The 40 best films of 2018

By consensus of 164 international critics and curators – the best movie of the year is in black and white and went (almost) straight to a certain global web-streaming service.

See our top 40 films of 2018 below, plus:

☞ the complete poll database with all our votes and comments

our bumper January/February issue for 32 pages of critical takes on the year in cinema, plus an exclusive seven-page interview with Alfonso Cuarón

Updated:

Roma (2018)

1. Roma

Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico/USA  ► Trailer

Cuáron’s magnificently crafted memoir casts us back to a 1970s childhood in the throes of family break-up, ruptures on the streets of Mexico City – and a Mixtec housekeeper, played by nonprofessional actor Yalitza Aparicio, given the weight of the drama.

38 votes

“Roma is the sort of movie that successful pop filmmakers say they’d like to use their clout to make but almost never do.”

— Nick Pinkerton, S&S January–February 2019

☞ Read our review Roma reframes Alfonso Cuáron’s boyhood through the eyes of his family’s maid

 

Phantom Thread (2017)

2. Phantom Thread

Paul Thomas Anderson, USA  ► Trailer

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as a chilly 1950s couturier resisting romantic intimacy in Paul Thomas Anderson’s slyly comic Hitchcockian drama – his most ambitious and surprising film yet.

30 votes

“The tension between Anderson’s wicked sense of humour and his immaculate craftsmanship… is potent stuff… Anderson opts for a trim efficiency of camera movement that’s so much more refined than his brash 1990s features that he could be a different filmmaker.”

— Adam Nayman, S&S February 2018

☞ Read our review Phantom Thread unravels the relationship between an artist and his muse

 

Burning (Beoning, 2018)

3. Burning

Lee Chang-dong, Korea  ► Trailer

Lee Chang-dong’s masterful and unclassifiable follow-up to Poetry teems with ambiguity, inevitability and sublime mystery.

25 votes

“The embers are banked up so gradually that it’s not until a few hours after the ending of this elusive, riveting masterpiece that you are far enough away to appreciate the scale of the conflagration.”

— Jessica Kiang, reviewing from Cannes

☞ Read our review Lee Chang-dong’s film sets a noirish love triangle alight

 

Cold War (2018)

4. Cold War

Pawel Pawlikowski, Poland/UK/France/India  ► Trailer

Pawel Pawlikowski triumphs with a romantic epic cut down to a series of evocative episodes, with luscious monochrome photography and an unimprovable cast.

21 votes

“The most gorgeous monochrome cinematography I have seen for some time.”

— Nick James, reviewing from Cannes

“The title suggests a political thrust, but this is a movie in which the political is personal: what separates Wiktor and Zula is less the Iron Curtain than an intractable cold war of the heart. Pawlikowski’s cast is unimprovable.”

— Tony Rayns, S&S September 2018

☞ Read our review Cold War dances to the music of hard times

 

First Reformed (2017)

5. First Reformed

Paul Schrader, USA  ► Trailer

Ethan Hawke stars as a small-town priest suffering a crisis of faith in the writer-director’s heartfelt, Bresson-influenced drama.

20 votes

“After a career spent making movies that strayed far from the transcendental template, he has now made one in which the influence of the great directors he studied can be felt in every frame.”

— Philip Concannon, S&S Augst 2018

☞ Read our feature Paul Schrader’s priests and transcendental style: from Dominion to First Reformed

 

Leave No Trace (2018)

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

“Debra Granik’s film has an authoritative realism which permits the tensions between father and daughter, wilderness and civilisation, to emerge organically with a minimum of narrative prodding.”

— Ryan Gilbey, 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.

16 votes

“A bold piece of storytelling, with a dream-like feel that evokes its hellish, predominantly nocturnal world very compellingly.”

— Jonathan Romney, reviewing from Cannes

“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.

15 votes

“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/Brazil/Spain/France/Mexico/The Netherlands/Monaco/Portugal/USA/Lebanon/UK/Dominican Republic  ► 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.

15 votes

“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.

14 votes

“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.

12 votes

“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.

11 votes

“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.

10 votes

“The final version is a revelation in rounding out so many richly explored characterisations, while shaping the multilayered material in a jazzy rhythm.”

— Joseph McBride, S&S November 2018

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

☞ Read The Other Side of the Wind: understanding Orson Welles’s ‘impossible’ film

 

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.

10 votes

“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.

10 votes

“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.

9 votes

“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.

8 votes

“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.

8 votes

“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.

8 votes

“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

 

BPM (120 battements par minute, 2017)

=21. 120 BPM

Robin Campillo, France  ► Trailer

Robin Campillo’s superb story of Aids activists in the 1990s is more than just a revelatory period piece – it’s a celebration of sex, dance and the invigorating value of collective resistance.

7 votes

☞ Read our review 120 BPM is an enthralling, devastating call to action

 

La Flor (2018)

=21. La Flor

Mariano Llinás, Argentina  ► Trailer

Mariano Llinás’s bold and beguiling cinematic adventure is on a truly epic scale, structured across three parts and six very different narrative episodes.

7 votes

 

Hereditary (2018)

=21. Hereditary

Ari Aster, USA  ► Trailer

Ari Aster’s unnerving and artful debut stars Toni Collette as a woman tormented by her own mother’s terrifying legacy, and uses a palette of haunted-house tropes to keep the audience guessing until the end. 

7 votes

☞ Read our review Hereditary paints a diabolical family portrait

 

High Life (2018)

=21. High Life

Claire Denis, Germany/France/USA/UK/Poland  ► Trailer

In Claire Denis’ off-planet but decidedly earthy English-language debut, Juliette Binoche plays a crazed scientist intent on harvesting the semen of Robert Pattinson’s monkish inmate on a prison-ship sent to extract the energy from black holes. 

7 votes

☞ Read our review High Life: Claire Denis floats Juliette Binoche and Robert Pattinson in mortal space

 

Isle of Dogs (2018)

=21. Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson, USA/Germany  ► Trailer

The universe of this shaggy-dog story reflects the influence of classic animators and Japanese auteurs both, but its attention to delightful detail and its sympathy for pack of furry leads are all Anderson’s own.

7 votes

☞ Read our review Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson’s absurdist canine caper

 

Madeline's Madeline (2018)

=21. Madeline’s Madeline

Josephine Decker, USA  ► Trailer

Josephine Decker pauses only to grapple with her own working methods in this thrilling, formally daring drama about an emotionally fraught teenage girl.

7 votes

☞ Read our review Madeline’s Madeline: an unusually bold teen movie that bridges trauma and art

 

Transit (2018)

=21. Transit

Christian Petzold, Germany/France  ► Trailer

The German director’s follow-up to Phoenix shadows a runaway from the Third Reich in modern-day Marseille to conflate the continent’s moral failings past and present.

7 votes

☞ Read our review Transit: Europe’s past is now in Christian Petzold’s purgatorial palimpsest

 

Ash is Purest White (Jiang hu er nv, 2018)

=28. Ash is Purest White

Jia Zhangke, China/France  ► Trailer

Jia Zhangke explores the masculine codes of his country and his own previous work in this ravishing, self-referential film about a woman in love with a mobster, with an astonishing lead performance from Zhao Tao.

6 votes

☞ Read our review Ash is Purest White: Jia Zhangke’s magisterial mob critique

 

Hale County This Morning, This Evening (2018)

=28. Hale County This Morning, This Evening

RaMell Ross, USA  ► Trailer

Writer and photographer RaMell Ross captures black Southerners about the business of living in an exquisite triumph of documentary cinema.

6 votes

☞ Read Film highlights of Sheffield Doc/Fest 2018

☞ Read Kelli Weston’s interview with RaMell Ross in our January/February 2019 issue

 

Lady Bird (2017)

=28. Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig, USA  ► Trailer

A Californian high school student desperate to escape her hometown of Sacramento to study on the East Coast finds her roots in the city are far deeper than she could have imagined, in Greta Gerwig’s fabulous bittersweet coming-of-age tale

6 votes

☞ Read our review Lady Bird: Greta Gerwig sketches scenes from an awkward adolescence

 

Loveless (Nelyubov, 2017)

=28. Loveless

Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia/France/Belgium/Germany  ► Trailer

The Russian director’s fifth feature is an enigmatic, and very rewarding, film about a missing child, a dissolving marriage and a country in crisis. At its best, it’s cinematic poetry.

6 votes

☞ Read our review Loveless: Andrey Zvyagintsev finds resonances in a Russian family falling apart

 

Ray & Liz (2018)

=28. Ray & Liz

Richard Billingham, UK  ► Trailer

Richard Billingham’s obliquely topical debut feature offers a fragmented story of life in inner-city Birmingham during the Thatcher years, as bruising memories rise to the surface.

6 votes

☞ Read our review Ray & Liz: Revealing a troubled family scrap by scrap

 

A Star Is Born (2018)

=28. A Star is Born

Bradley Cooper, USA  ► Trailer

Bradley Cooper’s accomplished debut stars Lady Gaga as an aspiring singer looking for a break, while the director plays the sozzled rocker who gives her a hand up.

6 votes

☞ Read our review A Star is Born: Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga revive a Hollywood tale for the YouTube age

 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

=28. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh, USA/UK  ► Trailer

Martin McDonagh’s small-town policing story has a greater emotional depth than his previous offerings, thanks in part to Frances McDormand’s sincere portrait of a grieving mother.

6 votes

☞ Read our review Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a bitterly poignant comedy

 

The Wild Pear Tree (2018)

=28. The Wild Pear Tree

Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey/France/Germany/Bulgaria/Macedonia/Bosnia and Herzegovina/Sweden  ► Trailer

Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s latest follows a would-be writer’s reluctant return to his small-town fold, spinning an extensive series of conversational encounters into a typically rich, wry, melancholic mood-piece.

6 votes

☞ Read our review The Wild Pear Tree: Nuri Bilge Ceylan contemplates a restive rural homecoming

 

Apostasy (2017)

=35. Apostasy

Daniel Kokotajlo, UK  ► Trailer

Mother and daughters are torn apart by religion in Daniel Kokotajlo’s assured debut, a potent drama about life in a tight-knit community of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

5 votes

☞ Read our review Apostasy presents a family’s painful crisis of faith

 

Climax (2018)

=35. Climax

Gaspar Noé, France  ► Trailer

Noé’s breathtaking one-room dance film corrals a troupe of unfortunate wrap-night celebrants then spikes their punch; degeneracy ensues.

5 votes

☞ Read our review Climax: Gaspar Noé’s dance demonic

 

Killing Eve (2018–)

=35. Killing Eve

Various, USA/UK/Italy  ► Trailer

Phoebe Waller-Bridge globetrotting, witty and subversive thriller for BBC Three stars Jodie Comer as a deadly assassin, and Sandra Oh as the spy on her trail.

5 votes

 

Let the Sunshine In (2017)

=35. Let the Sunshine In

Claire Denis, France  ► Trailer

In Claire Denis’s low-key rondo, archetypal romantic situations elicit subtle yet surprising transformations in the character of Binoche’s newly divorced painter as she returns to the romantic fray.

5 votes

☞ Read our review Let the Sunshine In: Juliette Binoche rings love’s changes

 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)

=35. The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Desiree Akhavan, USA  ► Trailer

Chloë Grace Moretz plays an introverted teenager at a naff but merciless gay conversion therapy camp in Desiree Akhavan’s study of psychological cruelty.

5 votes

☞ Read our review The Miseducation of Cameron Post teaches tough life lessons

 

Widows (2018)

=35. Widows

Steve McQueen, USA/UK  ► Trailer

Viola Davis leads a gang of novice female crooks in Steve McQueen’s slick and intelligent blockbuster, which has plenty to say for itself over the gunfire.

5 votes

☞ Read our review Widows takes the heist thriller for a spectacular ride

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