Usually around this time of year, I say goodbye to the year that was in terms of movies. I was able to see much more films than usual this year which actually made this list of my favourite films very difficult. In fact I saw so many great films, many of which did not make my list. As you can see I’ve actually expanded my usual field from 10 to 20 as I felt there were just too many I wanted to talk about, and there were still more on my list that didn’t make it. Despite having 20 films, I just could not find room for titles such as “Widows”, “The Favourite”, “Isle of Dogs”, “Three Identical Strangers”, “Searching”, “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead”, “A Star is Born”, “The Commuter”, “Mission Impossible: Fallout”, and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” to name a few, all of which I greatly enjoyed. But of course lists always tend to fluctuate. If you asked me a month ago, I would’ve had a different list, but some movies have grown on me more than others, and I may feel differently if you ask me a week from now. That’s what’s great about movies, you’re aloud to change you opinion about them over and over again. And like all things I post on my blog, everything I put is subjective to me. You don’t have to agree with me, but the idea of these lists is to breed discussions, and I always welcome it. So without further adieu, here are my top 20 films of 2018, as of today….
1: The Other Side of the Wind
I’m convinced that this is some kind of a masterpiece, not perfect mind you but a masterpiece nonetheless. The fragmented pieces of this film make a fascinating and profound whole. This is an elegy of cinema, an apocalyptic, self-destructive reflection of the artform which has been brought down by a money-driven industry, pompous Hollywood executives, pretentious film scholars, and ego-centric filmmakers. At least that’s what Orson Welles wants us to believe. Welles paints a Hollywood portrait of the self-loathing, dehumanizing nature of filmmaking, and how it can turn art into a meaningless byproduct. Cameras float in and out of this film, becoming intrusive capturing everything like a sideshow, and in the end it all signifies nothing. Welles seems to ask “What’s the Point?” This film left me with more questions about the medium of film itself, and what it can do to people, how it can leave them empty inside with nothing meaningful to say anymore. We are just left with pretty images on the screen that time will forget, like an empty drive-in in the desert.
2. Three Faces
The latest from Iranian director Jafar Pahani. I have not seen any other film by him, but this has made me want to discover more. Pahani gained noteriety after being put under house arrest for allegedly insulting the Iranian governement. He was forbidden to make any more films, but has since made four, albeit in a limited capacity. Here Pahani doesn’t drift too far from his own car. The story deals with Pahani playing himself as he is escorting actress Behnaz Jafari, who becomes distraught when she’s sees an Iphone video of a young girl allegedly commiting suicide because her parents won’t let her attend drama school. The film is part mystery, part slice of life, and part feminist battle cry concerning the treatment of women in Iran. Pahani gives us a very humanist perspective, showing both the warmth of his culture as well as the destructive nature of it. He offers no solution, yet he leaves us with an image of hopefulness and insight. A film which filled my soul.
3. Paddington 2
Much like a London pop-up book, like the one in which Paddington tries to attain for his loving Aunt for her birthday, this film is full of delightful surprises, and genuine good will. Impeccibly made with a ravishing colour texture that reminds one of classic MGM musicals, add to that bright, winning performances, and a real visual flare, “Paddington 2” is the film which should be mandatory viewing for manic-depressives and cynics alike. I’m not being flippant when I say I would compare this to the best of the Frank Capra depression era fables of people with a heart of gold who help each other out and how a little kindness can go a long way. This is a Family film with a capital “F”, giving us characters we care about, and a lovely bear who will steal your heart.
What makes a family? This is the main question this film poses. Not everyone can have that picture perfect mom and dad to look out for them, some people aren’t that lucky, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a family in the non-traditional sense. “Shoplifters” examines a group of misfits who are more or less orphans but come together to make their own family unit. Their group adds another to their flock when they notice a young girl who is neglected by her parents, so they decide to take her in. Together they survive through low paying jobs, and stealing items from local stores. There is an underlining sadness knowing this clan won’t be able to stay together forever, and it makes for a heartbreaking finale. Director Hirokazu Kore-eda, who won the Palm D’ Or at the Cannes film festival, balances the harrowing moments, with very lighthearted and tender scenes. My heart broke for this family, and the actors create a stunning ensemble, as if they have known eachother for years.
Spike Lee certainly knows how get your attention. He’s been fighting the good fight for over 30 years, and he will not be ignored. “Blackkklansman” is a firey call to arms, telling us bluntly more than any other film that what has happened before is happening today. Like all of his best films, Lee doesn’t pull any punches, and no one is better and riling people up more than him. No other film left me so angry, or feeling sick at the pit of my stomach but in a good way. Lee knows what’s going on in the world, and he sees the clearest way to get us to pay attention is to simply show us. This is a period film, but we feel modern times seeping in throughout, it finally punches us in the gut in the final moments, and we can’t help but leave the theatre shaken.
6. Leave No Trace
Very little is said in this film, but so much is conveyed. I found myself overcome with emotion in this story of a father with PTSD who lives in a public park with his daughter in isolation until they are discovered and forced to re-enter society. For both it’s a learning curve, but for one of them it’s a way to a better life, while for the other, it’s a painful process. “Leave No Trace” is a quiet film, with two of the best performances I saw this year by Ben Foster and especially Thomasin McKenzie who conveys so much with her face and her process as she is reintegrated into a world she doesn’t know. The film feels like a poem, a sad elegy for something that cannot be.
7. Won’t You Be My Neighbour?
Not only is “Won’t You Be My Neighbour?” one of the most uplifting documentaries in recent memory, it is also profoundly spiritual. Fred Rogers has become a cultural icon, maybe even more so since his death. His modest children’s television show taught us empathy in a world of aggression and intolerance, but this film also shows a man greatly attuned to his religious side, something that he carried with him throughout his life. Part of what made Fred Rogers so special is he could talk the talk and walk the walk. He was the real deal, he practised what he preached. This film doesn’t just depict Fred Rogers as an entertainer, but also a prophet of sorts, bringing about the word of peace, love, and understanding better than anyone who might try to do the same at a Sunday sermon.
8. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coen Brothers are part of my cinematic DNA, so of course I will eat up whatever they feed me. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is an anthology film concerning death in all its shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s sudden, sometimes it’s avoidable, and sometimes it comes back to us just when we thought we eluded it. Each story tells a tale, each with a different purpose to convey, yet all together they make a thematic whole. The Coens can never resist dark humour or a cold demenor, but there is always a sense of wanting to understand the nature of death, no matter how futile that examination it may be. To battle the coldness of life, the Coens add moments of grace, mostly through song and wit, provided by they pitch perfect dialogue which is still the best in the business.
9. Cold War
A love story through the ages told in impressive economy. This is a film about what happens when two lovers who are forced to compromise their art under a communist regime struggle to reconcile after a flight for freedom goes awry. Told more in vignettes spanning over 20 years, rather than conventional linear passages, this has the makings of an epic romance complemented by stunning black and white cinematography, and smoky sensuous backdrop of post war Europe. This becomes a film about glances from across a room, tenderness and heartache from one person, and the transcendent power of love in a world torn apart.
10. First Man
The story of Neil Armstrong, is really a sad story. I never got to know Neil Armstrong in this film, but I think that’s the point. Through a powerhouse subtle performance by Ryan Gosling, Armstong is the epitome of stoic male masculinity. He doesn’t let anyone in to his life. He is framed around screen doors and panes of glass unable to let anyone in, even his long suffering wife. The feeling we get about Armstrong is one of ambiguity, do we condone this man for the triumph of walking on the moon, or should we see him as a cautionary tale of someone who could never quite be comfortable with himself. Along with this fascinating character study, we also are left with a film of impeccible technical skill. The music is soaring, and the moon landing itself is a fabulous bit of editing which should not be overlooked.
Maybe the most unique film I saw all year. Dare I put it up higher on this list? Part of me wants to. A drug induced fever dream. The most highly stylized movie of the year, operatic to the highest degree. Nicholas Cage is off his leash and we couldn’t ask for more. A film for that certain kind of film lover.
12. If Beale Street Could Talk
A film that is filled with so much love and care, from the beautiful cinematography and music, to the unforgettable close-ups that seems to ask us to look into these people’s souls. It’s a film as a poem, and in this case, it’s a poem for the streets, and elegy for the people without a voice. Director Barry Jenkins gives us a film that is full of love, taken from the words of James Baldwin.
13. First Reformed
Writer/Director Paul Schraeder creates a a film about hope and despair and reconciling the two and questioning the idea of faith in the process. Ethan Hawke is simply stunning here and a priest who becomes disillusioned with the decay of the world, and searches for meaning in the darkest parts of the soul. A stunning character study, and a film that shakes you to the core.
14. Game Night
A wonderful comic premise of a Game Night among couples going awry when what they think is a role playing game involving kidnappers becomes very real. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are a perfect yuppie couple, and Jessie Plemons steals the show as the weird neighbour who has been given the Game Night shaft. I never laughed harder in any film this year.
One day we are all going to realize just how much we have taken Steven Sodebergh for granted. One day he will stop making movies such as this wonderment of experimental genre filmmaking, and we will long for his unique cinematic touch. A Psychological thriller shot on an Iphone, and examining the inner fears of a stalker victim may not feel like a good time at the movies, but Sodebergh’s fluid direction make this one of the best mainstream thrillers of the year, even though no one decided to see it. Claire Foy should’ve been talked about more this year for her performance.
16. Black Panther
Who says Super hero movies can’t say anything? This is Marvel Studios best film by far in scope as well as thematically superior to most blockbusters being made. “Black Panther” is a riveting action yarn told mainly through the black experience. As realized by director Ryan Coogler and his team, the world of Wakanda is a full world of wonder and the ideas and social commentary this film tackles should not be taken lightly.
Alfonso Cuaron has made a very unique film, one based entirely on memory. A film that flows like a text from a scroll, which is depicted by the ongoing fluid camera motions. No music, but a film full of its own sound design, concerned with showing us a time and place that feels very much alive from the mind of its creator. This is personal filmmaking that isn’t often seen anymore. It’s a film of ideas and a visual feast for the senses.
A horror movie about the demons in our family. A psychological puzzle which isn’t fully revealed until the ending. Like the best horror films, this leaves you with a sense of dread and uncertainty. But in the end it’s all about a broken family who is trying to keep itself together without much luck. Toni Collette joins Claire Foy in “Unsane” as an overlooked great performance in a genre movie.
19. Let the Sunshine In
A film about opening yourself up to love no matter what disappointment might occur. Juliet Binoche again shows why she is a treasure in film acting. As directed by Claire Denis, this film follows Binoche who plays a middle aged artist who is searching for someone to love, but suffers blows of disappointment. Her character seems to be obessessed with the idea of being with someone, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but she is a source of great strength in how she is willing to open herself to such heartache hoping in the end of that surprise of love around the corner.
20: Spiderman Into the Spiderverse
Rarely has a comic book movie been able to show what a comic book is on screen. With the help of innovative animation “Spiderman Into the Spiderverse” does just that and should really be responsible for changing the game of the idea of super hero films on screen. Super hero films are rarely this cinematic no matter what people may say. Without a doubt the best animated film of the year.