Hollywood Reporter Critics Pick the Best Films of 2018

6:30 AM 12/13/2018

by THR Staff

Chief critic Todd McCarthy's faves include a tragicomic Dick Cheney biopic, a tormented period romance and a (literally) dizzying doc, while the most popular film among all THR critics polled was 'Roma,' followed by 'Shoplifters,' 'The Favourite,' 'Leave No Trace,' 'If Beale Street Could Talk,' 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?' and 'Burning.'

This has been a tumultuous, surprising and, in the end, rewarding year for films. Sundance was a gift that kept on giving nearly all year with sharp new talent and seemingly a full year's worth of notable documentaries.

A Netflix-deprived Cannes looked better in retrospect than it did to Cannes-Is-Finished grumps at the time. There were a handful of very good straightforward commercial films. And both the Venice/Telluride/Toronto festival triumvirate and the year's end yielded a fine crop of diverse attractions.

And, speaking of diversity, there was a good deal of that, too, as the awards season thus far has borne out.

Here were my 10 favorite films of 2018. — by Todd McCarthy

  • 10. 'The Other Side of the Wind'

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Fatalistically awaited by Wellesians for nearly 50 years, this is not a film you can sincerely recommend to the uninitiated and it’s one encumbered by any number of legends and competing claims. But Orson Welles’ movie, available on Netflix, is now at least a work that can be seen and argued about, not just romanticized. It is both very much rooted in its time, the New Hollywood of the 1970s, and an echo of Citizen Kane as an impossible attempt to capture the truth about an elusive “great man.”

  • 9. 'Shoplifters'

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    Hirokazu Kore-eda’s high standing among festival audiences and Japanese cinema followers was only increased by this minutely observed study of a makeshift family of petty thieves who take a 4-year-old girl into their cramped Tokyo apartment. The director's approach is intensive, one might even say microscopic, his acute and often amusing observational skills arguably unsurpassed in modern cinema.

  • 8. 'The Rider'

    Courtesy of Telluride Film Festival

    Chloe Zhao makes her films her own way, and her measured, observant, from-the-ground-up approach works wonders in this lyrical, emotionally forlorn look at a South Dakota family still committed to the old way of things in the American West. All the family members have physical or mental problems of some kind, and what the good-looking young rodeo rider protagonist holds dear seems to offer no prospects in the modern world. It's a sad, wistful and realistic account of lives in which hard work and perseverance offer no reward.

  • 7. 'Eighth Grade'

    Linda Kallerus/A24

    What a breakthrough by comedian Bo Burnham as a highly observant writer-director, and by young Elsie Fisher as one of the most credible pubescent girls seen onscreen in recent times. This is one of the great out-of-nowhere films taken up by critics and audiences by sheer dint of its excellence, universality and experiential truths, one that fully conveyed the terror of walking into a party where you aren't wanted as well as the reluctance to speak to a parent about your true feelings.

  • 6. 'Burning'

    Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

    With a measured pace and voluptuous style, South Korean master Lee Chang-dong puts a strange triangular relationship on a slow boil in this mysterious drama that finds a vivacious young woman switching her affections from a sad-sack loner to a rich playboy as a compelling game of emotional chess plays out. Conspicuously choosing not to reveal all about its characters thoughts and decisions — and daringly protracted nearly to the breaking point — the film deals compellingly in the world of what can remain unknowable about human beings.

  • 5. 'Free Solo'

    Courtesy of TIFF

    It's hard to imagine that anyone, once watching, could tear themselves away from this exceptional documentary about a young man attempting the seemingly impossible — free-climbing the 3,000-foot sheer face of El Capitan at Yosemite. We know Alex Honnold made it to the top, but could anyone could have faced watching it if the outcome had been otherwise? The tension is extraordinary, and Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi's film may be the only documentary that was absolutely worth seeing at the Cinerama Dome.

  • 4. 'Cold War'

    Courtesy of Amazon Studios

    Love stories set in the midst of socio-political upheaval have been a staple since the beginning of time, and Pawel Pawlikowski's fictionalized telling of his parents' story in early 1950s Poland and France is one of the most memorable modern examples of the form. The contrast between the two societies is vividly expressed visually and musically, the director ruthlessly excludes all but crucial dramatic and sensual moments and, as always, there is a beautiful woman at the center of everything — namely the incandescent Joanna Kulig. Brief, on point, unforgettable.

  • 3. 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?'

    Mary Cybulski/20th Century Fox

    Quiet where her last film, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, was assertive, Marielle Heller's acutely observed biographical drama with big laughs centers on Lee Israel, a writer who seemed to be invisible to society until she started forging letters from literary greats. The film's heart lies in the priceless barroom scenes between Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, which are so wonderful that once-a-day consumption of them would be a fine prescription to lift the spirits. Poignantly, the film also evokes an aspect of Manhattan that is, to a great extent, now extinct.

  • 2. 'Roma'

    Carlos Somonte

    Few cinematic evocations of directors' youth have been as distinctive, gorgeous and less self-centered than Alfonso Cuaron's glimmering black-and-white account of Mexico City life in the early 1970s. Rejecting melodrama in favor of immersion, Cuaron keenly observes life around him while gradually coming to focus on the quiet, uneducated, powerless family maid, whose existence is seen as central to those around her. The unstressed drama is foregrounded by a cascade of extraordinary images and an emerging sense of history being made.

  • 1. 'Vice'

    Matt Kennedy/Annapurna Pictures

    A high-wire act of the first order, this scabrous account of the rise to and reign of power behind George W.'s throne is something very rare these days: a sustained and devastating satire. Writer-director Adam McKay's dexterous skills of skewering, roasting and slicing have been evident for years, but he's put it all together in this audacious evisceration of the unlikely (and most would say unfortunate) career of Dick Cheney, brilliantly played in a consummate chameleon act by Christian Bale.

    ...

    And ten honorable mentions: The FavouriteThe Sisters Brothers; Won't You Be My Neighbor?; The Mule; AnnihilationGolden ExitsIf Beale Street Could TalkGreen BookMission: Impossible — FalloutJane Fonda in Five Acts

  • Jon Frosch's Top 10 Films

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    1. Burning
    2. Minding the Gap
    3. Shoplifters
    4. Roma
    5. If Beale Street Could Talk
    6. Leave No Trace
    7. Private Life
    8. The Favourite
    9. First Man
    10. A Star Is Born

    ...

    Honorable mentions: AnnihilationThe Ballad of Buster ScruggsBeastBlack PantherCan You Ever Forgive Me?Cold WarHereditaryLean on PeteNight Comes OnThe Rider

  • Sheri Linden's Top 10 Films

    Courtesy of Sundance Institute

    1. Shoplifters
    2. Roma
    3. Burning
    4. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
    5. Leave No Trace
    6. Three Identical Strangers
    7. Lean on Pete
    8. If Beale Street Could Talk
    9. Cold War
    10. En el Septimo Dia

    ...

    Honorable mentions: BlazeThe Death of StalinThe FavouriteFree SoloJohn McEnroe: In the Realm of PerfectionLife and Nothing MoreMinding the GapThe Old Man & the GunPrivate LifeThe Sisters Brothers

  • David Rooney's Top 10 Films

    Yorgos Lanthimos

    1. Roma
    2. The Favourite
    3. Shoplifters
    4. If Beale Street Could Talk
    5. Burning
    6. Cold War
    7. First Man
    8. The Death of Stalin
    9. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
    10. Isle of Dogs

    ...

    Honorable mentions: Black PantherHereditary; Lean on Pete; McQueen; Minding the Gap; Night Comes On; Private Life; A Star Is Born; Three Identical Strangers; We the Animals

  • Stephen Farber's Top 10 Films

    Courtesy of Sundance

    1.  Roma
    2.  Leave No Trace
    3.  The Rider
    4.  Three Identical Strangers
    5.  If Beale Street Could Talk
    6.  Boy Erased
    7.  Free Solo
    8.  Shoplifters
    9.  The Hate U Give
    10. The Wife

    ...

    Honorable mentions: BlindspottingCan You Ever Forgive Me?The Ballad of Buster ScruggsBohemian Rhapsody; Capernaum; Burning; Green BookThe Children ActWhitneyThe Old Man & the Gun

  • Caryn James' Top 10 Films

    Courtesy of Focus Features

    1. Roma
    2. The Favourite
    3. Cold War
    4. BlacKkKlansman
    5. The Death of Stalin
    6. At Eternity’s Gate
    7. Shoplifters
    8. Leave No Trace
    9. Sorry to Bother You
    10. Happy as Lazzaro

    ...

    Honorable mentions: ViceBlindspottingPrivate LifeThe Ballad of Buster ScruggsNever Look AwayAnnihilationLet the Sunshine InWidowsCan You Ever Forgive Me?Black Panther

  • Michael Rechtshaffen's Top 10 Films

    YouTube/Screengrab

    1. Roma
    2. Black Panther
    3. BlacKkKlansman
    4. Minding the Gap
    5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
    6. The Favourite
    7. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
    8. Burning
    9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
    10. Paddington 2

    ...

    Honorable mentions: Sorry to Bother YouShopliftersFree SoloAmazing GraceIf Beale Street Could TalkThe GuiltyA Quiet PlaceLeave No TraceFirst ManThe Great Buddha+

  • Frank Scheck’s Top 10 Films

    Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc

    1. The Favourite
    2. A Star Is Born
    3. Roma
    4. BlacKkKlansman
    5. Green Book
    6. Won't You Be My Neighbor?
    7. The Death of Stalin
    8. Shoplifters
    9. Three Identical Strangers
    10. First Reformed

    ...

    Honorable mentions: Can You Ever Forgive Me?; At Eternity's Gate; First Man; Leave No Trace; Blindspotting; Capernaum; Mission: Impossible — Fallout; Private Life; A Quiet Place; Lean on Pete

    A version of this story appears in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.