Posted by: ckckred | January 21, 2019

The Best Films of 2018

First Reformed.jpg

1. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

First Reformed was the best movie of 2018.  When I had first saw it in June, I knew I enjoyed the movie, but after weeks of reflecting upon the story I realized what a deep, poignant film Schrader had crafted.  A second viewing only compounded my appreciation for the picture; it combines the setting of Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light, the anguish of Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket, the tortured masculinity of John Ford’s The Searchers, and the surreal escapades of Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice to convey the social uneasiness and moral ambiguity of the modern day world.

Almost all of Schrader’s work, from his collaborations with Martin Scorsese like Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ, to his solo efforts such as American Gigolo and Mishima, revolve around characters struggling to fit into a society they cannot comprehend.  First Reformed certainly warrants comparison to Schrader’s screenplay of Taxi Driver; like Travis Bickle, protagonist Reverend Toller’s own depression and loneliness drives him to the point of violent retribution.  Yet First Reformed feels completely unique; whereas Bickle is a man who lived by Old Testament principals, Toller is disgusted by the corporatization of modern-day religion. Schrader’s Calvinist background has always been the fundamental driving force in his work, but in First Reformed he confronts the church head on itself, asking why the leaders of morality in the world cannot judge themselves by the same standards they put on others.

2. The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles)

Few films have had as troubled of a production as The Other Side of the Wind, but after decades in the workshop it has finally come to the screen.  Like many of Welles’ later-day pieces, it is enormously experimental and opaque but transcendental and breathtaking.  The Other Side of the Wind is not a perfect film, yet I would not change a single frame.

3. Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

The winner of the 2018 Palm d’Or, Shoplifters is a lifting family drama that earns its pathos and sorrow and contains some precise sociopolitical commentary on the rigidity of the Japanese class system.

4. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)

Jenkins’ follow-up to Moonlight is a loving tribute to the melodramas of Wong Kar-wai, and free of many of the clichés that plague the romance genre.

5. Sorry to Bother You (Boots Reilly)

The year’s most rambunctious and funniest film.

6. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel and Ethan Coen)

Both a parody and homage to the westerns of classic Hollywood exhibiting the Coen brother’s greatest directorial strengths, with the Tom Waits’ segment being the highlight of the picture.

7. Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski)

More stylistic than Ida, Pawlikowski’s previous outing, but no less intimate.

8. The Death of Stalin (Armando Iannucci)

Perhaps the best satire of the Trump administration we’ve gotten thus far.

9. Burning (Lee Chang-dong)

Although the film loses some of its momentum in the second act, Lee Chang-dong’s critique of the South Korean aristocracy and Steven Yeun’s twisted yet quiet performance make this hard not to recommend.

10. Annihilation (Alex Garland)

A Stalker for the modern age that proves Garland to be one of biggest auteurs of contemporary sci-fi.

Honorable Mentions:

Deadpool 2 (David Leitch)

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi)

Hereditary (Ari Aster)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman)

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)

Editor’s Note: I have not been able to see A Bread Factory, which by many accounts was one of the best films of 2018.

Update – 3/7/19: I embarrassingly realize my list did not include Abbas Kiarostami’s magnificent posthumous work 24 Frames (which I had mistakenly thought came out in 2017).  If I were to update this list, it would surely make the top 3.

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Responses

  1. This is strange…I haven’t been on here for quite some time (over a year at least), and I got an email tonight of all nights for your blog: I just finished watching Annihilation and not long into the Shimmer I immediately thought “This movie is like Tarkovsky’s Stalker.” I don’t know, maybe Stalker is an obvious connection for anyone who has seen it, and it’s just that people won’t connect Annihilation to Stalker because they haven’t heard of Stalker.

    One thing I’ve wondered about is what you think of Yorgos Lanthimos’s movies; I wondered this months ago when your blog popped into my mind. I wonder as my taste in movies has a pretty good overlap with yours.

    There’s Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy. And I recently watched Gareth Evan’s Apostle, and Jeff Nichol’s Take Shelter. I don’t know which ones you’ve seen, but even with their flaws, these are the movies that come to mind that left an impression on me.

    • It’s hard not to get that vibe from Annihilation. Hopefully it gets more people to watch Tarkovsky.

      While I am a Lanthimos fan, I was very disappointed in The Favourite. I thought the humor was broader and it’s target was more obvious than Lanthimos’ other projects.

      I’ve seen all of the films you mentioned (except Apostle). Mandy probably could have made my honorable mentions (alongside Roma). Both are great looking pictures, though they left me feeling a bit cold. Did really dig the doom metal soundtrack. Did you see Take Shelter theatrically? It came out in 2011 here in the US.

      I’m hoping to start writing more regularly again, hiatus has gone on too long.

      • I’ve only seen The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Lobster from Lanthimos. Turns out The Favorite is playing near me, but sounds like no hurry there!

        Agree regarding Mandy. Doom metal happens to be my favorite heavy metal genre. I was buying stuff like St. Vitus, Candlemass, and a bunch of other stuff when it was first released and I was hooked. I’m a frequent visitor of the Youtube channel “Stoned Meadow of Doom.” Nothing really tops early Sabbath for me.

        I just saw Take Shelter very recently late night when I rented it via Amazon Prime. I watch most of my movies late night as my wife hardly ever watches movies and the stuff I often watch is too dark for my wife and daughter.

        I’m all for getting more email updates when you write. Looking forward to it! And I know now the next movie I need to see is First Reformed.

      • A lot of people seem to really dig The Favorite but I like Lanthimos when his movies are more twisted.

        I would probably say doom, alongside death/melodeath and grindcore, are my favorite metal genres. Grew up listening to a lot of Paradise Lost and Khemmis is my favorite band playing today.

        And First Reformed is incredible. I’m a huge Paul Schrader fan, both as a filmmaker and film scholar, and this is one of his best works.

      • Yes, Paradise Lost’s Gothic and My Dying Bride’s Turn Loose The Swans got me into the Gothic/Doom/Death stuff coming out back then. I just recently watched the documentary Death by Metal about Death’s Chuck Schuldiner. It was worth a watch for me.

      • Meant to watch that movie… I remember contributing to the kickstarter campaign but haven’t seen it yet.

  2. Interesting list, man. I’ve yet to see quite a few from your picks: Beale St, Burning, Cold War, Shoplifters. I doubt I’ll get around them any time soon so I’m putting the final touches to mine now. Great to Annihilation male the cut and I hugely enjoyed First Reformed.

    • Thanks Mark. I saw the latter three at Cannes (and all but Burning at their premieres) and I think you’ll dig them all.

      Annihilation was really something, wasn’t it? Wasn’t in theaters for long and I ended up waiting for it to hit vod. Wish I saw it in theaters.

      • I loved Annihilation, man. Really adored it. I didn’t see it in theatres either but I wish I had.

  3. I’ve been anxious to see what made your list. The Tarkovsky/Annihilation comparison is really astute. That vibe is all over that film. Also 100% agree on “The Favourite”. I struggled with that review. I know a lot of people adore it but outside of the performances I struggled to find anything I truly loved. And “Buster Scruggs”, my gosh I love that film. Sadly it’s been all but forgotten this Awards season.

    • Admittedly the Stalker vibe was the reason I didn’t see Annihilation in theaters, because I thought it looked too derivative of Tarkovsky. Big mistake, that was a great movie.

      I was a bit surprised how big of a movie The Favorite has been; it feels a lot shallower than a movie like Sacred Deer.

      Buster Scruggs was really good, and I kinda wish I could have had it higher up on that list. The perfect amount of humor and drama that I love about the Coen brothers. Plus, anything with Tom Waits gets an A+ in my book.

  4. Nice to see a new post from ya mate!

    So many of these I am yet to watch. No The Favourite eh? Did you like Noe’s last movie Climax?

    You Were Never really here I need to still write about, I need to so much. I’m trying to spew out a bunch of reviews of films I’ve been meaning to watch all year so I can do a best of 2018 post, which will probably be in May haha.

    Can’t disagree with your picks. Sorry to Bother You was brilliant, love the soundtrack too though that was a guarantee given Boots’ background. I loved all the other films you listed, still need to watch Burning though. And Beale Street.

    Death of Stalin was the funniest movie for me this year. I loved it! Good to see it on your list!!

    First Reformed is a deserved first. Incredible film and Ethan Hawke’s best performance by miiiiles!!

    • Thanks Jordan. I’ve been a bit busy (as well as a bit lazy), though I’m hoping to do a few posts in the next couple of weeks.

      It did take me forever to formulate this list (and looking back, I forgot to include Abbas Kiarostami’s 24 Frames, which would have made my top 3), but I do feel pretty satisfied looking upon the past year’s work.

      While I much appreciate Yorgos Lanthimos’ cutting style, I found The Favorite to be lacking the wit and sadistic humor of Sacred Deer and The Lobster. It felt like a broader version of his earlier work, though I seem to be amongst the few who disliked it. But both Sorry to Bother You and Stalin were amongst the funniest films I’ve seen in ages, as well as the two most politically potent films of today. And definitely catch both Beale Street and Burning, I do think the latter one loses much steam in its second half, but a Lee Chang-Dong film is always worth seeing.

      Have not seen Climax, I remember a few of my friends saw it at Cannes but unfortunately missed it.

      And First Reformed is really quite incredible. The first time I saw it, I initially didn’t know quite what to make of it, but after a few days started to really love the picture. The second time around I admired it even more. I’m surprised this is the first time Paul Schrader has received an Oscar nom; I think he’s the best American screenwriter of the modern era.


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