10. The Favourite
I don’t think The Favourite is Yorgos Lanthimos’ best film, but it’s a film that has projected him into the awards limelight in a way that something like The Lobster (or Dogtooth!) wouldn’t be able to. His brand of uncomfortable absurdism is still alive and well here, if tempered. The plot is a little thin, but bolstered by three fantastic performances (most notably Olivia Colman, finally getting her Hollywood due). A cautionary tale about what we’re willing to give up for success and position, it culminates in bizarre and tragic final moments.
9. Bad Times at the El Royale
Drew Goddard has only made two feature films, but both of them are some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies. Bad Times at the El Royale is an original idea that is exciting in all the ways a thriller should be. Each scene is enough fun that we’re not worrying about what’s going to happen in the next one. The pace doesn’t give us time to keep guessing, so all the surprises hit effectively. If nothing else, this ensemble cast is enough to turn heads. Smart, funny, exciting, an all-around great crowd pleaser.
8. Private LifeP
Private Life is another great film from Tamara Jenkins, one that is able to deftly jump back and forth between humor and tragedy. She brings out layered, genuine characters in Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn, just the kind of imperfect people we want to root for. Their struggle with infertility is no laughing matter, yet Jenkins reminds us that sometimes we have to stop and notice how absurd and laughable all of life is. This kind of dramatic comedy builds a holistic view of the world, one where we feel at home.
Annihilation stands out from the crowd of similar genre films in the way that it keeps some mystery alive throughout its story. We sort of figure out what’s going on, but the fact that it’s not fully within our comprehension is one of the things that makes it that much scarier. It takes hints from great genre films of the past to create something familiarly eerie, yet wholly original. Visually, the film is packed with images that are simultaneously beautiful and horrifying. Apparently, it’s quite a departure from the subject material, so fans of the books might find themselves frustrated. But coming from a place of ignorance, I found it thrilling.
6. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
It is very strange, the way the Coen Brothers are able to mix the majesty of the legendary American West with the weakness and helplessness of the people who made those legends. They twist the idea of the West without undercutting it, both finding the value and the falsehood inherent in the legends. As a good omnibus film should, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs reminds us how well the Coens can perform in any given genre. You get comedy, tragedy, brutality, chaos, peace, melodrama, and eerie spookiness all expertly executed.
5. If Beale Street Could Talk
If Beale Street Could Talk is such a lovely follow-up to Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. As he did with his Best Picture winner in 2016, Jenkins exhibits his dexterity in character and romance. We can fully empathize with almost every character in this film, because they’re so well developed. The film is also able to bring social issues to mind without the sometimes alienating sturm and drang of an “angry young man” filmmaker. Jenkins comes to the issue of police injustice from an intellectual perspective, and in bringing us so deeply into the lives of his main characters, allows us to feel the injustice as they feel it.
4. Cold War
Cold War is probably the most depressing film this year, but that doesn’t stop it from being absolutely riveting. We know Wiktor and Zula’s romance is doomed from the start, but will still hope for them to overcome, and we feel the tragedy in the lengths they go to for each other. They are artists and lovers trapped in a world that restricts them from both expression and happiness. They are innocents caught up in someone else’s war of ideas. Pawlikowski’s film is melodramatic without becoming too sappy, the best kind of tragedy. The final shot is one of the best I’ve seen in years.
3. Eighth Grade
Eighth Grade is notable for how painfully real it all is. Even though most viewers will be older than main character Kayla, we all have been through her exact troubles in our own way. Something about the film highlights the idea that we know the answers for her, but can’t save her. We have to watch her make mistakes and flounder through them in pre-teen agony before she can learn anything on her own. And it’s so hard. But as bleak as the middle school landscape might feel, there is hope. Kayla can learn and change, and be someone else. And maybe, so can we.
2. Isle of Dogs
I love Wes Anderson, and as I’ve said before, it’s totally possible that I’m only able to see this movie through rose-colored glasses. But I loved it, and I want to see it again. It’s cutesy-quirky at times, but as always with Anderson, there’s real heart and emotion behind all of it. The preciousness in his attention to detail always transports audiences to another world (this time more distant than most adventures he’s taken us on). The animation style feels both new and classic, refined even from the work in The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The film is fun, funny, and has heart to it, all of that taking place in a world I want to explore over and over.
Roma is beautiful and contemplative in the sort of way we haven’t yet seen from Alfonso Cuarón. It’s more personal than he’s ever gone, even going as far as to include himself as a character. While he still shows off his thriller cred with some very strong, very tense sequences, it is all balanced with a simplicity that heightens the more, well, heightened moments. On top of that, the film is peppered with so many visually striking images, it’s hard to pick a favorite. Beautiful, haunting, thoughtful, bittersweet – it captures so many facets of one person’s life. Roma is a great filmmaker at the top of his game (not to mention that he also went behind the camera as cinematographer this time around).