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The Best Films of 2018 (So Far)

Written by on June 20, 2018 

the-best-films-of-2018-so-far

2018 is nearing the halfway mark, so it’s time to take a look back at the first six months and round up our favorite titles thus far. While the end of this year will bring personal favorites from all of our writers, think of the below 31 entries as a comprehensive rundown of what should be seen before heading into a promising back half of the year.

Do note that this feature is based solely on U.S. theatrical releases from 2018, with many currently widely available on streaming platforms or theatrically. Check them out below, as organized alphabetically, followed by honorable mentions and films to keep on your radar for the remaining summer months. One can also follow our Letterboxd list.

24 Frames (Abbas Kiarostami)

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As a swan song, there aren’t many as beautifully somber as Abbas Kiarostami’s. At first glance simplistically structured, 24 Frames reveals itself to be a complex cinematic survey of time and artifice in filmmaking. (Isiah Medina’s brilliant essay is a must-read.) It’s an overwhelming feeling imagining each frame as one’s final glimpses of the world—bleak isolation clashing with graceful nature. The superb final note of a life’s work.  – Jordan R.

Araby (Affonso Uchoa and João Duman)

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“I’m like everyone else,” writes about himself Cristiano (Aristides de Sousa), the working class hero at the center of Affonso Uchoa and João Dumans’ Araby, “It’s just my life that was a little bit different.” Calling that an understatement would be a euphemism. An average-sized and average-looking factory worker in the Southern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, Cristiano is an everyman par excellence. Neither charismatic nor particularly striking – at least not on a first look – he seems so ordinary it takes us twenty minutes to understand he’s Araby’s protagonist, and not some flickering extra. When we first meet him, he is given a lift to his steel factory; up until then, Uchoa and Dumans had followed Andre (Murilo Caliari), a pensive and bookish teenage boy living with his aunt Márcia (Gláucia Vandeveld) in a derelict house close to the hellish steel mill. By the time we next hear about him, Cristiano has suffered an unseen work accident, and is stuck in a coma. Asked by Márcia to collect his belongings, Andre arrives at Cristiano’s place, and happens upon a spiral-bound notebook which the man has used to transcribe a decade’s worth of memories. – Leonardo G. (full review)

Annihilation (Alex Garland)

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More terrifying than any creature Hollywood could dream up is the unraveling of one’s mind—the steady loss of a consciousness as defined by the memories, motivations, and knowledge built up from decades of experience and reflection. With Annihilation, Alex Garland’s beautiful, frightening follow-up to Ex Machina, he portrays this paralyzing sensation with a sense of vivid imagination, and also delivers a cadre of horrifying creatures to boot. – Jordan R. (full review)

Before We Vanish (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

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There are few directors who would choose to take a semi-sincere approach to a lengthy pseudo-philosophical science-fiction film — especially not one that lightly pries into our fundamental psychological foibles — but there are few directors quite like Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The prolific Japanese filmmaker behind such varied genre gems as Pulse and Tokyo Sonata has constructed a sort of skittish and overlong, albeit pleasantly existential oddity in Before We Vanish, an alien-invasion B-movie packed with A-grade ideas and craft. Nail down your windows. Lock your doors. It’s the invasion of the concept snatchers. – Rory O. (full review)

Claire’s Camera and The Day After (Hong Sang-soo)

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Its appeal lies more in the seductive energy exuded from the dialogues and performances, which feel improvised. Huppert and Kim are clearly having fun riffing off one another, each speaking in lightly broken English and conveying the pleasures of ephemeral encounters in low-stakes liminal spaces, such as the one represented by the festival. Claire’s Camera as a whole is just as fleeting, and while it too may not leave a lasting mark, it’s nonetheless a welcome diversion while we wait for the next film by the exceptionally prolific Hong. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

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Hindsight is a marvelous thing. To quote the lead character of a recent Hong Sang-soo film (and by recent we mean Claire’s Camera, the second of three the prolific director has premiered so far this year): “The only way to change things is to look back on them, slowly.” It’s a mantra Hong clearly lives by as a filmmaker, as do many of the people who inhabit his movies. Hong’s world is all about repetition, and while the cold domestic and workplace settings of his latest film, The Day After, are somewhat of a departure from the unfamiliar streets his character usually walk down, the majority of his signature ingredients are present and accounted for: sad, unfaithful men abusing positions of relative power; dialogue that meanders between the everyday and the sublime; his current muse, Kim Min-hee; and, of course, generous lashings of Soju. – Rory O. (full review)

The Commuter (Jaume Collet-Serra)

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In the world of Hollywood where “action” is often synonymous with CGI-heavy monstrosities splattered across the screen backed by an assaultive sound design, the blissful visual coherence and immaculately-constructed thrills in the films of Jaume Collet-Serra can feel like the third coming of Alfred Hitchcock (after Brian De Palma, of course). Following a trio of films led by Liam Neeson, he shortened his scope with the career peak of The Shallows, an ingeniously simple but no-less exhilarating shark thriller. The Commuter reunites him with his action muse, multiplying the single-cabin setting and inherent mystery of Non-Stop ten-fold, this time on a Metro-North train. – Jordan R. (full review)

Custody (Xavier Legrand)

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It didn’t win the Oscar for best live action short in 2014, but Xavier Legrand’s Just Before Losing Everything was by far my favorite nominee. Discovering his debut feature Custody was constructed as an expansion of that story therefore made it a must-see. The short is soon revealed as a prequel, its look at the fallout of domestic abuse hopefully in the rearview considering Miriam Besson (Léa Drucker) readies to plead her case as to why her now ex-husband (Denis Ménochet’s Antoine) shouldn’t retain custody of their son Julien (Thomas Gioria)—his sister Joséphine (Mathilde Auneveux) recently turned eighteen and is free regardless. But while the evidence seems to prove Miriam’s case, a father’s love trumps a lack of concrete proof of his terror. The threat he poses, however, remains very real. – Jared M. (full review)

Damsel (David and Nathan Zellner)

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Damsel introduces us to Samuel Alabaster (Robert Pattinson), who travels with his gun, guitar, and a miniature pony named Butterscotch. (Eat your heart out, #TeamBunzo). Despite the stunning vistas and other signifiers of the genre, we quickly grasp that David and Nathan Zellner have crafted an anti-western, lovingly poking fun at its foundation while slyly pulling the rug under the audience in humorous, forward-thinking, and genre-redefining fashion. – Jordan R. (full review)

Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? (Travis Wilkerson)

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Throughout the remarkable Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? – director Travis Wilkerson’s attempt to learn more about and confront the murder of the African American Bill Spann by his white great-grandfather, S.E. Branch, through a cinematic essay on racism in America – there are many black-and-white images of houses, forests, and roads in Alabama, the state in which the killing took place. As interview subjects recount memories or details related to the crime — through either first-person testimony or Wilkerson’s second-hand paraphrasing — the film often eschews focusing on the speaker to dwell on local spaces, quietly moving through static shots of Alabaman milieus. These images are so still that, at first, they resemble photographs — specifically, old photographs of the sort that one might find in the photo album of someone who was alive when Bill Spann was killed. But if you look closely, you’ll see that the leaves and grass are actually moving, rustling ever so slightly in the breeze. – Jonah J. (full review)

Double Lover (François Ozon)

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L’amant double is the sort of film you wouldn’t mind seeing Roman Polanski take a stab at. Shot in chic but soulless Parisian interiors, it’s the type of thing that controversial figure tends to relish: all claustrophobia, body horror and pseudo Freudian sexual nightmares. Instead it’s in the hands of its writer-director François Ozon, who never quite manages to lift his material above the realm of psychosexual camp. Then again, perhaps his aim isn’t any higher. It’s the story of a beautiful young woman who loses herself in an erotic love triangle with a pair of opposing twins, both of whom are psychoanalysts. Depending on what you’re into, it’s about as fun as that sounds. – Rory O. (full review)

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