The Absolute Best Films Of 2018
2018 was a huge year for the silver screen.
Anyone who limits this year to a list of 10 is a cop. The best films of 2018 cannot be limited to 10.
Remember films? The past 12 months has been a turbulent period in the entertainment industry.
Change takes a long time but 2018 felt like the beginning of a shift when it comes to the types of stories we see on screen, and who gets to tell those stories.
It’s hard to comprehend where it’s going to end up, but the films we saw this year hint at a bright trajectory of new voices, fresh perspectives and the reinvention of old stories.
Where we see those movies is rapidly changing, too.
The cinema will always be the perfect environment, but streaming services inched their way into our living rooms harder than before, with sublime original films. Also, audiences continue to treat cinemas like living rooms with phones on, feet out and voices set to loud, so it’s becoming close to inhospitable — but the endurance has been worth it for the films of 2018.
So, to prove how great 2018 has been for movies, here’s an epic list of the best in a loose descending order.
25. The Post
Behind Lincoln and Bridge of Spies, director, Steven Spielberg, completed his political trilogy with a rousing portrait of the power of journalism.
The Post ain’t stuck in the past, though, it’s more relevant than ever in the turbulent political news cycle as it mourns an age of investigative journalism, while acting as a call-to-arms to hold people in power accountable.
A sequel to John Carpenter’s classic slasher — that disregards all the sequels — was an idea so crazy it worked.
Halloween 2018 examined the far reaching consequences of violence and trauma while returning Michael Myers to his throne of terror. Jamie Lee Curtis delivered one of the best performances of her career as an empowered but tragic Laurie Strode.
23. Hearts Beat Loud
In the spirit of musical charmers like Sing Street and Begin Again, a single dad (Nick Offerman) and his daughter (Kiersey Nicole Clemons) write and produce songs in their basement. A film about the push and pull between a passion and a career that’s absolutely delightful with a wonderful soundtrack.
22. First Reformed
Ethan Hawke plays a flip-phone priest in a smartphone world that’s falling apart.
The co-writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, Paul Schrader, delivers an intense study of wayward masculinity caught up in capitalism and the fight to save the planet. Hawke adds another stunning performance to his eclectic resume.
Tech paranoia, obsession and ambition in the camgirl economy.
Madeline Brewer (The Handmaid’s Tale) plays a camgirl who gets locked out of her account but it remains … active. A mystery that unfolds at a jittery pace with claustrophobic desktop vibes. Inspired by screenwriter Isa Mazzei’s experiences working as a camgirl, it emerges as an empowering thriller.
20. A Quiet Place
Emily Blunt and John Krasinski solidify their power-couple status with this chiller about creatures attacking anything that makes a sound, which is tough when you’re trying to raise a family.
The perfect allegory for the fear of being a parent that’s inventive with scares.
I leant so hard forward during this film that it felt like my skeleton was going to explode out of my body.
A primal film where a group of dancers go on a bad trip at an after party. Filmmaker Gasper Noe choreographs the road to hell.
A spectacular work of science fiction that not only gets under your skin but it becomes part of it.
A visceral journey into a mysterious landscape that’s lush with trippy visuals and an unnerving premise.
17. A Wrinkle In Time
A sci-fi odyssey about self-worth that quantifies the fusion of emotional concepts with big scientific thinking.
The earnest approach to the material hits you right in the heart.
If the zombie is the most political monster, then it’s ferocious in the Australian political context.
Australia is overrun by undead creatures and the ugly side of the country is revealed. One hell of a portrait of the responsibilities of parenting, too.
Nic Cage goes on a bloody rampage to get revenge after his partner, the always amazing Andrea Andrea Riseborough, is kidnapped by a supernatural cult.
This is the most romantic film of the year with the style of a heavy metal album cover.
14. Sorry To Bother You
A corporate satire in the key of Robocop, that savages the gig economy.
Writer and director, Boots Riley, delivers absurdist smarts with the best ensemble cast that includes: Lakieth Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Terry Crews, Steven Yuen, Armie Hammer and Danny Glover.
13. Phantom Thread
When you think about it, monogamy is kind of messed up.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson honed in on this sentiment, with this film about two people destined to be obsessed with each other in twisted ways. The Phantom Thread is both about the madness of fidelity and a damn fine farewell to the now retired Daniel Day Lewis.
Director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film about a family living in the slums of Tokyo showed that during hard times there’s always room in our hearts for others.
The mystery surrounding what brings the group together unfolds beautifully, with heartbreaking performances.
11. Eighth Grade
If teens are going to save the world, this is the film about teens to save the world.
Director Bo Burnham captures every um, like, stutter, gulp and slouch of Elsie Fisher’s magnificent performance as a teenager on the cusp of starting high school.
10. First Man
Sure, men are such complex creatures that in order to process grief they must go to the moon, but the story of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is contextualised in way that goes beyond the standard biopic treatment.
A technical marvel with harrowing flight sequences, Claire Foy is astonishing opposite Gosling, trying to keep a partnership alive in the shadow of death.
9. You Were Never Really Here
Rage, anxiety and trauma combined into a fury unlike anything else on screen this year.
Director Lynne Ramsay shows the butterfly effect of violence in a depraved world that slowly wears down an enforcer (Joaquin Phoenix) on a rescue mission.
In the 90s, a teenager, her friends, and their mentor made a film together — but the footage goes missing.
20 years later, Sandi Tan details what happened while piecing together the footage of the film that left her aimless for years while trying to figure out why she was betrayed. A stunning fusion of documentary filmmaking and the film that never was. Evidence of what we lose when people are denied the chance to tell their stories.
7. Black Panther
Filmmaker Ryan Coogler takes a comic book movie beyond the realm of the acceptable, pleasing, same-same nature of a majority of Marvel’s output on the big screen. A film that’s greater than the constraints of comic book blockbuster filmmaking, it has political bite, emotional depth, ethical dilemmas, and regal jostling, but still manages to maintain a bombastic comic book aesthetic that’s spectacular.
6. The Rider
A rising rodeo star (Brady Jandreau) is recovering from a brain injury while trying to find a purpose in a small American town, where he’s told to toughen up and move on.
Director Chloé Zhao captures young men trying to process their circumstances while their bodies fail. Each scene is picture perfect, easily one of the best looking films of the year.
5. Private Life
If IVF drama/comedy is now a thing, this is the gold standard.
Honest, genuine and funny — Paul Giamatti & Kathryn Hahn are a dream pair in this film about a couple trying to have a baby. So good, I want to check in with this couple again, and again if I could.
4. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Right when I think I’ve got the Coen Brothers pinned down they go and do something that defies categorisation.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a meta western that annihilates our expectations of the Coens, with 6 stories about life and death in the old west. It’s drop dead gorgeous, lonely, brutal and odd. The Coens are magnificent bastards.
A family mourns the death of their grandmother and things start to go bump in the night.
A film so terrifying I wanted to take out a restraining order against its director, Ari Aster, who masterfully submerges a family into darkness. Toni Collette (always great) gives a career-best performance as a mother slowly losing her sanity.
2. The Shape of Water
A wonderful film about love in the face of prejudice.
The story of a romance between a lady and a fish-man flooded my heart with a surprising amount of empathy for characters, both good and bad. Everyone in this film thinks they are doing the right thing, which brings into question the nature of what creates a monster.
Alfonso Cuarón throws his entire heart out on screen, and traces the cracks of his past with great clarity.
Inspired by Cuarón’s childhood nanny, Roma tells the story of a housekeeper (Yalitza Aparicio) who supports a crumbling family living in Mexico City. Cuarón shot the film in black and white and it feels like you’re watching his memories.
The world is always threatening to tear the family apart and love is what keeps them together. As corny as that sounds, Cuarón has achieved a feat reminiscent of the films of Frank Capra: authentic but not sentimental and never afraid to face dark realities.
Like Cuarón’s previous films, Gravity and Children of Men, life is precious and it’s a miracle we’re all here; Roma relishes in being alive and it’s unforgettable.
Cameron Williams is a writer and film critic based in Melbourne who occasionally blabs about movies on ABC radio. He has a slight Twitter addiction: @MrCamW.