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The Film Stage’s Top 50 Films of 2018

Written by on December 21, 2018 

10. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)

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Scenes of lyrical beauty and astonishing acts of compassion intersperse one of the goriest and fiercest takes on sexual abuse and gender violence in recent years. Based on a novella by Jonathan Ames and anchored on a glorious and career-high performance by Joaquin Phoenix as a deranged hired gun rescuing girls from sex slavery, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here is a riveting cinematic experience, a punch in the gut that concurrently shocks into fear and awe. – Leonardo G.

9. A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper)

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Everyone loves the first, big stage performance of “Shallow,” but A Star is Born is great because of an empty parking lot. Away from the screaming adoration of fans, Ally (Lady Gaga) and Jackson (Bradley Cooper) found themselves in one another through the construction of a song. The first stanza is for him: “Tell me something, boy. Are you tired trying to fill that void?” Ally pulls it out of thin air, hearing about Jackson’s past, before singing his soul back to him. He’s touched, but then she puts herself into the song with a chorus she’d been working on that would become the backbone of “Shallow.” The two are tied together in the impromptu construction — not only of their song, but their love. As this doomed story continues, Ally and Jackson may not last, but their love does: in this song, in this image of their isolation from the rest of the world that might as well be the entire film. You never know when you’re living in a perfect moment — something that will become memory or fable. Most of us take a picture to preserve a feeling. Ally sang “Shallow.” – Willow M.

8. Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski)

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A heart-wrenching love story crushed under the yoke of geopolitical events and sublimated into something tragic and ethereal: Paweł Pawlikowski’s stunning Cold War bursts with the ineffable timelessness of the classics, and ultimately transcends its own time and space. Watching Joanna Kulig’s Zula and Tomasz Koi’s Wiktor dance through their pan-European exodus is to witness a journey orphaned by a devastating sense of loneliness, one that swells the screen into something majestic and universal. – Leonardo G.

7. The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles)

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Simultaneously self-aggrandizing and self-deprecating, Orson Welles’ long-awaited final film overflows with elements we too often take for granted when discussing the master. A prime example being Welles’ stinging sense of humor, on full display in The Other Side of the Wind, a film that many have rightly called one of the funniest of the year. As Welles weaves a kaleidoscopic vision of ‘70s Hollywood, the saddest place on earth as advertised, he also gives a well-deserved thrashing to everyone from Antonioni (a stunning and uproarious visual thread) to us film lovers, many of whom were not yet born when The Other Side of the Wind wrapped production in 1976. But we’re alive to see it today, and it’s glorious, and thanks to the double-headed viper that is Netflix, access to this long-lost gem couldn’t be more readily available. – Tony H.

6. Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher)

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The films of Alice Rohrwacher have always been rich with the sensory magic of growing up, but that atmosphere has, up to this point, been enhanced with the knowledge that puberty was approaching, just out of sight, with all the subtlety of a B52 bomber. With her newest, Happy as Lazzaro, she has largely forgone that period of adolescence, while somehow not forgoing that sense of everyday magic. What emerges is not simply a next step in her oeuvre and creative growth but a fully formed expression of her virtuosic talents. – Rory O.

5. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie)

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Mission: Impossible – Fallout is an anomaly. It’s the sixth installment of a decades-old franchise that has hit full steam. Since 1996, it has burgeoned into an auteur’s playground of action and intrigue, a feat that becomes doubly impressive when viewed alongside the plasticity of contemporary action fare. Add to that an aging star in Tom Cruise and his safe choice for director in Christopher McQuarrie, and in theory, this film is out of its depth. It appears doomed to be put out to pasture by something younger and sleeker, making it that much more exhilarating to see Fallout pummel its way into being one of the decade’s best action films.  If Rogue Nation was a formalist entry in the spirit of a gilded, breezy Hollywood caper, then Fallout is a heavy, ice-cold rebuke. It less akin to Hitchcock and instead taps into a combination of John Frankenheimer, Michael Mann, and Christopher Nolan. – Conor O.

4. Burning (Lee Chang-dong)

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After Poetry, it makes sense that Lee Chang-dong would find himself interested in deconstructing another literary genre: the murder mystery. Adapting Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning” for the screen, the South Korean master has created something that feels akin to a real page turner, with each cut, the tensions, and the mystery rise as we become desperate to know whatever happened to Shin Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), the young woman who went missing, leaving her childhood friend Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) searching for her. With pulpy characters, including a delicious Steven Yeun as a mysterious Gatsby-like figure, and a dark sense of humor, the film also serves as a study of class and the way in which the lives of the have-nots become cute anecdotes for the haves. Like in the greatest literature, the filmmaker allows for sumptuous moments in which the images wash over us in the same way we revisit our favorite passages in books we love. – Jose S.

3. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)

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Comparing a director’s latest film to his or her previous effort is almost always unwise, or at least, a bit foolish. When both films are extraordinary achievements, however, pondering the works in tandem seems fruitful. This is certainly true when looking at Barry Jenkins‘ If Beale Street Could Talk and his previous film Moonlight. The latter deservedly took home an Oscar for Best Picture, and heralded Jenkins as a filmmaker whose empathetic touch knows no bounds. Now comes his James Baldwin adaptation, which reaches the same magnificent emotional register as Moonlight. Jenkins has written and directed an exquisite, timeless film about a place and historical period—Harlem in the 1970s—that feels painfully connected to the present. It is a film both tender and tough, with a time, a place, and a story to lose oneself in. Sublime in its depiction of an emotional connection and subtle in its layers of systematic oppression, Beale Street is a major work from a filmmaker whose gifts are clearly boundless. – Chris S.

2. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)

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Memory is a construct. We don’t know why we remember what we do, but our memories are arguably the only things we take with us when we leave. The most faithful representations of the events that meant the most to us, if we remember it must mean we care. This is why the best memory films blur the line between documentary and surrealism, they ache with longing and life, but are so full of artifice that they feel too specific to be true. In Roma, Alfonso Cuarón isn’t only paying tribute to his childhood nanny Liboria (Cleo in the film, played with soulful wisdom by Yalitzia Aparicio), he’s also paying homage to all the elements that will one day represent his own altar de muertos. There’s the astronaut movie that inspired Gravity! The magical beach of Y tu mamá también! The precocious children of Prisoner of Azkaban! The poetic birth scene of Children of Men! And in recognizing these moments, not as scenes from movies, but as our own memories, Cuarón has given us the ultimate gift. Roma is Cleo, is Liboria, is Cuarón, is all of us. – Jose S.

1. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

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First Reformed dares you to take it too seriously. Paul Schrader’s latest journey into the dark night of the soul undoubtedly wrestles with grandiose questions about personal responsibility, the role of faith, and moral redemption in the grand tradition of cinematic transcendentalists. But it’s less that the film confronts each of these subjects with such thoughtfulness and rigor than the ways it imbues this personal story with such immediate cosmic absurdity. As the Reverend of a fading congregation, Ethan Hawke isn’t just a single individual aching and in pain — he’s the embodiment of a society in rot. Yet that’s only one interpretation, and the end of First Reformed is, appropriately, forever suspended in a place of unknowing where those of faith and the faithless see entirely different worlds. – Michael S.

Continue reading: The 50 Most Overlooked Films of 2018

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