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Favorite Films of 2018 (18-14)

2018 wasn’t the best year for blockbusters though movies like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians made history. The Oscar nominations are home to such dreck as Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book, which only goes to show how out of touch that institution is and how badly needs it to be overhauled. However, 2018 was a great year for documentaries, indie films, female directors and new talent in general, and I can easily see many of these films as the starts of long, fruitful careers or major influences on newer generations of filmmakers.

18. If Beale Street Could Talk

Dir. Barry Jenkins, starring Kiki Layne, Stefan James, Brian Tyree Henry, Regina King, et al

Beale Street follows Tish and Fonny as they tried to navigate the obstacles of their relationship, not the least of which is Fonny’s imprisonment on a questionable rape charge. It is a beautiful, impeccably directed work - from the muted yet stately cinematography and color palate to the evocative Nicholas Britell score, so I am surprised I didn’t respond to this work as much as I did Moonlight. Perhaps my hesitation stems from the annoying thought that as much as I like what I have seen from Barry Jenkins so far, it seems that his debt to modern master such as Wong Kar Wai is too prominent for me to see past. This tragic yet understated romance between two of the most gorgeous people I have ever seen is still worth seeing even if I think this movie will be considered old-fashioned in a decade.

17. The Rider

Dir. Chloe Zhao, starring Brady Jandreau, et al

The Rider was yet another film that I felt wore its indebtedness to a film master a little too obviously: Terrence Malick. This movie borders on documentary as it follows Brady Jandreau playing a lightly fictionalized version of himself as a cowboy who has suffered a serious injury that could prevent him from doing what he wants to do most - train horses. Yet even for a Malick homage, of which there have been many, this is probably one of the better ones that I have seen, and I never felt Zhao condescending to her subject matter. I did feel her great empathy, especially in how she could make something as simple in concept as training a horse so beautiful to behold.

16. Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Dir. Christopher McQuarrie, starring Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, et al

2018 was pretty skimpy on realistic action thrillers, but I think Fallout more than compensated for it with its innovative and well-directed action set pieces. I really couldn’t tell you the plot of this movie unless I really tried, but each action scene was just so well-choreographed that you could study all of them and realize how things like timing, editing and most of all, full physical and mental commitment to the role are so crucial to making such a scene great. As problematic as Tom Cruise is, there is no denying he is our greatest action star. Just his ability to run without looking like a dork is a good enough reason to hang a whole franchise on him.

15. Annihilation

Dir. Alex Garland, starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Oscar Isaac, et al

A movie I was glad to see in a theater for the striking, otherworldly visuals and the overwhelming sound design and score. Natalie Portman plays a scientist who leads a reconnaissance group into the ‘Shimmer,’ a slowly expanding bubble in which living things take on bizarre and sometimes terrifying forms. I felt a true sense of awe while watching this movie just at the depth of imagination on screen and the implications of the complex universe that the movie portrayed. It also easily has one of the best monsters I have seen in awhile in the screaming bear (not nearly as comical as it sounds).

14. The Favourite

Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, et al

Even if it’s my least favorite of Lanthimos’ films, this chamber drama that is both a comedy of manners and a soap opera of deceit, intrigue and scandal set during the reign of Queen Anne is still a masterful film. Despite its luxurious setting, this drama feels nasty and sometimes quite cold as Queen Anne and her two consorts, both of whom could be deemed her ‘favourite’ at one point or another, play a complicated game of emotional manipulation for very different reasons. Olivia Colman easily gives the year’s best performance as she commits heartily to her character’s pettiness, tragicness and pain, both physical and mental.

 

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