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Tomris Laffly's Top Ten Films of 2018

I am not the first one to say this, but I will gladly repeat it: any year is a good year for film for those curious enough to steadily extend their cinematic comfort zones outward. Now, if I may make a premature prediction: one day, perhaps in a decade’s time, we will look back at 2018 and determine it has been a momentous year for movies; not just plain great. 

For starters, 2018 has helped resurrect certain vintage brands of films that have been sorely missed in multiplexes. Dismiss rom-coms all you want, but Jon M. Chu’s lavish, hilarious and genuinely touching box-office winner “Crazy Rich Asians” not only brought an all-Asian cast onto the screens (a Hollywood first in 25 years, since Wayne Wang’s “The Joy Luck Club”) and proved (yet again) that the audiences will pay to see diversity in movies, but also restored the unfairly frowned upon genre back to its former glory. The old-fashioned charms of eternal happiness lured audiences to the multiplexes, making “Crazy Rich Asians” the top earning rom-com of the last decade with a ~$238 million gross (as of December 6) and a production budget of $30 million

Stuck with a confusing image between not a serious awards movie and severe heist thriller among other things, Steve McQueen’s thoroughly feminist and well, very entertaining “Widows” recalled the sophisticated thrillers of a different era even though it sadly didn’t become the box office success it deserved to be. But with its well-executed themes around gender, race and corruption and first-rate ensemble cast, I am confident that “Widows” will age as well as “The Fugitive” did. (One day, we will look back and scratch our heads in bewilderment, wondering why this movie didn’t become a bigger deal.)

Walking in the rousing footsteps of “Hidden Figures,” Mimi Leder’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic “On The Basis of Sex” (opening December 25) proved an old-fashioned and inspirational drama doesn’t need to feel dated and can still talk to today’s audiences in refreshing ways. If Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s box office-winning “RBG” documentary is any indication, “On The Basis of Sex” can find a healthy audience among those desperate for real-life role models.

Documentaries continued to have a banner year in 2018. In addition to “RBG,” crowds were won over by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s heart-pounding mountain climbing saga “Free Solo” and Morgan Neville’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?", about the legendary children’s television host Fred Rogers. Tim Wardle’s mind-blowing “Three Identical Strangers” also pulled in strong numbers while a number of documentaries focusing on the realities of small-town America (such as Bing Liu’s “Minding the Gap,” Robert Greene’s “Bisbee ’17” and RaMell Ross' “Hale County This Morning, This Evening”) scored big with the critics. And let’s not forget Sandi Tan’s sensational “Shirkers”; an autobiographical lost-and-found footage docu-thriller about a group of female filmmakers cruelly manipulated in the hands of an entitled male teacher.   

Which brings us to the phenomenal year it has been for women in film, for both female filmmakers and women-led stories. Debra Granik’s “Leave No Trace” is still 100%-strong on Rotten Tomatoes with 198 reviews counted. Plus we got “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” from Marielle Heller, “Private Life” from Tamara Jenkins and “You Were Never Really Here” from Lynne Ramsay—three exceptional films I included in my below year-end list. On the female-led front, in addition to some of the above-mentioned titles, we got three period films—“Colette” (Wash Westmoreland), “Mary Queen of Scots” (Josie Rourke) and “The Favourite” (Yorgos Lanthimos) that engaged with female agency and enmity from various piercing angles. 

The horror genre especially didn’t disappoint when it comes to the female point of view. Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” (once of the scariest films and most assured directing debuts in a while) and Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” re-imagining put a unique stamp on 2018, distracting the audiences from its real-life scares. 

Additionally, our screens got graced with two young, promising female actors in breakthrough roles: we will hear from Elsie Fisher of Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade” and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie of “Leave No Trace” for many decades to come.

This year in American cinema gave us Bradley Cooper’s Lady Gaga-starring smash hit “A Star Is Born” and its centerpiece "Shallow," an original song for the ages; we witnessed tremendous imagination and originality in Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You”; and few heartbreaks approached the tenderness of Yen Tan’s under-the-radar indie “1985.” 

And from my perspective, the international highlights of foreign cinema yielded the more ambitious and adventurous offerings of the year: Pawel Pawlikowski’s stunning romance “Cold War,” Lee Chang-dong’s exquisitely paced psychological thriller “Burning,” Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters,” Alice Rohrwacher’s “Happy As Lazzaro,” Gustav Möller’s “The Guilty” and Xavier Legrand’s “Custody” are some of the standouts for me. 

But the real gut-punch came from Alfonso Cuarón with his masterpiece "Roma," a personal tribute to the live-in maid who helped raised him. It is the film that might finally get Netflix (who won Oscars for short and long form documentaries in the past) much closer to the Academy Awards race, and I’m not only talking about the Best Foreign Language film category. With a troublemaking model that unorthodoxly goes against exclusive theatrical periods (which it flexed for “Roma,” the studio’s most promising contender among other films like “Private Life” and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”), Netflix might finally experience a pivotal awards year, with micro and macro consequences for the industry that are yet to be seen. After all, this is the year that gave us a never-seen-before Orson Welles movie (Netflix again), a near-definitive moon-landing film (Damien Chazelle’s “First Man”), a swoon-worthy James Baldwin adaptation (Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk”) as well as a next-level, box-office smashing superhero film (Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther”) that might finally push the genre into the awards race. This year, anything seemed possible. As you will soon hear in “Mary Poppins Returns,” there is nowhere to go, but up.

Runners-up: "Widows," "Happy As Lazzaro," "On the Basis of Sex," "Minding the Gap," "Shoplifters," "Crazy Rich Asians," "Eighth Grade," "If Beale Street Could Talk," "The Guilty," "Suspiria"

Without further ado, here are my ten favorite films of 2018.

10. "Hereditary" (Ari Aster)

9. "1985" (Yen Tan)

8. "Custody" (Xavier Legrand)

7. "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" (Marielle Heller)

6. "Cold War" (Pawel Pawlikowski)

5. "First Man" (Damien Chazelle)

4. "Private Life" (Tamara Jenkins)

3. "Burning" (Lee Chang-dong)

2. "You Were Never Really Here" (Lynne Ramsay)

1. "Roma" (Alfonso Cuarón) 

Tomris Laffly

Tomris Laffly is a freelance film writer and critic based in New York. A member of the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), she regularly contributes to, Variety and Time Out New York, with bylines in Filmmaker Magazine, Film Journal International, Vulture, The Playlist and The Wrap, among other outlets.

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