The best films of 2018 countdown

We’ve polled 164 international critics and curators for their best movies of the year – and we’re unveiling the results from now through to 11 December.

In our bumper holiday round-up issue you’ll find the full top 40 along with 32 pages of critical takes on the year in cinema – from American and British to Indian and East Asian cinema, documentary to animation to horror – plus an exclusive seven-page interview with the maker of our top film and much more.​

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The countdown


6. Leave No Trace

Debra Granik, USA  ► Trailer

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie gives a breakthrough turn as the loyal daughter of Ben Foster’s post-traumatised soldier, determined to live off-grid in post-frontier America, in Debra Granik’s tremendously subtle drama of diverging yearnings.

17 votes

“A story of deep emotional poignancy, with a grim political relevance.”

— Pamela Hutchinson, S&S July 2018

Read our review Leave No Trace grieves for the wild at heart


The Favourite (2018)

=7. The Favourite

Yorgos Lanthimos, UK/Ireland/USA  ► Trailer

Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone turn in a trio of delectable performances in Yorgos Lanthimos’s giddy and acerbic courtly caper.

16 votes

“Yorgos Lanthimos’s deliciously spiteful British costume drama sits in that fashionable niche once occupied by the films of Peter Greenaway. Olivia Colman is on staggering form as the capricious queen.”

— Nick James, S&S November 2018


You Were Never Really Here (2017)

=7. You Were Never Really Here

Lynne Ramsay, USA/UK/France  ► Trailer

The body count vies with the word count in Lynne Ramsay’s stunningly pared-down avenger noir, with a battered but unbowed Joaquin Phoenix storming the urban night.

“Melancholy and formally ambitious, right to the last, it’s a film that reworks the male-rescuer template as deftly as everything else it touches.”

— Kate Stables, S&S April 2018

Read our review You Were Never Really Here makes pointillist poetry from hard-boiled brutalism


Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro Felici, 2018)

=9. Happy as Lazzaro

Alice Rohrwacher, Italy/Switzerland/France/Germany  ► Trailer

Alice Rohrwacher follows The Wonders with a boldly unsentimental tale of a holy innocent, an inexplicable miracle and a tyrannous aristocrat.

“Rohrwacher’s positioning of the film’s more mystical elements within an otherwise rigorously realist aesthetic is bold and assured.”

— Geoff Andrew, reviewing from Cannes

Read our review Alice Rohrwacher practises magic neorealism


Zama (2017)

=9. Zama

Lucrecia Martel, Argentina  ► Trailer

Lucrecia Martel’s masterly adaptation of Antonio di Benedetto’s 1956 novel maroons Daniel Giménez Cacho’s preening officer of the Spanish empire in an Argentine backwater, then turns the screw.

“A beguiling cinematic journey through identity formation in Latin America, where the legacy of colonialism and its discontents runs deep.”

— Maria Delgado, S&S June 2018

Read our review Zama makes slow jest of a mouldering colonial mandarin


The Image Book (2018)

11. The Image Book

Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland/France  ► Trailer

Godard’s multifaceted essay film revels in the mobility and mutability of imagery in the 21st century, uncovering the violence of representation but always searching for hope in a cacaphonous world.

“Godard’s gnomic cultural-political pronouncements now have a Prospero edge to them, as if he knows this might be his last work. All the usual manipulation/destruction of images and apt quotations of written texts are present, but his rhythm now seems comfortably similar to a series of memes.”

— Nick James, S&S July 2018

☞ Read our review The Image Book: Jean-Luc Godard’s ruminative and radical montage


If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

12. If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins, USA  ► Trailer

Barry Jenkins’s rhapsodic adaptation of James Baldwin’s Harlem passion story, with KiKi Layne and Stephan James as the lovers sundered by a trumped-up police charge, finds reasons to swoon in the darkness.

“The melodrama amplifies the politics and the politics amplifies the melodrama and this double charge does not let up.”

— Sophie Monks Kaufman, reviewing from Toronto

☞ Read our review If Beale Street Could Talk first look: Barry Jenkins consecrates James Baldwin’s race-crossed lovers


BlacKkKlansman (2018)

13. BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee, USA  ► Trailer

Spike Lee’s sweeping parable recounts the true story of a black police officer who went undercover in the KKK.

“Lee paints with tone, using different modes of humour to skewer the basic mentality of bigots, satirise the notion of white America, and savour the absurdity of the true story from which this film has been adapted.”

— Sophie Monks Kaufman, reviewing from Cannes

☞ Read our review BlacKkKlansman fails to get to the heart of racist America

☞ Read BlacKkKlansman first look: Spike Lee uncloaks America’s heart of darkness


The Other Side of the Wind (1970/2018)

=14. The Other Side of the Wind

Orson Welles, France/Iran  ► Trailer

Welles’s legendary unfinished testament film about Hollywood finally made it to the screen after 48 years, thanks to the offices of an expert team working with admirable fidelity to his vision.

“A fabulously fraught, fecund, flawed, flaying and unutterably sad satire on cinematic illusions that the studio system(s) could never fully embrace.”

— Tom Charity, from our poll

☞ Read Twilight in the Smog: Joseph McBride ’s notes from the making of The Other Side of the Wind in our November 2018 issue


Shirkers (2018)

=14. Shirkers

Sandi Tan, USA  ► Trailer

As a teenage punk, Sandi Tan dreamed of making a movie, and a charismatic older man promised to help – until he vanished with the finished reels. In this documentary, she tells the tale of her lost and found film.

“A bracingly bizarre true-life saga of indie filmmaking gone squirrelly and disastrous.”

— Michael Atkinson, S&S November 2018

☞ Read our review Shirkers is a true-life horror story for indie filmmakers


Shoplifters (Manbiki Kazoku, 2018)

=14. Shoplifters

Koreeda Hirokazu, Japan  ► Trailer

Koreeda Hirokazu won the Palme d’Or at Cannes with this nuanced and immersive drama about a makeshift family group.

“The filigree craftsmanship is worthy of admiration and analysis, yet what really makes this special is the sheer depth of compassion and knowing humanity behind every frame.”

— Trevor Johnston, S&S December 2018

☞ Read our review Shoplifters reveals Koreeda’s masterfully light touch

☞ Read our interreview  ‘Is blood enough?’ Koreeda Hirokazu on makeshift families and Shoplifters


Sorry to Bother You (2018)

17. Sorry to Bother You

Boots Riley, USA  ► Trailer

The grasping racial politics of late-stage capitalism come under fire in Boots Riley’s wildly inventive comedy, starring Lakeith Stanfield as an office worker who gets too close to the truth.

“The most unique debut of the year, an absurdist sci-fi comedy where capitalism creates equisapiens and artists answer with performance art.”

— Kaleem Aftab, S&S December 2018

☞ Read our review Sorry to Bother You is an unruly, outrageous corporate satire


Faces Places (2017)

Credit: Agnès Varda (c) Cine Tamaris

=18. Faces Places

Agnès Varda & J.R., France/USA/Switzerland  ► Trailer

Teaming up with street artist JR, legendary director Agnès Varda goes in search of friends new and old in this intuitive caper, which veers between moments of collective joy and great personal poignancy.

“Faces Places is a wonderful exercise in memory and merriment, in instinct and improvisation… No filmmaker alive today plays as delightfully as Varda does.”

— Sukhdev Sandhu, S&S October 2018

☞ Read our review Faces Places pastes Agnès Varda’s playfulness over French landscapes


The Rider (2017)

=18. The Rider

Chloe Zhao, USA  ► Trailer

Director Chloé Zhao walks a fine line between fact and fiction in this nuanced study of a young rodeo star recovering from a brain injury.

“A very nuanced portrait of the hopelessness and lack of opportunity abounding in America’s hinterlands… a remarkable achievement from both Zhao and all her actors.”

— Isabel Stevens, reviewing from Cannes

☞ Read our review The Rider: a visceral, organic western


Western (2017)

=18. Western

Valeska Grisebach, Germany/Bulgaria/Austria  ► Trailer

Valeska Grisebach’s tense drama summons the essence of a classic Hollywood genre to tell a mournful tale of fractured Europe and wounded masculinity.

“Embedded in the rituals, postures and habits of the everyday, and constituted by small gestures and transitory moments of contact.”

— Elena Gorfinkel, S&S May 2018

☞ Read our review Western faces a cold frontier


  • Coming next: films 10–6…


What are your favourites this year? What have you seen? Below the video are just some of the candidates for consideration – great films released this year in UK cinemas, or screened at international festivals and due for UK release in 2019, or even worthy candidates with no UK release in sight…

See all our online reviews

UK releases in 2018

See all our online reviews

Forthcoming UK releases

UK release date unknown

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