(a scene from Burning)
I’d like to not start off on a negative note, but for me 2018 was the weakest year in film this decade so far. Or maybe I’m just getting more cynical with my age? Possibly. Or maybe the other years were just so good? Also, possibly. There were quite a few solid, entertaining films in 2018. And even a handful of great ones. So I guess I can’t complain too much. Let’s focus on those great ones.
This list is, of course, subjective, but I do encourage people to weigh in on their favorite films of 2018 in the comments section. My list goes by official United States release dates; this means the films had to have had a limited or wide release in the U.S. in the year 2018 to qualify.
I did miss a few well-received films this year for one reason or another, mostly because some of them were just in too limited of a release. That’s not to say the films would have made my list, but many other critics have praised them so they are worth mentioning. Some of the films I missed were (A-Z): At Eternity’s Gate, Border, Capernaum, Free Solo, The Front Runner, Love, Simon, Never Look Away, Thoroughbreds, Thunder Road, Tully
There were a lot of entertaining films that I considered for my top 10, some more-so than others, but here they are in alphabetical order. Honorable Mentions (A-Z): Annihilation, Apostle, Avengers: Infinity War, Bad Times at the El Royale, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Black Panther, Blindspotting, Boy Erased, Creed II, The Death of Stalin, First Man, Game Night, Green Book, The Guilty, The Hate U Give, If Beale Street Could Talk, Incredibles 2, Leave No Trace, Mid90s, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Paddington 2, A Quiet Place, The Rider, Searching, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Suspiria, They Shall Not Grow Old, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
10. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Telling the story of Lee Israel and her forging of letters from deceased authors, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a fascinating, smart, and witty biographical film. Melissa McCarthy gives a career-best performance as Israel and Richard E. Grant matches her as Israel’s flamboyant friend, Jack Hock. Director Marielle Heller lets this be an actor’s showcase for McCarthy and Grant, but she also adds plenty of subtle details to the 1990s period settings.
What? A list where Roma isn’t #1? Correct. Alfonso Cuarón’s film is too distant in it’s first half and I never felt like I knew or cared about any of its supporting characters throughout. But even though I don’t think Roma is the masterpiece some are making it out to be (I think Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También (2001) and Children of Men (2006) are far superior works), there is still a lot to really admire about it. The cinematography is stunning, Yalitza Aparicio’s lead performance is remarkable, and the details in the recreation of 1970s Mexico City are impressive. There is a birthing scene as well that left me breathless.
Stinging, thought-provoking, funny, and timely, BlacKkKlansman is an example of director Spike Lee in top form. The plot feels unbelievable but is based on a true story of a black cop infiltrating the KKK, making it all the more eye-opening. The cast is dynamite, with Adam Driver stealing the show in a sharp supporting role. BlacKkKlansman is unsubtle and disjointed in ways but it’s also powerful and very entertaining.
7. Minding the Gap
My favorite documentary of the year, Bing Liu’s Minding the Gap is a rich, poetic film detailing the lives of three young men growing up in Rockford, Illinois over the span of 12 years. On the surface, the film deals with how the friends are connected through their love of skateboarding. But it becomes so much more than that as it dives into subjects like domestic abuse, race, fatherhood, and beyond. The beautiful, piano-centric music score just adds to the deepness.
6. A Star Is Born
Despite it being his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper helms A Star Is Born with extreme skill. Telling the story of an alcoholic, famous musician (Cooper) and his relationship with an on-the-rise singer (Lady Gaga), A Star Is Born is a romantic film with shattering drama and lovely music. The two stars are exceptional, but for me Sam Elliott walks away with the film’s best performance as Cooper’s character’s brother; there’s a shot of him in a truck that shows why Elliott is such a great actor. I can’t wait to see what Cooper does next as a director.
5. Eighth Grade
Writer-director Bo Burnham’s debut film, Eighth Grade, is a gut punch of coming-of-age realism for modern times. Burnham’s writing is on-point and Elsie Fisher’s performance is phenomenal as the film tells the story of a girl transitioning from middle school to high school. Eighth Grade is full of cringe-inducing moments (in a good way) as it brilliantly lays out sharp observations about social media use, sexuality, and more.
4. The Favourite
Perhaps more than any other filmmaker working right now, Yorgos Lanthimos is able to direct pictures close to the vein of Stanley Kubrick. The Favourite is more accessible and expertly-handled than his previous works like The Lobster (2015) and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), but it still contains some of the unique weirdness and coldness of those films. Lanthimos’ film details two women fighting for the attention of a queen. It’s a lavish costume drama but far from the dryness of many films that look similar to it. The film contains hilarious and biting dialogue, brilliant acting, and exquisite visuals.
3. Cold War
The followup to his Oscar-winning Ida (2014), Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is another artfully stunning film from the director. Loosely based on Pawlikowski’s parents, Cold War explores a doomed romance from the 1940s through the 1960s in Poland and France. By being filmed in a 1.37 : 1 aspect ratio and in black and white and staged to perfection by Pawlikowski, Cold War contains visuals worthy of hanging on your wall; the use of music is extraordinary too. Some might find its jumps in time to be jarring, but for me the fragmented approach worked in displaying the barriers the characters have pop up throughout their lives.
Hirokazu Koreeda’s Shoplifters focuses on poverty in Japan while bringing a deeply human approach to such tough subjects as Stockholm syndrome and child neglect. The film moves at a deliberate pace but earns its moments by giving viewers dynamic characters, exceptional acting, and game-changing plot reveals. Shoplifters is a challenging film, intelligently balancing looks at emotional and moral ambiguity for certain situations.
A film worthy of multiple views and arguing over for years to come, the South Korean psychological drama Burning is a complex film that sneaks up on you and leaves you thinking. Lee Chang-Dong’s film deals with a developing friendship between three young people and the emotions and secrets that come out between them. And that’s all I’ll say so as not to spoil anything. Burning is full of little details that will reward observant and patient viewers, has both sensual beauty and Hitchcockian suspense, and contains thought-provoking metaphors and themes dealing with such topics as social classes and toxic masculinity. The acting is also superb, with Steven Yeun (of “Walking Dead” fame) particularly unforgettable as Ben. Burning is just shy of being a masterpiece.