2018 was a year unlike any in my recollection. America was rocked by countless scandals, unimaginable cruelty, but also undeniable glimmers of hope. Personally, my life changed in ways that have forever altered my way of thinking. The word that comes to mind when trying to distill this year gone by is "tumult." Indeed, 2018 has been a tumultuous journey, but one that has always been lined with the optimism that smoother seas lie ahead.
The world of film was no different. Cinema so often is a mirror to society, so it is no wonder that many of the movies that resonated enough to make this countdown traversed in a familiar instability. Each of the following films center on displaced or disparaged people. More often than not they depict the plights of those seeking stability and control over their own fates. Here they are, my top 10 films of 2018:
10. Eighth Grade
So much has changed in the life of an eighth grader since my middle school years, but the emotion is painfully constant. Kayla, like so many of us did at her age, feels alone and awkward. Her journey to fit in is a beautiful reminder that every one of us has been that misfit before. Just as Kayla learns to embrace herself unapologetically, we can all be a little kinder to ourselves and a lot kinder to others.
Spike Lee's latest joint is one of the year's biggest gut punches. As suggested by the title and premise, it is a film about contradiction and identity. Ron isn't just a black man "in" the Klan, he's also a black man and a cop. Lee makes abundantly clear how similar those dualities are. His partner faces a parallel divide over his Jewish heritage. ‘BlacKkKlansman’ dares to rethink the the singular American identity. The divides explored capture how many Americans still feel today as recent years have forced us to reconsider what it truly means to be an American in 2018 and beyond.
8. A Star is Born
Every criticism you're probably read about this movie is valid, but none of that matters when you're transported to the stage alongside Ally during "The Shallow."In such a short amount of time Cooper and Lady Gaga make you care about their characters and believe in their faults. Jackson Maine is the personification of tumult. His struggle to be heard while saying something worth hearing resonates in our Modern echo chamber. ‘A Star is Born’ surely isn’t as deep as other films on this list, but it stands as the most transportive and engrossing film of the year.
7. The Tale
The only film in my top 10 that I have no desire to revisit. Jennifer Fox's semi- autobiographical feature is a painful retrospective of her childhood abuse at the hands of a camp trainer. Although too unsettling to see more than once, it's also a film too powerful to ignore. It's a masterful portrait of the effects of trauma. In 2018 'The Tale' helped us to understand why it is so difficult for victims to shed that moniker. It isn't an easy film to get through, but it's maybe the most important and timely piece of filmmaking this year.
As any Robert Pattinson super-fan can attest, I've written extensively about my love of 'Damsel.' Criminally under seen, this western is one of the funniest films of 2018. So many films this year tackled toxic masculinity and its causes, but 'Damsel' is the only one I saw to openly ridicule it. While the western genre historically has romanticized masculinity, this is a film that revels in its follies and shows how women have to carry the burden of harassment long after their harassers have moved on.
5. If Beale Street Could Talk
Every film on this list is either a poignant story or gorgeously crafted.' Beale Street,' as with everything following it here, is both. In a year filled with movies examining racial dynamics, 'Beale Street' is the most powerful. Tish and Fonny have the kind of love found in fairytales even as their lives are falling apart. So often we see racial intolerance on screen, rarely do we see such an intimate look at the devastation it causes to the individuals involved. Barry Jenkins's protagonists were in turmoil long before the police got involved and his film will have a hold on me long after it leaves theaters.
4. The Favourite
It's easy to tell a story of heroes and villains. What Yorgos Lanthimos pulled off in 'The Favourite' is a lot tougher. Ladies Sarah and Abigail may commit treacherous acts, but their motivations are much less cut and dry. Dark and funny, this is a film that intertwines personal and political. Every small maneuver onscreen has massive reverberations off it. Something about that sounds familiar...
Another under-seen masterpiece, 'Nancy' is about the lies we tell ourselves and others. Maybe its a small exaggeration or a fundamental deception, whatever it is, we believe these fabrications because the alternative of accepting our flawed identities feels impossible. ‘Nancy’ explores the emotion behind deception and what happens when we start to believe our bullshit. Every piece of this film is intricately crafted to sow doubt. Is Nancy lying? That's unclear, but there is no doubt that what she wants is the same as anyone else: love, stability and a sense of identity.
2. Minding The Gap
A documentary about skateboarding? Pass. A thoughtful examination of toxic masculinity and the role abusive households hare on the children they produce? That's more like it. 'Minding the Gap" reckons with the idea that we aren't the worst things that we've done. When the fallout clears, how can we still love someone or something that hurts us. First time director Bing Liu doesn't apologize for his friends, he simply looks to explain cycles of violence that molded them.
Alfonso Cuarón went back home to tell the story of a woman who shaped his early life. He made a movie about what he couldn't see back then. What resulted is ‘Roma,’ a masterwork from one of todays most acclaimed auteurs. There is much that makes ‘Roma’ work, but what struck me is how Cuarón managed the relative scale of his plot. Cleo's world is falling apart, her life is farther from her control than it has ever been. Every time her situation seems most desperate, the curtain is pulled back so we can see Mexico shaken by earthquakes, consumed by fire and overrun by civil revolt. 'Roma' is the ultimate reminder going into 2019 that while our problems may feel all consuming, there is a whole world beyond our control. Let's try to remember that anyone could feel like their life is crumbling and be kind this year.
Honorable Mentions: Paddington 2, Support the Girls, Blockers, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Sorry to Bother You, Bad Times at the El Royale, First Man