It’s equal parts difficult and fun to narrow down my favorite films of the year into a list of ten. And due to the high quality of cinema lately, it seemed even more challenging for 2018. So please forgive the two ties. What’s a film fan to do? Thanks to a bout of flu and a stack of award screeners, I did my best couch potato impression last week and watched all the films I still needed to see in order to compile the list. So without further ado…

Honorable mentions: 
Annihilation, A Simple Favor, Crazy Rich Asians, Whitney, BlacKkKlansman, Boy Erased, Eighth Grade, Isle of Dogs, Stan & Ollie, If Beale Street Could Talk

10. A STAR IS BORN


COLD WAR

10. A STAR IS BORN


COLD WAR

10. A STAR IS BORN


COLD WAR

Yes, I start with a tie. But it works well since both films deal with musical elements and the quality seemed to match as well. With A Star Is Born, I thought Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut was excellent. While the script did include some cringe-worthy dialogue, that wasn’t enough to minimize the emotional impact and wonderful performance by Lady Gaga (I could have done with a bit less screen time from Cooper’s character). And I have to mention the film’s soundtrack. I’ve had it on repeat for the last few months and almost every track is well-written and produced.

With the Polish film Cold War (original title, Zimna Wojna), I felt like I was in a monochrome dream while watching the film. Each frame is a like a painting and the music was beautiful. Revolving around a troubled and dynamic love story, the film’s narratives structure could be considered loose or non-traditional. But it worked well to drive the tale of star-crossed lovers, two people from different backgrounds who try everything to build a life together.

9. THE RIDER

9. THE RIDER

9. THE RIDER

I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t quite understand this film at first. Writer/director Chloé Zhao used the real people (non-actors) that the narrative film was based on to fill her cast. So the feeling of the film falls somewhere between documentary and drama. And while some of the “actors” didn’t quite work in this experiment (the father character specifically), the lead (Brady Jandreau) was truly excellent. His scenes with his paralyzed friend were heartbreaking and raw. As the final shot faded into the credits, I understood the director’s unique casting decision. This film about rodeos, horses, and the American heartland just wouldn’t have been as impactful without real cowboys.

8. GREEN BOOK

8. GREEN BOOK

8. GREEN BOOK

I recently found out that Green Book is getting a lot of backlash based on “white savior” complaints. Did these people even watch the same film? Both characters helped/saved each other in various ways. I didn’t see one specific “savior.” Plus, it was based on a true story. I’m as far on the social left as one can get. But sometimes even I think the politically-correct police take it too far.

I found the film to be a lovely tribute to this story about an Italian-American bouncer and an African-American classical pianist who become friends throughout a tour in the 1960s racist South. I love a good road-trip film. Then you sprinkle in great performances and a dash of buddy friendship…and you have yourself a winning film. I know I was smiling at the film’s end and I’m upset that it’s getting bad press it doesn’t deserve.

7. A QUIET PLACE

7. A QUIET PLACE

7. A QUIET PLACE

Some good films are even better in theaters. A Quiet Place was one of those films. With great execution of a high-concept thriller by first-time director John Krasinski, the film follows a family who must use silence to survive monsters with super hearing. Excellent sound design and Hitchcockian tension helped build the suspense and the jump scares were clever and timely. The whole theater was on the edge of their seats for a majority of the film and it was fun to experience the tension together. I also have to profess my love for Emily Blunt, who was the best part of an overall excellent cast. She’s good in every role I’ve seen her play, including her take on Mary Poppins this year. John Krasinski married up.

6. THE CAKEMAKER

6. THE CAKEMAKER

6. THE CAKEMAKER

This Israeli/German production was Israel’s submission for the Oscar’s foreign film category. It may have been overlooked for the short listing, but The Cakemaker was one of my favorite foreign films of 2018. The story is about a German baker who has an affair with a married Israeli who travels to Germany for work. When his lover suddenly dies, he travels to Jerusalem for answers and befriends the widow and her son. Having lived in Jerusalem for a month a few years ago, I loved seeing familiar locations and the film’s atmosphere felt very accurate. The pacing of the film was beautiful, slow, and deliberate. I loved Tim Kalkhof in the lead role and Sarah Adler was a perfect scene partner. If you enjoy LGBTQ+ films, this one is not to be missed!

5. THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

5. THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

5. THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

I’ve always been a fan of the Western genre. But we don’t get to see too many quality Western films nowadays. Thankfully, Netflix teamed up with the Coen brothers to bring us six Western vignettes with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Each unique story managed to match the quality of the Western classics while injecting the genre with fresh life. The tone of the shorts ranged from comical to adventure to drama with surprising poignancy. My two favorite vignettes were All Gold Canyon (starring Tom Waits) and The Gal Who Got Rattled (starring Zoe Kazan). The Coen brothers struck gold with their 2010 remake of True Grit and they continue their excellent foray into the land of cowboys, outlaws, pioneers, and beautiful vistas.

4. LEAVE NO TRACE

4. LEAVE NO TRACE

4. LEAVE NO TRACE

In 2010, writer/director Debra Granik introduced the world to Jennifer Lawrence with her film Winter’s Bone. Now in 2018, Debra gives newcomer Thomasin McKenzie a chance to shine with her brilliant new film Leave No Trace. And Thomasin doesn’t disappoint. She matches the talent of one of my favorite male actors, Ben Foster. They play a father and daughter who try to live off the grid due to his PTSD and traumatic past. What a beautiful film about the strength of family and the kindness of strangers. It’s also a film that could even improve upon a second viewing. Each emotional beat rang true and I felt for both lead characters, even when their viewpoints clashed. It’s a lovely, intimate film.

3. HEREDITARY

3. HEREDITARY

3. HEREDITARY

After avoiding horror films for the first 28 years of my life, I finally started to appreciate the genre in the last few years. Hereditary is one of the scariest films that I’ve seen and also one of the best horror films of the decade. Besides Ari Aster’s deft direction, the reason for the film’s success can be attributed to a breathtaking performance by Toni Collette. If the Academy wasn’t so afraid to nominate films in the horror genre, Toni would be a shoo-in for a nomination and possibly a win for best actress. She’s that good. I can’t figure out if the film’s storyline is a metaphor (for mental illness or family secrets) or just a straightforward horrific tale. But whatever the case, it got under my skin as only the best horror films can do.

2. THE DEATH OF STALIN

2. THE DEATH OF STALIN

2. THE DEATH OF STALIN

Damn, this film is funny. Based on the true (and incredibly insane) aftermath that happened after Stalin died, Armando Iannucci mixes absurdist humor and horrific situations to set the bar for black comedy. Plus, the film is beautifully shot and perfectly cast. I’ve seen it three times already this year and laughed just as hard each time. Unsurprisingly, the film has been banned in Russia. The film pokes fun at the Communist leaders of the time and not the Russian people. But I think the crazy political happenings from the 1950s hit a little close to home for Putin’s administration. But, no worries, this is 2018 and a ban won’t stop most Russians from getting their hands on this hilarious satire.

4. THE FAVOURITE


ROMA

4. THE FAVOURITE


ROMA

1. THE FAVOURITE


ROMA

It’s a tie for first! Even though both films couldn’t be more different in story or tone, they both left a lasting impression on me this year and are equally matched in quality. First, let’s talk about the wickedly-fun The Favourite, director Yorgos Lanthimos’ most accessible film to date (he usually delves into more absurdist plots). Set in 18th century England, the story revolves around a sickly Queen Anne and two close friends who vie for her attention. But this isn’t your average period drama. It’s a black comedy that’s not for the prudish. It’s equal parts hilarious, awkward, and tragic. The cast is lead by pitch-perfect performances by Emma Stone (with a great English accent), Rachel Weisz, and the standout Oliva Colman.

Next up is the unforgettable Roma. Director Alfonso Cuarón created one of my all-time favorite films with Children of Men in 2006. And Roma could surpass even that standout to be his best film to date. The title of the film is named after a neighborhood in Mexico City. Set in the early 1970s, the story is based on memories from Cuarón’s childhood and was dedicated to (and the story revolves around) his family’s servant when he was a boy. It’s a slow pace to begin with as the audience gets to know the characters and this only helps when tragedy strikes and emotions run high in the third act. It’s a rare film that can make me cry and I’ll admit that I shed a few tears during a pivotal scene at the end of the film. Nostalgic and heartfelt, Roma is Cuarón’s masterpiece.