In a year when the box office ran high with Mercury only months before going underwater (in a good way), is it any surprise 2018 has been anything but a quiet place? Superhero movies have been a snap to cheer for, the Fallout from Tom Cruise was breathtaking, and Wes Anderson had us all saying “I love dogs”. Late directors Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman, and Hal Ashby all got their documentary dues, while the winds of fortune finally changed for Orson Welles, bringing his long awaited final work to audiences.
There have been so many great films this year, many I have yet to see. (You Were Never Really Here, Three Identical Strangers, Mary Poppins Returns, and Annihilation rank among my prominent unseen titles). Whether Alfonso Cuarón is taking us to Mexico City or Frederick Wiseman is taking us to Monrovia, Indiana or Debra Granik is taking us into the woods or Ali Abbasi takes us right up to the Border, there has been no shortage of special trips at the movies in 2018. Paring my year-end list down to ten has been no easy task. Therefore, I ask a simple favor… read it, and see what you think. And check the site for different Best Films of 2018 lists here at ZekeFilm!
10. The Favourite
Far be it from me to pick favourites when it comes to great movies. But then again, this is a year-end top ten list… Though critics tend to love him, this marks the first time director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) has appeared on one of my such lists. So there’s that. But mainly, this stunningly photographed castle-bound All About Eve is sharply hilarious like little else, so much so that it makes the blunt-edged (but not at all bad) Mary Queen of Scots look like warmed over dinner theater. The film’s power triumvirate of Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, and Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz as competitors for her favor (and physical affection), may just get into some real-life spats in splitting major acting awards that they all deserve but can’t all have. It’s Masterpiece Theatre gone stealth punk- and one of the year’s absolute best.
Part lucid look-back, part decrepit phantasmagoria, the starkly realized Swedish nightmare fairy tale November is something to behold. Director Rainer Sarnet’s earthy black and white vision of a not-so-distant paganized past tells the story agonized unrequited love amid a world of darkly enchanted tools and farming equipment, robotically realized in the filmmaking via practical puppetry. A November like this comes around far less often than once a year.
Despite the title of director Barry Jenkins’ deeply, brilliantly sensitive follow-up to his Oscar-winning Moonlight, there isn’t much walking in Memphis in If Beale Street Could Talk. Based on the novel of the same name by James Baldwin (I Am Not Your Negro), Jenkins masterfully infuses Baldwin’s social fervor with a fragile humanity. A lush, absorbing period piece, the film tells the tale of a pregnant young girl who’s lover and father of her baby is wrongly imprisoned. What follows is her desperate all too futile attempts to prove his innocence. The flip side of what Spike Lee is doing this year (or Ryan Coogler, for that matter), Jenkins takes us inside the American black experience circa fifty years ago, effortlessly, delicately, and ultimately, crushingly.
7. The King
The United States doesn’t have a king; that was one of the original points about the United States. Yet, when it comes to certain aspects of our culture, we just can’t help ourselves in anointing royalty. Exhibit A: Elvis Presley, The King of Rock n’ Roll. Filmmaker Eugene Jarecki (2005’s Why We Fight) takes out The King’s specially modified Rolls Royce for a cross-country investigation into America, who we are, and what we’ve become. The through-line is the chronological story of Elvis, though one might never realize just how exactly crafted this documentary is, what with its many detours and all. Peppered with special guests (including Ethan Hawke, Alec Baldwin), music galore, and tough questions, The King is nevertheless a great pleasure, and rich manna for the culture culture.
“…a cosmic epic on the grandest scale, lots of fun but also increasingly dire. And, it is no less than one of the biggest corkers in movie history… Josh Brolin, as the mad titan himself, Thanos, really get to command the screen. The ever underrated Brolin, amid much chaos and craziness, manages to render this mega-villain into something worthy of the decade-long build-up to his major arrival.”
The final film by Orson Welles is also a 2018 film. Shot unconventionally over the course of many years, and just as unconventional internally, it’s one onion-peeler of a movie. The footage has sat in limbo for decades, and despite several efforts over the years to complete the film per Welles’ notes, it took Netflix swooping in with their truckloads of money to finally get this one done and out there. On one hand, this is a long way to go for a criticism of Zabriskie Point and the like, but on the other hand, the observations remain strangely current. (Though made by a man in early 1970s, it hardly works as a #MeToo forerunner). Not everyone gets The Other Side of the Wind, or likes it, but it’s an undeniably important film- and THE cinema event of 2018.
“With the sublime Won’t You be my Neighbor?, [filmmaker Morgan] Neville, in his own way, has extended to all the finer points of Mr. Rogers’ mission. Only now, the audience is grown-up movie watchers, living in a world more overrun with blatant unkindness than any other decade in recent memory. Brilliantly assembled from old clips and new interviews with friends, relatives, co-workers and critics, Neighbor both “prints the legend” of Fred Rogers, and uncovers Whole Truths about him. In so doing, Won’t You be my Neighbor? Is both the film we want and the film we need, right now. Although based on a quaint TV program, this is the rare documentary that should be prioritized for the the big screen, and viewed by all.”
“When Netflix comes to the Coen Brothers (Barton Fink) with a manure cart of money and unlimited creative freedom to make a film for their in-home streaming service, what do the brothers do? They indulge fully in six different aspects and angles of cinema’s most cinematic genre… The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, while not their first foray into filmdom’s original genre, the Western, is their smartest and best shot at it yet. Ringing with ol’ yokel talk wrote all eloquent, the highly unconventional Scruggs delivers on the Western’s oft-aspired gritty grandeur, albeit with a twist. Several, actually.”
“Spike Lee’s most monumental achievement since Do the Right Thing,… BlacKkKlansman comes at us with a raw agenda, an exposed bone to pick. Tackling institutionalized racism and the other-ing hatred that has plagued America, this is, by design, an Important Movie. And, it is. It is also the best buddy movie and cop movie of the year.”
1. First Reformed
Legendary and infamous writer/director Paul Schrader returns to the faith for what may well be a career masterwork. Pulling from the best (primarily Bergman’s Winter Light, with no shortage of Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice and his own screenplay for Scorsese’s Taxi Driver), First Reformed tells the story of Reverend Ernst Toller, played exceptionally by Ethan Hawke (another career best work). When Toller’s counseling falls short in improving the mental plight of a pregnant congregant’s husband, his own internal tailspin becomes all the more pronounced. In its own honest rumination on various hypocrisies and greed of what may be our doomed world, First Reformed’s light of artistic truth elevates it to something nonetheless transcendent. A “deliberately paced” and small scale indie film, yes, but more to the point, a film that’s questions percolate long after one’s seen it; a special and inescapable experience that has elevated slowly to the number one spot on this list.
Support the Girls
Searching for Ingmar Bergman
Leave No Trace