best film: RomaCuaron is a proven master of cinema with a top 100 of all-time film under his belt (Children of Men in 2006) who may have topped himself (though I’m not there yet). Gorgeous 65mm black and white, rich canvasses of mise-en-scene, formal precision that highlights and enriches the rest of his oeuvre. That said- this was no easy slam-dunk for Roma. Both The Favourite and Cold War are masterpieces and could easily be the #1 film. This makes for a top three that I think contends very well with 2010, 2011, and 2014 for the best top 3 of the decade thus far.

most underrated:  WidowsAll of that about my top three and number four here is no slouch. TSPDT hasn’t released their 2018 rankings so I’m using Metacritic’s composite critics list and this one currently sits at #19. That’s insulting to McQueen’s work and I think more of a statement of the perceived artistic seriousness of the genre he was working in (sort of the opposite of his 2013 12 Years a Slave– the films themselves as art are on equal footing but the reaction from the critics quite different). The sprawling ensemble is excellent, the 360-degree shot of Daniel Kaluuya performing an execution on the basketball court is a dazzler. And one of the shots of the year (and there were some awesome ones to top this) was the fixed camera on the car as we go from a Chicago projects to the mansion of Colin Farrell’s character). It is style as narrative as its finest.

most overrated:  Eighth GradeThe praise for Eighth Grade (currently #5 on the composite MC critics’ list) baffles me a bit. I put it in the archives after a second viewing because of some of its modest formal components but the reliance on pop culture references and the adequate, but unexceptional, coming-of-age genre tropes put it closer to the 25th best film of the year than the 5th. A great summation of coming of aged shared experience—sure—great art? Absolutely not.

gem I want to spotlight:  The Favourite. It’s been exciting to track Yorgos Lanthimos’ ascendence since 2009’s Dogtooth (which arrived like a welcomed alien—unique, beautiful). The Favoruite, with the impeccable set design and fisheye lens stylistic punch is fulfilling on the promise of Lanthimos’ talent foreshadowed nearly a decade ago. The Lobster was excellent, The Killing of a Sacred Deer was a step backwards- so this is a summit to the top to be applauded.

trends and notables:  Impossibly enough, two of the three masterpieces from 2018 are in black and white. They are colossal achievements of cinematic mise-en-scene and photography. They both tell the story of their respective auteur’s memory and personal history. 2018 feels like a disappointment for both Wes Anderson and Damien Chazelle. First Man and Isle of Dogs are in the archives but aren’t up to snuff with their two films previously set forth by both auteurs this decade. Cuaron, McQueen and Pawlikowski last converged on the top 10 in 2018 so this was no surprise for these three brilliant auteurs to take 3 of the top 4 spots. Set your watches for 2023. The incomparable Spike Lee gave us a top 10 film for the first time since 2002, the Coogler/Jordan auteur/muse combo feel like the real deal and Emma Stone has officially proven herself as the actress of the 2010’s- it’s over. Ari Aster broken onto the scene in a big way with his Hereditary debut. Barry Jenkins proved Moonlight was no fluke with Beal Street. As for Netflix, Amazon—I don’t get into that industry stuff but it certainly feels like a sea change.

best performance male: Two of 2017’s (so not here on this list obviously) best male performances arrived late—Ethan Hawke and Joaquin Phoenix in First Reformed and You Were Never Really Here respectively) and I’m hoping that’s what happens here  in 2018 because, if not, this is an extremely weak year here in this category. My three best performances are all supporting. Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger is the best action or superhero villain since Heath Ledger in 2008. His arrival and Coup d’état is the revolution that takes over the film (through Coogler’s brilliant upside down tracking shot). Daniel Kaluuya shows up here in back to back years as the horrifying sociopath in Widows. He’s on screen for like 10 minutes and lights the screen on fire (something he shares with Jordan’s performance). In 2017’s Get Out he shows fear, in 2018 he causes it. My last mention here is Steven Yeun in Burning. His performance is more of a slow-burn than Kaluuya or Jordan’s. He internalizes and  mystifies but he’s just as captivating.

best performance female: We’re loaded here. Joanna Kulig takes the #1 slot but without inspecting further (I’ve seen Cold War and The Favourite only once a piece so far) it’s hard to tell if she’s superior to the trio of Emma Stone, Olivia Coleman and Rachel Weisz– or that it’s just that she doesn’t have to share the screen with someone on her level). Either way, Kulig is hypnotic, tragic, and utterly impossible not to watch in awe. Regardless of who ends up taking the top slot years from now these four give the performances of the year in any order you put them. Rounding out my top performances of the year is Toni Collette in Hereditary. Like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby this film works as a straight drama (in this case a family drama) without the horror and like those two genre masterpieces, this one had a leading lady performance that ranks amongst the best of the year (it would no insult to Mia Farrow or Ellen Burstyn to include Collete’s among them).

top 10

  1. Roma
  2. The Favourite
  3. Cold War
  4. Widows
  5. Burning
  6. Hereditary
  7. Black Panther
  8. If Beale Street Could Talk
  9. Blackkklansman
  10. Annihilation

Archives, Directors and Grades

A Star is BornR
Annihilation- GarlandHR
Black Panther- CooglerHR
BlacKkKlansman- S. LeeHR
Burning- Chang-dong LeeMS
Can You Ever Forgive Me? R
Cold War- PawlikowskiMP
Eighth GradeR
First Man – ChazelleR
HereditaryHR/MS
HomecomingR/HR
If Beale Street Could Talk – B. JenkinsHR
Isle of Dogs- Wes AndersonR/HR
Leave No Trace- GranikR
MandyR
Mission Impossible- Fallout R
Roma- CuaronMP
Sorry to Bother You R
Suspiria- GuadagninoR
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – CoenR
The Favourite- LanthimosMP
The Sisters Brothers – AudiardR
Tully – J. ReitmanR
Vice- McKayR
Widows- McQueenMS

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives