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Patrick's Picks: The 10 Best Films of 2018

by Patrick Gibbs

It's never an easy thing for me to pick my Top 10 of the year. It can sometimes be an issue of struggling to find 10 great films, but more often than not it's about narrowing it down. It should (but doesn't) go without saying that no one critic's list is definitive, and even I don't agree with all of my choices. The fact is, many of the films I saw over and over again and enjoyed the most (movies like Ready Player One, Solo: A Star Wars Story or Incredibles 2 didn't make the list. In the end, the deciding factors were artistic achievement, impact on the medium, popular culture and above all how they each spoke to me at the time. I emphasize the words "at the time" because more than once I have found myself looking at  my lists from years past and thinking "You pick Noah as the second best film of 2014???"

1. Won't You Be My Neighbor?
Documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville's beautiful exploration of the life, work and legacy of Fred Rogers, the beloved host of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, is enthralling, funny and remarkably touching. The highest-grossing biographical documentary of all time, this movie had cross over appeal like you wouldn't believe, and people you'd never imagine seeing a documentary at gun point openly admitted to weeping throughout the 93 minute run time. Neville dares to portray Rogers as a man who was capable of making mistakes (in particular, in regards to his friendship and professional relationship with François Scarborough Clemmons), but who was more than willing to learn from them and who embraced love above all else. “Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me", Rogers says, and the gentle but fierce commitment to making the world a better place for the next generation and beyond that personifies this extraordinary man's life is a message that has never been needed more.

2. Roma
Academy Award Winner Alfonso Cuarón's semi-autobiographical tale of life in Mexico City in the 1970's follows Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio Martínez), a live-in housekeeper to an upper-class family. Gorgeously photographed in black and white, Roma is a mixture of melancholy, fear and self sacrificing devotion, and it's power comes in straightforward yet remarkable subtlety in storytelling. Arguably the most personal film of the year.

3. First Man
Steven Spielberg described David Lean's artistic masterpiece, Lawrence of Arabia, in painting terms, as "a landscape that's also a portrait", and for my money no film since then has found that balance better than Damien Chazelle's depiction of Neil Armstrong and the Apollo moon landing.

First Man is far more than a biopic or a docudrama. It's an intimate look at grief, the bonds of time and space that keep us apart, and the ways we come together. It's a celebration of the wonders of the universe mixed with a rumination on the cruelness of questions that can't be answered. It's a masterful journey into the infinite void inside the human heart, made with an artistry that recalls Kubrick, but with an emotional impact that the great director was incapable of providing because he was actually a robot designed to look vaguely human. Ryan Gosling (one of the finest actors working today) delivers a soulful performance that is easily overlooked because of a lack of showiness, but is one of the deepest of the year. Forget box office, or even awards: First Man is a triumph that will go down in history as a cinematic classic, and as the movie wherein Chazelle showed that eventually his name may well be spoken alongside those of Spielberg, Lean and Kubrick.

4. The Ballad of Buster Skruggs
This chronicle of the American frontier, written, directed, and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen, defies the expectations of the anthology film by delivering six vignettes without a single dud among them. Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Kazan, Tyne Daly, Harry Melling, and Tom Waits make up the principle cast, and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and composer Carter Burwell give some of the best work of their respective careers.

5. BlackkKlansman
In 1993, we got to watch Schindler's List and have our collective minds blown by the harshest realities of the destructive power of hate. But we also had the comfort of leaving the theater telling ourselves that it wasn't like that anymore. 25 years later, Spike Lee's BlackkKlansman hit us in the face with fact that not only is the bigotry and hate of the '70's alive and well today, it has reached levels of more overt power in higher (and much closer) places. Lee delivered his most hard hitting and searingly relevant film since Malcolm X, reaching a level of polish and confidence (not to be confused with egotism, which has seemed largely absent) as an artist that is up there with the best of the best. The old cliche of "this is a film that everyone must see" could not be more true. Knowledge is power, and BlackkKlanman is a powerful film indeed.

6. Mary Poppins Returns
Rob Marshall's sequel (and loving tribute) to the Disney classic is practically perfect in every way.

The entire creative team is very clearly committed to making a film worthy of the mantle they are taking on, and none more seriously than Emily Blunt. The task of stepping into Julie Andrews' shoes is monumental, but Blunt makes it seem effortless. What makes Mary Poppins Returns so special (and so needed) is the unbridled sense of joy and optimism it brings to everyone watching it. It has suspense and action, but it's all non violent and family friendly, and it never settles for "good enough", nor does it feel like a movie made by committee. In these so frequently joyless and divisive times, it's a major boost to the spirits and a reminder that love, goodness and fun do still exist, and it is up to us to hold onto it and spread it wherever and whenever we can.

Mary Poppins Returns was a perfect holiday gift that could not come at a better time, and one that can be it should be enthusiastically enjoyed by all.

Bradley Cooper's passionate re-imagining of the oft told story is getting dangerously close to being the next big "if it's so good, how come everybody liked it?" movie, and after it walks away with a few Academy Awards under it's belt (why would you put them under your belt?) that backlash will probably hit full force. But science has yet to create an instrument that can measure how little I care.

What makes A Star is Born a great film can be summed up in the word "passionate".
The actor/director's passion for art and storytelling, and for his leading lady. Lady Gaga was certainly not in need of discovery the way Ali is in this film, but consider the fact that her most successful foray into acting up to this point has been an episode of American Horror Story, with the second being the Christmas Special she did with the Muppets (which was such a monster hit that it can only be found on YouTube) and the fact that she will almost certainly beat out Glenn Close and other perennials like Julia Roberts and Charlize Theron, and there is no denying that Cooper did indeed discover a star. Gaga's passion for the project, for music, for the story and for life and love shines through in every scene. It's all exemplified by Shallow, the best musical sequence on film in many years. Not only are the performances electrifying, but as a director and acting teacher myself, I've never seen anything that so perfectly captures the joy one gets at helping a burgeoning talent come into their own, or the flood of mixed feelings that come with the realization that you'll never be as good as your own protégé. It's also a strikingly honest portrayal of how love and stupidity so often go hand in hand (the years of profound but unexpressed love between Cooper's Jackson Maine and his older brother/surrogate father are both infuriating and devastating, especially because each of has a relationship that is like this in some way, and the way Jackson nearly destroys the first true happiness has found in life, and for no good reason, is a gut punch). The movie brilliantly portrays he time we waste focusing on being unhappy, oblivious to the joys around us, and way we treasure those memories more than we ever bothered to treasure the moment they were happening.

By now, you've likely seen the film, but if you are afraid of spoilers, skip ahead to the next film on the list: I went into this movie fully aware of how it was going to end (it is a remake, after all) but Jackson's suicide shook my so deeply I could think of nothing else for a week. For one thing, it triggered some very intense PTSD over the time my father tried to hang himself in our garage, as well as memories of my own battles will suicidal depression, including a brief hospitalization. These associations could have easily made me hate this film, as I was want to do when I was younger when dramas struck that kind of a chord with me, but instead I found a certain strength in the reminder that that which is most personal is often most universal. It takes true artistry to grapple with this much human truth and make it real, especially when it's mixed with so much glitz and glamour. Two stars were born this year, in Lady Gaga the actress and Bradley Cooper the auteur director. Long may they shine.

8. Three Identical Strangers
2018 was a watershed year for documentaries, and director Tim Wardle crafted the most fascinating and disturbing one in chronicling the story of Edward Galland, David Kellman and Robert Shafran, a set of American triplets who were adopted by separate families as six-month-old infants by separate families, unaware that each child had brothers. The separations were done as part of an undisclosed scientific "nature versus nurture" twin study, to track the development of genetically identical siblings raised in differing circumstances. Combining archival footage, re-enacted scenes, and present-day interviews, the documentary reveals how the brothers discovered one another at age 19 and thereafter sought to understand the circumstances of their separation.  Three Identical Strangers is a strange mixture of whimsical, conspiratorial, outrageous and heartbreaking beyond words. This haunting and thoroughly insane story will be stuck in your head long after the movie has ended, and as twin myself, these three brothers and the joy they feel and tragedy they endure will be stuck in my heart forever.

9. Eighth Grade
Comedian, musician  and YouTuber Bo Burnham made his his feature film directorial debut with this story of struggles of an eighth-grader named Kayla (Elsie Fisher, in a fearless and  real performance that is impressive for an actor age) during her last week of classes before graduating to High School.
The vast majority of films depicting this age group are set in very glossy Hollywood versions of public schools that bear little resemblance to reality (Edge of Seventeen was a really great movie, but even it took place at a school in a movie, not one in the real world), but Eighth Grade is so refreshingly real in its portrayal of it's world and the characters that inhabit it that it is hard not to feel taken aback by the sheer audacity of simply making a movie that rings so true. The anxiety, confusion and awkward pain of adolescences are captured unflinchingly without ever letting the movie itself become a boring exercise in self pity. The parent child relationship is one of the most genuine and I've ever seen on film, and the only stock, silly moment in Eighth Grade is the moment when you, the viewer, tear up in an almost comically overstated manner and choke out "that was beautiful" as if you were in a sitcom and a laugh track was queueing up.  The underlying message is that you're not alone, no matter how much it may feel that way, and that there is nothing more empowering than simply recognizing and at long last accepting that you are actually pretty cool.

10. Black Panther
A number of different films were vying for this last slot, from First ReformedBoy Erased and The Death of Stalin to A Quiet Place and even Paddington 2. But I felt compelled to include Black Panther for two reasons: 1. I'm sick to death of the backlash that is largely based around a chip on the shoulder attitude/implication that critics at the time it came out, and now the Academy, simply feel like they "have" to pretend this is a great movie because it's "woke", and 2. BECAUSE IT REALLY IS A GREAT MOVIE.

For me, Black Panther was a lot more than just another superhero movie. It was like watching Lord of the Rings and James Bond come together in a movie that had a profound emotional core and deeply introspective sensibilities, combined with an understanding of the darkest aspects of American and world history and a refusal to let those things get pushed to the sidelines in favor of focusing on slam bang entertainment. Michael B. Jordan's Killmonger is quite simply the best villain ever in a comic book film. The comment I hear most often is "I didn't really think of him as a villain", but I argue that he's just a real world villain. Many of the most horrific things ever done by real world "villains" have been born of pain, suffering, anger and even a sense of idealism gone wrong. The last time we saw an antagonist this layered and tragic in an epic entertainment film was Wes Studi's Magua in Michael Mann's 1992 version of The Last of the Mohicans. If that wasn't enough, Ludwig Göransson's masterful score was a work of art unto itself. When you add to that a great cast of characters (including strong, intelligent black women) and wildly creative action sequences, you've got the movie of the year that everyone was talking about for all the right reasons. Black Panther was a wake up call for Hollywood to stop just talking the talk and walk the walk when it comes to inclusiveness in mainstream film, and did so in a film that plays to all audiences.

Runners-Up: Annihilation, Boy Erased, Deadpool 2, First Reformed, Green Book, 
Hearts Beat Loud, Incredibles 2, Leave No Trace, Mission: Impossible - Fallout, On The Basis of Sex, The Old Man and The Gun, A Quiet Place, Ready Player One, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, Support The Girls, Tully

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