Like a fingerprint or snowflake, every end-of-year Top 10 list is as unique as the cinephile who conceives it. Rules for list creation vary greatly as well. Some choose to reward films based on pure technical merits, others select strictly on emotional connection, still others like to highlight lesser known achievements that deserve the much needed notoriety. AmateurCinephile.com tries to use a little of all three to generate its annual record of Top 10 films. As with every year, the pains of decision are made worse by the knowledge that not every film from the previous year was viewed. But this comes with the territory of being an amateur and not a professional. So without further ado, here are the films from 2018 that have the “honor” of being selected to the AmateurCinephile.com Top 10 Films of 2018.
Having only ten slots can be a difficult proposition for those who enjoy making lists like this. Every year, deserving movies get left on the cutting room floor as the list of candidates gets whittled down to the final ten. So please indulge me as I offer a quick list of a few films that were left just outside my Top 10 in the hopes they may inspire you to seek them out if you haven’t done so already.
-Minding the Gap: This documentary explores the effect childhood traumas have on three young skateboarders as they mature into adults.
-Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a wondrous look at the singular career of Fred Rogers and his groundbreaking children’s show, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
-A Star is Born-The forth adaptation of this beloved story about the joys and pitfalls of stardom shows just how talented Bradley Cooper is as an actor and filmmaker.
-Basketball: A Love Story: A ten-part, twenty-hour documentary about the history of Basketball that rivals Ken Burns’ Baseball in terms of sheer knowledge and adoration for the sport it highlights.
-Searching: A missing-person mystery told exclusively through the perspective of the technology used by the frantic father as he attempts to track down his missing daughter. John Cho is fantastic.
-Crazy Rich Asians: An extravagantly over-the-top romantic comedy that I must confess I am a complete sucker for. The onscreen chemistry between Constance Wu and Henry Golding is truly palpable.
AMATEURCINEPHILE.COM TOP 10 FILMS OF 2018
10. Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley): A vintage record store owner whose business is on the rocks convinces his musically gifted daughter to form a band with him before she heads off to college. A humorous and delightful comedy, Hearts Beat Loud delivers a breakout performance from Kiersey Clemons while Nick Offerman brings a vulnerability and emotional depth that sits just below the surface of his wise-cracking wannabe hipster persona. The term feel-good-story gets thrown around an awful lot these days, but nothing fits Hearts Beat Loud more perfectly. Good luck not smiling at the end of this one.
9. Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham): A shy teenage girl attempts to come out of her shell in the hopes that it will help ease her impending transition to high school. Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade’s breakout star, delivers a truly inspiring performance, expertly balancing the awkward timidity of an introvert with the right level of hopeful innocence. Veteran actor Josh Hamilton’s heartfelt portrayal of single father Mark also adds to the film’s charm. The writing and directorial debut of comedian Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade can feel painfully awkward and voyeuristic at times, but overall the film is an endearing exploration of the pressures and expectations faced by today’s youth living in a technology crazed landscape. “Gucci!”
8. Annihilation (Alex Garland): A group of scientists are charged with investigating an inexplicable quarantined zone after a previous mission goes awry. A perfect blend of horror and sci-fi, this mind-bending thriller leaves you with more questions than answers. Annihilation is the type of intellectual science fiction film that harkens back to the days of Tarkovsky’s Stalker. With his much anticipated followup to Ex Machina (my number one film of 2015), writer/director Alex Garland has established himself as one of the preeminent voices in modern sci-fi.
7. A Quiet Place (John Krasinski): A family struggles to survive in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by a species of creatures with highly sensitive hearing. Another 2018 critically acclaimed directorial debut, this time from The Office star John Kransinski, who stars with his real-life wife Emily Blunt in this taut and tension-filled horror drama that spotlights the bonds that tie a family together even under the most trying of circumstances.
6. Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson): Created using stop-motion animation, Isle of Dogs is a story of a young boy who sets out to find his beloved dog after an outbreak of dog flu leads to the banishment of all canines to Trash Island. Influenced by the work of legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, Isle of Dogs is the second animated feature from auteur Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox) and is blessed with a who’s who of voice-over talent including Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, and Scarlett Johansson. Seen by some as a subtle warning against the dangers of unchecked power and groupthink, Isle of Dogs is a charming adventure and a heartwarming ode to the love shared between a boy and his dog.
5. First Man (Damien Chazelle): First Man examines the life of famed astronaut Neil Armstrong during the time surrounding his renowned mission to become the first man on the moon. The third film from rising star Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash), First Man is blessed with a myriad of heart-stopping flight scenes. Where it differs from many other NASA-based dramas however is in Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer’s choice to concentrate more on the man than the myth, highlighting the little known tragedy that befell the Armstrong family and how that grief fueled Neil’s desire to succeed as an astronaut. Working closely with the family, Armstrong’s sons Mark and Rick have been quoted as saying this was the most accurate portrayal of their father and mother. Every year great films, for a multitude of reasons, slip through the cracks only to be rediscovered as time passes. I foresee this fate for First Man; it’s too good a film not to.
4. Roma (Alfonso Cuaron): Roma tells the story of a young housemaid working for a middle-class family in Mexico City during the heightened civil unrest of the early 1970’s. Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron has produced an impressively diverse resume of critically acclaimed cinematic creations including Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Children of Men, and Gravity. Roma is undoubtedly Cuaron’s most personal and intimate story, as he based the film on his family’s servant and has said that ninety percent of the scenes represented in the film are taken out of his own childhood memories. With impeccable black & white cinematography, some have found the Spanish-language film’s subject matter and pacing to be a bit outside their taste range. But for those who appreciate great world cinema, Roma is clearly one of the best examples 2018 has to offer.
3. The Rider (Chloe Zhao): A saddle bronc rodeo rider must make a life-altering decision on whether or not to return to the sport he loves, and risk further injury, after experiencing a near fatal head injury. Originally born in China, writer/director Chloe Zhao loosely based The Rider on real rodeo cowboy Brady Jandreau and the difficulties he faced after his own rodeo accident. Zhao cast Jandreau, his father, and his sister to play the fictionalized versions of themselves, giving The Rider almost a documentary feel to it. The Rider is a modern western with magnificent cinematography that expertly captures the fatal attraction rodeo cowboys have to their beloved sport and the lifestyle that comes with it.
2. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik): A veteran and his teenage daughter try to acclimate to real world living after authorities discover them living off the grid amongst the dense forest of a public park in Portland, OR. Writer/director Debra Granik made a name for herself back in 2011 with her masterful Ozark drama, Winter’s Bone, a film that introduced us to superstar Jennifer Lawrence. Granik is back again with another young talent in Thomasin McKenzie. The father-daughter chemistry between Ben Foster and McKenzie makes this tale all the more heart-wrenching. Leave No Trace tastefully examines the difficult subject matter of P.T.S.D. and the extreme consequences it can have for the military veterans’ families.
1. Private Life (Tamara Jenkins): Richard and Rachel, a middle-aged couple struggling to have a child later in life begin exploring alternative options, including the unpleasant idea of third-party reproduction. A comedic drama that examines the financial and emotional burdens that come with the complicated world of assisted reproduction and adoption, writer/director Tamara Jenkins’ impeccable script offers Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn a perfect vessel to show off their unique blend of humor and anguish. Surprisingly one of the funniest movies I saw in 2018 considering the film’s dramatic subject matter, Private Life is a true cinematic gem and my #1 film of the year.