The time has come to curate my Top 10 of 2018 list. This list is entirely subjective and reflects my personal reactions to the films that came out last year. Everyone’s lists will be different, but I hope my gushing about some of my favorites will urge you to add them to your watchlist. I highly encourage everyone to check out every one of these films! That said, let’s get to it!
10) If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning Moonlight is a lyrical, swooning romance so tender in its depiction of love, even as it sets its critical sights on the racially biased criminal justice system of the time period in which it is set. The way Jenkins positions and moves the camera, along with his brilliantly vivid use of color, is dreamlike (one scene in an empty warehouse is as pure and emotionally stirring as any scene I’ve seen this year). If ever a film feels like a warm embrace, it’s this one. Nicholas Brittel also composes the year’s best score, perfectly complementing Jenkins’s poetic filmmaking.
A naturalistic exploration of what it means to be a family, Shoplifters has so many quietly powerful moments throughout, small gestures or little lines of dialogue speaking volumes about the characters and their various relationships with one another. Sakura Ando, in particular, says so much with her subtle, profoundly moving performance as the mother figure of the family. Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda effortlessly made me empathize with these people, giving the inevitable conclusion of their story an especially heartbreaking impact.
Thoroughbreds is a razor-sharp, meticulously constructed story about two upper-class young women who plan a murder. Play-like in its writing, but very cinematic in its visual execution, writer/director Cory Finley has a very precise style that I really responded to. Couple that with some great performances (including one of my favorites of 2018 in Olivia Cooke’s tightly controlled, amusingly monotone turn as Amanda), and you have a pitch-black comedy/thriller with style and substance in the unconventional bond at its center.
Ever since I saw Ari Aster’s directorial debut back in January of 2018 at Sundance, I knew it would be on this list come year’s end. A deeply unsettling film that got under my skin in the way only good horror can, Aster wisely centers his story around the drama of a family falling apart, making the nightmare fuel that comes later all the more horrifying. Good luck getting that bedroom shot out of your head. Also, Toni Collette gives the unhinged, completely committed performance of the year.
6) Won’t You Be My Neighbor
I would have never guessed that I would have a documentary in my Top 10 (I just don’t watch enough of them), but here we are. Morgan Neville’s earnest examination of the incomparable Fred Rogers is every bit as heartwarming as you would expect. Fred’s approach to teaching children mature lessons about the world and how we ought to treat others was revolutionary, and the film effectively takes a closer look at Fred’s legacy and how these lessons relate to his own life story. With so much conflict and chaos reigning in our society today, this is the soulful, loving documentary the world needs right now.
5) Cold War
One of the most beautifully shot pieces of cinema in 2018, Pawel Pawlikowski’s achingly romantic film is refreshingly old-fashioned and boldly unconventional in the way it tells its decades-spanning story of impossible love. The political climate of the Cold War constantly affects the passionate, tumultuous love affair of two musical performers, played beautifully by Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig. Music is essential to the film’s mood and expression of these complex characters, and the frequent time jumps highlight the incessant nature of the passage of time, making every moment these characters spend together onscreen infinitely valuable.
It is baffling what Tom Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie have pulled off with Mission: Impossible – Fallout, one of the most impressive feats of action filmmaking ever put to screen. The technical precision on display is nothing short of astounding, from the stunt team to the editing, sound design and cinematography. McQuarrie deftly weaves the visceral, insane action sequences into a propulsive story, giving narrative weight to every death-defying thing Tom Cruise does for the sake of our entertainment. Action movies don’t get much better than this.
3) Eighth Grade
Another first-time writer/director, Bo Burnham, paints a painfully accurate, hilariously awkward portrait of what it is like to go through eighth grade today. The scene with Kayla and her father (wonderfully played by Josh Hamilton) around the fire pit is perhaps the most beautiful and eloquently written scene of the year. Commenting on the eighth-grade experience and youth’s relationship with technology in insightful and genuinely funny ways, while also pulling a remarkably believable performance out of Elsie Fisher, Bo has made one of this generation’s great coming-of-age films.
A timeless story retold with a modern sensibility, Bradley Cooper’s impressive directorial debut has steadily climbed up to this spot with every repeat viewing. Cooper and Gaga have an electric chemistry that drives the narrative through its rise and fall. The perfectly executed buildup of the romance and conflict with the older brother (Sam Elliot, who acts the sh*t out of backing out of a driveway) in the first half helps Cooper earn every emotional payoff that comes in the film’s latter half. The fact that Cooper simultaneously directs and gives a career-best performance in this film is something to commend. The “Shallow” performance is a scene for the ages.
Alfonso Cuaron’s sweeping, intimate story of a maid in Mexico City during the 1970’s feels as intensely personal as it is technically proficient. Yalitza Aparicio absolutely stunned me with her performance as Cleo, especially given the fact that she is not a professionally trained actress and has never been in a movie up to this point. This is a film that I got more invested in with each passing minute, to the point that I was hit by a torrential wave of emotions in the final few scenes. The camera gives you almost a panoramic view of Cleo’s life and her relationship to the family she works for, every inch of the frame filled with little details that help to tell the story. Roma is the ultimate personal artistic expression of 2018, and my favorite film of the year.