The Best Films of 2018

Top 10 of the Year

1. RomaAlfonso Cuarón
2. Cold WarPaweł Pawlikowski 
3. The FavouriteYorgos Lanthimos
4. BurningLee Chang-dong
5. HereditaryAri Aster
6. WidowsSteve McQueen
7. ClimaxGasper Noé
8. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseBob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
9. If Beale Street Could TalkBarry Jenkins
10. Ash is Purest WhiteJia Zhangke

Best Film

Roma. Alfonso Cuarón had already asserted his place among the best directors of his generation in the 2000s with Children of Men, and backed it up in 2013 with Gravity. Roma takes that to a whole new level – it is a supreme achievement of black-and-white photography, aural design, camera pans, mise-en-scène, formal symbolism, and neorealism that makes almost every other film in history pale in comparison. It is also a window into Cuarón’s childhood in 1970s Mexico, filtered through the eyes of his family maid who sits on the periphery of their everyday lives. It is currently my #2 film of the decade behind The Tree of Life, but there is very little space separating them.

Roma is a memory piece on another level, soaked in the detail of 1970s Mexico as Cuarón remembers it from his childhood.

Most Underrated

Widows. #33 of the year on TSPDT is far too low for Steve McQueen’s bold swing into genre filmmaking. It still carries all the marks of an auteur in complete control of his work – the cool blue and green palettes, the audacious camerawork, the uncomfortably long takes – but it is also a riveting thriller narrative with a huge ensemble and smartly plotted twists. In effect, this is McQueen’s take on a Michael Mann urban crime drama, navigating the chaos and corruption of Chicago’s most powerful players with smooth, slick pacing.

McQueen’s most purely compelling narrative to date comes in the form of Widows, his take on a Michael Mann urban crime drama.

Most Overrated

Shoplifters. This is #4 of the year on TSPDT, and winner of the Palme d’Or – but I don’t see the evidence of its greatness onscreen beyond some decent writing of characters and their complex relationships. As director, Hirokazu Kore-eda seems a little passive.

Shoplifters is admirable to an extent, but there were better contenders for the Palme d’Or in 2018 than this.

Best Directorial Debut

Hereditary. Ari Aster came onto the scene in 2018 and very quickly asserted himself as the leading horror filmmaker of the decade. It is legitimately surprising how fresh he can make this genre feel while playing to age-old conventions, and there is a lot to chew on in the subtext of the piece. But quite importantly, the accomplishment is not confined simply to writing. This is what sets him apart from other modern horror auteurs like Jordan Peele. There is painstaking direction in this – the use of miniatures, the long takes, and the rigorous symmetry are signs of an incredibly promising filmmaker.

Horror cinema reaches another peak in the 2010s with Ari Aster leading the way. You’re not the same person coming out of Hereditary as you were going in.

Gem to Spotlight

If Beale Street Could Talk. Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Moonlight doesn’t quite reach the same heights, but it a transcendent piece of cinema nonetheless. In place of a traditional three-act structure, he opts for a non-linear narrative drifting around one young woman’s attempt to clear the name of her lover before she gives birth to their child. In place of Moonlight’s cool blue hues, he develops a warm, autumnal colour palette that seeps into every shot. It also features an astounding jazz score from Nicholas Britell which stands among the decade’s best – if nothing else tempts you, it is worth checking out for the music alone.

An indelible composition of colours here in If Beale Street Could Talk, shining the red umbrella bright above these young lovers as they walk through the rain.

Best Male Performance

A very light year in this category, led by Steven Yeun as the enigmatic burner of greenhouses, Ben. He is charming, but there is something off about him from the start of Burning that lies menacingly beneath the surface. The only other mention in this category is for Michael B. Jordan as one of the decade’s greatest villains. Killmonger is written with both empathy and complexity in Black Panther, and Jordan adds a huge dose of bombastic charisma into the mix as he swaggers into every scene in a blaze of fury, pain, and confidence.

Michael B. Jordan plays one of the better superhero villains in recent years, rich with both nuance and wounded anger.

Best Female Performance

Joanna Kulig looks like a sombre version of Jennifer Lawrence in Cold War, but she also delivers a mesmerising performance here that outdoes any from her American counterpart. Her character, Zula, is a singer picked up by a talent scout in rural Poland, and quickly finds success performing as an ambassador of Communist propaganda all across Europe. It is impossible to take your eyes off her as she sings a romantic, jazzy rendition of ‘Two Heart, Four Eyes’, or as she dances around a club to ‘Rock Around the Clock’, and Pawlikowski clearly feels the same way with his camera. The tragedy of the piece comes from the love she has for the talent scout who finds himself increasingly at odds with state politics, landing them in a decades-long affair that keeps bringing them together and tearing them apart, and through it all Kulig’s face betrays a great deal of heartbreak and regret.

Toni Collette sits at #2 for her part in Hereditary, joining a lineage of scream queens – quite unusually in her middle age. Places #3 to #5 are virtually tied between Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, each tied up in the knotty power struggle of Queen Anne’s royal court. The Favourite features one of the decade’s best screenplays complete with savage barbs, and each actress relishes chewing on the darkly funny web of character dynamics.

It was well-known before 2018 that Viola Davis possessed immense raw talent, but she finally gets a film that fully capitalises on that in Widows, which pivots much of its narrative upon her stern, commanding presence. Zhao Tao was another one who had been working for a long time, especially in her collaborations with Jia Zhangke, but she becomes a more powerful force than ever in Ash is Purest White, playing the lover of one mob boss across three chapters of her life. This is an epic character study of feminine strength and its moulding in the fiery heat of adversity, and she internalises that with hardy resilience. Lastly, Natalie Portman gets a nod for her leading part in Annihilation, as she journeys into the centre of the mysterious ‘Shimmer’.

Joanna Kulig is often sombre throughout Cold War, but when she lights up it is gorgeous to behold.

Best Cinematography: Roma

1. RomaAlfonso Cuarón
2. Cold WarŁukasz Żal
3. The FavouriteRobbie Ryan
4. ClimaxBenoît Debie
5. BurningHong Kyung-pyo
6. WidowsSean Bobbitt
7. If Beale Street Could TalkJames Laxton
8. HereditaryPaweł Pogorzelski
9. Black PantherRachel Morrison
Alfonso Cuarón acts as his own cinematographer for the first time in Roma, designing each frame to absolute perfection with a deep focus lens.

Best Editing: The Favourite

1. The FavouriteYorgos Mavropsaridis
2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseRobert Fisher Jr.
3. Cold WarJaroslaw Kaminski
4. HereditaryJennifer Lame, Lucian Johnston
5. WidowsJoe Walker
6. BlacKkKlansmanBarry Alexander Brown
The Favourite is sharp in its construction, every so so often slipping into these slow-motion sequences of absolute absurdity unfolding around Queen Anne’s court.

Best Screenplay: The Favourite

1. The FavouriteDeborah Davis, Tony McNamara
2. HereditaryAri Aster
3. WidowsSteve McQueen, Gillian Flynn
4. BurningOh Jung-mi, Lee Chang-dong
5. Sorry to Bother YouBoots Riley
6. RomaAlfonso Cuarón
7. Cold WarPaweł Pawlikowski, Janusz Głowacki, Piotr Borkowski
8. AnnihilationAlex Garland
The Favourite is two hours of a three-way verbal sparring match between Queen Anne, her adviser Sarah, and the opportunistic Abigail. Its political intrigue, absurdist black comedy, and cut-throat dialogue makes for the best screenplay Yorgos Lanthimos has worked with yet.

Best Original Music Score

1. If Beale Street Could TalkNicholas Britell
2. BurningMowg
3. HereditaryColin Stetson
4. WidowsHans Zimmer
5. Black PantherLudwig Göransson
6. AnnihilationBen Salisbury, Geoff Barrow
I can only hope that Nicholas Britell and Barry Jenkins’ partnership never comes to an end. If Beale Street Could Talk is infused with this soft, jazzy sound, gently permeating the tragic relationship at its centre.

Year Breakdown

There is no getting around the big story of the year – as mentioned above, Alfonso Cuarón’s staggering masterpiece, Roma, is the second-best film of the decade. It solidifies Nuevo Cine Mexicano as a dominant cinematic movement of the 21st century, Netflix as a major production company funding bold artistic visions, and Cuarón as one of the greatest working filmmakers, even if his output this decade was relatively light. If it weren’t for Roma, Paweł Pawlikowski would have topped the year for a second time this decade following his success with Ida. The similarities between that and Cold War are striking – both are foreign period films shot in crisp black-and-white, telling the tales of their respective director’s families. Looking forward into the 2020s, you can trace the trends of personal memories pieces by Paolo Sorrentino, Kenneth Branagh, and Steven Spielberg back to this moment in recent history.

Yorgos Lanthimos also transcends new heights with his most visually sumptuous film yet in The Favourite, as well as a script that cuts deep to the power hierarchies of Queen Anne’s court. He is a skilled director of offbeat comedies, and he settles on an outlandish aesthetic here which formally matches his skewed, ridiculous worlds.

A blocking of faces here in Cold War like Ingmar Bergman, expressing both intimacy and disconnection between characters.

The 2010s in general saw a resurgence of auteur-driven horror films, and Hereditary quite remarkably takes that to the next level. Ari Aster would top himself just a year later with even greater visuals and formal sophistication in Midsommar, but 2018 is where it all starts for him, marking the pinnacle of this mini-movement.

Speaking of peaking trends, Marvel is having an unusually good year. Their output in the 2010s was generally more prolific than it was high quality, but both Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Black Panther break the pattern of mediocre-to-decent movies, with both sitting in my top 15 of the year. Key to the success of these above other Marvel movies is that they actually look like something – one is a hyperactive display of neon-coloured animation, and the other lets Ryan Coogler run free with his brilliant set pieces, camerawork, and production design. Though both perform well at the box office, it is Avengers: Infinity War which dominates as the studio’s huge tentpole release, signalling an era of storytelling coming to a close.

Although Black Panther was the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, awards season was a bit of a mess. Just as it seemed like the Academy was finally going to make some progress and award its top prize to Roma, it went with Green Book instead – the far safer option. The Palme d’Or meanwhile went to Shoplifters, which isn’t particularly close to touching the year’s best films either.

It isn’t often that Marvel makes two of the most artistically potent films of the year, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse also stands among the decade’s finest animations.

Film Archives

A Quiet PlaceJohn KrasinskiR
A Simple FavourPaul FeigR
A Star is BornBradley CooperR
AnnihilationAlex GarlandHR
Ash is Purest WhiteJia ZhangkeHR
Avengers: Infinity WarThe Russo BrothersR
Black PantherRyan CooglerHR
BlacKkKlansmanSpike LeeHR
BurningLee Chang-dongMS/MP
Can You Ever Forgive MeMarielle HellerR
CapernaumNadine LabakiR
ClimaxGasper NoéMS
Cold WarPaweł Pawlikowski MP
Crazy Rich AsiansJon M. ChuR
Eighth GradeBo BurnhamR
First ManDamien ChazelleR
Green BookPeter FarrellyR
Her SmellAlex Ross PerryR
HereditaryAri AsterMS
High LifeClaire DenisR/HR
If Beale Street Could TalkBarry JenkinsHR
Isle of DogsWes AndersonR/HR
RomaAlfonso CuarónMP
SearchingAneesh ChagantyR
ShopliftersHirokazu Kore-edaR
Sorry to Bother YouBoots RileyHR
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseBob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney RothmanHR/MS
SuspiriaLuca GuadagninoR
The Ballad of Buster ScruggsThe Coen BrothersR
The FavouriteYorgos LanthimosMP
The House That Jack BuiltLars von TrierR
The NightingaleJennifer KentR
ViceAdam McKayR
WidowsSteve McQueenMS
Like all Gaspar Noé films, you need to be prepared for a gruelling experience going in. Climax is punishing to watch, but the stylistic wizardry on display is undeniable with the floating camera in the second half literally turning this party from hell upside down.


Free SoloElizabeth Chai Vasarhely, Jimmy Chin
Period. End of Sentence.Rayka Zehtabchi
The Great Buster: A CelebrationPeter Bogdanovich
Free Solo is sure to give you sweaty palms and vertigo, as we follow one rock climber’s attempt to ascend El Capitan without harnesses or protective equipment.

Short Films

BlueApichatpong Weerasethakul
Blue is as mystically opaque as anything Weerasethakul had made, and as far as short-form cinema goes it is a very intriguing experiment.

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