Cinema Fanatic’s Favorite Fifteen Films of 2018

In 2017 I saw 72 new releases, which I believe was a record number for me. This year I saw 117! I attribute this to several of this year’s new releases being Netflix films (so convenient, if not ideal) and MoviePass. Yes, MoviePass. I saw a few things I may have skipped in previous years because of MoviePass. For awhile I could watch one film a day via MoviePass and then see a second one that I paid for. This led to a lot more double features at the Midtown Art Cinema than in pervious years. Also last year I saw 32 new releases that were directed by women. This year I saw 59 new release films directed by women (170 in total, but I’ll write more about that in tomorrow’s end of the year post), which is half of the new release films I saw this year. I plan to at least keep up that ratio next year, if not do better. You can see all the new release (and festival) films I watched in 2018 and how I ranked them here. After the cut you’ll find my Favorite Fifteen Films, and as always I remind you that this is subjective and in no way should be considered a “best” list.

This is actually my 10th year doing a Favorite Fifteen Films roundup on this blog (although that first year list has no text, just titles. I was working out the format!). You can see all previous years here.

15. Love, Simon (dir. Greg Berlanti)

I may have watched this movie more times than any other movie in 2018. I saw it in theaters twice (or was it three times?) and I re-watched it on a few airplanes, as well as when I got it on DVD. I also read all the books by Becky Albertalli (and a few other YA novels this year). This is the kind of sweet and charming teen film I used to love as a teen myself, although if the book were adapted more faithfully it would have been rate R (teens better than anyone know they’re behavior is much more raunchy than PG-13 often allows). I find Nick Robinson endlessly watchable, I dug the structure of the film, and I adored the soundtrack. My only complaint is that a few of the changes from the book (including moving the timeline up to senior year) have made it near impossible for the sequel to happen (or if a sequel happens it will have to be completely not like the books a la the third Bridget Jones film). I found comfort in this film and that always means the world to me.

14. Shirkers (dir Sandi Tan)

I am in awe of this documentary. From it’s unbelievably wonky story to its artistic style to the raw self-criticism director Sandi Tan has for her younger self. Anyone who has ever deeply loved film – watching, writing about, or making – will see a piece of themselves in this film.

13. We The Animals (dir. Jeremiah Zagar)

I loved the way this film explored childhood through a poetic lens. Its protagonist is a young boy whose family is in upheaval, but who also is beginning to discover his own queerness. There is no anchor for him as he begins to grow away from his siblings in a way that he does not understand. I could feel my own youth reflected in his inability to find many true connections with those around him.

12. Leave No Trace (dir. Debra Granik)

Ben Foster has continually been one of the most exciting and underrated film actors of his generation. I’ve never seen a film with him where he wasn’t the best thing about it. While relative newcomer Thomasin McKenzie has been garnering a lot of praise for her work (and rightfully so), this film is mostly a two-hander and both she and Foster work off each other so effortlessly it’s hard to believe they aren’t actually father and daughter. Apart from being a great father-daughter film, this film also has a lot to say about societal values, the ways we fail our veterans, and the impact we have on both the environment but also those around us.

11. The Rider (dir. Chloé Zhao)

Not quite a documentary, but featuring non-actors essentially playing themselves, this is a heartbreaking look at the west and the myth of masculinity. It’s set in South Dakota, but boy did it remind me of my hometown (whose motto is Where The West Still Lives) and all the rodeo boys I knew growing up. Newcomer Brady Jandreau is a natural film star and I hope we see more of him in the future.

10. Manbiki kazoku (Shoplifters) (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda)

A film about discarded people making a family for themselves despite an economic recession and the traditions of the country they call home. I don’t want to spoil this emotionally rich film and I so hope you can see it on a big screen so it can wash over you, but what I loved the most about it was its respect for chosen families and its deep understanding that biology isn’t always as important as connections and commitments.

9. Lazzaro felice (Happy As Lazzaro) (dir. Alice Rohrwacher)

A visually sumptuous treat, this film follows the titular Lazzaro as he tries to hold on to his goodness while the world around him completely changes. This film is full of visual metaphors, signs, and reoccurring imagery that is deeply rooted in Italian myth and culture. I broke down some of them here on my YouTube, though I suggest you watch the film (it’s on Netflix) before you view my video.

8. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (dir. Marielle Heller)

A biopic of writer Lee Israel who forged literary letters for many years before being caught, this film is again about the importance of connections. Both in the sense of how careers are made or broken based on those professional connections one makes, but also in connecting to art and connecting to friends. For most of her life Lee’s only connection to life was through art, but we see her make a true friend over the course of this film and it’s that friendship at its heart where the film won me over.

7. Beast (dir. Michael Pearce)

Probably the sexiest film I saw all year, but also one of the most terrifying. It’s a film about the tolls of emotional abuse and whether or not it can change who you are fundamentally. It’s also about how we’re all violent creatures and the ways in which we cope with this violence within ourself. There’s also some really hot making out on top of a cliff. What else do you need?

6. You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsay)

I just finished reading this book and wow what a great adaptation! Ramsay fleshes out a few things from the novel, and I much prefer the way this film ends to the way the novella ends. Featuring possibly Joaquin Phoenix’s finest performance to date, it is another film about surviving abuse and what it can do to a person’s sense of self. The film does a great job of placing you inside the mind of its protagonist through visuals, both in how he sees everything around him, as well as how he imagines himself within situations. A violent film that manages not to ever glorify the violence.

5. Paddington 2 (dir. Paul King)

“If we’re kind and polite the world will be right.” If only this were true! Paddington Bear serves to remind us why we should strive to be kind in this messy, cruel world. We should have compassion for all those who make up this planet. We have to better.

4. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (dir. Desiree Akhavan)

Any film with a Desert Hearts joke is of course going to be a favorite of mine. A film about conversion therapy that gets the nuances of queerness and the nuances of faith and how they really shouldn’t be at odds with each other, yet often are. This is a film about a girl who already knows who she is and is ready to fight for her right to be herself. Thankfully she finds some equally strong companions and as the film ends we see the beginning of a new chosen family.

3. Madeline’s Madeline (dir. Josephine Decker)

A film ostensibly about art as appropriation, it’s also maybe the greatest visual depiction of manic depression I’ve ever seen. As someone who was diagnosed as Bipolar II as a teen, this was perhaps the first time I saw on a screen what I had felt back then. Filmmaker Josephine Decker was inspired by performer Helena Howard to make this film, and so the film is reflexive on itself and its own duplicity in creating art from the life and talent of its own star. Whether it works for you or not, one thing is clear: Helena Howard is an immense talent.

2. Skate Kitchen (dir. Crystal Moselle)

This film reminded me of the surf films I love. These teen skaters – the Skate Kitchen is a collective of teen girls who really do skate in NYC – have the same joie de vivre as the surfers I always love watching. Their bond as friends was as awe-inspiring to behold as their antics on their skateboards. The way Moselle shoots these athletes makes you feel as if you are flying down the asphalt with them. My favorite scene all year involves a bunch of teens skating through the dark streets of NYC to Khalid’s “Young, Dumb, and Broke”. You can feel their verve.

1. Hearts Beat Loud (dir. Brett Haley)

Okay I was really not expecting this to be my favorite film of the year. When I first saw it in theaters I enjoyed it well enough but it didn’t rock my world. But the more I thought about this gentle film and its characters the more I loved it. I watched it on almost every flight I took during the second half of the year (I traveled a lot this year) and with each repeat viewing I loved it more and more. More than any of the other music films I saw this year I think it truly captured what it is to love music (Nick Offerman’s character is a sometime musician who owns a record store). There is antagonism between the daughter (a radiant Kiersey Clemons) and her father (Offerman), but it’s the soft antagonism of two people who grew up together and now have to part (she’s about to go to college). It also has my favorite romance of the year (between Clemons and Sasha Lane, slowly becoming one of my favorite performers). It’s a young love that feels as awkward and imperfect as young love really is. Not glossy and overproduced. Simple and sweet, but also full of heartache and despair (again college parting our characters). This film feels like our own world, just slightly nicer, slightly kinder. A world we can all work towards.


About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on December 31, 2018, in Top List and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great list. I’ve only seen about half of them so far, but I really liked all (but one) of them. And I can’t believe I haven’t made it out to see CYEFM yet since I absolutely loved Heller’s last film.

  1. Pingback: 2018 in Films: 365 Days, 654 Films, and a Year Full of Cinema! | the diary of a film history fanatic

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