Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star is Born.
Are you starting to prepare for the upcoming awards season, or simply looking for something new to watch? Take a look at The Indy's picks for top films of 2018:
Another remarkable film by the up-and-coming production company A24, Mid90s depicts skating culture in the 1990s as experienced by a group of teenage boys. As The Indy has already reported, Jonah Hill’s directorial debut is nothing short of authentic. Viewers feel drawn into the time period and the self-discovery story of Stevie (Sunny Suljic), who struggles with a difficult life at home but finds refuge in his new friends and in the art of skating. Stevie’s friends are portrayed by a group of young, real-life skaters (Olan Prenatt, Na-kel Smith, Gio Galicia, and Ryder McLaughlin) whose performances are both compelling and genuine. Mid90s illustrates the importance of passion in finding what one loves, and is an emotional journey into the heart of an era that is full of nostalgia for many viewers.
14. Sicario: Day of the Soldado
In perhaps the worst timing of a wide release film in recent history, Sicario: Day of the Soldado opened in theaters days after images of children held in cages at the Mexican border circulated online, dominating the twenty-four hours news cycle. This coverage, combined with the film’s bizarre marketing campaign, which prominently featured a skeleton aiming two guns draped in the Mexican and American flags, dampened the films perception and box office performance. Sicario: Day of the Soldado ditches Emily Blunt’s character, who served as the audience avatar into the dark world of the drug war during the first film. Instead, the sequel follows Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) and Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) into even darker depths, no longer buoyed by Emily Blunt’s character’s morality. This lack of a moral compass challenges the audience by not differentiating right from wrong, though whether or not the distinction about these sensitive issues should be made is a debate for another time. While an admittedly unsettling watch, Sicario: Day of the Soldado thrives in these grey areas, culminating in one of the most visceral films of the year.
13. Black Panther
When it comes to film, numbers can truly speak volumes; and in Marvel’s case, the $1.3 billion worldwide that Black Panther has grossed certainly says it all. Black Panther is the superhero movie of the year, set in a fictional African nation and featuring a predominantly black cast, challenging Hollywood stereotypes and proving the importance of proper representation in blockbuster-level films. Directed by Ryan Coogler and featuring a star-studded cast including Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, and Letitia Wright, Black Panther is the story of T’Challa (Boseman), who returns to the nation of Wakanda to lead his people as their new king. The storyline is classically Marvel, but the film is also visually stunning and takes fans into a new and previously unexplored world that is as beautiful as it is socially important.
12. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs proved that Netflix is capable of more than continually pumping out mediocre to enjoyable fare, in this case creating a truly great work of film. The latest feature from the prolific Coen Brothers, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs brings the directing duo into new filmmaking territories: digitally shooting their film and using an anthology structure. Following six different stories in the wild west, all the vignettes meditate on death, a trait much more at home in the Coens’ oeuvre. The anthology structure allows the Coens to play with the Western genre, adding hints of musicals and the supernatural along the way. While some segments stand out more than others, they combine for an enjoyable watch, rife with the Coen’s trademark dark humor. The film’s existence on Netflix makes encouraged revisits possible right away, a fact that will surely boost the film’s critical reception in the years to come.
11. First Reformed
The film that most deserves to be higher on our list (list-making is hard, okay?), First Reformed stars Ethan Hawke in an Oscar-worthy performance as the priest of a historic church with a tiny and waning congregation. After counseling a husband, whose wife fears his environmental activism has gone too far, the priest witnesses a horrible tragedy befall this family. The priest becomes enraptured by politics behind climate change, leading him to confront those around him and take radical action. Exploring the mind of a broken man conflicted by his faith, the film hinges on Ethan Hawke’s transcendent performance. A modern twist on his classic 1976 Taxi Driver script, writer and director Paul Schrader delves into themes of isolation, the environment, and repression in a harrowing callback to '70s filmmaking.
10. Beautiful Boy
Felix Van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy finds strength in its captivating portrayals of Nic Sheff (Timothée Chalamet) and his father, David (Steve Carell). Based on the books Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff and Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff, Chalamet and Carell offer a realistic and saddening look into the effects of drug addiction and the strained relationship it can cause between father and son. Beautiful Boy is slow-paced at times, though its pacing heightens the film’s honest tone, and places emphasis not on the storyline, but on the incredibly multifaceted people it depicts. In Nic’s tear-filled outburst in the middle of a café, for instance, or in David’s drawn-out, uncomfortable phone conversations with his ex-wife, viewers can comprehend the painfully complex toll that addiction can take on any person’s character.
9. Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Sometimes all we need is a summer blockbuster. Sometimes, like in the case of Mission: Impossible - Fallout, said summer blockbuster is really f*cking good. Featuring some of the best set pieces of the year, the latest entry in this storied, recently rejuvenated franchise impresses at every turn. From Tom Cruise literally jumping out of a HALO plan to an excellently choreographed bathroom fight, the stunts in this movie surpass most of those in recent memory. With Henry Cavill entering the fray, protagonist Ethan Hunt faces a physically imposing foe, making for a riveting finale. Unlike past Mission: Impossible films, Fallout brings back the villain from the previous film, along with many familiar supporting characters, adding an appreciated sense of continuity (after all, these films started as an adaptation of a television series). Sporting a few plot twists along with its death-defying stunts, Mission: Impossible - Fallout is without a doubt the best action film of the year.
8. A Quiet Place
Arguably the best horror film of the year, A Quiet Place plays upon one of the genre’s most effective facets: suspense through use of silence. On- and off-screen couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt have delivered a film that is emotional, thrilling, and a completely new experience for the traditional horror fan, bringing the auditory aspect of film to center-stage to keep viewers on the edges of their seats. Lee (Krasinski) and Evelyn (Blunt) lead their children through life in silence, cleverly manipulating their environment and using sign language to avoid a set of innovative, hyper-hearing monsters. The film places an emphasis on family but removes the confines of comfortable, familiar settings found in other films of the genre: balancing scenes of Lee and Evelyn slow-dancing quietly in the basement, for instance, with those of survival-style exploration in a monster-infested forest. Krasinski’s A Quiet Place is creative, well-executed, and anxiety-inducing, and it places both of its lead actors in roles unlike any they have taken on before. Nevertheless, Krasinski and Blunt exceed expectations.
Annihilation embodies everything great about the science fiction genre. The film joins the ranks amongst the very best titles in the genre in its deep exploration of humanity. Natalie Portman plays a scientist, who, in an effort to discover what has happened to her husband (Oscar Isaac), joins a team of fellow female scientists to investigate a biological anomaly. Known as "the Shimmer," this mysterious force has taken over an area of the bayou, with nobody surviving a trip into its depths, save for Oscar Isaac’s character. The film blends mystery, suspense, and horror to great effect. The sophomore outing from writer-director Alex Garland following Ex Machina, Annihilation cements Garland as one of the premiere talents working in the science fiction genre. The film’s masterfully ambiguous ending was one of the highlights of my moviegoing year and is sure to stick with audiences for weeks after viewing.
6. Sorry to Bother You
Truly one of the most daring films in recent memory, let alone directorial debuts, Sorry to Bother You is a difficult film to categorize. Set in an alternate reality of Oakland, California, the film follows Cassius Green, played by a terrific Lakeith Stanfield of Atlanta fame, who ascends the ranks of a telemarketing company by using his “white voice” (David Cross literally voices this). What follows next is a satirical, comedic, and disturbing takedown of capitalism, race, and wealth inequality. To say much more about the plot would spoil the acid trip of a film. The films features an impressive cast, also including Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeun, Armie Hammer, and Terry Crews. First-time director Boots Riley dazzles, bringing his stylistic flair as a musician to the silver screen. Between the impressive world-building and the film’s abrasive politics, Sorry to Bother You simultaneously stands as one of the funniest and most unsettling films of the year.
5. Eighth Grade
Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is an awkward and cringe-worthy masterpiece that brings viewers back to their adolescent years. Following internet-obsessed Kayla (Elsie Fisher) through her final days of middle school, Eighth Grade is distressing to watch yet relatable to all who know the horrors of showing up at a popular kid’s pool party in a one-piece bathing suit, or getting dropped off at the mall to hang out with friends by an overly-enthusiastic parent. Fisher offers perhaps one of the best performances of the year, simultaneously funny and pitiful, allowing audiences to empathize with Kayla as she struggles to discover herself. Currently enjoying a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, Eighth Grade is a simple but heartfelt ode to the worst years of most people’s lives, rooting itself in the modern age of teens who are glued to their phone screens, and establishing itself as a cultural classic.
4. A Star is Born
Hotly anticipated by members of the Georgetown University community (in support of our favorite alumnus), A Star is Born proved itself a timeless remake of the 1937 original, with a fresh cast, a stunning soundtrack, and an emotional depth that remains with viewers long after they have exited the theater. Bradley Cooper (COL ‘97)’s directorial debut is an honest depiction of alcoholism, toxicity in stardom, and the strains that are found even in the most alluring of relationships. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the film’s greatest strengths comes from the performance of Lady Gaga, who abandons her familiar, real-life eccentricity for a startlingly simple appearance alongside Cooper, her on-screen partner. The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga is genuine, heartfelt, and uncomfortably realistic, contributing to the devastatingly human sentiment that A Star is Born plays upon so successfully.
Earlier this semester, I wrote a piece previewing Widows, proclaiming that it had the potential to be “one of the best crime films of the decade.” Well, I was right. The film follows a group of recently widowed women who band together to execute their dead husbands’ last heist. Along with the death of their husbands, an explosion at the end of a robbery gone wrong brings a lot of troubles for these women. Crime boss turned political candidate Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry) loses a great deal of money in the flames and goes after the women to reclaim his funds as he battles for election. What follows makes for an incredible film. Director Steve McQueen continually shifts his focus between these grieving women and the ongoing political race. This allows the film’s stellar ensemble to shine, particularly Daniel Kaluuya, while also commenting on corruption and race. A crime film with much more than robbery on its mind, Widows shines as an example of an auteur elevating genre film to new heights.
2. The Favourite
Despite its fancy outfits and British spelling, The Favourite is more of a satire of a costume drama than an entry into the genre itself. Art house director Yorgos Lanthimos indulges in slightly more mainstream fare, telling a story of Queen Anne. Maintaining much of his absurd tones, Lanthimos focuses on a love triangle between the Queen, her most trusted aid, and a new maid, played by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, respectively. The deeply funny script reads as if a particularly horny Shakespeare dropped acid and had visions inside the 2018 White House. Filled with sex and political corruption, the film’s bizarre tones reflect our current age better than any other film this year.
Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is not necessarily a happy watch—but it is a tremendously rewarding and beautiful one. Roma follows the story of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young maid in 1970’s Mexico City, who must balance working for a broken, middle-class family and undergoing a number of personal obstacles on her own. A touching tribute to his childhood and to the place where Cuarón grew up, Roma is an artistically shot, black-and-white film that stuns viewers with moments that are simultaneously simple and deeply vulnerable. While at first glance not as ambitious a project as either Children of Men or Gravity, Roma is just as technically impressive as Cuaón’s other works, subtly using special effects to bring to life a vision of Mexico City in the 1970’s, especially in its use of long takes and tracking shots. A Netflix original film, Roma is playing in select theaters, as well as streaming on the service. In a cinema is definitely the preferred way to see this film for its epic scale and immaculate sound design; however, due to its limited release, this experience won’t be possible for all. If watching at home, we recommend trying to simulate the theater experience by finding the best screen and sound system available to you, dimming the lights, and, of course, putting away your cell phone to fully appreciate this glorious film.
—RG & CR
Note: We did not include documentaries on this list. Also, because we are busy Georgetown students, here are some films that might have wound up on this list if we had the time and/or means to see them: If Beale Street Could Talk, Burning, Cold War, Vice, Mary Poppins Returns, BlacKkKlansman, Wildlife, Leave No Trace, The Other Side of the Wind, Shoplifters, Suspiria, The Death of Stalin, You Were Never Really Here.
PC: Warner Bros. Pictures