To say that 2018 was a great year for film isn’t necessarily unusual; this entire decade we’ve been lucky enough to have countless memorable films each year. That being said, 2018 was no different, and there were many wonderful films this year that spanned different genres, perspectives, and interpretations.
I was able to see most of the films that I wanted to this year, but as with every year, there were some I missed and some that haven’t opened up in my area yet- being a film fan outside of New York or Los Angeles is very challenging when you’re a fan of independent cinema. To see what films were considered for my list, you can check out my catalogue of reviews on my blog.
It’s always difficult narrowing down the films I saw to just ten, and this may have been the most difficult list I’ve ever had to compile. There were so many great films this year, many of which were criminally underseen, but ultimately I selected ten that I felt were of the highest quality.
As always, there are many films that I loved that didn’t end up making my list, and as with last year, I decided to select my top 40 runners up to my top ten. I strongly considered making a full top 50 list, but I am confident in my top ten and encourage my readers to see all the mentioned films in my list and honorable mentions.
Honorable Mentions- The Top 40 Runners Up
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Sicario: Day of the Soldado
A Star is Born
Mary Queen of Scots
The Front Runner
Avengers: Infinity War
The Sisters Brothers
Leave No Trace
The Death of Stalin
A Quiet Place
Isle of Dogs
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Bad Time at the El Royale
Mary Poppins Returns
The Old Man & The Gun
At Eternity’s Gate
- If Beale Street Could Talk
A powerful cinematic romance brought to life by two marvelous performances from Kiki Lane and Stephen James, If Beale Street Could Talk is a simply gorgeous film that realizes the pain brought by the justice system and explores a rich culture through a wonderful ensemble of characters who each bring something new to the film. The film boasts a wonderful score, and the tight close ups and elegant, portrait like cinematography make this one of the most visually dazzling films of the year.
Adam McKay provides another infuriating and unescapably prevalent story of how the strive for power came at the expense of the American people, this time showing the circumstances that led Dick Cheney to become one of the most influential figures in modern political history. While a huge element is McKay’s willingness to follow the bread crumb trails to find what actions affect us today, he’s also fascinated in what makes Dick and Lynne Cheney tick, and Christian Bale and Amy Adams deliver transformative performances that delve into the psyche of these figures. No other movies this year was so creative in its infusion of humor, structural shifts, and untraditional narrative (and narrators!) to tell its story.
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a singular tribute to the power of positive thinking and kindness, and while there are perhaps more striking or innovative ways of making a documentary, the film captures the spirit of Fred Rogers through wonderful anecdotes, insightful interviews that reach meaningful conclusions, and rewarding animated segments that capture Rogers and his journey. It’s simply a good hearted and respectful tradition, one that evokes a full pallet of emotions as we wrestle with what Mr. Rogers can teach us.
Alfonso Cuaron may be the greatest visual artist of his generation, and Roma is without a doubt one of the most beautifully shot films I’ve ever seen. The story of a wealthy Mexican family falling apart is not only a window into a culture and people who don’t get their stories told, but a fascinating look at the essence of family. Yalitza Aparicio’s character, the maid who’s story leads the film, gives an amazing performance as the latent glue of the family; the film is episodic yet flows, and ends with an emotional wallop like no other while not resolving itself in a storybook way.
- Mission: Impossible- Fallout
Mission: Impossible-Fallout is straight up one of the greatest action films ever made; while films like this are often defined by one sequence or moment, Fallout is able to remain engrossing, exciting, and unpredictable throughout, with each set piece topping the next. Christopher McQuarrie elevates the entire genre with an unprecedented level of craftsmanship- the cinematography and use of color is simply stunning, and the score brings to life the melancholy and humanity in an otherwise relentless film. The standout, however, remains Tom Cruise; after over 35 years in the industry, he reminds us why he’s the greatest movie star on the planet with his incredible dedication to giving us an authentic and personal experience.
- First Man
First Man is both of celebration and a challenge of the idea of the idealized 1960s America, pulling back the noise of history by focusing on Neil Armstrong’s personal journey that includes family tragedy and individual rebirth. Space here is scary, thrilling, yet strangely beautiful, and First Man details the intense and challenging years that predated the first lunar mission. Illuminated by an all-time great score by Justin Hurwitz, First Man is an intimate and gripping historical tale that culminates in a leveling emotional payoff.
- You Were Never Really Here
An artful tone poem unlike anything I’ve ever seen, You Were Never Really Here is a visceral experience that tells its story in a way that’s both untraditional and accessible. The beautiful cinematography, score, and sound are breathtakingly orchestrated by masterful filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, who captures a terrible week in the life of veteran forging a one man war against insidious forces. Joaquin Phoenix does some of his best work in this dour, hallucinatory work, and the result is a captivating and impactful film.
- Bohemian Rhapsody
Bohemian Rhapsody captures the essence of Freddie Mercury- the wit, the charm, the contradictions, the tragedy, the passion, and the pure, unadulterated talent. Rami Malek delivers the best performance of the year with his tour de force performance as the legendary front man, but the film is also brought to life by a terrific ensemble, specifically Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, and Joseph Mazzzello, as Queen members Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon, respectively. Each scene pulsates with energy and emotion; the film is reflective as Freddie lives to see his own legacy at the end of the life, and it concludes with an incredible recreation of the Live Aid that ranks among the greatest cinematic moments of the decade.
- The Favourite
The Favourite is the most purely enjoyable film I’ve seen in years, a shocking and hilarious takedown of wealth and politics through three deceitful and devious women. Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman deliver exemplary work and bring humanity to these rather unlikeable characters. Nearly every bit of staging by director Yorgos Lanthimos- the lighting, the music, the action, the color- is as perfect as it could be, and the humor is persistent until the point that the film reaches its natural conclusion, a chilling denouement to the excess and vileness that preceded it.
- First Reformed
The best film of the year is a slow, piercing meditation on faith, purpose, and despair anchored by Ethan Hawke’s greatest performance to date. Legendary writer and director Paul Schrader crafts the best depiction of faith in a modern context ever seen on screen and delivers on an eerie noir with the vibrant mysticism of Taxi Driver wrapped in a conflicted and fascinating lead character. No film this year demands more viewings like First Reformed, and no line is quite as all-encompassing as “I know that nothing can change, and I know there is no hope.”