Written by Eden Sapir
Jan 4th, 2019
2018 proved to be the year where filmmaking became an instrument of social and political expression. Without a doubt. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many different sides of the human condition explored and questioned to the degree that we saw this past year at the movies. Cinema is like a machine that generates empathy,. From there comes knowledge and understanding, which are inevitable when you are invested in a character you deeply care about. The magic for me isn’t in the big plot twist (and all good if it is for you), but in the ordinary places where one can discover something unexpected in a character and even themselves.
I was blessed to attend Sundance Film Festival for the first time back in January 2018 and caught other knockout flicks (some will be released in 2019) at local film festivals like BAMcinemaFest and New York Film Festival. This year was also the moment in history when MoviePass was born and made movie theaters great again. Regardless of their business model and financial battles, this subscription-based service company got US audiences flocking to the theaters, And I still have and use their app!
I’ve seen over 100 films this year and found it so difficult to pick a top 10, which led me to pick the best 13. There are many more to celebrate, so I’m giving some love to eight great films that deserve it:
- We The Animals
- Private Life
- Happy as Lazzaro
- If Beale Street Could Talk
- Sorry To Bother You
- Summer 1993
Fearless and full of heart, the films of 2018 are taking art films to a whole new world…the multiplexes a.k.a they’re making money! Always a win to say that. Visionary filmmakers like Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk) and Alice Rohrwacher (Happy as Lazzaro) are working without creative bounds or limits, and with the budget to execute their visions fully. Sometimes a major component of that vision requires top-notch acting, from artists at the top of their game. I will never forget the towering performance from Toni Collette (Hereditary), a masterclass turn of a mother facing unthinkable horrors, who ended up breaking my heart and unsettling my soul at the same time.
The theme to remember this past movie year is that it legit takes a group of people to create a great film. That is a fact.
Here are my top 13 films of 2018. Click the title or image to watch the trailer. Go see some movies, people, and I’ll probably be reporting back from Sundance 2019 next. Peace!
There is nothing artificial about Support The Girls, this low-key drama. Regina Hall is commanding and effortless as Lisa, the general manager at a highway-side ”sports bar with curves.” Side Note: how long have we been waiting for this acting dynamo [Hall] to get the role she always deserved. Her Lisa is the everyday hero, whose moral values motivate the people she helps around her to want to work hard and be responsible. Even if Lisa doesn’t think of herself as it, she is among heroes of the world we don’t normally speak seriously about. She’s not perfect but Lisa makes every decision out of love. From the very opening second of this film, Hall lures us in so deeply into her world, I could never look away once I did and was more than grateful for that.
The best spider-man movie ever made. Yes. A visually arresting and astonishingly subversive coming-of-age, meta epic? Uh, yes. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is something of a miracle, that I never expected to come until I saw that Metacritic score of 87. I saw this Marvel animated film in awe of its’ spectacle and deep emotional resonance. The action is swift and the humor is impeccably paced, but its the moments in Miles’ home life and the relationships within his family that pack a whole new punch, and redefines the superhero genre. This is simply an incredible piece of filmmaking, ranking with the best of any film this year.
While serving a five-year sentence for a violent crime, a 12-year-old boy sues his parents for neglect. That’s the synopsis for Nadine Labaki’s Capernaum, a Lebanese-set story about that young person, named Zain, played by the incredible newcomer Zain Al Rafeea. He is a survivor, but someone who fights for hope too. It’s a heartbreaking and sobering film, that blurs the line between fiction and documentary. It’s viscerally cinematic, we’re on the streets of Lebanon, and truly feel it throughout our senses. This is crowning achievement from all involved and makes me excited to see what the star and director do in the future.
It’s rare to find an artful heist thriller with deeply layered themes and characters bundled up and packaged as popcorn entertainment. Widows is that rare diamond. An artistic leap for Co-Writer and Director Steve McQueen, I would have never guessed he’d make this film, considering his filmography. Don’t even get me started with this pitch-perfect cast. It was in the final moments of this film, that I felt goosebumps. The final scene of Widows is not only the best final scene I’ve seen in a 2018 film, but probably in the last ten years. You don’t want to miss this powerhouse film because it’s art made for the masses. Can’t get any better than that!
A mysterious and self-reflexive portrait like no other. Shirkers is more pulse-pounding than any Michael Bay-directed action movie. Prepare to be wowed by this haunting, experimental portrait of loss, passion, and memory. Watch the best documentary of 2018 NOW. It’s on Netflix, so there’s no excuse. And that is all I will say because this film can only be seen, not explained.
This type of filmmaking is where my heart and mind thrive in! 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’s Madeline entirely sublime, is the way in which Decker, Howard, and an incredibly gifted group of writers and performers use the art of cinema to tell this story. This film just set the bar for filmmaking in the 21st century. Yup, that’s right, Madeline’s Madeline is that good.
Yorgos Lanthimos is the only name I need to hear to be persuaded to watch a film. Along with his team of lifelong friends and collaborators, Lanthimos crafted The Favourite, a period drama of absurd and unconventional proportions. Loosely based on an actual Queen’s life and experiences, Olivia Coleman plays the film’s central character, Queen Anne. It’s an outstanding, hilarious and devastating performance, that offers so much for the mind to chew on. She creates an interior life with no words most of the time, or if she does, her performance suggests something much more troubling and sad in this woman’s life. This film takes the theme of power and runs with it to become so much more than an arthouse take on this genre. Everyone wants the Queen’s love for power, but that power permits the Queen from having the one things she wants: someone to love and truly love her back. Through all the humor, the absurd and abstract fish-eye imagery creates an impressionistic experience like no other period drama I’ve ever seen. This is an unclassifiable film, and thank god it is. We could place these characters in any time period and genre, and that’s what makes this story so special. It’s grounded in the truths that bind love and power. Grateful to all who made this 2018 stunner.
Burning is an ambiguous piece of South Korean cinema, that also serves as a visceral and terrifying experience. From the opening minutes of the film, I was invested in the main character, Lee’s (Lee Jong-su) life. We’re thrown into this narrative like a fly on the wall, unaware of where we are and who we’re supposed to trust. There’s so much to unravel, with timely themes being subtly explored i.e. the class system for young Koreans, especially, is something to look deeper into after this film. This could almost be a horror film thanks to Steven Yeun’s revelatory turn as Ben, a strange new friend that joins the gang, and who “likes to play.” Yea, that was just the beginning of the creepiness. But don’t get me started with the stunning and engrossing imagery by cinematographer Kyung-pyo Hongis put this mystery into a dimension of horror that is universal. The beauty of the cinematography didn’t overwhelm the story but enhanced the substance. Burning is a perfect example of how to show and not tell. We don’t need to hear (or read subtitles) to understand human interactions, no matter how different our cultures may be. Chang-dong Lee has crafted one of the most singular and mysterious films I’ve seen in a while. I was transfixed by the mundane, day-to-day activities with each character, only to be left dazed and terrified in the film’s final moments.
5. Eighth Grade
This beautiful, heartwarming movie further proves that writing a film doesn’t start with a crazy, intense plot; it’s all about characters. And that’s what so illuminating about Eighth Grade: Writer/Director Bo Burnham creates a vision that’s so specific to the protagonist’s (Kayla) interior life, that all this character’s wants, needs, and fears are written all over the incredibly expressive Elsie Fisher who played the title character with refined skill and depth. It’s who Kayla is like as a person that makes this film so engaging and fun to watch. Eighth Grade should be a required resource in every English, Writing, Cinema Studies, Acting, and Sex-Ed class. It’s a movie classic already, gucci?!
Don’t let the title Shoplifters mislead you. This Japanese film written and directed by Hirokazu Koreeda is a wake up call to the world. Not just in Japan, but to the people everywhere who think that having children and raising a family is a natural order of life. Shoplifters boldly challenges this ideal with a knockout, family adventure. A group of people, who seem to really love and take care of each other like a real family, are hiding a lot more than we think. Koreeda brilliantly reveals the truth with confident and assured filmmaking. The audience becomes so familiar and comfortable with the home, that we don’t even realize why they even live in this dump in the first place. Why are these adults taking the liberty to protect these children. Are they simply just bandits? Or are these social crusaders out for a mission? The final set of scenes in this humanistic film suggests something much more distributing, and ultimately devastating than just being good or bad people. Love is limitless and can’t be bound to birth, yet as this film unravels, we see clearly that love isn’t taken seriously when considering that love fora child from someone who didn’t give birth to them. Shoplifters took my breath away, it’s a film with a lot to say without saying much.
Revenge is one of the most exciting debuts from a writer/director I’ve seen in a while. I 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. Facts. Then, incomes, 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 beautiful; it’s an empowering moment for this genre, and Fargeat and company create a vision that’s horrific and brutal in its violence but enthralling in its execution. 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. Revenge is subversive, allegorical vision drenched in blood and experimental technique, that is an arthouse horror film for the ages. A perfect film and battle cry for 2018.
Cleo is a face you won’t forget any time soon. Roma is a powerfully humane story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid named Cleo in Mexico City in the early 1970s. Pre-school teacher Yalitza Aparicio, who has never acted, landed the part of a lifetime as Cleo. She is magnificent in every sense of the word. With the face of a silent film star, Aparicio emotional range was shockingly impressive and equally heartbreaking. I believed every second and every dramatic beat. There wasn’t a false note in creating that character, from the ground up. Seeing life for what it was, as a fading memory. Writer/Director Alfonso Cuarón crafts a deeply personal narrative inspired by his childhood in Mexico City while offering up a cinematic vision that breaks formal and social boundaries to do one simple thing: make the world see Cleo as the empathetic, loving, funny, timid, angry, and heroic human being that she and many other people from Mexico are. Roma is an epic art film and the flat-out masterpiece that deserves to be recognized as a vital and educational work of art.
What can I say? My #1 film of 2018 hasn’t changed since the day I saw it during its opening weekend on April 7th, 2018. 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; Morvern Callar; 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 when he’s not even on the screen, yet we know we’re in his head by what we’re seeing. That’s filmmaking working at its peak powers. 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.