Posted January 31, 2019
constantly in utter disbelief by how many film fans and critics said that
the year that was one of the worst in recent memory for quality releases.
couldn't categorically disagree more with them.
thought 2018 was riddled with releases of rich and eclectic variety, some of which were the product of veteran
directors, some by
novice directors, many by female directors, but they all shared the
commonality of representing the best offerings that I had the pleasure of
experiencing over the last twelve months.
In actuality, and as was the case in previous years, I saw so many
upper echelon films in 2018 that disseminating them down to a grouping of ten
was a frustratingly difficult task for me.
This has led to me expanding upon a TOP 10 FILMS list
with a greater TOP 25, which affords me the opportunity to pay respect to
those entries that couldn't quite crack the TOP 10, but were nevertheless
highly worthy of inclusion in the larger discussion of cinematic greatness in
2018. This year was so
good for high end releases that I even found myself procrastinating
about which films should be left off of the TOP 25.
That's a good kind of problem, I guess, but a greater reflection of
how solid last year was for the movies.
short, it didn't suck as much as many believe it did.
I strive for every year with these lists, I aim for rich variety with my
choices. That, and my list of
the TOP 10 FILMS OF 2018 are just that...they are my choices, and no
one else's. Two fact based
historical dramas made the cut, as well as a musical remake.
Three films made by female directors respectively are here (so, for those
saying that there are simply not enough good films made by women to
warrant awards season nominations...yeah...I call bull shit).
Finally, there's a film from a first time director (and former
YouTube star) on the list, and arguably one of the greatest late
sequels in a franchise ever made.
I'm choosing Spike Lee's BLACKkKLANSMAN as the best film of 2018, mostly
because - unlike the others listed below - it was a terrific mainstream
entertainment with mass appeal that also worked as a great and important
film with timely themes that spoke to racial injustices both past and
Alfonso Cuaron previously made the positively spellbinding sci-fi thriller GRAVITY and, previous to that, made one of the best dystopian dramas of all time in CHILDREN OF MEN. The Oscar winning director is clearly one unafraid of genre challenge, and his latest effort in ROMA - a period drama, shot in lush black and white and loosely based on his own upbringing in Mexico City - was a bold and miraculous achievement for the acclaimed cinematic maestro.
The Netflix produced film - which should be seen on the big screen for proper immersive effect - could not be anymore different than his previous two, done with simple, but nevertheless masterful stokes as a stunningly authentic portrait of a live-in maid (played in a spellbinding and Oscar worthy performance by newcomer Yalitza Aparicio, an untrained actress before taking the role) working for a middle class family in 1970s Mexico City. ROMA emerged as Cuaron's most thoughtfully personal film in terms of capturing the intoxicating microcosm of this family unit while, at the same time, showing the larger political and social upheaval of the era. Visually arresting and replete with painterly imagery (Cuaron served as his own cinematographer) and containing a free flowing narrative that evoked the spontaneity of life, ROMA was a beautifully told story of domesticity; it told a small story with the broadest of brush strokes, and it deeply moved and will stay with me for an awfully long time.
3. FIRST MAN
Chazelle's FIRST MAN - his latest film after winning the Best Director
Oscar for LA LA LAND - told
the story of the build up to the Apollo 11 moon landing on July of 1969,
during which time Neil Armstrong become a living legend in the annals of
exploration history by becoming the first human being to step foot on the
What made this historical drama so endlessly compelling wasn't in its
portrait of the early days of NASA and their years of intense planning - and
hellish setbacks - that led to Armstrong walking on the moon, but rather in
how intimately it honed in on humanizing Armstrong by focusing on the
trials and tribulations he faced to achieve a first for the human race.
Even better, FIRST MAN emerged as one of the grittiest and most breathtakingly realistic portrayals of space travel ever committed to celluloid.
And helping lead the charge was Ryan Gosling (re-teaming with
Chazelle after LA LA LAND) in his brilliantly understated portrayal of this
iconic hero as a man of unimpeachable mental and physical iron that
also had his share of uncertainties and vulnerabilities.
Gosling made Armstrong more
of a flesh and blood man of intelligence, perseverance, and, yes, self
doubt versus a mythologized version of this historical figure that's
easily propped up for instant hero worship.
What made this historical drama so endlessly compelling wasn't in its portrait of the early days of NASA and their years of intense planning - and hellish setbacks - that led to Armstrong walking on the moon, but rather in how intimately it honed in on humanizing Armstrong by focusing on the trials and tribulations he faced to achieve a first for the human race. Even better, FIRST MAN emerged as one of the grittiest and most breathtakingly realistic portrayals of space travel ever committed to celluloid. And helping lead the charge was Ryan Gosling (re-teaming with Chazelle after LA LA LAND) in his brilliantly understated portrayal of this iconic hero as a man of unimpeachable mental and physical iron that also had his share of uncertainties and vulnerabilities. Gosling made Armstrong more of a flesh and blood man of intelligence, perseverance, and, yes, self doubt versus a mythologized version of this historical figure that's easily propped up for instant hero worship.
4. EIGHTH GRADE
One of the more sublime surprises of last year was Bo Burham's EIGHTH GRADE, the 27-year-old rookie director's auspicious feature film debut that chronicled the awkward and anxiety plagued transition of one young teen girl making her way from elementary to high school.
What made this drama all
the more potent and invigorating was that it was painted with such
heartfelt authenticity. Watching
EIGHTH GRADE was akin to viewing a documentary: It attained
a level of stark realism with its damaged main character and showed her at
her most emotionally fragile. It's
so rare to watch a modern high school dramedy that features adolescent
characters that all look, sound, and act with absolute veracity (that, and
Burham paid respect to the adult characters in the film as well, whom
usually get the shaft in these types of movies).
On top of that, EIGHTH GRADE was
also a compellingly rendered commentary on the nature of social media in
shaping young people's lives, and often not for the better. And
at the heart of it all was the extraordinary performance by young Elsie
Fisher, bestowing upon viewers one of the most credible and layered
performances of a teenager I've ever seen on screen.
One of the great overlooked films and featuring one of the great overlooked performances of 2018 was Paul Schrader's FIRST REFORMED, a penetrating and unnerving faith-in-crisis drama about a man of the cloth being thrust down a dark path of complete emotional and spiritual breakdown. That the film warrants and deserves comparisons to TAXI DRIVER (which Schrader also famously penned) is inevitable, seeing as both films chronicle lost souls that are plagued with nagging thoughts of using violence to seek a form of self-therapy and salvation. The best thing I could say about FIRST REFORMED is that it steadfastly refused genre classification and never could be easily compartmentalized into the same broad conventions of other religious genre pictures. Schrader's film was an awfully hard one to process: Its story was uncompromisingly bleak and depressing, and its final fifteen or so minutes were punishingly hard to endure, which left me feeling both astonished and exhausted.
At 71-years-old, Schrader proved here that he could still be a cinematic provocateur that pushes tough buttons, and his partner in crime in star Ethan Hawke gave the finest performance of his career playing a deeply unsettling character that undoubtedly struck a raw nerve with anyone that saw FIRST REFORMED.
Speaking of TAXI DRIVER, here's another offering on my list of the year's best that found inspiration from that 1976 Martin Scorsese film. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE contains a premise of a sociopath avenger trying to do right in the world via very violent means (much akin to Travis Bickle), but it could have become a one note and dime-a-dozen revenge thriller awash with overused genre clichés under the wrong care. Thankfully, Lynne Ramsay's dynamic and impactful direction and a lead performance of volcanic and animalistic internalized intensity by a never-more-committed Joaquin Phoenix made YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE one of 2018's most relentlessly paced and stylishly captivating films. I found this film unendingly brutal to sit through during its refreshingly economical 90 minute running time, but I mean that as a sincere compliment. Ramsay's film never made apologies for what it was, and as an examination of pain and suffering on many nightmarish fronts, it was an unforgettably compelling thriller, and Phoenix gave one of the most unfiltered and raw pieces of acting in many a moon.
frankly tired of remakes. Simply...tired
of them. More often than not,
they represent the artistic and conceptual laziness and rarely, if ever,
warrant their existence.
A STAR IS
BORN really got me thinking about all of that, and it's a seemingly
ageless story that's been told nearly more times than I have fingers on
one hand (there was the 1932 film WHAT PRICE HOLLYWOOD?, followed by the
1937 remake A STAR IS BORN that later begat the 1954 Judy Garland remake
of the same name that, yes, also begat the Kris Kristofferson and Barbara
Striesand led 1976 remake). Here's
the deal, though: Bradley Cooper - making his directorial debut - has
quarterbacked arguably the finest remake of all time in his iteration of
the rags to riches story by paying faithful homage to the previous efforts
while making the material feel fresh and reinvigorating to modern
audiences. By utilizing a
rough, rugged, and raw level of verisimilitude that's anything but
glamorous, Cooper crafted a version of this tale that felt more alive and
lived in than any previous version. Plus,
A STAR IS BORN featured an embarrassment of performance riches with
Cooper, Sam Elliot, and Lady Gaga, the latter who predictably and reliably
breathed passion into the film's songs,
but also gave one of the more thanklessly dialled in and restrained
performances of the year.
LEAVE NO TRACE was the most quietly powerful drama of 2018, and writer/director Debra Ganik's film was a brilliantly unfussy, but unendingly compelling character piece that showed what a great observational eye she has as a filmmaker. That, and LEAVE NO TRACE also contained a finely attuned cast and an intriguing thematic richness about the nature of human survival and how one parent copes with rearing his only child without the conveniences of a modern technological society. There have been a lot of films over the years about characters that live in seclusion and in the wild, but very few are done with as much delicate sensitivity and an open frame of mind as what Granik did here. Featuring two of the most genuine performances of the year by the terribly underrated Ben Foster and newcomer Thomasin Mackenzie as the family unit in question trying to eek out an existence in the wilderness, LEAVE NO TRACE displayed atypical empathy for its homeless characters. Granik's drama wasn't flashy or in-your-face, but it challenged and deeply moved me in ways that few dramas do these days.
9. THE RIDER
There as never been a modern western quite like Chloe Zhao's THE RIDER.
It was a genre busting genre effort featuring indigenous cowboys from
reservations starring non-actors playing semi-fictionalized versions of
themselves who are all directed by a female Chinese filmmaker.
So, yeah, an ultra rare breed of western, indeed.
IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT - rather impossibly - emerged as arguably the best
action thriller since MAD MAX:
FURY ROAD and one of the best pure sequels ever made.
|...and now to round off my TEN BEST FILMS OF 2018 with my selections from 11-25:|
11. WIDOWS: Steve McQueen orchestrated one of the finest heist films in years featuring a sensational ensemble cast.
12. THE DEATH OF STALIN: A sublimely engineered piece of comic satire about the historical horrors of Joseph Stalin's Russia.
13. WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?: The best feel good movie of the last year was a documentary about the late and great Fred Rogers' life.
14. MANDY: As a film that journeyed towards uncharted realms of cinematic consciousness, Panos Cosmotos' revenge fantasy was a memorizing visual odyssey.
15. GREEN BOOK: Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali were brilliant together in this historical Civil Rights era dramedy.
16. BOY ERASED: This shocking fact based gay conversion therapy drama contained yet another inspired performance of understated power by Lucas Hedges.
17. THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN: Robert Redford was pitch perfectly cast in this tale of an elderly bank robber in what has been reported as his final film appearance as an actor.
18. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?: Melissa McCarthy gave the performance of her career in this reality based tale of a disgraced writer.
19. THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS: The second best doc of 2018 told an unbelievable story of separated at birth triplets that took nightmarish turns.
20. BLACK PANTHER: Ryan Coogler's box office record breaking super hero extravaganza was thematically dense and visually opulent.
21. AQUAMAN: This sixth film in the DC Extended Universe doubled down on eye popping visual spectacle and did this marine based super hero ample big screen justice.
22. A QUIET PLACE: This ingeniously constructed post-apocalyptic thriller was one of the ultra rare films that demanded viewing in a cinema with as large of an audience as possible.
23. REVENGE: This marvelously engineered revenge action film found a healthy middle ground between pulpy B-grade thrills and full bodied feminist empowerment.
24. ISLES OF DOGS: Wes Anderson's second stop motion animated film was a staggeringly beautiful achievement.
25. THOROUGHBREDS: A superb fusion of HEATHERS meets Hitchcockian intrigue made Cory Finley's thriller a unique standout.
|Beyond my TOP 25, here's a further selection of films that are definitely worth seeing, but just not quite great enough to make the final cut:|
UNSANE: Claire Foy was superb in this Steven Soderbergh directed psychological thriller, all improbably shot on iPhone 7s.
WELCOME TO MARWEN: Robert Zemeckis' heartfelt, wonderfully acted, and technically superb telling of real-life photographer Mark Hogancamp's life.
GAME NIGHT: As an engine designed to deliver well oiled and sustained laughs, this spring released comedy was as good as they come.
BORG VS. MCENROE: A criminally overlooked and underrated fact based sports film about one of the greatest sports grudge matches in history.
This Lara Croft reboot effort was both stylishly faithful to the recently
rebooted video game series and a fairly full bodied action film to boot.
This Lara Croft reboot effort was both stylishly faithful to the recently rebooted video game series and a fairly full bodied action film to boot.
RUNNER - THE DEATH CURE:
DAY OF THE SOLDADO:
A giant shark
creature feature with a lot of visual ambition that worked as self-referential
and brainless escapist fare.
A giant shark creature feature with a lot of visual ambition that worked as self-referential and brainless escapist fare.
TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE:
TO BOTHER YOU:
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE: Arguably the best movie - animated or not - about everyone's favorite wall crawling super hero in years.
MARY POPPINS RETURNS: Several decades in the making, the long waited sequel to the iconic and cherished 1964 original shared much of its whimsical and infectious charm.
BEALE STREET COULD TALK: