30. Leave No Trace

Director: Debra Granik

Leave No Trace is a masterwork from filmmaker Debra Granik. Through some kind of magic divinity, she draws quiet, tender performances from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, easing them in to the role of father and daughter and allowing that relationship to grow and bend as their situation changes. Cinematography by Michael McDonough helps realise the wilderness of America in a way we have never seen before. It’s hard to lose this one from your mind once you’ve experienced it, and given its G-rating in Australia, it’s one that is worthwhile experiencing with younger kids who can process the mature themes within it.

29. First Reformed

Director: Paul Schrader

A lot has been said about Paul Schrader’s writing, and most importantly, Ethan Hawke’s finest performance in First Reformed. It’s a towering achievement of filmmaking from both artists that lingers long in your mind afterwards. What sticks the most is the way Schrader effortlessly assesses the role of religion in an ever changing world, and the way religion is bending alongside the effects of climate change. A film that leaves you with a question rather than an answer – and it’s a question that you may never find the answer for. 

28. Backtrack Boys

Director: Catherine Scott

I’ve talked a lot about Backtrack Boys, it’s a film I genuinely adore. But in the world of Gillette commercials advocating for a better version of masculinity, it’s worthwhile reminding that there are people like Bernie Shakeshaft that are staking their claim and ensuring that – at least in one town in NSW – there’s a generation of kids who will grow up with a better future. Backtrack Boys place on this list seems low for this statement to ring true, but it’s honestly one of the films which I’d recommend every Australian seek out. 

27. Private Life

Director: Tamara Jenkins

There is a moment of perfect framing within Private Life where Paul Giamatti’s Richard lays on a bed next to his wife Rachel – a career best performance from Kathryn Hahn –, his shadow looms large on the wall as they argue about the last time they had sex. As a representation of physical expectations of a relationship looming large, it’s also an open discussion in a film that’s full of open discussions. Tamara Jenkins personal film comes much too long after her last essential film, The Savages, and the inhale-without-an-exhale of an ending has me wishing that it’s not so long before there’s another film.

26. The Rider

Director: Chloé Zhao

If there’s one word which I use a little too much in this rundown of films, it’s gentle. But, it’s not without reason, as a lot of my favourite films from 2018 have been gentle affairs. Chloé Zhao’s second film, The Rider, is a docu-drama that looks at an injured rodeo bronco rider, Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau), as he tries to find his way through life without the one thing that gave him purpose. The Jandreau family essentially play versions of themselves, allowing for a natural narrative to unfurl with a lived-in perspective. This is what cinema is about – a glimpse into a world you didn’t know existed by a guiding hand that knows exactly where to take you. Gentle filmmaking at its finest. Watch it in a double bill with Leave No Trace.

25. Upgrade

Director: Leigh Whannell

My palms are itching for whatever Leigh Whannell brings out next. Such is the power on display within Upgrade. What should be a basic sci-fi action flick turns into so much more with a film that explores personal autonomy in a believable future where being a ‘cyborg’ is a reality. Logan Marshall Green gives one of the best performances of the year, helping elevate this film to unexpected heights.

24. The Wife

Director: Björn Runge

Glenn Close delivers the finest performance of her career in this powerful film about the suppression of women’s voices in the world, and how men proudly co-opt their wives genius and slap their own name on it. Johnathan Pryce equals Close as the opportunistic husband who has crafted a career around Close’s Joan Castlemane’s brilliance. Glenn Close will likely win her first Oscar for this performance, and it’s well deserved for what is a timely film.

23. A Fantastic Woman

Director: Sebastián Lelio

Sebastián Lelio had two films out in 2018 – Disobedience and A Fantastic Woman. Both tell stories which are wholly unfamiliar to me – a Jewish community and a transgender narrative. But, both are exceptionally caring, sympathetic films about women that have been pushed into situations that suppresses who they are as people. Disobedience has one of the finest endings of 2018, but it’s Daniela Vega’s powerful performance in A Fantastic Woman that pushes it up as one of the best of the year.

22. The Other Side of Hope

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Kaurismäki’s blend of dry comedy and drama is – admittedly – not for everyone, but his work is so humane and caring that even if the comedy doesn’t land, then the drama will work for you. With The Other Side of Hope, Kaurismäki looks at the refugee crisis in Europe and crafts a simple narrative around a man trying to establish a life for himself, and hopefully his sister, in Finland. Containing one of the most purely hilarious scenes in cinema in 2018 (a moment with wasabi that goes drastically wrong), The Other Side of Hope is Kaurismäki at his finest.

21. Roma

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

When a director fires on all cylinders, they can truly transport you to another realm. This is what Alfonso Cuarón does with Roma. He plants you in his home town and takes you on a long, winding journey, down the side streets, to the beach, to the countryside, and allows you to be immersed in the world. He does so via some of the most stunning cinematography in recent memory that allows us to witness scenes that carry profound immediacy in glorious black and white. Forget discussions about watching this at home or in a theatre – just watch Roma. You won’t regret it.