Best Films of 2018

Movies made 2018 somewhat tolerable for me. Judging by 2018’s record box office receipts, it seems like films made the year tolerable for the lot of you.

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:

 

Honorable Mentions

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.

 

The List

10. Game Night 

This will be a game night to remember.

Modern comedies tend to rely on the spontaneity of improv. It’s not a problem when it works, but the tradeoff is that often these scenes are edited into oblivion just to be coherent. We got so used to this that we’ve forgotten the joys of timing, delivery, and a joke that’s EARNED. Game Night really gets you to appreciate the tact of a well-written joke, even a non-throwaway film reference. This, all made better through its thriller-parody style script and direction. Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Jesse Plemons, Lamorne Morris, Billy Magnussen and Sharon Horgan each get a handful of LOL moments, mining fresh laughs out of things we’ve seen countless times in lesser thrillers and comedies: awkward neighbors, stickups, money bribes. Throw in a recurring glass table motif, and a hilarious tough-guy bullet extraction for good measure. From the color grading, composition, to Cliff Martinez’s existentially cool 8-bit score, Game Night’s replay value is insanely addicting. It’s also on HBO. You’re welcome.

 

9. A Quiet Place 

Who are we if we can’t protect them?

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.

 

8. Unsane

Taking out a restraining order, normal. Relocating to another city, normal.

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

Bring 👏 me 👏 Thanos 👏

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but Infinity War fulfilled everything childhood-Saturday-morning-cartoon-me could have ever wanted. In a movie market that sells everything as “an event you can’t miss,” it becomes harder to distinguish what should warrant your attention. Infinity War commanded our attention long before there was even a trailer. This is a movie chock full of crowd-pleasing moments. Tony Stark and Stephen Strange in the same room; Thor meeting the Guardians; Cap’s straight up iconic entrance; Thor’s arrival in Wakanda (anything involving Thor, basically). This thing is so gigantic that it took 3-viewings across opening week and then some for me to comprehend its awesomeness. Midnight screenings might be a thing of the past, but a larger than life movie that can elicit thunderous applause is thankfully still going strong. With an expansive cast, a massive galaxy-trotting scale, and a huge downer of an ending, Infinity War was by far Marvel’s biggest risk. It paid off, and we’re all lined up for Endgame.

 

6. Halloween

halloween-2018-laurie-strode-unfit

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.

 

5. Widows

I want my kids to know that I didn’t just sit there and take it. I did something.

Between Sharp Objects and Widows, 2018 was low-key Gillian Flynn’s year. It’s just a shame not many people saw Widows – the most gripping heist drama since Heat. Thefts are happening at every level of this movie; the real heist is the political con of a disenfranchised community. Widows benefits immensely from its epic ensemble. Viola Davis is as commanding and broken as ever; Elizabeth Debicki stands tall in an unforgettably fierce turn (no small feat when most of her scenes are with Davis); and Michelle Rodriguez finally gets the showcase her raw talent deserves. (Sorry, Fast & Furious but you gotta do more than make her “Dom’s girlfriend.”) Equally impressive is how the film rebuilds our understanding of the “strong female protagonist” whilst telling an engrossing socio-political crime saga – all of it packaged in high-concept, popcorn entertainment. Gillian Flynn’s script and Steve McQueen’s direction prove that you don’t have to trade in story or performance for thrilling set-pieces. Drama, done right, is its own high-octane spectacle.

 

4. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

I am the storm.

The way this series catapulted higher with each outing after M:i III is awe-inspiring. After Fallout, I am completely dumbstruck. No 6th film in any franchise has the right to be this good. Fallout is the series’ The Dark Knight, Skyfall, and Mad Max: Fury Road all at once. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie does one better by crafting a story that continues and concludes threads in all of the M:I films prior. Fallout emphasizes practical effects over CGI-trickery, substance over nonsense action. This is action with a purpose, and a heartbeat. Tom Cruise goes to literal great pains to immerse us in the story. Neither he nor McQuarrie are afraid of reminding us that Ethan Hunt is a human being and not a superhero. He’s not as smooth, clever, or as efficient as he’d like to be. Which is why his fight to the top – whether he’s clamoring onto the roof or climbing aboard a helicopter – is so insanely thrilling. The 2nd act in Paris is the series’ crème de la crème as far as vehicular chases go, and the HALO jump sequence needs an award for ballsiest cinematography. Fallout nonetheless reawakens the debate for an Oscars stunt category. Action-junkies, look no further. Welcome to nirvana.

 

3. Black Panther

Maybe your home is the one that’s lost. That’s why they can’t find us.

Marvel Studios has safely taken up real estate in our cultural conscience that they could churn out any property and we’d go see it one way or another. That the studio cared to bring Black Panther to life AND make it its own event aside from adding another superhero to their roster is enormously reassuring. With guys like RDJ and Chris Evans seemingly ending their run, T’Challa and the entire Wakanda ensemble are in prime position to light the way forward. Despite memorable performances from Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, and Winston Duke, I cannot stop thinking about Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger – hands down the best Marvel villain. By far the most tragic. Killmonger could’ve easily been the hero. His tragic upbringing is the origin story of countless superheroes before him. It was his African-American identity – one unfairly rooted in injustice and incarceration – that fated him to become the villain. Killmonger reuniting with his father in their abandoned home is director Ryan Coogler’s master-stroke as a storyteller, himself an Oakland native. He melds real-world social commentary with emotional storytelling that, for a second, I forgot this was a Marvel movie, and that Killmonger was the villain. “Can you believe that? A kid from Oakland running around believing in fairy tales.” Now, thankfully, we can.

 

2. Roma

We are alone. No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.

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.

 

1. Annihilation

It wasn’t destroying, it was making something new.

Annihilation divided me in ways I couldn’t fully articulate. I loved ¾ of the movie, but was frustrated by it’s elusive final act. I was completely taken by Lena’s dance with the humanoid, but didn’t quite know what to make of it. And yet, like the film’s centerpiece anomaly, I found myself drawn more and more to this rolling story of grief, depression, self-destruction, and transformation. (At one point, I caught myself humming Crosby’s “Helplessly Hoping”.) I fell strangely in love with this dreamlike journey to the lighthouse. Where I thought my mind was made up, suddenly I could not stop thinking about the Shimmer, it’s gloss, the way Lena, Sheppard, Anya, Josie, and Ventress’ respective journeys – their push and pull towards change as a phenomenon – refracted and mirrored all of us. (We’re all suffering; addicts, abusers, all of us afflicted with mortality.) What happens might not be a reassuring fable, but damn did it feel cutting. An unusual top pick, I agree, but it’s indicative of the changes I’ve made as a moviegoer. Instead of being repulsed by a movie I didn’t “get,” now I don’t mind the frustration. And rather than rail against a film’s ambivalence, I find myself intrigued to go back down the rabbit hole.

Annihilation remains firmly entrenched in ambiguity. Did Lena make it out at the end? Or is it not Lena? Is that Kane? We are never the same after our own ordeals, so who are we to decide? Never has a movie infected my existence the way this one did. Annihilation wound up colonizing my brain. Whether my obsession with this movie is its own form of self-destruction is debatable. Maybe I’m in deep and beyond saving, but I don’t mind being trapped in the Shimmer one bit.

Best Movie Moments of 2018

I live for the movie moment – the one scene where everything sings, soars, makes us speak in mad allusions. They’re happening all the time. Characters may literally break into song, or actually take flight. No matter how cheesy they might seem, the truly memorable ones tend to find you when you need them the most.

2018 is somehow both rapidly winding down and not even close to being over, because my do I still have a lot of film-catching up to do. This year was so stellar that it broke my usual top ten listing. It’s a weird number, but who cares. Here are my 11 favorite cinematic moments of 2018:

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