2018 was so filled to the brim with good cinema this list could barely be whittled down to below 30 titles. Only the top 17 are in order, being Father Gore’s top favourites of the year.
While you’re at it, if you haven’t read the Best Performances of 2018 list, it’s right here.
Anybody who says this is trying to make Dick Cheney look human isn’t paying attention. Neither is it (too) smug. Adam McKay’s humour is best used as satire, and here it’s pointed at one of the worst people to influence modern American politics. Fuck Dick Cheney to death.
More here on how Cheney killed contemporary American political discourse.
Custody is Xavier Legrand’s debut feature, based on his earlier 2013 short, Just Before Losing Everything. This is the sort of film men who are allies to women should be making, not ludicrous rape-revenge scenarios— the raw realities of divorces, custody battles, and domestic abuse are enough.
Read why this film demands we, as a society, DO BETTER FOR WOMEN.
Beauty and the Dogs
Again, an important story for/about women. Director Kaouther Ben Hania’s perspective as a woman makes this a stunning film to behold, illustrating how dangerously real violence is for women around the world. She focuses on her native Tunisia’s specific issues, though it’s a universal story to which many women can surely, sadly relate.
Another debut film on the list, Ryan Prows’s Lowlife is pure attack. For anyone living in the nightmare that is America currently, you’ll see how deeply it’s ingrained in the minds of the writers. This isn’t only an indictment of a U.S. administration under Trump, it’s a brutal, darkly comic view of what America’s like now and also how it managed to get there. Prows recognises the country’s destruction isn’t contained in a single event, rather it’s a continuum that’s been imploding for hundreds of years.
Dig into the contemporary concerns of Lowlife here.
Tired of rape-revenge scenarios written by men? Coralie Fargeat subverts the sub-genre, playing into certain tropes, all in order to show the strength of women when they’re under the violently oppressive thumb of misogynistic men.
More here on the religious imagery + evisceration of misogyny in Fargeat’s film.
The Road Movie
This documentary defies the category. It’s not a narrative feature and isn’t totally a documentary because it’s, essentially, genuine found footage from Russian dash-cams across the country. Director Dmitrii Kalashnikov might not appear to have directed at all, culling weird, wild, and wonderful clips from the many dash-cam uploads all over the internet. There’s actually a Twitter account that tweets these types of clips every day. Under the surface is something else entirely. Is it a commentary on Russia itself? Is it a look at the madness of modern society? Who knows. One hell of a documentary, no matter how you see it.
From a bunch of real found footage to a fictional documentary about fake found footage, we’ve arrived at Butterfly Kisses— the story of a documentary filmmaker whose quest for success after discovering footage connected to local folklore leads him into a potentially dangerous situation. Read no more. If you have any love for the sub-genre at all, you’ll enjoy this use of found footage, and the way the story examines the perils of telling the stories of other people for a living is, at times, pretty powerful, adding to the feeling of dread that builds up over the film’s lean 91 minutes.
Rainer Sarnet’s latest film November is like having a strange dream. It’s a folklore-like story about an Estonian village some time ago, when pagan beliefs ruled the land, people went with the flow of tradition, and they believed in the fantastical. This will 100% surprise, whether you dig it or not.
Sean Harris stars in Possum as a disgraced puppeteer returning home to a dilapidated house and neighbourhood, along with a horrific uncle he hoped he’d left behind. Harris is the centrepiece of a fascinating character study about how trauma lingers, staining everything a person does in life, unless of course they can, somehow, let go. This is a psychological horror that’ll scar. The finale’s bonkers disturbing without having to resort to any kind of graphic ugliness. It’s all about emotional power.
John Cho’s the first Asian-American actor to star in a big budget studio thriller out of Hollywood. First, let it sink in how far we have to go in terms of representation for POC on-screen. Second, marvel in Cho’s performance as a distraught father trying to find his missing daughter. Searching‘s told with flawless direction by Aneesh Chaganty through a series of screens: phones, laptops, televisions, hidden cameras, and more. Easily one of the most thrilling films from 2018. The story goes unexpected places and back again. Cho keeps the viewer tethered to his character’s unfolding tragedy with naked emotion. This performance should secure him as a solid leading man.
Read about Father Gore’s thoughts re: what the digital world is doing to our identity.
Narratives of abuse and trauma, particularly related to sex, can all too often become exploitative depending on how the director and writer choose to portray the story. Jennifer Fox allows herself, and the audience, catharsis in The Tale by delicately, if not disturbingly, tracing the resurfacing memories of a grown woman (played with jagged grace by Laura Dern) who tries to reconcile the sexual abuse she suffered as a girl with the woman she’s become today.
Alex Garland has etched his name on the Mount Rushmore of British sci-fi screenwriters and directors. Annihilation would be a feat to direct or write alone. Garland does both, and well. This is a creepy, genuinely disturbing, romantic, and wondrous piece of cinema. There’s good sci-fi, then there’s great sci-fi— Garland’s film is undoubtedly the latter. The cherry on top? A bunch of kick ass women heading into uncharted, alien-ish territory: Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny.
More here on Father Gore’s theories about Annihilation.
There are a couple debut features from directors on this list. Alex Pettyfer stays in front of the camera while also stepping behind it, directing a screenplay by Tawni O’Dell based on her own novel, Back Roads. A gritty look at Pennsylvania coal country, where a man’s only a man if he’s drinking beer, having sex, shooting guns, or dying overseas in camouflage.
Top 17 Films of 2018
17) The Sisters Brothers
Jacques Audiard’s film adaptation of Patrick DeWitt’s novel The Sisters Brothers is a singular vision of the American West. The eponymous brothers, Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix), are tasked with a new murder-for-hire, but they decide not to kill the man this time and it has unintended consequences.
This Western is very different from a lot of what we’ve seen from the genre, even lately. Audiard takes DeWitt’s work and drives it further home by confronting the masculine violence that constitutes the Western Frontier genre and focusing on how the Wild West was, slowly, lurching out of the past and into modernity. Lots of good performances, amazing costumes, and the whole atmosphere makes you feel like you’re smack dab in the middle of Oregon during 1851.
For a full article on the cowboys with daddy issues and the Wild West becoming modern, click here.
16) First Reformed
In a day and age where religion’s more divisive than ever, Paul Schrader somehow makes a masterpiece out of a film about religious faith. To say too much more will ruin it. Ethan Hawke is a dream in the lead role, playing a priest who’s fallen out of love with the capitalist arm of his church and tries to not let it consume him while he watches his world, and the rest of the world, fall apart in front of him.
15) Mission Impossible – Fallout
Tom Cruise is a literal crazy person. He’s also one of the few big name actors in Hollywood actually earning the massive paycheck he’s being given. Mission Impossible – Fallout is the culmination of all prior films in the series. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt calls on all his skills and every ounce of his willpower to defeat a familiar face from the recent past.
There are other great performances aside from the man himself. Yet it’s Cruise who breaks an ankle jumping London rooftops, does a HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) jump out of a plane, flies a helicopter, and drives a motorcycle head-on into traffic at high speeds/around wild corners. This is Cruise’s show, for a damn good reason. Not only that, the plot’s great, giving fans of the series a sequel that isn’t only a standalone piece of the franchise but a true continuation of pieces from Hunt’s past.
Three big reasons to enjoy Unsane:
III) Steven Soderbergh shot this on the new iPhone
II) The screenplay offers a disturbing view of the realities women who are stalked/women who are gaslighted by the mental healthcare system and men face on a daily basis
I) Claire Foy gives one of 2018’s greatest performances (!!!)
More here on how Unsane begs its viewer to BELIEVE WOMEN.
Every generation has a handful – if they’re lucky – of amazing, innovative sci-fi films. Upgrade is one for the 21st century. Leigh Whannell continues to churn out interesting work, bridging his love of horror with the sci-fi at the core of his story about an experimental bio-mechanical upgrade called STEM that turns regular human beings into ruthless fighting machines. This has imagination, a funny and heartfelt performance from Logan Marshall-Green, and DAMN FINE GORE!
More here on Upgrade‘s abject anxieties about technology.
Father Gore fell deeply in love with the style of Panos Cosmatos immediately after seeing Beyond the Black Rainbow, so the director-writer had a lifelong fan, waiting to see whatever he did next. He didn’t disappoint. Mandy is a sweaty, psychedelic nightmare about deeply unsettling loss. It’s a combination of so much stuff from the ’80s that Father Gore wrote a massive article about the many influences in its melting pot.
Gareth Evans took a break from neck-breaking, head-smashing, bone-shattering action and pivoted to full-on horror with his latest offering, Apostle.
A Welsh island. A cult. A possible hideous entity lurking below the ground. Dan Stevens plays a physically+emotionally wounded man looking for his sister, who’s in trouble with the cult and its leader (Michael Sheen). Intense and unsettling. Stevens is at his best here, sometimes reminiscent of a wild animal wearing human skin.
More here on the film’s real life influences.
10) The First Purge
Others will scoff. Fuck ’em. The First Purge reaches its zenith by fully diving into the perspective of POC— those on the receiving end of the harshest violence during Purge Night, alongside the poor. This franchise has always been political. Never has it been more relevant, going back to when the New Founding Fathers of America chose to enact their Purge policy by using Staten Island as the nation’s sacrificial lamb.
On Father Gore’s favourites of 2018 list, as well as his favourite horrors of all-time list. Solid performances, specifically from Toni Collette and Alex Wolff (though the entire cast is phenomenal). Ari Aster, in his debut feature, gives us equal doses of horror+drama intertwined to create an emotionally resonant and devastating story about grief, mental illness, and spooky, cult-y old people.
Read about Hereditary as an allegory for how hereditary mental illnesses destroy generations of families here.
8) Sollers Point
Sollers Point is a perfect character study for 2018, in a time where more people are starting to see the damaging cycles of people stuck between the economically ravaged cities in which they live and the few options they have to fall back on.
The story concerns a young dude who gets out of jail and tries to change his life, but finds support systems are few and far between. It isn’t easy for ex-cons to rehabilitate themselves when others insist on dragging them back down. It also isn’t easy for people who’ve made mistakes to accept they’re flawed, that it isn’t ALL the system holding them back, and that, now and then, the burden lies solely on oneself to change their situation.
If Get Out was a psycho-horror aimed at white liberals, then Tyrel is a psychological drama verging on black comedy horror that attempts to do the same thing, except more subtly. Sebastián Silva digs into white ignorance with a story about a young black man named Tyler (played by Jason Mitchell— one of the year’s greatest performances) who parties with a bunch of white guys in the Catskills, and during their weekend getaway he discovers just how vast the divide between white and black actually is in 2018 America.
6) Vox Lux
The second feature from Brady Corbet. He’s cementing himself as a great artist, after working for many big directors with immense talents themselves. Vox Lux examines fanaticism in a distinctly American distillation – pop music – alongside fanaticism in the world of firearm terrorism. Does this combination sound an unlikely fit? Corbet weaves the story together with a keen eye, pitch black comedy that presents us with lacerating truths about Western culture, and a willingness to confront important cultural issues without wandering onto preachy ground.
Disclaimer: There are no bad Steve McQueen films.
Widows gives a bunch of women the opportunity to lead a dramatic thriller complete with a couple solid action sequences. Gillian Flynn’s screenplay riffs on Lynda La Plante’s original material while tackling the stark racial realities of present day Chicago. The directing is above and beyond. McQueen has an eye for the thrills just as much as he does the quiet dramatic scenes. It’s Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, and especially Elizabeth Debicki who’ll keep all eyes glued to the screen.
LONG LIVE THE POWER OF WOMEN!
Sex workers are people, too. Cam never loses sight of its protagonist’s agency, nor her humanity. Madeline Brewer plays a woman named Alice. She does a cam show online for paying customers on the other side of the screen. She experiences a surreal division of the self, tumbling down the rabbit hole into a surreal experience where she has to fight one side of herself for the other to survive. Fantastic film powered by Brewer’s strengths.
3) The House That Jack Built
If you’ve frequented this site, you know Father Gore is a huge Lars von Trier fan. The Danish director isn’t a provocateur for the sake of being one. He has things to say.
But The House That Jack Built is a totally new puzzle piece in the disturbing tapestry of his cinematic psyche, turning the lens inward rather than outward. The provocateur examines himself and his relationship with women, he looks deep at art, and particularly art that depicts horror in its many forms. Matt Dillon’s a powerhouse, taking von Trier’s words off the page and into the mind of the viewer with force, commanding the eye and ear at once. Not your average serial killer story, it’s profound horror. Don’t listen to the uptight bourgeois critics who went into a von Trier film about a vicious murderer expecting anything less than nasty madness, only to walk out when their delicate sensibilities were offended by metaphorical violence.
Burning is a lengthy vision of the disconnected culture young people exist within today. Lee Chang-dong adapts the short story “Barn Burning” by Haruki Murakami into a tense, thrilling drama about a South Korean woman that goes missing, stirring up mystery in the life of an old friend and brief lover. Another film best seen without knowing much. Don’t read any descriptions of the plot, outside this small slice. Steven Yeun deserves an Oscar nomination for his supporting role. And if slow burn is your thing, you’ll be well done and crispy before the unpredictable last 1/3.
Father Gore’s #1 favourite film from 2018, hands down: Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the Dario Argento classic, Suspiria.
This new re-envisioning of the material showcases the power of women. The story also looks at how even in a matriarchy fascism can rear its head, just in different ways from the patriarchy. Maybe the most feminist horror film a man will ever make. Guadagnino and writer David Kajganich offer an amazing and terrifying showcase of mother-daughter relationships, surrounded by a broader narrative about generational guilt and trauma set in post-Holocaust Berlin. Tilda Swinton and Dakota Johnson are forces of goddamn nature, while Mia Goth’s no slouch, either. The greatest remake. A Grand-Guignol horrorshow full of dread, heart, and a couple unforgettable scenes that will leave their mark on the genre forever.
“Death to any other mother!”
Read Father Gore’s full analysis of Suspiria‘s themes here.