Best Films of 2018

Best Films of 2018

2018 was a wonderful year for films across multiple genres, languages, and styles. I did the best I could with this list to present a list I felt comfortable celebrating this year. Even though I appreciated many films released this year, I’m growing increasingly impatient with films that are negative just to be negative. I’m tired. I’m tired of films that don’t reflect the real world (meaning: we’re not all white, we’re not all straight, we’re not all mentally well, we’re not all rich, and we’re not all satisfied by default). I’m tired of films that present themselves as serious cinema that is meant to be so relatable that I can’t relate to. There are films that don’t even make my long list for “Best” because as technically well made as they are, I got nothing out of them.

This does not mean that genre films, animation, niche documentaries, experimental films, etc. have no place on my list; this means bland by default because anything different is too challenging is not welcome here. There are big films that I probably would have bit my tongue and included on my list in the past just because I “had” to. I don’t “have” to do anything. So much of film criticism is subjective. Why would I silence my voice just to be more palatable in my selections? My list is weird and I will not apologize for it.

The other element in play this year is surprise. I was forced to stop writing online by the school I used to work for early in the year. A student found my theater/Halloween Tumblr and tried to get me fired for a post written years before she was in that school. She claimed it was about her; it obviously was not. I was told to delete everything; I refused. I negotiated what, specifically, needed to disappear and what I was allowed to have. I was told this site could stay up but needed to be dormant; I was told to delete my Instagram, Tumblr, and a few other sites; I was also told to stop writing for basically any other website. I saw a lot of films, played a lot of games, read a lot of books, etc. that I never got to write about here. As soon as I knew I would not return to the school, I returned to this site.

It’s been a rocky transition back that’s created a lot of anxiety, and I’m not guaranteeing any consistency yet. Just know that I am trying. I am trying to find my voice as a writer and artist again. I am trying to make this work for me in a way that makes me feel artistically satisfied and safe. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to read what I write and I want to keep producing high quality pieces for you and for me. There are films I wanted to write about, specifically, that I’m still terrified of approaching because of how bad that job situation got. They will be acknowledged or celebrated here, but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel up to a full review or longer piece for any in particular.

Before we get into the Top 10, I want to list all the films that I considered but could not find room for on this list. Reviews are linked when they do exist.

A Wrinkle in Time; Blackkklansman; Blockers; Cam; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; The Cleanse; Dumplin’; The Favourite; First Reformed; Incredibles 2; Leave No Trace; Madeline’s Madeline; Mandy; The Night is Short, Walk on Girl; Shirkers; Shoplifters; Skate Kitchen; Sorry to Bother You; Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse; Terrifier; We the Animals; You Were Never Really Here

10) Anna and the Apocalypse

I almost feel obligated to include Anna and the Apocalypse on the Top 10 list. It is an original musical/comedy/horror/Christmas movie from Scotland about the zombie apocalypse. That sounded like it was made just for me on paper and felt even more like it in the theater. It’s very low budget and that shows in the quality of lighting, but the music is easily the catchiest song score of the year written for screen or stage. “Hollywood Ending” is a certified bop and I will never forgive the Academy for not even putting it on the 15-wide short list for the Original Song category. The whole score is just so clever. Nothing about this film should work and it just does.

9) Crazy Rich Asians

If you’ve been here long enough, you know I’m a horror fan. I like challenging films, too, and anything that lets me dig into film theory, history, and contextual analyses of genre, imagery, or representation. It’s what I love. I also love a good romcom. I should review more next year. Crazy Rich Asians is a must-see film for taking a story steeped in Chinese and Chinese-American culture and making it incredibly accessible to a wide audience through successful deployment and re-contextualization of all your favorite romantic comedy tropes. My goodness, there’s a pivotal scene set at a game of mahjong with the same beats and implications as your standard “thank you for meeting me” coffee shop/restaurant scene in any other romcom. The cast is incredible and the film is just beautiful to watch. 2018 was a big year in proving that film does not need to be so white to be a hit in America; may the trend continue and grow until our cinema reflects what our society actually looks like.

8) Suspiria

I have a long history with Suspiria. It is my most loved and hated horror film of all time. Pardon me for thinking that a horror film about witches should actually acknowledge that there are witches before a twist ending that hinges on the knowledge of witches existing in the cinematic universe is revealed. Those last 10 minutes in the original Dario Argento film infuriate me for not rational reason; the twist turns a fabulous giallo into a punchline once used on The Simpsons.

I digress. The 2018 Suspiria remake, a film that has been in development through various hands for over a decade, proves that you can fuse supernatural elements into a grotesque giallo/thriller and have a film that makes sense. There is no hiding from the coven in this version; they are out, loud, and proud of their society of dancing witches. The impact of witchcraft is made clear throughout by fusing contemporary choreography with stunning practical makeup effects. It’s beautiful and terrifying in equal measure and doesn’t even lean into Dario Argento’s masterful color palette to achieve the same unnatural sense of sublime and terror. Things left to the imagination just for the sake of a twist ending are made far more terrifying because the 2018 version makes them explicit.

7) Black Panther

Black Panther is the most beautifully designed film of 2018. Full stop. The makeup, hair, costumes, and production design/set dressing are just wonderful. I will admit to starting to feel a superhero burnout because of the increased runtimes, but Black Panther was the 2018 exception, not the rule. This is an incredibly tight action film for being two hours, 14 minutes long. The acting, stunt choreography, character arcs, and story are among the best performed, trained, and written of the year. This is also the rare superhero film to actually include a compelling villain with more than one dimension, making the whole experience richer.

6) Eighth Grade

My heart. I don’t know what anyone else was expecting from stand up comedian Bo Burnham’s debut narrative feature, but I wasn’t expecting this. This is the most realistic adolescent narrative captured on film since Gus van Sant’s Elephant in 2003. Don’t worry; Eighth Grade is nowhere near as upsetting as that film. Eighth Grade is one teen’s story about trying to find her place in a school environment that just doesn’t make room for everyone. Elsie Fisher is the perfect embodiment of the involuntary outsider and makes the whole film come alive. She is not popular just because she isn’t popular, and nothing she does can shake the artificial social structure of the school environment. Eighth Grade also captured the YouTube/social media influencer culture so well with Kayla’s own attempts to capture the zeitgeist and gain popularity with her own videos. I know I cried my way through the film in the best way possible. It felt real, not contrived—a rarity for teen dramas.

5) Roma

Roma is a slice of life drama about a housekeeper in Mexico in 1970. You see her work, take care of her bosses family, and struggle to start her own family over the course of one year. Writer/director Alfonso Cuaron used his own childhood as inspiration for this stunningly beautiful semi-autobiographical film. First time actor Yalitza Aparicio is a revelation as Cleo, the housekeeper, and if there is any justice in the entertainment industry, a long career will await her if she chooses to pursue it.

4) If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautiful adaptation of novelist James Baldwin’s book of the same name. It’s a period drama about a pregnant woman in Harlem trying to prove the man she loves is falsely accused of a crime. Baldwin’s work, contemporary at its time, was always about race in America, and If Beale Street Could Talk is no exception. The film does not shy away from the subject of the book and is brought to life with incredible detail and finesse.

3) Tully

At this point, I feel I have no choice but to claim Diablo Cody is my all time favorite screenwriter. No, I did not anticipate that watching Juno. Cody’s dialogue has a distinct voice, but it is her beautiful exploration of mental wellness and mastery of narrative structure that has me revisit her work again and again.

Tully does for depression what Young Adult did for OCD. Charlize Theron is a revelation as Marlo, an overwhelmed mother losing touch with herself after the birth of her second child. Her husband convinces her to hire a night nurse who is there not just to establish routine but allow the mother to rediscover her own identity and well being after being viewed as nothing but a vessel for a new life during pregnancy and birth. Tully is funny, sad, insightful, inspiring, aggravating, relaxing, numbing, and life-affirming in equal measure. Not since Depression Quest have I felt clinical depression portrayed so well in media. I know the plot of the film would suggest postpartum depression as the diagnosis, but it is stated throughout the film that this disconnection and overwhelmed mindset is a cycle not necessarily connected to childbirth. A recurring theme in my Top 10 this year is being represented onscreen. All three of my top three films made me feel seen, heard, and understood in ways most films have never done before.

2) Revenge

I’ve been drawn to exploitation/revenge horror films for most of my life at this point. I don’t know why. It’s a strange niche interest that gets even stranger when you realize my goal in watching and reviewing so many over the years is to increase respect for the horror genre and raise the level of academic discourse. Revenge is a brutal rape/revenge exploitation film from French writer/director Carolie Fargeat. Fargeat weaponizes pink and blue as a visual metaphor to subvert the traditional roles and purposes of men and women in this style of film.

The victim is the hero of her own story, fighting back from the brink of death as she methodically hunts down her boyfriend and his hunting buddies after they decide her only purpose in life is to be a silent object of sexual desire; she will not be quiet, so she must be silenced, but some idiots need to learn a lesson like this woman will no be silenced over and over to fully understand. It’s a sensational and upsetting film, which comes with a content warning for sexual violence and violence against women and an incredibly uplifting tale of a woman who will not accept silence and no punishment as justice for being victimized.

This clip is NSFW.

1) Nanette

My list, my rules. Nanette is a stand up comedy special by Hannah Gadsby. It is the single best-written and performed piece of media I encountered in 2018. Gadsby leads a masterclass in controlling expectations as a comedian to declare why she needs to leave comedy as a career. One cannot spend a lifetime engaging in performative self-deprecation and not face repercussions on some level; it’s even harder when that self-deprecation is really a coping mechanism for mental health problems exacerbated by self-hatred crafted by a society that refuses to allow intelligent, compassionate, queer voices to exist.

Nanette has been the major release for me in 2018. It is the film that finally convinced me to try therapy again after that teaching job went south in the spring. I don’t want to claim Gadsby’s experience as my own, as my experience in the world as a cisgender man has granted me privileges that a woman like Gadsby will never experience. Still, it’s comforting to know that other victims are able to find the strength within themselves to stop apologizing for existing and demand the right to exist. I am speaking for me here. The stories she tells about her life, her use of an expansive knowledge of art history as a metaphor for the issues that she faces, and her masterful manipulation of a massive audience to bring them into her world are all too relatable to me.

I will never grow tired of Nanette because Nanette is the first film I’ve found since Young Adult that actually speaks for the kind of struggles I face every day. It is even more honest and true to me than Young Adult because, as wonderful as Young Adult was, what I found so relatable—the OCD, the depression, the dissatisfaction with writing opportunities but grim determination to keep working no matter what—was implicit rather than explicit. Nanette literally screams these issues out at key moments and does not let you ignore them. I know how much seeing this meant to me and helped me at 33; I can only imagine what my life would be like if I saw it at 17 when my life story began to have many parallels to Gadsby’s life story.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you media can’t help you. Don’t let anyone ever mock you for something you love because you relate to it. And please don’t let yourself suffer untreated for any mental wellness issues you may have just because it’s easier to float by and just perform normalcy for the people around you. Find your voice and your space so you can thrive as best as you can in spite of what you have been through. Representation matters. Celebrate good media that reflects your life and never apologize for it.

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