2018: A Year of Game-Changers and Breakouts
2018 has reached its very end. Like in years past, I’ll be reflecting back on what I consider to be the year’s very best. It was a difficult year to ultimately choose the best of the best. Some films made an impact on me very early in the year, while others outweighed year-long favorites within the past few days.
As always, I enjoy the diverse selections throughout the calendar year of 2018. Mainstream favorites like Black Panther, Mission: Impossible – Fallout and A Star is Born have equally found their place amongst my top art house films. I find emotional resonance from the entire cinematic spectrum.
2018 gave me the opportunity to see a wider array of films. Though being from Upstate New York, some films might not expand here until 2019. There’s always a Silence or a Phantom Thread on the horizon that tends to alter the list after the new year. Regardless, I present my top 10 list of 2018 as well as ten additional honorable mentions.
Black Panther, Creed II, First Reformed, If Beale Street Could Talk, Incredibles 2, Isle of Dogs, Mirai, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Acclaimed South Korean director, Lee Chang-dong, has given audiences a film to truly marinate over. Burning is one of the final films I had the pleasure of watching in 2018 and am still thinking about. At nearly 150 minutes, Burning takes a while to process, but once the pieces begin to fall in the place, the patience is greatly rewarded. Yoo Ah-in’s Lee is caught up with a former crush and her new mysterious rich friend (The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun). He’s enigmatic presence christens him a “modern-day Great Gatsby.” Chang-dong’s film explores a slew of deep themes in the midst of all of its mystery. When you think Chang-dong is directing you one way, Burning throws that curve ball for a twisted scenario.
09: Leave No Trace
It’s been eight years since Debra Granik directed Academy Award nominee, Winter’s Bone. With an affinity for nature and father-daughter drama, Leave No Trace is another stellar film from Granik. Ben Foster (Hell or High Water) and young Thomasin McKenzie are an impressive father-daughter duo living off the grid. Foster’s PTSD-stricken Will is subtly affected on the surface by outside factors potentially triggering him. However, the internal conflict speaks louder than words. Like several other child actors mentioned later on this list, McKenzie give one of the best breakout performances of the year as Will’s daughter, Tom. Granik’s direction and screenplay deliver one of 2018’s most powerful films.
08: Eighth Grade
For many individuals, eighth grade is perhaps one of the most awkward and anxiety-filled periods in one life. Even being just half a lifetime ago for me, it’s a time that you try to forget. Bo Burnham’s depiction in Eighth Grade is as authentic as one can portray without crossing over into documentary territory. Even coming from the early Millennial generation, it still hits home seeing Generation Z undergo the same era in life. Sure, we weren’t glued to our phones as frequently back in 1999 or throwing around 2018 slang like “lit” or “Gucci,” but some aspects never change. Despicable Me voice actress Elsie Fisher is a gem as young Kayla, struggling to find her place as a teenager. Eighth Grade is fun, heartbreaking and frightening all at the same time, reflecting that period perfectly.
Roma may very well be Netflix’s cinematic crowning achievement. Borrowing from his own experiences, director Alfonso Cuaron delivers another intimate film. This time centered around a housekeeper (Yalitza Aparicio) serving a middle-class family in 1970 Mexico City. Shot in black-and-white, Roma is a slow-burn narrative, depicting everyday routine. We see how Aparicio’s Cleo fits in as part of the family, yet she lives to serve them. It’s a rich tale of life, love and labor, exquisitely shot by Cuaron himself. Typically, Cuaron pairs with three-time Academy Award winner, Emmanuel Lubezki. In this case, Cuaron is learning fast from the cinematography master. While you can stream Roma for your own viewing pleasure, Cuaron’s latest work of art must be seen on the big screen.
Alex Garland’s Ex Machina established a provoking dialogue about artificial intelligence and humanity back in 2015. His 2018 film, Annihilation is equally as cerebral, requiring ample time to truly dissect. While themes of evolution and destruction are at the film’s core, much of the film is open for interpretation. The remote “Shimmer” where Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson and Jennifer Jason Leigh investigate is trippy and symbolic in various ways. When you finally reach the final act with Portman researching an abandoned lighthouse, it’s an ever greater balls to the wall experience. Annihilation demands multiple viewings to truly appreciate the nuances and layers interwoven. But from a modern sci-fi auteur like Garland, we now come to expect this.
05: A Quiet Place
Without question, 2018 was a year of anxiety in theaters. While many moviegoers attribute most of that from Hereditary (click click), John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place ended up being a more effective terror. There’s still one more film on this list that went even further, though A Quiet Place worked its own sort of terrifying magic. For a film with minimal dialogue, eyes were glued to the screen like no other. Any and every sound dialed the film’s tension to extremes past 11. Krasinski and his wife Emily Blunt (a personal favorite since The Devil Wears Prada) have pitch-perfect chemistry, acting on instinct to survive a mysterious invasion. Millicent Simmonds provides one of the year’s best child performance as their deaf daughter, Regan. A Quiet Place is the film I hoped M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs would have been back in 2002.
First and foremost, #JusticeForWidows. Steve McQueen’s adaptation of the 1983 British crime series is one of the most underseen mainstream films of 2018. The acclaimed 12 Years a Slave director masterfully subverts expectations of a by-the-numbers heist film. Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo pick up the pieces from their criminal husbands, while doing their best to survive in a politically-heated Chicago suburb. Widows is utterly tense, empowering and has the balls to be one of 2018’s best. This is the year’s standard for an impressive ensemble cast with Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya transitioning into a force to be reckoning with. While McQueen won the Oscar for 12 Years a Slave five years ago, I personally find Widows to be an even greater achievement for the director. Full review.
For some reason, I ended up missing BlacKkKlansman in theaters back in August. It wasn’t until screener season hit when I could truly appreciate Spike Lee’s best work in 25 years. Oozing with purposeful 70s blaxsploitation, BlacKkKlansman transforms a dangerous real-life situation into a dramedy of sorts. Lee’s tension in never undercut despite an ample amount of humorous beats throughout. Though considering the current political climate in 2018, BlacKkKlansman is as time-sensitive as ever. John David Washington is a blast as Colorado Springs detective, Ron Stallworth as he orchestrates the infiltration of the Ku Kux Klan. Due to racial tensions, Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) acts as his surrogate in another memorable performance from the former Girls star. BlacKkKlansman is one of the best from 2018.
02: A Star is Born
Any time Hollywood announces a remake, the first question on my mind is simply why? It was practically like clockwork when hearing about a fourth version of A Star is Born. Yes, fourth. Fortunately, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga put my reservations to rest. Cooper’s evolved so far from Hangover funny man a decade ago to a mainstream directorial debut like no other. As for Lady Gaga, she’s never been one of my go-to performers. I lean more towards alternative rock and metal than pop music. After A Star is Born, I’m an absolute believer now. I’ve listened to “Shallow” more times than I can count, perhaps a few more than Celine Dion’s ‘Ashes” from Deadpool 2 earlier in the year. That in itself was a broken record (no pun intended) for months on end. By the time that final song hit, A Star is Born took me on an emotional roller coaster like no other film in 2018. Full review.
Hands down, no film in 2018 has screwed with my mind more than Suspiria. That might even be the ultimate compliment possible coming from me. After watching the teaser trailer release back in June, Luca Guadagnino’s remake triggered an anxiety in me like no other horror film in nearly 20 years. John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place came real close, albeit for different reasons. Following up last year’s meticulously beautiful Call Me by Your Name, Guadagnino has crafted another art piece that will be discussed for years to come. While Guadagnino borrow elements from Dario Argento’s 1977 original, 2018 Suspiria is its own entity. Nearly an hour longer than Argento’s classic, Suspiria burns slower, though the horror is exponentially nightmarish. Dakota Johnson follows in the footsteps of Twilight stars Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, distancing herself from that abysmal Fifty Shades trilogy. She’s on a career-high. Tilda Swinton’s equally mesmerizing in all three roles she portrays, particularly Dr. Klemperer, who investigates the mysterious Markos Academy. Like Mad Max: Fury Road, La La Land and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in recent years, Suspiria has earned its spot as my top film of the year. Full review.
With 2018 come to a close, I look forward to another great year at the movies in 2019. See you in the coming year with more reviews.