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Picking The Best Movies Of 2018

Highlighting a new crop of diverse directors

Photo credit: Annapurna Pictures

Stephan James and KiKi Layne star in Barry Jenkins' adaptation of James Baldwin's "If Beale Street Could Talk."

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Here's a list of the best films and some of the worst of 2018.

Doing a 10 best list is always difficult for me. Sometimes there are too few films to pick from and sometimes too many.

But mostly it is painful because movies are so diverse and the reasons for loving them are varied. In some ways I see a 10 best list as a means of not just highlighting the top films of the year but also the films that I felt were unjustly ignored or overlooked. But picking just 10 films is like having a lifeboat and only being able to save 10 of your children. How do you decide who is truly the most worthy? Well here goes.

The honorable mentions

This year my honorable mentions go to a collection of brilliant films that all deserve to be on a year-end list but I am placing them as runners up because they are all from well-established filmmakers. The films are racking up awards from the mainstream critics and don’t need any more accolades to get audiences to see them. So Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma,” Spike Lee’s “Blackkklansman,” Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther,” Yorgo Lanthimos’ “The Favourite” and the trio of foreign films “Burning,” “Shoplifters” and “Cold War” are all well worth seeking out.

I would also give a special nod to the 8-hour plus documentary “Dead Souls” that bravely screened here at the San Diego Asian Film Festival (and kudos to artistic director Brian Hu for programming it) and to “The Other Side of the Wind,” which let Orson Welles deliver a film from beyond the grave. Also check out the companion documentary piece "They'll Love Me When I'm Dead" all about Welles' final film project.

The Top 10 ... Well Dozen of 2018

But for the top 10 I am going with some films that in some way felt more exciting in terms of the filmmaking, films that announced a new talent or made us see a genre with new eyes. So, let’s begin with the documentary “Three Identical Strangers” that spins a genuinely thrilling narrative about three boys separated at birth who find each other as teenagers.

Witchcraft in modern Zambia provides the starting point for Rungano Nyoni’s feature debut “I Am Not a Witch.” It’s a brilliantly confident work that finds comic absurdity amidst tragedy, and dares us to laugh and cry within the same breath and then marvel at Nyoni’s spellbinding craft.

A surprisingly well-crafted script made "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" not just a top ten pick but my favorite Marvel movie of all time. The animation style is fresh and innovative plus it captures the spirit of the Marvel comic, dishes up clever fun, and even develops genuine emotion. Spider-Man, I love you.

I also love the Molotov cocktail of "Snowflake" in which a pair of hit men find themselves at the mercy of a cursed script that’s controlling their lives."Snowflake" delivers a pop culture mash up of Tarantino audacity, Coen brothers cleverness, and Charlie Kaufman meta-textual self-awareness. It proves explosive and intoxicating. But what’s most surprising is how the story develops into a morality tale and how much you come to care for the two main characters.

A lack of morality as well as people we don’t care for are at the core of Adam McKay’s "Vice," a savagely dark comic portrait of Dick Cheney’s rise to power. “Vice” gives us “Politics for Dummies” as it connects the dots between events to help explain why America is currently where it’s at. The film is equal parts hilarious and disturbing.

Disturbing in a completely different way is “Hereditary,” the feature film debut of Ari Aster. “Hereditary” is the horror equivalent of the slow food movement — it asks you to take your time to savor every little ingredient, and to just let things come at their own pace. This is an exceedingly well-crafted and well-modulated tale of dread.

Photo credit: Asmik Ace Entertainment

The low budget Japanese zombie film "One Cut of the Dead" celebrates the passion and inventiveness of a young filmmaking crew.

A very different kind of horror is served up by Japan’s "One Cut of the Dead." Made for practically nothing, this film is pure cinematic bliss. If Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland made a horror film this would be it. It’s filled with endearing do-it-yourself inventiveness and an infectious love for the passion needed to make a movie.

Another film that fills me with joy is Armando Iannucci’s "Death of Stalin." The comic inventiveness and whip smart writing of this film are a delight as is seeing Steve Buscemi tackle the role of Nikita Khrushchev with gusto.

Photo credit: Lionsgate

Collin (Daveed Diggs) try to make it through his last 72 hours of probation but his friend Miles (Rafael Casal) is making it tough in Carlos Lopez Estrada's "Blindspotting."

I found a way to cheat an extra film in by giving a shout out to Oakland for being the back drop for two of the year’s best films: “Blindspotting” and “Sorry to Bother You,” both marking feature film debuts for their directors.

“Blindspotting” looks to the last three days of Collin's probation as he tries to navigate through a changing Oakland where just being black can get you killed. Director Carlos Lopez Estrada and writer-stars Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs deliver a funny, tragic, smart and intense film that allows us to see the world through new eyes.

Finding a new voice sets Cassius Green on the road to success in Boots Riley’s "Sorry to Bother You" where employing a "white" voice helps Green rise in a telemarketing company. The film gives us an alternative universe Oakland and announces veteran rapper Riley as a force to be reckoned in film. Riley not only has something to say, but he has the artistry to say it in an audaciously fresh way that demands attention.

And finally let me end with Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Jenkins is a gorgeously visual storyteller and he finds a cinematic eloquence to match the poetry of Baldwin’s writing. The film gains its radiance from the romance at its center but it’s also fueled by outrage at the injustices faced by a young black couple. “If Beale Street Could Talk” is transcendent filmmaking and reminds me why going to a cinema is like going to church for me.

And if I could get one more cheat in, then it would be to add "The Night Comes for Us," an action film from Indonesia that exhausts you with its spectacular fights and grueling narrative. I am an action junkie and there is always a place in my heart for a film that knows how to deliver breathtaking action and this film certainly did that.

I’m sure I will agonize over the choices for a few more days but how wonderful to have a year with so many cinematic treasures and so many from new and diverse filmmakers.

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