2018 truly had something for everyone. It was a year that resuscitated superhero films, romantic-comedies, teen thrillers, among others, giving them a breath of new life. If you claim that there wasn’t enough variety, than you clearly didn’t see the right films. And as I compiled this list, I was sure of myself how it would turn out, dead-set on what would take the top spot… up until the very last minute.
Here are the 10 best films that made our year worthwhile.
Probably the first real good film to come out this year, Thoroughbreds takes into account of what it means to be vulnerable. Following two old friends who seem to be at the opposite ends of everything, they complement each other and seem to make one another’s lives whole. While Olivia Cooke’s character is plagued by atrocities and mental health, Anya Taylor Joy’s character seems to have everything she could ever ask for, except her step-father whom she despises but won’t admit it. As they plot to figure out how to exactly dealt with the abusive figure, the girls give into each other’s needs, ending with a climax so cinematic that it melds sight and sound perfectly in a suspenseful release.
9. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?
Where is our Mister Rogers now? Where is our hero? Where is the one that will tell us right from wrong? That will tell our children what’s right from wrong? This documentary, possibly the most poignant and important doc from this year, explores the rock-star status Mr. Rogers really held and praised during the 60s up until the early 2000s. He reached to the bottom of everyone’s hearts, the very center of what makes a human, human, what makes the individual special and significant. He reached to the root of all evil, why some people belittle others just because they seem to have a greater influence over them. Sadly, Mr. Rogers was before my time, I never got to witness his show, nor his indomitable human spirit, but this doc brought me that much closer to how he touched millions of Americans. Where is our hero now? To assure us that everything will turn out alright? Just as it always does? He took the most complicated issues and current events, and simplified them down to a singular vision, a singular solution. It only makes me sad that our generation will never have a genuine reassuring soul like he brought forth.
8. THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS
Perhaps the best told documentary this year, it’s another film that outsmarts its own plot. Centered around, you guessed it, triplets that were separated at birth, only to find each other by coincidence, they soon discover the actual reason as to why they were separated. The film goes deeper beneath the plot to explore not only the basis of their relationship, but the basis of human nature. It’s a prime example of looking at how we were raised, and why we are the way we are.
7. THE FAVOURITE
If the end of the world were to come down to a measly fist fight of pitiless debate, then The Favourite would have prophesied the entire sequence of events leading up to it. Centered on Queen Anne’s rule in the early 18th century, The Favourite focuses on the love triangle between a Duchess, a servant, and Queen Anne herself, as the former ladies struggle for a greater part of influence over the Queen’s decision-making. Having seen every film by Yorgos Lanthimos multiple times, and coming from a filmmaker who not only changed the way I think about movies, but the way I think about life, I can whole-heartedly say that The Favourite is his BEST film to date. Every element and nuance that embodies his films all come to a head, and also like all his films, it’s an apt depiction of human behavior, represented in what seems to be an arbitrary yet the most suitable time period for this story.
Have you ever thought about what your eyes are drawn to? When you look at any type of screen, where do your eyes go first? What’s the first thing they notice? This is what Searching plays with, a perfect outlet for a technological thriller about a daughter going missing. As you’ve might have already heard, the entire film is told through screens – webcam footage, cellphone footage, YouTube videos, text messages… it really brings to mind as to what we’ve been so subconsciously trained to do, which is how our minds are immediately attracted to certain elements before our eyes. Perhaps the most ingeniously produced film this year, it solidifies the theory that the concept of the screen is now forever imbedded within human communication, the need for interacting with some sort of interface.
If you’ve seen the film, you know that the first act is an ebb and flow of tension, and perhaps the best first act of ANY film this year. Also, if you’ve seen the film, you know that the first act ends with a scene so traumatizing that it rids all pre-conceived notions of how you think the film might play out. (Even I had to step out of the theater during the film to catch my breath.) But the fascination with the film doesn’t stop there, because the whole film is a beautiful allegory of how we deal with such trauma, such guilt that’s been placed upon us. However, it’s disguised as a psychological thriller, a perfect vessel to explore such a story. Led by strong performances from Toni Collette and Ann Dowd, it’s THE film this year that tackles mental health straight on.
4. FIRST REFORMED
First Reformed operates as a 70s Ingmar Bergman existential crisis and slowly evolves into an environmental thriller. Somewhat bearing similarities to Schrader’s other cornerstone Taxi Driver, First Reformed is a return-to-form for Schrader. Finally the creator of Raging Bull, Hardcore, and other seminal 70’s films is being given his due credit. Featuring some of the year’s most hypnotic sequences, and Cronenberg-like deep focus close-ups, it certainly feels like it belongs in the 70s. Ethan Hawke is used like a vessel, transmitting his performance to dramatize the film’s strong contrasts through intense transformation. Hawke has always been an “actor’s actor,” but nothing he’s ever done is quite as internalized and honest as his performance here.
Dubbed a “psych-metal revenge thriller,” Mandy is the film Nicolas Cage has been waiting for that can finally justify and match his erratic acting behavior. Also serving as Jóhann Jóhannsson’s final film score, the film kind of operates on the border of two worlds: one that seems to take place in the real world with real life consequences, and the other with a slight tinge of acidic fantasticism to it. Centered on a lumberjack who goes after a cult following the murder of his girlfriend, the movie serves the plot up as a way of delivering vibrant, hazy, and often times unbelievable moods and tones. But all in all, there’s no other film like it this year. This film is in a league of its own in terms of genre, delivering perhaps the year’s most memorable scenes.
Having been following Cuaron’s work at an early age since Children of Men, I never miss an opportunity to witness a product of his cinematic genius, particularly in a theater. There’s something in the way that he directs a camera that feels so voyeuristic, yet so intimate. It’s as if, if he didn’t shoot a particular scene in this particular way, either it wouldn’t exist in that capacity or it wouldn’t exist at all. And from the very first shot of Roma, it tells and encapsulates everything you need to know about the movie and what it’s about. Taking tips out of the playbook that is Tarkovsky’s Mirror, Roma looks back on the recreation of memories from Cuaron’s youth, all the way from reconstructing his childhood home to rebuilding entire city blocks of 70s Mexico City. But what makes the film so special, so cinematic, is not the attention to detail, but the re-imagination of how things once were. The story follows a fight for independence, a fight for worth, a fight to prove that every little push, every little fight forward means something, a place to live for and inhabit in this world. Shot in digital black and white, it’s nostalgia not in the normal sense of how we think about the word, but a look back on how things used to be through a modern-day context, a modern-day understanding of the world without the usual baggage of longing for lost times.
1. TIE: BURNING/CRAZY RICH ASIANS
Prior to Burning, I had never been introduced to Chang Lee-Dong’s work, nonetheless heard of him. But something clicked in me after watching that cathartic last scene of the film (perhaps the year’s best). I myself felt the rage Jong-Su had been bottling up inside his entire life, and that’s what this film does best, emulate the power of cinema. I don’t personally know the character, but through cinema it felt like I did. Centered on the disparate social classes of Seoul, South Korea, the film uses a simple plot devise as an outlet to explore its deeper implications. It’s a slow-searing mystery wrapped in a psychological thriller, raising far more questions than it does answers. The root of Jong-Su’s evil stems from the limitations placed upon him, and it’s hard not to blame him for what he does in the end, because sometimes you just feel like burning your whole world to the ground. And it’s tempting to see just how much you can get away with without burning yourself.
On the other hand, Crazy Rich Asians, a surprise hit at the box office this year, is a heart-warming, teary-eyed romantic-comedy that could be considered the anti-thesis of Burning. It’s funny to think that a rom-com could be considered the best, especially when paired up with the emotional depth of Burning, but that’s just it – this isn’t your typical rom-com. Take a closer look and, surprisingly, there are a lot of radical directorial choices that lie in the film: the use of subjective camera, the way it doesn’t abide by the 180-degree rule in the way Yasujiro Ozu never did, which equates each character on a level moral plane… things you normally don’t see in a traditional rom-com out of fear of losing its audience, but this one was bold enough to take risks. Crazy Rich Asians gave fresh life into romantic-comedies, re-validating and redeeming the genre as a whole that so desperately needed it.
And it’s tempting to draw comparisons between these two films. Whereas Crazy Rich Asians merely depicted the line that separates social classes, Burning exposed the deep divide that actually drives a nation apart, both politically and socially. But when these two films are studied next to each other, they make one another feel like a whole that’s greater than the sum of their parts, as if the significance of one wouldn’t exist without the other. 2018 was truly the year Asia ruled cinema. Let’s hope that 2019 does the same for other international markets.