There were dozens of great films this year, including many that didn’t make my top ten or even the rest of my top 18 list, like If Beale Street Could Talk,1 Game Night, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor. A lot of the films I didn’t really care much for typically had one or two moments that I found myself enjoying greatly, such as the school-centric, forced-perspective scenes in Ant-Man and the Wasp and the centerpiece shootout scene in Hold the Dark, both of which as a whole I thought were so-so at best. A lot of the “bad” movies this year — like Venom and The Meg — were still pretty fun in a kinda absurd lizard-brain way. Hell, even the worst film of the year, Gotti, was hilariously meme-able in a jaw-droppingly incompetent way.
Almost every year is a great year for film if you’re looking in the right places. Billions of dollars, millions of people, and thousands of brilliant artists ensure us of that. 2018 was no exception, giving us incredible films from Hollywood, Europe, Asia, Canada, Mexico, and all over the globe via old fashioned theater-going or from the comfort of your own home by way of Netflix, Hulu, etc.. But, for my money, these ten films stood head and shoulders above the rest: My top ten films of 2018.
10. The Guilty
Sometimes a film needs to be nothing more than an tense, taut thrill ride. The Guilty, the directorial debut of Danish filmmaker Gustav Möller is just that. A brisk 85 minutes, it tells the tale of a police dispatcher who receives a disturbing call from a kidnapped woman. Möller sets this all within a single location, focusing his lens with laser precision on Jakob Cedergren’s performance as Asger, a cop with a dark past forced to spend a leave of absence working the phones. It’s a remarkable piece of filmmaking, making merely two rooms feel constantly visually distinct and turning the sounds of a few voices into fully formed characters. While Möller’s direction is immaculate, it’s Cedergren who brings the whole thing home, anchoring the film with a performance that is one of the year’s finest, slowly revealing more and more layers of the character until he has fully unraveled.
The Guilty is available to rent on most platforms.
9. Black Cop
The most raw, incendiary film of 2018, Black Cop defies all narrative conventions and appeals to civility. It’s a film with rage, pain, and dread simmering throughout, eventually boiling over into some of the angriest scenes I’ve seen in years. Its themes are apparent throughout, from the music to its references to historical depictions of black people in movies. It confronts the built-in biases of its audience, viscerally and nauseatingly depicting the violence inherent in the current state of law enforcement — though changing the racial dynamic by forcing white people to be in the victim role while the titular black cop wields all of the power and authority. Cory Bowles melds the influences of found footage cinema, slam poetry, and a traditional character study into a cauldron of absolutely powerful filmmaking. There’s nothing really quite like it.
Black Cop is available to stream on Hulu.
8. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Look, the Mission: Impossible films, at least the last three, are just vehicles for Tom Cruise to do absolutely insane stunts–that may or may not eventually get him killed – all for our amusement. Mission Impossible: Fallout pulls off that exact trick over and over again, with Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie achieving high – intensity action at a scale beyond even what this franchise has achieved before. From the booming sound design of the bathroom fight to the digitally stitched HALO jump tracking shot, Mission Impossible: Fallout never ceases to push the envelope of what an action scene can be. McQuarrie, Cruise, and the crew throw themselves – sometimes literally in the case of the camera operator who filmed the HALO jump with a camera strapped to his head – into the film with everything they had, making the action that much more intimate and immersive. In the age of CGI and films that cost hundreds of millions of dollars it is sometimes hard to achieve truly awe-inspiring spectacle, but Mission Impossible: Fallout delivers.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout is available to rent on most platforms.
7. Private Life
Even in the most loving, wonderful marriages, pressure and anxiety can rule the day. Private Life, the first film in over a decade by Tamara Jenkins, artfully and painfully captures how the most personal of trials can put a strain on all familial relationships, especially that of a married couple. Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti are perfect as a couple trying to find a way to conceive a child, with the stresses of their continued failed attempts breaking them down little by little. Jenkins’s film displays this through little moments of failed communication and the minute details of people’s personalities. Giamatti’s Richard reacts to the hardship with exasperation and awkward humor where Hahn’s Rachel is more heartbroken and bitter – which inevitably leads to more conflict and more marital hardship. There’s never a doubt that the two love each other, but Jenkins never loses the thread of how the pair’s temperaments are at war with one another. It presents all of this without judgment, shining a light on a difficult but non-toxic version of love and fidelity that Hollywood rarely provides.
Private Life is available to stream on Netflix.
6. You Were Never Really Here
Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here from a “plot” standpoint isn’t that special. It’s basically nothing more than another Taken clone, with a middle-aged white man fighting a bunch of creeps to protect the innocence of a young girl. However, Ramsay’s film is self-aware about this fact, and instead focuses and builds its narrative around Joaquin Phoenix’s role as Joe. Joe is a combat veteran suffering from PTSD and depression, and the film focuses almost entirely on studying this character. Phoenix uses everything at his disposal to craft Joe into a fully three-dimensional character, building his body into a bulking monster that is shaggy and graying. Ramsay and Phoenix accent his character with a combat style that just overpowers his opponents, beating them to death with a hammer — all while the film cuts in and out, never glamorizing or reveling in the violence.
You Were Never Really Here is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
5. The Night Comes for Us
Two words: Cow. Hoof. The Night Comes for Us is a movie where a guy beats the absolute shit out of another guy with a cow hoof, and it’s just one of dozens of kills that make it so much more than just another Raid knockoff. Basically the opposite approach towards violence of You Were Never Really Here. Timo Tjahjanto goes full-bore into the gonzo violent standard that The Raid films (which share this film’s leading actors) set, but combines the impeccable choreography of those films with a creative and playful energy that makes it the most brutally fun film of 2018. It might not be for those with a weak disposition, but if you’re looking for a gory good time, The Night Comes for Us will satisfy that bloodlust.
The Night Comes for Us is available to stream on Netflix.
4. Pass Over
Look, I don’t mean to be the resident hipster critic at Lewton Bus. It just kinda happens. While everyone was rightfully praising BlacKkKlansman as a return to form for Spike Lee, he low key released his best film since 25th Hour with little to no fanfare: Pass Over. Even though it is the filmed version of an incredibly fiery, Waiting for Godot-style play by Antoinette Nwandu, Lee’s visual palette and craft are still on full display. The play is inflammatory, reminding the audience of the wide and seemingly unending history of racial strife in the United States. While it almost certainly was filmed over multiple performances, Lee weaves the film together without even a hint of stitching. He achieves camera angles that are seemingly impossible during a live show, but provide intimate close-ups and overhead angles that drag the audience into the play. Lee similarly cuts to the enraptured audience, subtly ensuring that we realize how impactful what we’re seeing is. It’s Lee firing on all cylinders, weaving together a narrative with metacommentary in a way only he can.
Pass Over is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
The first film by Alfonso Cuarón that I have truly fallen in love with, Roma is a beautiful mix of nostalgia and melancholy. Maybe the most technically accomplished filmmaker of his generation, Cuarón’s film is another impeccably made film on a technical level, with the best sound design and cinematography of the year. Each frame is a marvel to behold. The use of black and white is stunningly gorgeous. It’s also Cuarón’s warmest and most personal film, with him looking back on his childhood and family history with both an air of wistfulness and remorse. It’s a love letter to his former housekeeper when he was growing up; it also recognizes the difficulties she faced and the complicated, familial-yet-not relationship that she had with her employers.
Roma is available to stream on Netflix.
2. First Reformed
A culmination of four-plus decades of psychosexual, religious, and political hangups, First Reformed is the ultimate comeback story for writer/director Paul Schrader. After being banished to the world of direct-to-video Nic Cage vehicles and being driven batty on the set of The Canyons, Schrader’s latest film is a fully formed screed that touches on all of his typical thematic material but in a rejuvenated, angry manner. From a screenplay standpoint, it’s The Last Temptation of Christ – a test of faith in the face of unfathomable pain and trauma – by way of Taxi Driver. This all while taking his Bresson-ian influences to the nth degree, with essentially four characters of note, a dreary Upstate New York setting, and a 4:3 aspect ratio all emphasizing the ascetic nature of both the film’s mise en scène and narrative crux. Schrader’s career from the very beginning has been a constant expression of frustration at the world that surrounds him, and First Reformed is Schrader looking back on the past forty years and realizing he’s angrier than ever.
First Reformed is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
There were a handful of films this year that touched on topics of American race relations set in the city of Oakland, but none of them were as great as Blindspotting – the best film of 2018. Written and co-led by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, Blindspotting works in a handful of genres, all at once a buddy comedy, a semi-musical, a character drama, and occasionally an abstract art film. Director Carlos López Estrada brings Casal and Diggs’ script to life, creating a diverse and vibrant Oakland that feels like a character unto itself. Much like a Do The Right Thing for a new city and generation, it constantly builds and builds until an explosive climax, one where its musings on gentrification, police brutality, and masculinity all come to a head. Diggs and Casal are masterful, weaving their characters with immense amounts of pathos. Blindspotting is an explosive combination of artistical innovation, thematic resonance, deeply human emotion and just good old fashioned entertainment that only great artists can accomplish, and even after just one film Diggs, Casal, and López Estrada have earned the right to be called just that. This is a film we’re going to look back on five/ten/twenty years from now and recognize as a slept-on masterpiece.
Blindspotting is available to rent on most platforms.