It’s been a great year to be a moviegoer, especially if you’re one of the disenfranchised. Rarely has representation of the voiceless been heard as loudly as it has been in 2018, whether you’re black, female or anyone else whose time has hopefully come. This trend started in February, when Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther shattered box-office records, and Boots Riley continued it in July, when the first-time filmmaker’s Sorry to Bother You drew in a diverse crowd who connected with his pro-union screed against corporate America. As 2018 comes to a close, one of this year’s finest films is just hitting the multiplex, a bittersweet romantic drama from Barry Jenkins. An adaptation of a 1974 novel by late literary giant James Baldwin, it also has the distinction of earning its place on my list of the year’s 10 best films of 2018.

Photo: Tatum Mangus/ Annapurna Pictures

10. If Beale Street Could Talk

With only three movies under his belt, 39-year-old Miami native Jenkins has painted a remarkable portrait of the black experience in America, beginning with his 2008 debut, Medicine for Melancholy, and continuing with 2016’s Oscar-winning Moonlight. His eagerly anticipated follow-up builds upon elements of his first two features in a timely ’70s-set tale of racial injustice. Beautifully using Harlem as a golden-hued backdrop, the film focuses on two young lovers (Kiki Layne and Stephan James) whose promising life together is threatened by a false accusation.

Photo: A24

9. First Reformed

The first of two films on this list with roots in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Paul Schrader’s 20th film as a director borrows a few thematic elements from the 1976 classic—a move that can be forgiven, since he penned that crime drama’s screenplay. Schrader also draws upon his upbringing as a strict Calvinist to tell this tale set in a small Dutch Reform church in upstate New York. Ethan Hawke delivers one of the year’s best performances as a solitary, hard-drinking pastor who suffers a crisis of faith.

Photo: Focus Features

8. BlacKkKlansman

In 1989, Spike Lee dropped a racially charged bomb at the Cannes Film Festival with his Palme d’Or-nominated masterpiece, Do the Right Thing. This past May, his tonally unclassifiable adaptation of retired police officer Ron Stallworth’s autobiography took home the fest’s Grand Prix award. John David Washington (Denzel’s 34-year-old son) plays Colorado Spring’s first black detective, who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan in this stranger-than-fiction true tale. This freewheeling biopic isn’t a completely somber affair, but rather it’s the closest Lee’s made to a mainstream crowd-pleaser in years.

7. The Rider

Female-led film productions are thankfully on the rise, and this year few were better than Chloé Zhao’s experimental drama. Zhao’s semi-fictional account of a rodeo rider (played by real-life cowboy Brady Jandreau) who’s suffered a career-ending skull fracture cuts deep. There’s an old saying about climbing back onto a horse after a fall, but reality can be a hell of a lot tougher to accept than Old West myths.

6. Paddington 2

You might not generally look to a family film for arch commentary on immigration, but then there’s director Paul King’s sequel, an instant classic about a talking, marmalade-loving bear who’s settled into London living. When our pint-sized émigré hero is falsely imprisoned for theft, his adopted family (including Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins) does all it can to prove his innocence, while the real culprit—a dandy actor and master of disguise (Hugh Grant)—roams free. If this sounds a bit dark, bear in mind the film is never less than delightful.

Photo: Magnolia Pictures

5. Skate Kitchen

Jonah Hill’s well-received Mid90s can’t hold a candle to Skate Kitchen, a luminous little gem from Crystal Moselle, a documentarian making her narrative-feature debut. Moselle trains her camera on a group of teens traversing the streets, trains and skateparks of New York, where she follows the real-life, all-female skate crew of the film’s title. Playing lightly fictionalized versions of themselves, this diverse group may deal with stereotypical teenage problems, but there’s nothing cliched about their loyalty to each other—or to their boards.

Photo: Fuji Television Network

4. Shoplifters

Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda wrote and directed The Third Murder—one of the year’s best dramas. But he also graced us with this intimately observed story about a family of thieves. This year’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes is a sublime portrait of people living on the fringes, gradually revealing layers that are supported by the naturalistic performances Kore-eda draws from his actors.

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

3. Can You Ever Forgive Me?

One of the year’s finest, most delightful films contains a career-best performance from Melissa McCarthy in a perceptive movie that’s helmed by Marielle Heller, a gifted woman who deserves more work. The rise-and-fall story of best-selling
author and great American forger Lee Israel is more than simply the story of one struggling soul, however; the film thrives on the offbeat humor and unlikely friendship that develops between Lee and Jack Hock, a big-hearted, flamboyant rebel and eventual accomplice superbly played by Richard E. Grant

Photo: Peter Mountain

2. Annihilation

Owing a debt to a pair of science fiction classics—2001: A Space Odyssey and Solarisnovelist-turned-screenwriter Alex Garland’s sophomore film as a writer/director might be as good as both. A very loose adaptation of the first book in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina focuses on a mysterious mission undertaken by five female scientists, headlined by Natalie Portman. Prepare to lose yourself in the dreamlike qualities of Annihilation’s aural and visual design.

Photo: Alison Cohen Rosa

1. You Were Never Really Here

“It’s only April, but you might not see a better film this year than Lynne Ramsay’s electrifying experiment.” Thus began our review of the writer/director’s fourth film. Turns out, that was on the money. An ambitious adaptation of Jonathan Ames’ novella about an Iraq war veteran who rescues teenage runaways and girls forced into sexual slavery, it’s a nightmare noir that rightly earned Joaquin Phoenix the Best Actor award at Cannes. You may not completely piece together the conspiracy that’s unfolding in between flashes of his tangled memories but, ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, since Ramsay’s command of craft, disarming flashes of humor and sense of style infuse her man-on-a-mission mashup of Point Blank (1967) and Taxi Driver with a poetic grace that few artists achieve

Honorable Mentions

Alpha; Ant-Man and the Wasp; Avengers: Infinity War; The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Blaze; Burning; Cold War; Den of Thieves; Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot; Eighth Grade; The Favourite; Filmworker; Game Night; The Green Fog; Happy End; The Happy Prince; Hearts Beat Loud; Isle of Dogs; Juliet, Naked; Lean on Pete; Leave No Trace; Oh Lucy!; The Old Man & the Gun; Puzzle; Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; Stan & Ollie; A Star Is Born; The Third Murder; Three Identical Strangers; Widows; and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? 


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