If you’ve been around the campfire at all this year, then you know the song; one that sounds very similar to last year in which horror is heralded as “revived“. Chilling debuts from filmmakers that shed new light on the genre – Ari Aster‘s Hereditary, Coralie Fargeat‘s Revenge and Daniel Goldhaber‘s Cam to name a few – further expose horror for the iron horse its been; a genre riding into cinemas with a steel determination to alert us that it’s very much alive. Except despite the singular nature of the song (and certainly not to detract from it), I would make the case that film in 2018, as a whole, is reborn.
Because it isn’t just the voices of a maligned genre that have something to say, kicking up substance with an urgency only a world in crises could do. No, film across all genres and, dare I say streaming platforms, is crackling with fervor. If film is the greatest artistic form, then what we’re experiencing is nothing less than an artistic influx, the beginning of a renaissance that’s igniting the peoples liberties and adding magnetism to their voices. After all, this is a nation ruled by an infant whose pacifier is the constitution of its people, and where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
And while maybe not the films that reverberate the loudest or burn the brightest, these are my favorite of the year. The ones that re-kindle my intimacy and ardor for film. The ones that continuously echo in my brain the longest, creating a cacophony of cinematic grandeur. A stockpile in which all the anger and hope of the year overflows and congeals into celluloid; a bonfire of cinema that burns blistering. These are my top ten films of 2018!
10. Annihilation (Alex Garland)
“The silence around it is louder than usual.”
It’s been almost a year since Alex Garland‘s adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer‘s 2014 novel of the same name hit theaters, in which a group of scientists – all women – trek through a mysterious force field called The Shimmer, and frankly, I can’t stop thinking about it. From Ben Salisbury‘s reverberating score – composed with Geoff Barrow of Portishead fame – to special effects artist Andrew Whitehurst‘s grotesque, physiologically confused screaming bear, the components of Annihilation have lingered long after all the talk has died down. It’s as profoundly existential as Ex Machina (2014) and hauntingly beautiful as Jonathan Glazer‘s Under the Skin (2013), turning the sci-fi genre into a kaleidoscope of grief, resilience and self-destruction.
9. Thunder Road (Jim Cummings)
“I’m not drunk. I’m angry. I realize that I’ll calm – No I won’t calm down!”
Officer Arnaud loves his mom, and you know what, so do I! Though admittedly not as much as director, writer and actor Jim Cumming‘s character does, which is what makes Thunder Road such a selflessly endearing and ingeniously hilarious portrait of heartbreak. Extrapolated from a 13 minute short that premiered at Sundance back in 2016, Thunder Road shows the tumultuous path a single father navigates after the death of his mother and separation of his wife. It’s a little film born with a big heart, often marrying the dramedy with extraneous long-takes that feel guttural and sincere, encapsulating the brilliance behind a director who embraces his debut film like a one man show.
8. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)
“I know you would stay if you could.”
What begins as a tale of isolation away from the modern world quickly spirals into a soliloquy on the nature of adaptability, though director Debra Granik (Winters Bone) never offers her characters the privacy or freedom necessary in speaking so. Will (Ben Foster), a war-vet suffering from PTSD and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomas McKenzie), live in a public park outside Portland, Oregon; a blanket of existence that is quickly uprooted when they are taken by social services and forced to live in society. Similar to Winters Bone, Granik gives nature a voice that speaks on the turmoil of mental illness, embracing its victims in a shroud that’s intimate, daring and breathtaking. Yet the silence that rings the loudest might be the ballyhoo over McKenzie‘s performance, which – like Alex Wolff from this years Hereditary – has largely gone unheralded. despite leaving discernible traces of greatness.
7. Pyewacket (Adam MacDonald)
“Every time I look at you I see your father’s face.”
There have been a lot of truly great and genre defying horror films this past year, from Coralie Fargeat upending a worn landscape with Revenge to Panos Cosmatos completely revisiting it under the luminous psychotropic light of Mandy. Yet the film to truly burrow under my skin and defy expectations is Adam MacDonald‘s (Backcountry) occult horror Pyewacket, a much quieter and unornamented film than most of its highly regarded peers. Its simplicity allows its horror to unfold without any frills. as a teenage girl grapples with the sudden loss of her father and how to co-exist in that absence with her mother. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t complex, because its emotional layers are what gives Pyewacket its raw, resonating pulse; one that MacDonald quickens by upending domesticity and adolescence with mounting dread. And while not nearly masterful as Ari Aster‘s debut film Hereditary, this had me cowering and believing again in the power of the horror genre, proving that sometimes the less complicated the landscape, the scarier the journey.
6. Where is Kyra? (Andrew Dosunmu)
“Everywhere I go I see her.”
Speaking of the horror landscape, nothing has pinched such a nerve and felt so terrifyingly real as Andrew Dosunmu‘s urban sprawled Where is Kyra?; a film that speaks deeply about life’s crushing struggle. Set deep within a Brooklyn that feels swept aside by the borough’s ever-pulsating hipness, Dosunmu‘s third feature film is a dark, rich and haunting portrait of a struggling middle-aged woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) whose perilous journey from one job to the next sets her on a path in which she may never come back from. Similarly to the directors previous films, Where is Kyra? depicts the horror of endeavor set against the backdrop of a city that never sleeps, despite its inhabitants feeling as worn as the shadows that conceal them. While not technically a horror film, its central themes continue to linger in my bones, chilling like another winter in which financial hardships are just as ever-present and scary as the supernatural beings of my nightmares.
5. Game Night (John Francis Daley, Jonathan M. Goldstein)
“I cheated at the game of life. And at The Game of Life.”
Out of all the surprise films to come out this year – Borg vs McEnroe, Heavy Trip, Thoroughbreds, Venom (yes, I’m saying this without a hint of irony) – who knew a comedic retelling of David Fincher‘s The Game (1997) would be the one to completely catch me off guard. Yet here I am, still recovering from whiplash after the severe double take elicited by John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein‘s Game Night; a whirlwind of breakneck comedy and adventure that deftly demonstrates how immersive film-making is done. Its ability to provide a frantic, engaging and continually hilarious story about a group of friends who get caught up in an all-too-real murder mystery party is a rare discovery. A comedic gem that blends the buddy-cop and the slapstick antics of The Great Race (1965) with enough chemistry to win over the most solemn critics. And in a game changing performance of dry, hollowed wit and unbalanced heart, Jesse Plemons completely steals the show as Gary, a recently divorced cop who just wants to be invited over for game night.
4. The Night Comes for Us (Timo Tjahjanto)
“A tiny glimpse of life hanging by a thread.”
A spiritual successor to Gareth Evans Raid films that reunites Joe Taslim and Iko Uwais in a merciless tour of writhing bodies and opulent bloodshed, Timo Tjahjanto‘s The Night Comes for Us is a decadent display of Silat – Indonesian martial arts – and Dead Alive inspired splatterstick. It’s also one of the most exhilarating head-rushes to drop a hard elbow on 2018, miring the senses in enough crimson to make the entire Halloween franchise blush. The physical prowess on display, cutting through human flesh with the power of a vacuous meat clever, is a wonder to behold as flayed bodies and blood begins spilling over into the horror realm. It’s a melding of genres that just feels right in a year that has seen horror really come into its own, and between its martial arts action bravado, the two have never looked better. Hotel rooms, staircases, billiard rooms and butcheries set the stage for countless fights that act as choreographed numbers, and between this and Suspiria, the dance has never been more enjoyably painful.
3. Burning (Lee Chang-Dong)
“I guess he’s young and rich.”
Adapted from a short story by Haruki Murakami titled Barn Burning from his 1993 collection, The Elephant Vanishes, Lee Chang-Dong‘s long-awaited follow-up to 2010’s Poetry is, for lack of a better term, a scorcher. A slow-burner of surmounting tension and longing that hardly ever blinks as its two and a half hour run time crackles and bristles with beauty layered against affecting uncertainty. Introducing us to Lee Jong-su, an impoverished young man tending his fathers farm, Burning tells of his encounter with childhood friend Shin Hae-mi – who travels to Africa and returns with a new friend named Ben – a disaffected, wealthy and youthful man who reveals a peculiar hobby of lighting plastic greenhouses on fire, What unfolds is a deeply felt tapestry on longing, woven with layers of methodically wound tension that turns the near-impossible task of successfully adapting a Murakami story. Lee Chang-Dong, moving with the irresolution of a jazz song, taps into the core of human connection and forbearance, placing the subconscious in a pressure cooker of meditative mystery.
2. A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper)
“Maybe she’s a way out.”
Aside from the aforementioned Burning, Bradley Cooper‘s directorial debut of the long-adapted 1937 film staring Janet Gaynor and Frederic March is a film I went into without a single glimpse of the trailer and, surprisingly – given it’s the fourth remake – any real idea of what it’s about. What transpires is a powerhouse of emotional gravitas that emanates life with soaring beauty and deafening heartache. Despite the proclivity of some to mislabel Jackson Mane (Bradley Cooper) as a toxic ebb of masculinity, his drunk husky snarl is filled with compassion and empathy. He’s a flawed and tail-spun character that gives the film one half of its voice; a whiskey scratched octave of mental illness that – over the films millennial record producer – lends the films rising star Ally (Lady Gaga) a sense of understanding and a pedestal to shine from. While much more focused on Mane’s oscillating self-destruction than Ally’s chart-topping trajectory, A Star is Born never forgets the infallible distinction between its two voices, giving Alley a self-reliant limelight in which the films love intones completely.
1. Mission Impossible: Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie)
“The end you’ve always feared is coming.”
Who knew, in a year that brought a new Steven Spielberg and Avengers film, that the sixth entry in the long-running Mission Impossible franchise would be the biggest, most kinetic and incendiary blockbuster of them all! Returning to handle the *clears throat* fallout from the explosive success of Rogue Nation (2015), writer and director Christopher McQuarrie unleashes a satchel of primed, adrenaline charged escapism that supersedes popcorn fare by being the most human of the series. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) runs, jumps, falls, runs some more and rides shotgun to Henry Cavill’s mustache while suffusing the film with a sense of abandonment for the mission; an espirit de corps that unites fists with fortitude. There’s a vulnerability to Cruise‘s weathered agent – played by an actor who ultimately embodies over two decades worth of physicality – who exposes the root of a franchises longevity; compassion. It’s an accompaniment to the adrenaline pumped action that drives deep into the veins of viewers who flock to theaters for the bombastic nature of the genre, expecting a buttery satiation of escapist thrills. Luckily, Mission Impossible: Fallout fulfills that by being not just one of the years best, but one of the greatest action films of all time. Mission accepted!