Here we are once again counting down the best movies of the year. It has been quite an amazing year for cinema, with well over 1000 films released theatrically across the United States and Canada, and hundreds of more on VOD. We received a total of 88 nominations, and after much deliberation, we have dwindled it down to 30 films. From first time directors, Oscar-winning filmmakers, bloody revenge films, controversial serial killers, CGI bears, foreign language, black-and-white dramas, and over-the-top comedies, our list has something for every cinephile. Here are the 30 best films of 2018 as decided by our hardworking, film-loving staff.
Lowlife is best described as this generation’s Pulp Fiction. Equal parts absurd comedy and surrealist crime thriller, Lowlife is a shocking and often-hilarious story about a beloved luchador named El Monstruo, employed by a vicious crime boss who runs his underground crime facility below his fast-food restaurant, harvesting the organs of undocumented immigrants while pimping out underage women. Lowlife is at times hilarious, but for the most part it is an extremely bleak film addressing current issues surrounding racism, immigration, and drug addiction. Director Ryan Prows manages to not only create a commentary on the current state of affairs for illegal immigrants under a presidency that continually preaches anti-immigration sentiments, but also addresses the horrifying process behind organ harvesting, human trafficking, as well as the black market. In this world, the cops are often on the wrong side of the law, and everyone else is desperately trying to survive in a place that seems like it’s falling apart around them.
Lowlife is modern exploitation done right, and a film destined to find a cult following. It’s unbelievably entertaining, outlandishly funny, and sincerely touching — and that is what ultimately separates it from Tarantino’s classic. Lowlife truly has heart, and somehow finds the humanity in situations that go from comedic to horrific to over the top within a few frames. Don’t be surprised if you shed a tear or two in the film’s denouement. (Ricky D)
In a world ridden with meanness and cynicism, Paddington 2 is a breath of fresh air. The best film that Wes Anderson never made, it’s also the best demonstration of the virtues of kindness that you will see all year. While the first Paddington was simply an amusing and well-received origin story, Paddington 2 is a flat-out masterpiece and the surprise of the year, managing to turn its central thesis of goodness into a rollicking, very British adventure.
This sequel improves on the first film because it doesn’t have to explain where Paddington came from, simply setting him free to work his benevolent charm on everyone he comes into contact with. It truly puts into practice Aunt Lucy’s statement that “If we are kind and polite, the world will be right” by placing the Peruvian bear in a prison cell (falsely accused, of course) and somehow turning it into a jolly summer camp. Coming in the wake of the devastating Brexit vote, it is a celebration of the positive forces of immigration, and a rebuke to xenophobia everywhere.
It also gives Hugh Grant the revival we never knew he needed. While the 00s saw him relegated to playing the same romantic comedy lead over and over again, Paddington 2 recasts him as an extremely camp villain. In a self-effacing role that sees him turn into a master of disguise, Grant pokes fun at his own legacy while clearly signaling that his career is far from over. This is a movie you want to stick around for until the end, as its unlikely we will see a better scene all year than his show-stopping rendition of “Listen to the Rain on The Roof” from Sondheim’s Follies.
I’m not the only one who was bowled over. With a 100% rating from 198 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, Paddington 2 is technically the best-received movie of all time. That’s some result for a talking CGI bear. (Redmond Bacon)
Revenge is a timely breath of fresh air in a genre that usually results in controversy. While the rape-revenge film is often used just for an excuse to murder a lot of guys, Revenge is perhaps one of the most economical and deeply affecting. Centered around one woman’s violent crusade against three horrible men, director Coralie Fargeat crafts an exercise in tension and style that manages to never feel at odds with itself. The pulp is there (accompanied by buckets of blood), but it’s when the film aims its sights at the male gaze that it breaks incredibly exciting ground.
Smartly keeping things focused on its female protagonist and not getting too wrapped up in its violence until necessary, Revenge burns brightly at almost every turn. From the moment the titular act kicks in, there’s not a single wasted scene. Tension mounts and mounts until each inevitable, bloody outburst. Satisfaction is even more palpable when it arrives because every frame works towards amplifying that feeling.
Revenge is one of the leanest, boldest, and most important films of the year. Fargeat does a lot of what you expect, but does it with such zest that it’s hard not to walk away drained by just how much style is present. Aided by incredible cinematography and a synth-wave score ready to pulsate in your head for days, there aren’t many films in recent memory that feel this cool. At its core, however, Revenge is still a revenge film; it just carries itself with an abundance of confidence that feels like someone near the top of their game doing something new and exciting. That this is Fargeat’s debut feature film means I can’t wait to see what twisted thrill ride she comes up with next. (Christopher Cross)
Alice Rohrwacher’s latest fairytale is as simple as it is effective, a religious fable that doubles up as a fascinating critique of the modern world. Telling the story of a Holy Fool who suddenly wakes up several years in the future, it all hangs around the Buster Keaton-like simplicity of Adriano Tardiolo’s central performance. Without his saint-like face, the whole film could’ve fallen apart — making this one of the canniest casting decisions of the year.
It takes place on a tobacco farm in pastoral Italy, where indentured labourers are unable to get out of their debt to the fearless Marchesa Alfonsina De Luna. Only when Lazzaro falls off a cliff and wakes up into the future does the bucolic beauty of the countryside transform into something much darker indeed. Yet Lazzaro the saint does not change, with his essential goodness becoming a soothing balm for his embittered countrymen. The resultant film becomes an exploration of the two sides of Italian life — the traditional way that has persisted for centuries versus the rapid industrialization that threatens to change the country irreparably.
Rohrwacher has asserted herself as one of the most exciting filmmakers in the business here, able to blend neorealism with elements of magic and wonder to create something that feels utterly natural. She does not explain her magical decisions, instead making them flow from the story itself, giving the film a sanctified feel. Aided by the lovely 16mm camerawork, Happy as Lazzaro already feels like a welcome addition to the canon of classic Italian cinema. There are shades of 50s and 60s Italian filmmakers here — the depiction of normal people in Vittoria De Sica, the love of holiness in Pier Paolo Pasolini, and the simplicity of storytelling found in Roberto Rossellini — yet Rohrwacher seems to have developed her own inimitable style. A mesmerizing achievement. (Redmond Bacon)
The most controversial entry on our list is no doubt The House That Jack Built, directed by cinema’s enfant terrible, Lars von Trier. Notorious for a Cannes reaction that included both a standing ovation and hundreds of walk-outs, The House That Jack Built is divided into five “incidents,” and stars Matt Dillon as a failed architect and vicious sociopath who meticulously recounts five gruesome acts of homicide that Jack orchestrated and improvised over the course of 12 years (each act which he views as towering work of art). It’s episodic by design, as we transition from one major incident in Jack’s life to another and watch him spiral out of control.
The House that Jack Built may be the director’s most challenging and confrontational film — a tough watch thanks to five harrowing incidents that depict graphic violence against women, children, and animals — but it also features the most striking imagery of von Trier’s career, and a powerhouse performance courtesy of Matt Dillon as the unhinged serial killer, Jack (aka Mr. Sophistication), whose freezer is piling up with corpses. One moment he’s hunting his prey, while the next he’s next he’s trying to find meaning in his life and his life’s work. It’s a tour-de-force performance that requires Dillon to shoulder von Trier’s entire vision by being tasked to narrate and lead every scene through a wide range of personalities — not to mention converse with an imaginary friend.
Prior to production, von Trier spent years researching the psychology of serial killers, and that research can be seen in every frame of The House That Jack Built. While some may dismiss the rambling between Jack and his off-screen accomplice (named Virge) as dull and too academic, they would be missing the point. The dialogue that von Trier wields between these incidents is not only incredibly well written, but an accurate understanding behind the psychology of killers in the context of obsession and ego. And while there have been a plethora of films and television shows that have lured us inside the head of a serial killer, none are quite like this. The House that Jack Built is nowhere near as accomplished as Michael Mann’s Manhunter or Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal, but it remains a work of art, and a film that will have you thinking and talking about it long after the credits roll. If you can stomach it, you’re in for one Hell of a ride. (Ricky D)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is neither an origin story nor a villain’s story; it’s Miles Morales’ story, a story about his discovery as to what it takes to be Spider-Man. The plotline comes straight from the comic books: alternate versions of Spider-Man are brought together haphazardly to stop a threat that’s too big for only one web-slinger. There’s no need to worry about too many origin stories, however, since they lampoon the power and responsibility parable in a delightful manner. Yet despite promoting all the Spider-Folk, it’s still miles Morales’ story.
Right from the start, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse proves itself as a visual masterpiece. It has moments where it looks like a comic book, like a video game, and some that look like an animated movie. This might sound messy, but they flow nicely between scenes. The creators also bring charm, humour, and depth to their characters in a visually exciting way; Miles Morales is a delight, as well as a refreshing look at the popular character. Even with all his powers, he feels real. He and his team are meant for everyone, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse takes this to heart. It gives the audience versions of the Spider-People that fans can relate with on a daily basis — they hit rock bottom, feel like they’re on the top of the world, and have to learn to be heroes.
Even though they are incredibly different, they all share a commonality: an overwhelming responsibility to not only do the right thing, but to be better without comprising their deep-seated morals. Every iteration has a burden of guilt they can’t seem to shake off, and they show a range of emotions, from fear and heartache to hope and determination. They laugh and cry. They are Spider-Man, and they are real. (David Harris)
Suspiria is far better than I think anyone really thought it would be. Evoking the Dario Argento classic film and turning it into something completely different was either going to crash and burn or pay off in spades. There’s a lot to unpack as to why Suspiria works so goddamn well, but a lot of it is in the decision to explore avenues from the original film in more detailed, nuanced ways. Director Luca Guadagnino is more than ready to delve into a world of witches and dancing, but he isn’t going to do it without giving us a powerful message to chew on.
Perhaps most surprising is that Guadagnino hasn’t created a movie that just reminds us that evil exists; it reflects on and feels heartache for the world’s suffering. It’s hard to believe that this movie has a heart to it, as a lot of the time is spent reveling in its sinister tone and acknowledging the inevitable, but Suspiria isn’t just trying to make you recoil in your seat — it’s trying to make you react and respond to the shock. It wants you to feel empathy, not just sympathy. It does that by having strong leads; Swinton embodies a motherly presence, one that feels strict yet caring, while Johnson’s innocent, eager, and prideful Susie is the perfect character to carry the film. She provides her own sense of mystery, with a vague, unknown background that pretty much feels like an assault on Argento’s version of Susie by having that background matter.
There are few films as audacious and viscerally compelling as Suspiria. When it wants to be utterly violent it can be, but a lot of the film’s intrigue is in its paranoid character played by Mia Goth. As she struggles to find out what is happening in the dance school, evil is boiling to the surface. This is what gives Suspiria its sense of dread — a feeling that works better with this version than the original, and cements it as one of the most terrifying films of the year. (Christopher Cross)
Boots Riley’s long-incubated Sorry to Bother You brims with creativity, unvarnished truths and a raucous revolution that starts with those who are just trying to earn enough to survive. When Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield from Get Out, FX’s Atlanta) takes a telemarketer job, he begins an unlikely but wildly entertaining ascent to being an influential “power caller.” Cassius’ mastery of using a white voice to sell a product hands him the keys to success, but quickly leaves his former life and friends in the dust. His energetic reactions to who and what he encounters as he gains more traction in life is amusing and unsettling, while his moral compass is awkwardly acquired by putting him face-to-face with his boss (Armie Hammer) and the most helpless of society’s victims. The rebellious spirit of the movie is personified by Cassius’ girlfriend, Detroit (played by Tessa Thompson of Thor: Ragnarok and Dear White People), an artist and sign spinner who calls out the exploitation of his talent to prop up the corporation that keeps the rest of his co-workers down.
Music from Riley’s band the Coup is intertwined with playful voice-overs, a hard-hitting art installation, and clever shot transitions to make this film stand above the rest. There isn’t any tedious over-explanation of the state of the world, but rather a blunt spectacle of flashy selfishness begetting a larger misery that is swept under the rug. The visuals command attention to detail to pull the most out of the rough-around-the-edges content, as subtle changes from one frame to the next, as wellas colorful bursts of radicalized costuming, are integral to the overall audacious impact of Riley’s feature debut.
Disturbing and disruptive, there is a through-line of an ambitiously chaotic meditation on the inherent greed of capitalism and the need to overturn the castes of modern civilization. Sorry to Bother You is an absurdist comedy that is dead serious about how the hoarding of money by a few is made off the blood and sweat of an enslaved working class. This high-velocity immersion with the worst of what unequal prosperity can breed is what synthesizes normal blue collar complaints into an anarchic treatise for basic decency. (Lane Scarberry)
If there’s one director perfectly suited to tell a story about a black man pretending to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan, its Spike Lee. BlacKkKlansman not only over-delivers on the humour of its own premise, but also functions as a deeply-felt rallying cry at the same time. Although far from perfect, it’s the kind of crowd-pleasing — yet politically aware — comedy that feels like an instant classic for the Trump era. As Big Pun once said, “Spike Lee couldn’t paint a better picture [of contemporary racism in America].”
Spike Lee has gone for as broad and mainstream an approach that a film featuring the KKK and every explicit racial slur in the world could allow. This is a smart move; viewers will come for the high-concept comedy and stay for the lessons regarding police brutality, Birth of a Nation, and the Black Power movement. Given the massive success of films such as Get Out and Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman was automatically poised to be the next big movie about race and the state of America. (Redmond Bacon)
Since The Raid dropped back in 2011, it has held the title as the modern martial-arts bloodbath to beat. However, Netflix’s procurement of The Night Comes For Us has put a bold challenge to that particular throne. Centering on an assassin for the Yakuza who opts to protect a young girl rather than execute her, The Night Comes For Us sounds old hat in concept, but anyone who sits down to watch this balls to the wall action thriller will find themselves comfortably immersed in one of the greatest action films of the last decade, if not all time.
The Night Comes For Us is a truly brutal film, and proudly carries on the mantle of extreme Asian cinema that has been on the rise all the way back to the late 90s. If blood and guts make you squeamish, you may want to give this one a pass, because the amount of red corn syrup you’re going to see dripping from the frame might make you think you’ve turned on The Evil Dead by mistake.
Still, if you loved The Raid, and you’ve been looking for a movie to scratch that same sadistic itch, The Night Comes For Us is absolutely the movie for you. Action rarely looks or feels this damn good. (Mike Worby)
This isn’t Heat. This isn’t even Set It Off. Widows is a thriller unconcerned with being a thriller. It’s Michael Mann without the macho minutiae that so attracts the mostly male cinema critic community. Stripped of all the hypermasculine heist trappings and tropes, the genre looks less like an action movie schematic and more like the ideal skeleton for a feminist morality play. The conflicted soul at the center is Veronica (Viola Davis in a performance of steel), a powerful and assertive woman whose complacency toward her own life ambitions has made her vulnerable to the follies of her late career-criminal husband, Harry (Liam Neeson).
She is boxed in by the local crime boss (Brian Tyree Henry) that Harry ripped off for his last job. He’s looking to legitimize his corruption through city politics, running against the prodigal son (Colin Farrell) of the city’s former mayor. Veronica is thus forced to recruit two of the wives of her husband’s partners (Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki) in order to reclaim the stolen money, each of whom is finding their lives crumbling when out from under the shadow of the men in their lives.
Director Steve McQueen and writer Gillian Flynn weave a tapestry of a modern American metropolis (in this case, Chicago) and all the ills lurking underneath — social, political, economic, as well as the Shakespearean and the Machiavellian. It’s all there before the heist is even set in motion, and it’s the most telling sign that McQueen and Flynn are most interested in how these women seek agency among a male-dominated world that is ready to use, abuse, and discard them. That genre flip in itself makes the film thrilling, but critiques of gentrification, institutionalized corruption, contemporary sex work, and the inherent power imbalance of interracial coupling gives Widows an edge that no shootout can match. (Shane Ramirez)
The films of Robert Greene are as much documents of their own creation as they are of the films’ stated subjects. In Actress, his self-aware subject exposed his filmmaking at every turn, and in Kate Plays Christine, he crafted a feature-length thesis on the use of reenactment to document tragedy. In Bisbee ’17, Greene deconstructs the documentary more fully than he ever has, with the result being his strongest and most impassioned work yet.
In 1917, shortly after the U.S.’ entrance into the First World War, the Phelps Dodge mining company decided to take a stand against the nascent unions in Bisbee, Arizona. Strikes in recent years had shown the strength of the workers, and increased recruitment promised an even bigger threat to the mining company. So the company, aided by a colluding sheriff and 2,000 deputized men, rounded up approximately 1,300 strikers, some at gunpoint, and transported them 200 miles by train. Miraculously, only one worker died in a gunfight with an arresting deputy, who also died. Yet the event, which came to be known as the Bisbee Deportation, fundamentally reshaped the community. Many of the deported never returned to Bisbee, and broken families made up their own myths to explain away (and sometimes demonize) their missing relatives.
A film about the events in Bisbee seems tailor-made for today, when the future of labor and the role of government are once again taking center stage. But Greene isn’t interested in making a simple polemic. To be sure, there’s a fury that flows through Bisbee ’17, but it’s a diffuse fury that resists simple moralizing or sloganeering. Greene wants us to understand the injustice of what happened to those men over a century ago, but he also wants us to consider the contemporary turbulence affecting the border state. We’re meant to think as much about the conflicts between the participants in the film’s reenactment as we are about the displaced miners. Greene’s reenactment of the Bisbee Deportation required the cooperation of the entire town, and they bond together in inspiring ways, but the movie nonetheless exposes the festering sickness that never quite healed. The men deported in 1917 were taken from their homes by their brother and friends, people they loved. The current denizens of Bisbee may be more civil than their forefathers, but their internal clashes remain the same. Bisbee ’17 show that they can never escape the past. (Brian Marks)
The Rider isn’t a documentary, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that just from watching it. That’s because the director and writer Chloé Zhao has assembled a cast of non-actors and given them life stories suspiciously close to their own. It’s fictional, and yet it’s as true as any story ever told.
The eponymous rider, Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), is an expert on the inner workings of horses, in addition to being a rodeo star. Zhao first met Jandreau after he had suffered a skull injury that had ended his competitive career, and his character deals with that same injury in the film. Brady’s family lives on the edge of poverty on a South Dakota reservation (they’re part Lakota); his father sells horses,,and his autistic sister requires significant care. Without his rodeo income, Brady finds work as a horse trainer, but even that relatively mild work threatens to overwork his fragile brain.
Zhao’s fictional version of Brady’s life hits so hard because of how indistinguishable it is from his real life. His disagreements with his father and his loving rapport with his sister are shaded by their real-life experiences. It evokes an almost voyeuristic feeling as if we’re seeing something too painful and honest, something that was never meant to be seen by others. In one of the most masterful scenes of the year, Brady goes to visit a former colleague who has been wracked by a traumatic brain injury that has mostly robbed him of his speech and motor skills. It’s a movingly dramatized scene — except that it’s Brady’s real friend, who was injured in real life and will probably spend the rest of his days in a care facility. The intrusion of reality into the traditionally safe fiction of film is almost overwhelming.
Zhao, a Chinese filmmaker, has lived in the US since the end of high school, but her knowledge and understanding of the lives of rural people is astounding. Not since the early films of David Gordon Green has a director keyed into their dignity so fully. The Rider is only her second film, but it seems sure to herald great things to come. (Brian Marks)
The only movie this year filled to the brim with insult after insult, The Favourite is one of the most mean-spirited, raucous films of 2018. While not written by director Yorgos Lanthimos (instead, written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara), the film still contains a lot of the trademark idiosyncrasies of The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and Dogtooth — right down to an ending that will likely leave you scratching your head for a few days. Yet as a period piece, The Favourite is the most accessible of the director’s films, and one that delivers a thoughtful satire of the trappings that often plague period films from being open to a more general audience. It’s the only movie he has directed that will equally appeal to a crowd that swarms a Harmony Korine film, as well as those in line for Les Miserables.
Lanthimos has everyone deliver their lines with the typical period-appropriate accent and language, but with a twist: everyone is using modern profanity like its going out of style. This, combined with some of the weirder moments (no one dances appropriate to the period, instead opting to crump rather than gracefully ballroom dance), retains Lanthimos’s weirder tendencies for something a lot more fun than we would normally see in a film like this.
It also helps that there are actresses who tear through each scene — and each other — to comedic and dramatic effect. Olivia Colman tethers Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz to her character, forcing them into a power struggle as they attempt to earn Queen Anne’s favor. To watch Weisz talk down and belittle Stone is a delight, but it’s equally satisfying to watch Stone deceive and manipulate her way into the Queen’s graces. This is an acting powerhouse only made more potent by having Colman herself change decisions on a whim, leading to a powerful and varied performance from herself. The three combined makes for one of the most enjoyably hateful movies of the year. (Christopher Cross)
Based upon a novel of the same name by James Baldwin, If Beale Street Could Talk is director Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to his acclaimed Moonlight. It is a lyrical, impassioned tale of romance, and a tribute to the strength of family. Fonny (Stephan James of Selma and Race) and Tish (newcomer KiKi Layne) star as a couple from Harlem in the 1970s whose burgeoning relationship becomes entangled in an impersonal and prejudiced criminal justice system. With Tish pregnant and Fonny in prison, the hardship seems almost insurmountable.
Jenkins again conjures searingly compassionate close-ups of characters, as well as captivating performances rooted in equal parts of pain and love, to render empathy for a situation. There is a genuine affection for Tish, Fonny, and the family that reaches out; it is an enduring warmth forged out of continual struggle and proved by this sudden incarceration. The humanity that emerges from the sublime acting of James, Layne, and Regina King (as Tish’s mother) in tandem with Jenkins’ intricate indictment of the imprisonment of black men in America sends the audience soaring, crashing, and holding their breath for what still happens on a regular basis to innocent people because of their color.
Humanizing someone behind bars with such aptitude by putting a face and a distraught family behind him is the simple subversion that makes it feel like essential viewing for our times; these are not cut out characters, but people who contain a multitude of feelings and insights. Nicholas Britell’s score makes the highs and lows of this story reverberate as it holds the characters in moments that tenderly — and sometimes bitterly — repeat themselves as time marches on. Britell captures the horror of injustice just as well as he mirrors the dignity that emerges from the people who flesh out Tish and Fonny’s life. If Beale Street Could Talk is a testament to Jenkins’ talent, and to the power of love to weather the unrelenting biases encountered in American society. (Lane Scarberry)
PART TWO (TOP 15)
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