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52 Directors Pick Their Favorite Movies of 2018

Their films were on every Top 10, but what's on their lists? Guillermo del Toro, Lynne Ramsay, Edgar Wright, and more reflect on the best of 2018.

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IndieWire Best of 2018

There remains one group we’ve yet to hear from when it comes to the Best Films of 2018: The directors who made them. IndieWire has reached out to a number of our favorite filmmakers to share with us their lists and thoughts on the best of the year.

As is advisable with creative people, we gave the directors a great deal of freedom in how they reflected on the year in moving images. What follows is everything ranging from traditional Top 10 lists to a director like Lynne Ramsay writing passionately about her favorite film of the year, with lists that span TV, theater, the Kavanaugh hearings, WWE, and much more.

52 directors, so many of whom were behind our favorite films of the year – films like “Hereditary,” “Leave No Trace,” “First Reformed,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” “Eighth Grade,” “Destroyer,” “Mid90s,” “Bisbee ’17,” “Madeline’s Madeline,” “Black Mother,” “The Tale,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” and “The Old Man & the Gun,” just name just a few – share new insights into the greatness on already celebrated films like “Roma,” while shining a spotlight on work most of us missed this year.

The following appear in alphabetical order based on the director’s last name.

Update: Dee Rees’ selections were added after this article was published.

Khalik Allah (“Black Mother”)

"Spartacus"

“Spartacus”

I haven’t really been paying attention to anything on the festival circuit, but here’s a list of some films I’ve studied this year that have been serving as inspiration for a future project.

1. “The Egyptian” (1954)
2. “The Robe” (1953)
3. “The Story of Ruth” (1963)
4. “Demetrius and the Gladiators” (1954)
5. “Barrabas” (1961)
6. “Spartacus” (1960)
7. “Hannibal” (1959)
8. “Ben-Hur” (1959)
9. “The Giant of Marathon” (1959)
10. “The Last Days of Pompeii” (1959)

Pedro Almodovar (“Talk to Her,” “All About My Mother”)

"Cold War"

“Cold War”

Amazon Studios

1. “Roma” (Alfonso Cuarón)
2. “Cold War” (Pawel Pawlikowski)
3. “Dogman” (Matteo Garrone)
4. “Shoplifters” (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
5. “The Guilty” (Gustav Möller)
6. “First Reformed” (Paul Schrader)
7. “Capernaum” (Nadine Labaki)
8. “The Favourite” (Yorgos Lanthimos)
9. “The Rider” (Chloé Zhao)
10. “Entre dos aguas” (Isaki Lacuesta)

Amma Asante (“Belle,” “Where Hands Touch”)

Ekaterina Samsonovand Joaquin Phoenix in Lynne Ramsay’s YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

“You Were Never Really Here”

Alison Cohen Rosa | Amazon Studios

“If Beale Street Could Talk”: This film is absolutely magical – a mesmerizing adaptation that brings Baldwin’s book to fruition on screen. It’s a moving exploration of love between two people and also love within family. It both touched and gripped me because alongside its magical quality it’s steeped in a relevance on race, that can’t be ignored.

“You Were Never Really Here”: This film stayed under my skin, long after I watched it. I love it for its fearlessness, its deft character study of a man, its sensitive, disturbing, and carefully measured filmmaking and Joaquin Phoenix’s powerful performance.

“Black Panther”: I just remember thinking to myself as the credits rolled at the end: “This is a masterpiece”…and it is. There are so many things that I love about this film, but in particular, was how Black Panther’s story was able to unfold, never at the expense of the women around him. Instead it allowed them to be three dimensional and as brilliant and engaging as he was, in their own right. Truly epic and has earned every moment of its groundbreaking place in cinema history.

“Cold War”: I was so moved watching this. There are so many elements to this movie that make it beautiful – the script, performances, the exquisite soundtrack, and cinematography. It’s a passionate and intense love story that comes together in a stunning piece of work that is perfectly balanced by Pawel’s hand. Just brilliant.

Ari Aster (“Hereditary”)

"First Reformed"

“First Reformed”

A24

My documentary intake is pathetic (although I’m eager to watch “Hale County” and “Minding the Gap”) and I still haven’t caught up on everything (I really need to check out “Happy as Lazzaro” and “Support the Girls”). That said, here are the films that left the deepest impression on me this year.

1. “Burning”: The most haunting and densely layered film I’ve seen in ages. Its mysteries are still feeding me; its questions are still energizing me. Slyly ambiguous and totally concrete; ethereal and impenetrable – it’s a dream movie about people as islands, and it feels bottomless.

2. “Roma”: What will Cuaron make when he sheds his skin next? In its scope, its technical ambition, and its faultless execution, “Roma” is stupefying. Made me think of Satyajit Ray, but with a perfectly operated technocrane.

3. “Zama”: The sound design alone! Lucrecia Martel’s bleak, hypnotic comedies have made a vivid tradition out of torturing hypocrites. Totally singular.

4. “First Reformed”: Before making films, Paul Schrader wrote a seminal book in praise of the transcendental cinema of Bresson, Dreyer, and Ozu. Now he’s made a film that references them so insistently that it becomes an act of worship – and a hugely moving, deeply sorrowful one. With the bones of “Winter Light,” the blood of “The Diary of a Country Priest,” the inverted heart of “Ordet,” and echoes of everything Schrader has ever done before, this feels like his most achingly personal film. (Also, he finally explodes his beloved final scene of “Pickpocket” in the most ecstatic/bonkers/transcendent way.)

5. “The Favourite”: Yorgos won’t stop. “The Draughtsman’s Contract” as directed by the Kubrick of “A Clockwork Orange.” I love those 6mm lenses!

And 16 more…

6. “Loveless”
7. “Shoplifters”
8. “Border”
9. “The Green Fog”
10. “You Were Never Really Here”
11. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
12. “Cold War”
13. “Eighth Grade”
14. “The House that Jack Built”
15. “Isle of Dogs”
16. “Western”
17. “The Death of Stalin”
18. “The Rider”
19. “Claire’s Camera”
20. “Shirkers”
21. “Mandy”
22. “If Beale Street Could Talk”

Sean Baker (“The Florida Project,” “Tangerine”)

“Life and Nothing More”

CFI Releasing

It’s been a wonderful year for cinema. There were some discouraging developments such as the passing of FilmStruck and unclear future of Fandor. But on a positive note, Criterion has announced they will launch their own channel and Kanopy has proven to be a wonderful new platform for streaming films. Also, it was a strong year for the handful of cinephile-run companies releasing gorgeous restorations of classic and cult films on Blu-ray. And I think Nicholas Winding Refn should be recognized for his incredible contribution to film preservation with his site ByNWR – spending his own money to find and restore “the rare, the forgotten and unknown.”

For new releases, this year has been one of the strongest years in recent memory for me. I loved so many films (narrowing my list to ten was quite difficult). These are the fiction/narrative films that had the strongest impact on me. I am still catching up on docs so they are not included.

In alphabetical order:

“Border” / Gräns (Ali Abbasi)
“Eighth Grade” (Bo Burnham)
“The House that Jack Built” (Lars von Trier)
“Let the Corpses Tan” / Laissez bronzer les cadavres (Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani)
“Life and Nothing More” (Antonio Méndez Esparza)
“A Prayer Before Dawn” (Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire)
“Roma” (Alfonso Cuarón)
“Shoplifters” (Hirokazu Koreeda)
“Vox Lux” (Brady Corbet)
“Winter Brothers” / Vinterbrødre (Hlynur Palmason)

And these are some 2018 releases that I love and hope more people discover:

“Annihilation” (Alex Garland), “American Animals” (Bart Layton), “Assassination Nation” (Sam Levinson), “Bodied” (Joseph Kahn), “The Heiresses” (Marcelo Martinessi), “One Cut of the Dead” (Shinichirou Ueda), “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts” (Mouly Surya), “Upgrade” (Leigh Whannell), “Red Sparrow” (Francis Lawrence).

Bo Burnham (“Eighth Grade”)

“Tully”

Instead of choosing movies, I chose some performances that have stuck with me. This is far from the entire list. I stopped listing at a certain point to save you all time. Many actors left off and many movies not yet seen.

Yalitza Aparicio in “Roma”
Tim Blake Nelson in “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”
Madeline Brewer in “Cam”
Jim Cummings in “Thunder Road”
Mackenzie Davis in “Tully”
Andrew Dice Clay in “A Star is Born”
Glenn Close in “The Wife”
Richard E. Grant in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”
Ethan Hawke in “First Reformed”
Helena Howard in “Madeline’s Madeline”
Joey King in “Summer ‘03”
Thomasin Mackenzie and Ben Foster in “Leave No Trace”
Evan Peters in “American Animals”
Jesse Plemons in “Game Night”
Na-kel Smith in “Mid90s”
Alex Wolff in “Hereditary”
Letitia Wright in “Black Panther”
Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz in “The Favourite”
Gideon Adlon, Kathryn Newton, and Geraldine Viswanathan in “Blockers”

Bonus TV choice: The Entire Cast of “American Vandal Season 2”

Brady Corbet (“Vox Lux”)

“Happy as Lazzaro”

I haven’t seen so many films this year (other than every single cartoon released in theaters with our four-year-old) so this list only includes the ones which we have managed to catch. Looking forward to films like “Western,” “Shoah: Four Sisters,” “Dead Souls,” “Suspiria,” “Roma,” “House that Jack Built,” and many others…

“Zama”
“Monrovia, Indiana”
“Waldheim Waltz”
“Other Side of the Wind”
“Happy as Lazzaro”
“Ash is Purest White”
“Shoplifters”
“Burning”
“The Favourite”
“Cold War”
“Mission Impossible: Fallout”
“Twin Peaks, The Return”: 18 parts is enough to count for last year and this

Joe Cornish (“Attack the Block,” “The Kid Who Would Be King”)

Tom Hardy in Columbia Pictures' VEMON

“Venom”

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

“Summer 1993”: Beautiful, moving film with extraordinary performances from two very young children. A small girl loses her mother and is sent to live with her uncle and younger cousin in the Spanish countryside. Sibling rivalry, grieving and the slow transference of trust and parental bonds are charted with unsentimental simplicity. There’s an emotional set-up in the first half that pays off in a lovely final scene that made me cry like someone turned on a tap.

“Jeune Femme”: A young woman is unceremoniously thrown out of her boyfriend’s Paris apartment with only her large grumpy cat under her arm. At first we understand why. She’s eccentric, annoying, pushy and spiky. But as she wanders around Paris, couch surfing with old friends and looking for work, we slowly start to like and finally love her. A brilliant character study, captivating performances and a strong streak of social satire. My favourite French film of the year.

“Venom” / “The Predator”: Two critically dismissed studio franchise movies that didn’t deserve their green splats. Both are well crafted, robustly written blockbusters. “Venom” features an eccentric, always interesting lead performance by Tom Hardy, some truly byzantine special effects and at least one stunning chase sequence. It’s also pretty much a stealth re-make of Jack Sholder’s 1987 classic “The Hidden.” “The Predator” may be tonally very different from the original, but it’s still a blast with a bunch of spectacular splatter moments and kinetic plotting which makes a lot more narrative sense than many made-up-as-they-go-along franchise entries. Shane Black is one of the great Hollywood screenwriters and everything he touches is worth watching.

“Mission: Impossible – Fallout”: Despite Tom Cruise’s helicopter occasionally flying over us while we were shooting “The Kid Who Would Be King” and spoiling our takes – this has to be the best blockbuster of the year. No one works harder than Mr. Cruise & Mr. McQuarrie to entertain us. The fact that this movie is set entirely in the real world, with real recognisable locations, real world stakes and stunts and an attention to procedural detail missing from so many big movies makes it a wonderful outlier in a cinematic world of far-fetched super-powers and far-flung alien environments.

“Mandy” / “You Were Never Really Here”: I haven’t taken drugs for years but both these movies were like risk-free relapses. “Mandy” felt like an overdose and “YWNRH” like the morning after. Both take archetypal revenge plots that should be impossible to make fresh and do exactly that. Both have many unforgettable moments, but here’s just two. In Mandy when Cage takes experimental acid and we the audience take it with him. And in “YWNRH,” when Phoenix has a fight on a bed in a brothel and we watch via the sex mirror on the ceiling. Both these movies show how a great director with a unique eye can re-invent the familiar. Props also to cinematographer Thomas Townend – who also shot “Attack The Block” – for making “YWNRH” look so stunning.

“Shoplifters” / “Burning”: Kore-Eda’s like a great musician – all you have to do is get hooked on one of his songs and there’s a treasure trove of work to dive into. “Shoplifters” is a great place to start. The story of a family of thieves who rescue an abused young girl, it’s worth knowing no more than that going in. Definitely don’t watch the US trailer which gives pretty much everything away. His movies are quiet and gentle but deep, gripping and emotional in a way that big movies rarely achieve. Lee Chang-Dong is a director whose work I’d never seen before but Burning is a mesmerising, sly slow-burn and after it ended I went and bought a bunch of his other work. I’m hooked.

“Eighth Grade”: For some crazy reason this movie hasn’t been released in the UK yet. And for other crazy reasons it got an R rating in the US preventing it from being seen by the very age-group it represents. A brilliant portrayal of adolescence with a stellar central performance and a set-piece party scene as horrifying as any sequence in any of the year’s best horror movies. And a really great score too.

“Solo” / “Suspiria”: A critically divisive spin-off and a re-make that both totally worked for me. “Suspiria” has a final half hour so visually excessive and baroque that it justifies the movie’s existence a hundred times over. As well as several other fantastically inventive set-pieces and an utterly unique atmosphere. “Solo” has to be one of the most tightly written and cleverly plotted of the new Star Wars movies (not to diminish the brilliance of the astral projection twist in “The Last Jedi”). The skill and intelligence with which Messrs Kasdan senior and junior construct the story and plot-lines deserves much respect and praise IMHO.

“The Kindergarten Teacher”: I haven’t seen the American re-make, but the Israeli original is terrific. It’s the story of a kindergarten teacher one of whose young charges starts reciting preternaturally beautiful poetry. Small children have to be almost impossible to direct (Summer 1993 notwithstanding) but here the director simply lets them stare into the camera, handle the lens and behave in a completely unmediated way – a choice which connects with the overall theme of the movie brilliantly.

Kelly Fremon Craig (“The Edge of Seventeen”)

Eighth Grade

“Eighth Grade”

A24

“Eighth Grade” (Spoilers ahead): I can’t remember the last time I experienced a broader range of emotions watching a film. I laughed, cringed, hoped, cried, and related so deeply I went from feeling like I was watching a character, to feeling like I was watching a real actual girl, to feeling like I was actually just watching ME in a secretly-filmed documentary of my own adolescence.

Every single frame of “Eighth Grade” feels resonant and true and brimming with spot-on detail. Kayla’s slumped posture and flat greasy hair, the long anxiety-filled walk she makes to the pool in her ill-fitting bathing suit, the way she finally tells off the mean girl but delivers the whole speech with very poor eye contact, mostly to her own shoes.

Together, Bo Burnham and Elsie Fisher make Kayla utterly lived-in and impossible not to love. In every scene, we see her two opposing sides — the one she wants to be, and the one she actually is. Every time she records a video of herself, her voice rises an octave, trying to sound positive and self-assured, as if the act of pretending might just bring about the real thing. In a scene with an older boy pushing past her boundaries in the backseat of a car, she keeps smiling and nodding, even as her panic rises to the point she can’t find her breath.

Kayla’s dad is drawn with the same delicate honesty, and I couldn’t help but see pieces of myself in him, too. In a scene by the fire pit when his daughter is in crisis, he searches desperately for the right thing to say to make her feel loved and good and okay, stumbling over his words, hoping to god something he says gets through. When he finally finishes his speech, there’s no real indication any of it has. That’s the tragedy of parenting in a nutshell – you never quite know if you’re doing it right, and as hard as you try to save your kids from pain, sometimes you just can’t.

At the end of the film, when Kayla finally finds her footing and links up with a fellow oddball — a chattery kid played to comic perfection by Jake Ryan — my heart soared. He lovingly serves her ten Chicken McNuggets on a plate, and somehow, it felt like everything in the universe was going to be alright.

Ultimately, I think the greatest gift “Eighth Grade” gives us is a kinder look at our own flaws. It shines a light on the mess in our lives — the lumps and blemishes and missteps — and says, “Look at this, isn’t it beautiful?” The credits rolled and I walked out of the theater feeling kinder towards my own mess. How wonderful that a film can do that. Kayla, her dad, the kid with the chicken nuggets — each of them has found a permanent place inside of me, and I’m so, so glad.

Josephine Decker (“Madeline’s Madeline”)

“Suspiria”

1. “Suspiria”: Its mystery is physical. Its dance is political. It goes one million different directions, and after months, I can’t stop thinking about it. Any film that does not “end” when the movie ends… wins.

2. “Leave No Trace”: I was thinking about how many of my favorite films I’ve seen in the last few years – Granik’s “Leave No Trace,” Susanne Bier’s “After the Wedding” (just saw it for the first time) and Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann” – are made by women who insightfully, diligently, entertainingly and to some degree quietly (these films should all be uber-famous here in America but somehow aren’t) blow character-based storytelling out of the water. Also, I love the RESEARCH in Debra’s film! I felt part of so many real thoroughly-understood communities. Emotional. Intelligent. Rich. Rare.

3. “Happy as Lazzarro”: Alice Rohrwacher’s dream state of a movie not only fixated me, it changed me. I interviewed her for Filmmaker Mag and her concept of building a home in a film really made me rethink my concept of films… and homes. I understood why some things had been hard before, and how they could be easy.

4. “Border”: As they all say, “If you don’t know anything about it, don’t read anything about it.” Just see it.

5. “The Favourite”

6. “Vice”

7. “We The Animals”: poetry!

8. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”: This was so… positive!!! Who is positive any more?? It refreshed the hell out of me – literally.

9. “Sorry to Bother You”: Boots Riley is a mad beautiful genius and this social commentary is not only alive and hilarious, it’s important.

10. “The Rider”: Chloe Zhao’s whole way of filmmaking impresses me so deeply. This one is richly witnessed, delicately wielded.

11. “Minding the Gap”: Moving, personal, wild.

12. I just saw a sneak-preview of Sophia Takal’s Hulu horror film [“New Year New You” is part of the Hulu series “Into the Dark”], and it’s…. insane. I can’t believe what brilliant critical satire she brought to the genre.

13. This is dedicated to the film I am definitely forgetting that I very much loved this year. You were so great, and you did so much with your tiny budget, and you made me feel more alive.

14. “Zama”: I haven’t seen this yet but I am pretty sure I will love it and it kills me to watch it on a tiny screen. In fact, I also neeeeed to see many awesome female-directed films of this year — “Private Life,” “Shirkers,” “You Were Never Really Here,” “Dead Pigs”… so here’s to you all who would probably be very high on my list if I had seen you yet!!

15. “Hereditary”: Is wonderfully scary. And seriously the way this director uses production design to enhance the story is mind-blowing.

16. Silence: This isn’t a movie. But when I was shooting “Shirley,” I sat in the morning and watched a mountain be silent. It’s a good picture.

Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water,” “Pan’s Labyrinth”)

There are some big ones I have yet to see.

(not ranked)

“Roma”
“You Were Never Really Here”
“Leave No Trace”
“The Rider”
“First Man”
“Sorry to Bother You”
“Killing” (Tsukamoto)
“The Favourite”
“Mandy”
“First Reformed”
“Paddington 2”

Ezra Edelman (“O.J.: Made in America”)

“Black Panther”

cromeyn

I’m reluctant because I’ve still not seen so many things (“Roma,’ “First Reformed,” “Vice,” “Destroyer”) but here’s a list:

Hae-mi dancing (“Burning”)
Kyrie running…and running (“Hale County”)
Honnold climbing…and climbing…and climbing (“Free Solo”)
beautiful, beautiful “Beale Street”
Bing Liu’s humanity (“Minding the Gap”)
Mr. Rogers’ radical kindness (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”)
hot, hot, hot “Cold War”
Nadia Murad’s will (“On Her Shoulders”)
Wakanda forever.

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