1. ROMA: Filmed in brilliant black and white, mostly in continuous shots, Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron’s Valentine in politically unstable 1970s Mexico City is a masterclass in emotionally-crafted storytelling and technical virtuosity.
Yalitza Aparicio lights up every beautifully crafted setting as maid Cleo, who works long hours in the home of businessman Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) and his wife Sofia (Marina de Tavira).
Cleo’s relationship with her martial arts-obsessed boyfriend (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) takes a turn when he abandons her shortly after she becomes pregnant.
Cuaron’s script deftly draws parallels between fractured family units on either side of the class divide, enriched with ravishing cinematography and immersive sound design.
2. SHOPLIFTERS: Over the past decade, writer-director Hirokazu Kore-eda has elegantly distilled intergenerational conflict in today’s Japan in his perfectly observed dramas Like Father, Like Son, and Our Little Sister.
This year’s elegiac offering is another intimate study of the flawed human condition, which silently observes but refuses to pass judgment on a surrogate family living hand-to-mouth because of petty crimes.
Franky Lily delivers a powerful performance as patriarch Osamu, who makes ends meet by “liberating” products from local store shelves with the help of his cherubic son (Kairi Jyo).
Kore-eda’s script cleverly conceals character details to deliver dizzying emotional kicks at critical moments.
3. THE SHAPE OF WATER: Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro deservedly triumphed at this year’s Oscars with his breathtaking reimagining of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale set in 1962 Baltimore.
The Shape Of Water picks up the visual splendor and quivering menace of its Oscar-winning Pan’s Labyrinth fantasy, evoking an erotically charged love story between a mute cleaner and a carnivorous merman.
Impeccable period details conjure up the cold war era of stifling paranoia with aplomb.
Sally Hawkins is sublime as an underrated heroine, who speaks volumes without saying a word.
The storyline allows richly drawn female characters to overcome prejudice in a myriad of ugly guises.
4. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI: Hell doesn’t rage as much as a scorned grieving mother in writer-director Martin McDonagh’s darkly comedic thriller, which pits the vigilante parent of Frances McDormand to the police force of a fictional Midwestern town.
His mother’s rebellious scream unleashes sickening violence, including a scene in a dentist’s office that leaves our gobs slammed, but the brutality still serves up a lean and brawny narrative.
Three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, paint a vibrant portrait of small-town life torn apart by personal vendettas and reprisals.
A salty and fast dialogue is sprinkled with polite one-liners that the whole savors.
5. FIRST MAN: Academy Award-winning director Damien Chazelle takes a giant leap forward in making immersive, biting films in a thrilling dramatization of the 1960s space race between America and the Soviet Union.
First Man aims for the moon and lands beautifully with a hand-held camera, understated special effects, and dazzling sound design that leaves us stranded hundreds of miles above solid ground.
Ryan Gosling emotionally conveys the suffocating grief, which follows Neil Armstrong to the surface of the Moon, and Claire Foy is compelling in a smaller supporting role as his wife Janet.
Josh Singer’s finely calibrated script counts down to heartbreaking emotion, reminding us of the immense bravery and sacrifice of the pioneers of a new scientific dawn.
6. LADY BIRD: While Lady Bird isn’t strictly autobiographical, writer-director Greta Gerwig draws on fond memories of her California hometown for a beautifully observed study of mother-daughter relationships and youthful exuberance at the turn. of 21st century Sacramento.
This exquisite coming-of-age dramedy is a near-perfect confluence of direction, writing, and performance, one that elicits tears and laughter in equal generous measure.
Gerwig has a keen ear for the ebb and flow of pithy conversations between friends and family and her script is imbued with an unapologetic warmth for well-drawn characters.
Oscar nominees Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are delightful as the spunky main character and her hardworking mother, who generate friction whenever they bicker near each other.
7. PHANTOM THREAD: Two is toxic company, three is a potentially deadly mob in Paul Thomas Anderson’s artfully stitched drama set in the drawing rooms of 1950s London.
Day-Lewis delivers his final on-screen performance before self-imposed retirement as a perfectionist couturier, whose low-voiced meticulousness doesn’t extend to personal relationships… except for an uncomfortably close bond with his fierce purse-lipped sister, played with raunchy intensity by Lesley Manville.
It’s a terrific double act, and you really fear for co-star Vicky Krieps’ sanity when she naively wanders into the twisting web of siblings.
Writer-director Anderson heeds his resourceful heroine’s words – “Whatever you do, do it with care” – and watches her superlative cast in unhurried long takes as they trade verbal jabs.
8. YOU’RE NEVER REALLY HERE: Scottish writer-director Lynne Ramsay delves into the murky depths of human suffering on the wicked streets of modern-day New York in a brutal and unflinching revenge thriller based on the short story of the same title by Jonathan Ames.
You Were Never Really Here is a masterclass in tight suspense, which evokes a nightmarish vision of exploitation and degradation behind closed doors.
Joaquin Phoenix delivers a fearless and sometimes heartbreaking performance as a traumatized war veteran whose quest for redemption leads him down the road to hell.
Ramsay captures its protagonist’s nightmarish, dizzying odyssey in a clinically simple way that sends trickles of cold sweat down your spine.
9. COCO: You can feel the love in every lavish, wildly imaginative setting of Disney Pixar’s computer-animated coming-of-age story, which strikes a universal happy chord with an irresistible blend of heartbreaking emotion, of thunderous comedy and toe. -tapping musicality.
Anthony Gonzalez provides the voice of 12-year-old dimpled-cheeked Miguel, who travels to the land of the dead to meet his biological father.
Coco stands side by side drenched in tears with WALL-E and Inside Out as a heartfelt modern classic.
Family values resonate far beyond the land of the living in Alfred Molina and Matthew Aldrich’s screenplay.
10. A FANTASTIC WOMAN: Director Sebastian Lelio’s timely portrayal of grief and injustice deservedly won this year’s Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film on behalf of Chile.
A fantastic woman shrewdly considers the loneliness and solidarity of the trans community alongside the bigotry that continues to fester under the polite smiles of a supposedly enlightened society.
Daniela Vega is an unstoppable force of nature as the titular trans woman, who encounters a wall of animosity when she fulfills the dark duty of informing her family and friends of the sudden death of her older boyfriend.
Forbidden to attend the funeral to mourn the man she loved, Vega’s fiery heroine meets suspicion and prejudice face-to-face with cold defiance and simmering rage.