40. Eighth Grade
dir. Bo Burnham
Elsie Fisher’s utterly captivating performance stands as the film’s greatest triumph, but Burnham’s relentless commitment to making his portrayal of eighth grade feel simultaneously contemporary and timeless is no easy feat. There’s enough warmth here to melt what’s left of the polar ice cap, and it’s mostly done on the capable backs of Fisher and Burnham.
dir. Steve McQueen
While McQueen and Gilian Flynn clumsily overwrite their way around a Chicago suburb overcome by corruption, Viola Davis and the rest of the gang bring such meat, emotional resonance and titanic heft to their grieving, vengeful performances that it’s almost impossible to not overlook the film’s serious structural bloat. Henry (again!), Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall do their best to keep up, but this show belongs to the best all-female heist team of the year.
38. Oh Lucy!
dir. Atsuko Hirayanagi
In some alternate universe, we’ve all been wondering this year how Josh Hartnett ended up in this blackly comic, half-Japanese movie about a misanthropic old lady desperately searching for human connection. Yet his inclusion is only the second or third-weirdest part of this movie, a wackadoo joy to watch with one of the most honest climaxes and conclusions this genre of “black comedy” has ever mustered. And Hartnett is pretty good!
37. First Man
dir. Damien Chazelle
Damien Chazelle’s third movie about how great it is to make movies is a failure on almost every scripted level, filled with glowering, over-reaching and sub-Spielbergian Apollo 13 riffing. Yet every set piece is so jarringly, maniacally well put together, impeccably shot and acted that it seems a shame to disqualify the movie just because everything surrounding the Gemini 8 flight is limp and lifeless.
dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev
Far be it for me to over-read a film nominally about the real damage done in circumstances of embittered divorce. But enough people have mentioned that the film on second viewing takes on a whole new layer as overarching criticism of the Russian state and the craven politicking the state has taken in trying to reinstall itself as the ruling party in Ukraine. A smart treatise that treats the state as just another disjointed, self-interested parent, permanently damaging its children.
dir. Dean Fleisher-Camp
What is this movie, even? An art piece? A crime? Claiming it’s from 2018 is hardly the most debatable aspect of it, yet Ruben Fleischer-Camp’s expert manipulation of a family’s uploaded YouTube footage to make the mundane seem highly, dangerously dramatic is a compelling and idiosyncratic piece of cinematic art, at the very least.
dir. Rainer Sarnet
Trying to create a movie that lives up to a first scene as viscerally weird and captivating as November’s, where a talking, spinning wheel of sickles captures and absconds (via flying, natch) with a cow, should be impossible. Yet every inch of this film oozes weird Grimm’s fairy tale mystery, from an eminently stupid Devil to dead old people who turn into giant chickens the day after they are resurrected. Which is all set dressing for a beautiful film about young, forbidden love.
dir. Sandi Tan
A warped, washed-out love letter to that propulsive young feeling of “no one can make art the way I do and fuck off if you think you can stop me.” Sandi Tan’s influence on Singapore film gets a chance to shine for moments, until the movie takes a defiant right turn to chastise her for having the youthful punk feeling in the first place. Because, in the end, our friends hurt from our brash belief in ourselves. Oh, and toxic men who think themselves auteurs are absolutely everywhere.
32. Before We Vanish
dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
For no other greater reason, Before We Vanish succeeds because it relentlessly makes fun of the over-dramatic science fiction family it descends from. Whether that is two aliens (in human skin suits) mistaking the sunset for an impending invasion of their fellow brethren, or everything that happens in the roving van that serves as command center for the “Earth Rebellion,” the movie is sure to please those who like over-dramatic sci-fi, and those who like to take the piss out of over-dramatic sci-fi.
31. Lean on Pete
dir. Andrew Haigh
The slightly lesser of the two horse-based coming of age movies this year, Lean On Pete succeeds by sheer force of its movement, constantly shifting the ground from under the capable feet of lead Charlie Plummer. His suffering seems unbearable until it somehow gets worse, tearing away all support systems from his character until naught is left but the shirt on his back. A clever, heartfelt spin on a road movie.
30. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
dir. Morgan Neville
Competently telling the tale of Fred Rogers, an endlessly affable man with a passion for educating kids in a way anathema to previously held norms, would probably have been enough to make the Top 50 of this list. Yet this version of the doc is so packed with beautiful, complex moments of conflict inside the Rogers psyche and empire (the extended piece about the creation and use of Daniel, Striped Tiger is a killer) that it would be wrong to not mention how it flies above so many by-the-numbers documentaries of similar style.
29. The Other Side of the Wind
dir. Orson Welles
Look, let’s get it out of the way – I absolutely don’t think Orson Welles should get a Best Director for this one. It’s hardly the final version of the work, and has been pieced together by teams. Yet the core conceit of the movie is as effective as any of Welles’ other work: a delightful skewering of the New American Cinema movement, done at the same time as some of the movement’s most memorable films. A film for cinephiles, at least to witness a pristine late-career John Huston performance.
28. The Favourite
dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
Kubrick period continues to bear strange, affecting fruit. Yet a little over a year after his beautiful Eyes Wide Shut homage The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Lanthimos makes a confused combination of Barry Lyndon and Mean Girls that’s saved by his prodigious talent for visual spectacle and Olivia Colman’s career-defining Queen Anne. Perhaps there’s a space epic Lanthimos work on the horizon, a la 2001. We can only hope.
27. Private Life
dir. Tamara Jenkins
A beautiful meditation on how child-bearing can be an all-consuming activity that sucks in every waking hour of a couple’s life. Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti are disarmingly honest, hilarious and devastating as a couple who can’t help but turn on each other in their group quest to conceive. Brutally filmed to the point where armchair philosophizing might infer parts of Jenkins’ life, Private Life is nonetheless a beautiful film of cold honesties.
26. The Rider
dir. Chloé Zhao
Blurring the line between drama and documentary by casting real riders and their families in key roles, Zhao brings an air of authenticity to the dirt-caked plains of the West that it hasn’t seen in many years. Even with all the attention to documentarian-style detail, Zhao’s film wouldn’t work as well without Brody Jandreau, the former rider who is a revelation as the lead. A walking white hat with a heart for his friends and the ones that have come before him, Jandreau’s acting future is, hopefully, about to take off.