Top 20 Films of 2018

Another year, here and gone. If one word characterized film in 2018, it was “debut”. Budding directors like Bo Burnham and Jonah Hill, the Coen brothers and Alfonso Cuarón’s first streamable films, and the release of Orson Welles’ lost masterpiece made up one of the most exciting years for film in recent memory. Check out individual reviews for the films listed in links to their titles, and prepare for much more film coverage in 2019. Without further ado, here are the Top 20 Films of 2018.

firstreformed1.0.jpg

Top 20 Films of 2018

Brody-MissionImpossible.jpg

Where every Mission Impossible film went wrong, Mission Impossible: Fallout goes right. Each scene is electrifying, finally solving the problem of how to make the set-up to Tom Cruise’s next plane-jump exciting. The film doesn’t rely on a gimmick to bring viewers in (Rogue Nation’s plane scene). The script is packed with tense material, from narrow-street bike chases to bloody bathroom brawls. It’s not only a great Mission Impossible movie, it’s the best action film of the year, without turning every plot point into some exaggerated, Fast and the Furious-like scenario. There’s a running joke that in every MI movie, the IMF thinks Tom Cruise is the bad guy. Mission Impossible: Fallout doesn’t abandon that cliche, but makes it an integral, and brief, part of the story. While not a complete overhaul of the usual formula, it’s a welcome reminder of what can happen when the people working the studio have fun with their material.

Where to Watch: iTunes, Amazon

19. Isle of Dogs

3-28_movies1_-_isle_of_dogs.jpg

Isle of Dogs was not the film I wanted from Wes Anderson. Every instinct in my subconscious said it couldn’t match Fantastic Mr. Fox, or his previous masterpiece, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson’s script, however, makes its mission to tell the most whimsically grounded tale he has told so far. It’s a film you can marvel at, with the sort of animation that makes a strong case for its articulate nature. The world of animals is once again the focus, but the ones here are shy, passionate, and sincere servants, not the cunning geniuses of Fantastic Mr. Fox. They do what dogs do, serve and protect, and the way the voice cast delivers this behavior is one of the unsung gems of this film. It’s a visual feast, and a remarkable story filled with the kind of humor that, like most of Anderson’s films, will last forever.

Where to Watch: iTunes, Amazon

18. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

buster.jpg

The Coens are streaming. One of the many unbelievable moments of 2018 came in the release of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a multi-part anthology film using the Old West as a backdrop, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Across six short stories, the Coens craft a film so full of adventure, stupidity, and death, it may as well be titled Coen’s Greatest Hits. Each chapter covers a unique perspective, and though the finale leaves the film on a rather bland note, the remainder of the film is as exciting and risky as anything the Coens have done. Come for Tim Blake Nelson’s ridiculous title character, and stay for Tom Waits’ gold prospector. The TV-like format is a change that takes time to appreciate, but with it comes the chance to tell drastically different stories under the same banner. It works, and considering the level of talent attached, it should be no surprise.

Where to Watch: Netflix

17. At Eternity’s Gate

at-eternitys-gate-cbs-films.jpg

What better way to represent a troubled artist than to wrap completely around their head? Joy, depression, whatever emotions come into play, Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate attempts to paint a complete portrait of Vincent Van Gogh, its mentally afflicted subject. Multiple times throughout the film, Van Gogh reminds us that he exists to paint, that it is God’s purpose for him on Earth. This allows for any kind of suffering to graze over him, to fuel his desire to create in a way that mirrors God’s: unabashed, and unexplained. Van Gogh’s crippling mental illness is a key point of the story, as the film details the various treatment centers Van Gogh suffered through, leading up to one of the great dialogues in film this year. Mads Mikkelsen’s priest can’t see anything in Vincent’s work, and without being rude, attempts to understand Van Gogh’s feelings toward painting. Like the film, it’s a revelatory and dynamically shot interaction that leaves everything on the table, without a thought as to whether or not something exciting needs to happen.

16. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-e1543416171972.png

Just when it seemed like Sony had lost all bearings on the modern film market (Venom), the late-year Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse arrived to knock everything down. Charming, emotional, and hilarious, it’s the Spider-Man movie fans have been asking for since Spider-Man 2, and is possibly even better than it. The story is inventive, involving multiple Spider-Men across different dimensions (one voiced by Nicolas Cage) teaming up to return to their worlds, hinging on the adolescent Miles Morales newfound abilities. Morales’ relationship with Spider-Man and his father are inspired, setting up two emotional pillars to teach him everything he needs to know about being the next Spider-Man, power and responsibility included. What’s amazing is that you never notice you’re watching an origin story until the end, when Morales is swinging across New York City with a smile as big as the skyline. It’s as entertaining as it is inventive, and the best superhero film since The Dark Knight.

15. Eighth Grade

636669230206662414-eighth-grade-EG-SS060118-E-rgb.jpg

All hail the arrival of the next great indie auteur. Coming from the (sort of) unlikeliest of places, Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade shocked and rewarded audiences like no other film this year. A brilliant turn on an age-old genre, Eighth Grade dissects the in-between of young adulthood with candy-coated vision. Elsie Fisher’s Kayla is determined yet shy, outgoing in her journal but silent in her class. That is until the last week of middle school, when the realization hits that she needs to make something of her time, fast. The story is classic, the means are not. With booming synths, dangerous new friendships, and a father-daughter relationship like no other, Eighth Grade captures a highly-specific and contentious point of life, all while avoiding the “Hello, fellow kids!” shtick. It’s a film for adults and eighth graders alike, and makes its message vital for both.

Where to Watch: iTunes, Amazon

14. Suspiria

image.jpg

Modern horror has become difficult to pin down. You either have Blumhouse popcorn flicks, or Suspiria, with very little middle ground. Luca Guadagnino’s remake is so stuffed with ideas, it’s shocking that it’s even watchable. Between Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, an eerie score from Thom Yorke, and a ridiculously long runtime, Suspiria is the kind of horror epic more characteristic of Bram Stoker’s Dracula than Dario Argento’s original film. It has almost nothing in common with the original, and completely changes the ending, but these don’t feel like updates; more like an alternate timeline, with a greater emphasis on female empowerment and brutal, brutal horror. It’s an epic on a small scale, and a fantastic film to ride along with despite its many quirks and flaws.

13. Mid90s

mid-90s-main-480x320.jpg

Furthering the theme of excellent 2018 debuts, Jonah Hill’s Mid90s is the depressive, joyful pit of emotion anyone who grew up in the decade would remember. The mood is humor despite suffering, an experience most kids can’t relate to. Mid90s tells an adult story through a cast of child actors much too good to appear in just this film; that’s what’s so incredible about Mid90s, the way it sets up every actor as if they were created for their specific roles. Even Lucas Hedges, who has appeared in some 1,000 films this year, looks and acts right out of the era, orange juice and all. With an unmatched eye for detail and one of the most terrifying non-horror climaxes of the year, Mid90s is a film only Jonah Hill could have made.

Where to Watch: iTunes, Amazon

12. Support the Girls

maxresdefault-1.jpg

Naturalistic, heartbreaking, and authentic, Support The Girls is one of the great underrated films of 2018. Regina Hall’s performance is relatable yet confident, resulting in one of the most sympathetic leads to come out of this year. The film covers a day in the life of Lisa, the general manager of Double Whammies, a Hooters-like sports bar with a struggling business model. On an especially trying day, her ability to comfort friends and deal with creeps is pushed to the breaking point, and ends with her screaming on a rooftop next to two polar opposite coworkers turned good friends. Few films this year captured the uninhibited expression of being fed up that Support the Girls nails, and though it’s a skeletally made film, it gives the attention to actresses that a cast like this deserves.

Where to Watch: Hulu, iTunes, Amazon

11. Madeline’s Madeline

maxresdefault-2.jpg

An acid trip through the expanding mind of a performative and mentally ill teenager, Madeline’s Madeline leaves you with a lot to unpack. Writer/director Josephine Decker has crafted her fullest film, with characters that feel pulled straight from fairy tales, modernized to communicate a contemporary moral. Madeline’s role in a prestigious New York theatre company becomes her hubris, as she is asked to insert more and more of her personal life into performances. This blur of reality and art results in the most crushing scene this year, in which Madeline delivers an impassioned and bitter monologue for her mother, in character as her. For such an abstract film, it’s a wonder that the most unforgettable aspect is a mother-daughter relationship.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime, iTunes

10. Wildlife

MV5BZTAzZTk4MDQtZWIyZS00MDMyLTkyNTgtMjU0MDA0YWRlN2I4XkEyXkFqcGdeQW1yb3NzZXI@._V1_.jpg

Paul Dano’s near-perfect debut captures the darkest moments of childhood, whether it be through the innocent lens of a son or the confident musings of an abandoned woman. It’s a coming of age film, but only in secret. Its greatest moments come from the acting talents of Carey Mulligan, who takes the urban-housewife stereotype for a joyride more than worthy of awards. The fury and tenderness of a repressed woman is dangerously tempting, something Mulligan’s character is forced to reckon with after her husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) leaves the family to fight a local wildfire. Young Joe (Ed Oxenbould) is our viewfinder, and through him we are forced to make a decision regarding Mulligan’s actions. Neglectful mother or liberated woman, why not both? Nothing in Wildlife is off limits, as it challenges preconceptions as to what a woman can and should be, all with the care and attention to craft that a master filmmaker earns over the course of a long career. Paul Dano, and his co-writer Zoe Kazan, have made a film of this magnitude on their first go.

Where to Watch: iTunes


9. The Favourite

the-favourite-emma-stone-1.jpg

The Favourite is a lesson in how to film duality. Crass humor and ornate paintings, rabbit murder and stylistic hair dos. In his first true comedy, Yorgos Lanthimos films a world grounded in the realities of relationships, with a clever twist on the love triangle cliche. Emma Stone furthers her ability to adapt to any role at a moment’s notice, playing an up-and-coming lady as cruel as her Queen is deranged. The ensemble of Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman is something we won’t see again for some time, and begs the question, who to nominate? Each actress brings her greatest talents: Weisz’s charming coldness, Colman’s dynamic adages, and Stone’s meek appearance contribute to their wildly funny characters, inspired by the Victorian Ladies of England, but informed by a 21st century sensibility. Troubling as anything Lanthimos has done, The Favourite is his greatest achievement for what he adds, replacing the threat of death with constant sexual tension and a focus on dramatic lighting. It’s elegance with a touch of filth.


8. Private Life

lead_720_405.jpg

In what feels like Juno for grown-ups, Private Life deals with the tenderest aspect of marriage, the ability to conceive. Star Kathryn Hahn drives themes similar to Carey Mulligan’s character in Wildlife: the role of a woman in marriage, especially when that marriage is fraying. Tamara Jenkins’ screenplay is light, proverbial, and breathtakingly real, best displayed in an interaction between Rachel (Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) that involves Richard admitting he cannot support Rachel in a crucial moment of vulnerability. Few moments in film are as emotionally potent, but Private Life doesn’t content itself to be only a romantic drama; it’s a screwball comedy, and a life-affirming testament to the power of family. These themes are less prevalent, but without them there is no catharsis in the truly great moments, when characters set aside their arguments to welcome something better.

Where to Watch: Netflix


7. You Were Never Really Here

main.jpg

You Were Never Really Here has more in common with 2017’s Good Time than director Lynne Ramsay’s previous work. We Need to Talk About Kevin was vast, extensive, and packed with backstory to inform the present situation. You Were Never Really Here cuts the persiflage, utilizing crucial moments to slip in flashbacks, enough to inform the audience without removing tension from the scene. Editing moments of his childhood trauma into Joe’s (Joaquin Phoenix) rescue of a sexually abused girl creates a dual scenario, each informing the other’s relevance, and by the end of the film, the characters’ fate. There are grisly murders, firefights, and break-ins, but the slow power of You Were Never Really Here comes in its quiet corners. In one of the great movie moments of the year, Joe lays down next to an intruder he has shot, sings a song with him, and waits for him to pass. The opportunity to converse with death in this way says more than any flashback could. The film’s last shot is so affecting you may just forget these moments. They are deeply human, and reminders of the effects of trauma, snuck into a career-best film for Ramsay and Phoenix.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime, iTunes


6. If Beale Street Could Talk

if-beale-street-could-talk.jpg

If Beale Street Could Talk cuts every scene that isn’t essential. Like director Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, you often don’t realize you’re in the middle of an important scene until it’s halfway through. This is a testament not only to the novel the film is based on, but the actors’ depth of emotion. The story is classic, but the delivery is once in a lifetime, told with the kind of love and attention that typically involves years of work. That this is only Jenkins’ second feature speaks volumes as to where he will go, as well as how potent he can be with adapted stories as well as original ones. Nearly every scene begins with a slow frame-up of an actor’s face, allowing a moment to settle into the character’s mood before events take place. These moments of pause, silence, and softly played jazz force you to watch at the film’s pace, and it couldn’t be more rewarding.


5. The House That Jack Built

matt-dillon-the-house-that-jack-built-lars-von-trier-2.jpg

There’s a startling lack of subtlety to The House That Jack Built. While its predecessor, Nymphomaniac, boasted a similar unabashed attitude, The House That Jack Built focuses on the irredeemable evils of humanity, a hardly veiled critique of Donald Trump the director acknowledges. Jack (Matt Dillon) is as soulless as any fragment Lars von Trier has dreamed up, and that is saying something. Following the episodic structure characteristic of von Trier films, it relies heavily on his analytical script. There is no lead-up to Jack’s uprising, a stylistic carry-over from Nymphomaniac, as several characters are either completely aware of his abilities or totally oblivious. The film’s many philosophic questions are posed through a conversational frame, and explained in documentary-like filmmaking that both informs and leads the audience through the relatively straightforward story. When his own films start showing up on screen to inform Jack’s dilemma, you know von Trier is trying something. It, like most von Trier films, is the sum of its parts. There’s enough ambiguity to prompt years of discussion, and though the film follows a strict formula, it couldn’t be a more fascinating piece of filmmaking.

Where to Watch: iTunes, Amazon


4. Shoplifters

merlin_146950422_cdf94069-a72a-4dfb-ae9d-6d4222e39c29-articleLarge.jpg

A sublime twist on the family drama, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters grapples with the process of earned affection, and succeeds on all levels. Things crash, burn, and die, but there is no part of Shoplifters that doesn’t deliver on its potential. The patchwork family of parents, friends, found children, and grandmothers is mined for conversational gold, creating a general air of good-will that is shattered in the film’s final third. If there is humor, it comes from suffering. Kore-eda’s direction is still, personal, and as colorful as a slowly drying watercolor. Dialogue is smooth, embellished with specific humor that captures the family dynamic like few films have. The harsh reality of familial love on display, Shoplifters is an inspiring film that doesn’t compromise on the difficulties of maintaining relationships.


3. Roma

aef6fd8893ee6267cd36c12a1961fc627cea7a7b-1.jpg

It’s rare that a classic film is recognized instantly. Alfonso Cuarón has more than a few under his belt, but his last film, 2013’s Gravity, was considerably more mainstream than Children of Men or Y Tu Mamá También. Roma, his first film serving as cinematographer as well as director, is a brutally bare experience that lives up to the director’s pedigree, and surpasses it. He shirks comparison by adopting a brand new camera style, echoing heroes of the iconic French new wave more than himself, and telling a story that is equal parts pain and comfort. The theater scene, Cleo’s saving of the children in the ocean, the forest fire, there are so many events packed into Roma it can start to feel like an epic. Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) is one of the great near-silent protagonists of the decade, relaying emotion with a despondent and sympathetic expression that begs to be understood. Roma travels beyond Cuarón-isms and modern film tropes, aiming for a style that has long been forgotten. It’s another in a year of films that forces the audience to watch at its pace, using its runtime to the absolute fullest. Other films released in 2018, but there were none like Roma, and never will be again.

Where to Watch: Netflix


2. First Reformed

lead_720_405-1.jpg

Religion, suicide, corporatism, and love are put on trial in Paul Schrader’s magnificent return to brilliance. Ethan Hawke’s tour de force performance alone carries all First Reformed needs to succeed, as he mutters and narrates his way through an emotionally taxing season of middle-aged existential crisis. The tried-and-true method of narration brings the only stability amidst Reverend Toller’s (Hawke) chaotic relationships, slowing the film down occasionally for a peek into his rapidly deteriorating psyche. The most enthralling aspect of First Reformed is that it comes as a total surprise. Ethan Hawke’s best roles have been of the carefree, lovable type, a far cry from his character in First Reformed. It seems some of the vitriol of Before Midnight has carried over, as he delivers a performance so varied and cold, you wonder if he is the protagonist. Schrader, on the other hand, has delivered quite possibly his best film. The Academy aspect ratio, various special effects sequences, and one unforgettable ending, it’s as if he’s been reading a different book than the rest of us. It’s the meeting of two great talents that makes First Reformed the debilitating triumph it is, and it won’t leave you with a second to catch your breath.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime, iTunes


1. The Other Side of the Wind

1469816-4170896-zoomed2.jpg

The long-rumored yet never released The Other Side of the Wind stood as one of the great mysteries of the film industry for decades. Director Orson Welles’ death put the project on an indefinite standstill, but in 2018, over 40 years after its production ended, it has been released on Netflix. Ignore the impossibility of that chain of events for a moment, and you are left with nothing less than is implied: a 70s influenced masterpiece from the master. Though it is lacking a crucial element some may cite against its brilliance, that being Welles’ full involvement in the editing, the opportunity to include voices other than his own has helped the film tremendously. With hundreds of hours of footage to sift through, who knows what Welles may have landed on or decided to cut, but what we do know is that the final cut is breathtaking. Through the story of fictional director J.J. Hannaford (John Huston) and his acolyte Brooks Otterlake (Peter Bogdanovich), the film’s subtext dissects Welles and Bogdanovich’s own troubled relationship, while the main plot satirizes the exact comeback narrative Welles was chasing. In footage from the documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, Welles can be seen riding in the back of a car in a scene between Huston and Bogdanovich, feeding lines and staying out of frame. It’s the perfect metaphor for this film: born and raised in its time, softly manipulated by its creator as he was trying to figure out just what it was. The Other Side of the Wind tells the story not only of the reclusive and doomed Jake Hannaford, but of an era of unbridled experimentalism that an auteur like Welles thrived in. Had he completed it, it would be a classic, but because he did not, it is much more. Enthralling, hilarious, and didactic, it’s a film lost in time, that thankfully has made its way to ours.

Where to Watch: Netflix