This year was a truly unique year in film for a couple of reasons. To start, we saw many filmmakers burst onto the scene with fantastic debut features, such as Bo Burnham, Ari Aster, Bradley Cooper, Carlos López Estrada, and Jonah Hill. I love rooting for first time filmmakers, and seeing so many of them become so successful in their debuts really made 2018 a special and inspiring year in film for me.
Aside from that, one of the biggest stories this year was the Oscars introducing a “Best Popular Film” category (and then subsequently rescinding it). Many film fans took this as a slight against mainstream films (such as superhero films) with the Academy saying that these films weren’t good enough to compete with other “Oscar-worthy” films. Coincidentally, this year saw those same mainstream films step their game up to the next level. Black Panther, for example, was arguably the most thematically complex superhero film to date, not to mention extremely well made. It went on to become the first superhero movie to garner a nomination for Best Picture at the Golden Globes, proving that these films can be award worthy based on their own merits. To me, these two things are what 2018 will be remembered for in film.
Best of 2018 in Film
Before getting to my top ten films of the year, let’s start with some honorable mentions. These nine films were all in my top ten at one point or another this year but didn’t quite make the final cut. It goes to show how strong of a year it was when a film like Black Panther finds itself just outside my top ten (considering how much I just talked it up). The honorable mentions are as follows:
The Top Ten
Now for the section that you’re all here to see. These ten movies, for one reason or another, stood out to me and stuck with me this year. Whether it’s due to their unique style of filmmaking, the messages they conveyed, or the power of the performances, these ten movies all had something special that caused them to land in my top ten and stay there. These are my top ten movies of 2018.
10) First Reformed
First Reformed is equal parts disturbing and mesmerizing. It is, in many ways, reminiscent of Taxi Driver in its portrayal of a man slowly falling deeper into madness while, at the same time, challenging the audience’s ideas of morality. It’s a thematically rich and morally complex film that forces the audience to think. This is one that stuck with me and I found myself repeatedly mulling over the meaning of different scenes and trying to figure out the overall message that the film was trying to convey. I believe there are no wrong answers here and everyone will have a different takeaway from this film. Ethan Hawke is brilliant as Rev. Toller and Paul Schrader’s signature transcendental style is a welcome break from traditional filmmaking.
Roma is a beautifully crafted and emotional film from Alfonso Cuarón about a family being torn apart and coming back together again. The cinematography here is what really made this film stand out to me. It is evident how much time and thought went into things like camera placement and blocking. The depth of some of the shots in this film is reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa’s work and, much like Kurosawa, Cuarón utilizes every inch of the frame. There are a lot of long takes here where the camera just steadily pans from left to right and back again. In these long takes, there is meaningful commotion in both the foreground and the background. As the camera pans, there is action on both the left and right side of the frame.
The story, while often bleak, demands your emotional investment. It moves along at a steady pace and never really loses focus. The only thing keeping Roma from being higher on the list is that I never really connected with Cleo, the main character, the way I wanted to, but there were still some truly powerful and moving moments in this film.
8) Mission Impossible: Fallout
At this point, it’s safe to say that the Mission Impossible franchise has lived up to its name. How is it possible that these films keep getting better and the sixth film in the franchise is somehow the best one yet? How is it possible that Tom Cruise can still do these stunts well into his 50s? Well, thank God for the IMF because Mission Impossible: Fallout is a relentlessly entertaining film and may be one of the best action films ever made.
From brutal fight scenes, to high speed chases and breathtaking stunts, this film has it all. Do you want to see Tom Cruise HALO jump into a lightning storm? Check. Do you want to see him climb a rope that’s attached to helicopter that is 2,000 feet in the air? Check. How about having him partake in a high-speed motorcycle chase through the streets of Paris WITHOUT A HELMET? Check. It’s impossible not to have a good time in this pure adrenaline rush of a film.
If there is one word I would use to describe mid90s, it would be authentic. It is a film that transports you back in time and immerses you in the world of its characters. Director Jonah Hill’s focus on recreating the look, feel, and overall atmosphere of the 1990s created a visceral experience for the viewer. The emphasis on casting actual skaters instead of proven actors made the characters feel real. The decision to shoot on Super 16mm film with a 4:3 aspect ratio (a look that’s nearly defunct today but was widely popular in the 90s) was a brilliant move that truly gave the film its authentic look. The whole thing felt like it could have been a documentary from the 1990s that was locked away for 20 years until someone decided to release it in 2018.
This could have easily backfired if the performances fell flat, but instead, the entire cast knocked it out of the park. It’s a testament to the ability of the actors involved as well as the ability of Jonah Hill as a filmmaker who can bring the best out of his actors. This is a film that crept on me and I didn’t expect to connect with it as much as I did. What I thought would simply be a Jonah Hill passion project ended up being one of the most immersive theater experiences of the year for me. This film is what independent cinema is all about: creating art out of passion. That passion shines through here.
6) Avengers: Infinity War
Simply referring to Avengers: Infinity War as a movie is blatantly short selling it. This was an event. An event that was ten years in the making. It is the culmination (or at least part one of it) of eighteen films that came before it. There has never been a film like this in the history of cinema. The Russo Brothers were tasked with balancing multiple pre-existing storylines, nearly 30 heroes, clashing tones, and nearly unreachable fan expectations, and they delivered a home run. How this film didn’t feel bloated, how every character had ample screen time, and how there weren’t any jarring tonal changes throughout the film is beyond me. Bring on Avengers: Endgame!
5) Green Book
Green Book takes the familiar premise of two mismatched individuals going on a road trip and gives it a fresh feel. The script strikes the perfect balance between heavy and humorous while staying laser focused on the story it is telling. The film packs a ton of heart and Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali play off each other better than any onscreen duo that I’ve seen this year. I could see either one of these guys getting recognized by the Academy this year.
Mortensen’s New York accent is spot on, which is essential in portraying Tony Lip. He also put on about 45 pounds to play the part, so you better believe he was going to give it his all. His delivery of some of the dialogue had so much sizzle it reminded me a bit of early Joe Pesci. Ali is also brilliant here and puts on a clinic of expressing motion through the eyes, basically a ying to Viggo’s yang. This is especially evident in a scene where Ali comes across a group of African American workers in a field. Ali never says a word in the scene, but his facial expression, especially in the eyes, tells more than an entire page of dialogue. The overall message of the film is one that is echoed by another film on this list but it is still one of importance and relevance nonetheless.
4) A Star is Born
A Star is Born was a critical and audience darling this year, and it is easy to see why. This film has charm, drama, breathtaking performances, and multiple memorable songs. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s chemistry in this film is palpable and their performances are impeccable. Lady Gaga gets the chance here to play a character that she can truly relate to, and she takes that opportunity and runs with it. Bradley Cooper, who also directed this film, was fantastic as always. It should no longer come as a surprise to anyone that this guy can act, especially after garnering three straight acting nominations from 2013 to 2015. They are both a threat to receive Oscar nominations this year.
While watching this film, it became increasingly harder to believe that it was made by a first-time director. Bradley Cooper absolutely nails his debut outing. The first thing that really struck me about the style that he brought to this movie was his frequent use of close-ups. Normally, I’m not a fan of that style of camerawork because I like being able to see more in the frame, and I’m a sucker for busy shots (see Roma). However, the frequent close-ups added a more personal feel to this film that was absolutely crucial for this film to work. If the audience doesn’t connect with Jackson and Ally, the entire film falls apart.
Thanks to script, the chemistry of the performers, and Cooper’s willingness to get up close and personal with the camera, the audience feels the full force of that connection. It’s fitting that the title of this film is A Star is Born because this could mark the start of a serious acting career for Lady Gaga and open up some doors for Bradley Cooper in the director’s chair.
Coincidentally, this film was in my blindspot for the majority of the year. It actually ended up being the last film I watched in 2018 and boy did it send the year out with a bang. Blindspotting presents a fresh, stylish, and oftentimes humorous way way of tackling one of the most pressing issues in America today. There was some really creative and thought-provoking symbolism at play here as well as some unique and fitting methods of interpolating rap into the narrative. The climactic sequence towards the end of the film was one of the best movie moments of 2018. Whether or not you are picking up what this film is laying down, there is no denying the artistry at hand here.
Not everyone will agree with this but I believe BlacKkKlansman is Spike Lee’s best film since Malcolm X. Based on the true story of an African-American FBI agent who goes undercover with the Ku Klux Klan, BlacKkKlansman gives audiences a look at race relations in the early 1970s and intelligently places connecting threads to our current sociopolitical climate. It contains important themes and powerful messages, all while telling a suspenseful and interesting story.
John David Washington, son of frequent Spike Lee collaborator Denzel Washington, has already received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance and could be in line for an Oscar nomination as well. The same goes for his co-star Adam Driver. Not to mention, this film has one of the funniest scenes of the year in the form of a phone conversation that occurs between John David Washington’s Ron Stallworth and Topher Grace’s David Duke. The epilogue packs one final gut punch that, while some may find heavy handed, I thought effectively conveyed the message that Spike Lee was trying to get across and truly elevated the film overall.
Hereditary is a masterfully directed psychological horror film from first time filmmaker Ari Aster. This turned out to be quite the year for first time filmmakers as Ari Aster marks the fourth director to have their debut feature land in this top ten list. I’m a sucker for horror films, sure, but that isn’t why this film takes the top spot. The writing, direction, and performances in Hereditary were on par, if not better than, some of this year’s biggest critical darlings.
Toni Collette’s portrayal of a woman drifting further and further into madness is downright Oscar-worthy. The screenplay is meticulously plotted out and packs enough of a punch to warrant consideration for a Best Original Screenplay nomination. Behind the camera, Ari Aster shows off the decision making of a seasoned director. Aster did not rely on jump scares or false set-ups. Instead, he decided to go with shocking imagery, dread-inducing premises, and subtle wides.
This film gripped me from the start and just continued tightening that grip throughout its two hour runtime. Well after the credits rolled, this was a film I just couldn’t shake. This was a complex film that left itself open to many different interpretations. Not to mention, it was deeply layered and I found that the more layers I pulled away, the more themes I discovered. In a year that saw so many mindless, cookie cutter, studio horror films, Hereditary proved that horror can be just as thematically layered and complex as any other genre.
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