Nicole Kidman and Lucas Hedges made more good films this year than anyone. Starring in a flurry toward the end of the year (including one, “Boy Erased,” they co-starred in), they proved it doesn’t take years of preparation to make a great film. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of saying yes.
On this year’s list are examples of those with lifelong vision (Alfonso Cuaron looking back on his life with “Roma,” Bradley Cooper attempting several jobs with “A Star is Born”) and those with little more than a good idea and a studio willing to finance it.
If there’s a through-line to this year’s best films, it’s determination. These are stories about people who were determined to do, say or try something and they weren’t willing to walk away. Great performances were part of them but vision was key.
The top films of 2018:
10. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? – If you were too old to enjoy the simplicity of “Mister Rogers
Neighborhood,” this documentary pointed out just how complex Fred Rogers was and how essential he is to quelling the storm that hove
rs over all of us. Director Morgan Neville’s work wasn’t splashy. But, like its subject, it made an impact.
9. BLACK PANTHER – Arriving early in the year, this newcomer to the superhero world showed how the game should be played. The story had meaning, the characters were intense; the look was astounding. With “The Avengers” coming to an end, it’s nice to know there’s a new franchise able to give us that and much more.
8. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? – Melissa McCarthy starred in one of the worst films of the year (“The Happytime Murders”) but she also headlined this, a compelling look at an author who turned to forgery when her writing career dried up. Based in truth, the drama showed what it takes just to survive in a cutthroat world and how friendship can sometimes help you through. Richard E. Grant was equally impressive as the pal who was willing to help her out.
7. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK – Barry Jenkins chose a real winner as his follow-up to “Moonlight.” Based on James Baldwin’s novel, “Beale Street” focused on the power of love and how it can be tested. KiKi Layne was heartbreakingly good as a young woman determined to prove her fiancé innocent of rape. But Regina King was definitely Oscar worthy as her mother.
6. VICE – Dick Cheney doesn’t seem like an ideal subject for big-screen exposure. But Adam McKay, the man behind “The Big Short,” isn’t one to ignore a challenge. The result was a quirky, sprawling take on the former vice president’s life and the kinds of things he did while in office. Christian Bale captured everything we remember about Cheney while Sam Rockwell extended his reach as a dim George W. Bush. Equally as surprising: Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, the wife with ambition.
5. FIRST MAN – Damien Chazelle isn’t a director to take lightly. He won an Oscar for “La La Land,” earned a nomination for “Whiplash” and, this year, brought us a look at Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and man’s first steps on the moon. Exposing some of the tenuous decisions that went into that moment in time, Chazelle gave new appreciation for the space program and the men and women behind it. Even better? Armstrong’s wife wasn’t just another accessory. In Claire Foy’s hands, she became the rock Armstrong needed.
4. BLACKKKLANSMAN – Spike Lee may have gotten an honorary Oscar for his body of work, but that didn’t mean the director was ready to spend the rest of his life reflecting. Instead, he took the story of a black cop infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan and gave it resonance for today. Drawing detailed performances from Adam Driver, John David Washington and Ryan Eggold, he showed art can emerge from some of the darkest places in our history.
3. THE FAVOURITE – Dead queens always bring audiences (why else would “Mary, Queen of Scots” be back in theaters this year?) but none have been given the treatment Yargos Lanthimos afforded Queen Anne. Mixing eras in the process, he turned the object of her affections into an “All About Eve” story with Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. Vying to be Anne’s chosen one, their quest was complicated by the very intricate work of Olivia Colman as Anne, a wholly unlikable woman. The film wasn’t afraid to play with time, music and language.
2. A STAR IS BORN – Lady Gaga’s a star – that’s a given. But did we know she could tone it down for a realistic performance that tore at the heart? Thanks to Bradley Cooper (who has been hiding his own skills under a series of career-altering roles), we got that, some great music and a romance that works no matter who’s directing. Cooper will likely get multiple Oscar nominations for this film. His directing, writing and acting were superb. And Gaga? She’s in the hunt for Best Actress and Best Song. Talk about star is born.
1. ROMA – Taking plenty of risks – with an idea that wouldn’t fly with anyone but Netflix – director Alfonso Cuaron looked back on his childhood in Mexico and made it a tribute to the maid who kept his life ticking. As the quiet woman who only did what she thought was right, Yalitza Aparicio was unforgettable, making us see how love doesn’t need to be packaged and presented. Sometimes, it just is.
ALSO WORTH NOTING: “The Quiet Place,” “The Wife,” “Eighth Grade,” “Free Solo,” “Green Book," "Bohemian Rhapsody" and “Crazy Rich Asians.”