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Nicholas Bell Top 20 of 2018

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The Conversation: The Top 20 Theatrical Releases of 2018

The Conversation: The Top 20 Theatrical Releases of 2018

It was a strong year for wicked and weird in cinema—if you knew where to look for it. A strong showing of women directors and larger-than-life females made for some exceptional offerings from Sundance through the thick of Oscar campaigning with plentiful opportunities for resistance amongst a wave of films determined to critique, condemn, and capsize the patriarchy.

A shout out to a handful of exceptional wonders who didn’t make my top 20 favorites but still flit fitfully through my mind’s eye, including the exceptional Trine Dyrholm as Nico in Susanna Nicchiarelli’s Nico, 1988, the cerebral goading of Alex Garland’s Annihilation, Liu Jian’s noir anime Have a Nice Day, Bruno Dumont’s heavy metal musical Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc, the velvety melancholy of Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, and a couple of femme-centric duos—Kristen Stewart and Chloe Sevigny in Lizzie and Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan in Josie Rourke’s debut Mary Queen of Scots.

#20. Roma – Dir. Alfonso Cuaron

Cuaron makes another masterpiece with his return to Mexico in this beautifully photographed period drama which examines class and race issues in 1970 Mexico City with an unforgettable performance by Yalitza Aparicio.

#19. Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Dir. Marielle Heller

Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant provide expert levels of queerness in Marielle Heller’s adaptation of Lee Israel’s memoir, which also captures a certain love and feeling of early 1990s New York City.

#18. Angels Wear White – Dir. Vivian Qu

Vivian Qu presents a masterful sophomore effort on the endless cycle of female subjugation in Angels Wear White, which competed at the 2017 Venice Film Festival (and was one of several deserving titles which went home emptyhanded). Marilyn Monroe’s The Seven Year Itch statue provides a masterful and troubling underlying motif in this seaside set tale about two young girls who are sexually assaulted and the compromised witness who doesn’t wish to become embroiled in the dilemma.

#17. If Beale Street Could Talk – Dir. Barry Jenkins

A subtle reflection on the conditioned resignation and hopelessness regarding the American legal system, Jenkins reflects the same poetic dissonance using the same location as Langston Hughes’ famed poem “Harlem,” which poses the same prescient question of the families irrevocably affected here—what happens to a dream deferred?

#16. Mrs. Hyde – Dir. Serge Bozon

You’d hardly know it unless you were looking out for her, but 2018 has already yielded three theatrical releases stateside for Isabelle Huppert. Along with the 2016 musical Souvenir, Huppert’s second-time collaborations with Serge Bozon and Hong Sang-soo both found their ways to our shores. While Huppert won Best Actress out of Locarno for Mrs. Hyde and received warm notices for her self-aware turn in the Cannes set Claire’s Camera, neither title is quite as meaty as her previous efforts with both directors (2013’s Tip Top and 2012’s In Another Country, respectively). And yet, these are both meaningful and effervescent bon mots which are not to be missed.

#15. Mandy – Dir. Panos Cosmatos

Director Panos Cosmatos channels the Cage Rage in this psychedelic sophomore feature which is heavy stylized genre that also happens to be batshit crazy. Andrea Riseborough co-stars as the titular female who inspires Nicolas Cage to face-off with a pseudo supernatural cult leader.

#14. Suspiria – Dir. Luca Guadagnino

Near delirious in its historical complexities, Luca Guadagnino’s idiosyncratic reimagining of Dario Argento’s Suspiria is feminist reinterpretation at its finest—plus it helps to have Tilda Swinton play three roles amongst a coven of delicious Euro-centric witches that include Ingrid Caven, Angela Winkler, Sylvie Testud and Renee Soutendijk.

#13. Let the Sunshine In – Dir. Claire Denis

Claire Denis tries her hand at romantic comedy…sort of. Effervescently calibrated, festival titled Bright Sunshine In drinks Binoche in at every frame, and DP Agnes Godard positions her in tight close-ups which not only accentuate her beauty, but a myriad of emotions ranging from boredom to raging, throbbing insecurity.

#12. Hereditary – Dir. Ari Aster

The only directorial debut on the list is Ari Aster’s highly touted Hereditary, which is easily the best American horror film made in years. Aster fashions his narrative strokes into an evocative juxtaposition of intergenerational conflicts with increasingly unnerving elements of terror, glued together by a phenomenal performance by Toni Collette as a grief-stricken mother.

#11. Burning – Dir. Lee Chang-dong

Shrouded in mystery, Chang-dong keeps us in suspense until the film’s blazing climax in what stages as the auteur’s darkest, most misanthropic effort to date. While Burning is Chang-dong’s sixth feature over the span of two decades, his latest is a tightly wound, increasingly bleak masterpiece, and as clear-eyed a castigation of wayward social woes as ever.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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