2018 was one of those cinematic years where movies were infused with unrelenting emotional resonance, whether they were eye-opening documentaries, small character studies, visceral horror, or uplifting, sweeping narratives. Each of the films that made my Top Ten Best Films of the Year list is striking, and led me into worlds and experiences that helped educate, delight and surprise me. It was an impressive year and I feel so grateful that I continually get to see and enjoy so many filmmakers’ visions from around the world. It’s a tremendous honor to be a cinemagoer today, and always.
- FIRST REFORMED
Paul Schrader has masterfully written and directed this deeply thought-provoking film, and its parallels with Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light are inspired. Both are unflinching portraits of pastors in spiritual crisis, and breathtaking cinematic journeys into the human condition. Ethan Hawke gives the performance of the year as the reverend who is plunged into a war between hope and despair within his soul, when a parishioner asks him a haunting question, “Can God forgive us for what we have done to this world?” I’ve seen this film multiple times and each time is more powerful than the next. The ensemble cast supporting the astonishing Ethan Hawke, from Amanda Seyfried, Cedric the Entertainer, Philip Ettinger to Michael Gaston all deliver awe-inspiring performances.
The extraordinary Boston film podcast, Film Baby Film asked me to come on their show this past July to discuss the parallels between Winter Light and First Reformed. Check it out if you want to hear more! https://soundcloud.com/filmbabyfilm/fbf-20-winter-lightfirst-reformed
This beautiful Japanese film follows a family that takes in a little girl left alone in a house in the freezing cold. They not only provide her with shelter, but with a place to call home and unconditional love. As we learn more about each family member, we discover how each is uniquely flawed, but their loyalty towards one another is extremely affecting. They have found happiness as a unit despite persistent hardship, and through it all they show that the power of family goes beyond blood relations. Shoplifters is one of the most profoundly humanistic films of the decade.
A thrilling and riveting mystery that unravels on screen through text messages, instant messages, e-mail interfaces and web pages. It’s a brilliant storytelling mechanism that reflects today’s digital age, while the story of a father searching for his missing daughter had me in tears from the first minute to the very last second of this modern masterpiece. As a mom, this film absolutely broke me, and as a movie fan, it exhilarated me. Our digital footprints can be invasive, but they can also be our only way to connect and be remembered. Bonus points for the alien invasion subplot the filmmakers so cleverly left for us to discover on subsequent viewings.
- LOVE, SIMON
This coming of age film is so beyond wonderful and wildly romantic that at times I felt like my heart would just about soar from my chest with happiness. It’s also incredibly moving and poignant as it perfectly captures the torment of navigating your teen years, finding yourself, and learning to embrace who you really are when maybe you’re not so sure you will be accepted by the world. Love, Simon follows a teenage boy who is grappling with his identity, and the scene where Simon comes out to his mom might be one of the most heartfelt and spectacular scenes committed to film this year. This movie is so life-changing, insightful and relatable to anyone regardless of sexual orientation, that it not only should be required viewing for all teenagers, it should be on the must-see list for everyone. It’s rare when we get a film this special and it deserves to be celebrated.
Hereditary is a throwback to straight up classic horror films like Rosemary’s Baby. Its slow burn narrative seeps under your skin, as you watch the unusual Graham family slowly disintegrate as their fate and ancestry is revealed. The hypnotic pacing of the film makes the ending even more harrowing and terrifying. Toni Collette’s performance is stunning, formidable and jaw dropping.
- CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
Can you Ever Forgive Me? chronicles the true story of Lee Israel, a former New York Time’s best seller who resorts to forging letters from famous literary figures to help pay for her rent. This film washes over you with its warm color palette and the long, engaging conversations between its two captivating leads, which take place in New York City bars, book shops and apartments. Melissa McCarthy fully lives in the character of Israel, making her endearing even though she is bitter, angry, and cuts right into almost every person she comes across. Despite her rough exterior, a misfit played vibrantly by Richard E. Grant is drawn to her caustic wit and the friendship they develop is adorably contentious, but sweet. This script brims with intelligence and sharp, biting dialogue, which makes this film endlessly fascinating to watch.
- ISLE OF DOGS
Wes Anderson has yet to disappoint me and once again, he gifts us with another charming and hilarious story with a cast of voice actors that are pitch perfect. Anderson revisits stop motion animation to invite us into a world where man’s best friend has been quarantined and banished to live in exile on an island, for fear of them carrying a rare strain of flu potentially harmful to humans. One boy goes on a dangerous adventure to seek out his dog on the island and bring him back home. Every frame of this film, from the backgrounds to the distinct personalities of the dogs, is filled with tiny details that seize you with joy or make your heart ache with sadness. At one point, I thought I could actually hear a man’s heart break next me in the theater when a dog howled softly for his owner. Anderson took great care to make these dogs memorable characters from their coughs to the slight shifts in their eyes when they are thinking. It’s a remarkable and enchanting cinematic achievement.
- WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?
This was the year of the documentary, with so many truly incredible ones that challenged and inspired us. But one rose above all others for me. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? provides us with an inside look into Fred Rogers’ amazing life, and his lessons and philosophies towards his audience of children through his show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. What we learn is this man is even more exceptional that we ever could have imagined. His understanding of children and how to reach out and teach them to be their best selves was revolutionary. He instinctly also knew how to touch us all of us with his magnetic personality and friendly demeanor, by just genuinely caring about humanity and radiating kindness toward his fellow man. At the end, the subjects in this film are asked an introspective question and in turn we think about our personal answer to it too. The result for my theater going experience was an entire audience reduced to tears, to the point where afterwards you could spot who in the bathroom line had just seen it, because they were gripping their Kleenex or still quietly crying in their hands. The emotional impact of this film is unparalleled with any other feature in 2018.
- BEN IS BACK
A blistering, tension-fueled film about a recovering addict who comes home for the holidays. Julia Roberts is phenomenal and mesmerizing as the mother who welcomes her son Ben with open arms, when he unexpectedly arrives on her doorstep on Christmas Eve. Despite other family members having severe reservations about his visit, she believes in him and his intentions to continue on his road to recovery, even though he is coming back to a home and town full of triggers for him. This is a staggering film which overwhelms you with empathy for both mother and son, and grips you with the helplessness one can feel when they can’t heal themselves or the ones they love.
- LEAN ON PETE
This movie was so gorgeous and achingly touching that it literally stayed with me for months and months after first seeing it. A 15-year-old boy named Charley heads out on an odyssey across America with his only friend, a horse named Lean on Pete, in search of his long lost aunt. His journey is heartrending, but Charley never loses his spirit and determination. I can’t fully express how very much I loved this film, other to say it’s flat out magnificent.
Honorable Mentions: PADDINGTON 2, STAN & OLLIE, TULLY, 22 JULY, EIGHTH GRADE, THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS, ROMA, LEAVE NO TRACE, THE WORLD BEFORE YOUR FEET, THE RIDER, SPIDER:MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, RBG, GAME NIGHT, FREE SOLO, CAPERNAUM, CRAZY RICH ASIANS, BOY ERASED, ANNIHILATION