Jim Saunders’ Top Ten Films of 2018

The year 2018, for all of its ups and downs, has been one of the best years in film that I’ve lived through in my short 18 years on this planet. Looking back, there were plenty of releases that were very exciting, and narrowing down my 10 favorite films of the year has been a rewarding, albeit difficult, experience. I was generous with five-star ratings this year, so there were plenty of movies I loved that didn’t quite make the cut. So before I share my ten favorites of 2018, here are some honorable mentions: Beautiful Boy, Eighth Grade, First Reformed, First Man, Annihilation, Suspiria , You Were Never Really Here, Creed 2, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Minding the Gap, and Bad Times at the El Royale.

And without further ado, here are my top 10 films of 2018:

10. Widows (Steve McQueen, 2018)

Featuring a superb cast, confident direction, and a gripping third act, Widows is everything you’d want from a heist film and so much more. It’s a shame to see the surprising lack of awards attention for this film, especially given Steve McQueen’s stellar track record and the excellent ensemble cast. Nevertheless, Viola Davis has cemented her place as one of the best actors this decade with this role, and the lack of nominations shouldn’t discourage audiences from seeing this excellent, female-driven drama.

You can read my full review of Widows here.

9. Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2018)

Shoplifters is a tragic drama masquerading as a feel-good film; it warms your heart and then proceeds to shatter it into a million pieces. The film’s greatest strength is making you genuinely feel for these morally ambiguous characters; not through emotional manipulation, but by portraying them as utterly human and showcasing their vulnerabilities and flaws. The film feels like a slice-of-life, and it is the portrayal of these characters’ struggles that makes this film truly special.

You can read Cynthia Li’s full review of Shoplifters here.

8. Paddington 2 (Paul King, 2018)

Paddington 2 is the film that unexpectedly came to unite us in our politically divided landscape. It speaks to the power of kindness and human decency that we, unfortunately, need now more than ever. Outside of being utterly cute and wholesome, Paddington 2 contains a funnier and smarter script than it has any right to have, breaking free from the oft-disrespected category of “family film.” Paddington 2 transcends those labels entirely. It’s not “great for a kid’s film” or “great for what it is,” it’s just great. Paddington is certainly the hero we need, if not the one we deserve.

7. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, 2018)

If Beale Street Could Talk is a gorgeous film that shares the power of love and hope in the face of adversity. It speaks to the generations of black men torn from their families due to the institutional discrimination that continues to be perpetuated. It’s an important film that demands to be seen, and it is a timeless story that will both resonate and devastate your very being. There’s so much more to say about the film, but the main takeaway is this: It’s easily one of the best films of the year, and Barry Jenkins has still got it.

You can read my full review of If Beale Street Could Talk here.

6. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018)

Ever since I watched Yorgos Lanthimos’ indie hit The Lobster, I immediately knew this man was making films unlike anyone else in the industry. My impressions were once again validated with the release of The Favourite. Utilizing his darkly eccentric humor to full effect, this film is one of the most unique period pieces I’ve seen to date. As someone who has never been a big fan of period pieces, this film captivated me throughout its runtime. It’s excellently paced, well-written and well-directed, and contains three of the best performances of the year from Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and especially Olivia Colman, whose childlike mannerisms are equal parts hilarious and tragic. Plus, that ending is perfection.

You can listen to UW Film Club’s podcast on The Favourite here.

5. Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018)

Hereditary is a slow burn that bursts into flames and sets the house on fire. More than just a simple horror film, Hereditary explores the devastating nature of grief and the substantial rupture it creates within a family unit. It’s a drama that builds tension and exploits the psychological fear caused by the unknown presenting itself within the familiar; it’s a bizarre, anxiety-driven experience carried by a career-defining performance from Toni Colette. Though the third act plays out like much more of a conventional horror movie in comparison to the first two, it is terrifying nonetheless and leaves you disturbed beyond belief. It is the best horror movie of 2018, hands down, and Ari Aster has already proven himself as a master horror director on his first outing.

You can read Greg Arietta’s review of Hereditary here.

4. Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley, 2018)

No other film from 2018 left me as utterly speechless as Sorry to Bother You did. This film is one of the most off-the-wall and hilarious satires in years, and the sheer ambition of writer/director Boots Riley blows me away. It’s imperfect, yes, but its strengths still far outweigh its flaws. Sorry to Bother You is an absolutely bonkers film I didn’t know I needed in my life, and I can’t recommend it enough.

You can read Greg Arietta’s review of Sorry to Bother You here, and you can listen to UW Film Club’s podcast on the film here.

3. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018)

Roma is, without a doubt, the most aesthetically appealing film of the year. Shot in black-and-white and making good use of the digital 65mm cinematography with a multitude of grandiose one-takes,  Roma is truly a sight to behold. But more than that, the film shows Alfonso Cuarón at his absolute best. Dedicated to the resilience of women in the face of emotional and physical turmoil, Roma is one of the most affecting dramas of the year. If you have a Netflix account and you haven’t seen this yet, you owe it to yourself to check out yet another fantastic film from director Alfonso Cuarón.

You can read Greg Arietta’s review of Roma here.

2. Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada, 2018)

This film is everything Green Book wanted to be and more, and it breaks my heart to see this masterpiece getting absolutely no awards attention. Blindspotting is an exploration of gentrification and racial identity that blends comedic and dramatic elements so eloquently and in a way unlike most films I’ve ever seen. One moment I would be laughing and the next I’d be physically trembling; it’s one of the most viscerally engaging film experiences I’ve had all year. The chemistry between the leads (Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal) is captivating, and their dynamic plays thoughtfully and incredibly well into the themes of the film. Blindspotting is designed to provoke hours of conversation. It’s a provocative work of art that deserves way more attention than it got.

1.  Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Robert Persichetti Jr., Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman, 2018)

Spider-Man 2 has long been my favorite superhero film, and also one of my favorite films ever. Beyond being incredibly entertaining, its narrative and character work were surprisingly poignant, and it defined what a superhero story could be while still retaining its charm and levity. I never would have expected that my favorite film of 2018, and my new favorite superhero film, would be an animated feature from SONY. Wow. Jokes aside, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is fantastic in every way imaginable. It feels so refreshing and ambitious in the same year as Infinity War (“the most ambitious crossover event in history”). A particular highlight is its unique animation style, which is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a Western animated film, mainstream or otherwise. With an intelligent, humorous and touching script and a true understanding of the character(s) of Spider-Man, Into the Spider-Verse is my favorite film of 2018.

You can read Sierra Stella’s review of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse here.