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LOOKING BACK: 2018 bucked usual movie trend by being great all year

Aficianado Kyle Wells offers up his top 10 films of the year, and what made them stand out
If Beale Street Could Talk , directed by Barry Jenkins ( Moonlight ), showed moviegoers that his previous success was not a flash in the pan.

By Kyle Wells

Monday Magazine contributor

Let’s just put it out there, 2018 has been one heck of a year for movies, for a variety of reasons.

Unlike most years, when esteemed dramas and Oscar-bait flicks get dumped on us for the final two months, this year had an incredible first half. Not only did I see five or six strong contenders for my top 10 list before summer, this fall featured several festival favourites and studio prestige pics.

Overall, it’s been a year-long, steady flow of great films and for this movie watcher, it’s been a real treat.

So, it’s my pleasure to present my picks for the Top 10 Movies of 2018:

10. Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler

Just when I thought Marvel movies couldn’t surprise me anymore, along comes Black Panther with its thrilling action, its social relevancy and its superb storytelling to prove me wrong. With Coogler (Creed) in the director’s chair, I did have high hopes and they were surpassed. I know the comic book diehards are arguing Infinity War as the more significant Marvel movie this year, but taken as a standalone piece of pure entertainment, Black Panther is the best comic book movie of the year, and one of the best ever. All that plus a killer soundtrack and probably the most compelling and fleshed out of all the Marvel villains in Michael B Jordan’s Killmonger, and you’ve got yourself a good time at the movies.

9. You Were Never Really Here, directed by Lynne Ramsay

Scottish director Ramsay has a lot to say about violence in her movies, and she doesn’t sugar coat any of it. Equally intense and fascinating, her movies rub your nose in the animal elements of human nature and take an unflinching look at the horrors we’re capable of, in the name of both good and bad. Making excellent use of Joaquin Phoenix, perhaps the most engaging actor working today, You Were Never Really Here focuses in on a damaged man doing terrible things to terrible people for a good reason, and all the complexities that come with that. It’s a visceral and disturbing piece of work, but in a way that is vibrant and captivating. And a scene playing out on a kitchen floor is maybe the best of the year.

Viola Davis (centre left) and Colin Farrell in a scene from Widows.

8. Widows, directed by Steve McQueen

When I heard the director of 12 Years a Slave was teaming up with the writer of Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn), I wasn’t really sure what to expect. But while watching Widows I realized what a great mashup this combo proved to be and that of course the end result was going to be a better-than-average, thinking man’s entertainment. And lord help me, I do love a heist movie. With an outrageously good Viola Davis leading a stellar cast, this thrilling crime caper follows a group of recent widows banding together to complete a heist after their husbands die “on the job.” But with politics at play and some bad guys kicking down doors (including a terrifying Daniel Kaluuya) you know things aren’t going to go as planned. This is no cheap thrill, with McQueen and Flynn using patience and precision to build characters we care about and a situation filled with grief, grift and grit. All that and a cute dog, too.

7. Annihilation, directed by Alex Garland

Along with being one of the most impressive debuts in recent memory, 2014’s Ex Machina was notable for its precise storytelling. So it’s surprising that Garland’s sophomore feature turned out to be so compellingly ambiguous and abstract. Deeply philosophical and visually gorgeous, Annihilation is a head scratcher but in the best possible way, as the questions it leaves lingering are wrapped with an emotional weight that helps the movie be something more than some dense thought experiment. Led by a never-better Natalie Portman, the film follows a group of scientists and soldiers as they head into a mysterious area called “the shiver” that has manifested on earth. Reality is shaved away and turned sideways the further they get into this thing, culminating in a finale equal parts trippy and thought-provoking.

Hereditary, with Toni Collette, is one of the finer horror films to come out in recent years, writes reviewer Kyle Wells.

6. Hereditary, directed by Ari Aster

Horror, much like comedy, can be such a tricky genre to find consensus with, as one man’s scary is another man’s cheesy. And Hereditary is no exception. I’ve heard plenty of people who found faults in this devilish flick, especially the divisive ending. For my money though, and as a long-time horror fan, Hereditary provided one of the more frightening movie-going experiences I’ve had in some time. There were times I felt paralyzed with fear, unable to move I was so wrapped up in the horrors unfolding on screen. What makes the movie work so well is that if you take away the horror elements you find a touching and harrowing family drama, with a staggering performance from Toni Collette at its centre, investing you in the characters and providing an emotional anchor to build the horror from. Add to that satanic symbols, crazy cults and one off-the-wall finale and you’ve got yourself one of the finest of all modern horror movies.

5. Blindspotting, directed by Carlos López Estrada

2018 was notable for quite a few extremely impressive films on race that managed to break through to the mainstream. And a surprising number of them were set in Oakland. While many are worthy of praise, I’m a little disappointed that my pick for the best of the bunch isn’t making more of a splash on end of the year lists and awards ballots. But that doesn’t stop Blindspotting from being one of the most riveting, inspiring, eye-opening, and surprisingly funny movies of the year. Starring Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal (also co-writers of the film) as two best buds, one black, one white, negotiating life in modern America and the encroaching gentrification of their beloved Oakland, this visceral and engaging movie pulls out all the stops as it dives headfirst into the anger, fear and insanity of these modern times.

4. If Beale Street Could Talk, directed by Barry Jenkins

Coming off the huge success of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk proves that the warmth and humanity that made the former so touching and engaging was no flash in the pan. Much as Baldwin did as an author, Jenkins has made a film seething with anger and frustration at the unfairness of the world, but wrapped in the warmest blanket of empathy and love, turning a tragic tale into a declaration of perseverance and hope. Set in the 1970s Harlem, the film focuses on a young African-American couple in love, who are torn apart when the man is wrongfully accused and imprisoned. From the rapturous cinematography of James Laxton to the stirring music of Nicholas Britell (both Moonlight veterans), sound, image, performance and purpose come together in this film a way that is as emotive and uplifting as cinema gets, without ever being cloying or cheap. If movies are an empathy machine, as Roger Ebert once quipped, then Jenkins is proving himself a masterful engineer.

Shoplifters, a film from Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda, centres on the interactions between a family living on the edge of poverty in Japan.

3. Shoplifters, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda

Shoplifters, an incredibly warm and heartfelt film from Japanese master Kore-eda, centres on a motley crew of a family, living on the edge of poverty in Japan, five of them in a tiny dwelling, shoplifting to make ends meet. One day the father and son of the family find a young child who has been locked outside of her house in the freezing cold. They take her in and the family numbers six from then on. This is a film not merely about love and family, but with love and family in its bones. Through Kore-eda’s gaze and the masterful tone and pace he conjures, it exudes humanity in a way both captivating and truly moving. It’s the kind of a movie you feel as much as you watch. And there’s really nothing better than that.

2. Leave No Trace, directed by Debra Granik

In Leave No Tracee, Granik’s first film since 2010’s superb Winter’s Bone, Ben Foster casts off any twitchy typecasts in his turn as a deeply psychologically wounded veteran living out in the woods with his teenage daughter, a character beautifully and subtly realized by newcomer Thomasin McKenzie. As the daughter approaches adulthood and becomes more intrigued by the wider world, their bond is challenged and Foster’s character is put in a position of trying to integrate back into a society he wants no part of. The love Granik has for her characters shines through in this deeply touching movie, beautifully filmed primarily in the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps reflecting her own position as a director who works on the edges of the film industry, Granik uses a slow, steady hand to let this tale of familial love on the outskirts of society unfold and to remind us that the true reflection of our society is how we treat those who most struggle to find their place within it.

1. The Rider, directed by Chloé Zhao

As I’m putting this list to paper, I’m really starting to notice just how many of the best films of the year brought a much-needed dose of compassion to our contemporary outrage-fueled world. And they do so not by ignoring or sugar-coating that which ails us as a society, but by getting to the heart of the matter. No movie did this better than The Rider, a cowboy poem of a film with exceptionally beautiful cinematography and a quiet but fierce humanity.

Breathtaking cinematography and a captivating and honest mix of true-life storytelling and portrayed reality were among the reasons Wells made The Rider his number 1 film of 2018.

Built organically out of the real events of the life of its lead actor, Brady Jandreau, the film follows a rodeo rider who has bucked his last bronco after sustaining a head injury. As Brady searches for a new sense of purpose in his life, he must come to terms with the dreams he will never realize and find new meaning as a brother, a friend and a person removed from the rodeo ring. With most of the amateur actors in the film playing versions of themselves, there is a different feel to The Rider than polished Hollywood offerings, but it works exceptionally well, and the steadfast kindness Zhao shows towards her characters lingers long after the credits role.

Honorable mentions: The Favourite, First Reformed, Game Night, Happy as Lazzaro, Madeline’s Madeline, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Paddington 2, Roma, Support the Girls