When I started the year, I had a modest goal to watch 52 new films in 2018. Then I covered two film festivals and vastly outstripped that figure to the point that I lost count. But I saw a lot of amazing cinema this year and I feel weirdly blessed to be able to have done so. But I also missed a lot, so films that pop up on other lists are likely absent. Obviously, no list can fully encompass the range of cinema offered in any given year, but of the films I saw, this is my personal list of the ten films I consider this year’s best either for reasons of technical merit, excellent performances or the way they made me feel. As noted, these are presented in no particular order, mostly because I couldn’t be bothered to rank them in any meaningful way. I love them all, and remember them fondly.
A Simple Favor
My dislike of Blake Lively is well documented, but as a person with very commercial tastes, I have managed to see quite a few of her films over the last few years. None of them have been good, but her roles in them have shown that she has a particular self awareness for the limits of her talents as an actress, and is smart enough to pick projects that play to her strengths. Then A Simple Favor came along, and I realized that not only is Blake a better actress than her husband, but that the reason I didn’t realize this before now is because she so often takes roles that leave her up to the whims of men. In this film, she is electric, energetic and completely in charge of the narrative. She is cutting and delightful and entirely worth the price of admission. Paul Feig has a history of giving women the chance to shine onscreen and Lively took the opportunity and ran with it. It is her best role to date, in a film that deserves the fully indulgent performance she delivers in this modern take on a stylish french crime caper.
Crazy Rich Asians
It’s hard to describe the opulent grandeur of a film like this to someone who hasn’t seen it. The title isn’t a exaggeration; the set pieces of this film are extravagant and over the top and incredibly lush. But the real triumph of the movie is that obscene wealth of the story’s Young family doesn’t overshadow the romance at its center. Crazy Rich Asians is a feat in and of itself. It’s the first mostly Asian-American cast in 20 years, and to say that its success was a litmus test for Asian-American stories in the US would be an understatement. But director Jon M. Chu managed to create a word that was at once fantastical and grounded, distinctly Chinese and also accessible to those outside the culture. It is an achievement that cannot be understated because it is a brilliant film that tells a universal story by leaning hard into the specificity of its characters’ culture.
It is odd to say that this film made me cry? There is a lot to recommend this spectacular film. Ryan Coogler did what he does best, and found a way to create an explicitly political story about the plight of Black Lives and fit it into an already established universe. The wait was worth it. The array of black and brown faces, most of them women, coming together to save a nation as the men bickered and battled was affirming but it was also necessary. This story was a vital one, and that it existed within one of the biggest global franchises in the world, exposing these issues to audiences who might not otherwise have cared is a feat. But the best thing about Coogler’s magical utopia is the time he spent building this world and fleshing it out to be something we could recognize as a just and needed respite from the world. The lush colours and traditions cribbed from the cultures around it and the music pulling in references from across the diaspora. Black Panther is a vision of what the world could be.
When I saw this film at a Midnight Madness screening at TIFF, I knew that it had the potential to be a sleeper cult hit. Unfortunately, the film bombed massively upon release with the worst box office opening of the year. But I stand by my review: the film is not perfect, but it tries to grapple with the issues today’s teens are dealing with metaphors that makes sense for that generation. It is earnest and flippant all at once, even as it stumbles on the finer points and nuance that might have made it an instant success. I can’t wait for the ten year retrospective that recognizes its genius, the likes of which Jennifer’s Body is enjoying now.
This future Best Picture winner is hands down the one to beat this year. Yorgos Lanthimos’ dry, arch period drama takes the dangers of the time and mines them for dark comedy as the film’s central trio vie for power and favour. Between Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Olivia Colman, all manner of nonsense and depravity is explored as the men of the English court titter around trying to rule a country that is out of their hands. But the performances and the machinations make the film, especially as Stone’s Abigail Masham finagles her way to the top of the Queen’s hierarchy and into her bed. The film is achingly hilarious and whip smart about the realities of life for women of the day, even those who are high born and of good standing. The real drama of course is betwixt the three main women and the simmering love triangle that binds them and tears them apart. It is incredibly clever and a natural progression of Lanthimos’ oeuvre.
A Star Is Born
I’ve written enough about A Star Is Born to last a lifetime, but that’s only because the film is truly one of the year’s highest cinematic achievements. I saw it twice: once at TIFF, and once at an AMC in New York. Both times it brought me to tears. I have been a fan of Lady Gaga for several years, but seeing her transform into this character who doubted herself, only to find her voice and blossom, all while trying to keep a marriage together with an undeserving man was a overwhelming. The music added a level of intimacy of revelation that couldn’t have been achieved without it, and best of all it made the central relationship believable. For whatever flaws Jackson Maine had as a character, Bradley Cooper’s performance and direction built their chemistry in as the bedrock of the film so that the peaks and valleys felt as intoxicating, intense and all-consuming. The film is a triumph, and will definitely go down as a classic of the modern age.
My first experience with this film was reading about the controversy around its ending. Maternal health advocates were concerned it sent a harmful message about the realities of post-partum mental health. Truthfully, I think their concerns are entirely valid, and yet I couldn’t help love the film anyway. Charlize Theron gives an astonishing performance as a recent new mother dealing with a special needs child and the logistics of managing multiple children, when a night nurse, the titular Tully steps in to help. “I’m here to take care of you” she says on her first night. After a dangerous accident, it is revealed that Tully does not exist. She is a projection Theron’s character has created to deal with the new stresses in her life. She has been experiencing a deep and alarming psychosis. I’m not a mother and this movie doesn’t exactly make the argument for children, but I deeply related to the feeling of needing to be tended to and cared for. That this character might miss a psychological breakdown because she felt seen was moving and terrifying all at the same time. It was an extraordinary viewing experience that I’m so glad I had.
Nothing To Hide
This little French gem is one I’d never have found without Netflix. A quiet drama that explodes with tension as the night wears on is easily one of the best foreign films I’ve ever seen. The plotting takes its time as the central dinner party establishes itself, but once things get going, the taut rubber band holding things together snaps shut, leading to confrontations and confessions between a group of friends who are appalled to learn that they do not know each other very well at all. The twists and turns are framed as the odd manifestations of a lunar eclipse, but before the end, every character is tested; their relationships are strained and their secrets are revealed. I enjoyed it immensely. As a natural gossip, this movie is perfectly calibrated to my preference for other people’s messiness. Netflix’s foreign film selection has expanded immensely in its quest for streaming domination and it’s made great work form other countries incredibly accessible in a way that wouldn’t have been possible before. I watched a lot of Spanish and French language cinema this year and I’m glad this was an option in a region that is usually neglected when it comes to film access.
A Quiet Place
There was no way I wouldn’t love a dystopian film starring my favourite celebrity couple, but I wasn’t prepared for the experience of this incredible film. Taut and terrifying, writer/director and star John Krasinksi created a film that required all your senses to be enjoyed. Silence is the main character, and its presence is overwhelming, swallowing up all the light and hope in the story’s bleak world. The exciting premise is the kind of spec-fic I love best; “what if?” questions abound and are addressed with varying levels of completeness. The family’s deaf daughter struggles with her disability and the disadvantages she faces, only to find later that it is a strength in their changed world. The entire story is about survival in the bleakest of circumstances and the will to go one even as hope is fleeting, but also about the sacrifices we make for family. It’s the best kind of horror movie and I’m so glad I saw it.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
To All The Boys I Loved Before was the movie that made me remember why I love romantic comedies, and specifically movies about teens in love. This perfect little Netflix gem kicked off a romcom renaissance and launched a couple stars. The movie is delightful and earnest and sweet in the very best way. It takes the well worn romcom tropes and turns them on their head whilst fully understanding what makes them so endearing in the first place. Lana Condor and Noah Centineo’s chemistry as Lara-Jean Covey and Peter Kavinksy carries the movie beautifully, and it’s not long until you’re rooting for their fake relationship to be real. The best part is that it gives us a new kind of romcom hero in Lavinsky, who displays a level of emotional maturity that is rare to find in grown men. It’s a wonderful film, and I can’t wait for the sequel.