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Brian Owens' Best of 2018

"2018 was a unique year for the film industry in many ways. The year kicked off like any other - with the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. But, 2018 was different. The business was still reeling from the accusations of sexual misconduct. The cries for more diversity continued to get louder. And thankfully, the films released over the course of 2018 began to address the issues at hand. Female filmmakers and filmmakers-of-color asserted themselves in ways previously unseen. Here’s hoping that 2018 was merely a small step forward and that 2019 and beyond will continue to see quality films from an even greater variety of global artists." - Brian Owens

They select the movies for the Calgary International Film Festival, and now our team of programmers share their Top 10 films of 2018. Still not sure what films you need to catch up on from the past year? Take it from our curators – these are films that you'll want to seek out as we say goodbye to the year that was 2018. 


ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, BRIAN OWENS SHARES HIS TOP FILMS OF 2018

1. ROMA

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Mexico / USA)

If I’d known nothing about ROMA prior to its release and you told me that it was an uncovered work of early-70s Mexican neo-realism, I would likely believe you. Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical tale of one family’s life in 1970 Mexico City leaves you with the impression that it’s a movie people will be talking about and film studies professors will be teaching in coming decades. It is a rare and moving work of cinema. Available to stream on Netflix Canada.

2. THE FAVOURITE

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (United Kingdom / Ireland / USA)

With a trio of flawless leading performances from Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, Lanthimos’ latest work takes us into the inner workings of Queen Anne’s court in the early 18th century. But don’t go in expecting your typical period piece. This is a wickedly dark comedy...and it’s deliciously bitter.

THE FAVOURITE is playing now in select Calgary cinemas. 

3. COLD WAR

Directed by Pawel Pawlikowski (Poland / United Kingdom / France)

This crisply-paced tale of star-crossed lovers set during the 1950s on both sides of the Iron Curtain is another stroke of brilliance from Pawel Pawlikowski following the Oscar-winning IDA. Impeccably acted and gorgeously shot by Lukasz Zal, COLD WAR feels like a classic.

COLD WAR was a 2018 Calgary Film selection

4. FIRST REFORMED

Directed by Paul Schraeder (USA)

Ethan Hawke delivers a triumphant performance as Rev. Toller - a small-town New England priest in the grips of a crisis of faith who is approached by a young environmental activist and his wife for counseling. The journey Rev. Toller goes on is a tense, timely take on our times. Paul Schraeder has written many classics, TAXI DRIVER among them. As a filmmaker, FIRST REFORMED is his greatest achievement in decades. 

5. MINDING THE GAP

Directed by Bing Liu (USA)

Born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, Bing Liu returns to his hometown to document the lives of the skateboarding buddies he grew up with. What begins as an incredibly well-made skating documentary becomes something so much greater - an engrossing portrait of America’s deteriorating industrial small towns and the violence that exists there. It’s tough - but essential viewing.

6. HAPPY AS LAZZARO

Directed by Alice Rohrwacher (Italy / Switzerland / France / Germany)

Alice Rohrwacher’s latest is a grown-up’s fairy tale that manages to somehow be a rich, dense satire of capitalism and a light, wistful tale of innocence and faith. The Italian neo-realism grounds this story of a young, happy-go-lucky peasant living on a tobacco plantation while the touches of magical realism allow it to soar to heights of whimsy. A delightful film that feels like a strange dream as it settles into your memory.

7. LEAVE NO TRACE

Directed by Debra Granik (USA / Canada)

Debra Granik is one of the few American filmmakers who tells stories of people who live on the fringes of society. Her Ozark mountain-set WINTER’S BONE garnered four Oscar nominations in 2010 and launched the career of Jennifer Lawrence. In LEAVE NO TRACE, Ben Foster is a veteran suffering from PTSD attempting to raise his young daughter off the grid. Thomasin Harcourt Mackenzie is a revelation as the daughter. Sadly, this one doesn’t seem to be getting the same level as awards chatter. In my book, it’s a stronger film, reflecting Granik’s continued growth as a filmmaker.

Calgary Film hosted a free advanced screening of LEAVE NO TRACE in July. 

8. EIGHTH GRADE

Directed by Bo Burnham (USA)

Comedian Bo Burnham made the move into filmmaking with this auspicious debut about a girl trying to find her identity in the YouTube age. What’s most shocking about the film isn’t the blunt language and humor, it’s the cringe-worthy honesty about just how awkward and difficult the middle school years are. Elise Fischer is a phenom in the lead role. In a year filled with outstanding debuts, Burnham and Fischer are two of the brightest.

Calgary Film hosted an advanced screening of EIGHTH GRADE in August.

9. SHOPLIFTERS

Directed by Hirokazo Kore-eda (Japan)

SHOPLIFTERS is the latest from one of Japan’s most humane filmmakers. This intimate tale of a family of petty thieves eking out a living took home the Palme D’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. It’s a delicate drama about how family’s find happiness even in the hardest of circumstances - and how fragile that happiness can be. 

SHOPLIFTERS was a 2018 Calgary Film selection

10. HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING
Directed by RaMell Ross (USA)

If the term “tone poem” hadn’t already been invented, it would have been created to describe photographer-turned-filmmakers RaMell Ross’s life-enriching portrait of Hale County, Alabama. Ross makes no effort to force a narrative on the footage he collected over the course of the year he spent living with his subjects. As a result, you find yourself crafting the stories for the people you meet. The result is as rewarding an experience one could hope for in watching a film. It marks a major debut in non-fiction filmmaking and is one of the best films of the year.


HONORABLE MENTIONS (in alphabetical order):


BLACKKKLANSMAN directed by Spike Lee (USA), available to stream on Netflix Canada

BLACK PANTHER directed by Ryan Coogler (USA), available to stream on Netflix Canada

CUSTODY directed by Xavier LeGrande (France)

DARK MONEY directed by Kimberly Reed (USA)

FREE SOLO directed by Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (USA)

HEREDITARY directed by Ari Aster (USA), available to stream on Amazon Prime

PADDINGTON 2 directed by Paul King (United Kingdom)

THE RIDER directed by Chloe Zhao (USA)

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman (USA)

A STAR IS BORN directed by Bradley Cooper (USA)

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Read more of our yearly recap from our programming team! Here's the best of 2018 from Programming Administrator, 
Gillian McKercher.


What’s next for Calgary Film? Check out our January 9 Doc Soup screening of THE WORLD BEFORE YOUR FEET. Tickets on sale now!