SO many excellent films came out at the 11th hour– meaning not until FALL  2018 (ridiculously late I might add), that it has taken me until now to see all the good stuff. Here is a list of my TOP TEN favorite films of 2018.  Many of these films allowed us to see ourselves in protagonists struggling with forces beyond their control; some uncovered painful truths beneath a glittering veneer; others made me look at something old in a new way; but all of them moved me in unexpected, or enlightening ways.

Here they are in alphabetical order:

A STAR IS BORN 

Writer/director/composer/star Bradley Cooper found his muse in singer/composer/performance artist Lady Gaga; their alchemy is what tethered me to this moving, though imperfect film, and that magic happens the second they appear together onscreen.

EIGHTH GRADE

So real, it made me cringe. Elsie Fisher has just been nominated for a Golden Globe for her breakout performance as Kayla Day, budding blogger and awkward 13 year old. Massachusetts-born Bo Burnham’s meticulously observed movie lasers in on the myriad machinations of teen girls, their insecurities and the dire need to be accepted, not to mention an embarrassing dad trying too hard to be– and not to be– there, while his daughter wobbles through a thicket of pimples, pubescent boys, and the looming promise of high school.  I would never go back– except at the movies.

FIRST MAN

A stunner of a film, sad, beautiful, and uplifting with brilliant performances by Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong the first man on the moon, and Claire Foy as the wife who grounds him. Their inner journey, fueled by personal tragedy, is even more thrilling and sorrowful than the extraterrestrial one. Directed by Damien Chazelle (“La La Land,” “Whiplash”) the film is a visual and aural ballet, sound and silence transcendently choreographed. I held my breath as he commandeered his way back to earth, right up through the final moments when he reentered her orbit and they touched, tentatively, through glass. One of the best movies of this or any year.

FIRST REFORMED

Ethan Hawke devastates as a constricted and conflicted Calvinist minister wrestling with pain, rage and faith as he attempts to wrench himself out of the ruins of personal tragedy, the corruption of his church and the world around him. Filmmaker Paul Schrader revisits spirituality, faith and responsibility in the modern world, the repercussions of our works good and bad, while channelling the rich austerity of Bergman, and the raw redemption of “Taxi Driver” (for which Schrader wrote the screenplay). The ending is an open wound; not an easy film for uneasy times.

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

It’s a heartbreaking film about a man falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned while his pregnant fiancee struggles to free him from the racist social, economic, and political forces stacked against them. Writer/director Barry Jenkins who gave us last year’s Oscar-winning best picture “Moonlight,” may have given us this year’s as well–so says the Boston Society of Film Critics and I concur. Based on James Baldwin’s novel, the film transfers the luminosity, weight and elegance of Baldwin’s prose to the big screen. If it weren’t for the grace and passion of these performances, I might have died of despair: the story set in 1970’s Harlem remains unyieldingly true in 2018.

LEAVE NO TRACE

The film treads gently on the forest floor of our souls and psyches as it gently unravels the tale of an Iraq war vet with PTSD and his teenage daughter living off the grid, tethered only by their love and respect for each other. The movie asks what can or should be done for the walking wounded who cannot, or choose not, to live in society. It provides no easy answers, but honors the ways in which we all must cope with our individual pain in relationship. It’s a deeply moving mediation on isolation and what makes family. As father and daughter, Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie show us through their tender performances what love is.

PRIVATE LIFE

An unexpectedly humorous, sometimes shocking, and always enlightening trip through a 40-something Manhattan couple’s tumultuous trip through infertility. I never thought ova extraction or semen deposits could be simultaneously disturbing and funny. Thanks to writer/director Tamara Jenkins, the awkwardness of these intimate situations and the resultant ripple effect on a marriage are explored with candor and compassion. Can’t imagine any couple better than Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn to ride this emotional and physical roller coaster. Like them, we might want to jump off– but just can’t. Jenkins captures the hormonal ups and downs and science fiction-y medical procedures in absurd but realistic dialogue, and hilarious edits, remaining true to the underlying sadness, hope and humanity of those who have a tough time creating the next generation.

THE FAVOURITE

This 18th century biopic about British Queen Anne is like“Dangerous Liaisons” shot through the looking glass, a delicious satire of courtly intrigue, royal ribaldry, and a bodice ripper of political proportions. Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman as the seriously quirky Queen preside over a decadent court and a nursery full of bunnies. Gorgeous and lunatic, this overripe romp through an extravagant and savage world ruled by women (men are mere putty in their hands) reveals the shallowness of court life through a fish-eye lens.

THE RIDER 

Sometimes we get thrown and don’t know if we can ever get back up. THE RIDER by writer/director Chloe Zhao (“Songs my Brothers Taught Me”) is about such a cowboy, a successful young  rider who thrills to the wildness and freedom of the rodeo, but who must suddenly make his peace with a serious injury. The film opens with his dream of a beautiful chestnut horse, then builds on this image, luxuriating in the wide open spaces he inhabits and the solitary expanse of his communion with the creatures who helped define who he is in the world.  THE RIDER is a touching elegy on broken dreams, courage, and identity, and the grace that comes once we grieve life’s random tragedies.

WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR

This documentary about legendary children’s TV host Mr. Rogers, masterfully interweaves 33 years of TV episodes, letters, and interviews with family, friends, colleagues, and famous folks who loved him. Fred Rogers–therapist, minister, and saint– somehow retained unique access to his own childlike vulnerability and was able to connect with children who felt he loved and accepted them, just as they are. Rogers found a way to talk to kids about big scary things like death, divorce, and racism, and spoke volumes by example on the small screen. We need him back. Now.