Set in early 18th-century England when Britain is at war with France, this wickedly original film follows not only the conflict between two countries, but between two women. Young Abigail (Emma Stone) comes to the service of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), causing the queen’s friend and right-hand woman Sarah (Rachel Weisz), the cousin of Abigail, to fear for her position and engage in a political and personal battle against Abigail. Director Yorgos Lanthimos creates the perfect blend of rich comedy with tense personal conflict and gets his audience to deeply understand these three women. Not forcing its comedy, “The Favourite” is tremendously witty and entertaining, keeping you engulfed in the quarrels over Queen Anne between the two women from start to finish due to Lanthimos’ authentic vision and three terrific performances.
What makes “Eighth Grade” stand out in the coming-of-age genre is how honest and authentic writer/director Bo Burnham presents the troubled existence of Kayla, a lonely girl who doesn’t fit in at school and struggles to find connection with her peers during eighth grade. Newcomer Elsie Fisher gives a breakthrough performance that portrays the reality of growing up shy and anxious in the digital age. The film is grounded in a reality from start to finish, giving us a warm, dark, sad and uplifting story that captures the trials of going through adolescence.
To everyone’s surprise, John Krasinski (Jim Halpert from “The Office”) surprised us all by making a horror film that was wildly suspenseful, scary and enjoyable due to its rich thrills and grounded story. Co-starring with his real-life wife Emily Blunt, the two play a married couple with kids in a post-apocalyptic world that was ravaged by vicious creatures with incredible hearing ability, thus forcing the remaining survivors to be extremely silent in order to stay alive. On paper, the plot seems like a regurgitated monster flick, but what makes this a memorable piece of film is its exceptional suspense that engrosses the audience and leaves you at the edge of your seat.
The blockbuster event of the year from Marvel Studios is by far the most fun film of the year. As someone who usually avoids Marvel films, “Infinity War” worked so well due to the great on-screen chemistry between the different heroes who came together to try and defeat a common enemy. Audiences going in and analyzing the film to pieces didn’t enjoy it due to the crowded script and multiple subplots. But those who watched this dynamite action phenomenon enjoyed it for its fun, collaborative excitement that left us in total shock and eager for the next “Avengers” movie which will conclude this most recent phase of Marvel films.
Spike Lee’s real-life dark comedy about the first black police officer in Colorado Springs who infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan is pure dynamite; it is a film as entertaining as they come. Lee gives the film a tremendously witty style fused with rich humor and captivating drama — a blend few filmmakers have properly captured. John David Washington (Denzel’s son) plays Ron Stallworth, an officer who pretends to be a white supremacist on the phone with Klansmen and has a Jewish officer (played brilliantly by Adam Driver in his best performance) interact in person with the Klan. The film is a purely exhilarating and insightful look at not only the past, but the present. This is one of the most well-written films of the year and is an absolute knockout of a movie.
No film from 2018 generated more of a reaction out of me than “Hereditary” — an ingenious horror drama from first-time filmmaker Ari Aster. Toni Collette gives the performance of a lifetime as a woman who after her mother’s death discovers the shocking truth behind her family’s legacy as it comes back to haunt her and her kids. While very disturbing, “Hereditary” is a truly scary film due to its ideas and what it tries to say, not by how much blood it spills as most horror films suffer from. No film had more attention to detail this year nor made my heart race as much. What makes this film work beautifully is how it doesn't rely purely on shock value, instead being composed of a deeply profound and complex story that will disturb you and haunt you for days.
Paul Schrader’s thought-provoking drama is a brilliant tribute to the hopelessness that runs rampant in our twenty-first century modern society. Ethan Hawke gives an artfully nuanced performance as Reverend Toller, a pastor of a historic church in upstate New York who begins counseling a radical environmentalist and his anxious wife. Toller soon becomes invested in new ideas, spiraling his broken life to intensity. Hawke captures the soul of an emotionally tormented man with such perfection that it becomes contagious. Paul Schrader, as he did in his scripts for "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull," examines another emotionally vulnerable male protagonist scared by the changes to a fragile society he no longer feels apart of. The result is a deeply profound and haunting masterpiece of modern cinema.
Joaquin Phoenix has gotten to the point in his career that any film he appears in automatically becomes great as a result of his rich talent. Lynne Ramsay’s dark noir drama follows Phoenix as a traumatized war veteran named Joe who makes a living rescuing kidnapped girls from sex traffickers and killing their captors with a hammer. When he’s assigned to rescue a state senator’s daughter, things get out of control fast, leading Joe down a dangerously violent path in order to save her. Lynne Ramsay excels as a visionary director exemplifying all of her powers. The level of trust between her and Phoenix as a director and actor generates an intoxicating performance, Phoenix's best work behind “The Master." The film’s vivid cinematography and stylish editing gives it a style that is both brutal and beautiful, a combination that enhances our viewing and builds a soaring tension. The final act of this film has three sequences that left me absolutely speechless. Phoenix's captivating vision of a broken man and Ramsey’s stunning filmmaking make this an unforgettable noir classic.
The film everyone’s raving about, the fourth remake and the directorial debut of Bradley Cooper is a new modern classic. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga together have more chemistry than any on-screen couple I can think of, with their performances full of passion and skill. Cooper portrays fictional musician Jackson Maine, a broken-down alcoholic who forms a relationship with struggling singer Ally, launching her career and giving him a second chance at life. Cooper as a director captures the beauty of two people madly in love with each other and how aspiration and addiction can affect such a beautiful thing. Both actors give remarkable performances and will break your heart — the duo’s singing of the original song “Shallow” being especially extraordinary.
Alfonso Cuarón’s subtitled, black and white personal tale of a family growing up in Mexico City during the 1970s is indescribably beautiful; a true work of poetic cinematic art. Cuarón’s directorial vision for bringing his personal memories to life is both visually stunning — his cinematography a gorgeous painting of images — and emotionally heartbreaking. Following the story through the eyes of Cleo, the family’s maid, newcomer Yalitza Aparicio gives a staggering performance that captures the feeling of alienation and fear in a world she feels uncomfortable with. Few films are as richly made and exert such powerful emotion, making “Roma” an exquisite testament to life and the best film of 2018.