Pop Culture Shock’s Best Films of 2018

Despite the Oscar nominations this year being fairly disappointing, and the ceremony itself sort of leaving a sour taste in my mouth. 2018 has been a terrific year for movies. And I feel bad that there were a bunch that I missed before making my year-end list–I’ll maybe do a faux awards thing later. But otherwise, there’s not a lot to say. Across the board, I have few complains about this year, and I look forward to 2019.

Top 25 (technically 26) favorite films of 2018.
25. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – dir. Morgan Neville
24. Shirkers – dir. Sandi Tan
23. Hereditary – dir. Ari Aster
22. Madeline’s Madeline – dir. Josephine Decker
21. Hale County This Morning, This Evening – dir. RaMell Ross
20. Suspiria – dir. Luca Guadagnino
19. Mandy – dir. Panos Cosmatos
18. First Reformed – dir. Paul Schrader
17. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
16. Roma – dir. Alfonso Cuarón
15. Support the Girls – dir. Andrew Bujalski
14. Never Goin’ Back – dir. Augustine Frizzell
13. The Other Side of the Wind – dir. Orson Welles
12. You Were Never Really Here – dir. Lynne Ramsey
11. Shoplifters – dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda

And for a few honorable mentions that didn’t make the top 25: Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Cam, Halloween, Crazy Rich Asians, and The Death of Stalin

And now… my 10 (technically 11) favorite films of 2018!!

10. Burning – dir. Lee Chang-dong
What even is reality? Right away, with the simple concept of pantomime, Burning toys with your trust. All you’re given is pieces, and you assume you’re supposed to solve a puzzle out of it, but are you?? Because Burning is never so direct. Lee Chang-dong’s mysterious and unknowable drama is more fun to talk about than watch, but that doesn’t mean his picture isn’t among the most beautiful or enthralling from South Korea since The Handmaiden. Deftly crafted and well-acted–particularly Steve Yuen’s Oscar-worthy performance–Burning is the real deal.

9. The Endless – dir. Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson
This underseen gem is sure to become a cult staple in years to come. A twisty, ominous, deeply moving, deeply funny mystery, even to discuss The Endless in terms of genre feels like a spoiler. Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson helm and star in this story as two brothers returning to a cult they grew up with, as they come to blows with themselves and their personal history. The Endless has a lot to say about family, regret, and moving forward in one’s life, and does so with a film that is gripping, inventive, and powerful in equal measure.

8. The Rider – dir. Chloé Zhao
On the surface, docudrama conceit of The Rider seems like a gimmick to sell a semi-interesting story. After all, Clint Eastwood also cast the real-life players of the event in question in his 2018 biopic 15:17 to Paris. But Chloé Zhao tells a much better story, and more importantly, gets at the layers underneath. This isn’t just another postmodern western. This is about a kid who has no other life beyond riding horses, and who has that taken away. This is about growing up long before you’re ready. This is about coming to grips with the world seeming totally empty and meaningless beyond what you know, and attempting to move forward. Tragic and complicated, but beautifully made and resolutely human, The Rider is an out-and-out triumph.

7. If Beale Street Could Talk – dir. Barry Jenkins
Barry Jenkins’s moody, lush, rapturous romance manages the improbable feat of matching, and even–in my minority opinion–topping his Best Picture-winning Moonlight. Adapting James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, Jenkins brings us into Tish’s and Fonny’s Harlem, and paints a devastating portrait of young love, and the lengths we go to for those we care about most. With a game cast, Nicholas Britell’s unparalleled score, and Jenkins’s pitch perfect Wong Kar-wai aping, If Beale Street Could Talk stands as a work of lyrical, heartfelt genius.

6. The Favourite – dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
The story of three women–that’s right; all three of them are leads–vying for control. Whether that’s Sarah Church taking the reins of British politics, or Abigail manipulating her way to reclaiming noble living, or Queen Anne just trying to be taken seriously. Yorgos Lanthimos directs his best film since Dogtooth, and perhaps his best film yet, in a suspenseful, decadent, and achingly funny period hallmark.

5. Cold War – dir. Pawel Pawlikowski
More of an impressionistic account on the relationship between his parents than autobiography, Pawel Pawlikowski’s patient follow-up to 2014’s Oscar-winning Ida is a sometimes glowing, sometimes frustrating, and always lovely and fraught affair. Two lovers united by their passion and talent for music, spanning 15 tumultuous years in the mid-20th century, Cold War never takes the easy way out, always opting for the arduous risks and burdens we elect when you just can’t shake that one true love.

4. Lean on Pete – dir. Andrew Haigh
I just haven’t been ever been able to shake Lean on Pete, since seeing Andrew Haigh’s incrementally crushing coming-of-age drama in the first part of 2018. But alas, while Charlie Plummer’s, well, Charley is slowly worn down and tested, with only the love of his horse Lean on Pete driving him, Lean on Pete the movie has lingered. This is the bitterly honest kind of story about growing up we never get. Lean on Pete is a film that builds up a world, only to take everything apart in careful, heartbreaking detail.

3. (TIE) Minding the Gap – dir. Bing Liu, and Free Solo – dir. Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
As you can see, I really, really loved documentaries from 2018. And while Minding the Gap and Free Solo aren’t the most audacious documentaries from the year, they are clearly once-in-a-lifetime films. Stories that can either only told once, or that are the culmination of a person’s entire life. Minding the Gap is a difficult, but brave labor of love. Free Solo is as meta-textual and meditative as it is stunning and death-defying. Both are major accomplishments of nonfiction storytelling that dig deep, and that I hope encourages similarly bold filmmaking moving forward.

2. BlacKkKlansman – dir. Spike Lee
A personal philosophy of mine is to judge a biopic on the thematic value and mechanics of storytelling, rather than the veracity on-screen. BlacKkKlansman is just as guilty as any other biopic of falsifying details of a “true story,” but BlacKkKlansman is all about what we think about what’s real from stories. How Gone with the Wind and The Birth of a Nation subjugate black Americans, or how blaxpoitation empowers them. Or how happy endings are always temporary. There will always be David Dukes in the world, but they can’t win so long as we continue to tell stories–the way Harry Belafonte does about Jesse Washington–and to fight racism head on.

1. Paddington 2 – dir. Paul King
I have always been sincere in my love for Paddington 2. If anything, that affection has grown in the months that I’ve let Paul King’s magical, imaginative masterpiece into my heart. While all lists and opinions of movies are personal, Paddington 2 makes me want to be a better person. Paddington 2 is the sort of film that reshapes how one looks at the world. Whenever I’m on Twitter or Facebook, and I see people who I agree with say nasty things about people who do or say the wrong thing, I think of Paddington Brown. I think of the benefit of the doubt he gives everyone. I think of giving humanity when doing so is hard. I’m not always good about being kind and fair, but I want to keep trying. If we are kind and polite, the world will be right. We should try that. Really. Because venom is easy. Mockery is easy. But maybe there’s something to being an example of what you want to the world to be that we need to try harder at.

And that’s it! See you next year!!

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