This is it. We are finally here where it all matters. This is where I highlight the best technical achievements and performances of the year. This is where I get a chance to recognize all of my favorite films that I saw this past year. As always, I also have a lifetime achievement film award at the end of the post, so don’t forget about that one. For the full list of nominees, go here.
- They Shall Not Grow Old, dir. Peter Jackson — Warner Bros. Pictures.
I didn’t find the time to review this documentary, as I only just saw it a few days ago, but here is a documentary that I think deserves not just this award but special recognition. This isn’t just a film or a piece of art, Peter Jackson and his team have made a historic achievement — a tribute to a generation of excited Brits fighting side by side in the European trenches. The technical improvements to the original footage are astounding. This is a documentary that should be shown to history and film students everywhere.
Best Achievement by a Rising Star: Filmmaking
- Ari Aster — Hereditary.
Hereditary is the best horror film of 2018 and one of the most confident pure-horror film debuts that I’ve seen. With this film, Aster becomes a household name to horror aficionados. His film has been compared to all of the greats — and for good reason — it is one for the ages.
Best Performance by a Rising Star: Acting
- Cynthia Erivo — Bad Times at the El Royale.
From my review of Bad Times at the El Royale:
“The most spellbinding aspect of this film is the beating heart of the picture, Darlene Sweet played by Cynthia Erivo, who literally stops characters in their tracks with her glorious soulful voice. […] Erivo even has one of the most powerful lines of dialogue I’ve seen delivered in a film this year, with which she stuns Chris Hemsworth who is trying to control a critical situation in the third act.”
- Burning — Dancing in the Blue-Orange Night.
Spellbinding, haunting, mesmerizing are all words that describe this wonderful poster for one of the best films of the year. It’s the only poster this year that has made me consider changing my phone background, and, I guess, that’s saying something, isn’t it?
Best Movie Trailer
- A Star is Born — Official Trailer #1.
I didn’t love the film as much as its biggest fans, but this trailer was a short work of art in itself. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve seen it. It’s nice to revisit the trailer even now. This trailer was the obsession of the film community for a hot minute, and I totally get it. It is powerful and moving in all the right ways.
Unforgettable Movie Quote of the Year
- “Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, ‘cause they knew death was better than bondage.” — Black Panther
Jordan’s Killmonger was the first Marvel villain who moved me to tears thanks to a stellar performance and a spectacular script. This line is, to me, the most memorable thing about the film. They actually said that in a Disney film.
Unforgettable Scene or Sequence of the Year
- The Snap — Avengers: Infinity War
I don’t think any film moment from 2018 will become more iconic than the snap. It really was Marvel’s The Empire Strikes Back. I don’t know how else to describe the moment than iconic. I will never forget seeing the reaction of the crowded IMAX theater on my third viewing of the film. People were stunned to silence — mouth agape — and they didn’t know what to do. Iconic.
Best Achievement in Cinematography
- Lukasz Zal — Cold War.
Roma deservedly received a lot of credit for its gorgeous black-and-white images, but, unfortunately, while Cold War did receive a lot of nominations for its cinematography, it has stood in the shadow of the other foreign black-and-white film. That’s a shame because Cold War‘s black-and-white images are much richer and much more memorable in my opinion.
Best Achievement in Costume Design
- Sandy Powell — The Favourite.
In the end, this came down to The Favourite and Black Panther. Both films have memorable costumes but for very different reasons. Carter’s work on Black Panther is remarkable, but, when it comes down to it, Sandy Powell’s work in The Favourite takes the win, for me.
Best Film Score
- Justin Hurwitz — First Man.
From my review of First Man:
“There are compositions on the score that ratcheted the tension up after a waltz-like theme had lulled you into a false sense of security during space exploration. He handles the moon landing with a majestic and triumphant theme that is sure to stick in the minds of audiences as they leave the theater, but he also, time and time again, returns to a ghostlike or otherworldly theremin sound that is spellbinding. Composer Justin Hurwitz’s score for First Man is a stunning masterwork that has me obsessed.”
Best Achievement in Visual Effects
- First Man — Universal Pictures.
I could have given this award to the film that showcases the most and most obvious cases of visual effects use, which would obviously be Avengers: Infinity War. But, in the end, I went with First Man because of how effective its understated use of effects is. For more, see Bill Desowitz’ article for IndieWire (‘Beyond Christopher Nolan: ‘First Man’ Redefines In-Camera VFX’).
Best Visual Effects or Voice-Over Performance by an Actor
- Josh Brolin — Avengers: Infinity War.
A part of me — a small part of me, but, still, a part of me — really wanted to just nominate Brolin for Best Supporting Actor, but, no, I can’t bring myself to do that. Brolin is terrific as Marvel’s second-best villain and most formidable foe, though, and he brought a humanity to the Mad Titan. He definitely deserves some kind of recognition, so I’m glad I have this award.
Best Supporting Performance by an Actor
- Steven Yeun — Burning.
From my review of Burning:
“I am charmed but frightened by Steven Yeun’s Ben. Yeun, who many western audiences know best from his time on AMC’s hit The Walking Dead, graduates into stardom with a charismatic and enthralling performance that had me hang onto every word he spoke.”
Best Supporting Performance by an Actress
- Emma Stone — The Favourite.
From my review of The Favourite:
“I am equally impressed by Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, the latter of whom may have rivaled or topped her best performances. […] Stone overcomes challenging accent-work with ease. Though I’m sure those with the best ears for English accents will find fault here or there, her accent is never distracting or jarring. Stone also seems to have so much fun with her character, who takes every chance she sees to rise through the ranks and become the lady she thinks she was born to be. Stone becomes deliciously manipulative but starts as a seemingly caring character who has potential for, as she says and realizes later on, ‘much unpleasantness.’”
Best Performance by an Actor
- Ethan Hawke — First Reformed.
From my review of First Reformed:
“Hawke looks and feels broken from the first moment he appears on screen, and he only feels whole once or twice in the picture. There are scenes of hurried exasperation, as well as moments that are clearly deeply challenging for the Reverend, who you feel for and pity more often than not. In what will likely be remembered as one of Hawke’s greatest performances on screen, he conjures up deep emotion even in the plainest settings before Schrader once or twice opens the floodgates for wild hallucinatory moments of love.”
Best Performance by an Actress
- Olivia Colman — The Favourite.
From my review of The Favourite:
“This could’ve been a fairly unpleasant one-note character to follow, but the always-brilliant Olivia Colman makes her not just sympathetic but a deeply tragic figure that you care for. She gets to play many different sides of the character — bad-tempered, silly and unknowing, pained by her past and her gout, delighted by being at the center of a battle to be her favorite, but also as a loving and caring character worn out by her tough life as a mother of seventeen lost children. Also, Colman has always been an underappreciated comedienne, but she made me belly-laugh with her character’s exaggerated embarrassed temper-tantrums. I’m not sure anyone else could’ve played Queen Anne quite as brilliantly as Colman.”
Best Performance by a Cast in a Film
- The Favourite
From my review of The Favourite:
“This is a perfect ensemble cast film.”
You see, while Colman, Weisz, and Stone all get the praise they deserve, someone like Nicholas Hoult has not. Hoult and even Joe Alwyn are delightfully entertaining in this film. Every piece is important in The Favourite.
Best Achievement in Writing a Film — Adapted
- Oh Jung-mi & Lee Chang-dong — Burning.
Oh, Burning. This was a movie that knocked my socks off, and the Murakami short story on which it is based is a doozy as well. It is an adaptation that works incredibly well, and, in giving life to Murakami’s story, Oh Jung-mi and Lee Chang-dong also bring in political and social themes that are essential to the understanding of their take on the narrative.
Best Achievement in Writing a Film — Original
- Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara — The Favourite.
From my review of The Favourite:
“Initially, it seemed like Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite was a step outside the director’s comfort zone, but the actual film reveals another truth entirely — he fits right in. This might be his best work yet thanks in some part to a terrific screenplay that juggles multiple story angles and tones while still holding its riveting narrative core — a power struggle disguised as a love triangle.”
- Alfonso Cuarón — Roma.
From my review of Roma:
“Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is a patient but deeply moving and human story in the context of something much larger and more historic. It is a subtle technical achievement hiding in the thoughtful and, at times, heartbreaking portrait of a loving housemaid. Alfonso Cuarón has turned a deeply personal story into a true transportive and moving masterpiece, and it is nothing like most films Netflix acquires.”
Best Sequel, Prequel, or Remake
- Mission: Impossible – Fallout — Paramount Pictures.
From my review of Mission: Impossible – Fallout:
“Tom Cruise — Hollywood’s favorite daredevil action star — and director Christopher McQuarrie, a frequent collaborator of the film series’ leading man, have done it again with this non-stop, breathtaking thrill-ride. Although no single set-piece manages to top the iconic Burj Khalifa sequence from Ghost Protocol, McQuarrie has confidently put together an outstanding single-minded action-thriller, which successfully brings together the best elements of the previous films. With this near-masterpiece, Ethan Hunt has stepped out of James Bond’s shadow.”
Best Animated Film
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — Sony Pictures Animation.
From my review of Into the Spider-Verse:
“This is a special film within which you can find tons of things to love. Sony Pictures Animation’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the most stylish superhero film of the year, but it is also a film that carries a worthwhile message about the importance of the everyman that gets right to the heart of the web-slinger we all love. In the undying words of Roger Ebert: “Now this is what a superhero movie should be.” “
Best Non-American Film
- Burning — South Korea.
From my review of Burning:
“Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is a meditation on class struggle and youthful frustration and loneliness in the form of a mystery film. I think that even those put-off by the runtime will find enough in the final act to chew-on to have a worthwhile experience, but those who dig-in to what Lee Chang-dong’s film gives you will be rewarded with a thoughtful, layered but unsubtle, and undeniable slow-burn South Korean masterpiece.”
- You Were Never Really Here — Amazon Studios.
No review that I wrote in 2018 gave me as much joy as my review of Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here. This last year I became fascinated by Ramsay’s filmography, in large part, due to my experience of watching this film in an empty theater. This is a 21st Century Taxi Driver with off-screen violence throughout it and past trauma at the heart of it.
Film Legend Award
- John Williams — Composer, Conductor.
More than any other musician, John Williams has created the soundtrack to your childhood and your life. We all love him for Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and almost all of his non-franchise themes. A five-time Oscar and seven-time BAFTA winner, Williams has received more praise than most highly regarded composers, but no other composer means as much to us as John Williams. He has reinvented his themes time and time again with Star Wars, and none of his themes ever grow old. John Williams is a film legend, of this there can be no doubt.
And that’s it for the 2018 awards. See you next year!
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.