Come one, come all! Awards season is upon us. Luckily (?) for us, this awards season seems particularly lacking in the “seasoning” department. Now why could that be? Maybe the Academy is tired of the drama for once? Either way, after the Globes and the SAG awards, the predictability seems at an all time high and the same eight movies will continue to run up their awards until no one cares. That’s when most people check out until the summer blockbusters re-emerge. I’m looking at you Godzilla: King of Monsters! Until then, allow me to offer you a brief reprieve from those same ol’ same ol’ movies you’ve been hearing about time and time again. Let me introduce you to my (mostly) new list of the films that I most enjoyed in 2018. I know, I know. 2018 is so far behind us, we might as well be in 2020. You’re not wrong. Though this list (and a post) are long overdue, consider that I’ve now had time to distill my thoughts and unlike in 2016, have no immediate qualms about my choices. There were many films that were very close to cracking the top ten (like Green Book), but after shuffling and reshuffling, I think this is my final list (for now). No hard feelings to all the ones that did not make the list! I probably just hated them. I’m looking right at you A Star is Born (that movie was literal hot garbage that’s sour taste gets worse as time goes by).
10. Roma– What can I really say about Roma that hasn’t already been said? The film is a clear frontrunner to win a few Oscars and serves the important distinction of being Netflix’s launchpad into the world of critical appreciation. Still, I think it’s rare to see a movie so delicate and distinctly foreign make it’s mark on the Academy. I think Cuaron’s return to his Mexican roots shows in the films’ almost microscopic look at human intimacy. It’s got echos of Y Tu Mama Tambien but with a much more mature voice. I think it’s like Hitchcock by the time he made Rear Window, Picasso by the time he painted Guernica, and Meryl Streep with her performance in The Iron Lady. In it’s most simple terms, Cuaron looks like he’s mature and in his prime. Roma takes everything that’s worked for him in the past but executes the raw, crippling emotion with the finesse of a master.
9. Searching– While everyone was enamored with Crazy Rich Asians as a cultural beacon, the prime example of pioneering efforts in terms of casting Asians in leading roles came with Searching, a simple, brilliant film. The movie followed up on the ‘screens as cameras’ gimmick implemented by horror movies of late, but the big success of this film is that it doesn’t hinge on the gimmick. Too many films like this get made because they feel like they have a novel camera concept that works with a story. I got the strong impression that they had a fantastic story, but were constrained by budget issues and forced to come up with a unique camera solution. Whatever the situation may be, the film had a fascinating story that truly held its own which was only supported by it’s unique directorial choice. It was a film which challenged the audience ‘perspective’ on parents which can sometimes be overly self-glorifying (see A Quiet Place), while still acknowledging the struggle to maintain normal social interactions in the increasingly complex internet web.
8. Hereditary– Horror has been an easy sell in recent years, but that doesn’t mean the fifteen thousand Blumhouse films are worth watching. There was no Get Out this year. There was no It. But the big horror film success of the year was found with Hereditary. I think the best part about Hereditary is how it unravels this family before your very eyes. The true horror of the film is how everyone in the movie is really put together, it’s just their inter-familial squabbles which tear them apart. There’s definitely an occult, super-demonic element to the film which gives it it’s creepy vibe (not to mention one of the most terrifying on-screen deaths I’ve seen in a while), but the true scariness and horror that comes out of Hereditary is how something so certain and so similar could just as easily happen to any of us. The film showed us that the demons outside can’t even remotely hold a match to the demons inside us.
7. Overlord– I lucked out with Overlord. It was the only movie I hadn’t seen the weekend I went to the movies and I found it utterly refreshing. Not heavily marketed (and not heavily praised), I came into the film with modest expectations and was quite surprised. Every year brings at least one or two WWII films, but the Nazi Zombie take is a metaphor that seems to have aged exceedingly well as the years grow on. The film delivered a rollicking story on a minimal budget using a talented cast. Two big aspects of the film stood out to me that deserve recognition. The first was the production design. Honestly, seldom have I seen such well-lit sets, and such a strong sense of emotional ambiance that ties with them. The tiny French village was like something out of an old Frank Capra movie, which fit the aesthetic perfectly. Secondly, the sound. It’s a crying shame that this film didn’t get a sound mixing or editing nomination. Because the scene in the beginning, where their plane is being attacked was one of the most powerful auditory experiences I’d had at the cinema for a while.
6. First Man– A few years ago, I had nothing but heaps of praise for Damien Chazelle. I got caught up in the La La Land whirlwind that seemed to take a strong hold of many Academy members. I have some regrets about that. But what I have no regrets for? Supporting First Man. The Neil Armstrong biopic did not perform as well as many might have hoped. That is a darn shame. I think it really is one of the most underestimated films of the year. For a film about a rather demure historical figure, the film manages to keep your attention demand effort from the audience. It’s also a superbly emotional film, which does a fantastic job of balancing the story of Armstrong’s personal life with his struggles at home. Between the crisp editing, prime acting, solid score, and the rather challenging directing, I think Chazelle has managed one of his best films yet. I also think I haven’t sweat so much in the movies than when I had to see Armstrong deal with his mechanical failures in space.
5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?- Remember when movies just made you feel good after watching them? Remember the last time you left a theater with the honest desire to make the world a better place? Oh boy do I member’. The was the exact sensation I experienced last year when watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. Documentary is a booming business all of the sudden and most docs have a pretty rigid agenda they’re trying to get out there. After all, people really do treat documentaries nowadays as miniature college lectures they can consume for the cost of their streaming service (and then subsequently try and push that knowledge on the rest of us – No, I will not watch Jim and Andy). But this movie manages to avoid all that. Instead, it invited you to be apart of a man’s life which really wasn’t marred with much controversy. Part biography, part psychoanalysis, but all heartfelt – Won’t You Be My Neighbor is less about Mr. Rogers himself and more about presenting an important blueprint on living a fulfilling life.
4. The Favourite– Of all the Oscar buzzy films, I thought this one was most deserving. When I saw it was Yorgos Lanthimos, I cringed. The Lobster was, in my opinion, one of the most over-hyped movies in recent years. It was the Royal Tenanbaums for Lanthimos fans who hadn’t been through Dogtooth. And I felt much of it’s critical appeal stemmed from a domino effect. Once one person liked it, everyone else fell in line. I suppose you could make the same argument with The Favourite. But I genuinely felt quite differently about this one. I think The Favorite had a coherence and poise that was overlooked with previous Lanthimos films. It’s like he finally got his head in the right place and executed a perfect shot. More than anything though, I feel the film’s greatest success comes with it’s humor. The movie is just funny without having to rely on cheap quirks to do so! In a year of period pieces a plenty, this one stood out far above the rest. It may not by my Favorite of the year, but it is certainly a Favorite.
3. Upgrade – Upgrade seems like a downgrade on it’s surface. It’s a film that looks cheesy, acts cheesy, and takes every opportunity to ham it up when it can. There’s something reminiscent of eighties sci-fi action movies when watching Upgrade. It’s a visceral film, that takes it’s hard-boiled protagonist super seriously. But just beneath that crayon veneer, you have a very intelligent movie. Upgrade uses it’s dynamic physical action and sci-fi otherworldliness to speak about the dangers of AI and the world of convenience in general. It’s like a movie from the past talking about the dangers of our tech-obsessed society, without droning on about it like so many do nowadays. It may be a heavy-handed film, but it certainly doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. And it’s with this authenticity that our poor man’s Tom Hardy of a protagonist excels. It’s the best kind of film that tells you not to take it seriously and then uploads their all too serious thesis into your brain.
2. Blindspotting – Oakland was big in cinema this year. If it wasn’t references in Black Panther, then it was Sorry to Bother You. There’s a lot going on in terms of cultural change in the Bay Area and I think Oakland serves as the ultimate poster child for that change. Blindspotting sought to expound on that and explore exactly what was changing and exactly why it was changing. It’s two main characters served as the perfect dichotomy to represent a changing city and a changing world. But as with any changes, comes pain and the true pain felt by our main character is exemplified in his reactive spoken-word style raps he sprinkles throughout the film. It’s a film that executes it’s point while carefully buoying it’s heavy themes with light-hearted humor and brilliant performances. It manages to teach without being didactic, charm without being cheap, and articulate on the sweeping change of an urban atmosphere without trivializing the place it attempts to glorify. Daveed Diggs may not get the recognition he deserves for helming such a powerful film, but he sure as hell will if he keeps up the good work in the future.
1. Beast – On a small, remote British Isle, a modern fairytale quietly unfolds in front of us. Beast, a movie that came out in March, remains the number one movie of the year. It didn’t need to be too fancy or too flashy, and yet it still was able to captivate the audience. It was damn near Hitchcockian in it’s ability to leave the audience in a dreadful state of ambiguity. The two main characters had a chemistry that was both haunting and charming at the same time. The story of a young woman who becomes swept away by a mysterious young man in a community that is out to get him seems familiar on the surface, but the complexity in the details and the emotional gravity of the film kept my mind buzzing long after the credits rolled. I was lucky to have wandered into the film without any expectations and I ended up leaving completely floored. A stellar cast, enthralling murder mystery, and sophisticated cinematography makes Beast my favorite movie of the years. It also had one of the best endings to a film I’ve seen since Hitchcock was in the game. A strange and probably esoteric choice for number one, but in terms of a film that blends originality with substance and a dash of suspense, this one gets itself just over the top.