Best Films of 2018 - As Good As You Are Going To Get
By Jordan Bosch
The great Roger Ebert famously described movies as “a machine that generates empathy”, which is quite a cogent statement now as empathy was an especially strong theme in the best movies of 2018. From films encouraging us to empathize with kids enduring conversion therapy or the residential schools, to the struggles of a teenage witness to a shooting, a put-upon nanny or an emotionally fraught Queen desperate to be loved, it’s been at the forefront of many of the stories we’ve been telling lately and has resulted in some truly amazing and diverse works of cinema.
This was also a year of stunning performances and breathtaking visions, as you’ll see by the number of films directed by people who wrote or co-wrote their screenplays; artistically innovative and even revolutionary movies that deserve to be celebrated and acclaimed (especially when organizations like the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would ignore them in favour of middling to bad movies like Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book).
I’ve seen eighty-seven movies in 2018 and still have yet to see If Beale Street Could Talk, Shoplifters, Burning, and Mirai, any of which could easily upset this list if they’re as good as I’ve heard. Some honourable mentions I highly recommend are Won’t You Be My Neighbor, The Death of Stalin, Disobedience, Boy Erased,The Miseducation of Cameron Post, BlacKkKlansman, Annihilation, A Star is Born, The Other Side of the Wind, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Each of these are absolutely exceptional films, but here are the best of the best:
10. The Hate U Give
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Writer: Audrey Wells, based on the book by Angie Thomas
Stars: Amandla Stenberg, Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Anthony Mackie
No movie better understands the culture of racism, police violence, and youth protest in the late 2010s better than this adaptation of Angie Thomas’ bestselling young adult novel. Informed by numerous real cases, it expertly holds a magnifying glass up to the nuances often forgotten or conveniently overlooked in discussions of police shootings. Grounded by a strong, conflicted and inspirational lead character impeccably played by Amandla Stenberg, the film envelops you into its difficult world with ease and isn’t afraid to shell-shock you both dramatically and thematically. It’s a superbly executed proclamation for change that needs to be seen in the era it’s responding to.
9. Hearts Beat Loud
Director: Brett Haley
Writers: Brett Haley and Marc Basch
Stars: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemmons, Sasha Lane, Toni Collette
I’m just about the only person who remembered this movie and connected with it enough to afford it a spot on my Best of the Year list, but I hope others give it the chance I did, because it’s a remarkably touching little gem. A story about a father-daughter band formed as an outlet for their personal anxieties, it has a lot to say about love and accepting change. A tender and mellow film, it’s also a love letter to the process of making music and the joy of creativity, boasting a pretty good soundtrack of nicely performed original songs.Hearts Beat Loud flew under the radar, but is well worth seeking out and I swear it’s not just because Ted Danson plays a bartender.
Hearts Beat Loud review
8. Black Panther
Director: Ryan CooglerWriters: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert ColeStars: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o
The film with by far the biggest cultural impact this year also happened to be a terrific movie in its own right. But that impact and the reason for it cannot be divorced from Black Panther itself, if not quite the best then perhaps the most important movie to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. By applying real-world connotations and an uninhibited smattering of African heritage (not to mention the long-overdue translation of Afro-futurism to film) to a fantastical superhero aesthetic, the movie creates an escapist yet socially relevant touchstone piece of cultural pride. Not only is it entertaining and provoking, but it’s a defining moment of our contemporary cinematic landscape. Black Panther review
7. Indian Horse
Director: Stephen Campanelli
Writer: Dennis Foon, based on the book by Richard Wagamese
Stars: Ajuwak Kapashesit, Forrest Goodluck, Sladen Peltier
The first movie to meaningfully address Canada’s shameful history of the residential school system is as much an education as it is the compelling story of one boys’ ordeal and struggle to overcome abuse and religious and cultural assimilation. Led by an astounding cast, it’s a brutally honest and affecting drama. And while I understand the frustration that this movie was made by (and perhaps for) white people, it helped at least bring the conversation about the residential schools back into the limelight and will hopefully serve as a wake-up call to allow for more Indigenous stories and Indigenous voices to be heard .Indian Horse review
6. We the Animals
Director: Jeremiah Zagar
Writers: Jeremiah Zagar and Dan Kitrosser, based on the book by Justin Torres
Stars:Evan Rosado, Sheila Vand, Raúl Castillo
A coming-of-age story told mostly through rich visuals, metaphor, and implication, We the Animals is a spellbinding glimpse into the life and mind of an impoverished, confused, and emotional child. Its’ neorealist story, stream-of-consciousness aesthetic, and singular perspective makes for a startlingly intimate movie that sweeps you up in its unpredictable trajectory and careful pace. The performances all work, especially from lead actor Evan Rosado, and the chemistry between the three brothers is extraordinarily palpable. This may also be the most beautifully shot movie of the year, framed and composed in such a way to best accentuate the films’ poetry. We the Animals review
5. Sorry to Bother You
Director: Boots Riley
Writer: Boots Riley
Stars: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Steven Yeun Boots
Riley has managed to craft the great absurdist satire of the twenty-first century with this film about one mans’ rise through the corporate echelons and the conspiracy he uncovers along the way. Unapologetically skewering capitalism in addition to institutional classism and racism,Sorry to Bother You is one of the few truly unique perspectives in the movies in a long time, easily the most original in its concept and execution of any film this year. That it’s also brilliantly funny, incredibly well cast, and technically intuitive and surreal is the cherry on top of this delightfully unconventional cinematic treat. Sorry to Bother You review
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney RothmanWriters: Phil Lord and Rodney RothmanStars: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld
As wholly and enthusiastically a comic book movie as it is possible to be, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is bristling with creativity and energy in every pore. Stylistically ambitious and an animation marvel (pun intended) of a kind of visual splendour not seen in America since the end of the hand-drawn age, this would be enough; but the film likewise graces its audience with a wildly entertaining and resonant story centred on a deeply relatable character. And it’s theme on the importance of diverse representation in our stories is a crucial message not to be taken for granted in an evolving art form. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse review
3. The Favourite
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
Stars: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz
What happens when you pair three unbelievably talented actresses with an eccentric filmmaker and the greatest script of a period film in years? You get a bizarre but utterly fantastic dark comedy about the power plays between ambitious women at the court of England’s Queen Anne. As exquisitely shot and edited as this movie is, its greatest strengths lie in its incomparably sharp script and its trio of magnificent performances, Olivia Colman’s chief among them. A staunchly feminist movie that delights in its women driving the world, it touches on themes of love, trauma, sex, and loyalty in equally facetious and serious ways that coalesce into a unique but harmonious whole. The Favourite review
2. First Reformed
Director: Paul Schrader
Writer: Paul Schrader
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried
Conceived and realized by Paul Schrader, the acclaimed screenwriter, director, and film academic (with perhaps too limited an opinion of audiences), First Reformed is one of the most skillful expressions of craft to come out of the last year. Drawing on art-house cinema and the transcendental style of film Schrader has written extensively on, its’ deliberately slow pace and insubstantial editing allows it to sustain an atmosphere of dread better than just about any film I’ve seen in the past decade. Its' story touches on complex themes and deep questions of the world in which we live. And Ethan Hawke delivers one of the greatest performances of his career in this disconcerting yet alluring and breathtaking movie that continues to astonish and intrigue me six months after seeing it. First Reformed review
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writer: Alfonso CuarónStars: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Jorge Antonio Guerrero
Alfonso Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical passion project, a film he wrote, directed, shot, and edited himself, Roma is a touching, beautiful, immersive, evocative, and highly insightful tribute to the nanny who helped raise him. Filmed entirely in glorious black and white with stunning long takes, conservative cuts, and powerful scene after powerful scene, it is no less than a vigorously captivating movie and a masterful character study. And playing that character phenomenally is first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio in the most soulful, lovable, and mesmerizing performance of the year. Dotted with critiques of Mexico’s turbulent political situation of the early 1970s, as well as class and race issues, Cuaróns’ heart and soul is on every frame and it translates beautifully. Arguably the culminating work of one of the greatest living directors, Roma is without a doubt the greatest movie of 2018. Roma review
Check out the video announcing the winners of the 2019 Golden Globes.
Jordan Bosch is MJ Independent’s Movie and Arts Critic/Writer. He is a former columnist at the now defunct Moose Jaw Times Herald.