This Time, a List From an Actual Professional Film Critic
In 2018, as Disney snapped up 20th Century Fox and threatened to swallow Hollywood whole, China continued its ascendance as the world’s biggest box office for motion pictures. Global market forces created strange algorithms. Asia hated Crazy Rich Asians and Han Solo, but they adored nihilistic Spider-Man villain Venom. Warner Bros shrugged when Americans were lukewarm on Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald because the rest of the world gobbled it whole.
And Netflix, the honey badger of Tinseltown, just don’t give a shit about anything other than that sweet, sweet streaming-subscription manna. They’ll just as happily produce Roma as they will reboot Mystery Science Theater 3000. Because when you release more than 80 movies a year, something’s gotta stick. Or not. Just shut up and keep paying your monthly fees, all you couch-potato suckers.
Strangely enough, people kept making quality work almost out of spite. And more than a few came from the classic studios as well as all the predictable film-festival venues. Here are my Ten Best Films of 2018, presented in alphabetical order. Feel free to add numbers by parsing the subtle modulations of my respective ebullience.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Joel and Ethan Coen continue their impressive streak of fatalistic cowboy pictures, turning out a portmanteau of six mini-oaters that beautifully resonate off each other like echoes in Death Valley.
Cold War. Polish filmmaker Paweł Pawlikowsi makes his most personal cinematic expression to date, using velvety monochromatic cinematography to capture an austere look at romantic oblivion during a time of political turmoil.
Eighth Grade. High school sucks, but it’s a cakewalk compared with middle school. A week in the life of Elsie Fisher’s 13-year-old misfit is enough to map the emotional landmines of her hilarious, harrowing post-millennial adolescence.
The Favourite. A British history lesson taught by the class clown. Cheeky Greek Yorgos Lanthimos turned Tony McNamara and Daborah Davis’ script into a Sapphic, surrealistic pas de trois.
First Man. Stoicism meets utter terror, in Damien Chazelle’s wonderfully low-key, process-oriented look at shoot-the-moon hubris.
First Reformed. Jesuit-turned-auteur Paul Schrader delves deep for his crisis-of-faith fugue, with a piercing assist from preternaturally gifted actor Ethan Hawke as the perilously fraught priest.
Happy as Lazzaro. The rich exploit the poor, in an age-old story that feels as fresh as morning dew. Part fairy tale, part neorealist portrait, all magically interwoven into an astonishing assessment of the Italian soul.
Museo. An ebullient look at existential despair as Gael Garcia Bernal pulls off the heist of the century, stealing priceless treasures that force him to face his own worthlessness.
A Star is Born. Everything old is new, in this fourth remake of a timeless classic about Pygmalion hubris that will make you fall in love with love again.
Widows. Arty Oscar-winner Steve McQueen and screenwriter Gillian Flynn compress a pulpy British TV series about a heartache-laced heist and turn it into a sparkling gem of storytelling concision, dense with smartly plotted twists and devastating emotional epiphanies.