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The 13 Best Movies of 2018, According to the IndieWire Film Staff

The 13 members of the IndieWire film staff pick the 13 best movies of 2018, with “The Favourite,” “Annihilation,” and “First Reformed” singled out.

Oscilloscope Laboratories/Warner Bros./HBO Films

6. “Madeline’s Madeline”

“Madeline’s Madeline”

One of the boldest and most invigorating American films of the 21st century, Josephine Decker’s “Madeline’s Madeline” is an ecstatically disorienting experience that defines its terms right from the start and then obliterates any trace of traditional film language, achieving a cinematic aphasia that allows Decker to redraw the boundaries between the stories we tell and the people we tell them about. The story of a single mother Regina (the multi-talented Miranda July), her irrepressible teenage daughter Madeline (major newcomer Helena Howard, in what might be the breakout performance of the year), and the unspecified mental illness that drives a wedge between them when the latter joins an experimental theater troupe, this mesmeric tour de force claws at its premise with incredible precision. The result is an experimental movie with the emotional tug of a melodrama, a fragmented coming-of-age drama that explores the vast space between Jacques Rivette and Lynne Ramsay in order to find something ineffably new and of its time. —David Ehrlich

5. “Shoplifters”

“Shoplifters”

Magnolia Pictures

Kore-eda Hirokazu won the Palme d’Or for “Shoplifters,” and upon watching, it becomes immediately evident why. Following a scrappy family of petty criminals living on the fringes of Japanese society, the film is both an examination of what holds together a family as much as it is what constitutes a family. Kore-eda masterfully sucks the audience into the everyday life of the Shibata clan, before completely pulling the rug from beneath us all. Alternatively heartwarming and heartbreaking, “Shoplifters” will have you wiping tears from your eyes as you scramble to immediately watch it again. In a formidable year for foreign cinema, “Shoplifters” is unparalleled. —Jamie Righetti

4. “Cold War”

“Cold War”

Kino Swiat

There’s a certain clichéd notion about European arthouse cinema of the 1950s and 1960s associated with dreary wartime drama in black and white. With “Ida” and now “Cold War,” Polish auteur Pawel Pawlikowski transforms that trope into high art: His movies are so precise in their ability to commune with the past that they may as well exist in its confines. In “Cold War,” the filmmaker stuffs an intimate romance between a musical director (Tomasz Kot) and one of his disciples (Joanna Kulig) into a precise narrative that doesn’t waste a frame. Kulig delivers a performance for the ages as a singer whose talent is trapped by the drab conditions of the oppression surrounding her, even as she finds some minor comfort in the man by her side — and the opportunity to let loose at the microphone. In 85 stirring minutes, Pawlikowski assembles a spectacular ode to the cathartic power of art and companionship, even when history demands an unhappy ending. —Eric Kohn

3. “The Favourite”

"The Favourite"

“The Favourite”

Fox Searchlight

A bold vision set within the grotesquely aristocratic spectacle of early 18th century English royalty, “The Favourite” is a dark yet comedic tale of three dominant women competing for love and power, with reckless abandon. Director Yorgos Lanthimos creates an incredibly lively, though insular, universe, toying with real events to serve as support and motivation for the interiority and conflicts of the film’s characters. Unfolding like a bedroom farce, mostly within the walls of a Royal Palace that’s cut-off from the realities of the era’s expansive history, it’s a world ruled by strategic maneuvers, seductions, even pineapple eating and the occasional duck race. It is through the tangled ties of a frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) with two other scheming and ambitious women — her close friend and advisor Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), and Sarah’s indigent cousin turned status-seeking chambermaid Abigail (Emma Stone) — that the story plunges into a maelstrom of unscrupulous behavior and unpredictability, that epitomizes the expression “palace intrigue,” as a nation’s fate lies within the relations among women who’ve succumbed to the complications of love. A period tragicomedy with an unexpectedly modern feel, Lanthimos’ take on the British costume drama, is something wonderfully unique. —Tambay Obenson

2. “First Reformed

“First Reformed”

Photo Courtesy of Arclight Films

On the surface, this film feels like a throwback to the 70s cinema from which writer-director Paul Schrader emerged. But it’s as current and relevant as any this year. The story of a clergyman struggling with his faith resonates because of its parallel with the pain of profound broader contemporary loss of faith afflicting humanity. The minister’s call to arms — environmentalism — works as a plot device, but reminds us of the current disconnect between most contemporary religion and what really matters today. The film’s touchstone is Bergman’s similar 1962 “Winter Light” — much more than Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest” — as befits a director/writer whose roots are Protestant, not Roman Catholic. That it was made, and then acclaimed and seen, qualifies as a miracle. —Tom Brueggemann

1. “Roma

“Roma”

Netflix

Like a snake who sheds his skin, transforming each movie from one to the next, Alfonso Cuarón follows up the epic “Gravity” — which won him and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki Oscars — with an intimate $15-million Spanish-language Mexico City drama that is also an epic. Shot in black and white in chronological order in a luxurious 108 days — which lost him Lubezki — director-cinematographer Cuarón visits the past by recreating his memories, building up layers of detail —constructing not only his family home but a bustling cosmopolitan street. Cuarón deploys the sinuous deep-focus Alexa 65 camera as a witness to his fictionalized 1971 memoir of his family nanny (Oaxaca discovery Yalitza Aparicio). Over a series of stunning long-take set pieces, we follow Cleo and the extended family through everyday challenges, from the parents’ breakup to Cleo’s sexy romance with a man who abandons her then pops up again during a violent student uprising. Boosted by a rich sound design that acts as a score, this immersive movie has wowed festival audiences and reviewers, winning honors from both New York and Los Angeles critics’ groups, and is heading for Netflix’s first Best Picture Oscar nomination. —Anne Thompson

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