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Top 10 Movies Of 2018

Making a Top 10 list is always one of my favorite parts of the year. It's a time of celebration and reflection, even if it comes with a bit of agony trying to get a year's worth of films into 10 spots. 2018 proved to be another great year at the movies, with countless surprises along the way.

Of course, like most years, there were numerous mediocre and terrible movies that aren't worth remembering or ever speaking of again (okay, one last time: "Life Itself" was pretty darn awful). Thankfully, the ones that stood out were so good, we can continue to talk about those and never think of the bad stuff again.

One interesting trend in 2018 was a boom of documentaries. There were several stellar documentaries, and they really brought crowds to the theaters. "RBG," "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" and "Three Identical Strangers" were commercial successes in their own right and deserved to have found the audiences they did.

Before we get to the Top 10, how about a few honorable mentions? In keeping with the documentary theme, "Hale County This Morning, This Evening," was a beautiful portrait of daily life in a community. "Free Solo," a documentary about a man who climbed El Capitan without any ropes, was as tense and nail-biting as any studio thriller this year. Also, just missing the top spots were the lovely "Hearts Beat Loud," the fun and experimental heist film "American Animals," Bradley Cooper's take on "A Star is Born," Paul Dano's lyrical "Wildlife," Debra Granik's moving "Leave No Trace," the nasty and delightful "The Favourite" and the utterly fun "Bad Times at the El Royale." I could also go on and on about "Roma," "Support the Girls," "Black Panther," "Disobedience," and "The Rider."

Those movies are worthy of year-end kudos, but here are the Top 10 movies of 2018, starting at 10 and working up to the best:

10.) Minding the Gap
Among the great documentaries, "Minding the Gap" resonated and surprised in ways no one could have expected. In a year that saw a few movies centered around skateboarding, "Minding the Gap" transcended with a much deeper look at the main subjects. Director Bing Liu had been following some of his friends for a while and watched as their lives evolved and skateboarding became their solace and escape from the stress of real life. In his first film as a director, Liu's "Minding the Gap" is a slice-of-life documentary that offers a deep portrait of everyday people. It's truly a beautiful piece of work.

9.) The Wife
Glenn Close gives the performance of the year in "The Wife," in a role that will hopefully lead her to an elusive Oscar win. She stars as Joan, who has been by her husband's (played by Jonathan Pryce) side as he became an acclaimed author. When he is notified he has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, truths about their relationship become more evident. Director Björn Runge steadily builds the drama, anchored every step of the way by Close's wonderfully calibrated performance.

8.) A Quiet Place
One of the biggest surprises of the year was "A Quiet Place," directed by John Krasinski. He co-stars with Emily Blunt in a post-apocalyptic world where the characters are hunted by monsters who respond to sound. There isn't a wasted moment in the movie, which moves at a perfect pace, incorporating tension and thrills along the way. It's such a pleasure to have a genre film that's smart, entertaining, and beautifully crafted; all things missing from most movies of its kind. Who knew Jim from "The Office" had it in him?

7.) A Bread Factory
In one of the most ambitious movies of the year, writer-director Patrick Wang has created a two-part, four-hour film about the importance of art and its role in a community. Dorthea (Tyne Daly) and Greta (Elisabeth Henry-Macari) have been running the local arts center in a renovated bread factory for 40 years and are facing new challenges in keeping the doors open. The movie blends everyday naturalism and surrealist elements in one of the most original pieces of filmmaking this year. You have truly never seen anything like "A Bread Factory."

6.) Tully
Is there any better trio than director Jason Reitman, writer Diablo Cody, and star Charlize Theron? After teaming up for the criminally underappreciated "Young Adult," they are back with "Tully," which finds Theron's character awaiting the birth of her third child. She hesitantly accepts the offer from her brother to hire a night nanny named Tully (Mackenzie Davis), who she ends up befriending. What's so great about the movie is Reitman and Cody's ability to allow someone who isn't a mother or parent to understand what Theron's character is going through and empathize every step of the way. Theron continues to remind us she is one of the best actors working today, imbuing honesty into her depiction of motherhood.

5.) Eighth Grade
Comedian Bo Burnham, in his directorial debut, has given us one of the most honest portrayals of life in middle school. The movie follows Kayla (Elsie Fisher, in a star-making performance) through her final week of eighth grade, never opting for the obvious quirky moments that come with the territory. Instead, he allows us to see ourselves in Kayla and relive moments we may not want to in search of catharsis. Aided by Fisher's performance, "Eighth Grade" is one of the great writing and directing debuts of the decade.

4.) BlacKkKlansman
"BlacKkKlansman" plays like Spike Lee's greatest hits in the best way possible. In another one of the year's star-making turns, John David Washington stars as Ron Stallworth, the first African American police officer in Colorado Springs, CO, who devises a plan to infiltrate a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Unable to meet them in person, for obvious reasons, he sends fellow officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) to collect information from their meetings. Like most of Lee's great works, "BlacKkKlansman" is a propulsive piece of filmmaking, which finds the righteously and rightfully angry tone Lee has used so powerfully in the past. Lee made the film in response to what is happening in the world today and he isn't afraid to throw a grenade into the audience and ask difficult questions without providing any answers. "BlacKkKlansman" is as damning of yesterday as it is of today, all while being surprisingly entertaining but not losing sight of the topic at hand.

3.) Lean on Pete
Andrew Haigh's "Lean on Pete" tells the story of Charley (Charlie Plummer), who gets a job assisting a horse trainer (Steve Buscemi) and ends up becoming attached to an aging racehorse named Lean on Pete. When tragedy strikes at home and it becomes apparent Lean on Pete isn't as valuable as he once was, Charley and Pete set out on an odyssey together to find a place where they belong. Plummer's performance ranks as one of the year's best, as he internalizes every step of Charley's journey and creates an emotional voyage without saying a lot. Charley, who's only 15 years old, thinks he can take care of himself but comes to realize his limitations as a teenager. "Lean on Pete" is an elegiac tale of friendship and longing for a place in the world, but it's not without wisps of hope.

2.) Widows
There is no good reason why Steve McQueen's "Widows" wasn't a massive hit this year. The movie features an all-star cast, led by Viola Davis, stunning camerawork, gritty cinematography, and genuine thrills. What's so great about "Widows" is that it doesn't play like a shopworn heist thriller; instead it focuses on the characters, and incorporates well-staged action scenes within. As the titular widows, Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Elizabeth Debicki have great chemistry as they are tasked with completing one last job left behind by their husbands. McQueen keeps every frame of the movie breathtakingly alive with his visual poetry, and co-writer Gillian Flynn incorporates various themes, twists, and plotlines. These blend together seamlessly, giving "Widows" a sophisticated edge. Smart, thrilling adult entertainment is so rare at the movies, which makes me feel so lucky that "Widows" exists.

The best movie of 2018 is...

1.) Burning
Lee Chang-dong's miraculous "Burning" is an ambiguous fever dream, which has firmly planted itself in my mind without any chance of escaping soon.  The movie introduces us to deliveryman and aspiring author Jongsu (Yoo Ah-in) as he becomes reacquainted with a friend from his childhood named Haemi (Yun Jong-seo). When she returns from a trip to Africa with a new boyfriend, Ben (a chillingly stoic Steven Yeun), Jongsu becomes increasingly jealous of their relationship.

It's almost a disservice to the movie to try and describe it as I just did because "Burning" can be about a lot of things: a love triangle, jealously, class distinctions, politics, guilt, repressed memories, and even a missing person mystery. Chang-dong leaves things purposefully open, allowing his audience to make their own conclusions and theorize what it all means. He gives us clues and even paves a way to some possible answers but there's always an air of uncertainty lurking about. Hypnotically shot, "Burning" takes its time unfolding but subtly puts you under its spell, and even when it feels like nothing is happening for stretches at a time, "Burning" is finding ways to burrow deep within your memory. Once the credits roll, it all feels like a dream but "Burning" is a very real and staggeringly enigmatic piece of filmmaking.

Thanks for reading and sharing in another year of movies! Comment on your favorites below. Cheers to 2018 and here's to 2019 at the multiplexes!


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