The 10 Best Movies of 2018

Both our state and our democracy burned at an alarming rate this year, but at least good movies were still being made.

10. The Other Side of the Wind

Orson Welles’ most legendary unfinished film — and there’s a lot of competition for that title — has finally been finished. There’s no telling exactly what the film would have looked like had Welles been able to complete it prior to his 1985 death, but we know that he set out to create what we now call a found-footage film, and this construction feels no less authentic than the recent restorations of Chimes at Midnight or Mr. Arkadin. And as if getting a new Orson Welles movie featuring a heretofore unseen John Huston performance wasn’t enough, there’s even a George Jessel cameo! What more could you possibly want from a film released in 2018? (A Charlie Callas cameo, but you can’t have everything.)

A film still from 306 Hollywood by Elan Bogarín and Jonathan Bogarín, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Elan Bogarín and Jonathan Bogarín.

9. 306 Hollywood

In this magical-realist documentary, Elan and Jonathan Bogarín decide to catalog everything in their late grandmother Annette’s house at 306 Hollywood Ave. in Hillside, N.J. While doing so, they investigate a myriad of subjects, including the persistence of memory, how we work through grief, the way consciousness and life itself are ultimately a matter of physics, and the immortality afforded by thermodynamics. Grandma Annette hasn’t stopped existing, because she never didn’t exist.

8. Hearts Beat Loud 2018

Nick Offerman is a goddamn national treasure, and if we didn’t know that before, his performance as the proprietor of a vinyl record store who forms a band with his reluctant daughter proves it. In his wonderful follow-up to The Hero, director Brett Haley’s again deals with themes of aging, adapting to new technologies, and troubled relationships between fathers and daughters, but Hearts simultaneously feels less familiar and more universal. There were few moments more joyful this year than Offerman’s character freaking out with happiness when he discovers their band is on Spotify’s New Indie Mix.

7. Annihilation

It’s amazing to think that this thoughtful, R-rated science-fiction film with an all-female lead cast was produced and released by Paramount. Other than the flawless visuals and a few moments where the characters over-explain what’s going on for the audience’s benefit, it feels more like a brain-bending art film than a major studio picture. Then again, Paramount dumped it in February with little fanfare or promotion, and the fact that it failed to recoup its comparatively modest $40 million budget means major studios will be taking even fewer chances with thoughtful, R-rated science-fiction films, let alone ones with all-female lead casts.

6. Damsel

Masculinity in the Old West gets deconstructed by the directors of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, the best film of 2015. While Damsel is set in a world as warm and green as Kumiko’s was cold and wintry, it’s also a very funny culture-clash comedy that plays on many of the same themes, such as the expectations placed on women to get hitched at a certain age, whether they particularly want to or not. That it reunites Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska from Maps to the Stars is just a bonus.

5. 24 Frames

An argument for the benefits of pure self-indulgence. The late Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s final work consists of — wait for it — 24 still photographs on which he used the latest digital doodads to add movement and sound, creating two dozen four-and-a-half-minute vignettes. They imagine what may have happened before and after the original image was captured. In doing so, Kiarostami is both having a laugh and considering the nature of cinema, and that’s something we can all indulge in.

4. Oh Lucy!

An expansion of her own 2014 Sundance-favorite short of the same name, Atsuko Hirayanagi’s Oh Lucy! can also be viewed as a spiritual sequel to Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, as 40-something Tokyo “office lady” Lucy makes her way through the seedy underbelly of Southern California. Oh Lucy! touches on many themes including Japan’s suicide epidemic, the commoditization of young girls, and especially how middle-aged women are disregarded and desexualized — all issues which are far from isolated to Japan. Lucy also gets the most epic mic drop of the year.

3. Star

The supercut to end all supercuts, Johann Lurf’s Star is a chronological montage of starfields and the night sky culled from thousands of films made around the world from 1905 to 2017. Though there are occasional voices, there are no people, places, or things on-screen other than stars and the occasional other celestial object. Sometimes immersive and sometimes looking like shiny dots on a studio ceiling, Star is an unmissable journey through a very specific sector of cinema history — and one that’s almost as difficult to find as the real stars in the night sky above San Francisco.

2. Incredibles 2

Their live-action remakes of animated films are fraught with peril and bad decisions, but between this and Mary Poppins Returns, Disney is nailing it in the “belated sequel” department. It’s also the one bright side to the financial failure of director Brad Bird’s live-action Tomorrowland in the theater; if that film had been a hit, he might not have retreated to Pixar to make the best animated film of his career. (Yes, dudes on the internet, it’s better than The Iron Giant. Deal with it.) In addition to dialing down the Randian themes of the original, Bird manages to comment on our modern screen-heavy culture without violating the film’s mid-20th century universe, while Elastigirl’s journey across the city rooftops during Screenslaver’s manifesto is practically an art film in its own right. In spite of being directly about superheroes, Incredibles 2 plays like more of a speculative fiction film, though the fact that it’s functionally a solo movie for Holly Hunter’s Elastigirl makes it all the more of an accomplishment. And speaking of the year’s best speculative fiction…

1. Sorry to Bother You

Becoming desperate in his search for work, taciturn Oakland resident Cassius (Lakeith Stanfield) takes a job at a scuzzy telemarketing firm, where he discovers a hidden vocal talent that elevates him to the top of a game which proves to be far stranger than he could have imagined. Boots Riley’s energetic, relentlessly imaginative assimilation parable Sorry to Bother You is set in a recognizable world that takes certain elements to their sometimes logically absurd conclusions, and even its most fantastic elements make perfect, horrifying sense. Stanfield continues to prove himself to be one of the best actors working today, and between this and Atlanta’s “Teddy Perkins,” he was the lead in 2018’s two best hybrids of horror and comedy.

 

Read more from SF Weekly’s Year in Film issue:

Looking for Hope from Frostbite Falls to Emerald City
In the darkness of the Trump era, our chief film critic finds a light on the other side of a tornado.

2018 Movie Moments You Might Have Missed
You can’t see every movie — nor would you want to, because most are terrible — but some have little moments of transcendence that make everything worth it.

Mary Poppins Returns: Don’t Spoil It With Questions
No amount of pixels can produce greater fireworks than Blunt and Miranda singing and dancing together.

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