This year was a real game changer for a person like myself. To kick things off, it was the first year in which I was able to attend TIFF as a press member rather than as any other audience member. It was a defining moment for myself, though I don’t want to brag a little too much about what happened there. It was just a good year for cinema in general. That’s all I can really say, and I want to bring more attention to the many films that I absolutely loved this year – and so many of them came around this year and so forth. We’re already nearing the end of a decade, and through the good and the bad, the cinema has always been able to provide nothing but the greatest pleasures through and through. Although as we look through the films that have come to define 2018 as a whole, there were many surprises that came along the way just as there were disappointments – all of which came in between the very best and the worst in cinema through the year. So without further ado, let us begin.
The Best Films of 2018
- Leave No Trace
- Beautiful Boy
- Sorry to Bother You
- 24 Frames
- The Tale
- You Were Never Really Here
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
- Skate Kitchen
10. First Reformed
Written and directed by Paul Schrader.
Paul Schrader’s First Reformed isn’t only the filmmaker’s best outing ever since Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, but it’s an entire experience that even had me pondering to myself about what the future had in store for us as a species – and also how we can truly find a sense of peace when we know the world will continue crumbling down upon us. Like Travis Bickle, Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Toller is not crafted to be seen as a hero, he’s already damaged enough by what he has experienced in his past – but we stick around because of how those experiences shape the way he sees his own world. It’s a work that channels Ingmar Bergman (specifically Winter Light), carrying a career-best Ethan Hawke performance, and one that still gives me chills as I sit around thinking about it. Read my review here.
Directed by Spike Lee, written by Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, based on the memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth.
Spike Lee’s films have always remained so scathing, but in BlacKkKlansman there also comes by something even more challenging. Aside from being his best work in a long period of time, it also feels like the perfect response to how society comes to look at an issue as prevalent as racism, even after a period we think we’re already far beyond. But something else I love about how Spike Lee approaches the topic, getting down to the bone of what happens after we think we’re at a point we can truly feel good about being “beyond” racism. But there’s a reason Lee’s films have always retained their bite – and it’s because of the fact that their messages will probably remain relevant, for better or for worse. With telling the story of Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan, we aren’t only seeing a story about triumphing against racism, but it’s also a wake up call that we can’t “escape” the issue no matter how much we try. Read my review here.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino, written by David Kajganich from the 1977 film by Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi.
At first I wasn’t sure about looking forward to this, but after Call Me by Your Name, it’d be easy enough for me to say that I was sold in on whatever Luca Guadagnino had in store next – and what do you know, it also just had to be a new take on Dario Argento’s Suspiria of all things. This isn’t any ordinary horror remake, one among many things that already sold me in on what Luca Guadagnino had in store for a new Suspiria was just the idea he’d also use a template for an all-new allegory, and he turned out one of the most baffling, yet most dazzling theater experiences one could ever ask for out of that. With an equally haunting score from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and a mesmerizing lead performance from Dakota Johnson, Suspiria is a film that must be seen to be believed. Read my review here.
7. Cold War
Written and directed by Paweł Pawlikowski.
One among the highest contenders for the most beautiful film that I’ve seen all year last year, Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War might also be the most heartbreaking romance film to come out not only last year, but in the past few years. The many fragments that keep a broken relationship afloat all come together in this sort-of mosaic amidst a war-torn Poland, but also as a portrait of human spirit through the toughest of times – embracing the happiest moments wherever possible, because we already know that’s what keeps people in their best spirits too. But among many other things that I have to say about Cold War, it’s truly one of the most beautifully shot films that I have seen in so many years – and it’d be easy enough for me to say that Pawlikowski’s already outdone the gorgeous work that he’s done on Ida and My Summer of Love with this one. Read my review here.
Written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda.
Here’s yet another foreign film from the year that celebrates the human spirit – especially through difficult times. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s loving portrait of family dynamics on film has always been one of his most distinctive cinematic tendencies, but with Shoplifters what also comes by isn’t only one of his most heartbreaking works, but one of his most important. Telling a story of a family trying their best to survive through poverty, and even building up more friends along the way, this is a film that leaves you to think about what it is that truly defines family structure the way it is. As the film went on, I was only ever thinking to myself that I truly wanted to spend more time with these people, which is a state of mind that Kore-eda has always left me under. Everyone simply wants to survive, but their means of doing so also conflict with how the law defines what creates a family – and Kore-eda shows us his most morally complex yet wholly stunning picture in Shoplifters. Read my review here.
Written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón.
Alfonso Cuarón continues his streak of being one of the most consistent working filmmakers – but perhaps not with something with the same sort of scale as Children of Men, Gravity, or Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban yet never any less beautiful. Returning to his native Mexico after 17 years since the brilliantly raunchy Y Tu Mamá También, Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical tale based on memories from his own childhood still feels like it could truly be every bit as grand as his previous works – especially in his tale of a nanny who simply wants the best for a family that has never reciprocated their appreciation for her work. Many will have witnessed such a beautiful work on the small screen because of its own Netflix release, yet the impact is still there, because Cuarón still grabs you by the hand – and takes you into something much greater. It feels all too perfect for a film that was built upon memories, especially with the stunning black-and-white photography as filmed by Cuarón himself, and there’s truly nothing more that I can ask for out of such an immersive experience. Read my review here.
Directed by Lee Chang-dong, written by Lee Chang-dong and Oh Jung-mi, from the short story Barn Burning by Haruki Murakami.
South Korea’s finest auteur comes back after an eight-year long hiatus to bring Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning to the big screen. In this brilliant thriller by Lee Chang-dong, we are being told the story of a disappearance, and the effects that it has had upon people so close to the lost soul – one a lonely farmer who aspires to become a writer, and one a charismatic man who has a distinctive habit of burning down greenhouses. It’s a perfect film about masculinity and how it also frames people within their own narratives – like a story that writes itself the more it goes on. And maybe seeing one perspective opens up to more possibilities as to what else comes by. To say the least, it’s unbelievable – I couldn’t simply make myself forget a film like this after viewing it once. Read my review here.
3. The Favourite
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara.
There are too many puns one can make about a film whose title is simply The Favourite being on a list of the best films of the year. But I don’t think I’ve seen a comedy much like this, let alone a period piece either – and to think it was one that came from Yorgos Lanthimos of all people – as if it couldn’t be any more astounding as is. But with a stacked cast led by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, there’s so much that one can ask for out of a Lanthimos comedy starring a trio of this sort – yet the film went far beyond what I imagined possible. It’s not only one of the funniest films that I have seen in a while, but it’s without doubt the most gorgeous period piece of the past few years. I wouldn’t want to jump ahead and make hyperbolic comparisons upon first impression, but I feel like this is the closest thing we can get to another Barry Lyndon today. For my money, it also happens to be as good a screenplay as they have ever gotten last year. Too perfect for words. Read my review here.
Directed by Steve McQueen, written by Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn, based on the miniseries created by Lynda La Plante.
Speaking of more films with great female-led ensemble casts, this also brings me to Steve McQueen’s Widows – which may also be last year’s best genre effort. Aside from being the best heist film to come out in a long while (not as if there was truly much competition between this and Michael Mann’s Heat), there’s a whole lot to love about what McQueen presents here. It’s without doubt far more accessible than any of his previous films, yet it still carries the same jolt that has always kept his films every bit as worthwhile. As expected from a script co-written with Gillian Flynn, it’s a thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat – yet not one without its own dash of political commentary as expected from Steve McQueen. From first frame to last, Widows already brings you into a world moving by at a quick pace, but as we cut hard from the action and intimate moments of husband and wife coming together, I knew that this was only going to be something special. And it truly lived up. Everyone, everything, is all too perfect in this movie. Read my review here.
1. If Beale Street Could Talk
Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, based on the novel by James Baldwin.
It was hard enough for me to choose just a single favourite film of the year, but Barry Jenkins’s latest feature ultimately takes the cake for me. Adapting the words of James Baldwin to the screen, what comes forward is a contemplative romance story that leaves us wondering the extent to which we have gone past oppression. And heartbreakingly, it’s still something we haven’t fully overcome. This isn’t only a film about how racial discrimination can rip apart a loving couple from one another, but also about gender discrimination, as we see everything told right from Tish’s eyes. Long after I had first seen If Beale Street Could Talk, I simply could not stop thinking about it. I couldn’t let Nicholas Britell’s beautiful score out of my head, nor could I ever let the love between Tish and Fonny escape me – every moment I seated there, I was wondering how it was possible a story like this could be brought to the big screen the way it did. I just sat there wondering what James Baldwin would have thought of the film if he were still around, able to see how his legacy came to reach a new audience with what Barry Jenkins brings to the screen here. It was hard enough for me to pick between this and Widows, but ultimately, I felt this was the film that best fit the bill. Read my review here.
Without leaving more great films to have come out within the year, here are a few more that didn’t quite make my top ten – yet I have not forgotten about them at all.
Best Documentary: Shirkers
Best Animated Feature/Superhero Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Best Action Film: Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Best Family Feature: Paddington 2
Biggest Surprise of the Year #1: Black Panther
Biggest Surprise of the Year #2: Searching
Biggest Surprise of the Year #3: The Strangers: Prey at Night
Best Debut Film of the Year #1: Sorry to Bother You
Written and directed by Boots Riley.
Best Debut Feature of the Year #2: Hereditary
Written and directed by Ari Aster.
Best Debut Feature of the Year #3: Thunder Road
Written and directed by Jim Cummings.
Best Debut Feature of the Year #4: Firecrackers
Written and directed by Jasmin Mozaffari, based on her short film.
Best Debut Feature of the Year #5: Eighth Grade
Written and directed by Bo Burnham.
Best Debut Feature of the Year #6: A Star Is Born
Directed by Bradley Cooper, written by Bradley Cooper, Eric Roth, Will Fetters, from the 1937 and 1954 films.
Best Female-Directed Feature #1: Leave No Trace
Directed by Debra Granik, written by Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini from My Abandonment by Peter Rock.
Best Female-Directed Feature #2: The Tale
Written and directed by Jennifer Fox.
Best Female-Directed Film #3: You Were Never Really Here
Written and directed by Lynne Ramsay, from the novel by Jonathan Ames.
Best Female-Directed Film #4: Skate Kitchen
Directed by Crystal Moselle, written by Crystal Moselle, Jen Silverman, Aslihan Unaldi.
Best Female-Directed Film #5: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Directed by Marielle Heller, written by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, from the memoir by Lee Israel.
The Best Performances of the Year
Actor in a Leading Role
- Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
- Stephan James, If Beale Street Could Talk
- Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here
- Ryan Gosling, First Man
- Ah In-yoo, Burning
- Lily Franky, Shoplifters
- Tomasz Kot, Cold War
- Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born
- Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
- John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman
Honourable mentions: Christian Bale (Vice), LaKeith Stanfield (Sorry to Bother You), Daveed Diggs (Blindspotting), John Cho (Searching), Steve Carell (Beautiful Boy), Jim Cummings (Thunder Road), Robert Redford (The Old Man & the Gun)
Actress in a Leading Role
- Viola Davis, Widows
- Olivia Colman, The Favourite
- Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
- KiKi Layne, If Beale Street Could Talk
- Joanna Kulig, Cold War
- Toni Collette, Hereditary
- Laura Dern, The Tale
- Sakura Ando, Shoplifters
- Lady Gaga, A Star is Born
- Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade
Honourable mentions: Dakota Johnson (Suspiria), Claire Foy (Unsane), Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In), Kathryn Hahn (Private Life), Regina Hall (Support the Girls), Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Yordanos Shiferaw (Capernaum)
Actor in a Supporting Role
- Daniel Kaluuya, Widows
- Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
- Steven Yeun, Burning
- Nicholas Hoult, The Favourite
- Timothée Chalamet, Beautiful Boy
- Colin Farrell, Widows
- Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
- Sam Elliott, A Star is Born
- Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther
- Josh Hamilton, Eighth Grade
Honourable mentions: Hugh Grant (Paddington 2), Gabriel Byrne (Hereditary), Paddy Considine (The Death of Stalin), Kyle Chandler (First Man), Colman Domingo (If Beale Street Could Talk), Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Actress in a Supporting Role
- Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
- Elizabeth Debicki, Widows
- Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
- Thomasin Mckenzie, Leave No Trace
- Marina de Tavira, Roma
- Michelle Rodriguez, Widows
- Emma Stone, The Favourite
- Claire Foy, First Man
- Tilda Swinton, Suspiria
- Laura Harrier, BlacKkKlansman
Honourable mentions: Andrea Riseborough (Mandy), Natalie Portman (Vox Lux), Amy Adams (Vice), Sasha Lane (The Miseducation of Cameron Post), Haley Lu Richardson (Support the Girls), Zoe Kazan (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs)
The Worst Films of the Year
- Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
- When We First Met
- Life Itself
- Death Wish
- Game Over, Man!
- Bohemian Rhapsody
- The 15:17 to Paris
- Irreplaceable You
Here’s to hoping for another great year as we close off this decade. Let’s see what 2019 will have to offer.