Jill's Top Eight Films of 2018
I probably hemmed and hawed more than anyone else about the content of this list, and I hate lists the most. Truth be told, I suffered pretty severe movie burn-out this year, which is why my list is a little shy of the target number of "10." It's not that I think there weren't great movies, I just wasn't quite in the right frame of mind to receive them. I also ended up seeing more older movies than new releases in theaters this year, so if Hitchcock's Rope was eligible, I would have added it to this list.
Anyway, here it is, a brief synopsis of what meant the most to me this year...cinematically speaking. In alphabetical order, with a few honorable mentions for good measure. Got to cover all those bases.
A Simple Favor (dir. Paul Feig)
This was such a glorious surprise for me, and it probably shouldn’t have been. Paul Feig’s Spy is one of my favorite comedies of all times, and I have nothing but love for Anna Kendrick. But Blake Lively’s performance really steals the show. The woman is so damn sexy and scary it’s frustrating in the best way. This film also knows how to play up both actors’ real-life personas in ways that only add to the humor of the story. Maybe it’s my love of true crime that got me on board here in the first place (like Spy, this film pokes fun at a popular genre), but it was the complete subversion of my expectations that made watching this a joyful experience. It also has a great soundtrack that features 60s French pop songs.
Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland)
I still can’t believe this movie was made, much less seen in theaters by anyone (it really wasn’t, but the audience it did attract should be considered an achievement). Not only is this an impossible film to market, but the novel it’s based on has the least cinematic characters you could possibly imagine. An uphill battle for sure. What results is a theater experience that still sticks out in my mind as one of the best of the year. The final act is a series of mind-bending WTF moments, with a score that had me giddy with glee. This film is beautiful and weird and haunting and heartbreaking and although it didn’t meet Hollywood expectations, the fact that people are still talking about it proves Hollywood can suck it. Just thinking about Tessa Thompson’s character Josie willingly surrendering to the shimmer and the next phase of her evolution gives me chills.
Eighth Grade (dir. Bo Burnham)
I wasn’t quite like Kayla in grade school, but I certainly had days like hers, and I'm pretty sure I've grown into an adult version of her character for better or worse. My two favorite scenes in this film involve Kayla, her dad, and the half eaten banana she hurls at him, and the closing scene with Kayla and her friend Gabe eating dinner together, and enjoying a delicious spread of dipping sauces while quoting Rick & Morty to each other. The former, because I've had similar encounters with my parents that ended just as poorly, and the latter because Jake Ryan and Elsie Fisher give the BEST performances. And because if my husband and I are speaking to each other, you can bet the language is film/TV quotes. We also love dipping sauces.
The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
I love period pieces that also utilize anachronistic flourishes to tell their stories. To think that Rachel Weisz's character was first in the hands of two other actors is really hard to believe. This part was made for her. Olivia Coleman is delightful, as always, in a role that is probably the most difficult to pull off. It's so rare to see a film that stars three women heavily involved in the machinations of government and excelling at getting what they want, for better or worse. They play the game well, despite it being stacked wildly against all of them. Yorgos Lanthimos adds just the right amount of unsettling attributes to Queen Anne's court, allowing the film to jump from extremely funny to eerily sinister in a heartbeat (see The Lobster).
First Reformed (dir. Paul Schrader)
There were many iterations of this list that did not include First Reformed. But damn if I haven't thought about this film a lot since watching it only a week ago. There are a few things I'm having trouble reconciling, but there's so much that works here, including Ethan Hawkes' performance as Pastor Ernst Toller. Also the idea of consecration (or reconsecration as it pertains to the First Reformed Church in the film), and how it ties into the film's broader environmental messages is what continues to stick with me. It's easier for us to designate a man-made alter to god (and an institution of power) as sacred and worthy of protection over god's own creations in the natural world, including our own bodies. The environmental imagery in this film is compelling, as is the stark, minimalistic, yet beautiful, set design that gives a sense of austerity fit for a martyr.
Leave No Trace (dir. Debra Granik)
I loved Winter's Bone, and Leave No Trace lived up to my high expectations. Debra Granik has a beautiful eye for capturing the corners of the world that oftentimes house the most rejected populations in the country. It was Appalachia in Winter's Bone, and here, it's a veteran suffering from PTSD, and his daughter, who can only find a place for themselves living off the grid. Understated performances reign in Ben Foster and Thomasin Mckenzie, who manage to switch between the roles of caregiver and dependent throughout the film. I fully believe no two characters know each other better than these two. This was also one of the most atmospheric films I watched all year. I felt the cold and the wet in this film, as well as the quiet comfort that mother nature can provide to those that respect it well enough, and feel they have no other choice.
Mission: Impossible–Fallout (dir. Chris McQuarrie)
I don't feel the need to go into too much detail on this one, as it has been on a couple lists before mine, but this entry in the franchise rivals my still probably favorite MI film, Ghotocol. The action (bathroom scene!), the score (when Ilsa tracks Ethan down the alleyways of Paris!), the sound design (during the Paris car/motocycle chase sequence and the helicopter sequence!), EVERYTHING (!) is just dialed up to 1000 and I loved every minute of it. This was by far the most fun I had at the theater all year. Being with a large group of friends helps too.
Paddington 2 (dir. Paul King)
I have a teddy bear (eyes begin to water). An adorable companion I’ve had since infancy. He goes on adventures, and always represents the best qualities a friend could have. When the first Paddington film came out I had pretty low expectations despite my penchant for cute, plushy, protagonists. I really do believe that most family films aimed at children are utter crap. But this franchise continues to prove me wrong, and delivering a sequel that’s even better than the first is just about as good as it gets. It’s so hard to write a good, moral, character that isn’t saccharine, insincere, or eye-roll inducing in their righteousness. Ben Whishaw’s earnest voice performance as Paddington reaches down to the depths of your black heart and makes you believe that once you step out of the theater, humanity is worth saving. Also, the Browns are the best cinematic family out there (save The Incredibles). I will never be tired of Hugh Bonneville in these movies. More marmalade please!
Other films I liked this year and why:
Blindspotting - for delivering it's message with eloquence and power
Minding the Gap - for completely surprising me with its trajectory and brutal honesty
Can you Ever Forgive Me? - for Melissa McCarthy's performance, and a really entertaining script
First Man - for it's score, and sound design
Never Goin' Back - for the funniest stoner scene I've ever seen, and for the impeccable chemistry of leads Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone.
Thoroughbreds - for the killer atmosphere
Roma - for it's interesting sound design that you can only experience in a theater, and it's amazing cinematography and set design
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - because this film is an amazing technological achievement. We should always be reminded that animated worlds are amongst the purest cinematic experiences we will ever encounter. Everything in them is built from scratch, and every detail of the film exists for a reason. This film made me like Spider-Man. Congrats.