Looking Back: Alex's Top 10 Favorite Films of 2018 - Vox Cinema Lux
by Alex Billington
January 24, 2019
"I keep feeling like big moments get stolen away from me." Another year, another Top 10 list. And although we're already well into 2019, it's never too late to share this list. It's time to present my personal list of my Top 10 Favorite Films of 2018. Admittedly, it's always a challenge for me to put together a Top 10 list, just because there's never enough time to watch (and rewatch) everything. Many of these I really wanted to see again before writing about. So I just have to go with what I feel in my gut. My top three this year are some of the most innovative, ambitious, and awe-inspiring films I've seen in a long time - and I love them all in equal measure. So I ranked them here anyway but could easily switch them around depending on how I feel each day. But I am more than happy to reveal my favorites, all the films I fell madly in love with in 2018.
In addition to writing about these films, I recorded a podcast discussing my Top 10 with my friend Mike for our show The First Word. You can listen to that episode here and listen to more commentary on each one.
For last year's Top 10 of 2017 list, topped by Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name, click here. You can also see Adam's list of his Top 10 of 2018 here or Courtney's list of the Top 10 Favorite Film Scores of 2018.
A few notes: this is a list of my favorite films, not the best films of the year, these are the ones that I love for my own reasons and I'll try to explain why with each one. As always, I wish I had so much more to time to watch/rewatch films, and see everything else that played in 2018, but that's impossible so this is just what I decided to run with. Also - my film selection is based on the date when I originally saw the film at a public event, including film festivals (Venice, Sundance) or public releases limited or otherwise. This is not based on only films released in 2018, but the ones I experienced in 2018, and is a good representation of the best cinema has given us, in my opinion. I'm always a bit shy to share these picks, but they really are films I love.
#10. Widows directed by Steve McQueen / Blindspotting directed by Carlos López Estrada
I couldn't decide between these two, and decided to just put both of them on here and call it a tie. They're both fantastic films made by such fierce, passionate filmmakers who push things as far to the edge as they possibly can. Perhaps they even push them over the edge at times to show us how much we can all continue to expand our cinematic horizons and still not lose sight of how vital the storytelling is. Steve McQueen's latest, Widows, is a gnarly, gritty heist thriller and it's badass. He takes the material and elevates it with style and intensity into a gripping thrill ride around Chicago. I admire how political it gets beyond the main storyline with the wives as there's plenty worked in, and McQueen knows what he's doing. Blindspotting is one of the most socially relevant, topical, and important works of cinematic art to be made in these times. The delicate balance between hilarious comedy and biting commentary, with unforgettable performances from Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal pulling all together, is truly awe-inspiring. Both of these films rule.
#9. If Beale Street Could Talk directed by Barry Jenkins
This film is pure bliss. It's essentially love as cinema. Barry Jenkins is a master. And he just keeps getting better and better with every film he makes. I actually like If Beale Street Could Talk more than Moonlight. I didn't want it to end, I wanted to spend more time with Tish and Fonny, watching them grow up to become lovely parents, raising a kid that will also grow up to be a wonderful person. This score by Nicholas Britell is so sumptuous and magical, enhancing this heartrending love story that would most certainly make James Baldwin proud. The way that Kiki Layne & Stephan James look at each in his film melts my heart. Just the way their eyes light up, that glimmer, it's the genuine look of love and gave me a chill. My goodness. This is also the best lit film I've seen all year, the colors and the cinematography is so warm and welcoming. It's a tender portrait of love in this time of turmoil, a time capsule that shall be cherished and celebrated forever.
#8. The Favourite directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
This film has grown on me quite a bit since I first saw it at the Venice Film Festival in the fall, and I think it certainly deserves a spot on here. It's such delightful decadence, the pinnacle of amusing absurdity. Yorgos Lanthimos has topped himself in ways I didn't even think possible, and I don't usually like costume period pieces but this one had me laughing my ass off. It's packed with ridiculousness galore, which he serves up to us to cackle at with utter joy. Emma Stone, goodness gracious, is just the greatest. And the two other main performances - Olivia Colman and Rachel Weisz - are just as magnificent and memorable. It's crazy that Lanthimos can make fish eye lens shots actually work in the context of a wacky comedy period piece, but I love the cinematography in this. This might be the most I laughed in a film out of anything I saw last year, because it's so crazy and so much fun and so wicked. All hail our one and only true queen - Olivia Colman.
#7. Mission: Impossible - Fallout directed by Christopher McQuarrie
This movie kicks so much ass. I wasn't a big fan of McQuarrie's Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation before this, but he finally got the right mix and Fallout turned out near perfect. It's an extraordinary action movie, built around some fantastically choreographed scenes but also punched up with a script that's on par with the action. Tom Cruise is also at his best, not only with the stunts and making all the action believable, but keeping us invested in Ethan Hunt even though he's been through a lot already. The score works well with the movie, even though it sounds way too much like The Dark Knight. Then again, the whole movie is a lot like The Dark Knight, but you know what they say: "Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination." And despite the comparison, I still think Fallout is awesome and deserves all the acclaim it has earned. It's also another movie I can rewatch at any time and still be amazed.
#6. The Old Man & The Gun directed by David Lowery
I fell in love with this film from the moment it start. Another instant favorite. The filmmaking in this is on a whole other level. I totally love the vintage look and feel, I love the music cues, I love all the title cards. This film really had me wrapped up in it, such a terrific tribute to & superb finale for Robert Redford (though who knows if it's truly his last film?). Writer/director David Lowery really embraces the whole concept, and references so many of Redford's past films, to make something so engaging and entertaining. It's funny, endearing, and sincere. Redford's performance is only matched by Sissy Spacek's charm and brilliance, with the spark between them being so strong. It's amusing that a film can be crafted in such a way that we can fall in love with and feel inspired by an armed bank robber, but that is indeed the mark of truly great filmmaking. This is one film I know I'll be revisiting in the years to come and will still enjoy every last scene.
#5. First Man directed by Damien Chazelle
To the moon we go! Yes, I do love Damien Chazelle and (including this one) his last three films have all made it onto my Top 10 over the last few years. But he's a brilliant young filmmaker who keeps making phenomenal films, no matter what he tries, and First Man is another phenomenal work of cinema. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect with a story about Neil Armstrong, considering he's infamously known as an unemotional, reserved man who has remained out of the spotlight ever since landing on the Moon back in 1969. But Chazelle achieves the impossible, crafting a story that is fully of very subtle, very deep emotions on top of a film that is a technical masterpiece. The sound design and sound mixing, the intimate and grainy cinematography, are all top notch - some of the best work in any film from 2018. And the score by Justin Hurwitz (especially the track "The Landing") is one for the ages. I saw this for a second time in IMAX, and the moment it goes full-frame IMAX once they step out onto the Moon literally took my breath away. That second viewing confirmed that this belongs in my Top 10, and I have no shame in admitting I love this film.
#4. Shirkers directed by Sandi Tan
There's always a documentary that makes it on my Top 10 and this year it's Sandi Tan's Shirkers. What an extraordinary film, what a frustrating, fascinating, remarkable story. I am so glad that Sandi Tan decided to look back at her past and tell this story. She has made a film that is not just one film, but many films, and allows to take a glimpse into her life - exploring her pain and frustration after trying to make a film that was stolen by a greedy man, but giving us such a beautiful work of art in the end, even if it took 20 years for it to see the light of day. The moment I watched this, I got my laptop and started writing because I couldn't help it - the words flowed right out of me. In my review: "To imagine all the time it has taken her to prepare her mind to do this, to spend the time to make this and tell this story like she does. With so much confidence, and grace, with so much openness and boundless honesty. We can all learn so much from Sandi in this. We can gain wisdom from her storytelling techniques - the way she speaks about herself and reflects on herself."
#3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse directed by Persichetti / Ramsey / Rothman
This honestly should be higher on my list, but all three of my top films from 2018 are masterpieces - and I love each one of them for all kinds of different reasons. But this one is a game-changer. Into the Spider-Verse is truly a thwipping mind-blowing, risk-taking, genre re-defining, comic book movie masterpiece. A comic book movie revolution I could watch it every week in theaters and never get bored. This movie rocks on so many levels - it's a giant leap forward, and a complete joy to watch every time. One of this movies that just fills me with happiness every second it's on screen. It's extremely ambitious yet they land every leap they take, and it's inspiring and exhilarating in hundreds of ways. I listen to the soundtrack and the score all the time - Daniel Pemberton is an brilliant, highly underrated composer. It's hard to watch any superhero movie after this and not think about how much they've changed the entire genre now. This sets a precedent for how incredible comic book movies really can be when they let loose and don't hold back with creativity.
#2. Vox Lux directed by Brady Corbet
Love it, or hate it, I believe this film is seriously ahead of its time. And will be regarded as the masterpiece that it truly is with more time. Brady Corbet has made a brutally honest, biting, vibrant film disguised as savage social commentary about pop culture and pop stars and the problems (we don't want to talk about) with contemporary society. This is one of a few films on this list that I saw at the Venice Film Festival last year that totally blew me away. I started applauding at scenes halfway through, and couldn't stop smiling by the end. I wrote in my coverage that, "this is actor Brady Corbet's second feature film as a director, and he proves that he is certainly very talented and incredibly ambitious in making big, crazy, daring films that go against the grain. And it's because he has something to say, and he gives us a film that says this so viscerally, in such a shocking but awe-inspiring way." Natalie Portman and Raffey Cassidy rock in their roles, even if they are a bit exaggerated, but they emboldened the truthful storytelling and make it all the more potent.
#1. The Nightingale directed by Jennifer Kent
I originally saw this film at the Venice Film Festival last year, and it was my favorite film of that festival, so I'm counting this as my favorite film that I saw in 2018 (even though it's due to be released later this year in cinemas). I LOVE The Nightingale so much. It's as close to perfection as any film can get. One of those films that you can tell within the first 10 minutes that it's going to be a masterpiece, and it continues to hit every beat as it plays out, going right where it needs to, and ending in the perfect place. I adore the score (by Jed Kurzel), the cinematography (by Radek Ladczuk) and 1.33:1 framing, the impeccable performances, especially from the two leads - Aisling Franciosi and Baykali Ganambarr. And even Sam Claflin, who plays a bastard of a character, gives one hell of a deep, grueling performance. Everything about this film is exceptional and I had one of those immensely satisfying cinematic experiences, where you heart is racing because it just keeps getting better and better. I wrote last year that, "I will be raving about this film for the rest of this year, and into next year until it's officially released. Jennifer Kent is an extraordinary director."
Runner Ups - Additional Faves: Bing Liu's documentary Minding the Gap, Jon M. Chu's Crazy Rich Asians, Iván Osnovikoff & Bettina Perut's doggie documentary Los Reyes, Ryan Coogler's Black Panther, George Tillman Jr.'s The Hate U Give, Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You, and Ulrich Köhler's In My Room.
That's it for now! Alas, I don't have time to get into my favorite performances or anything else, just this list. Listen to more commentary on The First Word Podcast. You can always find all of my ratings and additional thoughts on every film I watched in 2018 on my Letterboxd profile. There were a few films I did not get the chance to watch last year due to time constraints, including these: Creed II, Vice, Thoroughbreds, A Prayer Before Dawn, Zama, and Thunder Road. I'm always watching new films all year along, and keeping track of my most memorable experiences - the films that really move me. If you have any more questions or thoughts about my Top 10 of 2018, please get in touch: @firstshowing. I'm always happy to discuss every single one.