I don’t use the word “best” in my year-end film pieces anymore. Too many people tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. I now go for the word “favorites,” as in the films I liked most, the ones that spoke to me, that showed me something I hadn’t seen before or made me laugh or cry or triggered some other sort of emotional reaction.
Going at it by the numbers, I watched 132 new movies in 2018, a bit down from my usual average of 150. After perusing a list of those 132, I can truthfully say I was quite happy that I saw 64 of them. Those were then whittled down to the 20 that I was exceedingly happy I spent a couple of hours with. Then came crunch time: Getting it to a top 10, without hurting the feelings of the 10 left behind. So, here are the 10 films that I would, without hesitation, watch again. They’re in alphabetical order.
“BLACKKKLANSMAN” - Spike Lee can be deadly serious and he can be funny. He was both in this darkly satiric real-life send-up about the first black police officer in early-1970s Colorado Springs, who worked undercover - pretending to be white - on a case that involved a local KKK chapter and, eventually, Grand Wizard David Duke. Searing stuff, with some hearty chuckles.
“BORDER” - This Swedish-language story of a customs officer who is able to smell fear in people - thereby easily noticing suspicious behavior among ferry passengers where she works - enters the realm of fantasy when she meets a fellow who has the same sort of powers, as well as similar, kind of garish looks. Some romance is eventually involved, along with a hefty dose of plain old weirdness ... until it gets really strange.
“CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?” - Melissa McCarthy should get a Best Actress nomination, and Richard E. Grant is due one for Supporting Actor in the little-known story of semi-successful biographer Lee Israel who, in early-1990s New York, with no prospects for another book, got into the fine art of forgery in order to pay the rent. It’s an engrossing serio-comic story that shines due to its acting and its sharp script.
“THE FAVOURITE” - Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos had established himself as a purveyor of squirmy oddness with his English-language films “The Lobster” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” But his art became far more accessible in this kinda true tale of intrigue, power-grabbing, and a bit of lesbianism in the 18th century court of Queen Anne (Best Actress nomination for Olivia Colman?). Featuring guns, bunnies and nudity.
“FREE SOLO” - The year’s coolest documentary focused on mountain climber Alex Honnold, whose dream was to be the first to scale the 3,000-foot cliff called El Capitan in Yosemite National Park with no ropes, no equipment - going at it “free solo.” What pushes the film over the top is not only its subject and his goal, but also that it’s about the difficulties of making the film, as explained by the camera crew up there with him.
“IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK” - The 1974 James Baldwin novel about the challenges of being a black person in New York (actually, anywhere in America) in the 1970s is both an endearing love story between a young couple and a grim look at many sorts of racism. But it’s all told with subtlety rather than hitting viewers over the head. Outstanding performances from Stephan James and KiKi Layne in the leads.
“READY PLAYER ONE” - Steven Spielberg has always enjoyed thinking like a little kid while showing off his filmmaking skills. Here he tackles an eye-popping adaptation of the complicated Ernest Cline novel about a teen in a post-apocalyptic world who not only likes playing in the escapist virtual reality world of the OASIS, it also becomes his reason to live. Visual effects are boggling, the whole film is dizzyingly entertaining.
“SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE” - I’d had enough of the Spider-Man franchise, when along came this diversion from it that still has the web slinger at its center. Presented in comic book-like animated style, it features a variety of Spider-Men (and one Spider-Woman) who make it to New York through a mysterious portal. Very funny stuff, with a high action content and an unwavering loyalty to its source material.
“STAN & OLLIE” - Not opening wide till mid-January, this isn’t a biography of Laurel & Hardy, but a peek into two specific periods in their lives as Hollywood’s favorite comedy team: One at the height of their popularity in the 1930s, the other in the 1950s, when they were scrapping around for work. With phenomenal performances - both physical and emotional - from John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan.
“WELCOME TO MARWEN” - I’m probably the only critic in the Western hemisphere to have this on my top -10 list, but so be it. Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of the documentary “Marwencol” tells of Mark Hogencamp (Steve Carell), an illustrator who was beaten, almost to death, by drunk thugs, and came out of it damaged but with his artistic imagination in overdrive. Dazzling CG work and a heartfelt story.
And those other 10 films ... let’s call them runners up, also in alphabetical order: “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot,” “Halloween,” “John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection,” “The Old Man & the Gun,” “Paddington 2,” “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” “The Sisters Brothers,” “Three Identical Strangers,” and “Vice.”
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at email@example.com.