Woman, 2018 was one helluva year. I certainly endured my fair share of ups and downs over the course of those 365 days, but what kept my sanity intact by the end of it was a powerful, common theme: Identity in Womanhood. This past year I watched our country evolve as 2017’s "#MeToo" movement begat 2018’s “Time’s Up” movement, and it’s been empowering to watch our society become informed by these calls to arms. It seems redundant to claim that you yourself evolve every year as well, because clearly we all age and experience change constantly, but I was definitely feeling my femininity evolve in 2018. At the end of January, I husbanded up. (If “wifed up” is a phrase, we can make “husbanded up” a thing, right? Equality!) But what they don’t tell you (or perhaps the information I didn’t seek out) about becoming a wife is how signing that small piece of paper redefines your relationship, not only with your partner, but with yourself. So, 2018 and I were firmly hand-in-hand leveling up our respective womanhoods, and inevitably, we encountered some pretty mean megabosses along the way.
During the last quarter of the year, I took quite an emotional beating. Without getting into too much personal baggage, womaning up in 2018 gave me the strength to demand a fair wage in my workplace (a brewery, at the time), where I chose to go to bat for myself and my fellow female bartenders, who were being exploited. It was a successful battle, but I took the hit and had to walk away from the job, losing my livelihood and lifestyle routine. Needless to say, that put in me in a bit of a funk, and my nights out at the cinema took a backseat...like an Oldsmobile station wagon backseat. As a result, a lot of seemingly great films slipped through my fingers in 2018, and I’m sure I’m going to be playing a lot of catch-up between now, the Oscars, and eternity. But, for the sake of this list (which is a solid list that I proudly stand by), I won’t mention the aforementioned missed-but-critically-great films. The mere fact that I was vetoing films that I did see and loved, in order to construct this list, speaks volumes of the state of film in 2018.
I will, however, briefly touch on one vetoed film. Sebastian Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman rang as relatable to me as it possibly could have. Focusing on transgender Marina (a complete revelation, Daniela Vega) and her relationship to her departed partner, Orlando, A Fantastic Woman details Marina’s struggles with the world’s perception of her. I found that the tail-end of 2018 took me by the shoulders and tried to tell me that I’m something that I’m not. Remembering Marina’s perseverance, and the perseverance of all women in 2018, gave me the strength to finish the year. So, here’s to 2018; a year that against all opposition, elevated women all over the world. To toast, my “Best of 2018” features not just the most well received cinema, but the films that resonated with me personally and were magnifying glasses for the strength of women. Because now that I look back, 2018 truly was a fantastic year.
10) Alex Garland’s Annihilation
The contenders for this tenth spot ranged from First Reformed to Eighth Grade to Leave No Trace... only to be beat out by the cinematic wonderscape that is Annihilation. I’ll get this out of the way at the very beginning and say that I found the framing (an interview recalling the events of the film) to land stale and flat, but that framework aside, Annihilation is one of the most visually arresting films of the year. What ultimately won Annihilation this coveted spot on my list was how long it stuck with me, and how my interpretation of that final act kept evolving. You take the fact that it’s about five women investigating a mystery that countless men haven’t been able to crack yet... and you check off that box. You take the extra layer of allowing the mystery of the film (the “Shimmer”) to call for different interpretations by both the characters and the audience, and you check off another box. Finally, you acknowledge that you’re watching a film where all the characters are flawed in some way, yet they’re all heroines... damn box, check yourself! As to not reveal any more of its complex plot, I’ll end with this: just like the previous year’s mother!, this film challenged me, and I was here for it.
9) Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite
It is a testament to the caliber of film in 2018 that Lanthimos’ pitch perfect period piece didn’t even clear my top five. Watching The Favourite is an absolute delight. I’d say its strongest suit is its cinematography, but then there’s the costume design. Okay, I’d now say the costume design is its strongest suit, but then there’s the directing. Okay, okay, so directing for sure... but the acting! Do you see where I’m going here? As a whole, it’s perfection. Olivia Colman portrays England’s Queen Anne with a traumatic humor that can’t be ignored. And watching her subjects and advisors (Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and Nicholas Hoult) scheme to climb up the social ladder of power ain’t half bad either. Not to say that the writing for this film (written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara) is unappealing in any way, shape, or form, but I do believe that the absence of Lanthimos’ absurd speaking cadence is the only thing holding it back from achieving “top five” glory this year. Also, I suppose 2018 was a year where personally relatable content was key. And while I can understand the depressing themes of women in-fighting to rise to the top, it’s probably a good thing that lye-burns, rabbit-children, and queen-bedding wasn’t the most relatable content this year.
8) Wes Anderson’s I Love Dogs (I mean, Isle of Dogs)
I really don’t want to say “I’d be remiss to not dote on a Wes Anderson picture,” but I really would be remiss! I did truly enjoy it though, and not just for the fact that I’m an Andersonphile. I made a joke that between the first and second viewings of Isle of Dogs that my husband and I went out and adopted a dog, but that actually is a true story. We had been ruminating on dog adoption for awhile, but the “Man’s Best Friend” charm in Isle of Dogs gave us the extra push we needed. At its core, Isle of Dogs is about acceptance of differences and fighting for change, and those are universal lessons. And despite it being a story that could have been ultimately told within any cultural context, choosing Japan as its backdrop elevated its storytelling and elegance ten-fold. We have a fraught history with Japan, and we’re sadly reliving elements of that history within the current state of our country. Never before has an Anderson film felt like a protest nor has one ever felt more necessary. I stand with you, Anderson: Vote Watanabe, Long Live Atari, Pro-Dog.
7) Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen
The longer I thought about Skate Kitchen, the more I was moved by it, causing it to beat out the likes of directors I’ve followed for years. If this skateboarding film flew under your radar this year, let me tell you a little bit about the all-female skate collective, Skate Kitchen, that inspired this film. Moselle met members of this skate crew while riding the NYC subway back in 2016, then cast them in a short film of hers that ended up evolving into 2018’s Skate Kitchen. You can follow these very real, very badass skate ladies on their real Instagram page @theskatekitchen, and man, they shred. The film falls into an extremely satisfying groove, seamlessly blending documentary with narrative.
Camille (a commanding Rachelle Vinberg, who is also the co-founder of Skate Kitchen) is a Long Island teenager recovering from a vaginal skateboarding accident (no shying away from women themes here) that compels her single mother to forbid any more skateboarding. But when Camille sees an invitation for an all-girl skate session in NYC on the Skate Kitchen Instagram page, she simply can’t pass up the opportunity to meet like-minded peers. And for a good majority of the film, you feel like you’re just hanging out with the coolest group of friends. Skate Kitchen explores what it’s like to be in your youth and a part of a subculture when you’re not the “correct” gender, and how that affects your female friendships. I really hate the phrases “girl gang” and “find your tribe,” but Skate Kitchen manages to skate around those phrases and strip life down to the trucks and bearings: skate or die. Granted, I know Skate Kitchen wasn’t the only film of 2018 to show the emotional journey of skateboarding. There’s a glaring blindspot in my 2018 filmography in that I didn’t manage to see Jonah Hill’s Mid90s, but I’m sooooo thankful for Moselle and the women of Skate Kitchen for representing the way they do. Skateboarding for everyone!
6) Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born
I figured I was going to like A Star is Born before ever walking into the theater, which made me raise my critical guards a little higher than normal. But the momentum of Cooper’s directorial debut bowled them right on over. Similar to Skate Kitchen’s knack for blending fictional narrative with documentary, A Star is Born managed to make me feel like I was watching a behind the scenes tour DVD for Jackson Maine, and I caught myself wondering why I hadn’t bought tickets to see that tour myself. Cooper’s metaphorical treatment of music and fame as a substance to be abused is exquisite. Truthfully, I was drawn to the film because I know what a powerhouse Lady Gaga can be, and while she did not disappoint, it was Cooper’s Jackson Maine that had me enthralled. I had thought I had seen characters fall in love before in film, but the way Cooper’s Jack looks at Gaga’s Ally while she’s singing “La Vie En Rose” at the drag bar is out-of-this-world love. I’ve never seen anyone fall in love like that in a film before, like she was the only girl in the room. (Well, she literally was the only girl in the room... damnit, this movie’s smart.) Couple that intelligence with a killer soundtrack and you’ve got a hit on your hands. Jack is known for saying that music is a story told over and over using the same twelve notes and all any artist can offer is how they see those notes, and I think the same can be said for core plot elements in film. Cooper, I love how you see them.
5) “Come Along With Me” Adventure Time’s Series Finale
Coming in at an algebraic 44 minutes, Adventure Time’s series finale lands right in that sweet spot where it could be considered a short film. Considering I binged most of the series this past year after falling off the Adventure Time wagon back in 2013, the entire series actually felt like one, long, satisfying film, but “Come Along With Me” was definitely the icing on the Candy Kingdom cake. (But since this is primarily a list praising film in 2018, I wanted to find a suitable place to show my gratitude to this beautiful work of art by including it in at least my “top five”).
I have the utmost admiration for the writers who gave our adventurers, Finn and Jake (and Princess Bubblegum, and Simon, and Marceline, and the dozens of other key characters) their final send off. And how did they do it? By not dwelling or worrying about any specific ending. The entire episode takes place in the future, framed by BMO telling the story of “The Great Gum War” and the immediate aftermath to two new heroes, Beth and Shermy. When pressed for more information about our heroes after the events of the war, BMO imparts that they just “lived their lives.” I’m happy to not know how these characters’ stories ended, because it magically grants them immortality. Towards the end of the episode, Finn and Jake are reminiscing about the power of music with their friend, the Music Hole, when the sentient hole says she has a song she wants to share with them. She says it’s about “a really specific feeling that’s hard to describe.” You know she’s going to sing the theme song we’ve been listening to for years: “Come Along with Me.” What you don’t know is how hard it’s gonna hit you. And then you see a montage of our heroes, all of our heroes, just “living their lives” and I promise I’m not crying while I’m typing this. (But that would be a lie.) If Adventure Time has ever been something that’s “been on your to-do list,” do yourself a favor and pick it up. You are in for the sweetest of treats.
4) Tim Wardle’s Three Identical Strangers
The fastest rollercoaster of the year, Three Identical Strangers, takes you there, and there is a real place because it’s a documentary, and it’s not really there, it’s here, sharing a home state with Story Screen, right here in New York. When one man was confused for another at Sullivan County Community College in 1980, the press hungrily jumped at the chance to cover the story of the estranged twins, Bobby Shafran and Eddy Galland. And then truth got even stranger when a third man, David Kellman, saw that press and realized he was the third brother, making them a set of triplets separated by birth. I won’t get into specifics here, because this documentary is truly a must-see, but that brief synopsis is just the clink-clink-clink of the rollercoaster pulling you up that first hill. The film covers their initial reunion and the media mania that ensued by showcasing televised interviews, all manners of guest spots, home videos, and newspaper clippings. You see these same clips again and again throughout the course of the film, but it’s not meant to be repetitive. Wardle expertly layers each identical clip with different subtexts, unloading more and more information about the nature of their reunion and why they were separated in the first place.
The Jewish adoption agency, Louise Wise Services, kept the true nature of their adoption secret for years until... well, you’ll just have to watch for yourself. Thanks to this documentary, people who have wondered about their past their entire lives are just now getting the answers they seek. Even Andy Samberg has recently stated that his own mother had been trying to track her lineage for years but kept hitting roadblocks because she too had been adopted through Louise Wise. My husband is adopted, and I sometimes wonder what it would have been like if he hadn’t reconnected with his biological brothers when he was in middle school. My cousin (and her cousin) both have sets of twins, and I’ve been friends with multiple members of multiples of all varieties (twins, triplets, even quadruplets). I watched this film with a good friend of mine who happens to have a twin and she couldn’t imagine not knowing him, or not reconnecting with her biological brother when she was in middle school… uhhhhhh, I think I’m starting to repeat myself. Basically, what I’m trying to say is, that if you need proof that fact is, indeed, stranger than fiction, look no further than this brilliant documentary.
3) Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma
This was the last film I watched before I cultivated this list, and I’m so thankful to have managed the viewing when I did. I mean, there have been nothing but glowing reviews for Roma, and Cuaron is a masterful filmmaker, but that didn’t mean I expected the film to resonate with me the way that it did. I went into the film fairly blind, only knowing that Cuaron has been thanking Mexico and women for making this film what it is. I had no idea that I would find such a tender tale of motherhood in the face of adversity, mirrored against fathers who never wanted to father in the first place. Clearly the struggles of the respective abandoned mothers hold the viewer’s attention, but it doesn’t necessarily make the flipside of fatherhood any less tragic. As the oldest of four who was raised by a single mother, this juxtaposition was not lost on me.
Life is an evolving drama where humans are constantly faced with the “decision of the moment,” and that moment is always now, and rarely are you ever prepared. In a scene fairly close to the climax, our heroine Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio, who I will now watch in literally anything) attempts a visit to the father of her child, Fermin, in order to discuss the impending birth of their child. She tracks him down while he is training with a group of militant martial artists. At the time of her arrival, this troupe is receiving a surprise tutorial by the revered Professor Zovek. He asks one of the trainees to come blindfold him before he raises both arms over his head, brings his hands together in prayer-like fashion, and slowly raises his left leg, bringing his left foot into the crook of his groin. Imagine the yoga position known as tree pose, but with arms forming a circle. His trainees laugh at him, expecting his feat to be an easy one. He then encourages them to attempt the same pose with their eyes closed, and see how they fare. All of the characters within the shot begin to attempt the pose, both trainees and female/children onlookers alike. None can complete the pose, except for Cleo, who even through closed eyes has allowed her perception to remain open. The rest flounder, at which Zovek scoffs.
That’s what Roma posits life is. It’s a comical farce in which humans blindly struggle against forces they can’t control until their eyes are opened by tragedy and adversity. That adversity, however, strengthens them, and through perseverance, honesty, and community, the characters in Roma, specifically the women, flourish. I merely detailed a single scene, but every single thing about the film is exquisite. If this were a list about number one houses in which I wanted to live, the family home from Roma would take top honors. And if I’d have to hazard a guess, this was probably the most culturally and historically compelling film of the year for me as well. With it being a Netflix released film, I really had no excuse to not watch it, and neither do you if you haven’t already watched it five times. Don’t let the black and white film fool you: it completely lives up to the positively glowing reviews.
2) Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds
Do you remember that time when you were in early high school, and it’s not really cool to sit around and talk about your crushes anymore... instead you’re starting to maybe sneak around your parent’s rules, and maybe you hang out at a friend’s house while their parents aren’t home.... and you’re starting to maybe experiment with things you shouldn’t, but you feel like you’re maybe just starting to figure this teenager thing out... and you’re finally starting to watch those generation-defining movies like Fight Club and Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction and you start to feel like, forget the teenager thing, maybe you’re, like, a young adult now?
No, neither do I.
But in all reality, of course I remember that feeling, and watching Finley’s Thoroughbreds sent me reeling right on back into that heavily incensed room of nostalgia. Early teen-aged Bernadette would have adored this film, and frankly, current Bernadette does too. Thoroughbreds is the story of two childhood best friends, upscale Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) and problematic Amanda (Olivia Cooke) who reconnect as high-schoolers after years of being estranged. Amanda has been under heavy surveillance ever since she euthanized her childhood horse, Honeymooner. This violent act prompts her mother to reconnect the two friends, with the hopes that Lily’s good influence will set Amanda back on the right track. But due to Amanda’s sociopathic tendencies and Lily’s deteriorating home life, both ladies start to buck against societal norms and hatch a plan, instead, to kill Lily’s abusive step-father, the dreaded Mark.
Thoroughbreds explores a multitude of themes including, but not limited to: society, loyalty, friendship, education, and rebellion, specifically when viewed through the lens of a young woman’s upbringing in our current times. It is one part thriller, one part psychological horror, one part dark comedy, but all parts noir. Film noirs are few and far between these days, while most of them are sold in a box labeled “science fiction” or “fantasy,” so to come across a fairly pure, fairly dark noir is a real treat. Lily lives in a pristine, museum-like estate mansion, which symbolically informs the overall plot. Most of the film takes place in this mausoleum, and as the film progresses, you slowly start to hear the heartbeat of the house (Mark’s incessant rowing machine) and you know that you’re creeping slowly towards a death, but you just don’t know how or when. The tension Thoroughbreds builds is absolutely delicious. And without a character that has a moral compass that points north, their insanity becomes your insanity. But in spite of all that, this film also happens to be surprisingly relatable and wickedly funny, with our teenage protagonists trying to sound all deep and tortured and shit. (Remember, that’s a part of that whole teenage self-discovery thing).
Thoroughbreds is totally worth it, not only for the fun, murdery ride, but because you better believe this has one of the best final lines of dialogue in film that I’ve ever heard. It doesn’t just kiss you goodbye; it ties you to the horse and gives it a swift kick to the rear.
1) Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You
I knew Sorry to Bother You was gonna get weird, but I didn’t know it was gonna start weird. From the opening scene where Lakeith Stanfield’s Cassius Green is interviewing for a telemarketing job at RegalView, toting both an Employee of the Month plaque with his photo on it and an absurdly oversized “Moot Court” trophy, all in front of a member of middle management that is sitting behind a computer screen that’s turned off with a post-it note reading “I.T. PLEASE FIX”... yeah, I think that’s when I knew this might be my favorite film of the year. Sometimes you just know when you know, you know?
Imagine that level of detail for nearly two hours and you get the runaway absurdity of Sorry to Bother You. Now, I know I’ve said it a few times throughout this list, but this one I really shouldn’t talk about. The fact that I waited to watch this movie on Hulu and still knew next-to-nothing about the plot is truly the miracle of 2018. But what I do want to talk about is how important this film is. There’s a scene where Cassius’ on-again-off-again girlfriend and focused activist, Detroit (Tessa Thompson, great as always), is putting on an art show, and part of the exhibit is her standing on a stage, reciting lines from 1985’s The Last Dragon. And during this performance she begs the audience, if it so moves them, to throw cell phones, bullet casings, and balloons filled with sheep’s blood at her while she recites her lines. As cell phone after balloon after cell phone is thrown her way, Cassius becomes more and more uncomfortable and stops the show, asking her why she would subject herself to this. And Detroit replies, “ It’s a part of the show, Cassius. You of all people should understand, right? Stick to the script.”
Whew. Watching Sorry to Bother You is uncomfortable, as it absolutely should be. It’s in the title that the film itself is sorry to bother us with its images of people being beaten, exploited, and misrepresented. We as a culture, no, I’ll speak for just myself here, I get in the habit of recognizing the problems in the world, getting fired up and eager to enact change, and then I lose that fervor and interest only to become complacent. (I am Cassius: he’s the vessel into the world of the film for a reason. At first, you’re assured because Cassius is incredibly likeable, but later you’re confronted with the overwhelming question: am I on the wrong side of the fight?). What we watch on the news, read on our phones, and hear on the radio is soooo oversaturated that I find myself mentally retreating sometimes and tuning the world out. And how do I do that? By escaping into television, escaping into my phone, escaping into music.
For a list detailing my favorite escapes of the year, I’m so glad that Boots Riley saw us worthy to have Sorry to Bother You. I’m not disparaging the importance of film, the importance of music, or the importance of escaping. Riley knows that if we’re going to be escaping anyway, why not bother us with some cold, hard truth. I mean, the man wore a fucking bathrobe to the Critics Choice Awards this year. The man is a legend and a genius. Plenty of the films this year have either spoken to me on a personal level, reminded me of a happy yesteryear, or closed some chapter of my life. But Sorry to Bother You woke me up. It bothered me, but in the best way. Let it bother you too.
Bernadette graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Film Studies degree she’s not currently using. She constantly consumes television, film, and all things pop culture and will never be full. She doesn’t tweet much, but give her a follow @BeaGorman and see if that changes.