Kyle Brunet is a longtime staff writer for Film Flam– check out his archives here!
2018 is finished folks! We are over and done with another shitshow of a year. With every shit year, though, always comes the film escapism we deserve, and this year was no better or worse than the last few. Unfortunately, I missed out on some films that I know for sure would have made my list (The Favourite, If Beale Street Could Talk, Shoplifters, etc.), but this year was so strong that I pushed my list from previous years’ top 10 to a top 15! If you disagree with any of these rankings, well, I’m sorry I hurt you.
15) Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland)
I’m going to keep this first film selection a quick one because you should just go see Annihilation blind with no spoilers, other than the fact that it’s one of the best psychologically twisted sci-fi films in so long. It’s Lovecraftian, it’s cosmic horror based, and it is glorious. Now go watch it.
14) Three Identical Strangers (dir. Tim Wardle)
Having a documentary take a spot in a list of my favorite films of any year is *very* rare, but if there is one to do just that it is the genre-bending docu-horror film (is there such a thing?) Three Identical Strangers. It starts as an unbelievable true story of triplets separated at birth who reunite later in life, and goes on to become a frightening expose on the powers that be and their influence on what is chance to us. I’ll admit, I have a bad habit of becoming incredibly distracted and uninterested in documentaries I might have zero interest in (looking at you, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) but Three Identical Strangers gripped me from the first minute of the first interview and NEVER let go. It seems the fat cat elites are about to release an actual drama on this case in the near future, so jump on Three Identical Strangers before their eventual film comes out.
13) A Star Is Born (dir. Bradley Cooper)
You know what? I will fully admit that my preconceived notions going into A Star Is Born were highly irrational and unfair. After seeing the critical reaction coming out of the festival circuit and the eventual trailer, my eyes rolled to the back of my goddamn skull at the thought of this film being an Oscar contender. “Another piece of Oscar Bait,” I told myself. Well, guess what, I was wrong! I’m happy I was wrong! A Star Is Born is not only a look into fame and the powers that push you into show business, but a look into the world of pain, grief, and mental dilemmas that come with success. Most importantly, A Star Is Born is about relationships, the important ones and the ones that don’t feel all that important until they become so. About the people in our life we might blindside but truly, ultimately devote ourselves to in the end. It helps that we have the star power and talents of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper to show us the best of times and the worst of times– *especially* the worst of times. This is a sad one– Don’t forget the tissues!
12) BlacKkKlansman (dir. Spike Lee)
First things first, let me just say that I am in no way a huge Spike Lee fan. Sure, he’s behind some true masterpieces like Malcolm X and Do The Right Thing, but he also did Inside Man and that god awful Oldboy remake. So to be blown away when watching the first trailer for BlacKkKlansman was a huge relief. The story was right up my alley, the cast was fantastic, and it had this weird Soderbergh feel to it; a tone not much different from 2017’s Logan Lucky. Thankfully, Spike Lee crafted one of the year’s finest social satires around the twisted and demented world of David Duke and the man who infiltrated the KKK, Ron Stallworth (played by the incredible John David Washington). Dealing with the social issues of the early 1970s and eventually tying it into a nice, neat bow with the inclusion of a little social commentary on the current state of things, BlacKkKlansman is not only a period piece but a look into movements and the power movements have in this country, for better or, in the current case, for worse. Sure, at times it’s funny, what with the biting satire that always sticks the landing, but it never forgets the reality that lies behind the piece of entertainment we watch.
11) Sorry to Bother You (dir. Boots Riley)
Now if you’re really looking for a grade-A piece of satire, let me present to you one of the most absurd movies I’ve seen in a very long time. While dealing with themes of African-American identity, the world of capitalism, and the idea of corporate slavery, first-time director Boots Riley decided to throw these serious subject matters into a nice surrealist, Terry Gilliam-like stew that either comes out as inedible or the most delicious stew you’ve ever had. I won’t go into the plot because seeing any trailer or reading a synopsis of Sorry to Bother You will just confuse you even more, so all I give you is my word: it’s a tasty stew, folks.
10) Paddington 2 (dir. Paul King)
2018 has been a rough year, let’s not sugar coat it. The world is upside down at this moment, our time on this earth is ticking ever so slowly towards our ultimate demise, and people are not vaccinating their children anymore. We are screwed, to put it plainly. With all the doom and gloom the media sells you, let’s take a look on the bright side: we have Paddington 2! Yes, the cutest movie ever made about the cutest bear ever made got a sequel and it is PERFECT! Following the new misadventures of Paddington as he goes from the streets of London to jail cells occupied by the toughest of the tough has never been so good. Sometimes we just need good wholesome fun.
9) The House That Jack Built (dir. Lars Von Trier)
Speaking of wholesome fun, Lars Von Trier came out with a new film this past year! This time good ole’ Lars decided to go down a “memory lane” type trip, with Matt Dillon’s Jack explaining and examining his, ahem, pieces of art. The art in this case happens to be a collection of brutal murders committed throughout Jack’s life, and Lars hands the audience all the gory details on a silver platter with a dumb, shit-eating grin on his face the whole time. Separated into “5 incidents,” The House That Jack Built is really a tough film to watch, but the self-commentary and exploration of what really makes someone commit the worst crimes imaginable is always interesting and never boring. Sure, it’s self serving and egotistical as FUCK, but come on– when has Lars ever been anything but? I would examine it a bit more, but a review would be needed to tear this hell of a movie apart. So putting it at the 9th spot on this list will have to suffice for now.
8) Vice (dir. Adam McKay)
Vice is a very divisive film, but as you can tell by the fact that it’s #8 on my list I’ll fully admit that I love love love it. Most of people’s anger or hatred towards Vice seems to be around the fact that it is less of a biopic and hit piece on Dick Cheney, and more of a social and political satire about how bought the people who run this country are, and the ones who accept the checks. Using Cheney as a prime example of the corruption in plain sight, McKay takes the formula he created with The Big Short and uses it as a vehicle to move through a lot of the bureaucratic bullshit we have grown to hate more and more by the day. On top of that, Vice is just absolutely hilarious. Check it out if you have a hankering for some phenomenal satire.
7) Mid90s (dir. Jonah Hill)
“A lot of the time we feel that our lives are the worst, but I think that if you looked in anybody else’s closet, you wouldn’t trade your shit for their shit.” This quote perfectly represents Jonah Hill’s directorial debut film Mid90s, and all of my feelings with it. We complain that our life feels unfair or that we were duped, but in reality we all have our own issues and problems. Mid90s takes us back to the innocence of early life, and the desire to lose it and become one with the ones you look up to the most, even if you paint them in more positive strokes then they actually are. A slice-of-life film with a not-so-cynical Harmony Korine look and feel to it, with very realistic performances and characters that are driven with real emotions that never come off as forced or heavy handed. Plus it’s about SKATEBOARDING! RAD!
6) Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (dir. Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr., & Rodney Rothman)
The comic books, the web shooters, the Halloween costumes, the video games, the ’90s cartoon, THE RAIMI MOVIES?!? Spider-Man was my SHIT as a kid, and as I grew into adulthood he became my favorite comic book character. Still, for the last few years, something has been sort of missing from the character. I know Tom Holland is good and everybody loves him, but something about him never really clicked with me, and while I tried, the recent comics are mediocre at best. Then came along Into The Spider-Verse and blew my mind, proving to me that there is still plenty of room left for this character. Not only is it the best animated movie this year, not only is it the best comic book film of the year, it’s one of the best films of the year. The hype is real on this one!
5) First Reformed (dir. Paul Schrader)
This one falls into the “sleeper hits of the year” category because NO ONE TALKED ABOUT THIS MOVIE! At least it seemed that way to me. Written and directed by mastermind Paul Schrader of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull fame, First Reformed explores a pastor questioning his own faith as the politics of the people he surrounds himself with seeps through. Ethan Hawke leads this contemplative and emotionally disturbing tale of a man who is mentally ready to give up, but who never pushes himself over that edge. Silently moving through his days with little to no meaning and wearing an expressionless face throughout the 2 hour running time as the film slowly but surely works its way to the big (yet metaphysical) conclusion. This movie is bigger than me or you, so just take my word on this one.
4) Halloween (dir. David Gordon Green)
I already wrote a pretty extensive review on the new Halloween flick so I’ll keep this short and sweet. MICHAEL MYERS IS BACK BABAAAYYYYYYYY.
3) Eighth Grade (dir. Bo Burnham)
Did you hate middle school? Does the thought of 8th grade put a pit into your stomach? Do you ever cringe at the thought of who you used to be? Well I do, and I can almost guarantee that you, the reader, do too. Thankfully for us, YouTube legend Bo Burnham is taking us back to these simpler times with his new film Eighth Grade. We the audience follow the very naive and confused Kayla (played excellently by newcomer Elsie Fisher) as she goes through a period of her life where she slowly becomes the young women she wants to be. Whether it’s through her mistakes or through her YouTube page where she dishes out life advice for kids her age, we the audience learn from her perspective. Bo does a fantastic job of getting down to an 8th grader’s level, as we never get the sense that he’s talking down to them but instead trying to learn with them. Ignore the obvious differences between individuals, we all go through certain life events that shape us. In some weird way we have all been Kayla or any of the young characters presents to us by Burnham, making Eighth Grade the most realistic and relatable film on this list, and of the year.
2) Mandy (dir. Panos Cosmatos)
An over the top cult leader, a vengeful and ultra violent Nicolas Cage, a bunch of drugged up and demented bikers, and a very King Crimson-friendly soundtrack. Welcome to the world of Mandy, brought to you by the master of psychedelic filmmaking Panos Cosmatos. Every inch of Mandy is riddled with bat-shittery and mania that I very rarely see in movies nowadays. Separated into chapters and tones, Mandy very much is a sum of all of its parts. The slow-paced, methodical filmmaking that dominates the first half slowly gives way to an ultra violent grindhouse type of mayhem that, in some way, feels like a reward for the audience’s patience while maintaining the beautiful and hypnotic pacing throughout. Every aspect of Mandy is a perfect blend of elements that should have NEVER worked, but Cosmatos overcomes the challenge. Throw in a genre-bending performance by the brilliant Cage and the best soundtrack of the year (R.I.P. Jóhann Jóhannsson) and dinner is served. Is there really a movie this year that’s even in the same realm as Mandy? Nope.
1) Hereditary (dir. Ari Aster)
Fact: 2018 was the year of the horror movie. Obviously, you have the money-making giants of A Quiet Place, Halloween, The Nun, etc. But we can’t forget about the arthouse horror flicks that somehow made their way to your local cineplex’s screen, through the use of slightly false advertising to make them look a bit more approachable. Gracing the silver screen in 2018 came the prime example of putting butts into the seats of a theater secretly playing an art house flick: Hereditary. What seemed like another demon-like possession story, with everybody’s favorite horror trope of the creepy kid being used heavily in the trailers, turned out to be a completely different film, one much more sinister and methodical. Hereditary deep down is a family drama about trauma put upon an already unstable foundation that is becoming even worse by the day, and the way each member of the family handles with the pain of loss. It’s in those small moments of dealing where we get the true picture; whether it be the teenage son having an anxiety attack while smoking weed under the bleachers, or a mother jumping into things or being coerced into doing things she just doesn’t quite understand, under the basis of just trying to deal with the trauma and pain of losing a loved one. In the most realistic way, Hereditary is a portrait of pain.
That’s not to say the horror elements are weak. Quite the contrary, actually. There is not a director this year who gets horror and tension quite like Ari Aster, and that says a lot when you have a David Gordon Green-directed Halloween. Whether it be one-shot takes that wind down narrow, pitch black hallways, or the emotional tension that makes a family fight turn into a horrific showdown between the forces of evil and past pain. Not only is Hereditary the best film of the year, it’s a foundation future horror films should take notes from. Most importantly, Hereditary is a masterpiece in filmmaking.