How great was 2018 for movies? Netflix got snubbed from the Cannes Film Festival and still managed to give the world “Roma,” “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” “Happy as Lazzaro” and a reconstruction of Orson Welles’ final film (plus two captivating documentaries about its production and restoration). The ubiquitous superhero genre gave us instant classics like “Black Panther” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse,” and even embraced its sillier side with “Teen Titans GO! to the Movies,” “Aquaman” and “Deadpool 2.” This was a year so great that it gave us not one but two juicy lead roles for John C. Reilly. (Three, if you include “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” and four if you loop in “Holmes and Watson,” which has yet to open.)
Paring the year’s highlights down to 25, let alone 10, was no easy feat, but here goes:
Nos. 11-25 (alphabetically): "1985," "Annihilation," "A Bread Factory," "Burning," "Can You Ever Forgive Me?," "The Favourite," "First Reformed," "Lizzie," "Private Life," "Shoplifters," "Skate Kitchen," "Stan & Ollie," "A Star Is Born," "Tully," "Zama"
10. “Eighth Grade”
At the age of 27, comedian-turned-auteur Bo Burnham crafted a sensitive and painfully funny coming-of-age tale about a shy young girl (played beautifully by Elsie Fisher) who offers her YouTube followers very good advice that she’s too introverted and self-conscious to follow herself. Heartbreaking, lovely and must-see viewing for parents of teens.
9. “Support the Girls”
The extraordinary Regina Hall shows us all the cracks in a strong woman’s soul in Andrew Bujalski’s funny and desperate look at a day on and off the clock of a restaurant manager just trying to keep her staff and her life from imploding. The top-notch ensemble includes great turns from Haley Lu Richardson, Brooklyn Decker and rapper-turned-actress Shayna McHayle.
Alice Rohrwacher’s Cannes award-winner melds an unsparing examination of extreme poverty -- the details may change as time passes, but the ultimate effects remain the same -- with surprising twists of magical realism. It's all buoyed by a lead performance by first-timer Adriano Tardiolo, who’s got the open-faced charisma of a great silent-film star.
20th Century Fox/Annapurna
7. (tie) “The Hate U Give”/“If Beale Street Could Talk”
One’s a period piece, and the other feels right up to the minute, but both of these powerful dramas examined the black American experience, particularly in regards to the failings of the police and the justice system overall. “Beale Street” made my soul ache, and “Hate” punched me in the gut, but they each left their mark.
6. “The Other Side of the Wind”
Great directors very rarely go out on a high note, but Orson Welles -- crafting a semi-autobiographical tale of an aging director trying to stay relevant in post–“Easy Rider” Hollywood -- showed he still had the fire in him with a film that seems to be simultaneously destroying the 1960s and creating the 1970s.
Director Jacques Audiard made a noteworthy English-language debut with this ambitious Western -- somehow provocative and traditional, funny and tragic, sweeping and intimate, all at once -- featuring a quartet of memorable performances from John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Riz Ahmed and Jake Gyllenhaal.
4. “Lean On Pete”
Andrew Haigh’s boy-and-his-horse saga is a heartbreaker, but one that still manages to offer a glimpse of hope and redemption. The fine cast includes Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny, but the film belongs to Charlie Plummer (“All the Money in the World”), giving the kind of raw, genuine performance we generally associate with non-actors.
3. “Leave No Trace”
Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie bring director and co-writer Debra Granik’s devastating father-daughter tale to life; Foster plays a PTSD-afflicted veteran determined to live off the grid, and McKenzie is his devoted teen who begins to understand that she might belong in the world instead of following her dad further away from civilization.
No space stations, future dystopias or teen wizards in the latest from Alfonso Cuarón, but this intimate tale of a domestic (Yalitza Aparicio, in an unforgettable screen debut) and her bourgeois Mexican employers in the early 1970s was a mind-blower all the same.
He is a refugee in a strange land, welcomed by the diverse local populace. He responds to every situation with kindness and generosity, even when facing xenophobic insults and suspicion. When the justice system fails him, and he is wrongfully incarcerated, his innate goodness improves the lives of his fellow detainees. If there was ever a movie that we desperately needed as a balm against 2018, this was it.