2018 has picked up where 2017 left off when it comes to cinema, with a number of high-profile releases staking a claim to be the best film of the year.
We’ve seen Avengers: Infinity War gross more than $2bn and Incredibles 2 break records for an animated film, while Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and Steve McQueen’s Widows have both impressed.
However, none of these are among the 24 best films, at least not according to critics.
The movies listed below are the highest scorers on Metacritic at the time of writing, and chances are there are at least a couple you haven’t seen.
By the end of the countdown, you’ll have probably found something to watch over the Christmas break.
24. Happy as Lazzaro (Metacritic score – 85)
Also known as Lazzaro Felice, this Italian film follows a meeting between a peasant and a nobleman in a remote village. Directed by rising star Alice Rohrwacher, it was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
Critics said: “The movie lulls you into its unpredictable rhythms, and a striking poetry creeps into the material, finally overtaking it” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire
23: Mission Impossible: Fallout (86)
Tom Cruise might not be playing Jack Reacher any more, but he’s still doing a bang-up job as Ethan Hunt whom might as well be the some character, right? The sixth instalment of the Mission: Impossible series may have arrived more than 20 years after the first, but it really hit home with critics.
Critics said: “McQuarrie brings grace and grit, and Cruise brings it, period.” – Jamie Graham, GamesRadar
22. If Beale Street Could Talk (86)
Barry Jenkins’ full-length follow-up to Moonlight doesn’t disappoint. The adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel could well earn the director back-to-back Best Picture Oscars… perhaps with the right name being read out this time.
Critics said: “It sounds like a tragedy. But the look and feel of the movie—with its luxurious sense of color, its slow gestures and nimbly drawn-out scenes—is so much bigger, more generous, than the hardships it depicts.” – K. Austin Collins, Vanity Fair
21. Hereditary (87)
Released to talk of it being the “scariest film of 2018”, Hereditary hit all the horror sweet spots and already has people looking forward to Ari Aster’s next film in the genre, 2019’s Midsommar.
Critics said: “The horror of Hereditary lays not just in scary images but in the creeping sense that free will is a joke, and bad luck can be as inescapable as a family curse.” – April Wolfe, Village Voice.
20. En el Séptimo Día (On the Seventh Day) (87)
Director Jim McKay tells a story we don’t often hear in mainstream films, focusing on undocumented immigrants in Brooklyn, New York. It might not have received a wide release, but the response has been almost overwhelmingly positive.
Critics said: “McKay observes the life of a Mexican immigrant through a poetic lens — compassionately documenting raw emotion and expository dialogue rather than action or full-fledged conversations.” – Kyle Kohner, The Playlist
19. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (87)
When making a biographical comedy about a biographer, it can be easy to go down the wrong path. However, Marielle Heller’s film hits the right notes, helped by Melissa McCarthy’s standout performance as the late author Lee Israel.
Critics said: “Key to McCarthy’s work here is the way she buries, but doesn’t suffocate, the brassy charisma of her straight comedic roles under Lee’s misanthropic exterior.” - Katie Rife, The A.V. Club
18. Sweet Country (87)
It’s been a big year for Westerns, with Red Dead Redemption and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs showing the best of the genre away from the big screen, but Sweet Country looks at it from a different, more Australian perspective. It’s another ticked box for Sam Neill’s renaissance after 2016’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople.
Critics said: “The story is both fresh and archetypal; the landscape both hard and delicate – and beautifully observed.” – Kate Taylor, The Globe and Mail
17. Black Panther (88)
Black Panther made a huge impact upon its February release, cementing Ryan Coogler’s position as one of the best young directors around and continuing to push Daniel Kaluuya from ‘breakout star’ to ‘brilliant at everything he turns his hand to, even in a supporting role’.
Critics said: “Not only is it a long-overdue embrace of diversity and representation, it’s a film that actually has something to say — and it’s able to do so without stepping away from the superhero dynamics that make the larger franchise work.” – Bryan Bishop, The Verge
16. Museo (88)
For all of Gael García Bernal’s fantastic work in international films, a lot of his best performances have come in Mexican productions. We can now add Museo, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ heist film, to the likes of Amores Perros and Y Tu Mamá También.
Critics said: “It’s not every director who could take Hitchcock, Looney Tunes, “Rififi,” The Doors and Bresson in his bouncy stride but Ruizpalacios pulls it off with a joyful sureness” – Jessica Klang, Variety
15. Leave No Trace (88)
Ben Foster has gone from playing Lance Armstrong in The Program to a role in Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water, and could be in for further recognition for his part in Leave No Trace. Foster plays an Iraq war veteran suffering from PTSD, while 18-year-old Thomasin McKenzie puts in a star turn as his daughter.
Critics said: “Debra Granik treats the story with a feather-light touch, while still grounding the film in an almost documentary-style reality. She doesn’t “hammer things home,” she lets things unfold.” – Sheila O’Malley, RogerEbert.com
14. A Star is Born (88)
A great deal has been written about this film, a lot of it focusing on the unlikely combination of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, and the pair team up for a version of a much-mimicked story which holds its own against earlier, critically acclaimed takes.
Critics said: “Virgin filmmakers tend to either overdo it with weird techniques or go textbook basic. But Cooper delivers his gutsy style with the confidence of a veteran, juxtaposing high-octane, quick-cut concerts with long, pale shots of the couple’s home life.” – Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post
13. Paddington 2 (88)
A children’s film in theory, yes, but the execution rightly puts is on a level footing with more ‘grown-up’ offerings. It might have come out in the UK at the end of 2017, but its 2018 US release qualifies it for this list, because who doesn’t love films about bears?
Critics said: “Director Paul King’s film is sweet, yet not saccharine. It caters to the humor of children without pandering or talking down to them, and all the while cast and crew take great care to place the narrative solidly in a keenly imagined setting that’s filled with as many stylistic flourishes as a Wes Anderson film.” – Michael Burgin, Paste Magazine
12. The Death of Stalin (88)
The Death of Stalin was Armando Iannucci’s first feature film since Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa and it was well worth the wait. Featuring some of the best talents from both sides of the Atlantic, the comedy hit all the right notes, even getting banned in Russia, which probably reveals a lot.
Critics said: “In The Death of Stalin, fear is so overwhelming, so deeply embedded in everyday life that it distorts ordinary expression, utterances, gestures and bodies. It has turned faces into masks (alternately tragic and comic), people into caricatures, death into a punch line.” – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
11. Zama (89)
Set in the 18th century, Lucrecia Martel’s period piece about colonial South America received high praise both in Argentina and overseas. Its cast includes Daniel Giménez Cacho (the narrator in Y Tu Mamá También) Lola Dueñas (Sole in Volver) and Brazilian actor Matheus Nachtergaele, famous for playing Carrot in City of God.
Critics said: “I hope Martel won’t have to wait a further nine years before she makes her next film. She’s too good a director to be sat on the sidelines for long and Zama may just be her left-field masterpiece; a picture that’s antic, sensual and strange, with a top-note of menace and a malarial air” - Xan Brooks, The Guardian
10. Eighth Grade (89)
A coming-of-age comedy drama, Eighth Grade is directed by Bo Burnham, who will make us all feel old when we discover he was born in 1990). It features a star turn from Despicable Me’s Elsie Fisher, and both Fisher and Burnham have picked up a host of awards and nominations for a film which deals sensitively with anxiety and social media like few others.
Critics said: “In many ways, Eighth Grade isn’t a coming-of-age story but a study in the tyranny of influence and social panic (Burnham reportedly suffers from anxiety himself). But it’s also a compassionate and sneakily effective portrait of its antidote.” - Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
9. Cold War (90)
Set in post-WW2 Poland, Cold War earned Pawel Pawlikowski ‘Best Director’ honours at Cannes. Pawlikowski is reunited with Joanna Kulig, who featured in his critically-acclaimed 2013 film Ida, while Kulig stars alongside Tomasz Kot, who was excellent in 2014 film Gods.
Critics said: “What could on paper sound like a melodrama is captured with minimal dialogue. Grand themes of the relationship between culture and the state, individual freedom and compromise, and how far love can be expected to overcome the world it swims through: they’re all handled elegantly and without fuss, and in a mere 88 minutes.” - Andrew Lowry, Empire
8. The Tale (90)
The Tale has been praised for its portrayal of the aftermath of sexual abuse, and features a standout lead performance from Laura Dern, who continues her career renaissance. The film is written and directed by Jennifer Fox, and is inspired by the abuse Fox herself suffered as a child.
Critics said: “The Tale’s great achievement is to depict the sexual abuse of a minor in a way that feels both unflinching and non-exploitative… The film plays like the #MeToo moment writ large, an undaunted confrontation with an all-too-common experience.” - Lara Zarum, Village Voice
7. Burning (90)
Lee Chang-dong’s film, based on a Haruki Murakami short story, is South Korea’s entry for Best Film in a Foreign Language at the upcoming Oscars, and is in with a decent shot at success. Praised for its ambition, the movie found itself in contention for the Palme d’Or and has picked up multiple awards.
Critics said: “Lee’s patience with telling his story keeps Burning enthralling. It doesn’t look or feel anything like the South Korean revenge thrillers before it, moving gracefully at a quiet pace” - Jenny Nulf, Austin Chronicle.
6. The Favourite (90)
Olivia Colman has found herself in a number of perfectly-chosen roles of late, and The Favourite is no exception. The period piece from The Lobster director Yorgos Lanthimos, which also stars Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, sees Colman as Queen Anne in a film set during war between England and France. However, it focuses just as much on the interpersonal relationships between the queen and her advisers.
Critics said: “If you’re into treachery, manipulative erotic escapades, and flamboyant early-18th-century fit-and-flare shooting outfits for ladies (courtesy of costume goddess Sandy Powell), The Favourite is the movie for you.” - Stephanie Zacharek, Time
5. Gavagai (91)
The overarching premise of Rob Tregenza’s film, a Norwegian man travelling to Germany to complete some impossible translation work, gives no indication of obviously making for a great film. However, sometimes the least likely are the best, and Tregenza’s direction and his cast’s performances ensure this is the case.
Critics said: “In short, Gavagai is an extraordinary and memorable film; its strong and clear emotional refinement arises from a rare force of imagination, a rare power of observation, a rare cinematic sense to fuse them, and a rare skill to realize them together.” - Richard Brody, The New Yorker
4. The Rider (92)
The Old West often makes for a fantastic cinematic landscape, despite (or sometimes because of) its changing role in American culture. The Rider, directed by Chloe Zhao, follows a former rodeo star who has to contend with shrinking responsibilities and capabilities after an injury, and showcases some stunning South Dakota sights to complement a tight-knit cast.
Critics said: “The old cowboy ethic still prevails, but its tenets seem far less applicable to modern life than they did even in The Last Picture Show several decades back, and the evidence is everywhere to be seen that there’s little in these parts to sustain a secure life or suggest anything better in the future.” - Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter.
3. A Bread Factory (93.5)
An ambitious epic spread across two feature-length films, those who have watched Patrick Wang’s A Bread Factory maintain there’s nothing else quite like it. Part one has scored 94 with reviewers, with part two lagging just behind with 93, and both Wang and his ensemble cast have been praised for their work across the four-hour running time.
Critics said: “Surveying the bustle around a small town’s performing arts center, savoring the quirks and ambitions of the artists who populate it, A Bread Factory at times suggests, in its nimble comic portraiture within a sprawling milieu, in its spirited blend of naturalism and sketch comedy, the work of Richard Linklater, Christopher Guest, Robert Altman and Edward Yang.” - Alan Scherstuhl,LA Weekly
This year’s Palme d’Or winner is a family drama from Hirozaku Kore-eda. Well, we say it’s a family drama, but it’s a whole lot more than that. It follows a family who shoplift to make ends meet, and documents their lives after they take in a young, abandoned girl, and the film itself carried great and often unlikely depth.
Critics said: “It’s tempting to call material like this sentimental, but Shoplifters’ matter-of-factness — even nihilism at times — about death and loss is bracing — and ultimately what makes it so heartbreaking.” - Emily Yoshida, Vulture
Alfonso Cuarón is back to his best in this drama, with the Gravity director putting together a semi-autobiographical film about a middle-class family and their housekeeper in 1970s Mexico City. The powerful movie was picked up by Netflix, and will land on the streaming service in mid-December after its theatrical release.
Critics said: “The filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón has said that his new feature Roma is the movie he was always meant to make, the culmination of everything he’s done before. This statement is saved from grandiosity only by being so transparently true.” - Dana Stevens,Slate