Top 15 Films of 2018 – Allen’s Picks
The best horror film of the year is Ari Aster’s terrifying Hereditary. Not only is it a spooky story with legitimate scares, but it also tells a deeply dramatic story of a family coming apart at the seams. It examines the legacies parents pass down to their children, both as a gift and as a curse. Toni Collette has been a consistently terrific actress throughout her career, but here she goes full throttle as a woman who mourns the loss of her mother while her personal ghosts start to haunt her own children. The horror comes creeping around the edges – we sense something wrong is happening but aren’t sure what it is until the final, spine-tingling moments. This is all captured with stunning camera work and direction, displaying this family like miniatures inside of a demonic doll house.
Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma feels like such a quiet, simple film. Scenes pass by episodically, played out in a naturalistic, slice-of-life style. But as we dig deeper, we see Cuaron examine all the ups and downs of life in Mexico City. Even though the main narrative is a small, intimate story, Roma is so much bigger, so much grander than what we first perceive. Love, heartbreak, disappointment, wealth, poverty, social change, government upheaval – they all swirl around together in a collage of everyday life. Cuaron captures it all in gorgeous black and white cinematography, allowing his camera to glide elegantly throughout these character’s lives, both in their happiest moments and in their most hopeless. It’s a beautiful, humanistic work that shows us this one small section of world, and yet the themes are universal.
Not only is Mission: Impossible – Fallout the best entry in the long running franchise, it is the best action film since Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). It is a rollercoaster of intensity, as soon as it gets rolling it doesn’t let up. Tom Cruise is arguably the last movie star of his kind – an actor who is also the ultimate showman, understanding full well what his audience is looking for and willing to go the extra mile to achieve it. He runs, dives, climbs, races, falls, and fights in increasingly mind-blowing ways. And yet it’s his focus on character that makes this his best performance of the series so far. That element is bolstered by writer/director Christopher McQuarrie’s assured hand, stringing these insane stunts with a character study that questions the protagonist’s obsession to save lives. When it comes to action, we know when filmmakers cut corners. With their focus on practical effects, technical proficiency, and character development, this production has resulted in a film that is nothing less than an action masterpiece.
2) Paddington 2
Paddington 2 is such a sweet film, full of joy and genuine affection, that to not fall for its charm would be an act of heartlessness. While Paddington (2014) is a wonderful film in its own right, the sequel betters it with a more artful and delicate touch, telling the story of how a friendly bear (Ben Whishaw) simply wants to buy a popup book for his aunt’s birthday. Things get tricky when Hugh Grant’s villain (one of his best performances to date) eyes the book for his own greedy purposes as well. There are flashes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, old MGM musicals, and Frank Capra strewn throughout the narrative. At one point, we look at the production design and wonder if Wes Anderson had an influence in its style. But it’s Paddington’s kindness that wins the day – how his simple acts of charity to other people goes a long way to enrich his community. When that generosity is returned (in one of the most moving scenes of the year), the films elevates to a higher pedestal, becoming one of the best family films ever made.
Steve McQueen’s Widows is a heist film, but it’s also so much more. It’s a blunt force statement of our current culture: an examination of economic inequality, gender dynamics, racism, corruption, politics, familial heritage – wrapped in a tightly structured thriller. It involves one of the best casts assembled this year, with Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, and Daniel Kaluuya all delivering standout performances. McQueen’s direction is sleek and stylized, and his screenplay (cowritten with Gillian Flynn) is a labyrinth of twists and turns without ever losing track of character motivation. It’s a crime epic of the highest order.
There are few films where we instantly recognize that we are in the hands of people who know exactly what they’re doing. With Widows, Steve McQueen takes a bit of a left turn from his previous work such as Hunger (2008), Shame (2011), and the Oscar winning 12 Years a Slave (2013). And yet at no point did I lose confidence in his ability to tell this story with the same kind of meticulous attention to detail he has shown in the past. This is a film noir for the modern age, a classic tale told from the perspective of those who have historically been pushed to the margins. This is a fantastic film that deserve more attention – it doesn’t just dabble in a familiar genre, it also has something important to say about the real world and does so with the skill of a master storyteller. And that is why it stands as the best film of 2018.
So long, 2018! Here’s to a great 2019 at the movies!