a film for all ages and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who disagreed.

11. BlacKkKlansman
Spike Lee is far from the quiet type, just as BlacKkKlansman is far from a quiet movie. Lee has something to say, and boy, does he say it. BlacKkKlansman is presented as a stringent commentary on cultural and institutional racism in America, but it still manages to tell a clear and specific story. Bouncing from its own brand of humor to giving everyone an uneasy feeling and then back again, all climaxing with a real-life connection that is equally infuriating as it is tragic.

10. Burning (Beoning)
A languishing, mesmerizing, and psychological thriller, Burning is never short of fascinating. Using expertly crafted characters and a puzzled protagonist, this tale of jealousy and obsession features nary a dull moment, with the tension slowly building from the moment Steven Yeun’s mysterious Ben is thrown into the fray. It’s a slow film, but director Chang-dong Lee knows exactly how to reward the audience’s patience.

9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
If someone had told me at the beginning of the year that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was going to crack my top 10 by year’s end, I wouldn’t have believed it. But the imaginative and innovative animated film may just be the best Spider-Man story put to the big screen yet (it’s still a fight with Spider-Man 2 for that honor, but it's close). Sony has a wonderful world to play in with this Spider-Verse, and if we’re lucky they’ll keep telling fantastic stories featuring Mile Morales and his dimension hopping friends.

8. First Man
In what just might be the most technically sound film of 2018, First Man has gone largely ignored despite the masterful craft behind it. It’s somehow a smaller and subtler picture for director Damien Chazelle, not in spectacle or effects per say, but in its storytelling. The entire endeavor is subdued, minus the exhilarating and perilous space flights, and each emotion elevated as if they were intended to take flight as well.

7. The Favourite
The Favourite never ditches the weirdness that defines the career of director Yorgos Lanthimos, even if it is his most accessible film yet by a wide margin. Set against a period backdrop, the odd nature of the film is represented in large part by Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne and a sharp script from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. Of course, backing that up even still are two near career best performances from both Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. It’s a strange thing, and yet it’s hard to resist watching it over and over again.

6. Hereditary
Few films have festered in the mind as long as Hereditary has. And this isn’t speaking to just 2018, but to the last few years as well. It’s a haunting film that builds its tension up so far that it eventually has no option to explode into a wild third act. Toni Collette is wholly deserving of Oscar consideration for what is arguably the best female performance of the year, even though she likely won’t get it due to the inherent genre bias at play.

5. Eighth Grade
If Hereditary was deeply haunting in all the right ways, Eighth Grade is charming in all the best ways. The resounding and truthful look at teenage life in the 21st century hits hard at times, connecting with its audience in ways few films can. Writer and director Bo Burnham offers an empathetic touch and Elsie Fisher’s performance as Kayla is cringe inducing, in a good way. No film in 2018 felt quite as real as Eighth Grade did, for better or worse.

4. Widows
Give the director of 12 Years a Slave a stellar cast to work with, a talented writer of thrillers, and an interesting world to work in and the final result has to be amazing, right? That is exactly what Widows is. Director Steve McQueen’s artistic fingerprints are all over this heist thriller, including some shots that tell a story in and of themselves. The script from McQueen and Gillian Flynn is tight and full of twists and the ensemble cast is among the best in 2018, if not the actual best. Widows is a perfect combination of entertainment and art.

3. If Beale Street Could Talk
Only a few years removed from a masterpiece in Moonlight, director and writer Barry Jenkins is back once more with another excellent addition to his filmography. From top to bottom, no film is as beautiful as If Beale Street Could Talk. The performances. The cinematography. The score. The brilliant use of color. Every inch of this film is mesmerizing and is another piece of evidence to support Jenkins as one of the better storytellers working in film today.

2. Roma
Look, there are a lot of great films listed here, some even excellent or near perfect, but none will be talked about for years even decades like Roma will be. Alfonso Cuarón has crafted a film that already feels like a classic despite releasing only one month ago. In much the same way that If Beale Street Could Talk is a beauty in every aspect of its making, Roma is the same, and then some. Each frame could be its own intimate story or elegant painting, waiting to be explored further if it weren’t playing out in the background of Cuarón’s very personal one at the forefront.

1.  Annihilation
There are better films in 2018 than Annihiliation, at least from a critical and technical level. But for my money, no film has stayed with me or gotten subsequently better with each re-watch than Annihilation. The visuals themselves are to die for, in their own twisted and grotesque way, and the themes of loss and self-destruction run so deep that new pieces of the puzzle are revealed seemingly from nowhere. It’s completely a film that would be labeled “thinking-man’s sci-fi” and it certainly fits the bill, leaving one pondering the strange and ambitious film they just viewed.

Without a doubt, 2018 was a tremendous year for film, as many films I thoroughly enjoyed or really liked couldn’t make the cut. Of course, there was plenty of bad too, but we all know the bad films are bad and I’ve found that piling onto the negativity just isn’t nearly as enjoyable as writing about things you truly loved or adored. And 2018 had plenty that I loved.

No comments :

Post a Comment