TOP 10 FILMS OF 2018

Posted by Matthew Thornton on Wednesday, February 20, 2019

These are the ten best feature-length, non-documentary films I have seen that had US release dates in 2018, and they are listed in order of my rating.

10. Cold War

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Writers: Pawel Pawlikowski (story), Pawel Pawlikowski (screenplay), Janusz Glowacki (screenplay), Piotr Borkowski (screenplay with the collaboration of)
Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Syzc
Runtime: 89 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      An international production from Polish writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski who also wrote and directed the Oscar-winning 2013 film Ida. Similar to Ida, Cold War is black-and-white with a 1.375:1 Academy aspect ratio and is fairly short, clocking in at just under 90 minutes. Cold War depicts the unlikely romance between the musically-gifted Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Joanna Kulig), who have little else in common besides both living in Soviet-controlled Poland. A variety of impressive musical and song-and-dance numbers glue the presentation together from scene-to-scene. The monochrome visuals are strikingly beautiful, and every aspect of the cinematography and production design is flawless; these features are what made a lasting impression on me. The central romance is believable and features several iconic moments, but ultimately I feel the development left a bit to be desired. This movie moves quickly but should be a pleasing experience if you choose to view it.

RATING: ★★★★

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9. Shoplifters

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Writers: Hirokazu Koreeda (original story), Hirokazu Koreeda (screenplay)
Starring: Lily Franky, Sakura Andô, Kirin Kiki
Runtime: 121 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      Another fantastic feature to come out of Japan, and one that made waves at Cannes Film Festival, winning the Palme d’Or. Centered around a low-income family group that resort to (you guessed it) shoplifting to provide for themselves, the story places significance on exploring the relationships between each of the characters and the defintion of family itself. Beautifully shot and brightly lit, you feel as though you are watching the everyday life of real people and are drawn in by the sincerity of the drama. Challenging ethical questions arise and touching moments of both happiness and sadness are aplenty. If you enjoy deeply human dramas, you do not want to miss this one.

RATING: ★★★★

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8. First Man

Director: Damien Chazelle
Writers: Josh Singer (screenplay), James R. Hansen (based on the book by)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke
Runtime: 141 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13

      Do yourself a favor and ignore all the political controversy surrounding this film and just watch it. Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) helms this profound examination of famous moon-walker Neil Armstrong. As the title implies, this is a movie about the man Neil Armstrong, not the 1969 moon landing. The screenwriter took a deep dive into getting to know who Neil Armstrong was, and, consequently, the story feels like the natural evolution of a man attempting to overcome personal grief. The historical events are incidental. The flight sequences are up-close and personal as you are being vigorously shaken right along with all the astronauts. The special effects are impressive and blend seamlessly with the production. Overall, there is not a whole lot wrong with this movie, and everyone who has even a minute interest in Armstrong should see it.

RATING: ★★★★

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7. If Beale Street Could Talk

Director: Barry Jenkins
Writers: Barry Jenkins (written for the screen by), James Baldwin (based on the book by)
Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King
Runtime: 119 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      A heartfelt love story taking place in 1970s Harlem based on the famous 1974 James Baldwin novel. Emotional performances from the two leads and impeccable direction and cinematography are what drive this film to the heights that it reaches. You are really rooting for the young lovers to overcome the economic and legal hardships and social injustices in their path. The story makes strong social statements while being subtle and artistic in the presentation. To top it off, the score is fantastic. This film brings so much to the table on the human level, and I highly recommend it.

RATING: ★★★★

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6. Paddington 2

Director: Paul King
Writers: Paul King (written by), Simon Farnaby (written by), Michael Bond (“Paddington Bear” created by)
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville
Runtime: 103 mins
MPAA Rating: PG

      You are probably wondering if a children’s film about a well-mannered little animated bear who gets into light-hearted mischief while helping and bringing joy to all those around him is really one of the best that 2018 has to offer. Well…you’re darn right it is! Paul King has constructed a fun and lively sequel to Paddington (2014) that shows off just how entertaining light-hearted content can be if done with care and imagination. Creative visuals bring every scene to life, and suprisingly funny dialogue and site gags abound. Paddington, voiced by Ben Whishaw, is the paragon of innocence and manners as well as of getting into all sorts of predicaments despite the best of intentions. I smiled and laughed throughout this movie, and I cannot recommend a better family film from the past few years.

RATING: ★★★★

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5. Suspiria

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Writers: Dario Argento (characters), Daria Nicolodi (characters), David Kajganich (screenplay)
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Doris Hick
Runtime: 152 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      A remake of the Dario Argento’s 1977 horror cult classic, though a completely new interpretation. Centered around a dance company in 1970s Berlin run by a coven of witches, things get bizarre and uncomfortable real fast. The film is defined by a building sense of malevolence as you follow Dakota Johnson’s character Susie into the company and more and more dark secrets are slowly revealed. All of the acting is top-knotch especially from Tilda Swinton. The cinematography, choreography, and editing are masterful as one should now expect from Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name). Alternative rock legend Thom Yorke contributes an eerie soundtrack which is fittingly weird enough for what you will experience. One of the most memorable horror films of the past 20 years. You’re gonna want to skip this one if you are at all squeamish or if disturbing fantasy content messes with you.

RATING: ★★★★

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4. First Reformed

Director: Paul Schrader
Writers: Paul Schrader
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer
Runtime: 113 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      First Reformed is a more intellectual cut than most of the films on this list, but it is still fascinating to watch. Ethan Hawke gives an outstanding performance as the pastor of a historic New York church who is battling deep inner conflict. The script is nuanced and engaging. The cinematography is brilliant. This film tackles a lot of non-trivial concepts and succeeds on multiple different levels. Paul Schrader (writer of classics such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) shows himself as an elite writer-director with this thought-provoking experience that I highly recommend.

RATING: ★★★★

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3. Burning

Director: Chang-dong Lee
Writers: Jungmi Oh (screenplay by), Chang-dong Lee (screenplay by), Haruki Murakami (based on the short story “Barn Burning” by)
Starring: Ah-in Yoo, Steven Yeun, Jong-seo Jun
Runtime: 148 mins
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (would definitely be R if rated by MPAA)

      Every few years an absolute gem of a movie comes out of South Korea (e.g. Oldboy, The Handmaiden). In Burning, we get a triangle (not really sure I would call it a love triangle in the traditional sense) between the characters Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo), Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jun), and Ben (Steven Yeun). Filled with humanity, emotion, mystery, and drama, this story is entirely driven by the script and performances. All three of these actors give impeccable performances and are very believable in each of their roles. They each have distinct characteristics that they intricately indicate in the subtleties of their performances. Additionally, the cinematography is not pedestrian; on the contrary, there is beautiful, fluid camera work throughout which effectively draws attention to specific actions, places, and even ideas. After I finished watching this admittedly lengthy movie, I immediately wanted to view it all over again. Metaphors are a big part of this one so pay attention if you see it.

RATING: ★★★★

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2. The Favourite

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Writers: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz
Runtime: 119 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) is back at it again with his quintessential oddball tendencies (that I admit not everyone will get or enjoy), but this time it is a period piece. What carry this film are the magnificent central three performances from Olivia Colman as the feeble and often despondent Queen Anne, Rachel Weisz as the Queen’s most trusted and manipulative advisor Lady Sarah, and Emma Stone as the upstart peasant girl who manages to work her way into the Queen’s favor. The script is delightfully complex at times and other times terse. The tone fluidly shifts between serious and humorous and creates an atmosphere unlike any other work I have ever watched. The production design is intricately exquisite from the costumes down to the silverware. Lanthimos’s choice of natural lighting and his precise camera angles and movement for his shots are all masterful. This film just gets better the more I think about it, which is pretty rare. This is a special experience which you do not want to miss.

RATING: ★★★★

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1. Roma

Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Writers: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey
Runtime: 135 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      Unbeknownst to me, the best film I would see in all of 2018 would be black-and-white, subtitled, and released by Netflix. Alfonso Cuarón delivers his best film yet and it is clear that this film is extremely personal to him. He puts dedicated care into making every part of this film life-like. The main character Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a maid for a middle-class Mexico City family in the 1970s, feels exactly like a real person and the presentation of her life from the mundane to the intense (and it does get very intense) is fascinating to watch as you are invested in her character as a human being. What is even more amazing is that a wide range of thoughts, themes, and emotions are brought out with minimal dialogue and sound in many parts. Every performance is phenomenal, the cinematography is breath-taking, and the story-telling is gripping. I cannot recommend this film enough, and I believe this could easily be seen as one of the best films of the twenty-first century somewhere down the line.

RATING: ★★★★½

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Here are several more films that did not quite make the cut but I still think are worth watching if they sound appealing to you (note that I have not written full reviews for most of these).

Avengers: Infinity War

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus (screenplay by), Stephen McFeely (screenplay by), Stan Lee (based on the Marvel comics by), Jack Kirby (based on the Marvel comics by)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo
Runtime: 149 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13

      You’ve seen this movie so I’ll be brief. It is spectacle done well. The formula that Marvel has spent years developing yields satisfying results when wrapping everything together; I think just about everyone’s expectations were met. All essential elements are here: cool action, iconic characters interacting, stakes, and an epic cliff hanger ending. The film is exactly what it needs to be and I respect that.

RATING: ★★★½

Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Writers: Joel Coen (written by), Ethan Coen (written by), Jack London (based on a story by) (segment “All Gold Canyon”), Stewart Edward White (inspired by a story by) (segment “The Gal Who Got Rattled”)
Starring: Tim Blake Nelson, Willie Watson, Clancy Brown
Runtime: 133 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      Some of the best filmmaking of the year (generally a given with the Coen Brothers), and it would probably be in my top ten if I could really consider this a feature-length film. Rather, it is six short stories related by time period, style, and themes. Lots of beautiful location shots showcasing the western United States. Production design for all the typical Wild West costumes, props, and sets is phenomenal. However, it is the idiosyncrasies that the Coen Brothers give to their characters, and the constantly subverted expectations that make each of the different stories truly memorable. If you have Netflix and are a fan of any of the Coen Brothers’ work, don’t miss this one.

RATING: ★★★★

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

Director: David Slade
Writer: Charlie Brooker
Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Craig Parkinson, Alice Lowe
Runtime: 90 mins (not really sure what this means…)
TV Parental Guidance Rating: TV-MA

      Fun, interactive movie about a kid making a choose-your-own adventure game. In keeping with that theme, you the viewer is in charge of making choices for the main character at certain points throughout the story which lead to different scenes depending on the current choice as well as past choices. There is more than a few paths you can traverse and finding as much content as possible is part of what makes it so enjoyable. All the acting is solid, and, I enjoyed all the pathways I went down and the “endings” I reached. Highly recommend if you have a couple of free hours.

RATING: ★★★½

Eighth Grade

Director: Bo Burnham
Writer: Bo Burnham
Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson
Runtime: 93 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      Bo Burnham is much more than just that funny guy who made comedic songs on YouTube ten years ago. He has written and directed a film that genuinely and oftentimes amusingly captures the awkwardness of a Generation-Z middle schooler. Elsie Fisher gives a fantastic performance as said awkward, not-conventionally-attractive middle school girl and is completely believable as she puts on a facade at school to try and be “cool” while brooding at home despite her single father’s best efforts to reach her. The technical aspects of this film are wholly unremarkable, but it is the script and acting that make this film charming; this is a truly impressive original screenplay especially for a first-time writer-director. There are a few too many moments of cheesiness and the central “shocking” moment is cliched, predictable, and annoying to watch. However, overall, I recommend this film for all its positives, the foremost being that Burnham actually seems to understand young millenial awkwardness.

RATING: ★★★½


Director: Ari Aster
Writer: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne
Runtime: 127 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      This is a startling well-made horror film on the psychological level. It builds slowly and steadily to a frightening climax, delivering dread before the fright. On top of that, there is all sorts of symbolism and hidden clues revealing information about the films underlying mysteries embedded in nearly every scene. The film artistically reflects the settings and events of the film via intricate miniatures that one of the character’s is consistently constructing; the consistent appearance of these miniatures strongly contributes to the feeling that the main characters are pawns at play. That is just one of many little aspects that helps build this films atmosphere. Be prepared for some unsettling imagery and just general discomfort overall. My biggest gripes are a few moments of levity that just felt out of place given the grim context, Alex Wolff’s not-so-convincing performance, and some very fake looking CG insects. Definitely a quality horror film (and more impressively director Ari Aster’s first feature) which is hard to come by these days.

RATING: ★★★½

Isle of Dogs

Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson (story by), Roman Coppola (story by), Jason Schwartzman (story by), Kunichi Nomura (story by), Wes Anderson (screenplay by)
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton
Runtime: 101 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13

      Wes Anderson delivers a delightful stop-motion romp centered around a pack of dogs, exiled from Japanese society to live on an island of trash, as they help a young boy find his lost canine pet. The cinematography and dialogue are exactly what you would expect from Anderson, and the art design for all the settings and the characters is unique and intricate to a fault even with a drab color palette–it’s a real pleasure on the eyes. Great voice acting from a number of big name actors. If you have liked any Wes Anderson movie in the past, you should enjoy this one too.

RATING: ★★★½


Director: Panos Cosmatos
Writer: Panos Cosmatos
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache
Runtime: 121 mins
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (would definitely be R if rated by MPAA)

      Arthouse meets grindhouse…starring Nicholas Cage. This film indulges in excess: excessive color saturation, excessive lens flares, excessive camera lingering, excessive pseudo-philosophical monologues, excessive over-the-top acting, excessive ridiculous action sequences, excessive violence, and, most importantly, excessive Nic Cage. It’s a simple revenge story that takes way too long to develop but once they set Nic Cage loose, this film is a wild ride. Pretty sure this will be a cult classic a few years down the line.

RATING: ★★★½


Director: Aneesh Chaganty
Writers: Aneesh Chaganty, Sev Ohanian
Starring: John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee
Runtime: 102 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13

      Pretty neat mystery/suspense film with a non-conventional presentation about a father trying to solve his daughter’s disappearance. The entire film is presented as if you are looking at the characters’ computer screens, and it manages to be done in a non-gimmicky way due to the filmmakers actually putting effort into making the actions being done on the computer feel as if they are being performed by a real person. What the main character played by John Cho does via his mouse movements and typing shows his emotions and state of mind in clever ways. The film has a nice pace due to its fluid editing and is never really dull. However, the plot and all its twists are extremely predictable, and some of the acting is not wonderful. Still, it is the first film I’ve seen that pulls off this type of format well, and I think a lot of people will enjoy it.

RATING: ★★★½

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman Writers: Phil Lord (screenplay by), Rodney Rothman (screenplay by), Phil Lord (story by)
Starring: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld
Runtime: 117 mins
MPAA Rating: PG

      Definitely the most surprising movie for me of the year as this film was not on my radar. I was very happy to see not just a non-traditional Spiderman story, but a fun comic book movie that’s not afraid to go way out there through the freedom of animation. The 3D animation is made to look like a 2D comic book panel at any given moment, and this art style is further brought to life with the use of words and art appearing on screen for various sound effects and other bits of visual emphasis. The animation itself is purposefully made to look choppy with a low frame rate as if transitioning between comic panels. The film is gushing with color and kineticism, and all of the character designs are unique and reinforce the characters’ personality and attributes. The animation style also humorously changes when certain characters appear on screen. Besides all the technical achievements, this film is legitimately funny and exciting and goes out of its way to add genuine emotional depth to the main characters and their relationships. There are a few moments of cheese and a small amount of the humor falls flat for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and highly recommend it.

RATING: ★★★½


Director: Leigh Whannell
Writer: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Melanie Vallejo, Steve Danielsen
Runtime: 100 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      Pretty entertaining sci-fi action film that is the most expensive-looking cheap (under $5 million) movie I’ve ever seen. If you were disappointed with the 2018 Sony Studio Productions’ steaming pile of garbage that is Venom, here’s a pretty cool movie with a guy who looks like Tom Hardy who has a voice in his head and unnatural abilities and there is also a bunch of fighting and stuff. Really interesting action style with the camera frequently rotating along with the main character’s body so that the body stays in the same position relative to the frame. Disorienting but still cool. Acting is so-so. Script is not the greatest. You have to turn your brain off in parts and just go with it but still entertaining. If it sounds like it is up your alley, check this one out.

RATING: ★★★½


Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: Gillian Flynn (screenplay by), Steve McQueen (screenplay by), Lynda La Plante (based on “Widows” by)
Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki
Runtime: 129 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      I wrote a full review for this one so you can read that here.

RATING: ★★★½

You Were Never Really Here

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Writers: Lynne Ramsay (screenplay by), Jonathan Ames (based on the book by)
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Ekaterina Samsonov
Runtime: 89 mins
MPAA Rating: R

      Tight, brisk crime/drama film starring Joaquin Phoenix as a PTSD-laden hitman hired to rescue a missing teenager. This film succeeds by being implicit rather than explicit. It doesn’t treat the audience as stupid or attempt to gratify their expectations. Throughout, it merely shows enough to get points across; the audience has to infer a decent amount throughout this movie which is great for maintaining engagement with the story. There is a pretty cool action sequence shown entirely through security camera footage that stood out. I was not a huge fan of some of the editing but overall the film is well-made. Not a whole heck of a lot to this film but what’s there is pretty cool. If it sounds interesting to you, go for it.

RATING: ★★★½


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Director: J.A. Bayona
Writers: Derek Connolly (written by), Colin Trevorrow (written by), Michael Crichton (based on characters created by)
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall
Runtime: 128 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13

      If you are gonna fail, fail in spectacular fashion. Please refer to my full review for this gem of a film.


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