Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight
Let me start by saying this: For the entirety of my adult life (which admittedly isn’t too long), I’ve had a passion for watching and talking about movies. And, 2018 is definitely the best year for movies that I have lived through. Just based on the great difficulty I experienced in choosing which movies should stay on this list and which should go shows the vast diversity of excellent films that have been released in recent months. Comedies, dramas, action, romance … 2018 had it all. So, as we’re priming up for Christmas, let’s take a quick look back at the best of the best.
1. “The Favourite”
As I mentioned above, this has been the greatest year for movies I’ve personally experienced, so deciding what film needed to be placed in the top spot was quite the feat. But, I can’t deny how much I love this movie. Yorgos Lanthimos, the director of “The Favourite,” has quickly become one of my favorite filmmakers in recent years. He’s the mind behind other fantastically off-beat movies such as “Dogtooth,” “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” all of which are great. Despite his previous triumphs, I think that Lanthimos has created his crowning achievement (pun intended) in “The Favourite.” Lanthimos has always been able to cultivate this impossibly impressive tone in his films, in which the tone is simultaneously funny and disturbing. “The Favourite” is no exception, and it’s certainly the most overtly comical of his movies. The characters all utilize excellent comedic timing and elements of slapstick, and while they can often be goofy, Lanthimos continues his signature balancing act by making the characters, at the same time, very emotionally complex. It’s wonderfully acted as well. British actress Olivia Colman in particular gives an outstanding performance that may very well be my favorite of the year. Her performance is subtle, over-the-top, profound and outrageous in all the right ways. The two other main actresses, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, also give outstanding performances, albeit not as impressive as Colman. The film also provides impressive cinematography, great lighting, a wonderfully-matched soundtrack, plenty of laughs and moments of impactful drama. “The Favourite” has it all, making it my favourite of the year.
I was concerned about the 2018 remake of “Suspiria,” a 1977 Italian horror film by Dario Argento. In the original, Argento conjures up one of the most expertly crafted horror atmospheres ever to hit the big screen. Therefore, I was worried that Italian auter Luca Guadagnino, director of “I Am Love” and “Call Me By Your Name,” would not be able to recapture the magic that is “Suspiria.” Thankfully, my concerns were quelled fast after walking into the theater. “Suspiria” (2018) is a very different film than its predecessor, which was an intelligent move by Guadagnino. It’s one of those perfect remakes that essentially just takes the general concept from the original and does something new with it. A truly horrifying experience, the remake creates its own atmosphere that is unique to its own universe and boasts excellent performances from Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton. Another noteworthy element is the film’s score, which was composed by Thom Yorke of Radiohead. It fits the movie’s tone perfectly. I think “Suspiria” is the film from this year that will stick in my head for the longest after I’ve seen it, as the images it produced are hard to replace. The witches are back and better than ever.
3. “First Reformed”
With complex musings on religion, faith, love and indoctrination, this meticulously crafted character study is Paul Schrader’s finest work. What Ethan Hawke, who portrays an old-school paster of a historic church called “First Reformed,” is able to create with this role is extraordinary. The bulk of the movie focuses on his character’s inner emotional turmoil, allowing Hawke to portray harsh intensity with extreme subtlety. What this film says about the way religion and politics play into all of our lives is quite profound, and the message doesn’t feel overbearing in the slightest. The way Schrader pairs the slow, creeping camera work and sound design with the pollution of the main character’s mind is brilliant, and I can’t think of a single negative for this film. Will God forgive us if this movie isn’t nominated for every award this season?
4. “You Were Never Really Here”
A powerhouse performance from Joaquin Phoenix, in which he portrays a mentally unstable contract killer, makes this movie one of the best of the year. Phoenix’s intensity in this movie is unparalleled. And the way that director Lynne Ramsay utilizes harsh editing and stark camera work to reflect the film’s tone is just excellent. The movie dives deep into the mental state of Phoenix’s character and allows the audience to soak up how broken of a person he is, making the film all the more tragic and enticing. Despite its title, this movie has assuredly made its mark in film this year.
In recent years, I have become more and more of a horror fan. This is due to the intense talent it takes to create an atmosphere that makes a horror film truly successful. “Hereditary” does that and then some. It’s one of the most original films I have seen in recent years, and it takes its time in fully developing its universe and characters. Speaking of characters, the entirety of the cast is interesting to watch. The film focuses heavily on the dramatic dynamics that make up the family at its center. Each performance is wonderful, particularly from Toni Collette, who utilizes the horrific elements of the movie to really shine in the role. You believe every scream, cry and outburst that comes from this broken woman. The movie’s underlying themes of inherited sins and mental health issues fit perfectly with Collette’s demeanor. First-time feature film director Ari Aster’s shot placement and composition is also extremely creative and unique for a movie in this genre. “Hereditary” is sure to be passed down for centuries to come.
6. “Leave No Trace”
This quiet story of a war veteran and his daughter is one of the most emotionally affecting I have seen in a long time. Character actor Ben Foster does a tremendous job portraying deep emotional conflict, and Thomasin McKenzie pairs perfectly as his curious daughter. The story is simple but streamlined. It perfectly allows the emotional strife of the characters to shine as they embark on a journey to find a home that fits them. It’s really a movie that’s all about the characters and how they deal with particular situations and emotions, and putting the focus on Foster and McKenzie was all the film needed to shine.
7. “Madeline’s Madeline”
Probably the most uniquely crafted film on this list, “Madeline’s Madeline” is a story of a girl who delves too deeply into her acting with a local theater troupe. It’s an experimental film, directed by Josephine Decker, who takes every opportunity to pull the audience into the sensory experience that she’s created. The surrealistic elements of the film elevate it rather than confuse or muddle the movie. The main character, played wonderfully by the up-and-coming Helena Howard, suffers from an unnamed mental illness, and the camera work that Decker employs portrays her struggles in a very innovative way. A shallow depth of field, harsh close-ups and slow motion are employed at certain scenes with grace and finesse. The movie, which introduces Howard as a film actress, also does great in showing off her eclectic talent. Howard’s performance is another standout from the year, with intensity and emotional gravitas to spare. It’s kind of a hard film to explain the film since it is such a surreal and odd experience, so I’ll just end by saying, go watch it.
8. “American Animals”
An extremely underrated movie from this year, “American Animals” does everything it can to stand out among the crowd. It’s a particular but extremely creative mixture of a documentary and a crime-drama. There are actors in the film that portray real-life people, but additionally, the real people the film is based on are interviewed during the movie. It’s certainly one of the best edited movies I’ve seen this year, and is emotionally resonant and tense to boot. It carries a really tight script and uses its unique style to its advantage at every turn. The use of the real-life subjects really allows the film to be more psychologically taut and gives the audience a deeper look into their motivations and personalities.
9. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”
I’ll begin by saying that I did not expect whatsoever to have this film on this list. It’s just another Spider-Man movie, I thought. In fact, it’s the seventh Spider-Man film to be released in theaters in 16 years. Despite the oversaturation of spidey movies, this one stands out. First off, the animation is gorgeous. The movie uses this really creative comic-book-esque look that makes everything pop and allows the action to be much more crisp than your usual superhero vehicle. It’s also much less cold than a general Marvel or DC flick. The character work and series of events in the movie are very endearing and charming in a way that both children and adults can appreciate. The voice acting in this new spider-movie is also superb, benefiting from perfect casting and a fun script. It’s also one of the funnier movies I’ve seen this year. I’m shocked and surprised to say this 2018 Spider-Man movie kind of has it all. Swing on by, and check it out.
10. “First Man”
This is the first biopic I felt really lived up to its true potential. “La La Land” director Damien Chazelle ditches the normal, easy biopic formula for an emotionally resounding and expertly made journey in “First Man.” The movie really takes its time in allowing the audience to understand Neil Armstrong, played wonderfully by Ryan Gosling, and the struggles he goes through throughout his life. I would call it more of a character study than a traditional biopic. The sound design in the movie is excellent, along with the camera work, which really makes you feel like you are taking that trip to space right alongside Armstrong. “First Man” is most certainly one giant leap forward for both Chazelle and Gosling.
If you would like to be emotionally wrecked this holiday season, this is the movie to turn to. “Roma” employs excellent performances, beautiful cinematography and fantastic sound to bring audiences the humble story of a maid in Mexico City during the 1970s. Again, it’s a fairly simple story with great emotional depth in the assured hands of Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón. The coordination it must of took to convincingly fill the streets of Mexico City in many scenes is astounding. Hundreds of extras can be seen performing unique tasks and believable interactions, allowing the world to truly come alive in the film. And the best part, you don’t have to go out of your way to watch it. It’s on your friendly neighborhood Netflix right now!
12. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
Through their decades of filmmaking, the Coen brothers have proven that they are masters in their field, creating classic after timeless classic. Their new film further proves these talents, providing a preverbal sampler platter of their irreplaceable brand of humor, wit and drama. In typically unique fashion, the Coen brothers decided to create a six-part anthology western, made up of several stories with unrelated characters but similar themes. The wild, wild west setting fits the Coen style well, allowing for some funny, charming performances from a talented cast. A stand-out would definitely be Tim Blake Nelson as the titular Buster Scruggs, a singing, gun-slinging outlaw with a silver tongue and sharp wit. As the opening story, Scruggs’ introduction sets the mood well for the rest of the movie and allows the audience to fall in love with this world. It’s at times hilarious and at times somber and sobering. Basically, it’s what the Coen brothers do best.
“Widows” is one of the only modern films in which the theme of female empowerment feels natural and earned, and in today’s climate, that’s as important as ever. The movie’s largely female main cast all give standout performances, which are elevated by Steve McQueen’s excellent direction. The script, which was co-written by McQueen, is also wonderfully done, with twists and turns that don’t feel cheap. Every character is interesting and unique in their own way, making the all-star cast all the more watchable.
Another unexpected film on this list is “Puzzle.” While the trailer makes it look like another run-of-the-mill uplifting drama, “Puzzle” is much more than that. Benefitting from a really strong central performance from Kelly Macdonald, the movie explores profound themes of purpose, love, religion and more. The general story centers around a housewife who is bored with her life and discovers a passion for solving jigsaw puzzles. The presentation of the movie is somber but hopeful, and the writing is excellent. Even if you haven’t experienced what Macdonald’s character is going through, the movie is relatable in a very broad sense and cultivates a great tone. While it has all the makings of a flat film, the pieces just fit for “Puzzle.”
15. “Isle of Dogs”
Wes Anderson has built his career on the quirky and unique, allowing him to become one of my favorite filmmakers. Every movie of his is easily identifiable due to his signature style, with quick pans, symmetrical compositions and fast-paced, hilarious dialogue. This film includes all of his usual staples but is also animated. This is the second stop-motion animated film from Anderson after the triumph that is “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and I’m still trying to figure out which movie is better. This movie really benefits from the beautiful animation style and Anderson’s offbeat flair. Additionally, I appreciate the fact that Anderson is willing to make this movie unapologetically his own, despite potential box office cash. What I mean by that is the movie includes several uses of cursing and violence, making it PG-13 rather than PG or G. While Anderson could have potentially shown the film to a larger audience by making it more family friendly, he chose artistic integrity over money. Therefore, “Isle of Dogs” is not a dumbed-down version of an Anderson film, but simply an Anderson film that happens to be animated. As usual, the voice work is astounding thanks to a wonderful cast. The film is funny, endearing, cute and lovable, like most varieties of man’s best friend.
This is yet another 2018 film in which a very simple story is elevated by outstanding performances, a clever script and great direction. This is really a movie all about the characters. “Thoroughbreds” centers on a teenage girl with a jerk of a rich step-father and another teenage girl who is a sociopath. In other words, she can’t feel any emotions, which makes for some hilarious and really interesting scenes and interactions. It’s one of those movies where it’s all about hanging out with these characters and enjoying it. Apparently, this film is based on a play of the same name, which makes perfect sense as it is very heavy with witty dialogue and long character interactions. It’s fun, it’s dark, it’s interesting and it’s unique. It’s clear from the start that “Thoroughbreds” was raised right.
To contact Lifestyles Editor Mamie Lomax, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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