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The Best Films of 2018, According to the Indie Film Community

We asked a range of influencers in the independent film world to share their cinematic highlights of the year.

IndieWire Best of 2018

Every year, critics summarize the year in cinema with top 10 lists, but they’re not the only members of the film community paying attention to the art form all year long. From programmers to publicists, sales agents, and distributors, many of the hardworking influencers behind the scenes are passionate movie buffs tracking the highlights of the year both for work and their personal enjoyment.

So while IndieWire has already provided its own rundowns of the best of 2018, this annual tradition provides an opportunity for the indie film community we cover throughout the year to weigh in. Here’s what they had to say.

 

Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director and Co-Head, TIFF

  1. “Roma” d. Alfonso Cuaron
  2. “The Favourite” d. Yorgos Lanthimos
  3. “Widows” d. Steve McQueen
  4. “Leave No Trace” d. Debra Granik
  5. “If Beale Street Could Talk” d. Barry Jenkins
  6. “You Were Never Really Here” d. Lynne Ramsay
  7. “Black Panther” d. Ryan Coogler
  8. “Burning” d. Lee Chang-dong
  9. “High Life” d. Claire Denis
  10. “Blindspotting” d. Carlos López Estrada

Michael Barker, Co-President and Co-Founder of Sony Pictures Classics 

My 10 (or so)best viewing experiences  in 2018

William Goldman just passed away. Between the ages of 12 and 20 he was a hero of mine. Not one of the obituaries I read mentioned the works that changed my life.   His novels from “Soldier in the Rain” to  “Marathon Man” were the first novels to engage me.  His non-fiction book, “The Season,” made me obsessive about the theater. And then there’s (1) “Harper (1966).”   William Goldman, Paul Newman, and Ross McDonald are the auteurs here.  I watched it for the first time in over 50 years to commemorate Goldman’s passing. It stands the test of time. The dialogue remains magnificent, the story is transgressive as hell, and Newman is at his coolest, hippest, anti-hero best. This is why I loved the movies at 12.

And why I still do over 50 years later watching (2)“Black Panther,” to my mind, the best picture of the year. It works on every level in story and execution. Ryan Coogler rocks.

Chloe Zhao with her exceptional (3)”The Rider” created a new movie reality.

On American television, if you looked hard enough, you could find gold, (4) “Atlanta” (FX) and “The Sinner” (USA).

Donald Glover continues: more surprising, laid back and incendiary than Season 1. Season 2 of “The Sinner” is the binge watch potboiler of the year. No one does existentialism like Bill Pullman does here.

Television from abroad left most of American television in the dust with (5) “Babylon Berlin,”  “Berlin Dogs,” and “The Hook Up Plan” (all Netflix).

Put “Buddenbrooks,” “Berlin Alexanderplatz,” “Cabaret,” and a German “Once Upon a Time in America” in a blender and you’ve got “Babylon Berlin.” Tom Tykwer is back with a heroine and actress only he could discover and create.

I can’t remember a show ever being as relevant or as suspenseful as “Berlin Dogs,” also from Germany.

From France, in “The Hook Up Plan,”  a girl, jilted by her boyfriend, depressed, is set up on a date by her girlfriends with an upscale male  hooker. It is so charming and so French. American tv was never like this.

(6)”Mission Impossible: Fallout” is so well made. It pumps new blood into a time worn genre.  There haven’t been cliffhangers within a movie like this since Fritz Lang’s Spies (1928). There are full three dimensional female characters. The supporting players are especially fine (Ving Rhames, so great). Tom Cruise is not afraid to poke sticks at himself. This is an entertaining full meal.

At the National Theater in London,  (7) “The Lehman Trilogy” debuted, the ultimate play about the rise and fall of American civilization as chronicled in the history of The Lehman brothers family from 1844 until the economic implosion of 2008. Director Sam Mendes (with a true cinematic eye) and an astounding cast of 3, playing scores of characters, present that perfect theatrical experience beyond imagination.

"The Mule"

“The Mule”

Warner Bros./YouTube

Once you accept the fact that “Dirty Harry” and The Man With No Name will never be PC, you will appreciate Clint Eastwood’s remarkable, laconic, jazz riff of a movie, (8) “The Mule”.  Eastwood, our most authentic American auteur still has lots to say about mortality, morality, and forgiveness.

2018 has been a year of astounding female performances from great actresses we often take for granted or haven’t seen in awhile :    Glenn Close (The Wife), Elaine May (Waverly Gallery, peerless), Laura Dern (The Tale), Glenda Jackson (Three Tall Women, she still takes no prisoners!). Writer-director Kent Jones, with his moving slice of life drama (9) “Diane,” provides that rare opportunity to watch great actresses we adore do what they do well. Mary Kay Place (stunning), Estelle Parsons (91), Joyce Van Patten(84), Andrea Martin, Deirdre O’Connell and Phyllis Somerville, long may they work!

Finally, in 2018 American studios still know how to make a good movie.  (10) “Green Book” and “A Star is Born” are both great, solid entertainments.
In “Green Book,” a movie so emotionally satisfying, Mahershala  Ali gives the second best male performance of the year  (the first distinction goes to the amazing boy Zain al Rafeea from “Capernaum”).

And “A Star is Born,” well, as William Goldman would probably say, “As unimaginable as it may seem, Virginia, yes, there is a Santa Claus, and good or bad (and this version is the best one), when it comes to Hollywood, this story ALWAYS works.

Beth Barrett, Artistic Director, Seattle International Film Festival

“The Favourite” – acting at the highest level from 3 actresses at the top of their game

“Eighth Grade” – captured a moment so completely and cringe-inducingly with Elsie Fisher’s incredible debut

“Leave No Trace” – Debra Granik tells a quiet story spectacularly and without fanfare

“Dogman” – with stunning acting and equally stunning sustained sense of dread

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” – ‘90s set tale of gay conversation camp was perfectly told and beautifully acted

“Border” – a dark fairytale romance unlike anything else I’ve seen

“GLOW” – loved these women from extraordinary standalone episodes to the entire heartfelt arc

“The Good Place” – highly entertaining high-concept TV

“If Beale Street Could Talk” – gorgeous “Moonlight” follow-up for Barry Jenkins pointing out the more things change the more they stay the same

“The Biggest Little Farm” – proof that if we treat the earth right, it will be kind to us in turn

Dan Braun, Co-President, Submarine Entertainment

“Roma”

Netflix

My list is in order of preference. I had to leave off a number of films or series that I or my company was associated with that otherwise would have been on my list (with the exception of Three Identical Strangers which damn the torpedoes, I put on my list.)

“Roma”

“The Favorite”

“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

“Black Klansman”

“Three Identical Strangers”

“Halloween”

“The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling”

“The Looming Tower”

“Mission Impossible: Fallout”

Brian Brooks, Film Events Producer, Landmark; Deadline Hollywood columnist; SeriesFest Programmer, Organizer

1. “Roma” – I drank the Kool-Aid and I’m down with it. No really, do yourself a favor. Go and see it in a proper theater. Amazing. But Netflix will do too! (thanks for producing!)

2. “Girl” (This was Robbed) — and honestly, I will go to gay bat for this movie. Amazing, Amazing Amazing performances. Kudos to Lukas Dhont for his vision and in my magical crystal ball I see more of him. And Victor Polster for his incredible, INCREDIBLE dance, acting…. And what seems to be a mastery of three languages. How do you find someone who can do all that and be so utterly the person you see on screen… This movie deserves so much better.

3. “Eighth Grade” — I am a Cis Male, but I totally relived my horrors of Middle School through the incredible Elsie Fisher who played Kayla on screen. My favorite release of the Summer hands down. It deserves more than the $13.4M it made! (but kudos to that!)

4. “The Rider” – I was very surprised. I went because someone said I should see this, and it ended up being one of my favorites at New York Film Festival where I saw it. (I’d give this, since I’m doing a top 10 after all… Best Top 10 Surprise of the year).

“The Rider”

5. “Vice” – A well told, well performed, cringe-worthy retelling. I do mean that in a movie-worthy way.

6. “Shoplifters” – As a former Japanese resident, I honestly was pre-destined to like this movie regardless — but it is a Kore-eda so even better. These people are such rebels and yet, their longing is for belonging. So well told. A slow burn for sure… Palme d’Or!

7. “If Beale Street Could Talk” – Barry Jenkins should be president.

8. “Maria By Callas” – An amazing creation by a first time director about a Mega 20th Century Star. So well told and total catnip for a pop junkie. (that might be boring if this was press notes, but honestly, it’s true).

9. “RBG” – Great subject, so well told. Let’s all make sure she’s immortal.

10. “Boy Erased” (the unsung hero here is Russell Crowe who I was always iffy on). I thought the wig was a joke until — it wasn’t. Even better is the bravery to tell this movie. Thank you Joel Edgerton.

– Runners up: “The Favourite”, “Three Identical Strangers,” “Beautiful Boy,” “Skate Kitchen,” “mid90s,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

**I also missed some stuff: “Happy As Lazzaro by Alice Rohrwacher (Molto triste, but I can’t wait to see very soon!); And embarrassing, but “A Star Is Born”; and “Mary Queen of Scots.”

Developments: I heard about a project based on the book, “Nickel And Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich I’m very excited about. And by a great filmmaker who I know will do an amazingly fabulous, fabulous job.

And for next year: I can’t wait (OK, I saw it at Telluride — but it’s at Sundance ’19): “The Biggest Little Farm”

Cara Cusumano, Director of Programming, Tribeca Film Festival

“The Favourite”

“Free Solo”

“Widows”

“First Man”

“Eighth Grade”

“Isle of Dogs”

“Border”

“The Tale”

“McQueen”

“You Were Never Really Here”

Jeff Deutchman, SVP of Acquisitions, Neon

Painful to exclude my favorite monsters, strangers & trolls from this list, but alas, films I worked on are too precious to choose between. Here are my other favorites of the year…

“Annihilation”

“The Favourite”

“Hereditary”

“If Beale Street Could Talk”

"If Beale Street Could Talk"

“If Beale Street Could Talk”

screengrab

“The Incredibles 2”

“Leave No Trace”

“Let the Sunshine In”

“Love After Love”

“Minding the Gap”

“Monrovia, Indiana”

“A Quiet Place”

“The Rider”

“Roma”

“Suspiria”

“Widows”

“The Workshop”

Gina Duncan, Vice President of Cinema, BAMFilm

10. “Black Panther” Duh.

9. “Madeline’s Madeline” Helena Howard is a revelation.

8. “Eighth Grade” Bo Burnham for president.

7. “Sorry to Bother You” I love the sheer audacity of it and very eager to see what else Boots Riley has up his sleeve.

6. “Jinn” Writer/Director Nijla Mu’min and star Zoe Renee are talents to watch. It’s a shame this film didn’t get a wider release, but neither did “Medicine for Melancholy”

Random Acts of Flyness

“Random Acts of Flyness”

HBO/Screenshot

5. “Random Acts of Flyness”
Terence Nance, Nuotama Bodomo, Darius Clark Monroe, Naima Ramos-Chapman, Shaka King, Mariama Diallo. The freshest, boldest, and blackest thing on any screen. No further explanation needed.

4. “Hale County, This Morning This Evening”
A documentary game changer as far as depicting the fullness and complexity of black lives on screen.

3. “Pose” episode, “Love is the Message” Janet Mock’s directorial debut (she also co-wrote the episode) masterfully straddles the line between hope and despair. When Pray Tell sings for his partner and other patients in the AIDs ward, I was in puddles but my heart was full. What tv shows manage to do that anymore?

2. “Atlanta” episode “Barbershop”
BIBBY! This is the shortest episode of the season, but it does so much work (effortlessly and hilariously) in foreshadowing the evolution of Al as his career takes off. While later episodes show this playing out specifically in Al’s relationship with Earn, it’s so smart (and so black) to start it with the relationship between a black person and their barber/stylist. At the end of the episode when Al is forced to articulate something he never had to put words to before, I knew that fear. Stefani Robinson is a damn genius.

1. “Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami”

Grace Jones is iconic, but she’s also a daughter, sister, mother, and grandmother who shucks her own oysters! I’ve spent my entire life wanting to be just like Grace Jones only to watch this film and find out that Grace Jones is just like me (…mostly!).

Marcus Hu, Strand Releasing

1. “Burning”

2. “If Beale Street Could Talk

3. “Zama” (I try so hard NOT to include our films, but…)

4. “Roma”

5. “Paddington 2”

“Paddington 2”

6. “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

7. “The Green Fog”

8. “Private Life”

9. “Shoplifters”

10.”Shirkers”

Anne Hubbell, Co-Founder, Tangerine Entertainment and VP of Motion Picture, Kodak

As usual, I didn’t get to see everything this year. But here are 10 big screen and 10 small screen projects that I really liked.

Theatrical features released in 2018
“BlacKkKlansman”
“Black Panther”
“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
“Cold War”
‘The Favourite”
“Free Solo”
“Happy As Lazarro”
“Roma”
“A Star Is Born”
“Vice”

Homecoming Julia Roberts Amazon

Julia Roberts in “Homecoming”

Jessica Brooks / Amazon

TV/episodic work that debuted in 2018
“Bisexual”
“Bodyguard”
“My Brilliant Friend”
“Homecoming”
“Killing Eve”
“Patrick Melrose”
“Hannah Gadsby: Nanette”
“Succession”
“Trust”
“A Very English Scandal”

My resolution for 2019 is to watch less TV news. It’s so easy to get sucked in. It is really the only Reality TV I watch. But the Kavanaugh Hearings sent me over the edge! So I’ll be reading about politics or getting info via AirPods for a while.

Marie-Louise Khondji, Founder, Le Cinema Club

In the order I saw these films this year. (I didn’t include some friends’ films!)

“You Were Never Really Here”: There’s grit, verve, guts and poetry in Lynne Ramsay’s filmmaking. An inexplicable blend of qualities that appeal to my cinematic senses. As does Joaquin Phoenix. I’d love to see her direct so many more films.

“Leave No Trace”: An impressively elegant and intelligent take on the themes of utopia, autarchy and its disillusionment — with, at its core, the moving story of a young teenager outgrowing her father, and two wonderful, subtle performances. Debra Granik combines authenticity and restraint with absorbing direction of her story.

“Wildlife”: Classic American cinema never gets old. Such an assured, controlled debut by Paul Dano, making an entry into this hard-to-do category. A simple but wonderfully developed story focused on four characters and wonderful performances — the impact of the separation of parents seen through the perspective of their young son, in the socio-economic context of the fifties, sparked by the mountain fires and the beautiful cinematography of Diego Garcia.

“First Reformed”

“First Reformed”: Who would have thought that a film centered on a priest could today feel so modern and compelling? Dark, romantic, current, and playing with just the right, risky dose of supernatural colors. Schrader caught us by surprise?!

“Vox Lux”: Brady Corbet attempts and achieves, with radical and bold choices, new ways of telling a story on screen. Specific sequences (too many to quote) struck me as his becoming one of the most exciting contemporary American filmmakers. Also the mix of pop stardom with terrorism is audaciously explosive.

“Burning”: A lyrical thriller that felt like reading a novel that unfolds with majestic images. The characters, certain scenes (including the ending of course) and the tone won’t leave my mind. And yes, Steven Yeun.

“If Beale Street Could Talk”: Profound and magical and majestic. The close-ups and this stunning ensemble made me forget I was watching a screen. Jenkins surpasses his great achievement from last year in my opinion.

“The Favourite”: One of the most modern and singular period films and Yorgos Lanthimos’ new peak. Remarkably crafted and photographed, with a brilliant script and spectacular performances from the three lead actresses. It’s thrilling, both fun and dark. Special applause for the fish-eye shots, the impeccable production and costume design, and my favorite dance scenes of the year.

“Roma”: Rare are the films that feel both monumental and so intimate. Every detail in every frame is thought through, and the camera dances on them. The everyday characters feel so grand, and the lead takes your breath away. There’s nothing to say that hasn’t been said. Virtuosic.

“Happy As Lazzaro”: Alice Rohrwacher dives us into a world set in the past and the present, between reality and fairytale. Her directorial eye is graceful, confident and astute — she honors the legacy of the great Italian masters while bringing a fresh, resonant voice to her national cinema and beyond.

Ryan Krivoshey, Founder, Grasshopper Film

  1. “Khrustalyov, My Car!” / Aleksei German
  2. “Happy as Lazzaro” / Alice Rohrwacher
  3. “Lover for a day” / Philippe Garrel
  4. “First Reformed” / Paul Schrader
  5. “Bisbee ’17” / Robert Greene
  6. “Cold War” / Pawel Pawlikowski
  7. “Support the Girls” / Andrew Bujalski
  8. “Good Luck” / Ben Russell
  9. “Zama” / Lucrecia Martel
  10. “Roma” / Alfonso Cuaron

Like clockwork, with every pronouncement of the death of movies… or documentary…. or tv (wait, not yet, but soon), a new crop of extraordinary films is released that proves that sentiment wrong. This year, in particular, has been exceedingly strong, as evidenced by solid selections in Cannes, Toronto, NYFF, etc. (with many of these yet to even open: “The Image Book,” “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” “High Life”). So while I did not see nearly as many films as I should have, and of course avoiding any films that we directly worked on, it was still difficult to limit the films to just 10.

David Laub, A24

I included A24 movies, because why not?

1. “First Reformed”
2. “Cold War”
3. “Eighth Grade”
4. “Green Book”
5. “Burning”
6. “Minding the Gap”
7. “The Mule”
8. “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
9. “Leave No Trace”
10. “Happy as Lazzaro”

“Happy as Lazzaro”

11. “If Beale Street Could Talk”
12. “Three Identical Strangers”
13. “The Other Side of the Wind”/”They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead”
14. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
15. “Roma”
16. “A Quiet Place”
17. “You Were Never Really Here”
18. “Incredibles 2”
19. “Custody”
20. “A Star is Born”

Dylan Marchetti, SVP Acquisitions and Theatrical Distribution, Well Go USA

I never put films I’ve released on my lists, but I couldn’t do this year’s with a straight face without making two exceptions.

10. “Roma”
It’s technically perfect, possibly overly so. But technically perfect is still an amazing thing to behold, especially when it’s not being done at the expense of humanity. Yalitza Aparicio is a revelation.

9. “First Reformed”
Ethan Hawke gives a career-best performance in a career filled with what you thought were career-best performances.

8. “Sorry To Bother You”
“I love how Sorry To Bother You starts over the top and then there’s this SPECIFIC moment near the 1 hour mark where the film says, ‘Hold my cocaine.’” – Patton Oswalt, who is correct.

7. “Black Panther”
If you saw it with a crowd, you know it’s more than a movie… but thankfully, it’s also a very good movie. Spectacle, but with a soul.

6. “You Were Never Really Here”
Not only has Lynne Ramsay never made a bad film, she’s never once made an ordinary one.

Nicolas Cage appears in <i>Mandy</i> by Panos Cosmatos, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“Mandy”

Sundance

5. “Mandy”/“The Endless”
These were two of the best big-screen genre experiences I had this year, both of which made me wish I still did drugs.

4. “Whack World” – Tierra Whack
This is the future of music: it’s a video album, but not a series of expensive music videos, it’s fifteen one-minute songs paired with one fifteen minute video. It’s bursting with energy, feels like one cohesive project from start to finish, and I haven’t seen anything like it. I cannot recommend it enough: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOTebhPy04g)

3. Annihilation
Not only is this the kind of film they don’t make anymore, it seems that when they do make it, they immediately panic and rush to sell off the foreign. In a less-dark timeline, this film opens a little soft but ends up doing $130 million over a three month long, word-of-mouth driven run.

2.“Shoplifters”/”Border”/“Burning”
The most exciting films I saw this year were all foreign. “Burning’” is ours and I love it enough to put at the top of my list, but I’d be remiss if I did so and didn’t mention “Shoplifters” and “Border” alongside it- all three are masterpieces that smash the “subtitles are for old people” stereotype. Magnolia and Neon did a fantastic job getting these out to the masses (I couldn’t tell you why Border isn’t also on the shortlist, it’s straight-up robbery), and the masses are better off for it.

1. “Random Acts of Flyness”
If you’ve crossed paths with Terence Nance or caught “An Oversimplification of Her Beauty” at any point, you might not be surprised by how genius this is. But man, I envy the casual channel-surfer who stumbles upon this randomly. It’s a complete redefinition of what episodic television can do, with a strong voice and a strong message, and shows what can happen when you say “yes” to one of the most creative people on the planet.

Aliza Ma, Head of Programing at Metrograph

1. ”First Reformed”

“The worst is not, so long as we can say ‘This is the worst.’” The enduring line from “King Lear” came to mind more or less on a daily basis throughout the nightmarish year of mounting political, ecological, and spiritual agitation. In this climate, “First Reformed” feels like a desperately needed floatation device.

Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Toller resurrects the ‘man in a room,’ a term coined by Schrader to describe his recurrent depictions of a lonely man perennially wrestling with his soul, reaching towards a moral crucible a là “Taxi Driver,” “Light Sleeper,” “The Walker,” and “American Gigolo.” Toller becomes so disillusioned with the corruption in his surroundings that he begins contemplating severely destructive measures of intervention. “First Reformed” marks the first time Schrader has applied the tenets of transcendental filmmaking, a topic he’s widely written about to his own work, and it is a career high watermark (thematic pun intended).

The film has only gained more worldly significance as 2018 wore on (Are we not all Toller or Mary floating through an increasingly alien vista of escalating rot? I haven’t tried the Pepto-whisky concoction yet but have definitely thrown on an a cappella version of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” at times of hapless misery.) Metrograph has hosted Schrader twice (and-counting) to show this masterpiece on the big screen, each time to sold out crowds who seemed to need it as much as I do.

2. “Non-Fiction”

How to put a fine point on what authenticity entails in a world where previously established dichotomies—such as that of digital vs. analogue; or television vs. cinema—seem like variously outmoded false binaries? Olivier Assayas examines such questions plaguing our times, around artistic legitimacy and professional and personal reification through the prism of a publishing business undergoing digital transition.

As with “Late August, Early September” and “Summer Hours,” “Non-Fiction” is filled with ravishing bucolic beauty and intimate Rohmerian dialogue through which discussion about the changing nature of relationships that form our place in the world—to art; criticism; to each other and ever-increasingly, the internet—are taken up. And in the vein of “Personal Shopper” and “The Clouds of Sils Maria,” Assayas incorporates cellphone and social media communique and pop cultural references into the film’s architectonics in the distinctive, galaxy-brained way that only he knows how. There are also incredibly entertaining, sly self-references to his forays into genre filmmaking and television. I wish they had kept the original English title, “EBook” (a.k.a. cinema?), but regardless, this is a film abundant with fodder for thought for a long time to come.

3. “High Life”

Claire Denis’ English language debut, about a penal colony in outer space engaged in a mission of sexual and social experimentation is utterly monolithic. To avoid spoiling the film prior to its release and because it’s premise and execution essentially defies description, suffice it to say, that only Denis—who in her mid-70s is more innovative than the vast majority of working filmmakers her junior—could have wrought images of a celibate baby-wielding ex-con Robert Pattinson and a glistening mermaid-haired doctor Juliette Binoche—Botticelli’s Venus in a lab coat—that feel so intuitive and visceral.

The film has a sort of inverse relationship to time and technology: the spaceship which feels suspended in liminality, with a sort of makeshift Garden of Eden and laboratory reminiscent of the low-fi doctor’s office in “Trouble Everyday,” and a combined use of HD and 16mm footage gives a portentous sense that past a certain point, human progress will begin to turn in on itself and reach back towards a kind of archaicness. “High Life” is as much a sci-fi film as “Trouble Everyday” is a horror film. It doesn’t matter what language the film is in; through all the fertile muck that dominate much of the film, Denis uncannily touches down on the lowest common denominator of life, that ultimately we are all made of stardust.

Claire Denis High Life

“High Life”

A24

4. “Shoplifters”

In the limited category of good things that actually happened this year, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s new film was awarded the Palme D’Or and shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. A family portrait unlike any other, “Shoplifters” portrays a unit of fringe-dwellers who come together and commit petty theft to sustain themselves, finding physical and emotional subsistence in each other and a shelter from a society that refuses them their basic humanity.

“Shoplifters” is about a social experiment conducted by its own subjects. It engages in a highly relatable wish-fulfillment fantasy of being able to recast one’s own family. At first, the characters seem to have invented an ideal world order for themselves, but in characteristic Kore-eda style, the profound radicalism belying a veneer of harmony is a slow burn that finally comes to a head as their past catches up with them. In addition to providing us with a rare portrait of society’s forgotten souls, “Shoplifters” is a sobering reminder that all things, especially the best ones will be subject to entropy, so we must take nothing for granted.

5. “Waverly Gallery”

This is moving image-adjacent, so hopefully the editors will permit it. And there are moving images in the play: incredible old documentary footage of New York City that my colleague Jake Perlin compiled for the interstitial moments between scene changes. The Kenneth Lonergan written, Lila Neugebauer directed sensation stars a nonpareil cast of Lucas Hedges Michael Cera Joan Allen David Cromer, and marks an 86 year old Elaine May’s first Broadway performance in over 5 decades. Inspired by Lonergan’s memories of his own grandmother, “Waverly Gallery” tracks a year in the life of a family as their matriarch, an octogenarian native New Yorker and gallery proprietor named Gladys Green (May) descends into dementia and eventually passes on.

Prolific multi-hyphenate and veritable national treasure Elaine May delivers a performance that’s so filled with intense pathos that her mere appearance from the very first moment on was enough to send me into paroxysms. The monologues interspersed throughout (delivered by a peak Hedges) aren’t expository crutches, nor petitions for sympathy, but instead provide a penetrating, clear-eyed commentary of the discomfiting, contradictory whirlwind of emotions that the loss of a family member, and that family life in general can induce. Vacillating between subtler shades of hesitation and embarrassment and downright neurotic hysteria and emotional panic, the precisely calibrated performances are beset by the discords of daily experience. And when the curtains fall on David Zinn’s perfectly lived-in set, one has the distinct melancholic sense of having been impressed upon by a life fully lived.

6. “Disappearing Acts” Bruce Nauman at MoMA and PS1

Despite having seen his work piecemeal over the years, it was absolutely staggering to view half a century of Bruce Nauman’s output all at once, split between MoMA and PS1 in very different but to my mind, both perfectly installed shows. The extent of work on display bespeaks of a brilliant spirit who can’t ever not create, shapeshifting between a variety of media ranging from photography, video, drawing, painting, printmaking, neons, sculpture, installation, to performance without any hierarchy. The show inspired sadness, shock, fear (clowns!), awe, and hilarity—a full spectrum of emotions mirroring the multiplicity of formats on display. It felt like stepping inside of Nauman’s head where the artist was the only structuring absence.

What struck me the most was the his consistent refusal of established forms of communication and narrative and commitment to self examination and abjuration. The show was as much a colossal catalogue of Nauman’s tremendous productivity—a herculean task for the curators—as it was a testament to the slippery nature of creativity. A jolt to the spirit, it’s a reinforcement of Nauman’s credo that true artistic character should always defy categories and never provide any easy answers.

7. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

It feels like Christmas when a new Coen brothers film comes out, and this year we got six small but highly potent doses in one package! Consisting of six short films written by Joel and Ethan over the course of 25 years, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is an untempered love letter and idiosyncratic appendage to a panoply of Western sub-genres the filmmakers clearly have an everlasting affection for. It casts familiar Coens themes such as that of faith, redemption and contemplations of the afterlife onto the vast canvas of the old West.

“Buster Scruggs” bears a distinct high, sustained unrealism so mannered—veering into shades of Gothic in tone and mood—that it feels avant garde at times. Yet its snow globe-like quality is so perfectly inflected for storytelling in the fable/parable mode, making each story feel simultaneously ancient and acutely relevant.

8. Gérard Blain Retrospective

For a repertory film culture so inculcated with the proliferation of French fare, it can be easy to feel like there’s scarcely any territory left to uncover. Not true. The Gérard Blain retrospective was painstakingly put together by Brad Deane at the TIFF Cinematheque over the course of many years of hard work, and it’s everything a rigorous film program should be: an undiscovered body of work exhibited from extremely rare copies, most of which had to be manually subtitled. Metrograph was lucky enough to show these films after TIFF. Not only did the process fill in gaps of key film knowledge, but it also served as a precious reminder of why i do what i do.

Seeing these films together for the first time was a revelation: Blain is a missing link. He started his career as an actor for filmmakers like Julien Duviver, François Truffaut, and Claude Chabrol. On a thwarted attempt to transition to Hollywood, he even had a role in “Hatari!.” He went on to make uncompromising films of his own, inspired by the likes of Ozu, Bresson, and Dreyer. His debut “Les amis” bears a disarming Fassbinderian radicalness won Locarno in 1971, and the indelible “Enfant dans la foule” is a Mia Hansen Love favorite. Yet for various reasons film history has not recorded the significance of this fascinating, vital career. Perhaps due to his obscurity, the series was not as well attended as I’d hoped but as they say, it’s the quality that counts (you know who you are). If these prints make their way back around, they are truly not to be missed.

9. “Perfect Blue”

It has been heartening to see the gulf between rep cinema and anime culture attenuate with recent box office success “Your Name,” and repertory screenings of “Mind Game,” “Evangelion” and “Cowboy Bebop”—non-Miyazake titles that had previously been unordained in the arthouse community.

Satoshi Kon is the best. The problem with showing his filmography, and what has relegated most screenings of his work to laptop screens has always been the dearth of materials and messy rights situations (though recently Japan Society showed “Tokyo Godfathers” on 35mm!). This year in a heroic act, GKids brought a beautifully restored “Perfect Blue” to cinemas in the US. The haunting psychological thriller about pop star-turned actress/model Mima whose Hitchcockian folie à deux spirals out to a frenzied portrait of fractured identity and perception is a work of pure cinema, and to finally be see it writ large on a scale commensurate with its magnificence was simply transcendent.

10. The Mandarin Duck (a.k.a Ducboi, The Hot Duck, NYC’s Most Eligible Bachelor, etc.)

What makes a man to wander?
What makes a man to roam?
What makes a man leave bed and board
And turn his back on home?
Ride away, ride away, ride away

[…]

A man will search his heart and soul
Go searchin’ way out there
His peace of mind he knows he’ll find
But where, oh Lord, oh where?
Ride away, ride away, ride away

—theme song from “The Searchers”

(Thank you for lighting up a very dark year, o sweet, mystical prince.)

Andréa Picard, Film Programmer and Wavelengths Curator, TIFF; former Artistic Director, Cinéma du Réel; independent writer

  1. “Transit” Christian Petzold

In 2014, Christian Petzold came to TIFF to premiere “Phoenix” and graciously rushed directly from the airport with Nina Hoss and luggage in tow to render tribute to his friend and mentor Harun Farocki who had recently passed away. Jetlagged and struggling to find the right words in English, Petzold was nevertheless candid, heartfelt and entertaining with his anecdotes and revealed that the project they were to work on next was an adaptation of one of Farocki’s favourite novels, Anna Seghers’ Transit. Three years later, this brilliantly idiosyncratic adaptation premiered at the Berlinale and has become an instant contemporary classic in which the rise of fascism, mass migration and melodrama are seeped in today’s colours, cut with oblique shadows from the past. Smart, stunningly shot, superbly acted and cleverly elusive, “Transit” is further proof that Petzold is one of today’s greatest filmmakers.

2. “Le Livre d’image” Jean-Luc Godard

Prescient JLG by JLG again, this time his hushed, quivering voice in meticulously mixed surround sound, enveloping us as we experience great moments of beauty and a recognizable, irrevocable pull toward obliteration. Facetime Godard as Premiere postscript extra.

3. “An Elephant Sitting Still” Hu Bo

Both debut film and swan song, “An Elephant Sitting Still” revealed one of the year’s best new talents in Chinese filmmaker and Béla Tarr protegé, Hu Bo, sadly no longer among us. The film also includes some of the year’s best lines of dialogue: “My life is garbage heap that keeps piling up…

4. The generosity and infectious energy of Judy Hill, who ‘stars’ in Roberto Minervini’s “What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?” and gave some of the best onstage Q&A’s in recent memory and the most accurate and succinct descriptions of humanism for these divisive times

5. “Dead Souls” Wang Bing –Both a testament to human resilience above all odds and further proof of hell on earth

6. “L. COHEN” James Benning

“The light came through the window straight from the sun above. And so inside my little room there plunged the rays of love.”  -Leonard Cohen

7. The beginning of “Climax” (Gaspar Noé)

“Climax”

Wild Bunch

Settling in for a bleary-eyed 8:30am screening in Cannes for a film I expected not to like and feeling the sudden rush of exhilaration the moment it began. On-screen high-octane dance moves first thing in the morning is the closest I’ll get to an aerobics class.

8. “An Synthesis of Intuitions, 1965-2012” Adrian Piper at MoMA

Best art show of the year, and includes more dance on film, with Piper’s timeless and contagious “Funk Lessons” good for the body and soul.

9. Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, Pilar Gamboa and Laura Paredes in “La Flor”

The four Argentine actors, Elisa Carricajo, Valeria Correa, Pilar Gamboa and Laura Paredes, who make up the theatre troupe Piel de lava and are the propelling forces in Mariano Llinás’ 14-hour “La Flor”. An episodic, decade-in-the-making, film fleuve seeped in cinephilic tropes and genres, “La Flor” is also an ode to and portrait of these four incredible, chameleonic talents.

10. “I diari di Angela –Noe due cineasti” Yervant Gianikian & Angela Ricci Lucchi

After losing his partner in life and work of 40 years –the extraordinary talented Angela Ricci Lucchi— Yervant Gianikian summoned the strength to review their personal video footage to create this intimate homage to their life’s work and their adventures together. The result is a love story for the ages and an unremitting commitment to art and its ability to change how we view and relate to the world.

Kiva Reardon, Programmer, TIFF

10. “Bleacher Report’s The Champions,” Andy HaynesSatire is the hardest genre, and the lads at Bleacher Report have nailed it with their web series/reality show  based on The Champions League.

9. “Derry Girls”
8. Ireland vs New Zealand – Rugby union international
The most gripping, emotional, inspiring 80 minutes I spent in front of a screen this year. The lads beat the reigning kings of rugby, the New Zealand All Blacks. They fought down to the last minute, because, as Peter O’Mahony said about the All Blacks: “They’re not number one in the world for the craic.”
7. “Erased,___Ascent of the Invisible” Ghassan Halwani
Bit of a conflict, as I programmed this at TIFF this year. But Ghassan Halwani’s experimental essay-doc on the disappeared in Lebanon is a deeply moving, complex rumination on death, history and memory.
Sorry to Bother You Lakeith Stanfield

Lakeith Stanfield in “Sorry to Bother You”

Annapurna Pictures

6. “Sorry to Bother You” Boots Riley
Another case of satire being executed with comedy, creativity, and here lampooning our state of late-stage capitalism. Bravo to Boots Riley on this first feature.
5. “Widows” Steve McQueen
Including this because everyone was so jacked.
4. “Burning” Lee Chang Dong
Steven Yeun
3. “High Life” Claire Denis
In space, Claire Denis can’t hear you scream–and she doesn’t care anyway.
2. “Cold War” Paweł Pawlikowski
Beautiful, beautiful heartbreak.
1. “Support the Girls” Andrew Bujalski
What a tender, heart-warming, beautiful film about kindness and friendship. In a sports bar.

Rajendra Roy, Chief Curator of Film, MOMA

Top Ten, Random Order, VERY Tough Year to Limit to 10 (Yay!)

“Hale County This Morning, This Evening”

“Roma”

“Black Panther”

“Suspiria”

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

“Free Solo”

Nat Geo

“Free Solo”

“Border”

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor”

“If Beale Street Could Talk”

“Paddington 2”

Basil Tsiokos, Director of Programming, DOC NYC and Nantucket Film Festival; Programming Associate, Sundance Film Festival

I’m once agin limiting my list to all nonfiction (features and series released in 2018) for my top ten, since most other lists tend to be exclusively fiction focused. These are in alphabetical order, as ranking always feels arbitrary to me:

“306 Hollywood”

“America to Me”

“Bisbee ’17”

“Distant Constellation”

“Hale County This Morning, This Evening”

“Minding the Gap”

"Shirkers"

“Shirkers”

Sundance

“Shirkers”

“Three Identical Strangers”

“Wild Wild Country”

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

Michael Tuckman, mTuckman media inc.

Welcome to the fourth annual edition of the top 10 films released by THINKFilm alumni as chose by fellow alumnus Michael Tuckman. We were a rag tag group and it’s wonderful to see such incredible and impactful films being put out by the Skull and Bones of the indie film commnity

10. “Where Is Kyra?”
Former THINKFilm head of distribution Mark Urman and VP of Marketing Amanda Sherwin, now at Paladin, shepherded through one of the year’s best and most surprising lead actress performances as Michelle Pfeiffer pulled a 180 on her typecast. Her efforts didn’t go unnoticed, as she was nominated for a Gotham award

9. “Hal”
Dan Berger did a million different jobs at THINK, but as the president of Oscilloscope, he consistently does a phenomenal job on his releases. HAL reminded us of an auteur who was able to create generation-defining films WITHIN the studio structure and gives us hope that another batch of visionaries will be able to do the same

8. “Dark Money”
Our former director of marketing, Erin Owens, and executive assistant Emily Rothschild, now at PBS Films Distribution, have impressively gotten films selected to the documentary shortlist each of their first three years including a nomination for ABACUS last year. This year, one such entry is the powerful “Dark Money,” which showed the power of a citizenry to stand up against corporate interests. May Montana lead the way for us in 2020…

7. “Climax”
The triple-D connection – former THINKFilm’ers David Fenkel, Daniel Katz and David Laub – continue to be capital D disrupters. I haven’t seen “Climax” yet, but come on, how is this NOT going to be one of the ten best films from our alumni??? Can’t WAIT to see it!

David Kellman, Eddy Galland and Bobby Shafran appear in <i>Three Identical Stangers</i> by Tim Wardle, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

“Three Identical Strangers”

6. “Three Identical Strangers”
Former intern Elissa Federoff is now tearing things up as the head of distribution at Neon, and THREE was one of pure delights at Sundance and of course across the nation. What starts off as a happy go lucky human interest story turns into a harrowing and impactful film that has deserved all the success that has come its way.

5. “Nossa Chape”
Steve Farneth and his team at Cinetic handled sales for for perhaps the most inspiring documentary of the year. Jeff and Michael Zimbalist arrived in Brazil two weeks after the Chapocoense soccer team lost all but 3 players in a crash. Their film to document the rebuilding and rebirth of the team and community is universal in its appeal beyond just soccer fans.

4. “MATANGI/MAYA/MIA”
Another former intern who is now among one of the most influential people in the doc world, Sara Kiener and her team at Cinereach produced this phenomenal film, restoring faith i the idea that true rock stars are indeed still vibrant. It’s clear through the film that MIA is a singular artist, and the scene in the film just after the Super Bowl incident is worth the price of streaming aloe!

3. “Burning”
Former do-it-all ma at THINKFilm, Dylan Marchetti and his gang at WellGo have an absolute masterpiece on their hands. it won the Golden Key for Best Foreign Language film at the Key West Film Festival which i program, and I hope he’ll do me a solid and take a picture of that award next to the Oscar he is going to get. And as per Dylan, I hope there is a cat in the picture as well

2. “Monrovia, Indiana”
Former VP of Publicity Alex Klenert has been handling PR for the last 6 Frederick Wiseman titles, and he, along with frequent Think/42 west co-conspirator Emma Griffith, hit is out of the park on Fred’s latest film, as it was included and multiple top ten lists and tied as one of AO Scott’s best FILMS of the year. Wiseman’s take on small town rural America is line with his finest work, delivering a picture the coastal media would never show,or rather, would never care to give the time, effort and respect that Wiseman did.

1. “Bisbee 17”
I’m a THINKFilm alumni too of course, and I can’t leave this one off, which I had the pleasure of releasing with 4th Row Films. It’s perhaps the most affecting documentary I’ve seen not just this year but in many, many years. It’s a doc. It’s a western, It’s a musical. Its everything you can want from a film. And what is says about those who are in power getting to write the history of our events applies not only to the event sin the film, but to the larger issue of every social ill we try to tackle. In this film, though, Robert Greene accomplishes true recognition of the residents i the town, that the way those in power try to handle many situations is just not compatible with the world in which we all strive to live. Another one of AO Scott’s #1 films of the year and also on over 20 major top ten lists. Not to be missed or overlooked (even if a certain Branch of folks out there did overlook it…)

C. Mason Wells, Quad Cinema Director of Programming

Ten favorite 2018 New York repertory film series, limit one per venue, listed in chronological order alongside their tireless programmers:

– “Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women’s Stories,” Metrograph (Nellie Killian)
– “Life Is a Dream: The Films of Raúl Ruiz,” Film Society of Lincoln Center (Dennis Lim & Dan Sullivan)
– “From the Collection of J. Hoberman: The Complete Works,” Light Industry (Ed Halter & Thomas Beard)
– “A Different Picture: Women Filmmakers in the New Hollywood Era: 1967-1980,” BAMcinematek (Jesse Trussell)
– “Putin’s Russia: A 21st Century Film Mosaic,” Museum of the Moving Image (Eric Hynes & Daniel Witkin)
– “Jacques Becker,” Film Forum (Bruce Goldstein)
– “The Metaphysical Mysteries of Sogo Ishii,” Spectacle
– “Women of the West,” Anthology Film Archives (Hannah Greenberg)
– “Homemade Action,” Alamo Drafthouse (Cristina Cacioppo)
– “The Unknown Jerry: Home Movies and More from the Jerry Lewis Collection at the Library of Congress,” MoMA (Dave Kehr)

Ten favorite 2018 New York repertory film series, limit one per venue, listed in chronological order alongside their tireless programmers:

– “Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women’s Stories,” Metrograph (Nellie Killian)
– “Life Is a Dream: The Films of Raúl Ruiz,” Film Society of Lincoln Center (Dennis Lim & Dan Sullivan)
– “From the Collection of J. Hoberman: The Complete Works,” Light Industry (Ed Halter & Thomas Beard)
– “A Different Picture: Women Filmmakers in the New Hollywood Era: 1967-1980,” BAMcinematek (Jesse Trussell)
– “Putin’s Russia: A 21st Century Film Mosaic,” Museum of the Moving Image (Eric Hynes & Daniel Witkin)
– “Jacques Becker,” Film Forum (Bruce Goldstein)
– “The Metaphysical Mysteries of Sogo Ishii,” Spectacle
– “Women of the West,” Anthology Film Archives (Hannah Greenberg)
– “Homemade Action,” Alamo Drafthouse (Cristina Cacioppo)
– “The Unknown Jerry: Home Movies and More from the Jerry Lewis Collection at the Library of Congress,” MoMA (Dave Kehr)

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