Now that we’re a month into 2019, and in the midst of awards season, I thought it appropriate to look back on the films of last year. 2018 was an interesting year for film. Between Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, last year saw record-breaking firsts for the industry, while independent cinema was held in high regard with films like The Favourite and If Beale Street Could Talk. Now, I’m not a fan of award shows or awards for the arts in general. I like the idea of shining a spotlight on those who work hard in their profession, but art is highly subjective, and it seems odd to me to objectively place one piece or aspect of art above another. When it comes to movies, we like the ones we like why we like them. And if there ever is a “Best Picture,” it’s up to us as individuals to decide — even if that picture is Venom. That is why, here at Film Bleed, I’ve decided to list out my favorite movies of last year. They are not unequivocally the “best.” They are simply the ones that I got the most out of, personally, and I highly recommend seeing all of them. So, without further delay, below are my top five favorite films of 2018.
Dir. Alex Garland
I was disappointed to see that Annihilation‘s theater run was so short lived. It seemed to be quickly swept under the rug due to lack of general interest and exposure. Alex Garland‘s directorial debut, Ex Machina, was praised widely by critics and audiences alike, and while his second film received good reviews, unfortunately no one really saw it in theaters. And it’s great. It’s strange, twisted, horrifying and fantastical. The film centers around a team of five professionals, from various scientific backgrounds, who find themselves in a government facility called “Area X” — a quarantined piece of land which contains an extra-terrestrial electromagnetic field called “the Shimmer.” Every investigative task force over the past year that was sent into this ever-expanding iridescent anomaly never returned. Now, we follow five women into the Shimmer and begin to unravel this alien mystery. This film explores depression, grief, paranoia, apocalyptic notions and existential dread through the lens of dark science fiction. It’s certainly not a feel good movie, but it is a marvel to look at. While some of the dialogue is pretty by the numbers for a modern sci-fi film, the visuals are uniquely creative and unabashedly bizarre. Annihilation is very much an audio-visual film that doesn’t deliver, or even require, answers. By the end, I wasn’t entirely sure what I just watched, but I knew there were things in it I had neither seen nor heard before — from the tripped-out visual effects, to the visceral sound design, to the haunting score. Support this film.
“Heeeeelllllllp meeeeeee…” – the “bear”
4. American Animals
Dir. Bart Layton
Bart Layton‘s American Animals is one of the most structurally unique films I have seen in years. It’s part-documentary, part-narrative that intertwine in odd, idiosyncratic ways, and it’s all tied together by outstanding acting and one fascinating drama. The film tells the true story of four kids from Lexington, Kentucky who attempted to steal some of the rarest and most valuable books in America from Transylvania University’s special collections library in 2004. The two main leads, Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan, are top class in their performances as Warren and Spencer, brilliantly conveying just how emotionally uneven and unfit college kids are to pull off a heist — especially one of this magnitude. If you don’t know the story, I won’t give it away because the tension that steadily brews throughout this movie is profoundly palpable. The dramatic retelling of events is intercut with recent interviews with the real-life characters from the news story, going so far as to blur the line between what is and isn’t the true narrative. There are even moments when you see the actual, now older, Spencer Reinhard in part of a scene alongside Barry Keoghan’s Spencer. It’s wonderfully creative, beautifully compelling and a highly recommended watch.
“Everyone in here thinks that they’re gonna win the lottery, but no one buys a ticket.” – Warren
Dir. Ari Aster
As far as the horror genre goes, 2018 gave us some great entries. But Ari Aster‘s Hereditary, by far, provided me with the most viscerally terrifying viewing experience. This movie was pretty divisive among audiences, and I understand why. It’s a slow burn with a plot twist early on, the ending is a bit eccentric and at its core, the film is truly about mental illness and familial abuse. And for all of those reasons, I loved Hereditary. The story revolves around a family who is dealing with a terrific loss, and the mother, played by Toni Collette, looks to the supernatural to handle her grief. Between a series of séances, deaths and possessions, all hell breaks loose (so to speak), and the family ends up dealing with much more than they initially expected. The film has this chillingly unique way of illustrating how the “sins” of a family can trickle down from generation to generation. Its depiction of how mental illness can affect loved ones is shown both in profoundly emotional and brutally dispassionate lights. Collette’s performance was absolutely phenomenal; there were a few moments in the film when her face alone made my spine chill. Hereditary is a well-crafted, beautifully shot and deeply personal slice of cinema. It’s simply excellent.
“Give us your knowledge of all secret things, bring us honor, wealth, and good familiars.” – Joan
Dir. Panos Cosmatos
There is a lot I could say about Mandy. It is a magical, one-of-a-kind genre film that pays homage to the sci-fi and horror films of the 1970s and 80s. Writer-director Panos Cosmatos created his own unique reality with this film, and you get the sense that the story of Mandy could easily be one of thousands in this universe. The plot centers around a logger named Red and his cashier girlfriend, Mandy, who live in a lake cabin near what are called the Shadow Mountains. They have a nasty run-in with some hippie cultists, and things unexpectedly take a turn for the worse. Events ensue that causes Red to go on a rampage of revenge and redemption. Nicolas Cage plays Red in a way only Nicolas Cage could. He forges a heavy metal battle axe, fights his way through demonic bikers on weapons-grade LSD and has an emotional bathroom breakdown in vodka and blood-soaked tighty-whities. It is brilliantly and unironically fascinating to watch. The film has a dreamlike pacing to it, with bold colors and a strong visual atmosphere, lending itself to the overall otherworldly, Lovecraftian feel. Between the incredible cinematography, hypnotic performances, breathtaking animations (à la Heavy Metal) and beautiful score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, Mandy is an absolute marvel of cinema.
“NOTHING’S BETTER THAN CHEDDAR!” – Cheddar Goblin
Dir. Alfonso Cuarón
Out of all of the entries on this list, Alfonso Cuarón‘s Roma hit me the hardest. I initially wasn’t expecting to reach the emotional depth I did while watching, but this film demanded it. It’s a simple, slice of life story of a middle class family living in Mexico City and their live-in maid, Cleo, played brilliantly by Yalitza Aparicio. The film primarily follows Cleo as she cares for this household and those in it. Like any family, there’s tension, cohesion, heartbreak, betrayal and love. Shot immaculately by Cuarón himself, Roma sucks you into his world quietly, patiently and poignantly. This sounds as though I’m being facetious, but honestly my favorite moment in the entire 135-minute runtime was the very last shot as the credits rolled — an upward angle of the family’s courtyard with no one in it, a plane slowly flying overhead, with only the natural sounds of the neighborhood as a sonic backdrop. It is deeply mesmerizing. Roma is the kind of movie that singles out the mundane and makes it extraordinary — illustrating just how philosophically vast and beautiful everyone’s stories can be. Bravo Cuarón.
“I like being dead.” – Cleo
– Honorable Mention –
Boots Riley‘s Sorry to Bother You is a pure original. The narrative follows a young telemarketer in Oakland, California who climbs his way up the corporate ranks only to find that he has become torn between being a voice for the blue collar worker and incorporating himself into the bizarre, cultish world of upper management. The film combines surrealism, absurdism, science fiction and comedy into a hilariously dark and twisted amalgam of subversive social commentary. It’s a highly recommended watch.
Well, there you are — six solid suggestions for your viewing pleasure. 2018 struck me as a surprisingly solid year for film all-around. You just needed to know where to look. Here’s hoping 2019 will bring about even more experimental cinema and avenues for expressive freedom.