2018 has been the finest film year this decade since 2013. So many great and exciting new voices have led to films that are about today’s social consciousness, race relations, and has even led to the year of the popular documentary film (three in my top ten). Are we being exposed to new kinds of films with the birth of movie subscription services or is the industry finally coming around to a generation of female and minority perspectives? If only the awards groups would come around the way the industry has. After watching 233 films in 2018, here are my top 15 films of 2018, with a handful of honorable mentions.
15. Thunder Road
Thunder Road is a painfully funny comedy with a breakout performance from writer/director Jim Cummings. Strikingly original, awkwardly charming, and might be the best comedic independent film in years. A heartfelt comedy that is truly an independent film that’s a throwback to uneasy comedies like Clerks; I wonder what Cummings will come up with next.
A father who is failing as a provider for his family, a mother trying to break free of her predefined role, and their son who is caught in-between, all the while living in the overtly masculine northwest. A hypnotic performance from Carey Mulligan.
13. The Favourite
A whip-smart, deadly-effective, cut-throat dark comedy that’s like watching an early Woody Allen comedy combined with his latest dramatic work. May feel a tad too long, but Lanthimos continues to impress by building on an eclectic filmography.
12. The Rider
A beautifully photographed film. Director Zhao’s stunning sophomore effort lingers long after it’s over. The final scene between Brady and Lane is extraordinary. What makes the film even more remarkable is that the roles are played by the untrained actors who lived it.
11. Sorry to Bother You
Lakeith Stanfield (an exceptional character actor in Crown Heights, Come Sunday, Get Out) breaks out in this highly original, funny, and thought-provoking film that’s a product of today’s modern racial economic tensions and divides. The final third is so bonkers you’re are going to tell yourself you’ve never seen anything quite like it.
10. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Wildly entertaining and deliriously imaginative, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the best anthology film in a very long time. Tremendous supporting turns from the wonderful Zoe Kazan and Tom Waits practically steal the film from the rest of the talented cast. The Coen brother’s most exhilarating work in years!
9. Minding the Gap
Bing Liu’s remarkable documentary is more than a group of kids executing some grinds. That’s the medicine they take to deal with the abuses they grew up with – whether it’s physical, verbal, or substance. Minding the Gap is lyrical, gritty, and above all, human.
8. Leave No Trace
Director Debra Granik draws out great performances, particularly from young actors (see Winter’s Bone). Thomasin Mackenzie, as Tom, feels grounded and honest. Foster gives the performance of his career – it’s a knockout. Doesn’t have a single false note in it. It’s perfect.
7. Three Identical Strangers
No other film this year chewed me up and spit me back out like Tim Wardle’s documentary thriller. I won’t tell you where it goes, but it’s a strange combination of unlikely events and disturbing moral compasses (looking at you Natasha Josefowitz). Remarkably gripping, while leaving me outraged, everyone who sees it should demand answers.
6. Eighth Grade
Director Bo Burnham’s film about a young woman navigating her way through adolescence is honest, grounded, and vibrant. Elsie Fisher gives one of the finest child performances in recent memory; Josh Hamilton is wonderful as a single father struggling to raise and connect with his teenage daughter. Funny, refreshing, while ultimately very moving, I can’t recommend this film more.
5. First Man
First Man isn’t aimed to be a crowd-pleasing celebration of American ingenuity like Apollo 13 or The Right Stuff. Director Damien Chazelle’s film is tense and gritty; it is a claustrophobic, in-your-face, thrilling mad dash to history, while also acting as a cerebral study in carrying grief.
4. Recovery Boys
Elaine Sheldon’s film is strikingly real, unyielding in its focus, honest to a fault, and offers outcomes that are never on solid ground. Unless you worked in the field, you will never know how authentic this film really is. It may not be an entertaining 90 minutes, but it’s a work of uncompromised art. It’s close to a masterpiece.
Ethan Hawke’s directorial debut has been compared to Inside Llewyn Davis and his Texas outlaw music biopic surpasses it in almost every single way. Blaze is wonderfully rich, heartbreakingly real, and intimate. Ben Dickey’s performance is a sight to behold. Go find this film!
When Spike Lee’s upside-down American flag (sign of distress) turns to black and white, then fades away, the curtain is pulled back on his audience. Lee’s latest is darkly funny, while still packing some walloping emotional punches along the way.
This is essential viewing. Director Carlos Lopez Estrada’s film, if not the best of the year, is the most important. Blindspotting is shocking, powerful, provocative, incendiary, and even funny. It’s ripped from the moment. It encapsulates today’s modern indignation. It’s a contemporary classic.
HEARTS BEAT LOUD
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.