It was a good year for film, but with few undeniable, across-the-board classics. I think part of that is because there are so many films (and series, and digital series, and viral videos, and video games) pulling our attention, the concept of consensus — of widely shared experiences — is eroding.
There were exceptions, but the biggest films of 2018 — while frequently among the most entertaining — were rarely the best.
I am not a film snob; I like well-made commercial fare. But I am more drawn to things that are different from what I've seen before, or that challenge the safe and satisfying structures. I know why people go ga-ga for A Star Is Born and Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, all good mainstream efforts comin' around with an ass like that, but while they contained some outstanding elements, the films that stole my heart were usually a bit more ... offbeat.
Following, my 20 best of 2018, along with my 20 favorite performances of the year ...
20 Best Films of 2018
A remarkably insightful, small doc that skillfully resurrects a long-dead young photographer and a long-ago place and time.
(19) Mary Poppins Returns by Rob Marshall
A delightful follow-up to an undisputed classic, the film benefits greatly from Emily Blunt's tart spirit and a spit-spotless collection of new songs.
(18) Green Book by Peter Farrelly
Yes, it is probably a too-easy boiling down of race in the '60s, but Viggo Mortensen's pure performance is a riot and a triumph that smoothes out the rough edges. Could be this year's Oscar winner for Best Picture if The Favourite fails to clinch it.
Utterly transfixing and terrifying, this high-concept thriller only stumbled in its presentation of a couple who decide to procreate in a dystopia where silence is everything.
(16) Making Montgomery Clift by Robert Anderson Clift & Hillary Demmon
An intensely personal doc about a real man behind a myth that makes use of fascinating audio, never-seen photos and never-to-be-had-again interviews with people who knew silver-screen icon Montgomery Clift as well as anyone ever did.
(15) The Wife by Björn Runge
I went in thinking it would be s simple character study of the long-suffering wife and came out delighted to have been so consistently surprised. Close is magnificent.
(14) The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Desiree Akhavan
The vastly superior drama about gay conversion therapy of 2018, I was moved by the performances and the year's most haunting final shot.
Melissa McCarthy gives a career-high performance in this film about likably unlikable people, and the movie itself makes an excellent case for why people transgress.
(12) Widows by Steve McQueen
A gutsy caper movie that pauses to reflect on the place of women and people of color in a white man's world. A thrilling leveling of the patriarchy.
(11) Nancy by Christina Coe
A morbidly claustrophobic examination of scams and scammers whose main character psyches herself out on her mission to find the family she only wishes she had.
(10) Private Life by Tamara Jenkins
A beautifully observed story of infertility and dysfunction and realistic love in a year when so many movies were distracted by superheroes and fame.
One of my favorite documentaries ever, this profile of onetime pimp and hustler Scotty Bowers de-sensationalizes his outrageous persona and stories, becoming a truly wonderful look at a complicated man masquerading as a shallow one.
(8) The Hate U Give by George Tillman Jr.
Why this fine, fraught drama isn't getting more Oscar talk is anyone's guess, but it is powerful without being preachy, carried with grace by Amandla Stenberg.
(7) Roma by Alfonso Cuarón
A gorgeous film that feels like a remembrance, or a moving photograph, this instant foreign-language classic's every frame is steeped in the struggle to live without regret.
(6) Shirkers by Sandi Tan
By far the year's best documentary, all about a film made two decades ago that may or may not still exist, but whose absence for so long has already indelibly marked the lives of several young women.
(5) Eighth Grade by Bo Burnham
This deceptively simple look at a young girl's lurch toward adulthood has surprising depth, revealing as it does how close to the edge the children of 2018 are while on that journey. Brought to you by a YouTuber — take that, Clint Eastwood.
(4) You Were Never Really Here by Lynne Ramsay
One of the year's most mesmerizing dramas anchored by its best male performance (Joaquin Phoenix), this thriller contains some of the year's most striking visuals and tackles a subject matter too taboo for most Oscar voters.
A Terence Malick-esque adaptation of a highly regarded novel, this portrait of a near-feral pack of young boys who run amok while parents whose priorities are elsewhere work out their own shit is a masterful, sweeping story that eventually zeroes in on one of them with surgical precision. Never saw so much of this coming, even as I watched.
(2) Border by Ali Abbasi
To me, the most WTF movie of the year is this deeply affecting story of a seemingly intersex person who discovers a kindred spirit, only to then discover they'd been looking at the world through entirely the wrong lens. Sniff out this Swedish masterpiece at all costs.
(1) The Favourite by Yorgos Lanthimos
I never dreamed a period piece would be this hysterically, wickedly funny, but should have guessed considering The Lobster was one of this director's previous entries. Absolutely delicious, and Emma Stone would be scooping up her Oscar if she didn't already have one.
Honorable Mentions: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Cold War; The Kindergarten Teacher; Lean on Pete; Leave No Trace; Love, Simon; Minding the Gap; Three Identical Strangers; Who We Are Now; Won't You Be My Neighbor?
10 Best Performances by Actors 2018
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Paul Giamatti, Private Life
Lucas Hedges, Boy Erased
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book — #1 (tie)
Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here — #1 (tie)
Charle Plummer, Lean on Pete
Evan Rosado, We the Animals
Honorable Mentions: Steve Carell, Vice; Raúl Castillo, We the Animals; Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman; John Krasinski, A Quiet Place; Lakeith Stanfield, Sorry to Bother You; Ah-in Yoo, Burning
10 Best Performances by Actresses 2018
Glenn Close, The Wife — #1
Olivia Colman, The Favorite
Elizabeth Debicki, Widows
Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Julianne Nicholson, Who We Are Now
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Honorable Mentions: Vivien Lyra Blair, Bird Box; Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns; Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place; Sandra Bullock, Bird Box; Toni Colette, Hereditary; Viola Davis, Widows; Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Kindergarten Teacher; Kathryn Hahn, Private Life; Joanna Kulig, Cold War; Shayne McHayle, Support the Girls; Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace; Eva Melander, Border; Chloē Grace Moretz, The Miseducation of Cameron Post; Andrea Riseborough, Nancy; Molly Shannon, Private Life; Amandla Stenberg, The Hate U Give; Rachel Weisz, The Favourite; Michelle Williams, I Feel Pretty
I simply could not see it all. Below are the most glaring omissions in my viewing. I will see some of these shortly and may update my list.
(In order of my interest in seeing them)
The Children Act