Halfway through 2018 and there’s been a savory abundance of great cinema. Then again, when isn’t there – great films are everywhere, it just depends on if they can find an audience and be seen.
I make it a priority to see independent films, made by diverse filmmakers from around the world whose aim is to realize a vision that could potentially change the way an audience member thinks. And to be clear it’s the merit of these films that earn my praise; the fact that these films are never elevated to reach wider audiences is the reason why I make the effort to push these distinct films into the mainstream.
It was definitely a challenge to narrow down all the amazing films I’ve seen in 2018 to just 10.
Narrowing it down, check out my top 10 of the year – so far – and click the poster to watch the trailer!
Directed by Jim McKay
The plot in Jim McKay’s El Septimo Dia is slim, but by putting a face to a character that we seldom see in the cinema, it allows the audience to truly empathize with José’s internal conflicts – have you ever thought twice about the life and struggles of the person who delivers your food every other day? This is a rich portrait of a truly authentic American dream.
A Cinema Guild release. Now playing in select theaters!
“McKay does no editorializing in En el Séptimo Día. He’s a simple, graceful storyteller — so graceful that we don’t notice all the technique he brings to the task of making us see the world through José’s eyes.”
Directed by Morgan Neville
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a documentary that wants to look in the past. The past can show us things we don’t want to see, but in this case, it’s what we, as a country, need to revisit. This powerful documentary from director Morgan Neville poses many questions in a heartwarming and yet haunting portrait of Fred Rogers. What is our country doing to educate and teach our kids about the horrors and uncertainty in our world today? If it’s not red Rogers, it’s probably the education system (uhm LOL) and the adults in those kids’ lives who shape their beliefs and morals. Are they reliable, maybe… but if anything is certain, Fred Rogers’ moral compass was simple: Love your neighbor.
A Focus Features release. Now playing in select theaters!
“The film’s real strength is its plainness. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, like Rogers, tells us what we already know in our bones about how we’re supposed to behave. Hearing it said aloud, so calmly, is unexpectedly shattering.”
Directed by Ari Aster
A masterpiece. Horrific. A Parable. A few ways to describe Ari Aster’s earth-shattering feature film debut, Hereditary. Built in the vein of such classics as Rosemary’s Baby, Aster’s arty horror film finds its own voice, within seconds of the opening shot. I’ve never been so physically terrified in a movie theater since I was 10-years old. It wasn’t just the graphic, visceral imagery (which are completely horrifying and disturbing and savagely original on so many levels), but it’s what these fully dimensional characters do and how they react that left me haunted for days, weeks. And to put the cherry on top, Toni Collette delivers a jaw-dropping, Oscar-worthy performance as Annie. I don’t think the film would’ve been as successful if it weren’t for Collette. Don’t forget her name come awards season.
An A24 release. Now playing in theaters!
“It [Hereditary] has the nerve to suggest that the social unit is, by definition, self-menacing and that the home is no longer a sanctuary but a crumbling fortress, under siege from within.”
Directed by Jeremiah Zagar
What makes We The Animals different than most other artsy, coming-of-age films is how the audience is not completely aware of how much Jonah, the protagonist, is growing up before our eyes – and how everything he witnesses in his home has some sort of socio-emotional impact on him. By using the art of cinema, to tell the truth, Director Jeremiah Zagar transcends any movie conventions and arrived at Sundance 2018 with a film made of pure magic.
An Orchard release. In Theaters August 17th!
“Dreamy and impressionistic, interspersed with fantastic bursts of animation, “We the Animals” plays like a gauzy, mesmerizing, half-remembered experience from childhood.”
Directed by Josephine Decker
This type of filmmaking is my s!@#! Madeline’s Madeline is an experimental phantasm of images and sound, in which Director (Josephine Decker) and star (Helena Howard, a revelation) use to assemble this particularly compelling narrative of a young woman’s coming-of-age. What makes Madeline Madeline entirely sublime, is the way in which Decker and Howard use the art of cinema to tell this story. No need for special effects.
An Oscilloscope Labs release. In theaters August 10th!
“This is one of the boldest and most invigorating American films of the 21st century.”
Directed by Coralie Fargeat
Did not expect this scorchingly brilliant and subversive piece of art to be what it is. On paper, Revenge is a rape-revenge thriller, which isn’t exactly new territory and has been exhausted by the men in Hollywood, with power, who only direct with their big egos and masochistic gaze. Well. In comes first-time feature filmmaker Coralie Fargeat and leading woman, Matilda Lutz, to not just change it up, but completely outdo any bloody, gory revenge thriller that dares to call itself one. The turning point in this film is visceral and horrifying, but it’s an empowering moment for this genre, and Fargeat and company create a vision that’s transcendent. This is a fairytale where the princess has to save herself and unleash the heroin inside, in order to take back her power – and mutilate her abusers while she’s at it!
Shudder and Neon release. Now Available on DVD & VOD!
“Fargeat is thoughtful about the elements of her genre, flagrant in her inversions of them but also ferocious in her commitment to them. She has an eye for landscape, a love of light — relish the infernal glare of the dust whenever a driver here hits the brakes at night — and an all-too-rare mastery of geography in an action scene.”
4. Eighth Grade
Directed by Bo Burnham
This beautiful, heartwarming gem further proves that writing a film doesn’t start with any plot; it’s all about characters. And that’s what so illuminating about Eighth Grade: Burnham creates a vision that’s so specific to the protagonist’s (Kayla) interior life, that all this character’s wants, needs, and fears begin to inform every choice, turning point, and deeply profound revelation that an audience gets to experience in one way shape or form. It’s who Kayla is that makes this film so engaging and fun to watch (the same thing can be said about the dynamite, Elsie Fisher). Eighth Grade should be a required resource in every English, Writing, and Sex-Ed class, gucci?!
An A24 release. Now Playing in Select Theaters!
“Thanks to Burnham’s exuberant, alert writing and Fisher’s masterful command of vulnerability, anxiety, resilience and steadfast self-belief, Kayla emerges as an icon of her own — just by being herself.”
Directed by Alex Garland
A haunting and otherworldly vision. There’s a quiet elegance to Alex Garland’s Annihilation. The ending of this film is a masterstroke example of auteur filmmaking. This is a remarkable film in its own right but the fact that Annihilation is only Garland’s second feature is simply astonishing
A Paramount release. Now available on DVD and VOD!
“Annihilation is spellbinding and its awe-inspiring conclusion will leave your mind blown and splattered against the wall. In its final, surreal biopsychological moments the movie goes into an astonishing interstellar gear.”
Directed by Isold Uggadottir
Filmmaking at its most grounded and politically urgent. I didn’t even realize how many vital themes were intertwined in Isold Uggadottir’s And Breathe Normally – an Icelandic film. Poverty, refugees, and LGBTQ+ oppression were the major ones that left a lasting impression on me. By the time the screen went black, after a thrilling final sequence, I don’t think I was breathing normally.
And Breathe Normally is an eye-opener about a country that folks don’t mention much in regard to its people and laws. This is a film with an incredible amount of empathy that, but also a crying plea to help one another. But there’s no pity here, not one ounce of it. These two main characters were all on the same path, no matter what margin they were in. They found each other by chance, but it was their decisions to lend a hand that took this film to that stirring conclusion. The final shot of the fantastic And Breathe Normally is exactly what this world needs to see and play on repeat in their heads.
US release date has not been announced yet or it may not have US distribution yet.
“Just as one starts to predict what the ultimate arc of the screenplay will be, Uggadóttir, a Columbia University MFA graduate known for her prize-winning shorts, throws in a few twists, showing that Adja and Lara have more in common than they would have guessed. What might, in other hands, be melodramatic or emotionally manipulative remains resolutely unsentimental here.”
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
What can I say? It’s films like Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here that keeps me hopeful about the future of this medium. This stylish, neo-noir thriller could’ve been just that – but it sure as hell isn’t. Acclaimed auteur, Lynne Ramsay (RATCATCHER; WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN) uses the art of cinema to tell this revenge story. No crazy special effects or big car explosions, just pure cinematic craft – from the mise en scène to the editing, the sublime Johnny Greenwood score, precise visual language, refined form, and a career-best performance from Joaquin Phoenix. Every brutal scene has a purpose. No blood is shed without reason. We don’t even see that much of it. We’re seeing what Joe (Phoenix) sees, and it’s completely transfixing. The violence is visceral, but in the final ruthless minutes, the beauty and horror of this film reach transcendence. You Were Never Really Here is the best film I’ve seen this year, still, after several months and many great films. It’s a cinematic knockout.
An Amazon release. Now available on DVD & VOD – streaming on Amazon Prime soon!
“Based on Jonathan Ames’ novella of the same name, the film is rooted so firmly in Joe’s point of view he sometimes is absent from the screen entirely. We’re inside his head.”
“On the level of montage, You Were Never Really Here is an expressionistic tour de force.”
“Ramsay elevates the material way beyond the conventional by sheer filmmaking craft”