10. Anna and the Apocalypse
It’s rare to find a film like this. Are there even any other films like this? I was impressed by the way the film fully commits to both its musical and zombie film roots, standing up as an entirely reputable entry into both genres. I was impressed by how well each of the relatively unseasoned lead actors utterly dominated the screen and forced you to care deeply about their characters as individuals. And it’s always refreshing to have a film that is so delightfully zany and just seems to relish the joy it creates in an audience.
9. The Cakemaker
Everyone spends a good amount of each year bemoaning the fact that so few films feel truly original. Well, it turns out they are being made, they just require a little bit of hunting. The romance depicted in this film is so different from anything I’ve seen on screen before; it has a way of skillfully intermingling love and lust with grief, melancholy, and longing that is both unique and moving. Excellent performances from its German and Israeli cast members give life to this emotionally restrained but engaging story.
8. A Quiet Place
When it comes to horror films, tension beats gore every time. A Quiet Place amps this up to the nth degree, with so much of the film spent in agonizing silence just waiting for someone to slip up and things to go wrong. It’s so tightly written and edited that it never seems to drag, and it creatively details the horrific real-life implications of your life depending on maintaining near constant and absolute silence.
7. The Guilty
The Guilty is a film that somehow manages to have you on the edge of your seat even though you’re literally just watching a guy listen to drama unfold. It’s a film set in one room with a dude wearing a headset and honestly it has no business being SO INTENSE. That’s craftsmanship. The twists and turns keep coming and you’re constantly forced to shift your perception of the narrative and god it is just a masterclass of technique that hasn’t been getting nearly enough credit.
6. Never Look Away
Although the hero of Never Look Away is only a small child in Germany during World War II, its impact reverberates throughout his life as he (and Germany itself, for that matter) try to figure out how to overcome the trauma of the Nazi regime and everything that came after. His life as a young artist first in Communist East Germany and then later in the West is consistently engaging, and it’s a testament to the excellent acting and focused direction that despite the film’s 3+ hour runtime, every minute is enthralling.
Spike Lee brings his trademark rage tempered by extreme irony to this story of a black police officer who is somehow able to infiltrate the local chapter of the KKK. John David Washington and Adam Driver put in energetic and charismatic performances, imbuing their characters with nuance and a tremendous amount of personality. I love it for its style, its amazing sense of humor, and the courage it took to execute such a chilling tonal shift in its final moments.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen such a ragtag, makeshift family depicted with such a deep bond, where each character is rich and full-bodied and incredibly empathetic. They may not be traditional, but they’re a pure and loving family that occupies the heart of Shoplifters. As the threads begin to unravel and we learn how these people became a unit, things are complicated, and motives are called into question. But the filmmaker trusts that we will love these people in spite of their imperfections, and it pays off.
You know that feeling you get when you watch a movie in theaters for the first time and you’re immediately positive that it will be taught in film schools in, like, three years? That’s Roma. Alfonso Cuaron’s most intimate film to date, Roma takes its time, luxuriating in the world it has created before it hits you with raw emotional power. Also, justice for Yalitza Aparicio who seems unlikely to win an Academy Award for her quiet, heartbreaking performance in this film, but surely deserves one.
2. Eighth Grade
Eighth Grade somehow seems to have siphoned every single one of my middle school memories and built a narrative out them on the big screen. First time director Bo Burnham has the uncanny ability to tap into the seemingly universal plight of the painfully awkward pubescent who is never quite able to fit in anywhere. Elsie Fisher is a revelation – the things she is able to do here and the level of awareness she has as an actor to pull of such a mature and confident performance are nothing short of mind-boggling.
1. The Favourite
The Favourite is everything I love in a costume drama – palace intrigues, power plays, scheming insiders, and an unstable and misunderstood monarch. Like so many films this year, it puts women at the center of its narrative, as two ladies at court viciously jockey for favor with the mercurial Queen Anne. Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman put in performances that rival their best work, and watching them have the time of their lives sparring on screen is a rare delight.