Hey, this is your local film buff checking in on my yearly visit to this blog to spout out my favorite films of the year (because my opinion is right and everyone else is wrong).

Disclaimer: At the time of writing this article, I hadn’t seen the following highly acclaimed films that might have had a spot otherwise: Border, Caphernaum, Minding the Gap, The Rider, and Suspiria

Note: This year has proven to be one of the worst years for Hollywood Big Studio films, but an incredible year for independent cinema. As such, you may have never heard of some of the films listed below, but how boring would it be if I wrote this entire giant article just talking about films you already know. Wouldn’t it be great to be recommended stuff you haven’t heard of, so you can find it in you to take a risk and watch it? Who knows, you might find yourself surprised to discover a gem you would have never searched for otherwise…

20) A Quiet Place

This is John Krasinski (Jim from The Office!) directing a nail biting horror / thriller / sci-fi film that is the epitome of suspense. This film was huge and there’s no question why. It was one of the most fun times I had at the cinema, with a perfect concept and setup, and excellent execution. The bridge scene, the birth scene, the father’s scream.. like vintage Shymalan at his best without any of the overcomplicating, if you haven’t caught this yet, you need to

19) Mission Impossible Fallout

I am a huge fan of the Mission Impossible series, and I feel all the films (except for 2.. lets all pretend that never happened) are excellent in their own right. And while my favorite remains part 5, Rogue Nation, in Fallout, Tom Cruise has hit new heights of dedication as a producer and a performer. An incredible ride from beginning to end, this is the best Action film of the year (a slowly dying genre) and one with top notch direction and an excellent cast to support it.

18) Mid90s

Jonah Hill’s directorial debut is at once nostalgic, heart breaking, and grounded in realism. Shot in a 90’s format dv, it carries an excellent performance from its lead child star, and a nuanced storyline that will surprise you with emotion when you weren’t expecting any. An incredible debut and a wholly original voice, I can’t wait to see what else he’s got up his sleeve as a director.

17) Into the Spiderverse

Where the hell did this film come from and how did it turn out so damn good? This is the most original and at the same time satisfying take on Spiderman. It’s the best version (versions?) of the character we’ve seen and the structure of the script is just brilliant (an organ story and a sequel and a full fledged Spiderman move all in one). The voice acting is top notch, the storytelling is excellent, but the real star here is the incredible animation and how it brings together multiple forms of it into a single film without every becoming too overwhelming. A true gem of a film and one with an effect that won’t be replicated for a while

16) The Death of Stalin

This year’s funniest film comes from the mind of Armando Iannucci (the creator of Veep and In the Loop) and it takes a comedic yet bizarrely true to history look at the, well, death of Stalin. Watching the administration panic at the death while trying to hide it from the public as they try to figure out who takes power next and how the transition will be is a complete and utter joy filled with some deliciously witty dialogue and hilarious performances from Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, and the film’s VIP Simon Russel Beale in a scene stealing performance. The finale of the film, however, reminds us that this isn’t all a joke, and the terror of dictatorship is real, elevating the film from a great time to a cinematic statement.

15) Leave No Trace

A beautiful, heartbreaking, and realistic look into PTSD, Leave No Trace is an engaging film that starts off as a kind of thriller but slowly transforms into a powerful drama. Ben Foster gives one of the best performances of the year as a paranoid father who makes his madness convincing enough to root for. In the hands of any other director and this would have been sensationalized to death, but here Deborah Granik who has become one of the most consistent American filmmakers around, gives the story and characters so much respect that you can’t help but be genuinely moved.

14) First Man

Criminally under-represented at this year’s Oscars, First Man is a film about the cost behind achieving greatness. Directed by Damien Chazelle (who previously gave us Whiplash and La La Land), here his direction is almost unrecognizable in comparison to his earlier films, opting instead for a more subdued, handheld, and intimate approach. The story of the First Man on the moon is told here not as a national triumph, but an extremely personal and painful journey of one man who’s surrounded by tragedy. It has incredible performances from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy, the year’s best musical score, and an ending that will send goosebumps all throughout your body.

13) First Reformed

Another film that was ignored by this year’s oscars, First Reformed carries the best male performance of the year by the ALWAYS underrated Ethan Hawke (Sorry Rami Malik). This guy is one of those actors that is always so good his excellence goes unnoticed. First Reformed is a film written and directed by cinematic legend Paul Schrader (the writer of Taxi Driver) and is a wholly original and powerful film. The pace may be deliberate and quite hard to handle for casual viewers, but it’s all by design because when he lets the film loose, my god do we notice. Takes the award for the best / worst ending of the year depending on who you talk to, this film definitely doesn’t play it safe.

12) If Beale Street Could Talk

OK I may getting redundant about films ignored by the Oscars, let’s just agree that the Oscars are a political popularity contests in which winners and nominees are based on the amount spent on the campaign rather than the quality of the films. Here we have the follow up to Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece Moonlight, Beale Street is a beautiful lyrical adaptation of James Baldwin’s book of the same name. It shows an elevation in the visual splendor of Jenkins as a director, carrying some of the most beautiful moments on screen this year. The story will tug at your heartstrings as you watch the world conspire against true love set to the incredible score by Nicholas Britell. If you haven’t seen it, prepare yourself for an experience. Turn down the lights, put up the volume and be taken away with beauty.

11) Eighth Grade

Directed by hilarious stand up comedian Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade is a surprisingly mature and realistic look into the awkward reality of growing up as an eight grader in an increasingly judgmental world. Featuring a star making performance by Elsie Fisher, the film is both hilarious and uplifting while at the same time scary and hard to watch as we are taken into the experience of adolescence in the age of social media. Smart, poignant, original, and with a super cool score, this is an easy recommendation

10) Shirkers

On the other hand, here’s a Netflix documentary that is the debut of Singaporean director Sandi Tan that is actually about her original debut 25 years ago that was sabotaged and stolen by a mysterious mentor she had met so long ago, a theft that she never got over and hindered her career ever since. The film is a super intriguing mystery search for the man who wronged her so long ago, whilst also being a rediscovery of the love of cinema. One of the most original documentaries I have ever seen, this is one of those films that are enjoyable to watch but by the end you find your emotions in a state of joyful melancholy. A masterpiece by any right.

9) Hereditary

The years more terrifying film. Hereditary stuck with me for weeks after I first saw it. Many called it this generations’ “The Exorcist” and I don’t blame them. Brought to us by a new voice in horror, Ari Aster, Hereditary is a film that had me whispering “oh my God” about every few seconds the entire running time. The storytelling is so well done and paced, the feeling of dread and moos throughout is masterful, and the performance by Toni Collette just destroyed me.. i don’t think I ever seen a performance as intense. This is a film that will traumatize, but if like me you’ve gotten numb to regular horror cinema, this is the film that will show you what’s possible with the genre.

8) Annihilation

Written and Directed by Alex Garland who previously gave us the excellent Ex Machina, Annihilation is a Netflix film that I wish i was able to watch in cinemas. It’s arguable one for he most cinematic films of the year, carrying some unforgettable and imaginative visuals as well as the most original script by far. I won’t even go into details because I want to spoil nothing for those who haven’t seen it, but after seeing it 4 times I still find myself reorganizing my theories about what it’s all really about. This is science fiction at its finest, and the final psychedelic 20 minutes are the most jaw dropping of the year. Just writing about it makes me excited to watch it again.

7) Shoplifters

Small, simple, gentle, subtle, moving, romantic, uplifting, heart wrenching. This is a film of quiet emotions, of painful glances, of tender words. Shoplifters is a masterpiece by Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda who has always been known for his excellence in filmmaking. Arguably his best film yet, it’s no surprise it won the best film in the world at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. The way the story is told is so exciting due to how the information is given, but the true gem here are the emotions it bring out of you. The scene where Nobuyo shows Yuri what love is brought tears to my eyes.

6) A Prayer Before Dawn

This is a brutal, brutal, brutal look into the life of a British boxer inside a thai prison. Based on the true story of a boxer living in Thailand who is arrested for possession of drugs, the film follows the protagonist as though we were watching a documentary and not a traditional film at all. No subtitles are available to make the experience easy for us, instead we experience the verbal abuse and interrogation of the Thai authorities and prisoners the way our character who doesn’t speak the language would.. our eyes searching for body language and tone fo voice trying to understand the madness that surrounds him. That’s just the beginning though, and it’s when our protagonist joins a prison boxing competition that the film is taken into full gear, and this brutal violent intense film takes you on a journey that by the end will proved surprisingly poignant and motivational. A beautiful film and one that I’ll never forget.

5) The Favourite

Directed by Greek madman Yorgos Lanthimos (who previously gave us the super original Dogtooth and the even more original comedy The Lobster) , The Favorite is a true story look into the relationship between the mad Queen Anne, her best friend from childhood, and a newcomer vying for her favor, What results is one of the year’s most fascinating films, hilarious and heartbreaking throughout with incredible performances from everyone and some of the most interesting cinematography of the year. The film effortlessly jumps from comedic farce to detailed historic retelling to political house of cards drama to sexual intrigue to the funniest dance sequence since Napoleon Dynamite. A wholly original, unique, and exceptionally fun film.

4) Burning

Here is a slim that snuck up and ultimately floored me. A mystery film that takes the mystery element and turns it up to 11. A film about pain, loneliness, jealousy, freedom, and growing up, Burning will have you glued to the screen wondering what’s really going on, what are the true intentions of these characters. I found my mind taking me places that the film wasn’t really giving me, or so I thought, until that insane ending which confirmed all my suspicions. Like all the best mysteries, the answer at the end isn’t clear, and whatever side you take, you will always doubt your own mind. I still argue with friends until today about who did what, and its that level of engagement and involvement that is the sign of a truly great film.

3) Roma

You’ve seen it win every award in the universe, and yet still it deserves more. Directed by cinematic master Alfonso Cuaron, who previously gave us the thrill ride that was Gravity, and the science fiction masterpiece (and perhaps one of the greatest films of all time) Children of Men. Here, he takes it down to tell an intimate story of a housemaid living in 1970’s Mexico before cranking it up to create some of the most incredible set pieces in recent cinematic history. The size of the film goes from tiny to gargantuan, with scenes featuring 10 minute long takes and hundreds of cast members all choreographed to perfection. A film of jaw dropping scenes like the Protest scene, the forest fire, the birth sequence, and that now legendary beach shot which still gives me anxiety to today. With Roma, Netflix has solidified itself as a home for true cinema, maybe changing the way we view movies forever.

2) You Were Never Really Here

What happens when you take the precision direction of the film Drive and inject the delicate emotion of a broken human into it: This film. You Were Never Really Here is the dark, twisted, visually stunning, and thematically arresting film by Lynne Ramsay. Winning Best Actor at Cannes, Joaquin Phoenix gives an incredible performance as a hitman who’s finding it harder and harder to do his job. The way the film portrays violence is incredible, and the path in which the story takes feels like a greek tragedy set to psychedelic score by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood. It’s all these moving parts put together brilliantly by the director to give us one of this decade’s defining films.

1) Mandy

Who would have thought in a thousand years that my favorite film of 2018 would be a film starring Nicholas Cage. Not only that, but this happens to feature the most Nicholas Cage performance he’s ever given. There has truly never been a film like Mandy. A nightmarish journey into the underworld brought to us by cinematic visionary Panos Cosmatos. The trailer alone will get your heart racing as you’re taken into the dark twisted visual madness that he presents here, but what will surprise you when watching the film is just how human and tender the romantic element is. It’s almost impossible to describe this revenge tale in words, my best attempt is to compare it to a visual journey through some of those incredible complex album cover artworks from 80’s heavy metal bands. Think of the album artworks of Megadeth, and imagine finding a story within them and then adapting that into a film. This gets my top spot for being the most original yet cinematically arresting film of the year. It’s the most memorable, and Nicholas Cage’s madness is the perfect fit. I don’t think Ive ever seen a film like it, and I doubt that I ever will. A true original in a world of copies.

Honorable Mentions (films that just missed the top 20)
Private Life, Tully, Bad Times at the El Royale, Sorry to Bother You, Isle of Dogs, Game Night, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Sisters Brothers, American Animals, Blackkklansman

Greatest film that missed the top 20
Isle of Dogs – Wes Anderson stop motion is always a reason to watch, but his political messaging, world building, and character creation here is what this film is all about.

Performance of the Year
Toni Colette from Hereditary. I’m serious, it will horrify you.

Most Jaw-Dropping Scene of the Year
It’s a tie between the Birth scene and the Beach scene in Roma. The first is jaw dropping in terms of the emotions it stirs up, the second is jaw dropping in terms of the sheer technical skill, logistics, madness and cinematic greatness it took to pull it off.

Greatest Cinematic Sequence of the year
The final 20 minutes of Annihilation are perhaps one of the most unique and interesting portrayals of any life form I’ve seen in cinema. You will be equally intrigued, curious, confused and terrified, but this scene makes the film and elevates it from top tier Sci-Fi to Cinematic Masterpiece.

Best Score of the Year
First Man, by Justin Hurwitz
You Were Never Really Here, by Johnny Greenwood
If Beale Street Could Talk, Nicholas Britell