Ken’s Top 10 Films of 2018

Continuing our 2018 wrap-up spectacular is Ken Bakely‘s top 10 films of 2018.

  1. Shirkers (Sandi Tan)

Director Sandi Tan recalls how her filmmaking career began, under bizarre and unjust circumstances as a teenager in 1992 Singapore, as she and her friends tried to make an independent movie and were challenged by everything from the lack of filmmaking infrastructure in the country to the manipulative man who held the fate of their work in his hands and disappeared without a trace, leaving everything up in the air. Decades later, Tan tries to solve the lingering mysteries from her past and how they formed her present, and the results are boundlessly intriguing and surprising.

  1. Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)

Ryan Coogler injects life even into the most obligatory tropes of the superhero movie, as he works with a large and capable cast, first-rate production design, and a fully-realized universe that feels like so much more than just its locations or inventions in isolation. Black Panther is extremely cognizant of the philosophies and politics of its universe and the characters therein, which makes its plot all the more absorbing and its impact all the more lasting.

  1. The Wild Boys (Bertrand Mandico)

Telling the story of five schoolboys banished to a remote island after committing a gruesome murder, the mysterious locale turns out to host a multitude of fantastical elements and events, and the journey through it all is wonderfully eccentric. Presented through a wide synthesis of aesthetic, symbolic, and narrative influences, The Wild Boys posits that everything – from individual identity to the very basis of perception and location – is a fluid, ever-changing experience that doesn’t observe society’s strict constructs.

  1. Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski)

Regina Hall is exemplary as Lisa – the manager of a Hooters-like sports bar in Texas – who juggles the numerous demands of the business, tirelessly works to ensure the safety of her employees, and plans her own future in Support the Girls, Andrew Bujalski’s study of working-class women and the challenges they under unfair socioeconomic systems. And though the film never shies away from the consequences of the marginalizations that haunt its characters’ lives, it’s is also witty and heartfelt, caring for and celebrating the women at the center of its story with a deep humanity.

  1. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)

A moving story of the always-changing relationship between parents and their children, Leave No Trace boasts superb work from Ben Foster and Thomasin Harcourt MacKenzie as a PTSD-stricken veteran and his adolescent daughter who, at his insistence, have long lived in the woods, isolated from other people. While he feels the need to live this way indefinitely because of the effects of his trauma, it’s simply not practical to expect his daughter to share the same mindset, and things will one day have to change. Director Debra Granik’s stylistic approach may be seen as minimalist, but she in no way restricts the enveloping emotions and observations at work here.

  1. You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsey)

With a devastating lead performance from Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here is a brutal portrait of a fractured soul. His character is a vigilante-for-hire, and his life is marred by unending danger and frequent violence, which director Lynne Ramsey refuses to present as cathartic or provocative. Instead, even the most terrible acts are all part of an overwhelming composition of discordant sounds and surreal imagery, as the protagonist’s battered psyche becomes our window to the film’s world. The effect is unshakable, but the film is never disturbing merely for its own sake.

 

  1. Widows (Steve McQueen)

Widows could be merely read as a great heist thriller with a brilliant ensemble cast and would earn a recommendation from there, but it’s so much more. Director Steve McQueen weaves a complex web of individuals from numerous backgrounds. They’re caught up in political corruption, organized crime, and personal tragedies, and the film shows how these varied elements form a larger mosaic of the messy power structures that exist in every aspect of their lives.

  1. The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)

Yorgos Lanthimos’ penchant for absurd situations and idiosyncratic plotting even carries over when directing an 18th-century set costume drama featuring a script he did not write. Depicting two cousins fighting to become Queen Anne’s most trusted companion, the film is a caustically funny look at the increasingly complicated and high-stakes relationships between these three women. Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz star, and they’re all magnificently committed to every surprising twist and acidic dialogue exchange.

  1. Paddington 2 (Paul King)

Was there any more purely joyful and delightful experience to be found at the movies this year than Paddington 2? Even better than its charming predecessor, the film follows the journeys of the iconic Paddington Bear, as he navigates London and makes the world a better and nicer place through each amusing misadventure, one marmalade sandwich at a time.

  1. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)

One of the most searing films about faith in recent memory, First Reformed grapples with the concept of belief at the most fundamental levels, not only in terms of religion, but the very foundations of human civilization itself. Ethan Hawke, in a career-best performance as the sickly pastor of a small church, does not position his character’s doubt as that in God (his religious adherence is never called into doubt). Rather, he struggles to fathom the selfishness of humanity, seeing the beauty of the environment as wrecked by an insatiable corporate greed that destroys communities and pollutes the planet. But the film is not uncritically hopeless or one-dimensionally nihilistic. It dives through challenging, abstract questions, and while knowing that there are no easy answers – or perhaps none at all – shapes its philosophical maelstrom into a striking work of strange, existential beauty.

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