It seems like I say this every time but another year has flown by. Now here we sit looking back at the movie year that was. 2018 was unique in that so many of my favorite films were never on my radar. A handful of blockbusters delivered while several small independent movies were huge surprises. Parsing this year’s batch of contenders was no easy task. Nonetheless we do these things so here we go:
As always I’ll begin by showing love to the fine movies that just missed my top 10. Here are my #11 – 20 picks:
- #20 – “The 12th Man”
- #19 – “Bad Times at the El Royale”
- #18 – “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”
- #17 – “Apostle”
- #16 – “Custody”
- #15 – “Eighth Grade”
- #14 – “Paddington 2“
- #13 – “You Were Never Really There”
- #12 – “If Beale Street Could Talk”
- #11 – “At Eternity’s Gate”
Here are my Top 10 films from 2018:
This innovative and surprisingly original horror film came from John Krasinski who not only starred but co-wrote and directed it. The movie’s central horror conceit is effective but at its core is the story of family shattered by grief and in a desperate struggle to pick up the pieces. Each family member is struggling under the weight of their own guilt and sense of loss. Each struggle to deal with it in their own ways. The craftiness in melding the horror and family elements can’t be praised enough.
This was easily one of the most beautiful films of 2018. It comes from French filmmaker Xavier Beauvois and tells a little known yet powerful World War I story. It’s not about the troops but the women left behind to keep their families, their farms, their livelihood together. The film’s slow observant rhythm rewards the patient viewer with a unique perspective on these characters and the uneasy drama that unfolds in the final third. Fine performances throughout and top-notch direction inspired by some of the great French filmmakers of the past.
Despite missing some key players from the first film, this worthy follow-up captured most of what made its predecessor so effective. It’s a tense, slow-boiling border thriller that tackles a highly contentious current issue and leaves neither side of it unscathed. Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin return to wreak havoc among the cartels stepping over any legal/illegal line set in front of them. Some saw the film as a pointless sequel. I saw it as opening up the series to a wealth of interesting possibilities.
The awards curcuits have been buzzing over Alfonso Cuarón’s intimate and deeply personal “Roma” and for good reason. Inspired by a key figure from his childhood, Cuarón weaves together one gorgeously crafted visual composition after another. Every frame is crafted with painstaking detail and not an inch of the shot is wasted. It’s a film that hearkens back to the filmmaking of Fellini, Tati, and even a touch of Bresson. Still, it’s much more than gorgeous eye candy and it definitely feels fresh among the steady stream of modern filmmaking conventions.
Paul Schrader’s intense yet sensitive “First Reformed” is unlike anything else I saw in 2018. It’s a film rich in themes – faith, guilt, obsession, self-destruction, and spiritual despair just to name a few. It’s a film wrestling with the idea of “a world without hope” and it does so with the most open and earnest of intentions. And then there is Ethan Hawke, a great actor giving a career best performance. As fascinating as the subject may be, it doesn’t get off the ground without Hawke who is nothing short of superb.
2018 saw Damien Chazelle follow up his award-winning “La La Land” with a biopic of the enigmatic Neil Armstrong. It was bogged down early by undeserved criticism and seemingly overlooked by many throughout its box office run. It’s a stirring portrayal that aims to be more personal than theatrical. It’s an approach I really appreciated. The movie is helped by a widely misunderstood performance from Ryan Gosling who is understated by design and hardly without an emotional underpinning. It makes for a wonderful study of an iconic American figure.
Talk about a movie I wish more people would see. Director and co-writer Debra Granik’s subtly piercing father/daughter drama left an impression on me and I have felt its emotional tug since. Granik (who gave us “Winter’s Bone”) once again gets down on the most human of levels and does it through a segment of our population on the fringes. Ben Foster’s performance is powerful in its restraint, but it’s newcomer Thomasin McKenzie who shines brightest. She’s the emotional anchor and it’s impossible to not be moved by her story.
I’ve long had reservations about Paul Dano the actor. I have no such reservations when it comes to Paul Dano the director. “Wildlife”, his directorial debut, sees him telling a piercing family story with the delicacy and precision of a seasoned filmmaker. A very good Ed Oxenbould is our eyes. Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic. But this is really Carey Mulligan’s show. She brilliantly cracks open her character and works a wide range of emotions to give form to her many complexities. It’s one of the year’s best performances from one of the year’s best movies.
Whenever the Coen brothers make a movie it automatically has my attention. “Buster Scruggs” shows the siblings flexing their creative freedoms in ways we haven’t seen before. The movie is an anthology – six short stories with very different flavors but each connected with a familiar thematic throughline. While its structure is unconventional, even a bit wacky, it’s unquestionably a Coen brothers film. You’ll find their dense wordplay, beautiful visuals, and quirky sense of humor stamped all over this thing.
In a year where independent films shined the brightest for me, it’s a big budget blockbuster that was my easy choice for best of the 2018. “M:I – Fallout” tops my list for a very simple reason – it is easily the most fun I had at the theaters this year. It is exactly what I want from a blockbuster. While the action is exhilarating and the thrills non-stop, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie never shortchanges his story or his characters. For me it sets a high bar not just for the franchise itself but for what blockbusters can and should be.
There you have it. Please let me know what you think in the comments section below. What did I get right and where did I go wrong? I would love to hear you thoughts. Lets do it again next year!