The 25 Essential Films of 2018
To commence the start of a film website, we have to celebrate the reason why we are all here. It is natural to say that we (I, the writer, and you, the reader) have a likely obsession with cinema. It would come as no surprise that the very first piece of content posted onto this website is a passion project: an assemblage of the greatest films of 2018.
What a year 2018 was. The deceptive trait that any year in film has is that we often don’t realize how strong a year was until the tail end (you can blame the “awards season” pushes in the winter for that). 2018 felt like it was following 2017’s lead, where we had some strong works earlier in the year and just-as-strong films later on. 2017 was a good year. 2018 is a considerably stellar year. I never like to throw these lists together at the last second (well, outside of the actual writing portion of them, anyways). I keep a comprehensive document open all year with all of the films I watch (including the bad ones). I can honestly confirm that works I had in the top 5 have even ended up near the 20th spot. Could there have been a better year in recent memory to start a film-geared website? Maybe not.
Many of these works had something to say about society. Some of these films were heavily political in nature; some films were more subtle in their approach simply through casting decisions or who the lead characters were. Other examples were much more abrasive — almost anarchistic — as a means of retaliation towards our current climate (and some of the more orthodox films released). Perhaps this is why 2018 ended up being such a strong year cinematically: you will find that almost all of these works had something significant to say, as if from a place of hunger and pressure.
To open up Films Fatale (a dream of mine) for good, and to say farewell to a magnificent year in cinema (whilst looking forward to where the medium will go), here are the twenty five best films of 2018.
25. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
There are six tales here, and death is anchored within all of them. Sure, everyone and everything passes away, but The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is fixated on the different legacies one’s demise can leave. Will anyone care in the wild west, where we are all as individual as the one bullet in the chamber that can end it all? As the anthology progresses, you will try your best to figure out who will die (and how), because you know it’s coming. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is like life: some of it is uncomfortably humorous, and some of it is nauseatingly stressful. Don’t worry, because it will all come to an end.
24. Paddington 2
Directed by Paul King
You might not find a more faithful sequel when it comes to family friendly films. Put Paddington 1 and 2 back to back, and it will honestly feel like you have viewed a single film. The tone is consistent, and none of the magic from the first (and, well, safe) film has disappeared. Paddington 2 excels by taking the clever analogy to the refugee crisis in Britain (from the first film) and likening the titular cub to the racial insensitivities brought out by the current heated climates worldwide. It’s not just socially aware, as it’s moving, too. I take pride in feeling like a wide-eyed child once again after Paddington 2.
23. Crazy Rich Asians
Directed by Jon Chu
You can insist that Crazy Rich Asians is like many typical romantic comedies. It is just different enough to tip-toe on the lines of conventionality and revitalization. Part of this is hearing a story we all know by a different voice, and another part is allowing this story to be tinkered with just enough. You might be able to predict the ending from a mile away, but you will feel so enthusiastic to take this path this time around. Crazy Rich Asians is lively, vibrant and full of love. Finally, a mainstream common rom-com that doesn’t feel like a product of the machine.
22. First Man
Directed by Damien Chazelle
The story behind Neil Armstrong’s quest to reach the moon was given a tasteful treatment here. The controversy surrounding the “infamous” flag scene (or lack thereof) was ludicrous, especially since the film has, graciously, taken a more personal approach towards the mission. Armstrong pushed harder for those that he loved, not to boast his nation in front of other competing countries. Besides, the achievement was a milestone for all of humanity, not for one group of people alone. Knowing the severity of the project makes each and every rocky experiment leading up to it pressurizing; it also renders the ending beautifully blissful.
Directed by Lee Chang-dong
Life can be funny, sometimes. So much of what happens in Burning occurs almost in a flash. One’s past returns, and Burning exploits this by lingering. At two and a half hours, it takes its time. For us viewers, it is a breathtaking journey where every second is vital for your soul. Its thrills are no laughing matter, as patience turns into a brooding crawl. Cinema is like the most significant moments of our life, as time gets manipulated in both. Joy speeds everything up. Dread makes you linger in hell. Burning exploits it all.
20. Beautiful Boy
Directed by Felix van Greeningen
It is true. Beautiful Boy is extremely specific with its song choices to the point of blatant obviousness. It does wallow in one specific mindset for its duration. However, I will defend this film as long as I need to. It places you within the mindset of a conflicted father. Does he grieve for the son he once had, or does he fight continuously to get him back? This true story on addiction is a stirring miasma of feelings. The grey area between anger and sadness is so well executed here, you could swear you were witnessing these confrontations in person.
Directed by Ari Aster
It feels great to have a horror movie that cares more about being whole than it does about jump scares. Much of Hereditary comes from its stealth. I can’t recall many moments that lunge towards you. No. Hereditary works deviously; it allows you to be tortured before it goes in for its kill. It creates a severity you feel in your core when it comes to the torn family. What does it choose for its coup de grâce? An aberrant twist conclusion that pulls the rug from underneath you. Now, that is how you make horror surprising again.
18. Black Panther
Directed by Ryan Coogler
It’s no secret that Black Panther is the greatest Marvel movie to many people now. Even if the film wasn’t one that you enjoyed, the zeitgeist it created is impossible to ignore. It spoke to comic book fans by raising the bar. It provided a voice. It channeled the works of independent works that Coogler was previously known for. As I write this, it is worth noting that Black Panther — while having been available for home release for many months now — is still being played in select theatres. Its mixture of poignancy, fun, and commentary continues to thrive today.
17. You Were Never Really Here
Directed by Lynne Ramsay
We had two art house films anchored around a psychopathic murderer this year; without naming other names, You Were Never Really Here proves that a disturbing picture can also not be inherently geared by exploitation. Joe is powered by thoughts of suicide; even though he murders evil people to save those that are imprisoned, he devalues himself and insists he is a monster. This mission goes sour. His deepest fears and strongest dreams — all entwined together — can come true at any second. Most deaths are hidden, making you tremble just thinking about what the big reveal will be like. The climax is unruly yet a gigantic sigh of relief.
16. Eighth Grade
Directed by Bo Burnham
Sure, Burnham is an all-around likeable guy. What he did with Eighth Grade — a commanding coming-of-age film — is, perhaps, beyond what anyone even expected of his first film (even his biggest fans). The film is deadly accurate when it comes to recreating juvenile angst and isolation, to the point that I myself was transported back to elementary school again. The world building is hyperreal, to the point that the infamous scene (yes, that scene) becomes nauseating; you want to jump in and help, and there is nothing you can do. Eighth Grade gets trends, but it understands universality even more.
15. Sorry to Bother You
Directed by Boots Riley
Sorry to Bother You starts off weird, like Riley had graduated from the school of Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze. A telemarketer's calls literally (or, for us literally) plants him in the houses of the people he is contacting. His girlfriend’s art is a little too meta for us to not notice and be enthralled by. There is much to say here when it comes to social politics, and it hits every note perfectly. Suddenly, the final act happens, and it feels like an avant-garde ambush. Sorry to Bother You is likely the most unpredictable film of 2018, and that makes its lead character’s initial shyness all the more hilarious.
14. Vox Lux
Directed by Brady Corbet
What happens when Celeste’s traumatic experience becomes the centre of attention? She uses her voice to unite everyone through hope. Suddenly, her life is propelled into superstardom. Nearly twenty years later, we spend a day in the life of the now-iconic Celeste. Vox Lux is the artistic take on witnessing someone being pulled by four horses in various directions. Celeste is arrogant, because her fan base worships her. She hates herself, because the media made her the devil. She is fearful, because the worst moment of her life haunts her. She is confident, because she has to stay strong for her child and manager. This is minimalism and maximalism done right, and it’s as strong as it is sweet.
13. The Rider
Directed by Chloé Zhao
We can all use a film that instills perseverance, and you might not find any film as strong in that department as The Rider. The concern is that Brady has much to take into consideration when it comes to all that he loves. He cannot ride horses anymore due to his life altering injury; each and every seizure could be his last. He cannot give up on his family, because his father makes poor decisions and his sister needs his help. In this game of choices, The Rider allows you to sit with all possibilities for long enough to make each decision challenging regardless.
12. The Hate U Give
Directed by George Tillman Jr.
Not many high school centred films spend so much energy on going the route least expected. The Hate U Give gets all of the predictable minutiae out of the way quickly, which renders the rest of the film mysterious. Where will this hate crime go? In what ways will Starr’s world around her be affected? The inclusion of clever subplots also makes each and every decision more than just a game of chess; you’re witnessing the butterfly effect take place next door, not around the world (although that does occur here, too). This film isn’t just aware. It is smartly profound.
11. A Star is Born
Directed by Bradley Cooper
Did anyone expect this to be as great of a film as it is? Just because it is the third remake of a film (let’s clarify: that means the fourth film based on the same story), that doesn’t mean it has to be awful. The fact that it is more than even just decent (much more, in fact) is a shock. Well, that’s thanks to the devotion A Star is Born 4.0 has to comparing the musical directions an artist may face in the new millennium. Do you struggle to find artistic merit, or ride the wave and make your dreams come true (perhaps not in the way you predicted)? Like a great folk tale, we may know how this one goes, but the way this one is told makes it substantial.
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda
The relevancy that Shoplifters carries in 2018 is staggering. The winner of the prestigious Palme D’or at the Cannes film festival is driven by a family that is cursed by poverty and steals to get by. When they come across a young girl that was all alone, they take her in. When they find out she has been subjected to abuse and mistreatment, they vow to take care of her. The drama that escalates around this noble deed engulfs the entire picture. How much of this film would have been different if this family were rich? The heart is pure in Shoplifters, and your own heart will be crushed.
9. First Reformed
Directed by Paul Schrader
Schrader might insist that the similarities between First Reformed and Taxi Driver are coincidental, but that might be a testament to how the prophecies that tainted these lead characters have never quite disappeared. Reverend Toller can see the end is near, and God is not the one to come down to him (rather, he is to die sooner than he expected). His eyes are opened about the world suffering, and he questions how humanity will atone for killing God’s greatest creation. Fear turns into hate, and faith turns into motivation. By the harrowing ending, you may not be sure how to feel. I think Schrader loves that level of moral confusion in his works.
8. Isle of Dogs
Directed by Wes Anderson
When Anderson set up his second animated feature to be his take on the works of Akira Kurosawa, maybe some of us had some questions. Sure, Isle of Dogs takes place in Japan, but what more could there be? Well, Anderson mimicked the soul that Kurosawa used to inject into his works, to the point of making this dystopia comedy-drama quite possibly his most emotional work to date. With some textually gorgeous scenes, and the artistic flair that Anderson is never short of, Isle of Dogs is yet another home run for the quirky auteur.
7. If Beale Street Could Talk
Directed by Barry Jenkins
Poetically driven visual story telling might just be Jenkins’ niche. With this adaptation of the late James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, he has crafted a much more literary work this time around. We hop between the past and the present (or what we think is the present) like an anxious mind, hoping that a miracle will take place and justice will be served. Time is of the essence, with a baby on the way and the amount of hours an innocent man is wasting in a place he doesn’t belong. If Beale Street Could Talk points out the distance we have made as a society since Baldwin initially wrote these words, but it also shows us that we have a very long way to go still with its relatability to today.
Directed by Steve McQueen
This pseudo-action thriller might only deliver the “goods” a little bit when it comes to the actual speed, but I was much more enthralled by the complexities of the storylines in all honesty. Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen together made a modern political drama that is disguised as a familial-based heist (although this heist is still crucial to all that are featured in this narrative). Most of Widows is planning, whether it be the blueprints to pull off a robbery to save the lives of those affected by a crime gone wrong, or the structure of crooked politics. That is why the action, while brief, is the best kind of payoff.
5. Cold War
Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Music is the basis of this period piece. It is the unifying theme between the varying classes in a divided Poland (Europe, too). Music connects, and it shows the similarities two people of different worlds might have. The romance in Cold War suffers, because of the temperamental world and due to self destruction. The ending is the ultimate form of bittersweet: it’s freedom mixed with a definitive conclusion. At least everything made perfect sense just for that split moment for these leads. For us, we see endless possibilities (good and bad) that could have come after. There is no certainty here, and it makes the film’s aura unforgettable.
Directed by Alex Garland
An early contender for film of the year, Annihilation is a meta masterpiece. The closer to the Shimmer you get, the more the film begins to deteriorate: acoustic guitars become ambient drone, solid title cards turn into psychedelic credits, and scientific certainty becomes experimental exercises left for your interpretation. This pseudo blockbuster is a breath of fresh air (perhaps tainted by iridescent contaminants), because it allowed an action-horror film to have wits and guts once again. Annihilation doesn’t just refer to the subsuming of all biological forms by the Shimmer: it forewarns its rebellion against mainstream monotony (and it succeeded greatly).
Directed by Spike Lee
Fibbed just a smidgen to bring the film closer to the early ‘70s, so Lee could infuse the story with his favourite Blaxploitation films, BlacKkKlansman is a true tale that seems flat out impossible. When it comes to the dimwittedness of bigotry, fact can easily be stranger than fiction, because hatred puts blinders on (thus allowing such a pivotal investigation to take place). The mixture between comedy and drama allows this film to be incredibly uncomfortable, which makes sense for such a politically conscious film. Lee, as always, has a lot to say. Between the strong narrative, the bold opening and closing sequences, and all of the grit in between, Lee made his best statement since Do The Right Thing.
2. The Favourite
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Every two dozen years or so, an absurdist satire is released; it is so relevant, that all walks of life will tune in, even if they usually wouldn’t. The Favourite is your typical Lanthimos production (as in it’s hysterically bizarre). You could state that its subject matter and its star studded cast are the main reasons why it has achieved much more universal success than his previous works. I think it’s because we just needed an outrageous arthouse statement on the powers-that-be in 2018. With a dash of Barry Lyndon, a spoonful of All About Eve, and the tiniest pinch of Tom Jones (the experimentation: virtually the only good thing about it), The Favourite is the best kind of nightmare; by the avant-garde ending shot, you’ll know what insanity feels like.
Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
At this point, I don’t even consider Roma to be the best film of 2018. The four above entries in the top 5 are those titles for me. No. Roma has already solidified itself, perhaps, as the greatest film of this decade. In a time where comic book films, franchises, remakes and sequels have dominated the box office for years, Roma brings us back to the early uses of cinema. We still have a cinema of attractions, but Roma reminds us what it once was. Exposition is delivered strictly by the environment around us, so we have to piece together the setting ourselves. We get immersed, and when we start to go by each day a little bit more quickly. Many months later, and we are ambushed by some of the most difficult scenes we’ve had to face all year.
Roma’s theme of women being left to be alone hits hard. We can imagine mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, anyone being placed in this kind of position. When it comes to the two women in the film that experience this the most (Cleo and Sofia), you will see this fear come to life to two people in very different situations. Cuarón aimed to tell a specific story in the most ambitious of ways. I am actually saddened that Roger Ebert and Richard Corliss aren’t around anymore to have witnessed such a film, because it is the kind of work that defines an entire generation cinematically. This is the type of opus that can take a decades-long cinephile, and change everything they knew about the language.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.