The Best Films of 2018

After watching yesterday’s Oscar nominations, I’d realized that I neglected to write a list of my favorite films from 2018. Ironically enough, my new year’s resolution is to be more punctual. Nevertheless, different from years’ past, instead of doing a traditional Top 10 list, I’ve elected to just highlight films that I flat out love, in no particular order, culminating in a Top 5 list. Without further ado, let’s get started.

 

Annihilation

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Josie Radek: Imagine dying frightened and in pain and having that as the only part of you which survives.

Following up his 2015 tech marvel Ex Machina, Alex Garland goes in head first within sci-fi horror. The end result is a weird, confusing, but endlessly fascinating breach into the unknown reminiscent of Alien. The storytelling techniques can easily surprise and even turn people off from the film, but what’s found here is a gloriously original and unapologetically fearless science fiction odyssey that cements Alex Garland as a director to look out for.

 

Isle of Dogs

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Nutmeg: Will you help him, the little pilot?

Chief: Why should I?

Nutmeg: Because he’s a twelve year old boy, dogs love those.

The first truly great film of 2018. Wes Anderson has always been a delight of a filmmaker to watch, constantly coming up with new and inventive ways to tell his stories. Isle of Dogs is Anderson at top form, following each wondrous scene with something new and endlessly evocative. Stop motion animation feels tailor made to the man’s style, long, symmetrical shots that can easily be a beautiful desktop wallpaper. Armed with his trademark quirk, humor, and comically illustrious cast, Isle of Dogs is yet another stroke of genius from a man who makes it look easy.

 

Avengers: Infinity War

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Thanos: I know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail nonetheless. It’s frightening, turns the legs to jelly. I ask you to what end? Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same. And now it’s here. Or should I say, I am.

The idea and possibility of superhero fatigue will always persist, but for a fleeting moment, I can honestly say Avengers: Infinity War made such an idea nonexistent. The ten year experiment known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be one, colossal failure if this movie didn’t work. The Russo Brothers are to be applauded for their expert management of ten years worth of movie lore and countless superhero icons that constantly fill the screen. The two hour, twenty minute run time goes by like a Saturday morning cartoon, always delivering information and surprises that makes Infinity War not only one of the best MCU films ever, but one of the most eventful, spectacular moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had.

 

 

First Reformed

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Reverend Ernst Toller: Will God forgive us for what we’re doing to his creation?

For all intents and purposes, I can say with confidence that First Reformed could very well be the greatest faith based film of the decade. What is known as “Christian Cinema” is typically filled with shallow, pandering and emotionally manipulative movies that hardly serve any purpose other than to preach to the choir of its audience. To tell a story of one’s faith and their struggles keeping it can be endlessly interesting and profound, and Paul Schrader knows this. The man behind Taxi Driver dives deep into the psyche of a Priest who finds himself in extreme conflict with the world around him, and the very God he swears by. This is a slow burn in every sense of the word, and can be seen as boring, or uneventful, but what draws me to First Reformed is Ethan Hawke’s understated but virtuous performance, and the methodical approach of storytelling Schrader adopts to tell a story that’s dependent on faith, and the psychological and emotional toll it can bring.

 

Sorry to Bother You

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Cassius Green: This place is fucking nuts.

Steve Lift: Thank you for the backhanded compliment.

The true WTF film of the year, and I mean it in the best way possible. Boots Riley creates a satire that is outrageously hyperbolic but feels like a legit vision of the future if we play our cards wrong. The comedy can be subtle to in your face in mere moments without losing any momentum. The less said about the plot, the better, as there are legitimate surprises and moments of batsh*t ingenuity. Just know that Sorry to Bother You is a wholly original meditation of what it means to live the American Dream, and how it could be one’s paradise whilst being another’s hell.

 

BlacKkKlansman

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If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am for myself alone, who am I? If not now, when? And if not you, who?

I can seldom consider a movie to be “important”, but the very basis of art is self-expression in the context of the here and now. Spike Lee’s latest joint is a glorious return to form for the filmmaker. Telling the true story of a black police officer (a star-making performance from John David Washington) secretly infiltrating the KKK is an outrageous premise, but turns out to be one of the most relevant and outspoken pieces of cinema in quite some time. As mentioned before, Washington (son of Denzel) is electric as the lead, and Adam Driver is hilarious as Washington’s partner aiding operation. Topher Grace is terrifyingly charismatic and down to earth as David Duke, showing how a likability and niceness can erase any true notion of prejudice and evil. What makes BlackKklansman special is context. The political fever pitch we constantly reside is the DNA of this film, a comedy, drama, thriller, blaxpoitation tribute, history lesson and PSA the evils of today, making us wonder how did we end up here.

 

Eighth Grade

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Eighth grade is the worst.

Written and directed by Bo Burnham, the one word I think of when Eighth Grade comes to mind is “genuine”. His depiction of late middle school life is sharply well done, complete with dialogue consisting of ramblings, stuttering and hilariously accurate use of “like”. Far too many teen films paint a glossy, glitzed up portrait of adolescence, with perfect hair and makeup being the name of the game. Elsie Fisher is terrifically vulnerable and achingly convincing as Kayla as she clumsily maneuvers her way through the labyrinthian maze of adolescence, making Eighth Grade a brush of youthful brilliance.

 

A Star is Born

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Jack talked about how music is essentially twelve notes between any octave. Twelve notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over, forever. All any artist can offer the world is how they see those twelve notes.

“Feels” is the name of the game for A Star is Born. This is a picture that expresses joy, love, lament, anger, regret and pure bliss in a constant, brisk basis, thanks to Bradley Cooper’s directing talent. Many expressed surprise that Cooper was such a capable filmmaker, but take a look at his line of work and the directors he’s worked with (David O’Russell, Clint Eastwood and Derek Cianfrance) and it becomes a no brainer. The film is, like La La Land, a testament to the artistic spirits of people who fear to have their voices heard, in fear of judgement or ridicule. For Mia, it was to cheer “the fools who dream”, and for Lady Gaga’s Ally, it was to sing her heart out in front of thousands in “Shallow”. The timidity slowly turning into inescapable conviction is near biblical in its execution and emotional value. A Star is Born is an emotional piece of cinema, but is never pandering or manipulative, as Bradley Cooper mans the ship of a familiar yet resonant story with career best performances from himself, Lady Gaga and the mythically awesome Sam Elliott (how can someone make backing out of a driveway so heartbreaking?).

 

First Man

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Pete Conrad: Neil, I was sorry to hear about your daughter.

Neil Armstrong: I’m sorry, is there a question?

Pete Conrad: What I… What I mean is… Do you think it’ll have an effect?

Neil Armstrong: I think it would be unreasonable to assume that it wouldn’t have some effect.

I’ve reviewed First Man already, and also highlighting Ryan Gosling’s performance, so I’ll make this brief. Damien Chazelle is a filmmaking maestro, making 3 films that are brilliant in their own, unique ways. Though it doesn’t reach the highs of his predecessors, lightning never strikes twice, let alone thrice. First Man is a personal tale about the man himself, culminating in a finale that is visually spectacular and emotionally poetic.

 

Free Solo

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Let’s hope for a low-gravity day.

The all too true tale of Alex Honnold’s journey to climb “El Capitan” is the subject of Free Solo. The world of free solo climbing is an obscure one as well as an insane one. Just one slight misstep can spell sudden death for the climber, and having seen the film without knowing the outcome of Honnold’s big climb, the 90 minute runtime was one of, if not the most suspenseful, intense, anxiety inducing experiences I’ve ever had in the cinema. You catch a glimpse of Honnold’s everyday life, ranging from daily exercises to personal quirks that make him such an interesting protagonist. The climbing sequences are spectacularly well done as it captures the patience testing aspect of the climb while showing the personally sky high stakes within the same frame. If you don’t mind your palms to sweat a gallon’s worth, then Free Solo is absolutely worth viewing.

 

Suspiria           

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Love and manipulation, they share houses very often. They are frequent bedfellows.

Call me squeamish, but I was so, so close at walking out early on my viewing of the Suspiria remake. The inciting incident (I dare not spoil it) made my stomach churn in a way I’d hardly experience before. Luckily I trudged through, loving nearly every minute afterwards. Luca Guadagnino crafts a film that harkens back to the low budget horror cinema of old, using film grain, crash zooms and framing that just screams “throwback”. This is one of the films that I’d advise to watch without knowing much about it, as every surprise and bit of story progression was done to perfection. Dakota Johnson turns in a performance that is terrific, and Tilda Swinton gives off serious Lancaster Dodd vibes, once again showing her incomparable range as an actor. Being one of the most polarizing films of 2018, I found myself in love with Suspiria, an unapologetically horrific and ambitious picture that’s unbound by convention.

 

Widows

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Veronica: [to her gang] Now the best thing we have going for us, is being who we are.

Alice: Why ?

Veronica: Because no-one thinks we have the balls to pull this off.

 Steve McQueen follows up Oscar glory with a heist film that actually cares about filmmaking and has actual regard for storytelling. He uses an all star cast to full effect in a tale of twists, turns and character. The use of long takes is a staple for McQueen, and his use here, whether it’s one featuring a car ride, or a scene stealing Daniel Kaluuya in a basketball court, what elevates a familiar premise is Gillian Flynn’s brilliant screenplay and the director’s brilliance as a filmmaker. His use of music, particularly a scene featuring Nina Simone’s “Wild is the Wind” works graciously, is done to great satisfaction. Widows reaches the highs that Ocean’s 8 merely dreamed of, showcasing that the heist film can still have some tricks up its sleeve.

Roma

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Sra. Sofía: We are alone. No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.

Netflix has a true award caliber film in Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma. I primarily mention directors when talking about a given film, since its their vision that the audience sees. Not only does Cuaron work as writer/director, but handles the cinematography and even serves as editor, truly making this film his very own. With that being said, Roma is receiving unanimous acclaim, and I feel that anyone watching it can very well psyche themselves out, expecting the film to be in a certain way, being underwhelmed by the final product.

For me, Roma is an absolute triumph of film. Cuaron helms an intimate, painfully personal look into the life of a housemaid as she experiences various hardships. The presentation lacks closeups or swelling music to highlight the more somber moments. Characters don’t scream at the top of their lungs, and the camera doesn’t intrude the character’s personal space. Cuaron presents a window into another life, one filled with inner turmoil and burdened with truths that she should’ve never known about. It’s up to you whether you want to take a peek.

Paddington 2

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Aunt Lucy said, if we’re kind and polite the world will be right.

The fact that Paddington 2 has been essentially absent awards wise is downright sickening. In a time of perpetual bleakness and cynicism, this marmalade loving bear is a damn ray of sunshine, evoking the best out of everyone he meets. Beyond being a feelgood film, Paddington 2 is a fantastically well made film, featuring top notch comedy bits and an animated sequence that rivals the creativity of some of the very best animated films today. Lovingly made by Paul King, the themes of family are the hearbeat of this film, being one of the most heartwarming and wholesome pictures of recent memory. This bear will change your life (probably).

 

Vice

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I will not apologize for keeping your family safe. And I will not apologize for doing what needed to be done so that your loved ones could sleep peacefully at night. It has been my honor to be your servant.

The political spectrum is one currently paved in outraged immediacy, and Adam McKay is fully aware of it. Vice is said to be a biopic of Dick Cheney and his ascendance up the Washington ladder, and while it very much is, it shows the groundwork and foundation of what has made our political climate so toxic and morally decadent. McKay is at his most meta, breaking fourth walls seamlessly without halting the pacing of his picture, honing his style that The Big Short made famous. Christian Bale is award worthy as Cheney, unsurprisingly immersing himself in the role to the point where he’s unrecognizable. Vice has understandably been met with polarizing opinions, as politics inherently make a divide. McKay’s thesis doesn’t consist of condemning or endorsing the former Vice President, but shows his actions as a way to ask a question all countrymen need to confront: “Do we draw a line in our love of country?”

 

And now, my Top 5:

 

  1. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

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Delivery Man: Fate whispers to the warrior.

Ethan Hunt: A storm is coming.

Delivery Man: And the warrior whispers back.

Ethan Hunt: I am the storm.

Being a lifelong fan of the M:I franchise, I find myself stunned that nearly a quarter decade after the first entry, the series has never been more renowned and prevalent than now. We’re talking six movies in a series that honestly could’ve been shelved with how bad the second one was. Fallout is not only the best installment of the Mission series, but stands as one of the greatest action films ever made. Every composite of an action scene is done harmoniously with every preceding scene, resulting in an action spectacle second to none. Whether it’s Ethan Hunt riding a motorcycle into oncoming traffic with the music amped to 11, or a brutal fight in a restroom accompanied by nothing but punches, grunts and razor sharp intensity, the film is a pure action bliss. Tom Cruise is on top form, climbing mountains, jumping out of helicopters, and even flying a helicopter, sparing no expense to ensure that the audience gets the best experience possible. What can’t be overstated,, however, is Christopher McQuarrie’s efforts as a writer and director. His near orchestral conduction of story and spectacle is a stroke of pure genius, challenging an entire genre of film and saying “checkmate”.

 

  1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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Love is at the root of everything – all learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become.

The task of every film is to entertain, inform and, well, justify its own existence. Some films exist to entertain, and others elect to lecture. The beauty of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is the entertainment value is seamlessly woven with its information. The documentary is about Mr. Rodgers as it is also about one’s capacity to do good, and be a beacon of positivity. Learning about the man’s personal demons not only recontextualizes certain aspects of his show, but also showcases how one decides to tackle their demons. It’s truly inspiring to see a man handle his inner plight by preaching love and patient understanding. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is truly essential viewing, as it reminds us that nobody is above lending a helping hand: now more than ever, we need one.

 

  1. The Favourite

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Abigail: My dear friend and cousin, how good to see you’ve returned from…

Lady Sarah: Hell. I’m sure you shall pass through it one day.

Easily the best acted film of the year. The trifecta of Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are an a force to be reckoned with, emoting with the greatest of ease while delivering dialogue as sharp as a double-edged sword. The production and costume design are insanely authentic and detailed, blurring the lines of a film set into 18th century Britain. Yorgos Lathimos is certainly a required taste, with nearly all his films meeting a polarizing response. Though he’s not a writer here, The Favourite has his trademarks all over it, an edgy, darkly hilarious, gorgeously twisted tale of attempted superiority.

 

  1. Hereditary

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Charlie: Who’s gonna take care of me?

Annie: Uh, excuse me? You don’t think I’m gonna take care of you?

Charlie: But when you die?

Never being one for horror films, going into watch Hereditary was purely incidental. I didn’t watch any trailers, read any review, knowing absolutely nothing about it apart from the poster showing the character of Charlie. Two hours later, I was stunned in silence over what I’d seen. Hereditary is a modern day horror masterpiece, cementing its quality of terror alongside true horror classics from before. What is so affecting about the movie is the constant, yet subdued sense of dread in the beginning, hinting to the audience that the worst will inevitably come. When it comes, the rest is history. Toni Collette is wondrous as Annie, a tour de force that was shamelessly and stupidly snubbed by this year’s Oscars. Time will be kinder to Hereditary, though. Ari Aster has gone on record saying that he wanted the movie to feel “evil”, an experience that was truly terrifying. He’s done it, as Hereditary is a grim, stressful and sinister picture that checkmates what a modern day horror movie could and should be.

 

  1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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*excerpt from screenplay*

MILES (V.O.)

“When do I know I’m Spider-Man?”

BACK ON MILES– Moving closer and closer to the edge.

PETER (V.O.)“You won’t. That’s all it is, Miles… a leap of faith.”

Miles walks to the edge of the roof, the wind buffeting…

and LEAPS! The camera is UPSIDE DOWN. Miles isn’t falling

through frame. He’s RISING.

 

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired and replaced from a well known project, and went on to produce and help write another movie. The film they were booted from became the first Star Wars flop, and the film they helped make changed the superhero genre forever.

What a year for Spider-Man. After being a huge highlight in Infinity War (“I don’t feel so good) and being part of one of the best superhero games ever made, the true crowning achievement for the character, and for superhero films in general, is found Into the Spider-Verse. Apart from the visual glory (that I detailed in my review) and the pitch perfect comedy, this is a deconstruction yet celebration of Stan Lee’s greatest creation. We’re constantly reminded why we love the character of Spider-Man, not only as children, but now as adults who need to take that “leap of faith”. Miles Morales’ arc is the thing of legend. His plight of finding his true potential, to find that spark of greatness, culminating in him jumping off that building, stands as the most satisfying and awe inspiring moment of 2018. Where countless comic book films try to be the next Dark Knight, what makes a great film great is pure ingenuity, the illusion that what you see on screen isn’t predetermined or predictable, as if you’re watching events as they happen. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a hectic, melodic (that soundtrack!), fever dream of a film that stands as the very best that cinema can offer in 2018.

 

 

 

 

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