The Top 10 Films of 2018

As indicated by the Oscars, 2018 was a year that celebrated popular films, and while I liked a lot of those movies and some of them make this list, I was equally if not more impressed by independent films and less-heralded filmmakers. Oh, and in light of the recent “war on Netflix,” I should note the streaming service accounted for three of these 10 …

10. A Quiet Place

I know. I’m already contradicting myself by putting this popular genre film at #10, but “A Quiet Place” snuck into my top 10 with its creativity and character-driven storytelling despite operating from a familiar post-alien invasion premise. I’m a firm believer in rewarding great genre storytelling and the last film that did as good a job as John Krasinski does here was “10 Cloverfield Lane.” I was drawn into this soundless world immediately and captivated from start to finish. (Read my review)

9. Minding the Gap

Even with its Oscar nomination and availability to stream on Hulu, you may have not heard of Bing Lu’s documentary shot in nearby Rockford, Ill. Although it presents as just an impressively filmed skateboarding documentary, “Minding the Gap” gets so deeply personal; it moves into places you just would never expect at the onset. What clearly began as Lu turning the camera on himself and his skater friends suddenly becomes a story about pain and the ways men are conditioned to ignore it. Only because of Lu’s relationships with the subjects and willingness to examine himself, too, is his film able to speak to truth in such a precise, unfiltered way. I’m so impressed by the recent wave of documentaries in which the filmmaker turns the camera on his or herself, and “Minding the Gap” is the latest fantastic example. (Read my review)

8. Private Life

Another film that was wildly under-seen yet widely available (on Netflix), “Private Life” captures a couple’s desperate attempt at parenthood. Director Tamara Jenkins (“The Savages”) has a gift for writing clever but honest stories about situations that are more likely to have happened to you or someone you know. “The Savages” dealt with taking care of parents, and “Private Life” addresses fertility challenges. Jenkins crafts such full characters with comprehensive personalities, and brings them together in brilliant scenes and dialogue exchanges. Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti have the comedic and dramatic chops to execute their rhythm and timing, as does newcomer Kayli Carter. There were so many moments in which I was floored by how deeply I connected with the characters that “Private Life” safely landed in my top 10. (Read my review)

7. Eighth Grade

What I love about “Eighth Grade” isn’t specifically the script, the direction or Elsie Fisher’s relatable lead performance. What stand-up comedian-turned-filmmaker Bo Burnham has done so brilliantly is capture a feeling in a powerfully authentic way; that feeling being awkwardness. I’ve watched tons of coming-of-age comedies, dramas and dramadies, but they are all tinged with the color of nostalgia. “Eighth Grade” is just painfully real, present-minded and relevant. There are some middle-school stereotypes, but that social discomfort that Kayla experiences has never been better articulated on screen. “Eighth Grade” will long be remembered as the first film to capture the truth of Generation Z, and more impressively, in a way that older generations can understand. (Read my review)

6. The Favourite

Getting a chance to squeeze in this film, from one of my favorite under-the-radar directors, delayed this list, but it was worth it. It took awhile for Yorgos Lanthimos’ irreverent approach to this period piece to sink in, but performances by Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Coleman really helped convey the vision. Essentially, the film turns the period drama on its head and shakes it vigorously until more relatable ideas and themes fall out. The acting, the hilarious modern dialogue wrapped in 18th century English, and this joyful disregard for traditional genre technique ultimately won my favour. (Read my review)

5. BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee was a big hole in my film vocabulary, so “BlacKkKlansman” initiated a mini-marathon that included “Do the Right Thing,” “Malcolm X,” “25th Hour” and “Inside Man.” One constant in all his films, even those latter two more uncharacteristic ones, is that the social and political context in which he makes a film has a tremendous affect on it. Perhaps none so much as “BlacKkKlansman.” Although I failed to piece together an official review before the film lost freshness in my mind, I haven’t forgotten its impact. The premise of a black police officer fooling the KKK carries a lot of this film, but the bravery with which Lee tells this story in an effort to punch through to today’s world of emboldened white nationalism spoke powerfully. And he also presented so many deeper questions about race and identity, folding them into a narrative that would’ve been compelling enough with them.

4. The Rider

I could never have imagined putting Chloé Zhao’s tiny independent festival gem in my top five, but it’s just that good. In terms of photography, only “Roma” impressed me more, and I actually watched this on my phone and “Roma” in a theater. A fictional story told by real people playing versions of themselves, “The Rider” feels so impressively real that it affected me in a different way. Quiet and unassuming like its lead character/subject, Brady Jandreau, Zhao’s film falls on the artsier side of the spectrum with hints of documentary. Plus, in these divisive times we live in, Brady’s journey of purpose and redefining himself will resonate with completely different types of people, unique among the 2018 crop. (Read my review)

3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

I am such a sucker for the Coens. Their latest film, a Netflix release featuring six short stories from the American frontier, conveys so much of their essence, that I became smitten even amidst the film’s particularly dark outlook. My favorite segment, “Meal Ticket,” is the grimmest of the six, so either I’m getting nihilistic, or their writing is just in top form that I’ll go with them on any journey. The Oscar nomination was well-deserved. This is one of few 2018 dramas with serious replay value. (Read my review)

2. Sorry to Bother You

It won’t be long before we’re talking about Boots Riley again. His filmmaking debut had a lot in common with a 2017 debut effort that made a lot of top 10 lists — “Get Out.” Only this movie is way more bonkers. Way. Its nth degree of outlandishness, edginess and abstract, caricature-like sense of style and storytelling isn’t for everyone, but the satire and socio-economic commentary is spot on and even gets personal. Anchored by a bona fide leading performance by “Get Out” supporting actor Lakeith Stanfield and a script so smart in its satire that it feels painfully real, “Sorry to Bother You” challenges us to think honestly about how far we might go for our own benefit. At what price would you sell out? (Read my review)

1. Roma

I don’t often give my top spot to a film best described to general audiences as “artsy,” but the craftsmanship of “Roma” completely blew me away. The sheer beauty of the images Alfonso Cuarón captures as both director and cinematographer of this love letter to the Mexico of his childhood have no contemporary equal that comes to mind, let alone in 2018. The “Roma” viewing experiences is also not like that of any other film on this list. It is both a tough film to swallow in subject matter and it doesn’t move at a pace friendly to most audiences, but it was completely, utterly mesmerizing and I was never bored taking in the details of each frame and artistic choice. (Read my review)

Surprised not to see a certain movie on my list? Check out my expanded rankings, My Top 25 Films of 2018, over on letterboxd.


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