Top Ten // FILMS OF 2018

Updated: Dec 29, 2018

This is the year things began to change, for the better.

2018 was the year for winners and losers. Sure, each year has its own stories of pop culture commodities that shone above the rest, or flops so large they carried the next day's news into the next week. But, 2018 was a special year. A year when content was king and the influx of new offerings, whether they be digital or commercial or both, were almost too much to handle.

Despite having a plethora of cinematic and prestige television options at our fingertips (that is, until FilmStruck says goodbye), us consumers still found the time and money to head to the multiplex. Ticket sales were up 4% for the year and attendance matched that growth.

But, even with money heading to the studios, the options for quality content were hit-and-miss. Disney reigned supreme with its monstrous Marvel Cinematic Universe (Black Panther has the chops to become the first comic book film to earn respect from the Academy) and its animated hits (Incredibles 2 is now the highest-grossing animated flick of all time).

Things weren't all peachy for everyone, though. Prestige films were a dime a dozen this year, but weren't able to capitalize on film festival buzz. First Man should have been a box office juggernaut, with movie stars involved and a box office director at the helm. Whether it was the American flag controversy or poor marketing, the film floundered upon arrival. The same fate met Widows, The Front Runner, Beautiful Boy, and Boy Erased. They may all end up earning trophies by the end of the season, but if box office has any clout, they'll probably go home empty-handed.

Musical dramas became the genre to beat. A Star is Born launched Lady Gaga into movie-stardom and gave its director/star, Bradley Cooper, plenty about which to sing. And, Bohemian Rhapsody defied poor critics reviews to become the highest-grossing musical biopic of all time. A Best Picture nomination is looking more and more likely, to every cinephile's chagrin.

Documentaries were also an underdog favorite, especially in the summertime. For audiences who needed a break from popcorn fluff, Three Identical Strangers, RBG, and Won't You Be My Neighbor? all amassed record numbers for true-life films. Free Solo followed suit in the early fall.

And, directors from diverse backgrounds gave us some of the most captivating new pictures. Women directors like Debra Granik, Ava DuVernay, and Marielle Heller offered intrinsic looks at life, relationship, and community. Barry Jenkins, Ryan Coogler, and Boots Riley produced immaculate pictures of scope and originality.

Much can be said about the importance of cinema, especially today when how we grasp content is so different than even a few years ago. The year's most acclaimed film, Roma, is a Netflix original, in Spanish, shot in black-and-white, that saw time on the big screen, but will get its largest audience on the small screen. In fact, as awards season becomes more and more aware to audiences beyond the Hollywood scene, streaming services will see the largest turnaround. Films like Support the Girls or The Rider likely would never have been part of the conversation had they not been available to stream at home as soon as buzz began to build.

It's always hard to grasp which films, performances, and even pop culture moments we'll remember generations from now. What pictures are debuting today that will stand the test of time like The Wizard of Oz or Beauty and the Beast? What nostalgia will a giant studio like Disney hope to churn up when kids today are grown and raising their own? Will the concept of a "classic" even exist with today's content, or is there too much being developed that it's all getting lost in the fray?

There's plenty to celebrate about this year in cinema. We met new voices. We celebrated new visions. 2018 feels like the year things recalibrated and started over. We've left the trap of sameness (for the most part) and championed unique diversity. It'll be exciting to see where this takes us next.

Here's to the sights and sounds of 2018 and to the voices just beginning to shape 2019 and beyond.


Director Chloe Zhao's enchanting The Rider follows a rodeo rider who must grapple with a new identity after a head injury gets in the way of his dreams. Starring the real-life person on whom the story is based, Brady Jandreau, and his family, The Rider grapples with middle-American norms and what it means to survive. Shot with immense care and grandeur against the South Dakotan skies, the film works in its quietness and generous care taken with its subject.

QUOTE: "If any animal around here got hurt like I did, they'd have to be put down."


His eye for detail and the great escape of cinema has launched Damien Chazelle into the new frontier of moviemaking. Taking nods from his character study of Whiplash and the use of modern technology like the wild visuals in La La Land, his First Man is a masterpiece of epic cinematography and subtle and masterful performances. Ryan Gosling gives his best turn to date as the elusive and meandering Neil Armstrong. The film is less about the moon landing (though that is the meat of the film's finale) and more about the man and his own, personal journey.

QUOTE: "I don't know what space exploration will uncover, but I don't think it'll be exploration just for the sake of exploration. I think it'll be more the fact that it allows us to see things. That maybe we should have seen a long time ago. But just haven't been able to until now."


It's crass and non-stop tomfoolery, but Yorgos Lanthimos' The Favourite is also an intense character study and heartbreaking drama. The tale of Queen Anne could be taken as almost farcical, but the way Lanthimos and his brilliant cast weave through the delicious dialogue sets this prestige picture apart from other comedies in recent memory. Olivia Colman is devilishly sneer as the bulbous monarch. Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz each deliver something magical as the competing ladies-in-waiting hoping to amass the titular title. As a films, it marks all of the notches in almost every category of filmmaking. It's a treat in every sense of the word.

QUOTE: "Some wounds do not close; I have many such."


A common theme to this year's slate of films is community and how each person fits into their ideals of acceptance. For First Reformed's minister, it's determining how he fits into his called career and lifestyle. Ethan Hawke turns in the year's most captivating performance as the full-of-despair man of the cloth, pitting himself and his own tragedies against concerns about others, the environment, and the role of ministry in it all. Paul Schrader's screenplay is the true star of the picture, invoking earnest monologues against a grainy, cold upstate New York backdrop.

QUOTE: "Courage is the solution to despair, reason provides no answers. I can't know what the future will bring. We have to choose despite uncertainty. Wisdom is holding two contradictory truths in our mind, simultaneously, hope and despair. A life without despair is a life without hope. Holding these two ideas in our head is life itself."


Nostalgia is sometimes the key to an emotionally sound film. Disney has capitalized on that in recent and upcoming years by revisiting animated classics for a new generation. Where Minding the Gap soars is in its ability to highlight nostalgia, but not for the sake of nostalgia itself. The nostalgia relies solely on Bing Liu's own experiences. The magic is in how he craftily delivers a rousing tale of adolescence, race, class, and social identity through his own nostalgia and memories. It's haunting and emotional, touching and sincere. It's easily the freshest voice in true-life cinema to come along in years.

QUOTE: "Your whole life society tells you, like, "Oh, be a man, and you are strong and you are tough and margaritas are gay," you know? Like, you know,. You don't grow up thinking that's the way you are. When you're a kid, you just do, you just act, and then somewhere along the line, everyone loses that."


The close-ups featured throughout the narrative of If Beale Street Could Talk paint a picture of identity that emotes with every blinking eye. It's in those stares, the stories those eyes are telling, where director Barry Jenkins' draws his best strokes of storytelling genius. As a director, he's become a master at helping his performers discover the depths of their characters and, in Beale Street, he succeeds with aplomb. Regina King will win the Oscar for her tepid and strong mother, yearning for triumph. But, Nicholas Britell's rousing score is the true triumph, parlaying each and every grain of starch dialogue and colorful imagery with the year's most moving sounds.

QUOTE: "Neither love nor terror makes one blind: indifference makes one blind."


Sometimes finding yourself and your place in your community means finding a new community. Such is the case for Lean on Pete's fifteen-year-old protagonist, Charley. New to the Portland area, Charley quickly finds work a washed-up horse trainer and beautiful horse, Pete. On the surface, the film seems like your typical narrative full of sentimentality. But, at its core, Lean on Pete is an honest and earnest discovery of looking towards the future and never looking back. There's something simple in its approach, though it's catapulted into another realm with its captivating cinematography and engrossing performances from Charlie Plummer and Steve Buscemi. It's the type of raw filmmaking that stays with you long after the credits roll.

QUOTE: "I was tired of talking to you twenty minutes after I met you ten years ago."

08. ROMA

There's not much to be said that hasn't been already about Alfonso Cuarón's dedication to unbelievable and new storytelling techniques. Always a fan of using long and carefully choreographed takes has breathed life into certain aspects of filmmaking. Though his most successful achievements are rife with special effects, like Children of Men or Gravity, his greatest masterpiece may lie in Roma, a quiet, heartbreaking tale of a meek maid in the bustle of Mexico City. It's cinematic and epic, even if its lead is normal. The beauty in Roma relies on Cuarón's attention to detail and the respect and care he takes in his performers. The final act will rip into your emotions harder and faster than any other picture this year.

QUOTE: "We are alone. No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone."


Community and family can come in all shapes and sizes. For Debra Granik's two leads in Leave No Trace, community has become a vile, independent, and lonely existence in under a canopy of trees in the Pacific Northwest. Will, played with fervor by Ben Foster, is a former soldier caught up in his own fears and terrors. Tom, serving as one of the best film debuts in years for its actor, Thomasin McKenzie, is Will's sprite teenage daughter, following along her dad's rules while hungering for something more. Once they are caught, her first true tastes of society and togetherness prove that her independence deserves the love and compassion of others. Leave No Trace is a stark look at how the same culture can divulge into separate paths. It's haunting in its simplicity and beautiful in its honesty.

QUOTE: "I don't have the same problem you have."


As he proved with last year's Call Me By Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino knows how to linger just long enough to cause passion, anger, or discomfort. In Suspiria, he cultivates one of the most genius and captivating collection of scenes ever put to screen. Though it is technically a remake, it ventures far deeper than its source material. With a cast of visually interesting performers and a delightfully evil turn by Tilda Swinton in multiple roles, Suspiria works best when it allows its actresses to simply exist in the gloomy and beautiful version of Berlin Guadagnino has created. The film is graphic and unapologetic in its depictions of horror, but even in its gore, it never feels superfluous and only ever purposeful. There's something gorgeous about Suspiria's manic danger and ghoulish colors. If anything, it's the most daring piece of art to be delivered in 2018.

QUOTE: "Love and manipulation, they share houses very often. They are frequent bedfellows."

11 - 50.

Cold War - The Sisters Brothers - Hereditary - BlacKkKlansman - The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - Beautiful Boy - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - Bad Times at the El Royale - Isle of Dogs - Eighth Grade - Tully - Private Life - Can You Ever Forgive Me? - Won't You Be My Neighbor? - Paddington 2 - Disobedience - Capernaum - Wildlife - You Were Never Really Here - A Star is Born - Mary Queen of Scots - Love, Simon - Madeline's Madeline - Boy Erased - Mary Poppins Returns - Mission: Impossible-Fallout - RBG - The Kindergarten Teacher - Shoplifters - The Old Man & the Gun - We the Animals - Colette - Mid90s - Annihilation - Ben is Back - Black Panther - To All the Boys I've Loved Before - The Land of Steady Habits - Crazy Rich Asians - Three Identical Strangers

© 2018 by Scottie Knollin.