Mark's Top Ten Movies of 2018
When the Oscar nominees were announced this year, one of my friends told me that he thought it had been a pretty weak year for movies. Compared to the historically good year that 2017 was, 2018’s nominees paint a disappointing picture. In my opinion, though, most of this year’s great films are the ones that the Academy chose to ignore. It might be because I spent more time at festivals than previous years (attending Fantastic Fest, Sidewalk Film Festival and Indie Memphis Film Festival, as well as working at the Chattanooga Film Festival for my second year), but most of the movies I loved this year didn’t come from traditional studios.
Not only that, but most of this year’s great films were made by un-traditional voices. Directors of color directing characters of color in great films. Female directors directing female characters in great roles. It’s an exciting time, when new voices are showing up everywhere bolstered by new distribution methods. Over half of these films are the debuts of their directors, and I can’t wait for what the future holds for these exciting filmmakers.
1. Eighth Grade
Most of my days are spent with middle schoolers and I’ve begun to feel more and more out of touch. Bo Burnham’s directorial debut reminds me of so many of these kids, but also of myself. Elsie Fisher portrays Kayla with such honesty, making the character familiar and relatable. Middle school is the first time you really start to think about if people like you, and if you should change things about yourself to make them like you more. It’s a hard time, especially for someone like Kayla, but Burnham’s script and direction is constantly reminding you that every middle schooler is going through the same weird time. Plus, if you just wait for four years, you’ll be in high school.
2. First Reformed
2018 hasn’t been a year in which I’ve felt particularly sure of the future. The economy isn’t great, the environment is beyond repair, and the government constantly seems on the edge of falling apart. Paul Schrader perfectly captures this sense of dread in his story of a priest who’s lost all faith and is trying to find it anywhere. Ethan Hawke gives another career-defining performance, quietly capturing the loneliness and despair that is so familiar in this age.
3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
2018 was one of the strongest years for superhero movies I can think of. Black Panther was nominated for Best Picture, Avengers: Infinity War redefined how big the franchise could get, and even non-Marvel movies like Venom and Aquaman defied expectations. The best of the bunch, though, wasn’t involved with any of these pre-existing universes. Instead, it used our knowledge of its characters’ backstories to throw us directly in the middle of their lives. That’s not even to mention its inventive animation, vibrant and bold as its styles (and universes) blur and blend.
4. If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins’ follow up to Moonlight is another film about something that is seen far to frequently in film: black love. Jumping back and forth in time, you’re able to see the beginning of this young love after already knowing the end of the story. But living a life with no promised happy ending isn’t surprising to these characters. The film is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story of finding joy in a world that’s out to get you, and that’s more than welcome in these times.
I can’t speak for the rest of the culture, but what the Black Lives Matter movement has made me think about most are the ways that we ask people of color to sacrifice parts of their identities to succeed, then persecute them for the parts they can’t get rid of. Movies like Sorry to Bother You and The Hate U Give have made me think about this duality so many people are expected to live out, but Blindspotting makes that conflict almost Shakespearean. Characters give what can only be described as rap soliloquies as their pent up emotions escape through their tongues to the beat of their heart. It’s raw, it’s real, and it’s heartbreaking.
6. Minding the Gap
I really know next to nothing about skateboarding. What I do know about is male friendship, and Bing Liu’s documentary depicts that special relationship. Liu intercuts skate videos he took of his high school friends with present day interviews to show how his friends have changed and how their relationship has changed with it. It’s an all too familiar story of watching someone you love go down a dangerous path, but the documentary starts to go into why these patterns of behaviors exist. You start to empathize with people that you would normally despise, and that’s the kind of honesty we need today.
I’m a sucker for a heist movie, especially one made by a true auteur. Director Steve McQueen stepped away from his legacy of art films and serious depictions of addiction, and slavery, to make what seemed on the surface to be a simple heist flick. Instead, it’s a meditation on grief and the structures in place to restrict underprivileged communities. No complaints here, though. McQueen’s ability to capture a whole community and show you how it’s being impacted by the powers that be plays brilliantly against this group of women who decide to fight back in their own way.
8. Skate Kitchen
There’s a certain kind of coming-of-age movie that always gets to me: Someone tries something new to escape their home life and finds meaning in their new hobby. In Skate Kitchen, this hook is aided by the Skate Kitchen crew’s natural chemistry and Crystal Moselle’s ability to capture their talented skateboarding skills and the way that skateboarding brings these girls together. Rachelle Vinberg is another factor in why this works, selling every facet of her character from her quiet, observant nature to her impressive skateboard skills.
9. Madeline’s Madeline
Like Skate Kitchen, this is another indie feature about a girl escaping her home to find joy in a new hobby. But writer-director Josephine Decker combines this simple story with inventive camera work from her experimental roots, giving the audience a glimpse inside Madeline’s head as she tries to sort out her adolescent feelings. The whole thing feels like a dream, where you don’t really know what’s real and what’s just manifested emotion. But the emotion is clear and the film questions whether there’s anything else you need in art.
10. A Star is Born
There’s something special about the way Bradley Cooper handles the concert scenes in A Star is Born that makes for the purest music experiences I’ve ever seen on film. The emotion that Lady Gaga brings to the screen sells her rise to fame in the first half of the film, and Bradley Cooper spends the second half demonstrating the other side of fame when the audience grows tired of you. Cooper and Gaga’s chemistry ties it all together, with the help of a stellar soundtrack. It’s a movie I might watch a thousand more times, although I might skip the last half hour or so, unless I’m ready to have a good cry.
Honorable mentions (11-20): Leave No Trace, Avengers: Infinity War, Unsane, Upgrade, Annihilation, Brimstone & Glory, Roma, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Thoroughbreds, Blockers.