The Top 30 Films of 2018
Who said 2018 was a weak year in movies? We did not. In fact, 2018 offered such a bounty, we had a hard time cutting down our list of the year’s best. So we didn’t!
Thanks to Rachel Willis, Matt Weiner, Brandon Thomas, Christie Robb and Cat McAlpine for working with us this year to see and review so many films that we were helpless in the face of such abundance. So here you have it: the 30 best films of 2018.
A breathtaking culmination of his work to date, Roma pulls in elements and themes, visuals and curiosities from every film Alfonso Cuarón has made (including a wonderfully organic ode to the inspiration for one of his biggest), braiding them into a semi-autobiographical meditation on family life in the early 1970s.
At the film’s heart is an extended group concerning an affluent Mexico City couple (Fernando Grediaga and the scene-stealing Marina de Tavira), their four children and their two live-in servants Adela (Nancy Garcia Garcia) and Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio).
Sequence upon sequence offers a dizzying array of beauty, as foreground and background often move in glorious concert during meticulously staged extended takes that somehow feel at once experimental and restrained. The effect is of a nearly underwater variety, a profound serenity that renders any puncture, from a street parade moving blindly past the distraught woman in its path to a murder in broad daylight, that much more compelling.
2. Black Panther
Just when you’ve gotten comfortable with the satisfying superhero origin story at work, director/co-writer Ryan Coogler and a stellar ensemble start thinking much bigger. And now, we need to re-think what these films are capable of. Not a minute of the film is wasted. Coogler manages to pack each with enough backstory, breathless action, emotional heft and political weight to fill three films.
Coogler works with many of these basic themes found in nearly any comic book film — daddy issues, becoming who you are, serving others — but he weaves them into an astonishing look at identity, radicalization, systemic oppression, uprising and countless other urgent yet tragically timeless topics. The writing is layered and meaningful, the execution visionary.
3. The Favourite
Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest covers the declining years of Queen Anne’s (Olivia Coleman) reign, during which the War of the Spanish Succession and political jockeying in Parliament are tearing the indecisive, physically frail queen in multiple directions.
But the men of the court are little more than foppish pawns. The real palace intrigue takes place between court favorite Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and her new maid, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), daughter to a once-prosperous family that has fallen on hard times. Sarah and Abigail vie for Queen Anne’s affection and behind-the-scenes power, although those two things are entangled together to varying degrees for Sarah and Abigail.
Poetic license with the relationships among the women offers an avenue by which Lanthimos can smuggle in his trademark eye for the very contemporary and very weird, cruel ways we treat each other. And in this area, Lanthimos has cast the perfect leading women to keep up with — and even rise above — his vision.
4. Eighth Grade
Who would have thought that the most truthful, painful, lovely, unflinching and adorable tween dramedy in eons would have sprung from the mind of 28-year-old comic Bo Burnham? Or that the first-time feature director could so compassionately and honestly depict the inner life of a cripplingly shy adolescent girl?
But there you have it.
Elsie Fisher’s flawless performance doesn’t hurt. In Fisher, Burnham has certainly found the ideal vehicle for his story, but his own skill in putting the pieces together is equally impressive. Burnham’s as keen to the strangulating social anxieties of middle school as he is to the shape-shifting effects of technology.
5. A Star is Born
Director/co-writer/co-star Bradley Cooper brings a new depth of storytelling to the warhorse, with a greater commitment to character and the blazing star power of Lady Gaga.
Another outstanding acting performance from Bradley Cooper is not a surprise. His remarkably instinctual directing debut here, though, must now place him among the premier talents in film.
Nearly every scene, from stadium rock concert to intimate conversation, is framed for maximum impact. His camera can be stylish but not showy, with seamless scene transitions fueling a forward momentum that will not let the film drag.
The melodramatic story has been stripped of pretense and buoyed by more layers of humanity.
Writer/director Adam McKay is just as pissed off about the polluting of the American presidency as he was about the housing collapse when he unleashed The Big Short. As it did there, the director’s conspicuous outrage and biting comic sensibilities fuel the film.
Christian Bale is characteristically flawless as Dick Cheney, and Amy Adams is his equal as wife, Lynne. Together they anchor an utterly glorious ensemble that, with the help of McKay’s blistering script and wise direction, utilizes comedy to inform, illustrate, and act as an outlet for the otherwise soul-blackening disgust one might carry around with them concerning the American political system.
Grief and guilt color every somber, shadowy frame of writer/director Ari Aster’s unbelievably assured feature film debut, Hereditary.
With just a handful of mannerisms, one melodic clucking noise, and a few seemingly throwaway lines, Aster and his magnificent cast quickly establish what will become nuanced, layered human characters, all of them scarred and battered by family.
Art and life imitate each other to macabre degrees while family members strain to behave in the manner that feels human, seems connected, or might be normal. What is said and what stays hidden, what’s festering in the attic and in the unspoken tensions within the family, it’s all part of a horrific atmosphere meticulously crafted to unnerve you.
Aster takes advantage of a remarkably committed cast to explore family dysfunction of the most insidious type. Whether his supernatural twisting and turning amount to metaphor or fact hardly matters with performances this unnerving and visual storytelling this hypnotic.
8. You Were Never Really Here
Two killers lie on a kitchen floor, gently singing along as the radio plays “I’ve Never Been to Me,” surely one of the cheesiest songs of all time. Only one of the men will get up. It’s a fascinating sequence, one of many in Lynne Ramsay’s bloody and beautiful You Were Never Really Here. She adapts Jonathan Ames’s brisk novella into a dreamy, hypnotic fable, an in-the-moment pileup of Taxi Driver, Taken and Drive.
Together, Ramsay and Phoenix ensure nearly each of the film’s 89 minutes burns with a spellbinding magnetism. While Phoenix lets you inside his character’s battered psyche just enough to want more, Ramsay’s visual storytelling is dazzling. Buoyed by purposeful editing and stylish soundtrack choices, Ramsay’s wonderfully artful camerawork (kudos to cinematographer Thomas Townend) presents a stream of contrasts: power and weakness, brutality and compassion, celebration and degradation.
Welcome back, Spike Lee!
In a beyond-absurd true story of an African-American Colorado Springs police officer (John David Washington) joining the KKK by phone, only to send his Jewish partner (Adam Driver) for the face-to-face meetings, Lee balances unexpected shifts between humor and drama, camaraderie and horror, entertainment and history lesson, popcorn-muncher and experimental indie with a fluidity few other directors could muster.
Much sitcom-esque absurdity and dramatic police procedural thrills follow, but it’s the way Lee subverts these standard formats that hits home. The insidious nature of the racism depicted in 1979 echoes in both directions — in the history that brought our country to this moment in time, and in the future Ron Stallworth undoubtedly hoped he could prevent.
Luca Guadagnino continues to be a master film craftsman. Much as he draped Call Me by Your Name in waves of dreamy romance, here he establishes a consistent mood of nightmarish goth. Macabre visions dart in and out like a video that will kill you in seven days, while sudden, extreme zooms, precise sound design and a vivid score from Thom Yorke help cement the homage to another era.
But even when this new Suspiria — a “cover version” of Dario Argento’s 1974 gaillo classic — is tipping its hat, Guadagnino leaves no doubt he is making his own confident statement. The color scheme is intentionally muted, and you’ll find no men in this dance troupe, serving immediate notice that superficialities are not the endgame here.