#1 Film - You Were Never Really Here
It's not just the fact that Lynne Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here completely transformed the way that I exist in this world that leads me to declare the film a complete and utter masterpiece worthy of being declared 2018's best film.
That helps, but that alone isn't enough.
It's the fact that there isn't a single wasted moment in the sparse, dimly lit world in which Joaquin Phoenix's Joe lives out an existence that vacillates somewhere between incomprehensible, violent rage and equally violent self-loathing. It's the fact that Ramsay has managed to create a film both sympathetic and savage, an unhinged noir that is so layered and so complex that it's hard to believe Ramsay packs it all in to a 90-minute feature film. Much of the credit, of course, goes to Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix tells a story with everything here does here - it's not just the dialogue, but the way that Phoenix's body wears Joe's cavernous wounds and relentless rage and the little ways in which he shows us that Joe has practically wrapped himself up inside a barrel and is about to go over an edge even deeper than the Niagara Falls.
There's not a moment of imperfection in the film, not Phoenix and not the smallest roles to be found. Jonny Greenwood's score is a hard-charging metallic synth that takes us to the edge and just sort of dangles us there, never quite pulling us back but also never tossing us aside. Joe Bini's editing work here is nothing short of astounding, capturing the wholeness of the story while maximizing its emotional impact. Thomas Townend's lensing is also among the year's best, intimate and jarring and disturbing and ridiculously uncomfortable.
I loved everything about You Were Never Really Here, not so much in the way that makes me want to watch it over and over and over again but in the way that a film plants itself inside your very being and you just know, absolutely know, that it's never going to leave there. It's become part of your cinematic make-up and it's altered your entire being. While it's marvelous hearing all the Oscar buzz for Leave No Trace helmer Debra Granik, the simple truth is it's Ramsay who deserves all that buzz as she's unquestionably directed the film of the year and served up the year's best directorial effort.
1st Runner Up - Paddington 2
I am surpassed in my passion for this film only by the Midwest Film Journal's Evan Dossey, a friend and professional peer whose enthusiasm for the film helped to ensure its placing as the runner-up for the Indiana Film Journalists Association's annual top ten list. While it may seem absurd to place Paddington 2 alongside a film as dark and relentless and raw as You Were Never Really Here, such a pairing actually feels natural and honest. Truthfully, I could have easily placed this film as my #1 and been completely happy. In the end, my critical perspective gives an ever so slight nod to Ramsay's film while my heart proudly announces Paddington 2 to be my "favorite" film of 2018 and easily the film from this past year that I will watch again and again and again. The performances are impeccable, the script an absolute joy, the realization of Paddington the Bear absolutely sublime, and this is that rare sequel that is likely superior to its predecessor. When Paddington instructs us all that "If we are kind and polite the world will be right," I can't help but think that Joaquin Phoenix's Joe would wholeheartedly agree.
2nd Runner Up - First Reformed
As a pastor myself, and one who has often questioned God and faith and organized religion, it may have been inevitable that I would embrace Paul Schrader's First Reformed. I'm not surprised I appreciated the film, I am surprised at how much I truly loved this film including Ethan Hawke's career-best, award-worthy performance as Reverend Ernst Toller, the pastor of a fading Dutch Reform church in upstate New York whose spiritual journey seem more than a little bit influenced by Schrader's own childhood growing up in a Calvinist Christian Reformed Church. While many have described First Reformed as simply an environmental film, there's simply so much more going on that the film instantly becomes Schrader's most effective and exhilarating film in years and one of his very best.
The Rest of the Top 10:
#4) Eighth Grade - It seems like it should be an exaggeration that watching Eighth Grade is like watching a star in the making. Yet, that's exactly the experience one has watching the remarkable Elsie Fisher find every subtle nuance and shade to be found in her character of Kayla, a 13-year-old girl fumbling her way through the final week of middle school. Written and directed by Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade is one of several films from The Independent Critic's year-end awards to receive Heartland Film's Truly Moving Picture Award.
#5) Sorry to Bother You - Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You is a quiet little work of wonder, a film that has all the balls while a neutered film like Green Book gets all the credit. Made on a Hollywood modest $3.2 million, Sorry to Bother You accomplishes a whole lot more with a whole lot less than most Hollywood films. It's also a film that reminds us that Lakeith Stanfield is one of the best young actors working today and yet a good majority of you reading this still don't know his name.
#6) Won't You Be My Neighbor? - I'm not quite sure that this Morgan Neville helmed documentary truly qualifies as the year's best documentary, but it made me laugh, made me cry, made me think, and had me hooked from beginning to end.
#7) The Rider - The Rider accomplishes everything that Eastwood's horrid experiment 15:17 to Paris did not. It took non-actors and compellingly and unforgettably made us embrace their characters and their stories. Writer/director Chloé Zhao and her minimalist crew created one of the year's least seen, most under-appreciated films and it's one I truly hope finds new life on home video.
#8) Madeline's Madeline - I didn't expect to fall in love with Madeline's Madeline, but that's exactly what happened with this wildly experimental, emotionally riveting and absolutely unforgettable film with stellar performances from newcomer Helena Howard along with Miranda July and Molly Parker. You may not understand, I'm still not sure I do, but you definitely won't forget it.
#9) Stan & Ollie - Stan & Ollie is yet another film that completely surprised me. While it's no secret that both Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly can act, I'll confess to being just shy of stunned that they pulled off these performances so magnificently. Stan & Ollie was one of those films this year that I immediately wanted to watch again even as the closing credits were rolling. It's a pity that neither Coogan nor Reilly are likely to get the awards buzz they deserve.
#10) Leave No Trace - Among this year's remarkable efforts by female directors, it seems most likely that Debra Granik would be the first one called when the Academy Award nominations are announced. It's understandable. This is a remarkable, intelligent film with a fantastic ensemble cast and a script that avoids lazy stereotypes and easy answers. While I had some issues with the film, it's easily one of my favorite films and one of the best films of 2018.
The Next 10 (Honorable Mention - in alphabetical order):
- Cold War
- The Death of Stalin
- The Hate U Give
- If Beale Street Could Talk
- Lean on Pete
- The Tale
- Thunder Road
2018 Genre Awards & Acknowledgements:
- Best Family Film of 2018 - Paddington 2; Runner Up - Liyana
- Best Faith-Based Film of 2018 - I Can Only Imagine; Runner Up - Thy Neighbor
- Best Documentary Feature of 2018 - Won't You Be My Neighbor?; Runner Up - On Her Shoulders
- Best Animated Feature of 2018 - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; Runner Up - Isle of Dogs
- Best Horror Film of 2018 - Anna and the Apocalypse; Runner Up - Don't Leave Home
- Best Foreign Language Film of 2018 - Cold War; Runner Up - Never Look Away/Border
- Best Sci-Fi Film of 2018 - Annihilation; Runner Up - Upgrade
- Best Action/Thriller Film of 2018 - Mission Impossible - Fallout; Runner Up - Unsane
- Most Overrated Films of 2018 - The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, Green Book, Vice
- Most Underrated Films of 2018 - 1985, Private Life, Skate Kitchen, Support the Girls, White Boy Rick
And, Finally - 10 Hidden Gems You Really Need to Discover (Alphabetical Order)
- Roll Red Roll
- Support the Girls
- The Clovehitch Killer
- The Last Doll Lady
- Thunder Road
- Tre Maison Dasan
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic