When Paul Schrader finally reached for the tools of the transcendental toolkit in a theologically and existentially fraught film starring Ethan Hawke as a tortured pastor, it’s not surprising that the resulting film would rate high among cinephiles of faith, including the circle of friends and peers I survey each year as a cross-section of film appreciation among Christians.

First Reformed didn’t quite make my own top 10 list — it was one of three or four runners-up I most regretted relegating to the second rank — but it made more than half of the nine individual lists below, and unsurprisingly topped the year’s best films according to the Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury, in which I vote each year.

What’s more surprising — anyway I’m a little surprised, and delighted — is that another film was even more esteemed in this little community … and it wasn’t any of the films I would have expected.

The Rider, my own no. 1 pick for 2018, would not have surprised me (see my top films of 2018). Nor would Roma, my best guess for this year’s Best Picture winner. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Paddington 2 were also films I expected to be warmly received here — and all four films are well represented below, about equally so.

But the one film that stood above them all was an understated portrait of an extraordinary father-daughter relationship — a film that, like The Rider, First Reformed, and Roma, is about brokenness, but one that is also about love and hope.

Debra Granik’s last dramatic feature, Winter’s Bone, might be my favorite film of 2010. Leave No Trace, starring Ben Foster as a veteran father suffering from PTSD and Thomasin McKenzie as his teenaged daughter, appears on 6 of the 9 individual lists below — 7 out of 10, counting mine. It also placed no. 2 in the A&F Ecumenical Jury Awards, right behind First Reformed, which made half of the 10 lists.

After Leave No Trace and First Reformed, there is no clear third. Paddington 2, The Rider, Roma, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? all got four mentions. The Rider was twice picked for no. 1, but Won’t You Be My Neighbor? had a slightly higher average ranking. (I picked Roma for my banner image above both for visual variety and for ethnic diversity.)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Favourite, Lean on Pete, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse were all picked three times.

Here are the lists, with my rankings noted in parentheses where applicable. As always, I encourage you to click through to the source pages to read more about the films.

As in past years, I voted in the Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury Awards — and contributed a favorite to the Honorable Mentions list:

  1. First Reformed (runner-up)
  2. Leave No Trace (no. 8)
  3. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (no. 8)
  4. The Rider (no. 1)
  5. Shoplifters
  6. First Man (honorable mention)
  7. Minding the Gap (runner-up)
  8. Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (runner-up)
  9. Support the Girls
  10. 24 Frames

Evan Cogswell (Catholic Cinephile) has a top 35 with capsules:

  1. Leave No Trace (no. 7)
  2. The Favourite
  3. Let the Sunshine In
  4. You Were Never Really Here
  5. Paddington 2 (no. 6)
  6. First Reformed (runner-up)
  7. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  8. Madeline’s Madeline
  9. The Guardians (no. 4)
  10. The Third Murder

Christian Hamaker (Schaeffer’s Ghost) has a top 10 with capsules:

  1. The Rider (no. 1)
  2. The Death of Stalin
  3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (no. 9)
  4. The Favourite
  5. Blindspotting (honorable mention)
  6. Madeline’s Madeline
  7. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  8. Annihilation
  9. A Quiet Place (runner-up)
  10. The Old Man and the Gun

Joel Mayward (Cinemayward) has a top 25 with capsules:

  1. First Reformed (runner-up)
  2. Leave No Trace (no. 7)
  3. Eighth Grade (runner-up)
  4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (no. 2)
  5. Roma (runner-up)
  6. Madeline’s Madeline
  7. The Rider (no. 1)
  8. Black Panther (runner-up)
  9. Shoplifters
  10. You Were Never Really Here

Kenneth R. Morefield (1More Film Blog) has a top 10:

  1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (no. 8)
  2. Boy Erased
  3. Isle of Dogs
  4. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  5. 22 July (no. 10)
  6. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
  7. Puzzle (honorable mention)
  8. Lean On Pete (no. 5)
  9. Paddington 2 (no. 6)
  10. Love, Simon

Victor Morton (Rightwing Film Geek) has a bare top 10 with honorable mentions in various categories):

  1. Let the Corpses Tan
  2. Leave No Trace (no. 7)
  3. Ben Is Back
  4. Madeline’s Madeline
  5. Roma (runner-up)
  6. Infinite Football
  7. This Is Our Land
  8. The House that Jack Built
  9. Arizona
  10. Lean on Pete (no. 5)

Sister Rose Pacatte (National Catholic Reporter) has a top 10 with capsules (to come):

  1. Leave No Trace (no. 7)
  2. Green Book
  3. Bohemian Rhapsody
  4. Black Panther (runner-up)
  5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (no. 8)
  6. A Star Is Born
  7. Boy Erased
  8. Roma (runner-up)
  9. A Quiet Place (runner-up)
  10. First Reformed (runner-up)

Josh Larsen (Larsen on Film) has a top 10 with capsules in, um, haiku form:

  1. Isle of Dogs
  2. Roma (runner-up)
  3. First Reformed (runner-up)
  4. Sorry to Bother You
  5. Zama
  6. BlacKkKlansman
  7. Private Life
  8. Game Night
  9. Hale County This Morning, This Evening (runner-up)
  10. Leave No Trace (no. 7)

Jeffrey Overstreet (Looking Closer) has a top 25 with (as is his wont) ample prologue and honorable mentions:

  1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (no. 2)
  2. Paddington 2 (no. 6)
  3. Eighth Grade (runner-up)
  4. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (no. 8)
  5. The Favourite
  6. 24 Frames
  7. Shoplifters
  8. Isle of Dogs
  9. The Rider (no. 1)
  10. Private Life

Alissa Wilkinson (Vox) has a top 21 with capsules and runners-up:

  1. Cold War
  2. Minding the Gap (runner-up)
  3. Brisbie ’17
  4. First Reformed (runner-up)
  5. Amazing Grace
  6. Leave No Trace (no. 7)
  7. Support the Girls
  8. Hale County This Morning, This Evening (runner-up)
  9. Eighth Grade (runner-up)
  10. Burning

See also: