Mike’s Top Ten Films of 2018
Another year in the books. Time to do the thing.
2018’s been a pretty terrible year all around. There’s not a whole lot I was excited about, both in movies and in life. I say every year in this article, “I didn’t think I was gonna be able to come up with a top ten list.” This year, weirdly, I didn’t feel that. I knew I’d have ten, but I felt like it would be a “weak” ten. Other years, I could legitimately have 15 choices to pick from. This one, I was very conscious that it was the weakest overall year since the millennium started, and in a way it made doing this easier.
Here… I have a top ten, but they’re not movies that would end up on my decade list. (Which, we’re coming up on that. Next year you guys are getting a top ten list and a top films of the decade list.) It’s just a weak year. I liked a lot of stuff, but overall it all ended up falling in the middle of the pack. It’s all just kind of in that “I liked it, but didn’t love it” category. But you know, you still get a top ten. So here we are.
The good thing about a year like this is, I feel confident in that there’s not a whole lot I’ve missed and there isn’t a lot of stuff that’s gonna change over time. So I feel mostly confident that this top ten will be pretty consistent over time. MAYBE one will swap off and go from like, 11 or 12 into the top ten, but for the most part, I feel like my favorite films from this year will be these films. So I guess that’s something.
Plus, you already know I don’t look for clicks or join on the media-created bandwagons, so you aren’t gonna get yet another top ten list that has Black Panther and A Quiet Place on it. Hopefully that gives you some solace.
Here are my top ten films of 2018:
This movie is a marvel. This feels like the kind of movie that everyone has on their top ten list, but only because that’s where it’s “supposed to be”. But you know what? It’s worth it. This is the most important film of Cuaron’s career. This is the one that will be his masterpiece.
It’s a simple story with a huge scope. It’s incredibly specific yet universal. Gorgeously shot. I loved that he shot the entire thing in masters. And shooting it in black and white allowed him to overcome the “Netflix” look that I can’t stand. He cast actors no one would recognize, which really adds to the slice-of-life feel to it. And it’s just a wonderful film. No story so much as it is a collection of memories.
It’s the kind of movie that I won’t watch over and over again, but one I know is truly better than most of the stuff that came out this year. I loved this movie, and the only decision I had to make about putting it on this list was deciding between quality vs. watchability. That is to say, I loved this movie, but the rewatchability factor was low. Some of the other choices for this spot had way higher rewatchability factors, but I didn’t like them as much overall. It’s minor logistics at that point, but even so, the decision is made so much easier when you have one of our greatest living directors at the top of his game.
9. Bohemian Rhapsody
What? Don’t tell me that Live Aid sequence wasn’t the shit. Because you’re lying.
Sure, it’s a music biopic, and a lot of it feels by the numbers and controlled by the band. But you know what? It’s perfectly fine in those moments. And when the Queen songs start playing, the movie soars.
I had my reservations about Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, and it was tough in the early parts of the film, because I was seeing him with a look that most people are not used to and wearing a really obvious prosthetic in his mouth to make his front teeth more pronounced. But when you look it up — that’s how he looked and that’s what his teeth really looked like. It feels exaggerated like a movie would be, but it’s actually pretty close to the reality. And then, honestly, by the time we got to the end, it was like I was watching Freddie Mercury on that stage. That performance, and the film, did exactly what it was supposed to do. You were fully invested in all of it by the end.
I’m predisposed to music biopics, and when the music is good, it’s all the better. I’ve seen this movie three times now, and I know I can and will watch this a bunch more. I could have pretended like this wasn’t one of my ten favorite movies of the year, but within five years, I’d have put this right back up there, because I’ll have been watching it constantly between now and then. Which I know I can’t say the same for whatever would have been in its place.
And truly, if you haven’t already, go back and watch that original Live Aid set. That shit is magic.
8. A Star Is Born
Not counting What Price Hollywood? (which is the same basic story but not the exact same as the others), A Star Is Born has been made four times by Hollywood. First, in 1937, with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. Second, in 1954, with Judy Garland and James Mason. Third, in 1976, with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. This is the fourth.
Of the original three, the 1937 and the 1954 films are both in my top ten. The 1976 I don’t like as much, but even so, you can’t diminish the strength of the story. The point is, I am predisposed to liking this film. I was always going to like it at a certain level. However, while it might seem a given that this would end up on this list because it’s A Star Is Born, it actually means it was harder for this movie to make it on here. Because it needed to live up to its story in my eyes before I truly accepted it. And man, oh man, does it.
The strength of this version lies in Bradley Cooper’s direction of the story. It’s easy to do this story. It’s hard to make it unique and great. And he manages to do both. This being the first film he’s directed, I had my doubts as to how great it was gonna be. The story was a good starting point, because it was gonna be hard to screw up. But the fact that he took it and elevated it was really impressive to me. You can see it in the opening moments, when the camera goes out on stage for his concert. With him also starring in the film, most directors might have given themselves nice rock star closeups, and focused on their full frame to show, “Look, I’m doing the singing and playing myself.” But he doesn’t do that. He lets the camera roam around, handheld, and rarely does he give himself a close up or even a shot that focuses statically on his face. Which immediately shows you his chaotic lifestyle and his own self-loathing. You get it immediately. And it just took off from there. I was so impressed with him and the film for that.
And aside from the direction, he delivers a fantastic performance, casts Sam Elliott, who gives a performance that deserves to win Best Supporting Actor. And he casts Lady Gaga, which is a shrewd move. She’s a fine enough actress whose singing is so strong it can overcome any deficiencies she has in the performance. But Cooper also knows how to protect her from ever seeming weak and showing her inexperience as an actress. He sets up scenes to be improvisational. So many moments feel like he and her were just playing on set, giving a looseness to them. And the big dramatic moments he cuts away from quickly and doesn’t overdo. It works. It’s such a well-couched performance it might end up winning her Best Actress, which would be a first for the role, considering the history it has there.
Oh, and on top of all of that, the songs are terrific! The Streisand version, I couldn’t tell you any of the songs there. The Garland one, I can remember maybe one, two songs. Here, like four or five of the songs are great. This is a fine installment that fits right in with the best of the Star Is Born films. It reintroduces the story to a new generation of people and allows it to update itself with each new version of Hollywood with a new set of stars. This is everything I wanted it to be and more.
Things are better when Spike Lee is making great movies. It’s been a while. Inside Man’s the last one we all really liked. In between it’s been a mixed bag. Some good, some not so good. This is him getting back to great. This is one of his three most important films. An automatic top five for him. Do the Right Thing will always be his most important film. This is now in that conversation. And you also have to include Malcolm X and 25th Hour in there as well. That’s him at his best, and this is him at his best.
This is a movie that has a great story when you hear it: “true story about a black cop who infiltrated the KKK.” And that story can go a lot of different ways. But the way he handles it here is truly a marvel. It’s a comedy. But not really a comedy because throughout it’s got really dramatic and tense moments and has a lot of things to say about race and modern society. But he also puts in a musical number. He goes all out with this. And he hits home runs. Every decision he makes works, and every piece of this movie feels fresh and fun. And he manages to get his point across without dragging it on and making it feel overdone. The way he ends this movie, pulling the rug out from you and making you go from laughing to dead silent — that’s the mark of a true filmmaker.
This movie is truly one of the best movies of the year, and I knew it the minute I watched it. John David Washington is great, Adam Driver is great. All the cameos are fun. Spike is back, and I could not be happier.
6. If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins does it again. Moonlight was a truly special film and was absolutely stunning. I did not expect him to reach that level of perfection a second time, but I did expect him to make a very good movie. But I’ll tell you… he sure came close.
This movie is beautiful. And it references things that I hold very dear. A lot of people will make a big deal over the Wong Kar Wai shot with the umbrella, which I don’t really mind. To me, the reference I saw was in the first four minutes of the film, when he clearly is taking a cue from The Cranes Are Flying, which is legitimately one of my ten favorite films. And the minute I saw that be invoked, I knew I was gonna love this movie.
This movie is about so much, but at its core, it’s about love. It’s about the love of these two people. But also, the title, and the opening card: Beale Street is a street on New Orleans where James Baldwin’s father was born. It represents the street that so many black people grew up on, in the poor part of town with people striving for more and trying to make their lives manageable and make their children lives better than their’s. The film is trying to give words to all the stories that were borne of these places. And it’s just wonderful.
All the characters are so well drawn. Everyone in the film delivers an incredible performance. Kiki Layne and Stephan James — the camera just loves lingering on their faces. Colman Domingo and Regina King as Tish’s parents — my god. The little interludes the film takes, the ten minute showstopper of a monologue by Brian Tyree Henry. I am in awe of this movie.
I knew Barry Jenkins was an amazing director, but I really didn’t think he’d be able to come close to the perfection that was Moonlight. Especially not so soon. But man, did he make me fall in love with every frame of this movie. I am so happy this ended up in the top ten. This movie is beautiful, and I’m glad it exists.
I had to watch this one again just to make sure how I felt about it. I watched it the first time and knew I liked it a lot, but I wasn’t sure if those feelings were gonna fade or if they were gonna go stronger. My initial putting together of this list, I originally put this at #9. And you can tell how things ended up after the rewatch.
Now that Adam McKay has shifted his focus as a filmmaker, this was invariably going to be compared to The Big Short. And I think that’s gonna hurt it, at least initially. This movie took me a bit longer to get into. The bits and strings that The Big Short lays out are more fun and they all work. Here, it’s a bit more of a mixed bag, but overall, once this gets going, it doesn’t let up.
He includes a bunch of playful narrative bits that definitely get laughs (and which I will not spoil here, because they are best discovered as they happen), and is working with a full deck, because you knew from the minute you saw the first picture of Christian Bale as Cheney that the performance was gonna be special. And it is. I had concerns about Carell as Rumsfeld and Rockwell as W. But Rockwell allayed those suspicions almost immediately, and by the end it almost looked like I was watching George W. Bush. They really made him look just like him. Carell as Rumsfeld wasn’t as spot-on, casting-wise, and felt a bit out of place. But he was fun, and didn’t take me out of it too much. Plus, with Bale there pretty much anything was gonna work around him.
I’ve seen this twice now and I really love it. I also say with full certainty that this is the scariest movie of 2018. Holy shit, is a shot of Dick Cheney walking down a hallway scarier than anything in Hereditary or whatever people thought was terrifying. I’ve learned to stick with my guns on movies like this, because I know my taste, and I know not to listen when everyone else disagrees on something. And I think this is a great movie.
There’s always one movie on my top ten that always feels like it should have been on everyone’s lists that somehow feels like it’s been overlooked and cast aside. It’s almost always a crime movie (A Most Violent Year, Killing Them Softly), and almost always, people come back to me after a few years and go, “Shit, that movie is so good.” This is that movie for this year.
You’d think more people would be all over this, given the cast and the fact that it’s Steve McQueen’s followup to 12 Years a Slave. But it’s almost nowhere to be found on awards lists or top ten lists, and it really should be.
It’s based on a miniseries and feels that way, because there are so many interesting plotlines, both major and minor, all of which could have easily been expanded and turned this into a three hour movie. It’s just rich with character and story. And it’s so well directed. There are moments that are so well directed that are also low key. Like that entire car ride with Colin Farrell where they ride through the district. It says so much without being overly showy.
I’ve seen this twice now, and I cannot believe this isn’t all over the “best of the year” lists. It’s wonderful. Steve McQueen also hasn’t made a bad movie yet. And I’d go so far to say that he hasn’t made anything worse than great.
Don’t sleep on this movie, guys. It’s wonderful, and you’ll find out in five years after you realize you slept on it.
This was my most anticipated movie of the year. For a long time I just assumed it would probably be #1, just because. My excitement could have carried this to at worst #8 or #9 on this list even if it wasn’t very good. But with the clever and vague (to a point) marketing, I truly didn’t know what I was in for when I sat down to see this. And I think I speak for everyone I was with when I saw this — holy fucking shit.
I went to a screening of this with eleven other people. And every one of us was sitting with our mouths hanging open once we got to the end. That third act — again, holy fucking shit. No matter what I was thinking this was gonna be, there was nothing that could have prepared me for what this is. Not only that, I’m a huge fan of the original. It’s my #1 movie for 1977. So when I saw they were really departing from the story I was familiar with, I was both nervous and also was ready, since I trust Luca Guadagnino. But still — a two and a half hour meditation on trauma starring almost entirely women (and the only two men in the cast are underdeveloped and basically objectified), I could not have expected that, and I could not have expected it to have been so good. Also, that third act — holy shit.
I have a lot of thoughts on this movie, and I’m really only gonna process them all once I’ve seen this movie at least two more times. But for the time being, I really loved this movie a lot. Long live Tilda Swinton.
2. Green Book
I still can’t believe it. A year ago, I saw that Peter Farrelly, co-director of Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber, making a movie that sure sounded like Driving Miss Daisy in reverse. And you go, “Oh boy, Oscar bait,” and assume it’ll just be something forgettable that makes no impression. There was a movie that felt a bit like that a few year ago. It was called Mr. Church and it starred Eddie Murphy. Have you heard of it? Exactly. There was nothing to suggest this would be anything more than that.
Then we got closer, and the trailer was pretty good. And it played festivals, and the word of mouth started. And it got to the point where I had the chance to see it in October and I thought, “Okay, let’s see what we’re in for.” And within thirty minutes of that screening starting, I was blown away. I’m still blown away.
I’ve been selling this to my family as, “This is the Hidden Figures of this year.” Because Hidden Figures was a movie that you went in with no expectations, that was so entertaining and such a crowd pleaser that literally anyone you recommended it to could go in and see it and was almost guaranteed to enjoy it. And that’s what this is.
The story sounds generic as hell, but the way they draw the main two characters is incredible, and makes the story stand on its own and stand out from all the generic versions it could have been. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are both amazing here. You can’t praise one without the other, and both deliver powerhouse performances. And the film is just so well-written. This should, by most accounts, not work. And it does. It’s funny, it’s dramatic, it takes turns you’re not necessarily expecting, and even when it takes the turns you would expect, they don’t feel stale. You’re not dreading having to see the same scene again that you’ve seen a hundred times.
I made sure to go see this a second time in the theater to confirm my feelings about this. And having seen it again, I have no qualms about making it my #2 film of the year. It’s wonderful. This is the kind of movie I can watch a hundred times and still be entertained by it. For me, a top ten list is about watchability as much as it is how much I liked the films. This, to me, has it all. And truly, I could not have seen that coming at the beginning of the year.
1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Well this has never happened before. A documentary as my #1 movie of the year. But you know what? I didn’t love any movie nearly as much as I loved this.
In a year where it just felt full of awful stuff, here’s a documentary about a man so pure, who stood for all the best values, who was a hero to millions of children growing up, myself included. And usually in things like this, you find out that they’re not exactly who they seemed on TV in their private life, or maybe they had flaws. But here, you find out — he really was that amazing. This is one of the rare occasions where you learn that your hero really was that great, and really did stand for everything that is good in the world.
This is the one movie this year that filled me with pure joy as I watched it. It gave me hope. It made me feel okay about the state of things and the future. I first saw it at 9am on a Sunday because I figured, if there was any time I’d be least likely to end up sobbing in the theater (a given no matter the time), that would be it. The theater was 60-70% full (which never happens at that time, especially for a documentary), and by the end, not a single person wasn’t crying.
I would never just assume that a documentary would never be my favorite film of a given year, but I did think it would take something special if there were gonna be one. And trust me, this is that something special.
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11. Springsteen on Broadway — This already is one of the great concert films of all time. I’ve legitimately watched this five separate times already, and listened to it twice. I love it so, so much. Springsteen already cemented his legacy with the music, but this — this will make him immortal.
12. The Favourite — This movie is fucking hysterical. I laughed so hard. This barely missed the top ten due to lack of space. There’s a chance it could sneak on in the future. But for now, here will have to do. This is so perfectly written. Yorgos was the best director for it, and Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are all incredible in it. This is everything you wanted to see in all those stuffy period pieces but never did. It’s so dark, but so, so funny. I feel like this has a strong shot of cracking the top ten over time.
13. The Death of Stalin — Okay, so slight cheating here. This movie came out late 2017 in the UK, and is technically a 2017 movie. But it did not come out in the U.S. until 2018, and I was not able to see it until 2018. And because I loved it so much, I am counting it for 2018 for the moment. Because this list is, at its core, designed to get other people to see movies, by me talking about the movies I loved the most. And I really loved this movie. So we will put it here for now, and then in a few months when I finally get around to finishing the longstanding Top Ten lists, I’ll put this in 2017 where it belongs.
14. You Were Never Really Here — Lynne Ramsey directs a hell of a movie. This is a crime/revenge movie without any of the scenes you would expect. And it’s the fact that it doesn’t do the stuff you’d expect is what makes it a great movie. I’m so in love with this. Don’t sleep on this movie. It’s one of the best of the year.
15. Revenge — I’ve told more people to see this movie than anything else from this year. It’s awesome. On the surface, it’s a simple rape-revenge movie. But it’s so much more than that. Between the rape and before the revenge, this shit is the Revenant. It’s brutal. And the revenge part is so well-executed that you are cheering for this to go down. And the final showdown is so bloody, I’ve never seen anything like it. And the movie is colorful. I cannot stress to you enough how amazing this movie is.
16. The Front Runner — I wish I got to see this a second time to really look for all the stuff I know I missed when watching it the first time. But that’s exactly what I knew to put this in the top 20. Because there’s so much going on in this movie that I feel like it allows you to pay attention to whatever you want. And I think that, on top of the fantastic direction, writing and acting, this movie also pulls that old Hollywood trick of being about the past but speaking about the current days. The handling of the Hart story is a direct precursor to the current tabloid media style and draws a direct line to our current political situation. Not to mention the angle it takes on the toll the event has on Donna Rice, which has a direct line to the current social climate. And the best part is, you can concentrate on whatever one of these angles you want and still get something out of the movie. Big fan of how this one was handled, and most of all it brings Jason Reitman back to the pack of top directors, a group from which he seemed a bit estranged for a few years.
17. Ocean’s 8 — I’ve seen this movie three times now, and I enjoy it more every time I see it. This is the one where everyone was lukewarm on it and I don’t understand why. This is fun as hell. It’s a clone of sorts to Eleven, but that’s more of a template than anything. I think this manages to stand on its own pretty well. And for me, easy rewatchability is key to likability. And I’ll watch this movie a bunch. I don’t give a shit what people thought of this. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Bring on sequels. Bridge the gap to 11 with 9 + 10, and then give us 14, 15 and 16. I’m so down for all of this.
18. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald — I enjoy this franchise. I overestimated last time just how much I enjoy it, but the universe overcomes a lot for me. I will admit that this is not as strong as the first film, and may even be a really weak film overall. But even with Chamber of Secrets as the weakest in those other movies, I’ll still take that over most other things. So I’m not gonna lie and drop this in order to put some “classier” entry here. I like what I like, and I enjoy everything within this universe. You do your list, I’ll do mine.
19. First Man — It’s the direction that kept it so high. I let time go by and I think, “Did I really like this that much? It was just solid at best.” But honestly, when I go back on this, the way they shot it and the sound design really are incredible. And then I go back and see it and realize, “Ryan Gosling’s acting is incredible here” and all these other little things that I like. This is gonna be one… it’ll require rewatches, but I’ll remind myself just how strong this movie is and how much I like it. My brain is telling me maybe I don’t want this here, but my gut is telling me it should be, because I’ll thank myself for it later.
20. White Boy Rick— I was always inclined to love this movie. And I got so worried when reviews weren’t good. But I don’t know what people were expecting. I got exactly what I wanted to out of this. I enjoyed the hell out of it. Maybe it drops down for me in the future, but for now, this is everything I wanted it to be. McConaughey is great, the music is great, the era and location felt right, and it was just a really enjoyable movie. I’m standing by this one.
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- Anna and the Apocalypse
- At Eternity’s Gate
- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
- Creed II
- Eighth Grade
- I Kill Giants
- Isle of Dogs
- Leave No Trace
- Mary Poppins Returns
- Mission: Impossible – Fallout
- Never Goin’ Back
- The Old Man and the Gun
- Ready Player One
- Sicario: Day of the Soldado
- The Sisters Brothers
- Sorry to Bother You
Blindspotting just barely missed the top 20. I love it so much. This is perhaps the film of 2018 I most want people to see. Revenge is probably the one I’m recommending the most of the movies you don’t know about, but this is one that people need to see above all. It is tremendous. This is the one I’m saying people see over Black Panther. It’s a buddy comedy at heart, but one with serious things to say about race, inequality, social injustice and so much more. Written by its stars, with wonderful performances by them, this is truly one of the best movies of 2018. If you take one thing from this section of the list, it’s that you should see this movie. At Eternity’s Gate is Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh, directed by Julian Schnabel. I mean, what more of a recommendation could you need? This is a movie that’s not about a particular story so much as it’s made up of moments that feel connected and coherent. Beautifully directed and well-acted. Just a great movie all around.
Never Goin’ Back is also one that just missed the top 20. I loved this so much. This is a perfect film in its own way. Augustine Frizzell shoots off a cannon with her debut, proclaiming herself as talented a director as her husband (whose film will appear right after this one on this list). It’s such a wonderful film. It’s the kind of hangout movie that I love. Right in the mold of Dazed and Confused and Clerks and all those films. The plot is reminiscent of Inside Llewyn Davis, where it’s a week in the life of these people, but you get the sense that every week goes a lot like this. The leads, Maia Mitchell and Camilla Morrone, are wonderful, and the writing is so fantastic. This has a chance to climb higher over time, because I feel like I’m gonna go back and watch this one a bunch. It’s really, really good, and one of the films I am most likely to recommend to someone to check out from this year. The Old Man and the Gun is an incredible movie that does less than it needs to for maximum effect. Great story (old man robbing banks), great lead role for Robert Redford (maybe his last?) and great direction by David Lowery. Here’s a movie that takes a turn every time you think it’s gonna do the same thing all the other movies do, and its to its own benefit. We don’t need audacious heist sequences in something like this, and the movie knows it. It also features a great final fifteen minutes that work as a fitting finale to Redford’s career, should he decide this is his last film. Loved this movie, and this has a chance to potentially climb higher over time.
Sorry to Bother You is the most unique film of 2018. The kind of film I tell everyone (as long as I know they can handle what it’s doing) they need to see, while also urging them to know as little as possible about it going in. Because man, once that turn happens… the rest of this movie is so good that that turn happens and you’re like, “Okay, sure, this is what we’re doing now? Let’s go.” I loved everything about this movie, and it’s one of the essential films of 2018. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is Tom Cruise keeping his franchise as perhaps the premier one in all of cinema. He delivers the goods every time one of these comes out. It’s a testament to this franchise that every new one feels like the best one, because they never feel stale and always give you great stuff. Almost nothing is as automatic as this franchise is. Time feels like it’s gonna be kind to this one. Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a movie I expected to have a drop off in quality from the first one, but I didn’t expect it to be as slim as it was. I figured I’d get a solid tier three movie that just wasn’t as great as the first one. Instead, I got a continuation of the story, that wasn’t as good as the first one, but was really worth seeing and engaging at the same time. It takes different turns than I was expecting, but it remained solid. I want them to round this off as a solid trilogy.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the Coen brothers doing a western anthology. Lesser in terms of their filmography but still one of the better movies of this year, because even the worst Coen brothers movie is better than most things that come out. Six different segments, all of which are interesting, and at least half of which you’ll like a lot. The biggest downside to me is that it looks like a Netflix movie. Outside of that, it’s the kind of filmmaking you don’t see anymore. In the 60s, all these directors did ensemble movies. But now, they just don’t do these types of movies, and this is a nice diversion. I’d like to see them come back with a movie within the next two years and not wait another four or five, but outside of that, this is fun. Isle of Dogs is Wes Anderson returning to stop motion. Fantastic Mr. Fox is a perfect film. This is a very good film, and like Buster Scruggs, feels like a lesser effort into his filmography. But even so, a lesser Wes Anderson film is better than most other films.
Mandy is Nicolas Cage at his batshit finest. Backed up by a visionary director, this is just a true marvel on every level, complete with Cage meltdown, blood and gore, and just mayhem. This is the kind of movie where, maybe you saw a trailer, maybe you saw a clip, but whatever you’ve seen, go in seeing no more than that, and you’ll be in for a real ride. I fucking loved this movie. Creed II is not as good as the first Creed, but still a very enjoyable movie. It’s basically Rocky, so you know you’re getting a minimum level of quality of this. And it just works. Follows a lot of the tropes you’d expect, but it holds itself together and you know you’re gonna be cheering once the boxing starts. Leave No Trace is Debra Granik returning to cinema with a vengeance. Her first movie since Winter’s Bone, and it’s great. Ben Foster is terrific (as he always is), and Thomasin McKenzie arrives on the scene with an incredible performance. So many of the best performances of this year came from either first-timers or relative newcomers, all under the age of 20. This is a terrific drama that deserves to be seen by a lot of people. Anna and the Apocalypse is a zombie musical. Shaun of the Dead with show tunes. I loved it. And the good thing about it is, if those first two sentences didn’t sell you on it, then we’re good. If they did, then you know what you’re getting.
The Sisters Brothers is a western, but it’s a western that’s trying not to be one. John C. Reilly’s been trying to get this made for years, and finally succeeds with a foreign director who is trying to not follow any of the western tropes. A lot of this movie is about the journey and not the destination, even though it makes you think it’s about the destination. It’s also very funny, but in ways that don’t feel like they should be funny. I really liked it. It won’t be for everyone, but for fans of the genre, and fans of the stars, you’ll get something out of this. I think this is one of the more solid films of 2018, though also one that I wouldn’t recommend to everyone. But it’s a western. You know I love it. Eighth Grade is one of the signature movies of 2018. It really surprised the hell out of me, with how well-written and directed it was, the great performances by Elsie Fisher and Josh Hamilton, and how mature it felt for a first film by Bo Burnham. Somewhere along the way of this movie, you will remember feeling exactly the same way. It’s universal while also being weirdly specific to the current generation at the same time. Mary Poppins Returns is a delightful sequel/continuation of the first film. Not as good as the original, but not a letdown either. Perfectly fun and family friendly. If I have one gripe it’s that the songs aren’t particularly memorable as compared to the original, but it’s still a very solid movie.
Unsane is Steven Soderbergh reminding us yet again of what we miss when he doesn’t make movies. Every one of his movies somehow ends up underrated and underseen. Logan Lucky is more so than this, but this movie is incredible. Shot entirely on an iPhone, it looks great and it’s a really solid psychological thriller. Claire Foy is incredible here, in one of the underrated performances of the year, and it’s the kind of movie (like Side Effects), that Hitchcock would have loved. Also, when you hear that it was shot on an iPhone, you expect a certain type of movie. But trust me, it’s not that. It looks slightly off center than a movie shot through a camera, but it actually adds to the unsettling nature of the story. Don’t ever sleep on a Soderbergh movie, and this one is really one you ought to see. I Kill Giants is arguably the movie that A Monster Calls should have been. It’s a bad comparison, but ultimately they try to do similar things. This is about an outcast girl with no friends who is dealing with a tough situation at home (the kind a child should never have to endure). And in order to cope, she is convinced that she is saving the world from monsters. Which only serves to keep her isolated from everyone else, because they all think she’s weird/refusing to accept reality. It’s quite wonderful, and really emotional. The kind of movie I’d have discovered as a child and loved dearly, even though no one else would ever know what it was.
Ready Player One is Spielberg. I was leery about it because it just felt so ripe to be a disaster. But I really liked it. It’s fun, it’s got good visuals, takes you on a nice ride, and doesn’t overdo it with all the references. The 80s nostalgia is a bit too much and the overall themes of the movie are a bit weak, but the thing with someone like Spielberg is…the movies are only gonna have a certain floor to them. The rest is just upside. And this one had more upside than I was expecting, and I wasn’t nearly as down on this as some people were. I’ve gone back to watch this a couple times and been perfectly entertained. This will definitely hold up over time better than you might think. Tully is Jason Reitman’s second solid film of the year. Rounding out a trilogy with Diablo Cody, after Juno and Young Adult, this is a satisfying movie. Charlize Theron is fantastic, Mackenzie Davis is a revelation… but only if you don’t already know Mackenzie Davis is great. The rest of us knew this is what she is for years. This is the kind of movie where I feel like the pleasures of it are not in its story but in the smaller details. You’re not gonna go back and watch it for the narrative, but rather the moments between Charlize and Davis, which are really the heart of the film. Reitman is one of those guys that really knows what he’s doing, and it was a shame to see him not really making movies for a few years. Now that he’s got two really solid efforts under his belt from this year, I hope he doesn’t make us wait a long time for his next one.
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- American Animals
- Can You Ever Forgive Me?
- Cold War
- Dragged Across Concrete
- First Match
- Game Night
- The Hate U Give
- Hot Summer Nights
- The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl
- The Other Side of the Wind
- Outlaw King
- Private Life
- A Quiet Place
- Set It Up
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
- What They Had
American Animals is one of the hidden gems of 2018. A heist movie with a great narrative style and incredibly directed. Think I, Tonya meets docudrama. The real people tell their story in interviews and we intercut between the fictional narrative performed by the actors. But then the real people interact with the fictional ones at times. This is the kind of movie that will grab your attention and hold it, even if it might not sound like your cup of tea. Cold War is an absolutely stunning movie that looks so good you don’t even need to pay attention to the plot (which is also pretty good). First Match is a solid Netflix movie about a girl from a broken home dangerously at the bad end of the foster system who channels her anger by joining the boy’s wrestling team. Really solid movie.
The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl is an anime with perhaps my favorite premise of 2018: a girl goes out on an all-night bender. That’s it. That’s all you need. I loved it. Outlaw King is a really enjoyable Scottish epic, with good performances and great battle scenes. Never gonna overtake Braveheart, but it can be Braveheart’s cousin, who is also kind cool, who you hang out with once in a while. The Other Side of the Wind is a really solid film, and a fitting finale to Orson Welles’ career. Probably not the first Welles film people should see, but definitely a nice entry into his (sadly too limited) filmography. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a solid followup to Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl, with good performances from Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant. Hereditary is the singular horror movie of 2018. I keep saying it’s a secret comedy and is low-key one of the funniest movies of the year, but even so, that little girl is creepy as shit and Toni Collette gives one of the more committed performances of the year. If you haven’t seen it, you should, because even if the whole movie doesn’t hold up for you, certain sequences (and clicking sounds) will stick in your mind long after seeing it. And if you have seen it, watch it again, because I do think this is secretly a comedy.
What They Had is the really solid, under the radar indie of this year. Fantastic performances by Michael Shannon, Hilary Swank, Blythe Danner and especially Robert Forster, it’s that “indie family comes together during a crisis and has to deal with all their lingering drama” movie that can easily get lost in the shuffle of a year. But this one is very worthwhile. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a really great Netflix rom com that, along with Set It Up, is helping revive that genre. Like all rom coms, it needs a good premise, and “Shy girl who wrote letters to all of her crushes but never mailed them suddenly has to deal with her feelings when all the letters suddenly end up in the mail and the boys find out” is a great one. Lana Condor is incredible here, and the movie is well written and the leads have the right kind of chemistry to make it work.
Mid90s is Jonah Hill’s Skatey Bird, based loosely on his childhood. It’s a really fantastic debut and really captures the mood and tone it’s going for. Great performances by all the kids and also by Lucas Hedges and Katherine Waterston as the older characters. A Quiet Place has a fantastic concept and is well-directed. The classical style that eschews jump scares and handheld for tone and mood really helps sustain it and make it better than your average horror movie. Into the Spider-Verse is way better than it ought to be, and it’s the animation style that wins the day. The movie is fine and has its smart moments, but the animation style is better than anything I’ve seen in a mainstream release in a while. Private Life is a really solid Tamara Jenkins movie with great performances by Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti and Kayli Carter. Jenkins’ movies, while few and far between, are always very good.
Set It Up is the best rom com in at least a decade. Great premise: overworked assistants scheme to get their bosses together so they have more free time (and end up falling in love on the side), great chemistry between the leads, great writing, and just a good time. Rom coms are constantly underrated movies, with people always going, “Yeah, it was fine,” and then in ten years you realize you can just watch it over and over and really enjoy it. This is one of those movies. Dragged Across Concrete is Craig Zahler’s third movie, after Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99. Technically it’ll be a 2019 movie, but I’ve seen it and want to make sure other people do, so it’ll go here for now and adjust everything later. But he continues with his ever-growing ensemble of actors and adds Mel Gibson to the mix. It’s a movie that feels like a novel more than a film, with meandering subplots and an ending that is so different from how the film starts, it really takes you on a winding journey with these characters, the likes of which you really only can get on the page. But it’s solid. The other two are amazing, but this one’s also quite good. Hot Summer Nights is a film that I’ve been following for years, ever since I read the script. And while the finished product is not as strong as the script and is a movie most people seemed to not like, I enjoyed it and I think it’s a perfectly solid movie with a great soundtrack and good, young actors. This feels like the B-movie White Boy Rick to me.
Damsel is an anti-western western directed by the guys who did Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. It’s not what you think you’re getting but is really incredible. Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska are great, and the movie takes all sorts of weird and interesting detours along the way. Big fan of what these guys do. The Hate U Give is a YA movie that transcends its genre by actually being about something. Fantastic supporting performances and really adult conversations mixed in with the tropes that teenagers recognize from these movies, this is the kind of movie you do not see coming. A really impressive piece of work. Game Night is perhaps the best straight comedy of 2018. The concept is amazing — people gather together for a game night, think they’re about to do a murder mystery game, then the host gets kidnapped and it gets very real, but they all think it’s just part of the game, even as they end up in legitimate danger. The comedy isn’t watered down or broad enough to ruin that premise, and they get inspired supporting performances like Jesse Plemons’. I’m usually really tough when it comes to comedies, but I liked this one quite a bit.
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- Ant-Man and the Wasp
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Bird Box
- Black Panther
- The Christmas Chronicles
- Deadpool 2
- A Futile and Stupid Gesture
- Hearts Beat Loud
- The House That Jack Built
- Madeline’s Madeline
- The Mule
- On the Basis of Sex
- The Polka King
- Small Town Crime
- Solo: A Star Wars Story
- We the Animals
Tier four seems to be tier where all the big mainstream movies tend to go.
Deadpool 2 was a lesser, but acceptable sequel. Solo was at least a fun-ish diversion, even if it is the watered down Star Wars we get now that it’s part of the machine. Bumblebee is a fun, back-to-basics Transformers movie that adds 80s movie charm and a story that actually kind of matters instead of explosions. Our three Marvel films are on here. I feel like they always slip on the bottom just because they’re easy to watch and I know they’re gonna at least be floating around my head longer than some random indie. Of the three, I prefer Ant-Man and the Wasp because of its contained story, fun tone, and lack of a big villain who wants to destroy the world. Black Panther isn’t the movie the critical and cultural reception would have you think, but is is a fun and interesting diversion from the usual Marvel stuff. And Avengers… if you enjoy even remotely the other stuff, it does feel like a giant culmination of everything they’ve been building toward. I feel like only history (and how they stick the landing with the next one) will tell us where that one stands. Still, they at least make the films competent and easy to watch.
As for the other “known” films — The Mule is a solid Clint Eastwood movie, and would be a fitting finale to his career, if indeed that’s what it is. There are problems, but over time, it’ll just be a decent enough movie. Better he go out on that than Trouble with the Curve/The 15:17 to Paris. Bird Box I thought was a really solid apocalyptic movie. The solid cast overcame the problems I had with it. Much better than what Netflix usually has to offer in this genre. Searching was a really solid film, and way better than what I thought I was getting. It maximized the potential of the “set entirely on a computer screen” genre (mostly due to it being a thriller and not a horror movie) and probably is the best they’re ever gonna do with that gimmick. On the Basis of Sex is a perfectly acceptable Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic. I prefer the documentary (how often are you gonna hear me say that?) but it’s still pretty solid and does everything it needs to do.
I guess we should have a Netflix tier next. A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a fun history of Mad Magazine. A nice entry into that “weird biopic” genre. Even the stunt casting for really famous and memorable celebrities somehow works out because of the tone the movie strikes. Inspired chaos, I think is the term for this. The Polka King is yet another entry onto the “Jack Black picks really cool indies and gives underrated performances” list. Fantastic true story about a Polish polka leader who starts a Ponzi scheme (as you do). Those who have been talking up movies like Bernie and The D Train need to add this one to that list. Shoplifters is a beautiful portrait of a band of misfits who have become a family and use petty theft in order to get by. And finally, The Christmas Chronicles. The one Netflix Christmas movie you need to be watching. Kurt Russell is awesome as Santa Claus, it takes angles you would never expect, and features: 1) Santa Claus in a car chase with police 2) an elf about to take a chainsaw to a dude’s groin and 3) Santa performing a musical number in prison. You’re only hurting yourself if you don’t watch it.
And the rest are the indies that you probably haven’t heard of/probably haven’t seen. Thoroughbreds is a nice debut for Cory Finley with Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy proving they’re two people we should all want to see more of in the coming years. Hearts Beat Loud is a really endearing father-daughter story with Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons where a father and daughter start a band. Lean on Pete is a nice little drama about a boy who befriends a horse on its way out. Small Town Crime is a solid John Hawkes crime film that fits into the “detective story” mold. One of those VOD movies no one sees that people will watch and go, “Oh, that was good, how come I didn’t know about that?” And Madeline’s Madeline is a surrealist wonder, with perhaps the single best performance of 2018 by Helena Howard. Not for everyone, but incredible for those it is for. And The House That Jack Built is Lars Von Trier. Which about covers it. A two-and-a-half hour serial killer opus that starts as a dark comedy, gets darker, and then goes full Dante. Say what you will about Von Trier, but his movies are always intriguing and always stay with you.
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Andre the Giant
Crime + Punishment
Jane in Five Acts
Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind
They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead
They Shall Not Grow Old
Three Identical Strangers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
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