2018 RECAP: Paddington 2 and Roma lead the way as the best of a very, very good year in cinema
by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN A&E Writer
Seems like every year I say something along the lines of, 'It's been a great year for movies.' Each year I mean it. But then I watched just over 200 features in 2018, and for the life of me I can't imagine the average moviegoer is given the same opportunity. Still, whenever someone comes at me and claims it was a subpar year for cinema I still glance at them cross-eyed. Their saying that usually means they didn't look too far beyond whatever $100-million production was coming out of a major Hollywood studio, that they didn't take the time to head to their local art house theatre and see any of the foreign or independent titles that might have been playing. It also likely means they didn't dig too deeply into their VOD, Amazon Prime or Netflix queues to see if anything outside the ordinary might have been sitting there waiting to be discovered.
All that said, let me emphatically state 2018 was an extraordinary year for cinema. Not since 2007 have I had so much trouble compiling my personal top ten list. I can't help but think there are a solid 20 or so features that could possibly stand the test of time and end up being considered classics not too far in the foreseeable future. My own top 100 for the year is overflowing in titles I'd have no trouble whatsoever watching multiple times, a large handful of those speaking to me in an intimately personal manner that often caught me by surprise. There were films that challenged, startled, inspired, educated, entertained, offended, terrified, bewildered and wowed me, and even better there were multiple occasions these past 12 months where I was happily reminded what it was that inspired me to write about cinema in the first place.
And goodness knows I needed that reminder this year. With the world seemingly crumbling around us, to see so many filmmakers out there challenging our perceptions of what the medium can be and embracing diversity in so many clever and thought-provoking ways couldn't help but bring a smile to my face. Legends like Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters), Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In), François Ozon (Double Lover), Stephen Soderbergh (Unsane), Gus Van Sant (Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot) and Paul Schrader (First Reformed) delivered fascinating efforts that offered up plenty of food for thought, while rising stars like Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), Debra Granik (Leave No Trace), Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk), Brett Haley (Hearts Beat Loud), Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), Steve McQueen (Widows), Damien Chazelle (First Man) and Karyn Kusama (Destroyer) cemented their status as talented newcomers worth continuing to get excited about.
This was also a year when Marvel's decade of methodically building their comic book mythology finally paid dividends, their triple-whammy of Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp appeasing fans and non-fans alike in almost equal measure. But DC and Warner Bros bounced back themselves with the hyperbolic craziness that was Aquaman, while Fox's Deadpool 2 once again showcased there is indeed an R-rated market for superhero antics just as long as both the audience and the source material are treated with intelligent (if still irreverent) respect. But the big winner in the comic book adaptation sweepstakes might just have been Sony. Not only did their critically maligned Venom sport a world-wide gross of almost a billion dollars, but the studio's animated endeavor Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse might just go down as one of the best superhero films ever made.
Nostalgia was once again in vogue in 2018, Mary Poppins Returns, Creed II, A Star Is Born, The Grinch, Christopher Robin, the female-driven Ocean's 8, Halloween, Mission: Impossible - Fallout, Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Bohemian Rhapsody and Insidious: The Last Key all making general audiences various degrees of happy. Then were the surprise hits like Crazy Rich Asians, A Quiet Place, Game Night, Love, Simon and Searching, each receiving their fair share of acclaim from both the ticket buying public as well as the majority of the critical establishment.
All-in-all there was plenty to talk about in 2018, that brief little recap only skimming the surface of all the possible topics for conversation. Nonetheless, here are my picks for the top ten motion pictures I had the pleasure to watch this past year along with a fair number of honorable mentions and alternate selections I feel are worthy of a look. Please keep in mind that these were my favorites, nothing more, and while I believe all of them are superior pieces of entertainment that doesn't necessarily mean everyone out there is going to feel exactly the same. As always, like all forms of artistic expression cinema remains a personal experience that varies from one individual to the next. With that in mind, on to the list!
1. Paddington 2 (D: Paul King)
I can't remember the last time I saw a film in January and then remained enamored with it to such a colossal degree for the remainder of the year, but that's exactly what has happened as it pertains to director Paul King's sequel. This divine marvel of an empathetic charmer is a family-friendly confection that is exactly the movie the world needs right now. It's a masterpiece of emotional nuance, and as Aunt Lucy says, if we're kind and polite the world will be right, and if there's any sentiment I want to become a reality in 2019 it has to be that one.
2. Roma (D: Alfonso Cuarón)
Speaking of empathy, Alfonso Cuarón's masterful reminiscing of his Mexico City childhood Roma is one of the more profoundly moving achievements I've seen in a very long time. This is a movie that weaves through time and space with precision, this journey into the past just as much a sly commentary on the future as it is a heartfelt recollection of people and places gone by. A visually stunning meditation on life's various unforeseeable vagaries, I don't think I could have loved this film more had I actively tried.
3. Revenge (D: Coralie Fargeat)
In what was a stunning year for horror, to my mind Coralie Fargeat's incredible, genre-bending thriller Revenge clearly stands at the top of the heap. This French-Canadian production is a marvel of storytelling bravado that puts a decidedly character-driven and feminist spin on the tired rape-revenge subgenre, slamming things on their head in ways that are consistently spellbinding. It's all centered around a ferocious performance from young Matilda Lutz that's both one of the year's best as well as one of its more disappointingly forgotten.
4. Blindspotting (D: Carlos López Estrada)
Whoa. That's the reaction I had walking out of the theatre after watching director Carlos López Estrada and screenwriters/stars Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal's jaw-dropping Blindspotting. In a year where a number of incredible films looked at race, racism, police brutality, gentrification and economic inequality, this one stood out from the pack. This insightful and vicious satire exploded across the screen like an angry lightning bolt, Diggs and Casal's unrelenting, clear-eyed script a masterwork of mood, character and story that's phenomenal. To put it even more simply, this film is perfect.
5. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (D: Desiree Akhavan)
The first of two 'gay conversion therapy' dramas to see a release this year (the frustratingly didactic Boy Erased being the other), Desiree Akhavan's sublime adaptation of Emily M. Danforth's best-selling novel is an insightful character study that is as compassionate as it is merciless. Featuring incredible performances from Chloë Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck as a group of teens sent by their parents to have their homosexual urges 'fixed,' what's wonderful about this motion picture is just how understandingly cathartic it ends up being. It treats these teens with level of unvarnished respect that's inspiring, the film building to a series of final scenes that are heartbreaking and euphoric in almost equal measure.
6. You Were Never Really Here (D: Lynne Ramsay)
An electrifying caterwaul of terrifying human demons coming home to roost, Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here is a noir genre barnburner where what is unsaid and is left unexplained is every bit as haunting and as intimately affecting as what is clearly spelled out. Centering on a stunning performance from star Joaquin Phoenix (who, what with this film, Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot and The Sisters Brothers had a 2018 to remember) as a mysterious enforcer with a shady background who goes on a brutal and bloody journey of self-discovery, this movie is an emotional marvel that cagily snuck up on me only to deliver a swift eye-opening slap to the face. Ramsay's latest shook the pillars of my expectations for what a story like this could be, and personally I can't wait to see what the supremely talented director has in store for me to watch next.
7. Lean on Pete (D: Andrew Haigh)
45 Years and Weekend director Andrew Haigh has delivered another gripping human drama with this masterful adaptation of author Willy Vlautin's novel Lean on Pete. An observational road trip through Oregon and Washington State Fairs that slowly and seductively morphs into an invigorating cross-country journey that revels in the most minute and intricate corners of the American experience, the film touches on a number of complex themes as it delicately trots towards conclusion. This coming-of-age fable is anchored by an exceptional performance from youngster Charlie Plummer as a boy searching for answers to questions he can't quite put words to in order to ask them aloud. Filled with a plethora of moving moments and haunting images, Haigh once again shows himself to be a consummate craftsman who will always put people and their personal experiences first, his films essential pieces of character-driven cinema worth celebrating.
8. The Favourite (D: Yorgos Lanthimos)
Leave it to idiosyncratic The Lobster and Dogtooth wunderkind Yorgos Lanthimos to flip his storytelling script once again, the esteemed filmmaker delivering an 18th century backstabbing comedic melodrama overflowing in palace intrigue, political maneuvering and feminine wiles. In the process, he showcases three incredible actresses (Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) at the absolute top of their respective games, each of them reveling in the delectable choice bit of dialogue Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara's crafty screenplay delivers in spades. It's magnificent, the whole thing such devious Machiavellian fun, watching it only once is close to impossible.
9. BlacKkKlansman (D: Spike Lee)
I can't get Spike Lee's explosive drama/comedy/thriller/social commentary out of my head. It's rambunctious and wild, splintering into a variety of directions at any given moment, sometimes in ways that are too bizarre for them ever to comfortably work. Yet the film has a controlled, angry urgency that's all-encompassing, and while this story of a Black Colorado detective infiltrating the KKK along with his White Jewish partner defies belief (even though it's all true), Lee transforms this heroic tale into a cautionary parable spotlighting the modern societal evils the U.S. is in danger of succumbing to right this very second. James David Washington and Adam Driver give two of the year's best performances, while a brief sequence featuring Harry Belafonte is one of the single greatest pieces of cinema I've had the immense pleasure to experience in all of 2018.
10. What They Had (D: Elizabeth Chomko)
What could have been a somewhat standard disease-of-the-week story instead bursts into something vital and emotionally pure under the guidance of writer/director Elizabeth Chomko. What They Had treats its tale of a close-knit family dealing with a member battling the latter stages of Alzheimer's with honesty, restraint, maturity and heart, the filmmaker intermixing humor, heartache and anger with confidently understated grace. Hilary Swank, Michael Shannon, Robert Forster and Blythe Danner all deliver performances that deserve to be right in the middle of the Oscar discussion (yet sadly aren't), and in my opinion this is one Douglas Sirk meets Nicole Holofcener melodrama I am positive the passage of time is going to be more than kind to.
A SECOND TWENTY (in alphabetic order)
Black Panther (D: Ryan Coogler), Can You Ever Forgive Me? (D: Marielle Heller), Cold War (D: Pawel Pawlikowski), Colette (D: Wash Westmoreland), Eighth Grade (D: Bo Burnham), The Guilty (D: Gustav Möller), The Hate U Give (D: George Tillman, Jr.), Hearts Beat Loud (D: Brett Haley), If Beale Street Could Talk (D: Barry Jenkins), Leave No Trace (D: Debra Granik), Mary Poppins Returns (D: Rob Marshall), A Quiet Place (D: John Krasinski), The Rider (D: Chloé Zhao), Shoplifters (D: Hirokazu Kore-eda), A Simple Favor (D: Paul Fieg), Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (D: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman) Support the Girls (D: Andrew Bujalski), Suspiria (D: Luca Guadagnino), Tully (D: Jason Reitman), Widows (D: Steve McQueen)
HONORABLE MENTIONS (in alphabetic order)
Anna and the Apocalypse (D: John McPhail), Annihilation (D: Alex Garland), Assassination Nation (D: Sam Levinson), Bad Times at the El Royale (D: Drew Goddard), Braven (D: Lin Oeding), Burning (D: Lee Chang-dong), Crazy Rich Asians (D: Jon M. Chu), Destroyer (D: Karyn Kusama), Disobedience (D: Sebastián Lelio), Double Lover (D: François Ozon), Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot (D: Gus Van Sant), The Endless (D: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson), First Man (D: Damien Chazelle), Game Night (D: John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein), Ghost Stories (D: Jeremy Dyson, Andy Nyman), Halloween (D: David Gordon Green), Hereditary (D: Ari Aster), Let the Sunshine In (D: Claire Denis), Mandy (D: Panos Cosmatos), Marrowbone (D: Sergio G. Sánchez), Mission: Impossible - Fallout (D: Christopher McQuarrie), On the Basis of Sex (D: Mimi Leder), Puzzle (D: Marc Turtletaub), Ralph Breaks the Internet (D: Rich Moore, Phil Johnston), Red Sparrow (D: Francis Lawrence), The Sisters Brothers (D: Jacques Audiard), Sorry to Bother You (D: Boots Riley), A Star Is Born (D: Bradley Cooper), Unsane (D: Steven Soderbergh), Wanderland (D: Josh Klausner), (D: Paul Dano)
TOP FIVE DOCUMENTARIES (in alphabetic order)
Free Solo (D: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi), Love, Gilda (D: Lisa Dapolito), McQueen (D: Ian Bonhôte), Three Identical Strangers (D: Tim Wardle), Won't You Be My Neighbor? (D: Morgan Neville)
Last year I decided to stop doing a 'Worst of the Year' list. I just didn't feel like ragging on a bunch of poorly made films that didn't need additional anger and derision thrown their way. However, I did start doing a 'Most Disappointing' list, as there were plenty of motion pictures I felt had potential that for whatever reason sadly never lived up to it. This doesn't mean they were bad, per se, and some might even be worthy of a look. But for whatever reason, none of these ten sat well with me, and when I think back on each of them, doing so cannot help but make me feel more than a little bit sad.
Without further ado, and in alphabetic order, my picks for the ten most disappointing films of 2018:
Bohemian Rhapsody (D: Bryan Singer), The Cloverfield Paradox (D: Julius Onah), The Girl in the Spider's Web (D: Fede Alvarez), The Happytime Murders (D: Brian Henson), Hold the Dark (D: Jeremy Saulnier), Peter Rabbit (D: Will Gluck), Ready Player One (D: Steven Spielberg), Sicario: Day of the Soldado (D: Stefano Sollima), Vice (D: Adam McKay), Welcome to Marwen (D: Robert Zemeckis)
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