1 – Hereditary (d. Ari Aster)
As a viewer, I long to have my imagination set on fire. Not only is that when I get the most creativity, but it’s when I get the most out of life. Hereditary is a film that, apart from rattling me to my very core, lit my imagination ablaze. That’s partly why it’s my #1 pick.
It’s one thing for a film to downright horrify you, it’s another thing to also blow you away simultaneously.
Films like “The Babadook”, “The Shining” and especially “The Exorcist” are hailed as horror classics, not just because of their horrific imagery, but because those films take the time to establish the atmosphere and make you care about the characters, which in return, makes the more horrifying moments, that much more effective.
When I first saw this film, I couldn’t sleep that night. It was as if the film had put me under its spell and made me feel unsafe in my own bed.
Hereditary particularly takes much of its horror to the bedroom setting which adds an even more unsettling layer. Our bedrooms are like our sanctuary, when you no longer have that sanctuary, you don’t have that feeling of safety.
I say the film is nightmare fuel, not only because it’s so scary, but because director Ari Aster uses so much visual and psychological trickery, you often feel disoriented causing you, the viewer, to feel like you’re in the most demonic dream hence: Nightmare.
You are actively unaware what is a nightmare and what is real during the film.
Much of “Hereditary” is dependent on the performance of it’s star, Toni Collette. In return, Collette gives a tour de force performance that is not only the best of her career, but of the entirety of 2018. It’s more than likely going to be overlooked by the Academy and that’ll be a true travesty, as it’s the performance of legends.
First time filmmaker, Ari Aster, blends family drama with downright terror so masterfully. One scene will make you want to cover your eyes, while the next will have you wanting to wipe tears from them.
There are so many nuances and little details sprinkled throughout the film that are easily missable, partly because you’ll be busy shielding your eyes, that a second viewing is a must. Aster has made a genre film that apart from being one of the most impressive directorial debuts we’ve seen in ages, will go down as a horror classic that ranks among the best of the best.
I’ve seen Hereditary close to 10 times now, and apart from blowing me the hell away, I have a near panic attack every single time.
2- Roma (d. Alfonso Cuaron)
Alfonso Cuaron’s crowning achievement, Roma, has received the appropriate amount of critical praise and awards buzz, but nothing can really prepare you for when you sit to watch it. It’s an absorbing, intimate and epic experience unlike anything you’ve seen. With the films narrative feeling like a set of memories, we witness the struggles of a middle-class family in 1970’s Mexico told from the perspective of their housemaid, Cleo.
“Roma” is Cuaron’s most personal work and it shows from the very first frame. Despite it’s grandiose presentation, it feels small and down to earth.
The impeccable cinematography and sound design also help make “Roma” a one-of-a-kind experience that is as breathtaking as it is emotionally rewarding.
3- A Star Is Born (d. Bradley Cooper)
In 2018, no film apart from “Hereditary”, has stuck itself inside my soul the way “A Star is Born” has. This is an absolute powerhouse of a film.
“A Star Is Born” is a grand, yet intimate and raw look at the price of fame and self worth.
Bradley Cooper gives his best performance to date, but it’s his skills behind the camera that make the film shine brighter. Cooper’s directorial eye is one of the many standouts in the film.
Although the film tends to play to her strengths, Lady Gaga is nevertheless a revelation. She gives one of the most raw and nuanced performances in all of 2018. The moment she and Cooper first sing together will put a lump in anyone’s throat. Also, it’s one of the few times I’ve ever cried over a song.
I’m sure it’ll sweep the Oscars, including Best Actor, Actress and of course, Picture, but I was truly blown away by this film. This is destined to be hailed as a classic and everyone’s next favorite love story.
Shallow it is anything but.
4- Anna and the Apocalypse (d. John McPhail)
Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2018 came from the little British import, “Anna And The Apocalypse”, AKA the Zombie Christmas Musical.
Think “High School Musical” by way of “Shaun of the Dead” and you have “Anna And The Apocalypse”. This is a film that will make your heart soar and will have horror fans and musical fans come together in harmony.
Led by breakout star Ella Hunt, the cast is completely charming and are gifted with a wonderful script that allows them to feel like actual humans so when they start getting picked off one by one, you feel genuine sadness. It’s a funny, nasty, warm-hearted gem of a film that is destined for cult status.
5- Burning (d. Lee Chang-Dong)
‘Burning” is an ambiguous film that’s best seen knowing as little possible. With that in mind, it makes writing about it extremely difficult. The effect it had on me after leaving the theater was profound. It’s a quietly chilling film with so much on it’s mind, that further viewings should come without saying. Director Lee Chang-Dong manages to build a growing sense of unease, despite the tender nature of the characters. One sequence taking place at sunset is one I’ll remember for years to come.
It’s a thriller you don’t actually realize is a thriller until the climax comes and leaves you completely shaken.
With some strong performances, particularly from “The Walking Dead”s Steven Yeun, a foreboding atmosphere and an ending take will shock and polarize many, “Burning” is a film that’s hard to shake, but satisfying nonetheless.
6- Annihilation (d. Alex Garland)
Alex Garland’s stunning follow-up to his 2015 hit, “Ex Machina” ranks alongside “Blade Runner 2049” and “Arrival” as one of the most uncompromising and inventive Sci-Fi films of the decade.
Annihilation plays with many different genres and excels in all of them. With horror, it has one of the most terrifying sequences (know as “the bear scene”) in years. As a study of a broken marriage, it has a lot of heartbreaking insight. In terms of science fiction, it’s a masterclass, with the climactic Lighthouse sequence feeling like a true companion to “2001: A Space Odyssey”.
Fearing the film would prove too intellectual for audiences, the studio treated the project like an ugly step-child and sold the international rights to Netflix and gave the film a light 2,000 screen release just one week after box office juggernaut, “Black Panther”. Adding bigger insult to injury, the film bested initial expectations and opened to a decent number, but the damage was already done with more films crowding the marketplace in coming weeks leaving “Annihilation” to finish its run with just a hair over $30 million against a $40 million production budget.
Although its box office left something to be desired, it has thankfully started to gain a proper following with most collectively ranking it as one of the more visionary films in recent times.
It’s an incredibly smart piece of adult Science Fiction that deals with themes of self destruction and existence that is subversive and bold.
7- Bodied (d. Joseph Kahn)
Joseph Kahn has been an iconic music video director for well over a decade, helming videos for artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and this film’s executive producer, Eminem. Although, when it comes to feature films, he hasn’t been nearly as successful. With “Bodied” however, Kahn has crafted a true comedic masterpiece.
Following an idyllic, white college student who works his way up the Battle Rap competition, “Bodied” tackles issues such as outrage culture, political correctness and identity politics while never losing sight of being an entertaining and hilarious film about battle rap.
Kahn treats the battle raps like they’re action sequences from a major blockbuster. The energy is infectious, the stakes build and build to a climactic showdown that’s challenging, funny and leaves you with many questions you won’t forget anytime soon.
8- Eighth Grade (d. Bo Burnham)
Comedy star, Bo Burnham made a huge splash with his directorial debut, the insightful and painfully funny, “Eighth Grade”. In a star-making performance, Elsie Fisher stars as the films shy, introverted, Kayla, as she navigates the last week of eighth grade.
Despite the very modern setting, it’s a film we can all relate to. It deals with universal themes of peer pressure, social anxiety and trying to fit in, but with a consistent understated charm. It never goes for the big cliche movie moments, and instead tells an honest story about adolescence. It’s laugh out funny, but isn’t afraid to explore some uncomfortable subject matter.
“Eighth Grade” is perhaps the most pure and hopeful film of 2018. It’s easily the best coming-of-age film since “Boyhood” and one that solidifies Burnham as a powerhouse filmmaker.
9- Revenge (d. Coralie Fargeat)
Coming from another first time filmmaker, Coralie Fargeat, the simply titled, “Revenge” is a rape-revenge film, but with an empowering twist.
The story isn’t anything new. We’ve seen this type of film before many times, but not with this much panache. With shades of “Kill Bill” and “Deliverance”, and the visual style of Nicolas Wending Refn meets “Mad Max: Fury Road”,”Revenge” is a simple film on paper, but once it begins, you’ll quickly see how different it truly is.
Director Coralie Fargeat understands the genre inside and out, which makes “Revenge” that much more of a unique experience. She flips exploitation conventions on their head while still crafting an incredibly tense and gritty genre flick. The harsh, sun-drenched colors in the cinematography are vibrant and tactile, while the sound design heightens some of the more gruesome elements to the fullest effect. It’s a refreshing assault on your senses.
The first half of the film is all about the gaze of the body, whereas the second half becomes about the suffering of the body. The film very much represents our main heroine. When we first meet her, she’s very scantily clad, open with her sexuality and a free spirit. After her brutal attack, she comes back from extreme suffering as a warrior blurring the line between vengeance and survival.
Star Matilda Lutz is truly fearless in a largely wordless, but physical role, rivaling the likes of Emily Blunt in “Edge of Tomorrow” and Charlize Theron in “Mad Max: Fury Road” as an iconic, badass action heroine from the 2010’s.
The idea of “Revenge” is a rape-revenge fantasy told with a different perspective, partly with elements of fantasy. Not everything in the film is meant to be taken literally, but as an often metaphorical journey of a woman rising up to take revenge like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the film works exceptionally well.
Revenge is a ferocious dissection of gender and genre. It’s a rape-revenge film released post “Me-Too” and “Times Up” that is a riveting and entertaining genre film in its own right. I eagerly await what Fargeat does next.
10- Free Solo (d. Jimmy Chin, E. Chai Vasarhelyi)
2018 was already a landmark year for Documentaries, with both critical and financial successes such as “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, “RBG” and “Three Identical Strangers”. Adding to the list of those films is “Free Solo”.
“Free Solo” is one of those films that is able to capture a moment in human history that begins as a dream for one, and eventually becomes an inspiration to millions.
We follow climber, Alex Honnold, on his quest to be the first person to free solo climb Yosemite’s legendary, El Capitan.
The journey of this man accomplishing his dream, eventually becomes a suspenseful exploration of morality, not just for the main subject, Alex, but for the directors and crew. When free solo climbing, you are climbing with absolutely no rope, no harness, nothing to save you from falling. So when preparing to climb a 3,000 ft rock with nothing to save you from falling to your death, what kind of process does that person have?
“Free Solo” is thrilling in ways most films can only dream of. When we do eventually get to the climb, you become glued to your seat, not wanting to blink for a second. It’s no secret what the outcome is, but getting to that point remains one of the more purely emotional experiences I’ve had in a theater all year.
It’s not often we get to see someone defy death right before our eyes, so in that sense alone, this is an incredible feat. “Free Solo” is a powerful and moving testament to the human spirit that will be remembered throughout history.
If Beale Street Could Talk (d. Barry Jenkins)
Adapting the James Baldwin novel of the same name, Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to his Oscar-Winning, “Moonlight” may not have quite the impact, but is still a devastating and transcendent piece of work in its own right. With an all-star ensemble cast, hypnotic cinematography, and a compelling love story at the center, “If Beale Street Could Talk” is a beautiful film that breaks your heart then later mends it together.
The Wife (d. Bjorn Runge)
As a character study of a woman not getting the credit she deserves for decades, “The Wife” is a devastating and profound little film with great supporting performances. As a showcase for Glenn Close, one of our long standing great talents, it’s nearly perfect.
Blindspotting (d. Carlos Lopez Estrada)
Easily one of the more overlooked films to come out of 2018, “Blindspotting” is a rapidly entertaining film that deals with a lot, yet never loses its way. It’s blend of social commentary, hardcore drama and comedy blend wonderfully leading up to one of the best sequences all year with a final confrontation that’s poetic, angry and enthralling.
Stars/Writers Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal are two voices that are sure to impact Hollywood in future years to come.
Mandy (d. Panos Cosmatos)
Psychedelic and uncompromising only begin to describe Panos Cosmatos’ “Mandy”. Starring Nicolas Cage in the ultimate Nic Cage performance, “Mandy” is a brutal drug trip with everything you love, including mutant bikers, chainsaw fights, a stare-down with a Tiger and of course, Nicolas Cage UNCAGED.
Suspiria (d. Luca Guadagnino)
Luca Guadagnino’s retelling of the Dario Argento classic is a lurid, campy, and existential blood soaked epic that deftly deals with themes of loss, guilt, betrayal all set to the backdrop of 1970’s Berlin with not one or two, but THREE Tilda Swinton’s.
Other Strong Titles:
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Won’t You Be My Neighbor
Mission Impossible – Fallout
The Death of Stalin
A Simple Favor