Friday, December 14, 2018

The Ten Best Films Of 2018

Rebecca Ferguson and Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible - Fallout". Paramount 


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, December 14, 2018

The verdict on the 2018 film year: A better year for film than in 2017.  More films of inclusion hit the big screens in the U.S. and Canada.  There were visions that were inventive, fascinating and stunning.  Here is my list of the ten films that stood out in the memory in 2018.

10.    MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT   (Paramount; July release)

Tom Cruise outdoes (and injures) himself in the mission to bring the best action film this early part of the century to the big screen.  Against the odds of his death-defying exploits he succeeds.  Especially with Christopher McQuarrie at the helm Mr. Cruise has proven to be a true daredevil, doing all of his own stunts as always, but upping the ante including jumping out of a plane and hanging off a helicopter.  The film itself matches the indefatiguable star's relentless energy and audacity.

Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Amandla Stenberg and Common in "The Hate U Give". Fox 

9.    THE HATE U GIVE   (20th Century Fox; October release)

George Tillman Jr. directs this powerful and inspiring adaptation of Audrey Wells's phenomenal best seller about a Black teenager who has to wrestle with her conscience after her former boyfriend is murdered by police.  A fine, rich, refreshing film that combines discussions of racism, race consciousness, activism, womanhood with a story about standing up for what is right.  Amandla Stenberg is terrific as Starr Carter, the young girl who comes of age, as is Russell Hornsby as her dedicated, loving father.

Viola Davis in Steve McQueen's "Widows". Fox

8.   WIDOWS   (20th Century Fox; November release)

Steve McQueen's cool, yet hard-boiled drama about politics, entrenched systems and the American Dream, as set in Chicago, is a riveting, beautiful-looking showcase led by the brilliant Viola Davis as a character who has to recover $2 million in one month after her husband and his crew steal it from a political candidate.  What a performance from Ms. Davis, her best yet on film.  The ensemble cast too is excellent, especially Michelle Rodriguez as one of the title characters.  Written by Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen.

Yalitza Apricio in Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma". Netflix

7.   ROMA   (Netflix; November release)

Alfonso Cuaron's epic film breathes with life, feeling and anticipation.  This very personal look at the director's childhood Mexico is adorned with memorable, specific insignia that defines its breathtaking elegiac imagery.  Absorbing, delightful, dramatic and anchored by the amazing performance of Yalitza Apricio as the housekeeper who keeps a dysfunctional family intact during turbulent times.

The cast of "Shoplifters", directed by Kore-Eda Hirokazu. Magnolia

6.   SHOPLIFTERS   (Magnolia Pictures; November release)

The Japanese filmmaker Kore-Eda Hirokazu returns with one of his very finest films about a family whose very young poverty-stricken children shoplift in the markets and stores of a Japanese prefecture.  This drama looks at class, money, deception, childhood, innocence, love and opportunity.  The pace and ease of this film is such a delight and one of the most enjoyable and heartbreaking film experiences this year.  Magical, melancholy and marvelous work, with some unforgettable performances.

Cres Chuang and Bamboo Chen in Hsin-Yao Huang's "The Great Buddha+". Cheng Cheng Films

5.   THE GREAT BUDDHA+   (Cheng Cheng Films; January release)

An engrossing journey into the grim, evil heart of politics, sex, power and socioeconomics defines this clever, satirical look at contemporary hierarchies and generational gulfs.  Hsin-Yao Huang's admirable film has abundant personality, charm, appeal and wit, with a touch of the macabre and sordid.  This is one of the most admirable and biting films of the year, and one that keeps you off-balance.  You are never able to be completely comfortable while watching, and in some ways Mr. Huang's film is a Rohrshach test.

4.   QUINCY   (Netflix; September release)

In the only film on this list that a woman directed, Rashida Jones (and co-director Alan Hicks) directs her legendary father Quincy in a documentary that shows the sheer breadth of Mr. Jones's genius and staggering (as well as life-threatening) work ethic.  I was blown away by the depth and tenacity of Quincy Jones's ongoing life, much less the already-known 60 years of eclectic accomplishments in music production, composition and artistry.  This must-see film is a loving naturalistic, cinema-verite kaleidoscope filled with great stories, home video, music (listen for the end credits song "Keep Reachin'" by Chaka Khan) -- and miracles.

Quincy Jones, in a photo glimpsed in Rashida Jones's and Alan Hicks's documentary "Quincy". Netflix

3.   BLACK PANTHER   (Marvel Films/Disney; February release)

Ryan Coogler's towering, phenomenal epic film goes beyond the superhero genre to be a superbly crafted film all on its own, standing apart from the Marvel comic book stable.  A compelling, fully-realized story about a kingdom in turmoil is punctuated by Hannah Beachler's distinctly African, extraordinarily-detailed production design, Rachel Morrison's cinematography and the performances of Danai Gurira and Michael B. Jordan (along with Kendrick Lamar and SZA's "All The Stars" end credits song), all helped make Mr. Coogler's billion-dollar box office smash the biggest cultural and cinematic touchstone of the year.

Danai Gurira in Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther". Disney

2.   FIRST REFORMED   (A24; May release)

This hardly-seen film with Ethan Hawke's outstanding performance as a tormented pastor of a Dutch Calvinist church in upstate New York is Paul Schrader's finest hour as a writer and a director.  The tightly-edited and sparingly-directed film, reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman's muted but profound work is full of discreet images.  There's one image of jarring symbolism that is a penetrating experience I won't soon forget.  A powerful, psychological drama.  This challenging and philosophical ride stayed with me for a long time.  Mr. Schrader's quiet film is an intense journey into morality, faith, theology and the meaning of existence.

Ethan Hawke in Paul Schrader's "First Reformed". A24 

1.   BLACKkKLANSMAN   (Focus Features; August release)

Having seen Spike Lee's best film ever sixteen times on the big screen this year there was no doubt -- and obviously this is a clear declaration: I have never ever seen a film like this before.  Then again, you've never heard of a true story quite like this: a Black man infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan.  Ron Stallworth did just that as a rookie cop, the only Black police officer in Colorado Springs, in the 1970s.  No one would believe this story if you merely told them.  But on the big screen in Mr. Lee's very capable hands this unbelievable story is an electriying, highly entertaining and powerfully arresting experience.  If the majority of Mr. Lee's film is a slow-burn along a long fuse of humor, history, lies and cinematic refutations relating to racism and violence, the end is a stick of dynamite that explodes in your lap.  No film experience in 2018 conjured up such a sacred, intimate space for audience members in a theater, and Mr. Lee has his greatest directing effort and film here.  Jordan Peele produced this one, and he hits a grand slam.

John David Washington and Laura Harrier in Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman". David Lee/Focus Features

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