So Far, So Good: Best Films of 2018

The year is just over half gone, and while I try not to focus on how quickly another twelve months are zipping by, I decided to take stock of the films I’ve seen to date in 2018. At the time of writing, it’s at a solid 90 films, which puts me—believe it or not—about twenty films behind where I was this time last year. 

As I looked back at what I’ve loved so far this year, I was very quickly reminded of what I have yet to see. And it’s a lot! I’ve included that list at the end of the post, and added all the various titles to my Netflix queue and the like. I’ll get to them eventually.

In the meantime, and with the caveat that—like every year—the best is yet to come, I landed on a dozen films that I’ve really enjoyed to date. Five of the thirteen are documentaries (a strong showing), and all but one of them are American films. Clearly, I need to up my international game.

Here’s what I’ve really enjoyed:

TULLY – The latest from the creative trio of Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody and Charlize Theron, this one is sitting at the top of my list if for no other reason than I found it so easy with which to identify. It’s the story of a woman with a newborn, a toddler and a needy husband who barely recognizes herself and the night nanny who helps her remember who she really is. 

THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS – Multiple times during this documentary about triplets separated at birth, I let out an audible reaction to the events unfolding on screen. A “what?” or a “no!” or just a wordless gasp. It’s that compelling. The documentary is crafted so sharply that not a single card is shown before its turn, and it makes for one of the best documentaries of the year.

FIRST REFORMED – After decades in the film industry with credits like Taxi Driver, American Gigolo and Raging Bull, Paul Schrader claims the director’s chair for another of his own scripts in a stark, dark commentary on love, devotion, religion and faith. Ethan Hawke turns in a stellar if understated performance as a man struggling with his own demons and that of his parish. As the credits rolled, I actually muttered a “Holy fuck.” under my breath, it’s that good.

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? – If you are feeling the weight of the world in your bones these days, disheartened and struggling to find the good in the world, carve out the time to see this gem of a film. Chronicling the life and work of Fred Rogers, it’s a wonderful reminder of what good we’re capable of, if only we choose to embrace it. 

A QUIET PLACE – Though I enjoy them more these days, I generally am not much for scary movies. I certainly don’t seek them out. But every now and then there’s one (I’m looking at you, Get Out) that I make an exception for, one that rises above genre to be both thrilling and a well-made film. A Quiet Place fits this bill, hitting all the right notes for a good scare.

MINDING THE GAP – From Chicago-based Kartemquin Films, this captivating documentary about masculinity, coming of age and learning what a healthy, real love looks (and feels) like doesn’t technically open until later this year. After making a splash at Sundance, I made it a point to catch its Chicago premiere at DOC10 earlier this year, and I’m so glad I did. You’ll find it heartbreaking and heartening, and I’m sure it’ll be on many year-end Best Films of the Year lists.

EIGHTH GRADE – I admit, I was skeptical about this one going into it. I didn’t really know Bo Burnham’s work and, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t quite convinced a guy could tell a middle-school-aged girl’s story. And then I saw the film, and all concerns were allayed. Burnham manages to craft a thoroughly contemporary story of growing up in the early 21st century that remains rooted in the time-honored embarrassments and struggles of every thirteen year old ever.

RBG – If this is the year of biographical documentaries (biodocs? is that a thing?)—Fred Rogers, Robin Williams, John McCain, Serena Williams, on and on—RBG, about the life and times of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, rises above all the rest. The woman is the definition of a national treasure, having done more during her time in the law for the country than any politician or pundit. Her life is an inspiration, from her time as a young lawyer changing the conversation on gender equality to her commitment now to health and strength as she holds onto her seat on the Court.

THE TALE – More and more these days, films enjoy well-received premieres at Sundance or Toronto film festivals and, rather than head into theaters for the rest of us to check out, they land on a streaming service like Amazon or Netflix and are all but forgotten. Which is why I sought out The Tale when it landed on HBONow. It’s filmmaker Jennifer Fox’s harrowing, sometimes hard-to-watch recounting of her own sexual abuse as a child, at the hands of adults she trusted and even loved. Even in its most stressful moments, Fox’s achievement is how she manages to make the whole sordid affair more about reckoning with the truth of what happened than the salacious, despicable details.

THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING – File this one under films I’d never heard of and had zero expectations for that ended up blowing me away. Serbian filmmaker Mila Turajlic turns her camera on her own life and family to tell her mother’s story and that of her country. Srbijanka Turajlic, an academic and activist, looks back on her experiences as an outspoken protester during a time of revolution throughout the country, juxtaposed against a story that plays out within their own family apartment. It’s galvanizing, inspiring and as timely as ever.

HEARTS BEAT LOUD – This quietly enjoyable film isn’t going to make any waves come awards season. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about this story of a widowed dad (Nick Offerman) and his teenage daughter (Keirsey Clemons) who decide to start a band the summer before she heads off to college. And yet, it’s so sweetly heartfelt that it makes for a lovely movie night; the always-wonderful Toni Collette and very funny Ted Danson round out a small ensemble that delivers a feel-good, music-centric story you’ll adore.

LEAVE NO TRACE – The latest film from Debra Granik (who made the powerful Winter’s Bone and introduced the world to Jennifer Lawrence), Leave No Trace could easily be disregarded as a too-quiet, too-sparse narrative about homelessness. Don’t let the understated approach fool you. It is strong in its silence, compelling in its simplicity. Ben Foster, who’s been wildly underrated for years, delivers a wrenching portrayal of a father trying to balance his principles with his obligations to his daughter, in a world changing very quickly around him. 

As for what I haven’t seen yet but really need to in order to give these lists any credibility, that list includes:

  • Roxanne, Roxanne (streaming on Netflix)
  • The Final Year (streaming on HBONow)
  • Chappaquidick (for rent at RedBox)
  • Hereditary (maybe still in theaters?)
  • Paddington 2 (and the first Paddington, too…via the library/Redbox)
  • You Were Never Really Here (for rent at RedBox)
  • Love After Love (coming soon to DVD)

There’s plenty of time for me to get each of these in before the year wraps up, and I plan to get to them right away. Of course, that’s in addition to all the films I’m very much looking forward to in the coming months. A woman’s work is never done! 

What have you seen and loved lately?