This is my fifth year doing my best movies of the year list; And each year that passes does not disappoint. I haven’t blogged in about half a year because I’ve been so caught up with different things. 2018 has been a year of big changes and busy times. Now that I’ve settled down into things, I intend to kick start my voracious appetite for writing all things film and have many movie reviews lined up! And what better way to get into the swing of things by writing about the movies which made the most lasting impact on me.
The best movies I saw this year span, quite refreshingly, from a wide range of themes and genres. Beneath the veneer of the realpolitik of an outside war (which many films happily settle with for subject matter), The Favourite fleshes out the internal turmoil within; A psycho-sexual class-status warfare within the kingdom. Panos Cosmatos’ absolutely insane film Mandy features Nicholas Cage playing a man who’s been thrashed, chewed up and spit out by the most grotesque and hellish forces of this world; Far from just a violent genre film, this is a surprisingly incisive film about cultism, revenge, true love, and making sense of the obscenities of our reality. Coming back with his first film after writing Taxi Driver, Paul Schrader’s provocative First Reformed shows the overbearing alienation a priest feels; A feeling so familiar in times like ours, where the belief systems we trust in begin to fail us. But there is more than gloom in our world, for even the little mundane things in life can simply be enough. Hiroka Kore-eda’s heart-breaker of a film, Shoplifters, and Alfonso Cuaron’s personal childhood in Roma do not mince on the realities of class disparity, inequality and struggle of its characters; But they do more than that. They show, more importantly, that people will not stand for the roles that society has assigned them, and will forge to live courageously and with love even in the most trying times.
So without further ado, here are my 10 best films of 2018.
10. First Reformed
This is an electrifying, haunting and soul-searching film. Paul Schrader, who wrote Taxi Driver, comes swinging without holding anything back. Lush and striking imagery coupled with an uncomfortable sense of dread act as backdrop to Ethan Hawke’s superb performance. A film that subverts the notions of founding values and beliefs, a pastor’s worldview is thrown asunder when the things he experiences contradict with his religious sanctity. Forced to reconcile with nihilism and tragedy, First Reformed paints a bleak picture of a man’s identity under siege; A Kafka-esque portrait of the destructiveness and damage of burgeoning bureaucracy, corporation and corruption that has worked its way into the fabric of life itself.
I’m happy that a film like Tully exists. For all the saccharine depictions of motherhood as a joyful and glowing experience, Tully isn’t afraid to tell the truth; It can often be a laborious and tiring process. Mothers in movies don’t tell you their mundane troubles and they most certainly don’t talk about their pains. Tully is a tribute to the silent and sacrificial struggles of mothers everywhere. Not one to shy away from uncomfortable moments, the film embraces the various personal, mental and psychological trials of motherhood. Often mirroring the hectic nature of life through a worn-out mother’s eyes, the film can be raw and relentless when it needs to be. Yet, perhaps the most remarkable thing about it is its grace and courage in portraying a feeling that mothers should not be ashamed of feeling from time to time; Wanting to feel like a woman again.
Alfonso Cuaron’s beautifully shot and heart-wrenching Roma is a film I personally identified with for many reasons. In a way it is as much Cuaron’s childhood as it is mine. And I can say Cuaron’s depiction captures all the essential elements of the dynamic of families and family maids. Set against the backdrop of Mexico’s societal tumult, Roma is a simple slice-of-life film with lots of heart and complexity in every frame. Yaliza Aparicio’s role as one of the maids in the household adds softness and warmth beneath the strength of a woman who offers everything and only asks to be given her fair shot at true happiness. Roma very sensitively portrays the love and pains of life, the kindness in us, and the women who hold everything together when things fall apart.
7. A Quiet Place
A Quiet Place is that ‘genre’ ‘horror’ film, like some of the best before it (The Witch,Get Out, It Comes At Night, Hereditary), that makes you question the increasing arbitrariness of that term. Genre films, in general (and many horror films especially), have far broken from the cliches and tropes that have held them back. A Quiet Place characterizes this new wave of blending the auteur with the commercial. Highly nail-biting, incredibly well-shot and acted, A Quiet Place is the reason why we go to the movies. But perhaps the most salient point is that the driver of this crowd-pleasing post-apocalyptic thriller is a surprisingly radical and comprehensive world-building approach. For a film that has no dialogue, A Quiet Place quite literally embodies the crux of any artistic endeavour; Show, don’t tell.
Now this one came as a huge surprise and a lesson on why one should always be open-minded. If I told you the premise of a film would be Nicholas Cage going bat-shi* crazy revenge-mode on crazy drugged-induced cultists who kidnapped his wife, would you give it a watch? If you said no, you would’ve missed the most visually stunning film of 2018 hands down. No other film has been so immersive. No other film was so innovatively shot that you feel defiled by the depravity yet in awe at its visual flair; Each aspect enhanced the other. What I witnessed was a time-warping and sense-distorting cosmos of terrifying beauty that pervaded every frame. Call it what you will; Surreal realism, beautiful, haunting or Nicholas Cage meets experimental film…Nothing can truly describe this jaw-dropping creation. Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy is at once a psychedelic thriller about revenge and an incisive look at the perverseness of cultism.
5. We The Animals
We The Animals, directed by Jeremiah Zagar, is based on a novel of the same name. While the book drew some criticism for it’s fragmented diction and style of writing, Zagar’s film adaptation adds layers to this uncompromising glimpse of life in hard times. We The Animals is an exploration of the lasting effects a dysfunctional household can have on a generation and the troubling identity crises of the youngest child who is the most sensitive to the ever tenuous and unstable environment around him. Personally connecting with some of the most heart-breaking moments of this film, We The Animals is a portrait of life in a family where extremes are the only normal, where there is either love or hurt, affection or pain. An astute film about the class crises and those who live on the fringe, We The Animals is a heart-breaking film about the realities of growing up constantly searching for security in an environment that is unable to provide reprieve or comfort.
4. Eighth Grade
Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is a film so in touch with the realities of being an adolescent in the age of social media. Elsie Fisher’s character brings us back to when we were at the stage of becoming a teenager; A period of navigating this awkward, overwhelming and sometimes scary phase of discovering our bodies, our hopes, our friendships and above all our identity. It is a beautiful and honest tribute to boys and girls who feel caught up in the weirdly depersonalizing stage of their life, where online personas determine real life status and the ones who are different are often segregated. Recognizing that adolescence is predominated by an absurd terrain of body-image, status and unrealistic expectations, Eighth Grade shows that true fulfillment starts with becoming comfortable with who you really are.
3. The Favourite
Yorgos Lanthimos’ (The Lobster, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer) The Favourite is an exceptional film. Subverting traditional themes of patriarchy, warring nations and battlefields, this Victorian piece prefers to take a look within. Into this political jungle of favouritism, class and status, we see the matrons of the kingdom wield the strongest hands. Muddying the relationship between servant-and-master, queen-and-subject, caretaker-and-lover, The Favourite is a sharp film about the struggle to stay relevant when our positions have been threatened and the lengths we go to preserve our own worth. Dark and wry with a twisted sense of humour, the lingering feeling of despair and emptiness (exaggerated by the fish-eye camera perspective Lanthimos employs) perfectly juxtaposes the raging tempest from within.
Shoplifters is one of the most heart-breaking films I have ever seen. Behind the corners of alleyways in Japan, the film spotlights a family living on the fringes. When a stray child crosses paths with the family, they take her into their life and come to accept her as their own. This emotional film is so heart-breaking in every little way. Discussing issues of isolation, sex, domestic violence, theft, poverty and family, Shoplifters is authentic about its imperfect characters and their livelihood in an even more imperfect world. A tear-jerking, heart-shattering film about the marginalized in our community and the way in which they refuse to accept the roles that society expects of them. It is a tribute to those who give everything when they have little…how devastating our world can sometimes be where the only ones who offer to heal the broken are the ones who are broken themselves.
Directed by Lee Chang Dong. Cast: Ah-In Yoo, Steven Yuen, Jong-Seo Jun
Burning, is without a shred of doubt, the most provocative and intriguing film I’ve ever seen. With a tapestry of confounding and mysterious events, half-truths, ambiguous narratives and a deliberate emphasis on withholding information from both the protagonist and the viewers, Burning is a tempestuous flame that burns long after its narrative has extinguished. There has not been a film that so beautifully portrays the complexities of our state of being in this world; There are things we will never understand, people we never get to fully grasp, events we will never make sense of. And perhaps, the greatest tragedy of all is how man’s most instinctual need for control and certainty becomes even more apparent when we have lost socio-economic security in the 21st century. Based on Haruki Murakami’s short story, Barn Burning, this film is a complexly woven story intertwining the lives of three very different characters. Rapturous imagery is juxtaposed so painfully with melancholic despair in a film that intertwines nationalistic narratives of socio-class anxiety, desire and a tragic need for certainty in an uncertain world. Burning is a masterpiece.
What do you guys think? What made your list of best films of 2018? 🙂
- Burning 10/10
- Shoplifters 10/10
- The Favourite 10/10
- Eighth Grade 10/10
- We The Animals 10/10
- Mandy 9/10
- A Quiet Place 9/10
- Roma 9/10
- Tully 9/10
- First Reformed 8.2/10
You Were Never Really Here, Annihilation, Thoroughbreds, Isle Of Dogs, Hereditary, Black Panther