My Top 3 Favorite Films of 2018 (No spoilers)
At the end of each year, Steven and I like to reflect upon the new movies we watched in theaters and discuss both their strengths and weaknesses, as well as what they could potentially mean for the future of film. In 2018, we saw 17 movies. And while some turned out to be major flops for us, we were incredibly pleased with how this year’s movies panned out. Last year, I only truly enjoyed three films all year, so my list was incredibly easy to create. This year, I found it hard to narrow the movies I enjoyed to my top three, so that’s a huge positive!
You will see in our list of films we saw this year, films that technically came out in late 2017 and were part of the 2018 Oscar season, in addition to films that will be considered for the 2019 Oscars. We wanted to make sure that anything that didn’t get considered for our 2017 best and worst lists had a chance to be considered for this years’ lists. We are going by calendar year, and not by Oscar’s season because that makes things easier to measure time-wise. The following are the three films that impressed us and stuck with us the most this past year.
THERE ARE NO SPOILERS AHEAD
Before we get into the list, here is a little bit about Steven and my taste in film and what will probably inform why we feel the way we do about the following films:
Steven's favorite films are the ones that move and influence the film industry. He loves Spielberg classics such as Jaws and Jurassic Park and the way they form what it means to be a blockbuster hit, and adores the complexity of The Shining and the excitement of the first two Godfather films. He's also a huge Star Wars buff with an appreciation for fantasy and sci-fi.
My favorite films are the ones where you get to know the characters extremely well. I love films about relationships such as The Sound of Music, Titanic and Dirty Dancing, movies that give me hope like The Shawshank Redemption, and performances like Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Real people and real experiences interest me greatly. And I don't mind when a real life experience is embedded into fantasy and folklore. As long as it's fully fleshed out.
All films we saw in 2018
(In alphabetical order)
#3 - Hereditary
The two of us - (Steven in particular) have seen our fair share of horror films. From intellectual classics to slasher thrillers to cheesy gorey film fluff, we have a keen understanding of what’s out there when it comes to the art of the genre. But every once in a while, a film comes along and impresses horror fans all over the country, causing them to use the words “new” and “different” to describe it.
After being mildly entertained by the film A Quiet Place, we felt ready to take on the more out there horror film, Hereditary by newcomer Ari Aster, which even the toughest to please horror fanatics were raving about in both professional publications and online forums. And we weren’t disappointed one bit.
Hereditary is the story of Annie Graham (played by Toni Collette,) and her family in the aftermath of losing her mother. As time goes by, disturbing secrets from her mother’s past are brought to light, and prove to be something that could alter all of their futures forever. It’s a legitimately freaky, compelling and unique horror movie with a lot of ideas and a smart head on its shoulders. If you are like me and you hate the insulting tropes of horror movies past that are still being overused to this day, you will be glad to know that they are nowhere to be seen in this film. Gone are the cliched death scenes, the forgettable characters, the “you’ve been dead this whole time” schtick, the concept of tripping on a twig while trying to get away from a slasher, and crawling slowly on the ground as he approaches, and the impromptu sex scenes taking place in the middle of a crisis. Yet on the other hand, it doesn’t stray away too far from the fact that it’s a horror movie. At times, many scary flicks try so hard not to be a generic, that they turn into buddy cop movies, existential romps or romance films. And this one never forgets what its promised its audience. Something about the way it’s written and paced just makes it an honest new take at a genre that hasn’t been taking a ton of risks lately.
It’s difficult for me to describe the film’s plot, as it develops from a major spoiler, so I’ll just say this: Be ready for some truly creepy imagery that will stick with you, some great performances by the likes of Toni Collette and Alex Wolff, and an ending that won’t make you scoff and think “Ugh we’re doing this again?”
#2 - Call Me By Your Name
If you’ve read the entertainment section of my blog in the last year or know me in real life, you already know that I absolutely adored the Oscar-winning Call Me By Your Name. Based off of the novel by André Aciman, Call Me By Your Name is the story of a teenage boy named Elio, and a grad student named Oliver who engage in a romance while living under the same roof, the summer that Oliver interns for Elio’s father.
By the description of their age difference, this film sounds like it should set off alarm bells and that we should all be boycotting it. But as someone who advocates for the safety and rights of children and minors, I liked the film because it never condoned a curiosity between adults and minors, but rather used it as a metaphor for a bigger picture, which was about a teenager growing up and discovering who they were and they want out of life. If this movie’s message had been to promote sex with minors, it would be on my bottom 3 list.
And that bigger picture that was coming of age was done so uniquely in this film. So often, films about growing up are intended to be shown to teens during the growing up process, so they give a sheltered depiction of the experience. Whether it be that the film paints the picture of an ideal world, only deals with surface level issues or makes it seem like everything will be ok if you just believe. But Call Me By Your Name is geared moreso toward adults to reflect about the nitty gritty of the teenage experience, from experimenting sexually, to the naivety involved in falling fast in love, and many other deep feelings one experiences when they’re between being a child and a full-fledged adult. I thought it was brave in many ways, and while there are scenes that are there to make you feel uncomfortable, they serve the story and characters.
The film is also aesthetically stunning to say the least. The shots of rural Italy are breathtaking, the pacing of the film and storytelling through imagery reminds me of the slow and steady feeling of reading a really solid book, the performances are on point, and the music by Sufjan Stevens is incredibly touching - almost reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel songs in film. This film reminded me of Spirited Away in that I felt like I spent a long period of time in a far away land, fully experiencing every inch of it. I feel like if I ever want to watch it again, I’ll have to turn to Steven and ask “Are you ready to spend a summer in 1980s Italy?”
At the end of the day, it’s the film’s ability to pluck me out of my 2018 San Francisco theater seat, take me to a time and place far from me, and tell me the uncomfortable yet meaningful story of the main character’s coming of age experience, that makes this one of the top films I saw in 2018.
For a more in-depth take on Call Me By Your Name, see my earlier article.
#1 - The Favourite
When I first heard that a film was coming out about jealousy between Queen Anne’s favourites starring Emma Stone, I must admit I felt skeptical. English period pieces injected with comedy can really only go one of two ways: Intelligent masterpiece or pretentious dreck. And to be honest the first 20 minutes of this film made me nervous it was going to be the latter. But suddenly, once our characters were established and the movie could move onto their interactions with each other, it became this incredibly fascinating and memorable film that I am going to sing the praises of come Oscar season!
The Favourite is a period piece set in 1708 where Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is depicted as an eccentric and emotional royal suffering from gout. She has always relied on her adviser and closest friend Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) for support professionally and personally, until one day when Sarah’s poverty-stricken cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) moves into the palace working as a scullery maid, and uses her charm and wit to gain the Queen’s favor, to the detriment of Sarah. This film is a stunning work that takes huge advantage of the imagery of the palace, as well as the fashion and the politics of the era. You really felt like you took a trip to Britain. In fact, it got Steven so inspired, he started rewatching Downton Abbey and dreaming up a future trip to England for the two of us. And while the cast was star-studded, there was something about their hair and makeup that really made this feel more like a serious period piece that was trying to portray specific characters, than a Hollywood blockbuster trying to brag they got the 2017 Best Actress winner to play a lead role. And much like Call Me By Your Name, the environment was so vibrant, the cast of characters was so small, and the story was so focused, that I felt like I was reading a wonderful novel.
To top it all off, the pacing, storytelling and script are all strong as well, giving even more legitimacy to already great performances by our leading ladies. When a character feels jealous, you feel jealousy permeate the air. When there’s an awkward moment, you legitimately feel awkward as well. And yet there are a lot of subtle and complex moments where you’re not sure what the character at hand is thinking. And that’s because this film does something most films forget to do: Give their characters gray area. So many films commit the sin of making their characters either completely good or completely bad to where you know their intentions every step of the way. But in this film, I legitimately felt everyone’s complexity, their dark and light sides and their mixed emotions. However, whenever someone did something unexpected, it was never out of character and was pretty much explained by the end, making every decision feel intentional. This movie also takes a lot of risks in that it can be quite explicit to some. But it does so with a lot of confidence that I quite admire.
Like any film, this one has its flaws. For instance, its use of fisheye lens can be distracting, as many times it makes the viewer feel like a squirrel in a tree watching them in the woods, or a pervert who set up a hidden camera in their bedrooms. It also uses title cards to separate the film into chapters, which ends up feeling pretentious because the chapters’ names sound like they were constructed by Panic! At the Disco in their early days, and the chapters are so short and frequent that you constantly forget which one you were on. There are also instances where Emma Stone feels out of place, but honestly they’re not distracting enough for me to complain about her performance.
There are a couple of scenes where they sort of bang you over the head with the fact that the women are more powerful and savvy in this film than the men are. There’s literally a scene where after the women have intellectual intrigues with each other, it cuts to a scene of the men of the palace having fun pummeling fruit at one another in their underwear. While Nicholas Hoult’s character defies the stereotype, I can’t wait for the day when female empowerment movies can lend more time to empowering the women and a little less time discounting the intelligence of the men. However, for now, I will take this.
The female empowerment in this movie is very present, in a way that is both authentic and profound. And the women all feel like strong individuals, but in different facets, showing there’s not only one way to be empowered. While many other female empowerment movies are tasting the political climate and trying to bank off the fact that people want to see women empowered in film, this one is like a film and story that was brought to life because we are living in a world where the public can handle and appreciate women taking full charge of their destiny. And that quality combined with its inspiring environment and vibrant storytelling is what made it the best movie we saw all 2018.
And those were my 3 favorite films of 2018
The common denominator between these three films was that I loved the risks they took. Each one of these movies took every opportunity it could to give a unique spin to a film that could have run of the mill if they weren’t careful. These were far from the first films to feature historical figures, coming out/coming of age or horror provoked by a prophecy, and they won’t be the last. But I believe they will leave a lasting impression on their audiences and be films I plan on revisiting in the future with much anticipation.