Friday, 11 January 2019

Vic's Top Fifteen Films of 2018

For me, 2018 was not a great year for film (relatively few “wow”s and a short must-see list), so I watched twenty fewer films in 2018 than in any of the past three years and I suspect the films on my list below would not hold up well against the films on my last four lists. There were, however, a few classic masterpieces that are among the best films of the century, and it was a great year for films about the black-American experience (three are on my list and another three came close, which is an extraordinary total). And while women have not made serious inroads into Hollywood filmmaking, I again watched more films made by women than in any previous year. Two films in my top ten were among them and a third was written by a woman. I admit this is not a high percentage, though it’s higher than most previous years, and I was glad to see that over half of the films on my list had a female protagonist.

Honourable mentions this year go to Paddington 2, The Hate U Give and the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (which I saw on Netflix the day it was released, but have not yet reviewed). 

Other observations about my list:
  1. Debra Granik, Lynne Ramsey, Alfonso Cuarón, Alex Garland and Pawel Pawlikowski all have their second straight films on my list (and all in my top ten).
  2. The two best films of 2018 (ranked four and five on my list) are filmed in black & white and are the most gorgeous films of the year. Does that mean B&W actually makes films look better?
  3. Two of my five favourite films are filmed in an old-fashioned square aspect ratio.
  4. Four of my five favourite films reminded me of Tarkovsky, which must reveal something about the kinds of films I appreciate.
  5. The one word that best encapsulates most of my top ten films is “haunting”, which must also reveal something about my tastes.
  6. Four of my top nine films are foreign language films. 
  7. Seven of my top fifteen are in Gareth’s top 17 (always a good sign). 
Here’s my list, counting down:

15. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? - Fred Rogers wanted to make the world a better place by speaking honestly with children. This moving and inspiring documentary by Morgan Neville, about TV’s greatest hero, is highly recommended to everyone.

14. Indian Horse - Stephen Campanelli’s film is not a work of cinematic art, but this vital tale about the life of an Ojibwe boy in Ontario in the 1960’s and 70’s is well-made, compelling, and essential viewing for every Canadian.

13. The Wife - I loved every minute of Bjorn Runge’s intelligent drama about the tense relationship between an aging writer and his wife. Brilliant screenplay by Jane Anderson and a sublime performance by Glenn Close, who should win an Oscar for this.

12. Eighth Grade - Bo Burnham’s wise, compassionate and life-affirming drama about the life of a 14-year-old girl in today’s social-media-obsessed environment has perhaps the best father-daughter scenes ever filmed.

11. Blindspotting - This raw (language warning!), insightful and always quirky film about life in a black neighborhood in Oakland treats every character with empathy and compassion. Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada and written by the two lead actors, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal.

10. Leave No Trace - Speaking of treating characters with a unique level of compassion, Debra Granik’s magical film is remarkable for the positive way it portrays every single character in the film. A marvellous quiet study of relationships and community in the 21st century.

9. The Guilty - I can’t believe I have yet to review this wow film, which I caught at the Edmonton International Film Festival in October. A real-time thriller about a police officer on emergency-call duty who gets a call from a kidnapped woman, this astute Danish film from Gustav Möller features a terrific performance by Jakob Cedergren and an ending that blew me away.

8. The Silent Revolution - This riveting tale from Lars Kraume about a twelfth-grade classroom in East Germany in 1956 is a brilliantly-structured and incredibly intense examination of life in an authoritarian state.

7. You Were Never Really Here - The darkest film on my list (and there are many dark films on my list) is Lynne Ramsey’s terrific character study of a very violent man. This raw brutal film features my favourite performance of the year by Joaquin Phoenix. 

6. If Beale Street Could Talk - Reviewed just today is this gorgeous poetic film from Barry Jenkins about a young black woman whose fiancé is wrongly imprisoned in late 1960’s New York City. Based on a novel by James Baldwin, it is the year’s best film about the black-American experience.

5. Cold War - Getting to see this film proved to be a challenge (it hasn’t made it to Winnipeg and was just released on Blu-ray in Europe), but I knew it would be on my list, so I made the effort. Filmed in gorgeous black & white, this haunting masterpiece from Pawel Pawliowski is a passionate love story that takes us from Poland to Paris and back between 1949 and 1964.

4. Roma - Easily the best film made in 2018 (maybe in this century), Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece gives us a glimpse of life in the Colonia Roma neighbourhood of Mexico City in 1970/71 through the eyes of a young Mixteco woman who gets pregnant while working as a live-in maid. The cinematography is sublime. If I had seen Roma on the big screen (as it should be seen!) instead of Netflix, it might have been my favourite film of the year (as it was Gareth’s).

3. Green Book - Peter Farrelly’s film addresses racist attitudes without tackling systemic racism. To me, that’s a minor infraction, given the kind of film it is. However, insofar as the film misrepresents a well-known musician (Don Shirley), it does deserves some condemnation. Nevertheless, Green Book was the best time I had at the cinema in 2018 (I was unaware of the controversy at the time) and features astonishing chemistry between Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. 

2. Annihilation - Slow-paced, dream-like, thought-provoking, intense and gorgeous, the latest film by Alex Garland is sci-fi at its best. It’s all about self-destruction, especially at a biological level, which doesn’t sound too exciting, but I was riveted from start to finish.

1. First Reformed - When one of his church attendees asks Reverend Toller whether God will forgive us for what we are doing to the planet, Toller’s wrestling with God takes on an even darker tone. Brilliant theological drama (one of the best theological films of the century) from Paul Schrader, with a terrific performance by Ethan Hawke.


  1. Wow - is it that time already! I've only seen four of these films. What am I doing with my life?

    1. Good question! Priorities, man! But I'll be happy to watch some of these with you after the big move.

  2. You may have to reform my taste. I might have added that all four of the ones that I have seen aren't likely to make my list. One of them may make my annual list of disappointments... (Guess?)

    1. That would be Annihilation. That and Leave No Trace are the only ones I know you have watched.

  3. Well, it looks like we might get some overlap after all. My list is coming very soon.