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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Favourite; The Sisters Brothers; Won't You Be My Neighbor?; The Mule; Annihilation; Golden Exits; If Beale Street Could Talk; Green Book; Mission: Impossible — Fallout; Jane Fonda in Five Acts
2. Minding the Gap
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: Annihilation; The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Beast; Black Panther; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Cold War; Hereditary; Lean on Pete; Night Comes On; The Rider
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: Blaze; The Death of Stalin; The Favourite; Free Solo; John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection; Life and Nothing More; Minding the Gap; The Old Man & the Gun; Private Life; The Sisters Brothers
2. The Favourite
4. If Beale Street Could Talk
6. Cold War
7. First Man
8. The Death of Stalin
9. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
10. Isle of Dogs
Honorable mentions: Black Panther; Hereditary; Lean on Pete; McQueen; Minding the Gap; Night Comes On; Private Life; A Star Is Born; Three Identical Strangers; We the Animals
2. Leave No Trace
3. The Rider
4. Three Identical Strangers
5. If Beale Street Could Talk
6. Boy Erased
7. Free Solo
9. The Hate U Give
10. The Wife
Honorable mentions: Blindspotting; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Bohemian Rhapsody; Capernaum; Burning; Green Book; The Children Act; Whitney; The Old Man & the Gun
2. The Favourite
3. Cold War
5. The Death of Stalin
6. At Eternity’s Gate
8. Leave No Trace
9. Sorry to Bother You
10. Happy as Lazzaro
Honorable mentions: Vice; Blindspotting; Private Life; The Ballad of Buster Scruggs; Never Look Away; Annihilation; Let the Sunshine In; Widows; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Black Panther
2. Black Panther
4. Minding the Gap
5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
6. The Favourite
7. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
10. Paddington 2
Honorable mentions: Sorry to Bother You; Shoplifters; Free Solo; Amazing Grace; If Beale Street Could Talk; The Guilty; A Quiet Place; Leave No Trace; First Man; The Great Buddha+
1. The Favourite
2. A Star Is Born
5. Green Book
6. Won't You Be My Neighbor?
7. The Death of Stalin
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.