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story.lead_photo.caption Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) contemplates the wide skies of South Dakota in The Rider, one of the best films of 2018.

Every January we talk about the best films of the past year, in part because the new year mostly offers us movies like Replicas, which -- the publicists kindly informed us -- is not being screened in advance for critics. And because the awards season is upon us. (While there's nothing wrong with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association that a good RICO indictment couldn't cure, the Golden Globes looks like a really fun party.) I've shown you mine (and Karen Martin's and Piers Marchant's): So what was the best movie you saw last year?

For the past decade or so, we've asked a number of critics and bloggers and other deeply invested moviegoers to send us their lists of the year's best. I'm a little bit behind on sending out the invitations, but luckily some of my correspondents didn't wait to be invited, and we're focusing on those early birds this week. No doubt we'll have more later, and if you think you've got an interesting list, feel free to send it in -- we'll probably be featuring them now and again until the Oscars. But here's round one:

Sam Blair, Armchair Critic, frequent blood, dirt & angels contributor, beloved Arkansan:

1. The Rider -- Contemporary Western gorgeously filmed on stark Dakota prairies. Serious head injury forces champion Sioux rodeo star Brady to settle for training wild horses, for which he has a gift, but he yearns to return to the arena.

2. Shoplifters -- Multigenerational Japanese family living on the edge of poverty routinely supplement their incomes by shoplifting. The family's kindness is genuine, but how much of the rest is not as it appears? In Japanese.

3. Roma -- Director Alfonso Cuaron's B&W memory play set in 1970 Mexico City is a love letter to his childhood and the woman who raised him, "more Amarcord than Gravity," one critic wrote. Stick with it: it builds slowly to its emotional roller coaster finish. In Spanish.

4. The Death of Stalin -- Slapstick power struggle worthy of the Three Stooges plays out behind the scenes of the Kremlin after the feared dictator dies. Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev leads a cast of seasoned pros in this macabre comedy.

5. A Star Is Born -- The fourth retelling of this story is better than the last although not as shattering as the Judy Garland/James Mason one. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper are superb, never mind rookie director Cooper's fondness for lingering close-ups.

6. Vice -- Nearly unrecognizable, Christian Bale physically transformed himself for his role as former VP Dick Cheney. Amy Adams joins writer/director Adam McKay (The Big Short) regulars Sam Rockwell & Steve Carell in this scathing bio-pic.

7. The Favourite -- All About Eve among jaded 18th-century royals in the court of mad Queen Anne (Olivia Colman, brilliant). Rival cousins Rachel Weiss and Emma Stone play dirty to become the queen's "favourite." Kinky and darkly cynical comedy.

8. Eighth Grade -- You'll chuckle and cringe as we follow awkward Kayla (Elsie Fisher) through her final days of middle school, where her encounters are funny, pitiful, and occasionally moving.

9. First Man -- America's tense, historic race to put a man on the moon, including the politics and early failures, is curiously muted. Ryan Gosling is an introspective Neil Armstrong, and quietly ferocious Claire Foy is excellent in the waiting wife role.

10. If Beale Street Could Talk -- For his follow-up to Moonlight, Barry Jenkins adapts James Baldwin's novel of 1970s NYC: young love interrupted by a false rape accusation and cruel separation. Throughout, Regina King as a supportive mother is great.

11. BlacKkKlansman -- Spike Lee's bizarre film is rooted in a bizarre Colorado incident wherein a black police officer infiltrated a local KKK chapter. In this adaptation, John D. Washington (Denzel's son) & Adam Driver team up to pull it off.

12 (tie) Can You Ever Forgive Me? -- It's official: Melissa McCarthy is a first-rate actor. In this oddly heartfelt movie, a sad-sack blocked writer uses her caustic wit to forge literary letters that sell. Scene-stealer Richard E. Grant becomes her accomplice.

12 (tie) Boy Erased -- A young Arkansan's story of trying to survive a sadistic gay-conversion program in Memphis where his parents send him. Lucas Hedges is perfect as the son, and Russell Crowe & Nicole Kidman are convincing as his conflicted parents.

Runners-up (Eliminated in Overtime): First Reformed, Beautiful Boy, Green Book, Leave No Trace

Best Animated Feature: Isle of Dogs

Best Documentary: RBG

Didn't see: Cold War

Keith Garlington, critic,

10. A Quiet Place -- A clever and surprisingly original horror movie from John Krasinski. It's even better as a touching family story thoughtfully exploring themes of grief, guilt and forgiveness.

9. The Guardians -- Xavier Beauvois tells a powerful WWI story about the women left behind to maintain their farms and families. Told with a slow observant rhythm and easily among the most beautiful films of 2018.

8. Sicario: Day of the Soldado -- Despite missing several key pieces from the first film, this tense and slow-boiling border thriller examines a contentious current issue and leaves neither side unscathed.

7. Roma -- Alfonso Cuaron's masterfully crafted and intensely personal drama is a stunner from its opening shot. Exquisite filmmaking that harks back to the days of Fellini, Tati, and even Bresson.

6. First Reformed -- A film unlike anything else I saw in 2018. Driven by themes of faith, obsession, self-destruction, and spiritual despair along with a career best performance from Ethan Hawke.

5. First Man -- A stirring portrayal of an enigmatic American icon that is understated by design while sporting a stronger emotional underpinning than some have given it credit for.

4. Leave No Trace -- I'm still feeling the emotional tug of Debra Granik's subtly piercing father/daughter drama. Ben Foster is great, but it's newcomer Thomasin McKenzie who shines brightest.

3. Wildlife -- Paul Dano's directorial debut sees him telling a heartbreaking family story with the delicacy and precision of a seasoned filmmaker. Also with a Carey Mulligan performance easily among the year's best.

2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs -- This is the Coen brothers flexing their creative freedom. Their dense wordplay, beautiful visuals and quirky sense of humor is everywhere, along with a few unexpected surprises.

1. Mission: Impossible - Fallout -- An actual blockbuster that is thrilling and action-packed yet never shortchanges its characters or its story. Easily the most fun I had at the theater in 2018.

Blake Rutherford, Arkansas expatriate, founder of Movies in the Park:

1. If Beale Street Could Talk

2. Roma

3. The Favourite

4. Leave No Trace

5. Let the Sunshine In

6. You Were Never Really Here

7. A Star Is Born

8. BlacKkKlansman

9. Blaze

10. Lean on Pete

The next 20: Annihilation, Black Panther, First Reformed, Game Night, Happy as Lazzaro, Hold the Dark, Isle of Dogs, Mission: Impossible - Fallout, Private Life, A Private War, A Quiet Place, The Rider, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, Skate Kitchen, Sorry to Bother You, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Support the Girls, Tully, Widows, Wildlife

I wish I'd seen: Border, Burning, Capernaum, Cold War, Destroyer, At Eternity's Gate, First Man, Shoplifters, The Sisters Brothers, Zama

Tanner Smith, filmmaker:

Top 20

Three Identical Strangers -- Before seeing this film, I didn't know about this true story of three triplets separated at birth and reunited at age 19 to discover later in life the bizarre reasoning for the adoption agency to separate them. Even if I did, I'd probably still be blown away by this in-depth, wonderfully entertaining documentary that gives you one surprise after another and emphasizes the importance of both nature and nurture. I love this film.

Black Panther -- Wakanda Forever! This was one of the biggest hits of the year, and for good reason. It's as compelling as it is entertaining; one of the best films to come out of the long-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe.

• Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse -- We've gotten some good Spider-Man films in the past, but this wonderful animated film, full of action, comedy, and clever storytelling, may be the absolute best.

Eighth Grade -- This brilliant slice-of-life recalls not only the bad and the ugly parts of being awkward in junior high school but thankfully the little pleasant surprises too.

Leave No Trace -- Gripping and powerful, even quietly so, this is one of the best 2018 films that deserves more attention.

The Tale -- One of the best performances of the year came from Laura Dern in this HBO-released disturbing, hard-hitting drama about a woman looking back at what she thought was a harmless childhood crush.

Roma -- One of the most critically acclaimed films of the year? Kinda hard not to like it, isn't it?

Boy Erased -- I can't recommend this emotionally devastating Oscar-caliber drama enough. It does so many things right that many other films of its kind have done wrong.

Won't You Be My Neighbor?, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind and Whitney -- All three of these honest biographical documentaries are about entertainers (each in a different field), flaws and all. I could pick one over the other two, but I won't.

Lean on Pete -- This is a wonderful film about the pursuit of happiness, as a good-natured teenage boy looks for a place to call home. This kid is my favorite film protagonist of 2018.

Wildlife, Blindspotting, Searching, Free Solo, A Star Is Born, Paddington 2, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Mission: Impossible - Fallout, First Reformed, Avengers: Infinity War

Honorable Mentions: A Quiet Place, Incredibles 2, Private Life, Ben Is Back, BlacKkKlansman, The Favourite, Deadpool 2


Lily Franky (left) and Jyo Kairi in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s powerful Shoplifters.
Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie (left) and Ben Foster in Leave No Trace, “a generous movie for a miserly time.”

MovieStyle on 01/11/2019

Print Headline: Fans give their 'best films' lists for 2018


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