Throughout its over two-hour run, the incredibly rich “Roma” slowly constructs the world of one woman, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), and the depths of her experience as a maid in the early 1970s for a family in Mexico City. Directed, produced, written and edited by Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma” is semi-autobiographical. Besides being the most gorgeous film of 2018 — its black and white cinematography (also by Cuarón) is crystal clear and often more detailed than color could ever be — “Roma” tells an incredibly touching story, one that is raw, emotional and lingers long after the film has ended. Cleo is the centerpiece of the family, and “Roma” identifies this and testifies to it. It is the film’s dedication to telling that honest story that makes it so uniquely human.
“A Star is Born”
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s fourth remake of the classic story is the best yet (and hopefully ever). Following up-and-coming singer and songwriter Ally (Lady Gaga) and falling-from-grace country star Jackson (Cooper), “A Star is Born” focuses on the raw emotion of the story it is telling. Sure, there is glitz and pop candy — from Ally’s pop music like the song “Why Did You Do That?” to her background dancers — but there is also remarkable chemistry between Cooper and Gaga, something that makes “A Star is Born” authentic. Gaga may own every scene she is in, but Cooper’s directing and journey through alcoholism and drug addiction is distressing to watch. There could be 100 films released in 2018, and 99 may not be good, but all it takes is one to dominate awards season. “A Star is Born” is that one.
The heist film audiences never knew they needed. Focusing on a group of women completing a criminal ‘job’ planned by their now-deceased husbands, “Widows” is gritty, deep and excellent. What makes “Widows” stand out is not necessarily its star cast, featuring everyone from Viola Davis to Elizabeth Debicki and Colin Farrell to Liam Neeson, but what director Steve McQueen does with that cast. There is a sense of honesty and authenticity to “Widows” unlike any other heist film ever; rather than spending all its time on the complexities of the job, the film decides to explore the implications of the heist on its characters and how they got there. Sure, “Widows” features some of the strongest performances of the year, but it is also just an all-around fantastic film.
For everyone who assumed the superhero craze was on the way out, “Black Panther” was the film to prove them wrong. It quickly became the highest-grossing film in the United State in 2018 and the 10th-highest grossing film of all time, and it is easy to see why. The movie boasts a talented, predominantly black cast, an engaging story, solid direction and a memorable score, among other achievements. Audiences worldwide fell in love with the world of Wakanda and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), and the cultural significance of “Black Panther” alone is more than enough to elevate the movie above most other films of the year.
Perhaps the most underrated movie on this list, “BlacKkKlansman” is nevertheless an engaging work of cinema. Based on true events, the movie follows Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), the first black detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department, as he infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan branch operating in the city. With the help of fellow detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), the pair are successful in bringing the klansmen to justice. This film is the best example of a triple threat: the acting is good, the story is intriguing and the message is poignant. There are so many things director Spike Lee does right that it is no surprise the movie garnered four Golden Globe nominations.
“A Quiet Place”
While all the movies on this list are good, John Krasinski’s project, “A Quiet Place,” is perhaps the most inventive. Never before has a movie so masterfully played with ambiance and sound, and the result is a thrilling plot, genuinely terrifying moments and a lasting impression. In “A Quiet Place,” the world has been overrun with mysterious creatures that are seemingly impervious to damage and are extremely prolific hunters who rely on sound. In other words, if you can stay quiet, you can stay alive. The score works beautifully with the movie’s silent nature, enhancing its best moments and smoothing over its rough patches, resulting in an experience unlike any other. This is a movie everyone should see, even if only because it is so different from traditional films.
“Mission Impossible: Fallout”
“Mission Impossible: Fallout” is the most surprising entry on this list. The “Mission: Impossible” franchise has been in decline for years, with each movie bringing less and less to the table — until “Fallout,” that is. Tom Cruise, love him or hate him, finally returned to the basics with much success, delivering a performance that feels well-balanced between dramatic and reticent. However, the film’s greatest success is that it feels truly fun to watch. The expert cinematography creates some breathtaking sequences that put audiences into Cruise’s escapades, and the resulting action is more than engaging enough to make up for the film’s weaker aspects.
Bo Burnham’s directorial debut brings the bizarre and cringe-worthy years of adolescence to center stage with both bold flair and subtle sensitivity. The film follows 13-year-old Kayla’s last week of eighth grade, complete with a terrifying pool party and hangouts with intimidating high schoolers, all filtered by the ubiquitous technology young people use to interact today. Elsie Fisher truly dazzles as the shy, awkward Kayla, giving a beautiful rendition of the joys and anxieties of middle school and earning her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy. The bold sound design and visuals of “Eighth Grade” make themselves known right from the get-go, helping us feel the same overwhelming awkwardness Kayla herself is feeling.
“Isle of Dogs”
As with any Wes Anderson film, “Isle of Dogs” had to live up to a lot of hype, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The stop-motion animated film is about a fictional city in Japan that exiles all of its dogs to Trash Island, a secluded island off the coast where dogs must fight for themselves — until a young boy comes searching for his lost dog. The film’s use of Japanese culture as a backdrop garnered mixed responses from critics — some felt that it bordered on appropriation, while others found it to be too stylized and fictionalized to be considered an issue. However, it is difficult to deny that the amount of time and energy that went into creating its visuals, including individual puppets, sets and practical visual effects, demonstrates an astonishing level of handcrafted artistry we rarely see in animated films today.
While many films about space travel are popular right now, “First Man” pushes the limits of this genre in two ways. First, it focuses more on the actual character of Neil Armstrong (whose stoicism Ryan Gosling absolutely nailed) including his home life and his training for the NASA space program. Second, it made space travel feel as terrifying as it really is. Sequences depicting flight in the Apollo Missions — including the famous Moon Landing — are nerve-wracking, with shaky camerawork, groaning structural sound effects and an overflow of aeronautical information. The score, composed by Justin Hurwitz, also shines as an ethereal masterpiece, earning it a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score.