Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Best of 2018: The 12 Best Films of the Year

Monday, February 18, 2019

Best of 2018: The 12 Best Films of the Year

by Tony Dayoub

As Academy Awards night approaches this Sunday, and for your consideration, my top films of 2018 followed by the winners of the respective polls I participated in.

1. First Reformed, directed by Paul Schrader - Some have accused Schrader of stealing elements of Diary of a Country Priest and Winter Light to tell its story. Rarely are these kinds of derivations a real issue if what results is something as wholly (and maybe even holy) fascinating as this film. What Schrader achieves with First Reformed is a masterwork that discusses some of the most significant issues affecting our society today using the same obsessive loner archetype that populates most of his other notable films, from Taxi Driver to Affliction. Only due to the immediacy of First Reformed's primary concerns–the co-opting of religion, the consequences of environmental ignorance, the apocalypse–and the central character's Calvinist background, the film feels more like a personal cri de coeur; Schrader himself had a Calvinist upbringing and theological training. Add an intense turn by Ethan Hawke as the pastor and one doozy of a denouement, and you end up with a movie that transcends its influences to transform into something sublime.

2. BlacKkKlansman, dir. Spike Lee - "Sarge... come on. America would never elect somebody like David Duke president of the United States of America." "Coming from a black man, that's pretty naive. Why don't you wake up?" Get what Spike is doing there? Sure you do. You all laughed and clapped the shit out of that line at a screening of the movie, maybe Lee's best since Do the Right Thing. Framed by a scene from Gone With the Wind on one end and on the other, actual footage from the 2017 Charlottesville car attack that killed counter-protester Heather Heyer at the Unite the Right rally, it is as if Lee is reminding us what's past is prologue. For this potent, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction drama, Lee breaks out all of his secret weapons: kinetic editing and camerawork; sharp, even slapstick-level humor; and at one-point, an impromptu dance number right out of the early scenes from Lee's Malcolm X. And Lee's most secret of weapons, the cop duo who together play a white racist caricature version of black cop Ron Stallworth, a wily Adam Driver and John David Washington (effectively channeling his dad Denzel).

3. Hereditary, dir. Ari Aster - Honestly? This is here because it is, flat-out, one of the most harrowing and daring horror movies I've seen in quite some time. Every time you think you're watching a scene unfold and that Hereditary won't go there... it goes there. And with some panache. Don't watch it alone, at night, or if you have kids. I made all three mistakes.

4. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen - A surprisingly even omnibus made up of six western tales ranging from comic to tragic, Scruggs is perfect for its Netflix venue. The Coens are conscious of the audience they're playing to here. Scruggs is effective whether seen all at once or broken up into its six eclectic parts. Its most effective chapters are the middle three: the horrifying "Meal Ticket" (featuring the presently disgraced Liam Neeson); the satisfying "All Gold Canyon" (starring a grizzled, nearly unrecognizable Tom Waits); and the sad story of "The Gal Who Got Rattled" (led by a mousy but somehow still commanding Zoe Kazan).

5. If Beale Street Could Talk, dir. Barry Jenkins - How can a film offer both a searing commentary about racism and a humanistic look at the warmth and security offered by family? Credit the former to the source material authored by the rarely adapted African American social critic James Baldwin. The latter is owed to writer-director Jenkins' mobilization of his collaborators' contributions, the trifecta of a moving score by composer Nicholas Britell, enveloping close-ups lensed by cinematographer James Laxton, and a potent performance by Regina King as the matriarch of the family central to this must-see story.

6. Mission: Impossible - Fallout, dir. Christoper McQuarrie - Yes, I admit I am as surprised to see this movie on my list as you must be, especially after the stale quality of its predecessor, a throwaway mounted by much of the same players as this one. But there's no denying that Fallout is not only the most thrilling outing of this dinosaur Tom Cruise franchise. Fallout is Mission: Impossible's most intelligent chapter, building on the loose plot threads and expectations set up by its previous entries. More than that... it is likely to be inducted in the action flick pantheon, right behind another movie which revived its own comatose series, Mad Max: Fury Road.

7. You Were Never Really Here, dir. Lynne Ramsay - A minimalist profile of a hit man driven by his own demons concerning physical and emotional abuse, this character study is perfectly delineated by Ramsay with strong assists by star Joaquin Phoenix and composer Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. I'm more surprised it was nominated for a BAFTA than of its complete absence from the Oscars. Lean, mean little gems like this grimy, hour-and-a-half picture, nearly devoid of any social value, rarely make it past the Academy voters. But they do make for great movie nights courtesy of Amazon Studios, who distributed the film and currently has it available on its Prime streaming platform.

8. Annihilation, dir. Alex Garland - Even though this sci-fi thriller gets points for trying to be about something, don't look too closely at the ecological metaphor it advances; it does not hold up under too much scrutiny. Better to focus on three things: the disquieting mood vaguely reminiscent of John Carpenter's The Thing; its stunning visuals; and its mostly female cast (led by Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tessa Thompson), uniformly excellent and atypical for this genre.

9. Leave No Trace, dir. Debra Granik - Understated and largely ignored outside of the indie world, Leave No Trace is the film most deserving of any attention brought to it by spotlighting it on this and other such lists. A beautiful, low-key look at a father and daughter living off the grid suddenly pulled into society against the dad's wishes, Granik's picture is anchored by the strong performance of the always dependable Ben Foster as the dad. However, it is Thomasin McKenzie's revelatory performance as the teenage daughter ready to join society that is the highlight of the movie... certainly far more than the similar and much touted turn by a young Jennifer Lawrence in Granik's last narrative feature, Winter's Bone.

10. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, dirs. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman - Spider-Verse electrifyingly captures what a true comic book feels like in your hands. In that sense it is a first for the screen, crowding out all of this year's comers in both the animated arena and the superhero genre. Pretty ballsy for a movie which had no involvement from the Disney/Marvel production machine. More like this... please!

11. Roma, dir. Alfonso Cuarón - The fact that this is a black-and-white Spanish-language film AND the front runner for this year's Best Picture Oscar is an achievement in itself. But Cuarón's sober eye in depicting the realities of a chapter of his own life without entirely veering off into nostalgia is a quality not to be underestimated when viewing the movie. And that Cuarón decided Roma would completely rest on the shoulders of the winning Yalitza Aparicio, a non-actress, is bold. Will the movie hold up in 10 years? That remains to be seen.

12. Won't You Be My Neighbor?, dir. Morgan Neville - This documentary is more than just a nostalgic trip for many of us who grew up watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Without descending into preachiness, this profound documentary builds a solid case that much of what ails our country today lies in that missing piece Rogers offered children and families of all political stripes and socioeconomic classes, a lesson in empathy for our fellow brothers and sisters.

Honorable Mention: At Eternity's Gate, Beautiful Boy, Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, Destroyer, Eighth Grade, First Man, Free Solo, The House that Jack Built, Isle of Dogs, Minding the Gap, The Mule, A Quiet Place, Quincy, RBG, The Rider, The Sisters Brothers, Vice

Most Overrated: The Favourite

Most Underrated: Leave No Trace

Breakthrough Actor of the Year:
John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman, Monster, Monsters and Men, The Old Man & the Gun)

Breakthrough Actress of the Year: Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace)


Winners are in red where my own vote coincides.

Georgia Film Critics Association

Best Picture:
A Star is Born
Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
Best Actor: Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)
Best Actress: Toni Colette (Hereditary)
Best Supporting Actor:
Sam Elliott (A Star is Born)
Best Supporting Actress: Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Best Original Screenplay: Eighth Grade - Bo Burnham
Best Adapted Screenplay: BlacKkKlansman - Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee,
Best Cinematography: Roma - Alfonso Cuarón
Best Production Design: The Favourite - Fiona Crombie, Alice Felton
Best Original Score: First Man - Justin Hurwitz
Best Original Song: "Shallow" - Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt (A Star is Born)
Best Ensemble:
The Favourite
Best Foreign Film: Roma
Breakthrough Award:
Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)
Best Animated Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Best Documentary: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Oglethorpe Award for Excellence in Georgia Cinema:
Black Panther


Best Film
1. Roma
2. First Reformed

3. Burning
4. The Favourite
5. Cold War
6. Shoplifters
7. BlacKkKlansman
8. Zama
9. You Were Never Really Here
10. If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Best Actress: Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Best Actor: Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
Best Supporting Actress:
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite
Best Supporting Actor: Steven Yeun, Burning
Best Documentary: Minding the Gap
Best First Feature: Sorry to Bother You
Best Screenplay:
The Favourite
Best Foreign Language Film: Roma
Best Cinematography: Roma
Best Undistributed Film:
Black Mother

The Southeastern Film Critics Association
Top 10
1. Roma

2. The Favourite
3. A Star is Born
4. BlacKkKlansman
5. Vice
6. If Beale Street Could Talk
7. Green Book
8. First Reformed
9. Eighth Grade
10. Leave No Trace

Best Actor: Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
Best Actress:
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Best Supporting Actor: Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Best Supporting Actress: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Best Ensemble
: The Favourite
Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Best Original Screenplay: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Best Adapted Screenplay: Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Best Documentary: Won't You Be My Neighbor?
Best Foreign Language Film: Roma
Best Animated Film:
Isle of Dogs
Best Cinematography: Alfonso Cuarón, Roma

The Gene Wyatt Award for the Film that Best Evokes the Spirit of the South:
Green Book

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