The Movie Sleuth's Top Ten of 2018

It’s that time of year again, time for the top ten films of 2018, as voted on by our writers here at The Movie Sleuth. Each writer had a chance to vote for their top ten films, their first place choice getting ten votes, their second place choice getting nine votes, and so forth. Without further adieu, our top ten films of 2018, starting with #10…

10. Upgrade (Trevor)

In a decade full of mediocre, too deep or over the top artsy fartsy science fiction movies, Upgrade is a breath of fresh air. The brutality and concept of Robocop mixed with a beautiful cinematic experience. Leigh Whannell has managed to craft a movie that zigs when other films in the genre would have zagged, it never goes quite where you think it will. The violence is brutal but in a disturbing way, beautiful, fight choreography that actually tells a story. Logan Marshall-Greene is set up to be Tom Hardy-ish, but really finds his own voice in a performance that really struck all the right chords. Top notch acting, intense pacing, brutal acting mixed with an unpredictable story equals a top ten pick of the year.

9. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Chris)
The Coen Bros. latest is a dusty and violent ode to the Western genre. Stretched across numerous chapters, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a cinematic journey that transcends while also satirizing the age old genre. Through a blood soaked lens that gives us several unique stories about the Old West, the Coens find new and sharp ways to pay turn their unique story telling style into a ballet of bullets and mayhem, all the while having a great time using their signature directorial flair for a unique release among a year of so many greats. This one is worth watching just to see Tom Waits chew scenery while he delivers one of the best roles of 2018, even at a shortened run time that barely gives him any character development. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is hilarious but also a pitch perfect rendition of a different time.

8. The Favourite (Liam)

Greek director Yorgo Lantimos is a name behind some of the most absurd, baffling, challenging, and shocking movies of the last ten years with his films The Lobster and Killing of a Sacred Deer both celebrated and detested by audiences in equal measure.  Lantimos is a fascinating filmmaker, an auteur whose latest project will surely be worth checking out but I would never imagine that I would wholeheartedly love one of his movies without some caveats, until I saw The Favourite.

In The Favourite, Lantimos has crafted a film that is not only his most accessible but true to the spirit of the films he was making before. In 18th century England, the close relationship between Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill is threatened by the arrival of Sarah’s cousin, Abigail Hill, resulting in a bitter rivalry between the two cousins to be the Queen’s favourite. The Favourite is a darkly funny tale of lust, ambition, and power. Tightly scripted and gorgeously shot, it skews the traditional period piece formula by turning this story into a darkly humorous romp anchored by three great central women performances. Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone are fabulous in the film and it is wonderful to just bask in the utter ridiculousness of this era.  I hope that Mr. Lantimos makes more movies that are as delightfully enjoyable as this.

7. A Star is Born (Chris)

In a year that saw so many dynamic choices, the starring pair of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper turned out to be a beautiful musical journey that sees Cooper add to an already glowing resume. He starred, produced and directed this modern update of the classic story. Featuring an amazing soundtrack and an inside look at a super talented star on the rise, this latest version packs a wallop. As Cooper transitions to a directorial position, this drama shows the glaring flaws of an addict that knows no bounds as his beautiful partner climbs the ladder of success. Seeing this one numerous times in theaters, it became quite apparent that both leads in this movie have great chemistry on and off the screen, while also proving that they're creative powerhouses to be reckoned with. Whether or not this gets an award season love still remains to be seen, but Gaga's first major Hollywood film shows she's more than just singer or actress. She's a true star.

6. Roma (Eugene)

Most casual filmgoers know that Alfonso Cuaron, one of the most talented directors currently working, helmed both Gravity and Children of Men. Many cinephiles remember that he sexed up the screen with Y Tu Mama Tambien. All under-employed film critics pride themselves on knowing he directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Once you've seen Roma--his finest and most personal work to date--all opinions on the former will cease to matter, regardless of which category you place yourself in.

With this triumph of black-and-white visual storytelling, Cuaron is so fully in command of his craft that he's able to completely transfix an audience by transforming the mundane into the transcendent. From opening frame to closing credits, you will be captive to the magic unfolding on the screen above you. (Yes, the screen above you. It's available on Netflix now, but wait for the 70mm print to release in select cities this January. To see it any other way should be a crime.) Set in early-1970s Mexico City, Cuaron's crowning jewel is a semi-autobiographical tale of the love and nurturing he experienced at the hands of the women who raised him, and he claims that 90 percent of what is captured onscreen (he also wrote the screenplay and served as director of photography) actually happened. His sumptuously photographed scenes of domestic bliss resonate all the more strongly when contrasted against the backdrop of political upheaval and turmoil that are taking place just outside the stately homes of the titular Roma, an affluent Mexico City neighborhood. And this domestic bliss is centered around the ever-present and absolutely magnetic Cleo (first-time actor Yalitza Aparicio in a quietly heartbreaking performance), a character you will never forget. Although not much happens narratively for the first hour or so, Cuaron is marinating us to care so much about the characters that their upheavals of pain and joy pack a visceral wallop in the second half. For every three dozens stinkers churned out by Hollywood, a gem like Roma comes along to restore your faith in the magic of movies. Don't miss this under any circumstances.

5. Eighth Grade (Mike)

Who would’ve guessed that offbeat comedian Bo Burnham could so accurately document the life of an awkward but upbeat 13-year-old girl?  Burnham makes his writing and directing debut with the stunning Eighth Grade, somehow finding perfect balance among the chaos of adolescence and delivering a truly believable picture of the modern teenage experience.  Eighth Grade speaks to us in a voice not of adults attempting to write for teenagers, but the teenagers themselves, delivering a refreshing honesty rarely seen in such films.  Elsie Fisher’s brilliant, Oscar-worthy performance as Kayla is outstanding, but even the supporting cast is superb. Josh Hamilton is a standout as Kayla’s single dad, struggling to understand his daughter without resorting to sitcom buffoonery.  Awkwardly funny without being uncomfortable, and true without resorting to tired tropes, Eighth Grade hits just the right tone.  Ignore the R-rating and watch this with your own teens or pre-teens; you both may just come out understanding each other a little bit better.

4. Suspiria (Josie)

Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 reimagining of the art house horror classic, Suspiria, is the rarest combination of brutality and beauty. While it takes its time getting where it’s going, it never feels slow or plodding. This should be attributed not only to the truly stunning set design, camera work, and music, but also the outstanding performances given by Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson. Both are utterly captivating in their roles and work as the perfect pieces to unfold Guadagnino’s gilded, grandiose interpretation.  Equally gorgeous and grotesque, Suspiria (2018) is so much more than a story about a coven of dancing witches, it’s a deep examination of the female psyche.

3. Three Identical Strangers (Mike)

Tim Wardle’s riveting documentary Three Identical Strangers starts out as the story of the reunion of identical triplets who were separated at birth.  But as the brothers become curious about why they were separated, the real stories begin to unfold.  That’s precisely as much as anyone going into this fascinating film should know about it, as it is packed with all sorts of surprises, some hilarious, some maddening, some frightening, but all of it true.  Three Identical Strangers isn’t just a film; it’s an unforgettable deep dive into the lightest and darkest of humanity, celebrating our differences as much as our similarities.

2. Mandy (Michelle)

This year’s psychedelic freak out horror film Mandy somehow invokes both feelings of nostalgia and the awe of seeing something totally new and fresh. Panos Cosmatos has crafted alternate dimension and allowed us a portal into this new universe though his vision. Featuring Nicolas Cage at both the height of his insanity and with a surprising touch of tenderness, the narrative shows that Cage has a lot more nuance to him that he is given credit for. This was one of the last films scored by Johann Johannsson who sadly passed away this year. Fortunately, it's some of his best work, combining lush ambient electronic soundscapes with doom metal guitar riffs. The music and visuals combine to make an overwhelming experience for the senses, a frenetic onslaught for the eyes and ears. Mandy is a triumph of both genre film-making and art, an unfiltered glimpse into the mind of an artist. It definitely won't be for everyone, but it was definitely made for me.

1. Hereditary (Liam)

There is no other feeling in the world better than watching a major talent reveal themselves to the world and Ari Aster has done that with his stunning directorial debut, Hereditary. When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter and grandchildren begin to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry, trying to outrun the sinister fate they have inherited.

Hereditary is a true surprise, directed with confidence and strength behind the camera. It’s a once in generation debut, made with the confidence and poise of someone who knows what they want to do and how to do it. Every frame is designed to add to the piece of the puzzle that the story is trying to tell. It is immaculately staged and holds on things for maximum discomfort and unsettlement. This film is one of the most unsettling things I’ve seen in a theater in recent times. It’s a slow burn chamber piece about grief and generation trauma that is both horrifying and dramatically satisfying with layers and layers to be found on rewatch. The sound design, cinematography, and performances are all top notch. The true MVP of the movie is Toni Collette. This film is a showcase for her and would not nearly work as well if it weren’t her performing. Toni Collette deserves an Oscar, she gives one of the most visceral and disturbing performances I’ve seen in a horror film ever and she completely sells every aspect of it.  The entire cast, much like this film, is mesmerizing and terrifying to watch and will leave you sleepless for nights to come.