“That’s the job.”
Anyone who says 2018 was a bad year for movies didn’t see enough movies. This year brought us high art in many forms—blockbusters went the extra mile to provide substance in addition to thrills, independent filmmakers put it all on the line and then some with truly ambitious storytelling, iconic auteurs pushed the limits of what cinema can do, and we even saw expertly crafted films in the vein of commercial studio filmmaking. There truly was something for everyone, which makes whittling it down to a Top 10 list nearly impossible.
Before we dig into my personal list, a note: these lists are by definition subjective. I am by no means presenting this list as a be-all, end-all—it’s simply the 10 films that truly meant something special to me this year. So without further ado, here are my top 10 films of 2018.
Filmmaker George Tillerman’s YA adaptation The Hate U Give was perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise I saw at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September. This adaptation of the Angie Thomas novel shouldn’t work—it simply tackles so many important issues in the span of one feature length film, it couldn’t possibly do justice to any of them. But it really soars as told through the eyes of its young protagonist, portrayed with great humanity and confidence by Amandla Stenberg. While the film does dive deep into Black Lives Matter and what it means to be black in America, it uses its coming-of-age story as a backbone to tremendous results. It never comes off as pat or patronizing, and instead blossoms into a wonderfully powerful and moving viewing experience about, above all else, identity.
I did not go into John Krasinski’s horror film A Quiet Place expecting to cry multiple times, but here we are. While this is technically a horror film, at heart it’s really the story of a family reeling from a heartbreaking loss and attempting to navigate a world that’s becoming scarier by the day. The performances from all four principal actors are tremendous, and Krasinski’s collaboration with cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen results in beautifully evocative visual storytelling—which is doubly important in a film with so little dialogue. But it’s the pure, unequivocal love that these family members have for one another that gets me, and just thinking of Krainski’s “I have always loved you” scene puts a lump in my throat.
I’m a sucker for a great dark comedy, and I found The Favourite to be a deliciously salty treat. Yorgos Lanthimos is a notoriously prickly filmmaker who doesn’t particularly care about making his audiences feel good, and while The Favourite certainly traffics in Lanthimos’ signature grim outlook, it’s his most accessible and outright joyous film thus far. While the script is crackling and the mise-en-scene is eye-popping, it’s the performances that really make The Favourite special. It’s a delight to watch Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz plot and scheme in various nefarious ways to put the Queen (Olivia Colman) in their favor, but this isn’t simply a film about people being mean to one another for no reason. The contrast between Stone and Weisz’s motives is striking, and the film ultimately becomes a fascinating chronicle of the nature and consequences of power struggles, and how morality does (and does not) come into play.
I don’t consider myself a Coen Brothers superfan, but boy do I adore The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The duo’s Western anthology is one of the 2018 films that I thought about the most long after the credits had rolled, as this series of tales about death in the Old West lingers in a special, unshakable way. Each of the six installments varies in tone and subject matter, but at heart each is about mortality, and how what we do with the short lives we have on this Earth matters tremendously. Some have called the film especially mean or cynical, but I see it more as a reminder of the relative brevity of human life and found at least one of the vignettes to be truly hopeful, if ultimately tragic. I couldn’t stop thinking about Buster Scruggs and its themes for weeks after my first viewing, and if that’s not a testament to the power of great filmmaking then I’m not sure what is.
Widows is proof positive that we shouldn’t necessarily be asking our greatest living filmmakers to make a Marvel movie or a Star Wars movie. Widows is what happens when Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave filmmaker Steve McQueen decides to make a popcorn movie, taking only the basic premise from an existing TV show and imbuing that with his own themes and style, crafting what is essentially an original heist thriller that is at once wildly entertaining and tremendously thought-provoking. It also boasts potentially the best ensemble cast of the year, with Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, and Cynthia Erivo showcasing how no two “complex female roles” have to be alike. I had a blast with Widows’ thrills and spills, marveled at McQueen’s impeccable filmmaking, and was moved by the film’s handling of complex themes. Widows shows you don’t have to choose between blockbuster entertainment and serious drama.
It makes absolutely no sense that the Mission: Impossible franchise is this good six films and two decades into its run, but miraculously Mission: Impossible – Fallout marks a high-point for the series. With this sequel, writer/director Christopher McQuarrie has crafted a true epic in every sense of the word. The stakes are bigger than ever before, the stunts are more intense than ever before, and Tom Cruise jumps, falls, and literally breaks his body for your entertainment. But what puts Fallout over the top is McQuarrie’s focus on emotional stakes, ensuring that in each scene the audience has a reason to care about what insane (and practical!) theatrics are underway. It makes all the difference (yes I got emotional during a Mission: Impossible movie), and it’s a big reason why Mission: Impossible – Fallout is also one of the most rewatchable films of the year. That and Henry Cavill‘s glorious mustache.
The idea of blockbuster entertainment that jettisons frivolity for high-minded themes continues with my next pick, Black Panther. Put simply, Black Panther is the most substantial Marvel Studios movie ever made. It delivers the high-flying theatrics and CG action that you’ve come to expect from a Marvel movie, but it’s all in service of Ryan Coogler’s clear-minded vision of a story about the morality and cost of isolationism. Through the eyes of Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, the film dives into the specificity of the African-American experience, using Killmonger’s life of loss and hardship as a foil for T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) life of comparative privilege. The contrast between these two visions of Wakanda is the dramatic heart of Black Panther, and it results in tremendous emotional stakes threaded throughout every action set piece. We’re not just watching two people punch each other for the sake of visual effects spectacle. We’re watching two different yet understandable ideals go head to head.
On top of all of that, the film is impeccably crafted, with Coogler soaking each frame in metaphor and symbolism through shot composition and even color. Black Panther is a moment, a movement, and it’s the best superhero film since Christopher Nolan’s similarly thematically dense The Dark Knight.
There’s something to be said for watching one of our best living directors working at the top of his game. It becomes clear early on in Roma that that’s exactly what we’re witnessing Alfonso Cuarón do as he stretches the limits of cinema to quiet literally bare his soul, digging deep into his personal memories to put his childhood onscreen. But Roma isn’t a vanity project; it is, instead, a film of immense empathy as we watch a Mexican family fall apart through the eyes of their live-in domestic worker Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). Cuaròn’s objective camera lulls the audience into a sense of security as we watch the events unfold from afar, but just like a miraculous magic trick, by the end of it all you’re begging to step in and intervene. To do something, anything to comfort these characters. You’ve fallen in love with them, but of course they’re not even there. You’re staring at a screen, simply watching images unfold. That Cuarón is able to evoke such deep empathy with his impeccable craftsmanship speaks to the emotional power of cinema as a whole.
I was late on catching up to Bing Liu’s documentary Minding the Gap (which is available on Hulu now), but boy am I glad I did. The film chronicles the lives of three young men growing up in Rockford, Illinois who have a passion for skateboarding. But as we quickly learn through the early portion of the film, skating is far more than a hobby—it’s an outlet for anger, frustration, and desperation. I can’t remember another film that so perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to be forced to grow up when you may lack the experience or maturity to do so, nor how the cycle of abuse perpetuates itself due to factors both internal and external. This film goes to some very dark places, but Liu keeps the humanity of his subjects intact through impeccable editing—indeed the narrative structure of Minding the Gap is downright cinematic. The film is utterly heartbreaking yet intensely engrossing, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it (or its subjects) since. Minding the Gap is essential viewing.
The heart wants what the heart wants. While Bradley Cooper’s take on A Star Is Born is tinged with sadness and melancholy, the confidence and clarity of vision with which Cooper crafts every frame makes you believe in the love between Jackson and Ally. The film’s first 45 minutes or so is a set piece unto itself and has instantly been solidified as one of the most iconic “first dates” ever put on screen. Cooper and Lady Gaga are fearless in their performances, with Cooper especially delivering by far the best turn of his career as he allows the audience to track the simultaneous rise and fall of Ally and Jackson, respectively. The soundtrack is phenomenal, the cinematography is stunning and rich with evocative imagery, and the editing is precise and impactful. I could continue listing the various individual accomplishments of A Star Is Born—which are many—but at the end of the day it’s some strange, inexplicable alchemy that led me to choose it as my favorite film of 2018. I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in.
Honorable Mentions: Paddington 2, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Wildlife, Game Night, Bad Times at the El Royale, Set It Up, Suspiria
For the rest of Collider’s end-of-the-year content, go here, and check out some more of our lists below:
Adam Chitwood is the Managing Editor for Collider. He’s been working for Collider for over a decade, and in addition to managing content also runs point on crafts interviews, awards coverage, and co-hosts The Collider Podcast with Matt Goldberg (which has been running since 2012). He’s the creator and author of Collider’s “How the MCU Was Made” series and has interviewed Bill Hader about every single episode of Barry. He lives in Tulsa, OK and likes pasta, 90s thrillers, and spending like 95% of his time with his dog Luna.
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