Here are the best movies of 2018, a transcendent year of filmmaking – The Mercury News

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Chloe Zhao’s “The Rider," starring Brady Jandreu, won the prestigious best picture honor from the National Society of Film Critics. But Zhao and other women directors of acclaimed 2018 films have been shut out of best director nominations from the Directors Guild of America, the Golden Globes and other entities. (SONY PICTURES CLASSICS)
Sony Pictures Classics
Chloe Zao's sweeping images of South Dakota scenery add depth to her powerful film "The Rider."
Summit Entertainment
Daveed Diggs, left, and Rafael Casal are trying to make a living in an turbulent Oakland in the comedy/drama "Blindspotting."
Yalitza Aparicio stars as a domestic worker in 1970s Mexico in Alfonso Cuaron's neo-realist film "Roma."
Fox Searchlight
Rachel Weisz, left, campaigns for the favors of Queen Anne in "The Favourite."
Fox Searchlight
Rachel Weisz, left, and Emma Stone battle for the affections of Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos' period comedy ":The Favourite."
A24 Films
Ethan Hawke stars as the pastor at a struggling rural church in "First Reformed."
Bleecker Street
A troubled war veteran (played by Ben Foster, right) and his daughter (Thomasin McKenzie) struggle to live off the grid in "Leave No Trace."
Annapurna Pictures
KiKi Layne and Stephan James star in Barry Jenkins' adaptation James Baldwin's "If Beale Street Could Talk."
Twentieth Century Fox
Amandla Stenberg stars as a high school student who witnesses a police shooting in "The Hate U Give."Algee Smith co-stars.
Twentieth Century Fox
From left, Oakland native Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Amandla Stenberg and Common appear in a scene from "Then Hate U Give."
Pinehouse Film
Ah-in Yoo, Steven Yeun, and Jong-seo Jun appear in a scene from the love-triangle film "Burning."
Marvel Studios/Disney
Chadwick Boseman stars inas the titular superhero in Marvel/Disney's groundbreaking blockbuster "Black Panther."

The best films of 2018 took us places, both literally and figuratively.
From the vast badlands of South Dakota to the bustling comic-book destination of Wakanda, we journeyed near and far and always in wonder. Along the way, we encountered new acquaintances — a domestic worker in Mexico City struggling to find her spot in the world, two best buds grappling with an ever-changing Oakland — amongst others.
We were left with indelible impressions and heightened awareness about not only these characters but their plights and circumstances. And perhaps we even learned more about ourselves.
Here are my top 10 films of 2018.
1 “The Rider”: How could a gentle indie that is inspired by the real-life healing process of its protagonist — a non-professional actor, no less — turn out as the finest film of 2018? Because it does everything perfectly in turning its rodeo-riding character’s existential crisis into a universal struggle. From the stunning shots of the South Dakota landscape to its naturalistic, lived-it acting to the soulful direction from Chloe Zhao, “The Rider” is a beautifully textured poetic meditation on how our dreams and bodies can be ever fragile while our spirits remain resilient. It will leave you weeping.

2 “Roma”: Every now and then getting introspective produces a miracle. Such is the case with Oscar-winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón. His neo-realistic epic draws from his own childhood to open up our eyes to the in-the-shadows existence of a domestic worker (Yalitza Aparicio) in 1970s Mexico City. It’s a stirring, intimate feat of art — with countless breathtaking visual sequences.

3 “Blindspotting”: Not all childhood buddies can wind up making a great movie together. But East Bay natives Daveed Diggs — of “Hamilton” fame — and Rafael Casal did just that. The writers and stars of Carlos Lopez Estrada’s hyperkinetic buddy picture pivot from comedy to drama as they present an at-the-crossroads Oakland wrestling with topical urban troubles — gentrification, racism, police brutality and (gasp!) an invasion of hipsters. It’s ambitious, brisk and makes you feel like you’re watching an electrifying, galvanizing spoken word performance for 90-some minutes.

4 “The Favourite:” What wicked fun to watch two conniving cousins (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) canoodle with an ailing and bit cuckoo Queen Anne (played to the hilt by Olivia Colman) so they can gain social advantage. This twisted historical tug of war went hippity-hoppity mad at points, but that was part of the bawdy appeal. It almost makes us forgive filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos for his “Lobster” ending. Almost.
5 “First Reformed”: Leave it to Paul Schrader, the risk-taking screenwriter of “Taxi Driver” and “The Last Temptation of Christ” to dive into heady spiritual matters and then leave our heads swimming with even more profound questions. Ethan Hawke pitches his career-best performance as a pastor at a struggling church coming undone once he meets a desperate parishioner. Film majors will be dissecting the dickens out of this one.

6 “Leave No Trace”: Here’s a tip for any upcoming actress: Jump at the chance to work with Debra Granik. It worked out just dandy for Vera Farmiga (“Down to the Bone”) and Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”) and now it does for Thomasin McKenzie. The young New Zealand actress broke hearts as a daughter confronted with a tough decision about her future with her father (Ben Foster) a war veteran who has gone far off the grid. There’s not one misstep here.

7 “If Beale Street Could Talk”: The spirit of legendary author James Baldwin lives on thanks to the cinematic lyricism of the one-of-a-kind Barry Jenkins. The “Moonlight” director follows his Oscar winner with a gorgeously photographed and rapturously acted adaptation of a Baldwin novel on the romance of two African-American lovers who are driven cruelly apart. It’s sensual, wise and oh-so crushing.

8 “The Hate U Give”: George Tillman Jr.’s gripping adaptation of a YA novel turned out to be one of 2018’s best mad-as-hell cinematic experiences. Anchored around a hurricane-force performance from Amandla Stenberg, “Hate” depicts the isolation and anger that a 16-year-old wrestles with after witnessing the shooting of her friend during a routine traffic stop. Props to Oakland’s Russell Hornsby for an outstanding supporting turn as her dad.
9 “Burning”: Nothing is quite what it seems in Lee Chang-dong’s symbolic neo-noir shocker that’s set in South Korea and is based on a Haruki Murakami short story. It takes a conventional triangle setup — two men, one women — and then upends it with a wasp sting of a commentary about the class system. And, my oh my what a killer ending. I’m staying mum about that.

10 “Black Panther”: Superhero flicks don’t get much more exciting than Ryan Coogler’s mega-blockbuster. The beautifully crafted, richly produced action epic whisks us off to a magnificent place while hitting us with a classic-like Shakespearean feud. It was so creative and of-the-moment that we couldn’t help but want to stand up and shout “Wakanda Forever.” All that and a fierce Michael B. Jordan performance as the complicated villain Erik Killmonger.

Honorable mentions: “Cold War,” “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,”  “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” “Vice,” “Eighth Grade,” “BlackKklansman,”  “At Eternity’s Gate,” “Shoplifters,” “Sorry to Bother You,” “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” “A Star is Born,” “A Quiet Place,” “Free Solo,” “Wildlife,” “The Sisters Brothers,” “A Moment in the Reeds,” “Green Book”
Randy Myers is a freelance correspondent covering film and is the president of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.
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