Small Films are the new Big Films in 2018….

This year was a great year for film, and as the year progressed, I looked back and found that most of the films I loved weren’t the ones necessarily making much at the box office.  From documentaries to narrative films dealing with big subjects, these films are each unique and different. Despite seeing over 130 films in 2018, there are always the films that may possibly be worthy to include in this list that just didn’t get considered due to my still not seeing everything.  There are also countless films that easily would have made my “Best of” list, if only there were more spaces. Any of the Top 10 are pretty fluid, meaning any one of these fantastic films could stand in the top spot, especially given enough time and perspective. But with 2019 bearing down on us tomorrow, this is the ranking I have created based on how I see things right now.  Hopefully, my list will serve as a good primer of where to start as you start to see these titles on Netflix, Prime, or even at Redbox. My honorable mentions and unseen potential Best Films of 2018 list will follow, but without further ado, here is my Best Films of 2018 list:

10. Won’t You Be My Neighbor

An insightful and inspiring look at Mr. Rogers, a man who subversively challenged the culture to simply love everyone, encouraging us to build a true community that left no one behind.  He was also the most unlikely television host for the task he accomplished, but was always the perfect person for the job. That is why this film will inspire you, and remind you why we need his simple, yet profound lessons even more today.

9. First Reformed

A powerful work that will haunt you long after it is over.  Thought it is quite divisive, it is Ethan Hawke’s best work as an actor, and has much to say for people of faith, and to those without it.  Where should faith intersect with our actions, and how far to do we take those actions before we lose everything we believe in? How does our own brokenness keep us from staying true to those ideals that we should all adhere to?

8. A Private War

Rosamund Pike gives a gripping performance portraying female war correspondent Marie Colvin.  She truly delivers a powerful look at the toll that is exacted on those who place themselves in harm’s way to bring us the stories that nations, corporations, and other entities seek to cover up. Never forgetting the faces of those who suffer the most in war, it is these innocents who drive her on. A Private War demonstrates the true reason why freedom of the press is so important, not just here in America where it is a first amendment right, but globally, as the only means to expose and keep in check the corruption, violence, and powers behind each conflict. How much do we render such a free press powerless by assigning it into categories of “fake news”, or allowing corporations that run the news organizations to push stories to drive viewers and subscribers, rather than doing its true job of meticulous research and facts as a means of protecting those who are otherwise powerless?  Meanwhile, who are the reporters who are caught in the crossfire? Not an easy watch, but a strong story.

7. If Beale Street Could Talk

While not the only film on my list to look at institutional racism, this one is probably the most tender, and provides the most heartache as the two star-crossed lovers must battle society, and even their own families to try to achieve the American dream. In 1970’s New York, however, the institutional systems that surround them may be too formidable of an obstacle for them to truly find happiness. While some may take issue with this statement, the fact is that I found this story much more powerful than director Barry Jenkins’ previous effort, the Best Picture winning film, Moonlight.

6. Boy Erased

Not just a powerful examination of the harm gay-conversion therapy has caused so many, but a tender depiction of one family’s journey to confront their genuine love for one another and the conflicting beliefs of their faith. Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Joel Edgerton, and even Flea give fantastic performances.  The film doesn’t take shortcuts, and doesn’t seek to demonize the faith community, despite having a firm that firmly targets those “faith-based” programs pushing such therapeutic practices that these true-life experiences are based on. As I stated in my review, this film felt like a much needed start to a conversation that both the LGBTQ community and the faith community needs to have today.

5. Eighth Grade

Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton give two of the best performances of the year as a father and his eighth grade daughter named Kayla.  Everything about this film was fresh, authentic, and perfectly captured the innocence of childhood as it tries desperately to hang-on inside the hearts of our children as they transition and seek to navigate young adulthood despite being in a world that longs to destroy everything good, true, noble, precious, and special within them.  As a father of a child who just entered junior high, and being a teacher of high school students, I am all too aware of the delicate balance each child faces as they learn to spread their wings and find their independence without losing their self-worth in the process. Elsie Fisher plays this perfectly, and Josh Hamilton demonstrates the oftentimes helpless position a parent must be in as they watch their child go through this.  Too much involvement by a parent and it costs your child much. Too little involvement and you may lose everything. Ultimately, can you be the anchor your child needs, even when it means waiting for them to feel comfortable coming to you on their terms, while you refrain from rescuing them at every sign of tension? The drive home scene from the mall perfectly captures the fine line between these two sides and how our children’s lives might hang in the balance. A Powerful film.     

4. All About Nina

This is a film that didn’t get much time in the theaters, but one that left a huge impact.  On the face of it, Nina, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is a provocative stand-up comedian, who has a tough time having any relationship deeper than a one-night stand.  This is, of course, until she meets Rafe (played by Common). On the surface this could easily be billed as a light-romantic comedy based on the simple description I have given.  Fortunately, it is not….at all. This is a film that hits you squarely between the eyes about the fact that a person’s exterior might not give you a clue about the very real, personal, and heartbreaking battle so many are fighting who have faced sexual, verbal, and/or physical abuse.  This is a film written and filmed prior to the #MeToo movement, yet it is one that debuted just as so many of these type of stories were being revealed by brave survivors both in Hollywood, and in other industries. This film is not easy to watch, but the performances and the authenticity of their experiences in the film truly reflect back to the viewer the importance of creating a culture that doesn’t allow such abuse to happen in the first place, but when it does it should be one that encourages survivors to come forward, knowing they will be believed and that justice will prevail.

3. Blaze:

Ethan Hawke directed what is possibly the best musical biopic…ever.  It isn’t the feel-good glossed over safe-approach of this year’s Bohemian Rhapsody.  Instead, it’s the story of a man named Blaze Foley that few have heard of, but whose legend continues to grow.  More importantly, it’s the tragic look at a love story above all else, told by the woman who loved him most. This was clearly a passion project for Hawke, and he bravely cast first-time actor Ben Dickey as Foley in what may be one of the best casting choices of the year.  Seek out this soundtrack immediately, find the autobiography it was based on that documents the time two people in love spent living in a tree house, protected from the world that would one day take everything away. Alia Shawkat, Josh Hamilton, Charlie Sexton, Kris Kristofferson, Alynda Lee Segarra, Steve Zahn, Sam Rockwell, and Richard Linklater are all terrific.  Shawkat should get some Oscar consideration.

2. BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee directs one of the best films of his career, especially his later career, as he tells the unlikely, yet absolutely true story of Det. Ron Stallworth, who as the only black police detective in Colorado Springs, Colorado in the early 1970’s, infiltrates and actually joins the Ku Klux Klan!  Along with his partner Det. Flip Zimmerman, played perfectly by Adam Driver, they get access to the Grand Dragon himself, David Duke (Topher Grace). What makes this film such a feat is how Spike Lee is able to balance a film that is very funny throughout, yet grippingly tense, especially as Lee incorporates his patented free-floating dolly shot that brings this story from the early 1970’s to 2017 in Charlottesville, showing that the racism depicted in this historical story is still alive and well.  I was able to actually meet the real Ron Stallworth and hear the true story behind the film’s version, and there is not much variance. Also, the real Ron Stallworth continues to carry his KKK membership card, that was sent to him by David Duke himself, in his wallet as a reminder of what he was able to do to fight racism. Now, his story continues that righteous work that he began over 40 years ago on the Colorado Springs Police Force.

1. The Favourite

The most unique experience you’ll have in a film this year also delivers three amazing performances from Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone.  Director Yorgos Lanthimos takes the script from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara and still manages to make it feel like his voice. Fantastic cinematography binds it all together and further establishes Lanthimos’ unique voice.  There is simply nothing else like it, and this film demonstrates perfectly how women are every bit as ambitious, clever, and able to handle power, as any man ever was. The script deftly shows this by flipping the camera’s gaze where the men, though in power in 18th century England, are regulated to purely supporting roles, where they engage is purposeless entertainment and are the ones wearing the wigs and makeup, while the three women leads are plotting, shooting guns, laying political traps, pursuing sexual conquests, and seeking to dominate the kingdom. After The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Favourite is Lanthimos’ most accessible film yet.  If the Academy is truly daring enough, this is the film to award the Best Picture Oscar award to.

Honorable mention

The Endless, Borg vs. McEnroe, Tully, The Wife, A Star is Born, First Man, The Front Runner, The Avengers: Infinity War, RBG, Revenge, Bodied, The Death of Stalin, Isle of Dogs, Hereditary, Vice, Roma, Mary Poppins Returns, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Old Man and the Gun, Mary Queen of Scots, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, You Were Never Really Here, Widows, They Shall Not Grow Old

Not considered due to not being seen by the time of this list:

Ben is Back, Beautiful Boy, Destroyer, Green Book, Ollie and Stan, Blindspotting, Sorry to Bother You, The Hate You Give, and Hearts Beat Loud.

For ZekeFilm Co-Founder Jim Tudor’s Best Films of 2018 List, click here.

For ZekeFilm Contributor Paul Hibbard’s Best Films of 2018 List, click here.

For ZekeFilm Contributor Sharon Autenreith’s Best Films of 2018 List, click here.