My Favorite Films of 2018 Are…

A look back on this past year at the movies

Alex Bauer
Dec 20, 2018 · 14 min read

With the rise and fall of MoviePass and the emergence of AMC’s “A-List”, going to the movies in 2018 has never been easier. Subscription services have maximized the potential of films I could see in a year. All one needs, now, is time — which is hard enough to come by.

I saw 44 movies in theaters this year, which feels like a lot. However, I know of a ton of avid movie fans who dwarf that number. All the kudos to them! My goal is to seek out the wonderful, weird and worldly. I love seeing different point of views (through characters, directors and writers) and how all sorts of filmmakers tell their story.

2018 offered some great films. When compiling my list for this year, I still have not seen a bunch that would probably end up on this list. Some films I missed out on because of time and limited release: Roma (seeing this week though), Burning, If Beale Street Could Talk, Shoplifters, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (I know, it’s on Netflix. Still, finding the time is hard). Some films were missed out on because of me having no interest: Black Panther, Avengers (don’t even know which one came out this year), Bohemian Rhapsody, Isle of Dogs.

That is what makes these end-of-the-year lists so great: everyone comes at films from all different perspectives and tastes. Reading everyone’s “top of 2018” lists offer insight about the films you missed and get new commentary on the films you have watched. I am here to throw my picks into the ring of pop culture. I hesitate to call anything “best”, because we all have our own definition of “best”. What is to say mine is more complete than yours? So, I use favorite. Without further ado, my 15 favorite films of 2018:

Stenfield and Tessa Thompson in SORRY TO BOTHER YOU

This black comedy from writer/director Boots Riley caught me by surprise. Going in, I knew absolutely zero about what the film was about — which is part of the fun of going to movies. I was intrigued by the film’s poster and the little (in terms of what was being said, the volume of praise was significant) praise I saw on Twitter. Leaving the theater after watching, I was speechless.

Sorry To Bother You is among the films that never left my mind once after seeing it this year. The film follows “Cash” (Stenfield) as he tries to balance work and a personal life. He gets a job as a telemarketer, only finding success when he utilizes his “white voice”. Sorry to Bother You’s first two thirds is some of the best film-making of the year. The story works, the acting is pitch perfect and the writing is humorous and heartfelt. The film is bit on-the-nose with its social commentary, but comments in such an enjoyable way.

The film’s third act is where it falls off the rails; it teeters on being so bat-shit crazy that the story, for some, is brilliant. Not me. The ending is too magical and out there for me. The ending, ultimately, belittles everything else.

Still, the film is a strong, independent look at the world we live in. I applaud the vision of Boots Riley and all who took park in this film.

Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively and Henry Golding in A SIMPLE FAVOR

Where Sorry To Both You had the WTF moment of the year, A Simple Favor had more moments, but to a lesser degree. Where A Simple Favor’s crazy moments grew tiresome, the style and acting nudge this film into the top 15. From start to finish, A Simple Favor is tons of fun.

Directed by Paul Feig and written by Jessica Sharzer, the film depicts a friendship that is anything but ordinary. A Simple Favor has, to name a few, missing people, murder, affairs, mom vlogs and everything in between packed into a dark, twisted comedy. The one downfall of this film is its twists and turns; there is too much happening. The story gets convoluted and messy.

Yet, the wickedly complex story did not mess with my enjoyment. I had tons of fun watching A Simple Favor. Anna Kendrick playing a caring mother who vlogs is straight comedy gold. The star, however, is Blake Lively (and her outfits). Lively is smooth, witty and mysterious. I loved her from the start and wanted to know as much as I could, as the story progressed. Lively is in complete control of her character, and the recommendation of this really is an excuse to get more people to watch this performance.

It is wildly entertaining.

Rosamund Pike and Christian Bale in HOSTILES

Bring back the western! Can’t you tell, I love a great western

“Hostiles” is a play on words. From the white perspective, the hostiles are the many Native American tribes standing in their way of “manifest destiny”. From the tribes’ perspective, the white man are the hostiles — encroaching on their land. Who are the real hostiles?

When the US Army is in charge of transporting Native American prisoners across the American west, the two clashing cultures have to work to survive. The elements are harsh, the landscape is rough and everyone seems out to murder them (for various reasons). Throw in Rosamund Pike, a widow whose family was murder by a group of Comanches, and the hodgepodge group’s battle of survival creates interesting decisions.

Directed by Scott Cooper, the western landscape is on full, beautiful display. The wide shots of the natural setting is eye candy. The performances are rock solid; I especially loved see Wes Studi, who gives an emotional and power performance.

The characters are interesting, the action is gripping and the landscape is breathtaking — a successful western in my books.

Keira Knightly is COLETTE

A wise character once said: “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” Keira Knightly makes a whole lot of cash making period pieces, as she should. Knightly was born to bring the past to life.

Colette tells the story of Gabrielle Collete, the wife of Henry Gauthier-Villars, who is a noted French author. Or is he? Gauthier-Villars ghost writes tons of “his” work. Always looking for a great, new story, he turns to his wife — who would write the famous Claudine series.

The film explores love, artistry, passion and celebrity in wonderful and heartbreaking depths. Knightly absolutely steals the show as Collete, giving the author a touch of optimism but also grounding her with incredible individualism. Dominic West is equally great as Gauthier-Villars, whose obsession with celebrity and fame clouds what matters most: love and compassion.

Colette is a period piece done right: interesting, fresh and wholly beautiful.

The crew in MID90s

Writer and director Jonah Hill (yes, that Jonah Hill) intended his debut to call upon the nostalgic vibes of the mid-1990s, and he was wildly successful. Though not a child of the mid-1990s, I caught the cultural sensations at the end of the era. Still, the carefree attitude, the music and language all struck me as I watched this film.

I was never a skater in the strictest sense — I never owned a skateboard — but that culture is what I remember most about my childhood. I watched skate videos, listened to punk and punk rock and was attracted to hanging out with people older than me. I was a scrawny, shy kid. How did I try to fit in? By doing whatever it took to make people laugh. Usually, that meant crazy, ridiculous “stunts” a la Jackass.

Watching mid90s brought back all those memories, which I did not prepare going into the film. I appreciate Hill for illuminating this glimpse into the coming-of-age world. The actors are stunningly great (mainly non-actors), while the story touched on a small, sliver of the world. By the end, you do not want to leave their side.

Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra in ASSASSINATION NATION

This film is a lot of fun. Violent, but fun.

There is nothing subtle about Assassination Nation, which usually means pretension is somewhere in the air. The argument could be said about this film, too, but I dare you to watch and forget about Assassination Nation. It would not happen.

The story follows a suburban town as people’s secrets begin to spill out via internet hacks. This leads to an all out slaughter in the town, in the name of revenge and retaliation. The film has an absurd concept, and is wickedly over the top, but the film-making and acting — especially the four leads pictured above — are of the highest quality.

The film is directed and written by Sam Levinson, who stamps his unique voice onto this story. It is in your face, colorful and visually active. The film has a lot to take in visually, which is part of the fun. Plus, scenes are rife with specific moods and vibes — the best example being the break-in scene. There is incredible amounts of tension built into the scene thanks to it being a single take.

The acting is memorable and fun. These are characters that are funny, independent and badass — and so is the film.

Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in FIRST MAN

Wow, I never thought this film would be as controversial as it ended up being.

First, American flags are all over. Whoever started that nonsense: stop it. This film is incredibly American, showing its greatness, but also detailing the non-glamorous side, as well.

Directed by Damien Chazelle, the director departs from his musical side to tell the story of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his personal journey from the Earth to the Moon. As someone who appreciates NASA and their history, this film is incredible insight into a man we all think we know. Armstrong is calm, cool and isolated — from his work and his personal life. He is driven to do his job and help NASA do theirs.

I love this angle of the landing of the moon story. The film-making is superb: cool, in-your-face and downright uncomfortable. Chazelle shot scenes inside the space craft from Armstrong’s point-of-view — you’re looking out the window into space. It is an effective way to put the viewer into Armstrong’s shoes.

Despite showing Armstrong as a distant figure — and he was — the touching moment on the moon (in complete silence) is one of my favorite movie moments of 2018. Chazelle is a master of his craft.

Kristen Stewart and Chloë Sevigny in LIZZIE

The story of Lizzie Borden is pretty well known by this point. So, do we need another version at this point?

If the film is coming from the mind of Craig William Macneill (director) and Bryce Kass — HELL YES we do. Lizzie is an insane look at love and revenge. It is a story about those trying to find themselves and live their lives the way they see fit. But, if crossed, the results can end in bloodshed.

For most of the film, the characters and its direction is restrained. It is a beautiful looking film that slowly builds to its climax. There is a lot of looks, talking and world building in the first half; the murders are ever present in your mind. It was interesting watching and guessing how Lizzie (assuming she did it) committed the crime, what ticked her off and how Kristen Stewart’s character played a role. This film is not taken for historical fact — the film is only inspired by actual events. Yet, the folklore vibe this film owns is wonderfully vivid.

The actual crime at the end is shocking. After wading through the exposition and the slow burn, the ignition of the murders is a treat. Stewart and Sevigny are sensational. I am OK with picturing this as how the crime happened.

Sam Claflin and Shailene Woodley in ADRIFT

Thanks to MoviePass — and a free afternoon — I went to check out Adrift. Clueless, I went in to escape from the heat and hoped for something, at bare minimum, entertaining.

Boy, did I make out all right.

Adrift shares the story of a couple who were stranded in the Pacific Ocean after experiencing a hurricane while sailing. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur and written by David Branson Smith, Jordan Kandell and Aaron Kandell, Adrift is a heartbreaking, yet awe-inspiring survival story. The ocean has never looked or felt more terrifying than it did in this film (possibly because I was in theaters). Kormákur brilliantly depicts the vastness of the ocean — how in the middle of nowhere one is — but also how constraining it is being stranded on a boat.

The star of this film is Shailene Woodley, who plays Tami Oldham. The story from which the film is based off of is Oldham’s story. From the hopes of being on her own to trying to survive the grim outlook of being stranded on the Pacific Ocean, a full range of emotions are on display. The emotional and physical toll are brilliantly depicted; Woodley’s actions to keep herself alive are nothing short of heroic. I was inspired, moved and touched by the end of the film by this true story.

Kiersey Clemons and Nick Offerman in HEARTS BEAT LOUD

There is something incredibly special about father-daughter relationships. To pinpoint how special that bond can be, Hearts Beat Loud is the perfect explanation.

After the death of their mother, Frank (Nick Offerman) and Sam (Kiersey Clemons) are trying to figure each other out. Frank’s mindset is still stuck where Sam is still little and needs parenting. In reality, Sam is applying for colleges and getting ready to move. They come together in a way they can bond in harmony (literally): by playing music.

Hearts Beat Loud has the most heart of any film this year. To watch Frank and Sam’s relationship grow, change and prosper is moving and reflective. Both Clemons and Offerman bring warmth and personality to each of their characters; they actually feel as if father and daughter.

While the Frank and Sam’s story is why the film works so well, the music should also be noted as magnificent. They write music together and, when one of their songs hits it big, it poses new struggles for their relationship. However, the music composition is beautiful. It is catchy and filled with an honesty lacking in some popular music today.

Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried in FIRST REFORMED

If I had a vote, First Reformed would be all over my Oscar ballot. Most notably, Ethan Hawke gives one of the best performances of 2018.

First Reformed, from the mind and eye of Paul Schrader, focuses in on a priest (Hawke) who begins to question faith (his and in general) and the role of humanity. The film takes a look at environmentalism, faith and personal relationships in this modern age — yet the film feels as if a timeless message to humanity.

The film is shot beautifully and captures the small town feel of the United States. (I am all in on that! Give me more suburbia. Cities are boring). Ernst Toller (Hawke) is caught up with his priest duties — being a man of God and a man of the community. When Mary Mansana (Seyfried) comes to Toller with a problem, the two try to work at solving their problem (no spoilers) with the human decency they both believe should exist. Both give otherworldly performances.

The film is filled with interesting conversations and ideas. Its a film meant to sit and see if their words can churn thoughts inside one’s head. As soon as the credits rolled, my head was bouncing left and right with thoughts. I have not stopped since.

The “Skate kitchen” crew in SKATE KITCHEN

Skate Kitchen would make a great double feature with mid90s (for all the obvious reasons), but also because both films depicts realistic portrayals of friendship. The sweetest highs and the darkest lows are showcased with heartfelt honesty in Skate Kitchen. It is a fun, coming-of-age story that (with the non-actors who are GREAT) feels as if you are hanging out with the crew.

Earlier this year, I wrote more in-depth about Skate Kitchen, so I won’t waste time here. Read the article here.

Rachael Weisz and Olivia Coleman in THE FAVOURITE

Once I saw the trailer for Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, I was sold. This is the period piece that everyone needs to watch and (hopefully) enjoy. It is vicious, blunt and insane. All three of those reasons — and more — are why this film works on many levels.

The Favourite depicts the story of Queen Anne (Coleman) and her “favourite” — an intimate companion of someone. At the start of the film, that person is Sarah Churchill (Weisz), who practically runs the government. She is smart, sly and knows how to BS like the best of them. As we watch Anne and Churchill interact, the story also follows Abigail Hill (Emma Stone). She arrives at the palace bright eyed and innocent. Soon, we see her as a cunning woman with a more elaborate plot.

The Favourite is the best directed film of the year. The use of space, movement and the different lenses offer unique perspective and understanding of the story and its characters. Lanthimos is a man with a distinct vision, and it was such a joy to watch.

The acting is world class, too. Benefiting from an interesting story that is equally funny and heartbreaking, all three women are tremendous in their roles. Beneath the humor, there is an interesting look at power, position and privilege. For me, its Emma Stone’s best role. She is naive and innocent, yet transforms into something totally wicked.

Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal in BLINDSPOTTING

This was my #1 of 2018 for most of the year.

Blindspotting comes the genius minds of Diggs and Casal. They look to tell a tale about Oakland, that offers a closer look a city Diggs and Casal call home. The film is funny, moving and the most entertaining I have had in the theaters all year.

Like Skate Kitchen, I wrote about Blindspotting more in-depth already. You can read more about my thoughts here.

Amandla Stenberg in THE HATE U GIVE

Holy fucking cow.

The Hate U Give is 133 minutes long, and I cried for 120 of them. I am not joking.

This film packs as much emotion, heart and story (which is good!) as any film I have seen in long, long time.

Based on Angie Thomas’ novel of the same name, the film follows Starr (Amandla Stenberg) as she grows up in a fictional suburb. Starr is a bright young student, who witnesses a close friend shot and killed by the police. Starr begins thinking and tackling questions about life, racism and everything in between. The film tackles everything from identity, violence, racism, friendship and family.

The best performance of the year — male or female — belongs to Amandla Stenberg. Her character is put through emotional and physical hell, and Stenberg delivers a stunning performance. Her growth of the character is evident, but her poise to convey such deep, dark emotions — yet somehow never really lose all her positiveness — is astonishing (in the best possible way) to watch.

One of the chief reasons why I watch film is get perspective. Film allows for people to convey their perspective on the world around them. To watch how Starr reacts and feels after witnessing the one of the most most horrifying events anyone could go through is eye-opening. I appreciate the filmmakers and the producers to have this story told. It is as important as any story being told today, and it is my favorite film of 2018.

Alex Bauer

Written by

Just a guy who likes telling great stories, however and whenever I can. Click the Twitter icon to follow or e-mail me at ambauer93@gmail.com

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