Big Screen Berkeley: Favorite films of 2018

Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old

Every year, I miss most of the films tipped for Oscar glory. That’s not intentional — the vast majority are released so late in the year that it’s not possible for me to see them before the calendar turns from December to January.

That doesn’t mean I can’t play catch-up, of course, and in 2018 I did just that with many of 2017’s prizewinners, including Phantom Thread, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. And guess what? They wouldn’t have figured on my 2017 favorites list even if I’d seen them in time.

Of course, there are also films I see after the fact that would have earned a space on my list had I seen them sooner. For 2017, the likeliest candidate turned out to be Michael Haneke’s Happy End – which, naturally, didn’t earn any Academy Award nominations at all, though Jean-Louis Trintignant’s remarkable performance as a wheelchair-bound octogenarian slipping into dementia, and the director’s bold screenplay, both richly deserved recognition.

This is a roundabout way of reminding you that no list and no awards ceremony has a monopoly on good film: cast your net wide enough, and you’ll find something everyone else overlooked. Keep your eyes and mind open.


Here’s my list of the films that most impressed me in 2018.

The Captain. Though based on fact,  a rich vein of the surreal runs through this black-and-white feature set during the final days of the Third Reich. Admirers of Fassbinder and Pasolini will find much to appreciate in what was, for me, clearly the best film of the year.

Good Manners. I didn’t see this Brazilian film until after its extremely limited US theatrical release ended, and I only watched it because it was marketed as a werewolf movie – and I’d never seen a Brazilian werewolf movie. I was shocked to discover that while Good Manners was indeed a werewolf movie, it was a great deal more besides. Beautiful, moving, and ultimately heartbreaking, it’s a film that shouldn’t be left in the horror movie ghetto.

Lily Franky and Jyo Kairi in Shoplifters

Shoplifters. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest examination of Japanese family life is one of his best and (here I go again) the all but certain winner of next year’s Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.

El Angel. Baby-faced newcomer Lorenzo Ferro delivers a top performance that proves, once and for all, that you really mustn’t judge a book by its cover.

Beast. This one’s actually a beauty of a character study cunningly disguised as a thriller.

Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal in Blindspotting

Blindspotting. As much as I appreciated Boots Riley’s ambitious Sorry to Bother You, Blindspotting ultimately wins out as ‘best Oakland feature of the year’. Avoiding Riley’s scattershot approach – his film really needed tightening up and re-editing – screenwriters Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs delivered a well-constructed and believable narrative about contemporary life in The Town.


They Shall Not Grow Old (pictured, top) Peter Jackson is known for his fantasy films, but his restoration and colorization of World War I footage from the archives of London’s Imperial War Museum suggests a permanent move into documentary filmmaking may be in order.  You have one more opportunity this year to see this remarkable technical achievement on the big screen.

Dread horrors await in Ghost Stories

Ghost Stories. They don’t make horror anthologies like they used to – or at least, they didn’t until this outstanding example of that near-extinct genre showed up. Genuinely eerie and largely gore-free, for those averse to the red stuff.

In the Fade. This satisfying German thriller deserved a much better fate than being released into the cinematic dumping ground otherwise known as ‘January’.

1945. A stinging rejoinder to the attitudes and policies of Hungary’s current neo-fascist government, beautifully shot in good ol’ black and white.

A distinctive shot from Ava

Ava. Feminist cinema exists in Iran, and here’s the proof.

Suleiman Mountain. Kyrgyzstan is rarely represented on the big screen; consequently, this wry and intriguing look at life in the Central Asian republic is rather special.


Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood. Scotty was the man who arranged gay hookups in Tinsel Town during the decades when such things were strictly verboten, and this documentary tells his incredible and occasionally quite explicit tale.

Zama and Vazante (tie). Two superb features set in 19th-century South America that will satisfy fans of Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Black Robe.

Lizzie. It didn’t get the best reviews elsewhere, but this retelling of the Lizzie Borden saga is anchored by a superb Chloë Sevigny performance.