Best of the Year: Top 20 Films of 2018

2018 has come and gone, so it's time to countdown the year's best films, from Bradley Cooper's A Star is Born and Ryan Coogler's Black Panther, to Best Picture winner The Shape of Water and Chloe Zhao's indie The Rider.

Another year has come and gone for cinema and, like any other year, 2018 was one packed with its fair share of highlights. The same disclaimers apply as every year: most of this awards seasons big contenders didn’t land in the UK in 2018, so the likes of Green Book, The Favourite and Vice won’t be on the list. Full disclosure: I also haven’t seen Roma, which I’m sure would be in contention for this list, but there’s only so much time over a busy festive period and early January.

With the disclaimers out of the way, the top 20 films of 2018 are…

20. A Quiet Place

John Krasinski’s tale of a family trying to survive in a world overrun by blind aliens is a tense and brilliantly crafted exercise in sustained terror with an excellent Emily Blunt performance at its centre.

19. Black Panther

Blending socially conscious drama and weighty themes with the usual wit and action found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while boasting a genuinely memorable villain in Michael B Jordan’s Killmonger, Ryan Coogler’s film is the best blockbuster of the year.

18. The Hate U Give

Focussing on the aftermath of a police shooting and how it impacts the life of a young black girl (Amandla Stenberg), George Tillman Jr’s drama tackles ripped-from-the-headlines material with sensitivity and empathy, making for a stirring, emotionally impactful watch.

17. You Were Never Really Here

Lynne Ramsey takes the revenge thriller and turns it on its head in this dark, dreamlike exploration of the bruised psyche of Joaquin Phoenix’s brutal mercenary as he tracks down a kidnapped teen.

16. Love, Simon

Greg Berlanti’s teen dramedy is the best romantic comedy of a year where the genre had a huge resurgence, focussing on a closeted high school senior (Nick Robinson), whose secret sexuality is dragged into the open in a warm, sensitive and funny love story.

15. The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro’s Best Picture-winner is his best and most fully-realised work since Pan’s Labrynth, building a beautifully detailed world for the characters in this swooning beauty-and-beast romance to inhabit, with a wonderfully layered central performance from Sally Hawkins.

14. Coco

Pixar’s track record may not be as impeccable as it once was, but Coco is one of the studio’s best, tackling themes of life, death and the nature of memory through a story steeped in Mexican culture, as it follows a young boy’s tear-jerking journey to the afterlife during the day of the dead.

13. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

With a towering, Oscar-winning performance from Frances McDormand as an angry, grief-stricken mother at its centre, Martin McDonagh’s latest is a typically divisive blend of chewy dialogue, ultraviolence and jet black humour.

12. First Reformed

Paul Schrader’s dark and brooding exploration of religion is the writer-director’s best work in years, and features a knockout performance from Ethan Hawke as a priest tormented by alcohol, illness and a dire crisis of faith.

11. BlacKkKlansman

Perhaps Spike Lee’s most straightforward film for a number of years but also his best, telling the unbelievable true story of a young, black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. It’s incendiary work with an undeniably powerful, ripped-from-the-headlines kicker but also functions as a wildly entertaining thriller.

10. American Animals

Documentary and fiction overlap in Bart Layton’s telling of the true story of a group of college students trying to pull of a library heist, with The Imposter director using genuine talking heads in a formally daring way that adds an extra edge to his wickedly enthralling crime comedy.

09. Isle of Dogs

Though beset by accusations of cultural appropriation, Wes Anderson’s stop motion triumph feels more like a glowing love letter to Japanese culture via the tale of a young boy trying to find his dog. The craftsmanship on show is astounding and Anderson’s unique sense of comic timing once again lends itself to this medium.

08. Skate Kitchen

Documentarian Crystal Moselle’s slice-of-life drama is a naturalistic and engrossing portrait of the life of Camille (), a young girl trying to make it in the New York skateboarding community. Moselle eventually adds some third act conflict but the real appeal here is following Camille and her friends skating, partying and generally hanging out.

07. Wildlife

Carey Mulligan gives a career best performance as a frustrated 1950s housewife in Paul Dano’s directorial debut, a lavishly realised portrait of small-town life, a marriage on the rocks and a young woman who has done everything she was supposed to, but is left feeling unfulfilled and old before her time. It’s an assured debut from Dano and a quietly heartbreaking film that resonates long after the credits roll.

06. Hearts Beat Loud

Borrowing from the John Carney playbook, Brett Haley’s charming musical dramedy uses catchy pop tracks to wring every bit of emotion from viewers as a widower (Nick Offerman) and his college-bound daughter (Kiersey Clemons) form a makeshift band. Offerman and Clemons are both delightful in this beautifully warm-hearted and life-affirming film.

05. Cold War

This gorgeous, black-and-white epic from Pawel Pawlikowski tells the generation-spanning love story of two musicians brought together and ultimately ripped apart by the geopolitical issues of mid-20th Century Europe. The excellent performances from Joanna Kulig and Tomas Kot are captured in stunning monochrome by cinematographer Lukasz Zal in this intelligent and heartbreaking romance.

04. Phantom Thread

Supposedly marking the last screen performance of Daniel Day Lewis, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is the slyly funny and surprisingly meme-worthy tale of a renowned fashion designer’s infatuation with a young waitress in 1950s Britain. Ultimately a relationship drama about the push and pull between independence and codependence, as Day-Lewis’ control freak sees his tightly constructed life shaken by his relationship with Vicky Krieps’ waitress.

03. Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a poignant and moving coming of age story about a teenage girl trying to navigate parents, teachers, boys and a brush with popularity on her way to graduating high school and getting out of boring old Sacramento. Though this is the stuff of many high school films, Gerwig’s semi-autobiographical tale is uncommonly insightful and honest, particularly in its portrait of a combative but loving mother-daughter relationship, beautifully played by Oscar nominees Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf.

02. The Rider

Though born in China, director Chloe Zhao perfectly taps into a very American strain of masculinity in this naturalistic story of a rodeo rider left looking for a purpose in life after a severe injury derails his career. The cast is made up of non-professional actors – including Brady Jandreau, whose real life experiences inspired the film – and as such, there’s little in the way of over the top histrionics and no contrived drama. Zhao finds poignancy and heartbreak in this story of a man stripped of his purpose and facing fear and uncertainty in a community where he’s expected just to “cowboy up”.

01. A Star is Born

Bradley Cooper’s immensely watchable take on this age-old Hollywood tale is a fitting update, pairing himself with Lady Gaga as the weary country singer and rising pop star whose fates seem intertwined even as their careers are on a very different trajectory. Cooper the director delivers an assured and confident debut, but Cooper the actor is the real revelation, giving a heartbreaking performance as a man riddled with problems and insecurities, realising that his time has passed. He shares a beautiful chemistry with Gaga, in her biggest role to date and one that she absolutely nails, putting every bit of her star power to good use. The songs are catchy, the melodrama soulful and affecting, and the performances nuanced and engaging, making this crowd-pleasing tearjerker a heart-wrenching but exceptionally entertaining romantic epic.

Honourable Mentions

Some of the titles that just missed the cut this year include Sam Levinson’s startling and divisive exploration of modern life Assassination Nation; Steve McQueen’s austere and politically tinged heist thriller Widows; Aneesh Chaganty’s inventive, device-based thriller Searching; blockbuster romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, starring the supernaturally charming Constance Wu; and a pair of brilliant superhero sequels in Marvel’s epic Avengers: Infinity War and Pixar’s belated return to their superhero family in Incredibles 2.

Other highlights include Netflix romcoms Set It Up and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before…; Tom Cruise’s latest stunt extravaganza Mission: Impossible – Fallout; Tamara Jenkins’ long-awaited sophomore effort Private Life, starring a brilliant Kathryn Hahn; Oscar-winning Tonya Harding biopic I, Tonya, starring a never-better Margot Robbie; and Paddington 2, a sequel that’s somehow every bit as lovely and heartwarming as its predecessor.