The top 5 films of 2018 — and some hidden gems you may have missed

While the political climate appears increasingly divisive, the stories that resonated the most with me this year featured characters fighting back against what keeps us apart. Whether it's car thieves in Montreal, a female mission into no man's land, a nanny in Mexico or a kid climbing buildings in Brooklyn, the best films of 2018 captured a striving spirit that can't be contained. 

A spiritual successor to Denis Villeneuve's enigmatic Arrival, Annihilation is a sci-fi tale with more questions than answers. Director Alex Garland turns the typical first contact film inside out with the story of an all-female mission to a place where your very sense of self is shattered.

Also, best dance duet of the year.  

Paramount Pictures

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Boost raced out of theatres far too quickly, but there's a reason the Canadian Screen Awards gave Nabil Rajo its leading actor award. The movie was initially to be set in Montreal's East Asian community but the last-minute discovery of Rajo turned Boost from a Fast and Furious knockoff to a gritty portrait of the two sons of East-African immigrants running out of options.

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After 12 Years a Slave, director Steve McQueen set out to make a movie with better roles for women. Widows is the result. Working with the queen of the plot twist, Gillian Flynn, McQueen has made a heist film that is not only a visceral thriller but an unblinking look at a city riven by race and class divides.

20th Century Fox

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By some miracle, this movie from a small army of writers, directors and artists has a sense of style and vision light years beyond the average superhero film. The sizzle comes from the dazzling hybrid of computer and hand-drawn animation inspired by the web slinger's comic book roots. Like an Andy Warhol painting on LSD, the vivid colour scheme is a trippy masterpiece, but what anchors it all is the character of Miles Morale, a sweet kid trying to make the best of his abilities.

Sony Pictures

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I've already seen Roma twice and I'm ready for a third viewing. Whether it's on Netflix or the big screen, what director Alfonso Cuaron gives us is a portrait of the human condition told with insight and empathy. Working with an epic canvas, he zooms into the minutiae of a nanny caring for a Mexican family in the 1970s.  

Watch Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo wiping the mouthpiece of the phone before handing it to the lady of the house — you see slivers of truth captured frame by frame.

Participant Media/Esperanto Filmoj

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The Runners-Up

Of course, there was much more to watch in 2018. Below is a list of awards for some less-conventional categories.

Best performance by an inanimate object: A nail — A Quiet Place 

John Krasinski's horror film about a family hiding from sound-seeking monsters offered exquisite moments of tension, but none better than the inevitable collision between Emily Blunt's bare foot and

a

  single

      exposed

                   nail.

(Runner-up: The hammer from You Were Never Really There.)

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Best picture I was predisposed to hate: Mary Poppins Returns 

How could they? Why would they? The very idea of Emily Blunt stepping into the shoes of the magical nanny played by Julie Andrews seemed the height of folly. But with an impish smile and regal attitude, Blunt makes Mary her own. While no one needed a sequel to the 1964 classic, Mary Poppins Returns casts a spell with spoonfuls of whimsy.

Most politically appropriate farce: The Death of Stalin

While Christian Bale's smirking Dick Cheney in Vice is a commanding performance, director Adam McKay's film feels as if it's preaching to the converted. For a better bitter swipe at power-hungry politicians, check out Armando Iannucci's The Death of Stalin, a savage satire laughing into the abyss.

Best runner: Tom Cruise — Mission Impossible: Fallout

Was there any doubt? Tom Cruise raised the bar for action and then did a high-altitude jump off it. Arms pumping, eyes squinting, Cruise smashed expectations (and his ankle) with the sixth Mission Impossible instalment.

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Best tonic to news overload: Won't You Be My Neighbor

Jim Judkis/Focus Features

In these perilous times, hitting refresh on your web browser can be a soul-deadening experience. If you're looking to hit the reset button, watch Won't You Be My Neighbor, the documentary about the man known as Mister Rogers. What seems like a simple biopic reveals hidden layers.

Best actor in a bad film: Tom Hardy — Venom

Look, the very idea of a PG-rated Venom film was flawed from start. But if you want to see an actor fully committing himself to the role, watch Tom Hardy as beleaguered investigative reporter Eddie Brock. As the host to a gooey, growling alien symbiote, Hardy gives us a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-style performance that ALMOST made me want a sequel.

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Best new face: Lana Condor —  To All the Boys I've Loved Before

Netflix

For a rom-com, To All the Boys I've Loved Before was the total package: great leads, a new crush for the Internet and Instagram-worthy style. But it wouldn't have worked without Lana Condor's smartly earnest performance.

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Best way to conquer your fear of heights: Free Solo

Free Solo is a surprisingly straightforward documentary. But when the doc is about climbing a 900-metre rock wall without ropes, what else do you need?

The subject here is Alex Honnold, a fearless free-climber preparing to scale a monstrous cliff in California's Yosemite National Park. Even on your couch, prepare for serious bouts of vertigo as Honnold ascends with nothing but an iron grip and chalky hands.