Here comes the hard part: choosing 10 of my favorite films of the year and ranking them by way of preference. This is my sixth time composing this year-end list and it doesn’t get any easier when the slate is this good.
I will fight anyone who says 2018 was a lame year for movies. From small and independent fare that wended their way into the mainstream conscience (A Quiet Place, Hereditary), to big budget extravaganzas that delivered the hype and obliterated expectations (Black Panther, M:I – Fallout), to Oscar dramas that wound up becoming event films in and of themselves (A Star Is Born, Roma). The past year in movies may be set and done but it nonetheless sets the bar astronomically high for 2019. These were the best movies of 2018 IMO:
Mary Poppins Returns – Mary Poppins is the kind of beloved IP that could’ve elicited the proverbial “ruined childhood.” Emily Blunt makes a fine case for the nanny’s triumphant return. Nostalgia all-around and a newfound classic for a Disney-obsessed generation.
First Reformed – Ethan Hawke as a disconsolate priest rapidly losing faith in a world damned by climate change is the mood of the century. I’ll have 3 of those Pepto Bismol-laden whiskeys, stat. Be sure to place those Best Actor bets here.
Hereditary – The scariest horror film of the year. Dealing with grief, repression, the cult of family and our ever-foreboding family trees, Hereditary’s images of ghouls lurking in the dark still haunts me. I’d need more than liquid courage to see this movie twice.
A Star Is Born – As that guy from Wedding Crashers and The Hangover, I didn’t know Bradley Cooper had it in him. Lady Gaga, too, for that matter, though Ally is clearly a role made for her. There’s no denying the gravitational pull of A Star Is Born. It’s first act builds to such a powerful showstopping crescendo that if you weren’t moved in the least bit, I’m afraid we cannot be friends.
First Man – Damien Chazelle’s prior films dealt with characters metaphorically aiming for the moon, which makes First Man a fascinating progression. Chazelle takes an introverted approach to one of the most extroverted human feats by trapping the audience, like the characters, inside the spacecraft. The final bit at the crater contains an unexpected emotional gut-punch that left me completely wrecked.
10. Game Night
9. A Quiet Place
Beyond A Quiet Place’s innovative sound design and a one-of-a-kind alien invasion concept, its parenting story hit me hard and hit deep. There is a kind of unspeakable dread in being unable to save a child from being a child. Fellow parents know the impulse too well. When you’re running a bath for your daughter; watching as she walks to the bus stop on her own, or letting her use scissors without obsessing over the dangers of what could happen. That protectiveness is as primal as it is overbearing. I couldn’t help but feel the pronounced silence that pervades the family farmhouse in the wake of losing their son. Grief is a literal hulking and vicious terror, and I can’t think of a more powerful allegory than a family having to cope and survive as a unit. A Quiet Place features one of the most stressful birth scenes ever put to screen along with the year’s most emotional “I love you.” John Krasinski goes full on Spielberg with this mashup of War of the Worlds, Jurassic Park, and Jaws, and he’s found a star in Millicent Simmonds.
Steven Soderbergh’s iPhone-experiment is technically a “thriller,” but it qualifies as one horrific fucking horror movie. This is a nightmare scenario that will give anyone who’s ever politely turned down someone sheer maximum anxiety. Sawyer, a woman suffering the aftershock of an intense stalking episode, finds herself involuntarily committed to a mental institution where – you guessed it – her stalker works. I’ve never been so worried about a character’s mental wellbeing since Shutter Island. Or Memento. What’s truly astonishing is how Soderbergh mines dark corridor-terror out of an iPhone. It’s kind of a punchline at this point, but the mini-capture device winds up being the perfect tool to convey the dread and claustrophobia of its surreal premise. Claire Foy pummeling her stalker with his own deep-seated male insecurity makes for the perfect catharsis in the Me Too era. Have your inhaler ready for this one. And, if you’re a stress-eater, some comfort food. Lots and lots of comfort food.
7. Infinity War
You don’t believe in the boogeyman? Well you should.
We all participate in the ritual of John Carpenter’s 1978 original whether we like it or not. If it’s not on AMC, then your horror-obsessed friend has probably shoved any one of the past 10 movies in your face at some point. David Gordon Green’s Halloween makes the trouble worth it, elevating the franchise’s mythos by focusing firmly on OG Final Girl, Laurie Strode. 2018 Laurie is her own haunted house story. Once the most capable babysitter in Haddonfield has tragically become an unfit mother, and once a bookworm in the National Honor Society is now an agoraphobic doomsday preparer. Unlike the Friday the 13thand Nightmare on Elm Street reboots, Halloween demonstrates a willingness to evolve from its slasher roots and transforms into a poignant meditation on generational trauma. Trauma, in a great deal of ways, is the boogeyman of the 21st century. Laurie, her daughter Karen, and granddaughter Allyson’s fates are tied. If bloodline was once Laurie’s cross to bear in past Halloween sequels, her family tree is now her salvation. Laurie, Karen, and Allyson’s shared ordeal gives way to an ending that validates, subverts, and transcends the Final Girl trope the series made famous: Laurie survived, and she is NOT the Final Girl.
4. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
3. Black Panther
That this is Alfonso Cuaron’s return after a 5-year absence following Gravity (and his 2nd film in the decade) was already cause to rejoice. Roma is shot entirely in profiles, its meticulous black and white photography achingly recreating ‘70s Mexico. The film tells the story of Cleo, a maid whose lowly position in a household both oppresses her and gives her a uniquely sympathetic perspective. She witnesses firsthand the devastation that befalls her employer-family, and in turn endures her own set of personal tragedies that will ruin her: whiplash from a family who welcomes her yet keeps her at a remove; a child conceived out of wedlock, and a boyfriend who will abandon her. Without spoiling anything, there’s a hospital scene so harrowing that frankly it should come with a trigger warning, and a gorgeous one-shot sequence at the beach that broke me and put me back together again. Roma is the most important film in this ongoing discussion at the border – a wondrous piece of filmmaking that engages our empathy and enriches our cultural understanding. Even better, it’s on Netflix.