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Tracking the 10 best films of 2018 

click to enlarge Isle of Dogs
  • Isle of Dogs
Any year a new Orson Welles movie debuts is a good year for cinema. So no matter the ups and downs of the release schedule, at least the existence of the master director’s unfinished final film The Other Side of the Wind has provided 2018 with an undeniable saving grace. Welles is still showing up the Hollywood hacks more than 30 years after his death. And while his restless genius and maverick spirit may feel like a thing of the past, here are 10 reasons to feel good about the state of cinema in 2018, as well as five reasons to push the panic button.

1. First Reformed

Ethan Hawke gives the performance of the year as a tormented priest confronting oblivion in Paul Schrader’s story of environmental and existential anguish. First Reformed feels like the culmination of Schrader’s entire life and career, blending the raw intimacy of Robert Bresson, the scathing despair of Ingmar Bergman, and all his own sensual and spiritual obsessions.

2. Mandy

In a far superior alternate universe, Panos Cosmatos’ psychedelic revenge fantasy plays on the most gigantic IMAX screens imaginable, while the latest Marvel releases debut in 75 theaters before getting dumped to VOD. The prog-metal outrageousness of Mandy is established when King Crimson’s “Starless” both plays over and gets listed in the opening credits, while Nicolas Cage offers his once-a-decade reminder of why we ever cared.

3. The Favourite

Director Yorgos Lanthimos takes a lean, witty script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara about conniving women and weak men and imbues it with a pitiless absurdism that is peculiarly his own. The result feels like a ridiculously opulent and darkly Kubrick-ian cross between Dangerous Liaisons and All About Eve.

4. You Were Never Really Here

We have become so spoiled by the greatness of Joaquin Phoenix that barely any of us batted an eye when he gave three excellent lead performances in 2018. The best of the bunch came in Lynne Ramsay’s scarred and fractured story of a violent, demon-plagued veteran who rescues stolen girls for a living.

click to enlarge The Death of Stalin
  • The Death of Stalin

5. Isle of Dogs

If Wes Anderson’s blend of clinical skill and warming sadness has always hit you in that Nick Drake sweet spot, his stop-motion animated Isle of Dogs is an elaborately embossed tchotchke made for your cinematic shelf. It’s another Anderson masterwork of careful world-building, impeccable craftsmanship and messy emotional payoffs.

6. Madeline’s Madeline

Led by a ferocious performance from Helena Howard, Josephine Decker’s film crackles with an unpredictable energy from the first moments and rarely lets up, forcing us to determine from scene to scene and shot to shot whether we’re watching a fantasy or a documentary, an acting exercise or an exhibition of mental illness.

7. Cold War

A quietly devastating romance shot in gorgeous black-and-white, Pawel Pawlikowski’s film follows mismatched lovers torn apart first by Communism and later by capitalism. Much like the Polish folk songs heard throughout, Cold War takes a tragic story of heartbreak and horror and transforms it into something beautiful and timeless.

8. The Death of Stalin

The premier political satirist of his era, In the Loop director and Veep creator Armando Iannucci pulls off his most impressive feat yet, turning the real-life corpse-strewn power struggle that followed Josef Stalin’s sudden death into a lacerating and disturbingly relevant farce.

9. Burning

An oblong mystery about a South Korean slacker (Yoo Ah-in) who becomes obsessed with a beautiful but flighty ex-classmate (Jun Jong-seo) and her wealthy boyfriend (Steven Yeun), Lee Chang-dong’s strangely chilly film is powerfully 
enigmatic and immaculately 
constructed.

10. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Human special effect Tom Cruise plays superspy Ethan Hunt for the sixth time, and while nothing in Christopher McQuarrie’s Fallout should feel unfamiliar to anyone remotely aware of the Mission: Impossible bag of tropes, it’s still the freshest and most fun action movie of 2018.

Barnes' Bottom Five

1. Gotti

Klutzy filmmaking usually provides some level of schadenfreude fun, but never has ineptitude been less entertaining than in Kevin Connolly’s hopelessly muddled biopic.

2. Fifty Shades Freed

Putrid even by the subterranean standard set by the first two entries in the Fifty Shades franchise, this trilogy-ender had the temerity to close with a “heartwarming” montage of its abusive protagonists.

3. A Wrinkle in Time

Publicist turned director Ava DuVernay had the entire universe rooting for her big-budget adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle novel, but the result was garish and empty.

4. Green Book

The most malodorous awards bait of 2018, Peter Farrelly’s rancid road movie is MAGA for white liberals. Mahershala Ali survives with a shred of dignity intact, but Viggo Mortensen may never recover.

5. Deadpool 2

More snot-nosed nihilism and fangless meta-commentary from Marvel’s “merc with a mouth,” once again played by Ryan 
Reynolds as a homicidal rape-
joke comedian.

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