As I do every year, entirely for my own amusement, I have decided to list my favorite films of the year. Usually I do my top 15, but 2018 offered a really strong batch, so I went with 20.
This year was also the one in which I made the jump into professional film criticism, so I saw more films than ever before. As a result, I wrote about a good number of the films below, so I’ve attached links for further reading.
Supposed-to-be great films I haven’t seen yet: THE RIDER, LEAN ON PETE, BURNING, COLD WAR
Honorable mentions/almost-made-its: IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, ZAMA, UPGRADE, SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE, LEAVE NO TRACE, GAME NIGHT, SUPPORT THE GIRLS
20. LIFE ITSELF
Possibly the worst film I’ve ever seen (twice). But I had more sincere pleasure watching, discussing, and writing about it than most other films this year. It rounds off the Sincere Atrocity trilogy, which I wrote about HERE.
19. REVENGE/COLD HELL (TIE)
These two films–both of which concern women taking on sadistic male predators and unleashing brutal retribution upon them–are stylistic and tonal opposites. REVENGE, from France, is a kinetic, psychotropic bit of righteous body-horror. COLD HELL, from Germany, is an icy, slow-burn action-noir. But both are fresh spins on the rape-revenge genre, and both feature breakout performances from their respective leads (while REVENGE’S Mathilda Lutz has received her due share of attention, I was actually more taken by Violetta Schurawlow’s simmering turn in COLD HELL).
I wrote a bit about REVENGE director Carolie Faragut’s future prospects HERE.
18. DEN OF THIEVES
This is a deeply silly, unrepentantly bro-y film, but goddamn if its not exceptionally entertaining (it’s 2 1/2 hour runtime is both egregious and ultimately satisfying). I read someone’s review that called it “Meathead Heat”, and that’s basically what it is. But of the three Michael Mann-inspired bank robbery movies I watched this year– including WIDOWS, and DESTROYER–this was by far my favorite, and the one that actually manages to do what it sets out to do.
It’s also one of the few movies that portrays L.A. as it actually looks.
A beautifully crafted, often moving portrait of a time and place we rarely get to see on screen (too bad most people will watch this on their TV). Alfonso Cuarón continues to prove himself one of the best technical filmmakers alive, and its to his credit that he’s put his talents to use for an intimate character drama.
That being said, said character is a bit lacking. Cleo is too much of a noble cipher, and in his effort to get the audience to recognize her (and people like her), Cuarón never really tries to understand her.
This was a case of diminishing returns: my first viewing blew me away, while the second had me feeling the length, as well as questioning the film’s political subplot. That being said, as flawed, ungainly, and pretentious as it is, this new SUSPIRIA is also a gonzo bit of batshit arthouse nonsense, which is my favorite type of film.
HERE, I wrote about the similarities between SUSPIRIA and my all-time favorite film, POSSESSION.
While the film’s effect has somewhat diminished over time (and I seem to be the only person who thought the final-minute coda was unnecessary), this is still an unsettling, darkly funny, thrilling film that sees Spike Lee is operating at the top of his game.
14. THE FAVOURITE
I have a low tolerance for royal court intrigue, but a high tolerance for Yorgos Lanthimos movies, so. Of all the films on here that I suspect will grow in my estimation over time, this is the most likely. I’m still stewing on that ending. More dark, kinky, funny period pieces like this please.
13. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
An intriguing bit of parred-down pulp with a sensitive character study at its center. Director Lynn Rmsay is working on her own wavelength, and her films continue to entice as well as alienate. Phoenix is great as always, and it features another incredible score from Jonny Greenwood.
I wrote about how the film works in the tradition of other Great White Savior and Capture Narratives, HERE.
12. PADDINGTON 2
I generally can’t stand the meme-ification of the Paddington movies, and I have an adverse reaction to the whole ‘nice-core’ movement for which they are the poster children, but none of that makes this film any less joyous, funny, or visually stunning. That bear is alright.
A prog-metal album cover come to life. I was hesitant about this movie, because I tend to distrust films that shoot for instant cult status. But this one’s the real-deal, and for as crazy, violent, and over-the-top as it is, its also achingly beautiful, ponderous, and sad. “Pulp Tarkovsky”, as critic Glen Kenny called it. And a reminder that Nic Cage is more than just a meme.
10. ISLE OF DOGS
I don’t get why this movie seemed to fall as flat as it did with people (outside of the tired, misplaced political criticisms of it). It’s probably Anderson’s most visually breathtaking and inventive film, and its story is as moving, hilarious, exciting, ridiculous, and low-key disturbing as his fans have come to expect. This is definitely one that’s going to get its due in due time.
I wrote about how animation saved Anderson from becoming too self-derivative, while comparing ISLE OF DOGS to the brilliant and disturbing ’80’s animated film THE PLAGUE DOGS, HERE.
A late edition in my year’s viewing, I’d heard good things about it, but I had no idea it would land as hard as it did with me. It’s got the exact right combo of slapstick and throwaway one-liners, and while it’s ultimately a sweet, empowering comedy, it never gets too saccharine or self-satisfied (*coughJuddApatowcough*). Every single person in the film turns in top notch work, but John Cena proves that he’s a legit comic superstar in the making.
8. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE–FALLOUT
I’ve always enjoyed the M:I films because I love old-school stunts and physical action. The last two entries, from Chris McQuarrie, while being top-notch films on a story level, have also zeroed in on something that elevates them from some of the other entries in the franchise: the more Tom Cruise looks scare shitless during his insane stunts, the more they land with the viewer. This is an exhausting film in the very best way.
7. FIRST REFORMED
A magnificent return to form from Paul Schrader, one that combines his various influences–Bresson, Tarkovsky, Dreyer, Bergman–with the themes that have pervaded his own past masterpieces, to create a deeply upsetting contemplation about our current predicament. It’s not a hopeless film, but it is one that is too clear-eyed and smart to put any stock into hope as a meaningful course of action. In terms of reflecting the world as it is back to us, no other film from this year comes close.
6. THE DEATH OF STALIN
As I wrote HERE, Armando Iannuci’s (possibly cinema’s current greatest satirist) film “may already stand as the apotheosis of a particular sub-genre: the Dystopian Farce.” Equal parts DUCK SOUP, IN THE LOOP, THE JOKE, DR. STRANGELOVE, and even SALO, OR THE 120 OF SODOM, this is a savage slapstick takedown of the power hungry that’s more honest and biting than 99% of what passes for satire, history, or political drama in our art and entertainment.
5. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
More than just a riveting true crime drama or cutting satire of the publishing industry/literary scene (the shot it takes at Tom Clancy is an all-timer), CYEFM is a scabrous love-letter to misfits, misanthropes, drunks, losers, hustlers, old-world queers, and the last vestiges of old New York. Melissa McCarthy and Richard Grant turn in my two favorite performances of the year. This is a perfect film on every level.
A surprising, captivating documentary about cinema, stolen innocence, madness, perseverance, and a thousand other things. The less said about this, the better–go in as cold as possible and let the twists take you by surprise.
Here’s hoping Sandi Tan continues to make films. As the footage from her lost film showcases, and this documentary proves, she’s a massive talent.
I honestly didn’t think any other 2018 film would top this for me. I went in curious—the premise was interesting, and the reviews were mixed enough to prove intriguing—but I had no clue what lay in store. ANNIHILATION hits my exact sweet-spot: arthouse horror weirdness of the Lynch, Cronenberg, Zulawski variety.
During the film’s already iconic mutant bear attack sequence—which I wrote about HERE—I spontaneously turned my partner and proclaimed “This movie fucking rules!”
2. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND/THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD
Even Orson Welles’s unfinished films are better than everyone else’s finished films. The cobbling together of this lost opus was a dicey gambit that proved better than anyone could have hoped. The film, in its current state, is an initially frustrating, but ultimately transcendent experiment. Welles is taking the piss out of New Hollywood while simultaneously making the greatest New Hollywood movie ever.
Morgan Neville’s documentary about the history of this film is an essential companion to WIND, as well as an emotionally devastating film in its own right. I watched them back-to-back (before watching WIND once more–the optimum viewing experience IMO), so they’re of a piece as far as I’m concerned.
1. THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS
There’s nothing like a masterpiece from masters working at the top of their game. The Coens are among my favorite filmmakers, living or dead, but after HAIL CEASER! (which I like but find unwieldily) my expectations for this were tempered, especially since it started out as a TV show. I was expecting a mixed bag, but what I got was a top-to-bottom masterpiece about the capriciousness of life and the mystery of death that encapsulates their entire body of work.
This is threatening to become my favorite Coens movie ever (as it stands now, that would be BARTON FINK), which firmly establishes it as my favorite film of the year.