The BP Top Ten of 2018
This list was compiled from the individual top ten lists of Alexander, Josh, Craig, Jim, Aaron, Sarah, Rudie, Rita, Scott, Tyler, and David. Each film was weighted according to its placement on each individual list. As such, a film that appeared on only two writers’ lists could still wind up on the finalized list if it placed particularly high. Conversely, a film could conceivably be on everybody’s list, but not make the final list, due to low point value.
2017 and 2018 have been an especially interesting period for Hirokazu Koreeda because he veered from his recognizable M.O. in a crime drama with The Third Murder and reached a career pinnacle with Shoplifters shortly afterward. While The Third Murder is a decent and well-made murder mystery, Shoplifters, the touching, soulful humanist drama, is still the more thrilling and exciting film. What does that say about Koreeda? It means that he’s a director who is operating on an instinctually refined level, where he and his frequently collaborating cast members spin a warm but uneasy family drama. Here, Koreeda’s narrative centers on an informal family of social outcasts. Though surrogates, the Shibata family has the warmth and conflict that typifies the director’s touching wit. But Shoplifters jumps a few paces. The urgency and dramatic gravitas are elevated and yet the film never wavers but rather builds a deeper core, one that stands as one of Koreeda’s greatest achievements. – AM
9. Madeline’s Madeline
We grow out before we grow up; out of our house, out of our mind, out of the reach of our parents and the limits of our control. Madeline (our new superstar Helena Howard) hopes to find some center away from her mother (Miranda July, never better) with an experimental theatre troupe. But when you’re young and talented, there’s always another Mother waiting to consume you. Josephine Decker’s inventive, ever-shifting, self-referential, and self-biographical third (fourth?) feature was developed alongside hers and Howard’s working relationship, and necessarily comes to no conclusion about that process. It starts kind of fucked up and ends just as fucked up, but we got to dress as animals and explore a bit of the utter emotional hellscape of being sixteen. – SN
I was one of the few people who were left cold by Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, which only set me up to be more blown away by his follow-up. Where Ex Machina was about a man-made threat with an actual agenda, Annihilation’s Shimmer is organic, operates on a scale we can’t hope to understand, and is utterly indifferent to its effect on human civilization. It might temporarily take the form of a hideous monster, but the real boogeyman here is just . . . a really major paradigm shift. In much the same way that every character in the film is affected differently by the Shimmer, Annihilation struck people as a metaphor for many different things. Is it about personal trauma, or toxic relationships, or climate change, or depression? It’s about all of those things, and whatever else the Shimmer happens to absorb. – RC
7. The Other Side of the Wind
Orson Welles doesn’t know you, and you sure as hell don’t know Orson Welles; so who are you to say what Welles would have wanted from the film he left incomplete at the time of his death? A team of scholars and his former coworkers did their damnedest, and came away with a thoroughly remarkable film about how really you just don’t know anyone, and what a shame that is. That chief someone is Jake Hannaford (John Huston), who has a new film premiering. It’s 197X, and the culture’s changing, and he’s trying to change with it. He’s calling it The Other Side of the Wind, and it’s about kids and sex and revolution. Jake Hannaford doesn’t know anything about kids and sex and revolution. He doesn’t even know everything about himself. But his friends have a whole lot of theories, and over the course of a tres-Hollywood party, they’re going to let them out for air. The colors tell half the story, the swirling soundtrack the other half, and the faces – captured in every stock of film from every penny Welles could lay his hands on – well…they tell the other side. – SN
6. The Favourite
Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone form a love triangle made out of barbed wire in Yorgos Lanthimos’ brutally funny royal farce. Lanthimos takes the broad outline of your typical stuffy costume drama (power struggles! forbidden seductions!) and injects it with his own gleefully nasty sensibility. The fisheye-laden cinematography, anachronistic dialogue, and self-consciously irreverent depiction of the rich and powerful all nudge the viewer towards a Brechtian remove from the material, while the complicated humanity of the three main performances keeps pulling you back in. Without the performances of Colman, Weisz, and Stone, The Favourite would be a fun but shallow satire of the ruling class. With them, it’s a spiky tragicomedy whose laughs stick uncomfortably in your throat. – RC
My elderly parents watched Roma on Netflix before I was able to catch it in theaters, so when I texted my mom that I had seen and loved it, I was tasked with “explain[ing] why it was so great since when it was over Dad and I looked at each other wondering what all the hype was about.” And you know what? I tried. I tried to explain that Alfonso Cuarón’s films are never only just about what we see on the surface. I tried to explain the political and social context at play watching our indigenous protagonist, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), work as a servant and a caregiver for a wealthy, middle-class Mexican family as it falls apart at the seams. I tried to talk about how Cuarón layers the action in his shots and how tension can peak through contrast, such as when shopping for a beautiful event like the birth of a baby occurs while violent riots erupt on the streets in the background. I tried to explain what emotions are evoked by having Cleo framed separately and distantly when involved in scenes with her employer, Sra. Sofia (Marina de Tavira), and how that changes after the figurative baptism on the beach when the entire family embraces her. I even tried to explain how effective sound design can be, such as when a bustling, overcrowded E.R. is contrasted with a scene where the only dialogue comes from that of a doctor futilely performing CPR out of focus in the background. I tried to explain it all, but Roma is not a film that can be explained – it’s a film that needs to be felt. “Well, that makes sense” my mom said to me. She understood it, but she didn’t feel it like I did. – JR
4. If Beale Street Could Talk
A film with complete command over every moment, set firmly in a world no one can control. Barry Jenkins adapts James Baldwin with a heavy streak of Wong Kar-wai, but this is a million miles from imitation. You can’t fake breathing. Jenkins breathes this film to life through bold colors and gorgeous tracking shots. His lively, magnificent cast roars and sighs in every shift and glance, every ray of sunshine and puff of smoke, the life of Harlem and the hollowed-out center of prison. – SN
3. Leave No Trace
If you hear the basic plot of Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace, I assume you’ll have some immediate impressions. A story about a father, suffering from PTSD, and his teenage daughter living in the wilderness is surely going to be a tough, emotional sit. When they are inevitably found out, the system would surely chew them up and spit them out, not understanding their needs or way of life. Encountered strangers would surely take advantage of them in their vulnerable situation. But Leave No Trace doesn’t turn to these easy narratives. Instead, it is actually incredibly life-affirming. The system, ultimately, isn’t perfect, but it wholeheartedly tries to provide a healthy alternative to their lifestyle; the strangers along the way are open to help in any way they can, showing incredible understanding and kindness. Will and Tom’s journey is full of challenges, of course (most of them come from their own self-destructive tendencies), and there are plenty of devastating emotional moments, but it never turns into melodrama. There are no villains though there certainly could be—and probably would be in reality—Leave No Trace doesn’t need them to tell its rich, emotional character driven story. There is also an incredible economy in the storytelling, especially in the opening and closing moments. The film starts with Will and Tom living in a national park outside of Portland, Oregon, setting up their routines, how they think about the world. On my second watch of the film, I misremembered this section taking up so much more time, a testament to Granik and the actors’ abilities to build these characters and make their strange circumstances easy to understand. Without completely knowing these people, none of the drama throughout the film works—Will’s need for this independence would come off cheaply and there would be no stakes to keep him and his daughter together. By the end, this pays off exceptionally well in one of the most emotionally complex scenes of the year, one that isn’t “happily ever after” exactly but is a moment of character development for the young protagonist. Will and Tom’s mutual decision at the end of Leave No Trace is so easy to buy and despite being a seismic shift in their lives, completely right. – AP
2. Eighth Grade
Middle school is one of the hardest times during adolescence and director Bo Burnham holds his camera right up to all the awkward, cringe-worthy, and painful moments. Burnham forces you to observe several difficult situations that are merely a movement in time, but to Kayla they feel like the end of the world. The audience roots for Kayla to find some confidence and make friends as she finishes up her last week of eighth grade. There is a lot of hope in the film too. I think there is a little bit of all of us in Kayla and since we made it through, we know she can too. – SB
1. First Reformed
There’s no easy answer to the question “What is First Reformed about?” Paul Schrader’s inflammatory and intimate story of quiet crisis is the year’s most difficult but rewarding film. Toller (Ethan Hawke) is an alcoholic, grieving priest of a mostly irrelevant church when his perspective on life is torn to ribbons when confronted with a single question: what will God think when he sees what we’ve done to this world? It’s an existential conflict, one that seems better explored in a philosophical Russian tome than in a one hour and fifty-three minute film. But Schrader’s provocative screenplay acutely actualizes this abstract conflict with precision and grace. First Reformed is a movie that doesn’t work without Hawke’s devastating lead performance. Hawke—who never seems content with the mundane, as his acting choices get more and more challenging with each passing year—is a man whose very existence is at conflict with the universe. He’s (quite literally) a shepherd without a flock, drifting ever closer to a revelation that won’t leave him unscathed. And Hawke is brilliant, displaying contradictory feelings of world weariness and naive hope. First Reformed is a showcase for two Hollywood heavyweights delivering career bests. – CS
Alright. Who did the art?
This is really wonderful to keep looking at.