>> It’s easy to get lost in the glitz and glamour of festival and awards season. Before you allow yourself to get whisked away by the most anticipated releases, it’s important to familiarize yourself with some of the best films from the earlier end of 2018—because they will be popping up again when the award circuit starts up. So without further ado, here are the top ten films of 2018 pre-awards season.
10. Avengers: Infinity War
In a world bogged down by the same formulaic superhero films, Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War caught everyone off guard. I’m not joking when I say I literally had to pick my jaw up off the floor when the credits began to roll. Avengers: Infinity War takes place directly where Thor Ragnarok ended and follows the Avengers as they try to stop the evil Thanos before he destroys the universe. One of the first Marvel films that featured Captain America that I didn’t yawn through. Avengers: Infinity War’s long coming arrival was well worth the wait—even if we had to endure 17 subpar Marvel films (18 actually, but Ragnarok is the best genre bend I have ever seen and Taika Waititi is the second coming of Christ). A film that’s 20 years in the making has a lot to live up to, and Marvel pulled it off. It’s pretty exhilarating to see all the characters from the universe come together. While it may not be the best film of our time, its footprint is undeniably large and strong—Marvel raised the bar, possibly too high for them to reach in the years to come.
9. Game Night
When I first saw the trailer for John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s Game Night I thought it would be a total flop. I saw this film well past its initial release on a bargain Tuesday. I went in with low expectations, hoping that at least I’d have a fun time. Within the first ten minutes of the film I was completely smitten, and my expectations were blown out of the water. Not only is Game Night witty and clever, but it has some of the most interesting and captivating visuals I have ever seen in a comedy—which really aid in elevating this film from others of its kind. Not many films get me to laugh out loud—after distinctly not laughing at the jokes in Ant-man and the Wasp one of my friends labeled me as “not liking fun”. Yet, Game Night had me laughing so hard that I snorted at some of its jokes. The combined talents of Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are a match made in comedy heaven. McAdams truly shines, and her line delivery is precisely perfect and priceless.
8. Crazy Rich Asians
Representation is important, especially in a mainstream platform like film. Crazy Rich Asians is the first film since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club to have an entire cast of Asian actors and actresses. The film directed by Jon M Chu is adapted from the novel by Kevin Kwan and follows Rachel Chu as she travels to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family. The film is over the top in the best ways possible, it’s rich with culture, and single-handedly the savior to the romantic comedy genre. Filled with lavish visuals, beautiful costumery, and grand parties Crazy Rich Asians is hilarious, sassy, and fun. Michelle Yeoh reaffirms her status as an acting powerhouse, and who doesn’t love a great food montage?
A film that truly made me realize that I never want to have children. Jason Reitman’s Tully follows an exhausted mother of three who hires a night nanny. A brutally honest script from screenwriter Diablo Cody is what helps Tully stand out from the rest. With Charlize Theron’s acting chops carrying the film, Tully truly gives audiences a taste of the exhausting occupation of being a mother. The film gives viewers a glimpse into the difficulties of maintaining a healthy mental well-being while dealing with young children. Tully is full of wit, great editing, and incredible performances. Reitman’s best since Up in the Air.
6. The Rider
Directed by Chloé Zhao, The Rider is loosely based around the true story of Brady Jandreau, a daredevil saddle bronc rider. At his last rodeo, Jandreau’s head was crushed by a stallion. While he survived, the doctors ordered that he will never be able to ride again without serious repercussions. The Rider follows Jandreau as he tries to reshape his life as a fallen cowboy; as an audience, we attend his late-night hangouts with friends, we see the heartbreakingly intimate moments with his sister, and his failed and fearful attempts to ride again. Jandreau’s fears subsequently become our own due to the transparency and clarity which Zhao uses to present this story. There’s no doubt in the strength that Zhao possesses as a filmmaker, especially in her abilities to deliver an engaging and immersive experience to audiences. Her formation and delivery of the modern western are sure to shape the genre and establish her power in this industry.
5. You Were Never Really Here
Based on the book by Jonathan Ames, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here follows a veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) who tracks down missing girls for a living. After a job goes wrong, he uncovers a large conspiracy and fights grueling visions from his past. You Were Never Really Here is chilling and captivating, and Ramsay pushes the limits of the conventional revenge thriller and delivers an eerie bizzarism that almost feels Kubrickian. It’s introspective and grotesque—a nightmarish hell that drags you down a crime-filled rabbit hole. Phoenix has delivered numerous portraits of flawed men throughout the years. Yet, his work in You Were Never Really Here is convincingly real, the best performance we have ever seen from Phoenix. It’s unfortunate that this film will not be an awards season contender due to distribution logistics—because Phoenix would’ve snatched that oscar.
Spike Lee’s best since Do the Right Thing, BlacKkKlansman is not afraid to critique the current state of our country while pointing a finger at those contributing to it. BlacKkKlansman is a 21st-century masterpiece which is sure to stand the test of time. Based “on, some fo’ real fo’ real shit”, BlacKkKlansman follows Ron Stallworth—the first black officer of Colorado Springs Police Department—and his attempts to infiltrate and expose a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Lee’s stylistic visual elements culminate near the film’s end which creates a lasting effect on viewers—especially when followed by real-life footage of the Charlottesville riots. Lee has always been fearless when it comes to concept and story, and BlacKkKlansman confirms that Lee is a true legend.
3. Paddington 2
Who knew a CGI bear would be able to steal the hearts of entire audiences and surely make the toughest of viewers even shed a tear. Paul King’s Paddington films are simply masterpieces—and if you think differently you may have a serious character flaw. Paddington 2 reunites audiences with Paddington as he works odd jobs to save up for a gift to buy Aunt Lucy. However, after the perfect gift is stolen, Paddington is wrongfully accused and sentenced to jail time. Paddington 2 is perfect in both execution and message. “If you’re kind and polite the world will be right”, is the important advice Paddington offers not only to his fellow prisoners but to both children and adult viewers. Paddington 2 reinforces the importance of immigrant communities, proper care, and treatment of refugees, and overall the importance and power of kindness in a time of political turmoil. This film started on the lower end of my top ten but kept working its way up as I continued to write about it. Paddington 2 is simply marvelous, and there’s nothing I want more than to share a marmalade sandwich with one of the most compassionate characters I know. Also, I’m a big supporter of Hugh Grant’s Oscar campaign for Best Supporting Actor for his role in this film.
I’m a firm believer in writers and directors trusting their audience to fill in the blanks and make their own assumptions. There’s nothing more disappointing than monologues that reiterate the entirety of a film, or flashback montages that force viewers to make obvious connections that were probably already made. Annihilation takes this idea of trusting its audience to the ultimate level. Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s best-selling Southern Reach Trilogy, Annihilation follows a group of female scientists who venture into “the shimmer”, an otherworldly barrier that obstructs and distorts organic matter. Annihilation is a masterfully planned sci-fi puzzle, which exhibits a twisted beauty and the true terror of an antagonist whose motive is nonexistent—rather just a curiosity. Writer and director Alex Garland creates a film with many clues but zero answers; a concept that truly left audiences with polarizing opinions. Garland’s methodical and thorough approach asserts his position as one of the most lucrative sci-fi directors of our time. Annihilation is mesmerizing, immersive, and truly unsettling—a true modern sci-fi classic that will embed itself in your mind as you continually search for the film’s answers well after the credits roll.
1. First Reformed
From writing legend Paul Schrader, First Reformed follows a priest (Ethan Hawke) and his building anxieties sparked by a sudden loss, environmental concerns, and a past filled with agony. First Reformed is a film that explores trauma in the most concentrated form, its gradual build is almost unbearable, and the occasional deadpan directing approach is ingenious and downright disturbing. The film explores the issue of faithfulness and religion versus personal desire and modern morality—it’s a quiet and sensitive portrait with the finale is explosive and composed with utmost artistry. Visually, there is not a single flaw in this film. The barren landscapes of upstate New York in the winter compliments the narrative exquisitely. For years, I have thought Hawke was an underrated gem of our time. His performance in First Reformed is ethereal and compassionate—Hawke showcases his ability to speak volumes with a single facial expression or eyebrow movement. This film will win many awards, and Hawke better get an Oscar.<<