At Eternity’s Gate; Beautiful Boy; Bohemian Rhapsody; Boy Erased; Burning; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Cold War; Destroyer; Foxtrot; Free Solo; Green Book; The Hate U Give; The Guardians; Lizzie; Love After Love; Love, Simon; Mary, Queen of Scots; Minding the Gap; On The Basis of Sex; Peterloo; Shoplifters; Sweet Country; They Shall Not Grow Old; Vox Lux; Wildlife; Zama
Like I did with 2017’s 2.0 list, the above list represents all the movies that I have not been able to see, hence it stands as proof for why this list cannot be considered my final word on the subject. The act of putting together this list gets exponentially harder every year because there is just an enormous amount of content. Thirty years ago in 1988 only 254 movies got anything resembling a release. In 2018 as of counting 762 movies charted at the box-office. Now more than ever my “best of the year” list is going to be incomplete simply because of sheer volume. Thus, as has been my tradition, my final “Best of the Year” list will be released sometime in mid-April/early-May when I at least have had a chance to catch most of the major contenders and after the dust of awards season has settled
And before we dive in a couple of rules for eligibility for this list :
- The movie has to be released in 2018. Fairly straightforward, but there are a couple of additional caveats. First a movie that only had a limited release in 2017 (released in a few theatres) is eligible if it had a wide release in 2018. Second a movie is also eligible if it was a foreign movie made before 2018 but was only available in North America in 2018 either through theatrical release or home video.
- A movie is only eligible to be included in one “best of the year” list. This means if I included a limited release movie from 2017 in my any best-of list from 2017, it is ineligible this year. Similarly all the movies that appear this year can’t show up next year.
. And one note:
- Astute readers may notice that the positions of movies from my earlier “Best of 2018” may have risen or fallen relative to one another (for instance, A Quiet Place has moved from tenth to the “Honorable Mentions” while the two movies below it on that list remain on my 2.0 Best List). These are mostly the result of rewatches, the passage of time, and stand as evidence of why trying to evaluate the quality of art this close to encountering it for the first time is in many ways a ludicrous act. But just know that these movements are not oversights.
I cannot overemphasize just how great a year this has been for the movies. Usually when I compose these lists I find spots 1 through 5 the most migraine-inducing as I parse minor details to separate those final picks. This year the migraine-inducing decisions started all the way down at around the number 20 slot. Great movies that I’m sure would have been at least top 10 picks a year or two ago have ended off this list and the merely good movies find themselves on the outside looking in Furthermore as I mentioned right at the top, I still have two dozen or so movies to see before I feel confident enough to put together a final list. Thus this honorable mentions list will be long.
(In Alphabetical Order)
Ant-Man & The Wasp
A Fantastic Woman
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
A Quiet Place
A Star Is Born
Sorry to Bother You
Three Identical Strangers
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
Won’t You Be My Neighbor
You Were Never Really Here
25. THE RIDER dir. Chloe Zhao
What happens if the thing that gives you the most life will also probably kill you? That is the question facing Brady, a rodeo star trying to piece his life together after suffering brain damage during a bronco riding competition. Debutant director Chloe Zhao refuses to give easy answers to Brady’s existential question, as he faces the prospect of a quick death if he chooses to ride and gets another brain injury, or chooses not to and resigns himself to death of a much slower kind. In many ways his story is a perfect allegory for the state that Brady’s country finds itself in, and how he resolves that problem for himself is nothing short of compelling drama.
24. SUPPORT THE GIRLS dir. Andrew Bujalski
Nowhere is the malaise and existential despair that is late capitalism more apparent than in Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls in which Lisa (an extremely underrated Regina Hall), a general manager at a “breastaurant” sports bar and a surrogate mother to all its employees, slowly finds her cheery optimism ground down in one fateful as mini-crisis after mini-crisis comes her way and she finds her talents and passions wasted in what is essentially a dead-end job. That the movie never come across as preachy and that Lisa remain cheery, brave, and kind in the face of hopeless aimlessness are just two of the reasons this bleak premise is still comedic gold.
23. LEAVE NO TRACE dir. Debra Granik
If there is a common theme to the movies that impacted me the most this year, it is that they are the movies that in their own way shine an unvarnished eye to our current world while trying to understand it. In Leave No Trace draws our eyes to two individuals who have fallen through the cracks of the American dream. The first is Will (Ben Foster), an Iraq vet who suffers from PTSD and as such cannot assimilate into society meaning he squats in public parks. The second is his thirteen year-old daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), who lives in isolation with her father and has to constantly live with the having to choose between living a normal life and being with her father whom she loves. There are infinite number of paths in which this premise could be played for trite sentimentality, but Debra Granik chooses instead to approach it honestly, making it one of the most uplifting and heartbreaking movies of the year.
22. BLINDSPOTTING dir. Carlos López Estrada
To say the conversation about race in America is complicated would be a severe understatement and this year seemingly brought about a concerted effort from some brave and brash filmmakers intent not only of diving into that conversation but in muddying up the waters considerably (Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You being one other notable example). For my money Carlos López Estrada’s Blindspotting was the best of a great batch of this subgenre as it abrasively and hilariously paints a portrait of two best friends, one white and the other black, who have to navigate the tumultous and complicated racial waters of a gentrifying Oakland.
21. THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND dir. Orson Welles
The mere fact that we have, in 2018, an Orson Welles movie over three decades after his death is miraculous enough. That it turns out to be one of the best from his later period is merely a bonus. This long unfinished film has the eerie quality of being art-imitating-life as it chronicles the last evening of a director who is struggling to get the financing to complete his Hollywood comeback film, thus giving us illuminating insight into the mindset of Welles himself in the twilight of his career while serving as a sobering reminder that we are often poor judges of the greatness of art and artists in their own time.
20. HEREDITARY dir. Ari Aster
To give you some indication of how great this year has been for movies, I found myself gobsmacked that somehow Hereditary could only land itself in the twentieth spot. When I saw the movie I was utterly convinced that I had seen a top-ten and probably top-five movie of the year and it is only because of the general excellence of the movie’s in front of it and no fault of its own. Like many of the great horror films of the last decade, Hereditary owes its success to its incredible patience, deriving its horror by slowly and surely wrapping its claws around you so that by the time it descends into traditional scares it has worked up your fears into an anxiety-inducing frenzy. An impressive debut by Ari Aster indeed.
19. BLACK PANTHER dir. Ryan Coogler
Usually under the best of circumstances a Marvel movie rarely approaches anything beyond being “solidly good” but for a plethora of reasons Black Panther manages to push beyond that to being one of the few “great” Marvel movies. As fantastical as Black Panther is one of the only movies that seems to address and converse with the real world, as the issues of race, colonialism, and isolationism leave the central conflicts of this movie packed with stakes. Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) emerges as one of the few compelling and memorable villains in the MCU as his cause could arguably be seen as just, leaving our hero T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) on shakier philosophical ground. And surrounding these two alpha males in a cadre of strong women (Danai Gurai, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, and Angela Bassett) each of them capable of standing their ground and usurping their male counterparts in their own way. As T’Challa sister utters, “Just because something is good doesn’t mean something can be improved.” With Black Panther Marvel takes that lesson to heart.
18. ISLE OF DOGS dir. Wes Anderson
With Isle of Dogs Wes Anderson returns to familiar ground by employing the hyper-controlled medium of stop-motion animation that he so skillfully used before in Fantastic Mr. Fox, creating an expansive and immersive sandbox for our imaginations to wander in. His dystopian vision of a future Tokyo in which all dogs are infected by an incurable disease and exiled to an island of trash might be his most imaginative story yet (which is saying something), but it is also the first Wes Anderson movie that is equally concerned with saying something about the troubles of the real world as it is in presenting his usual hyper-imaginative and meticulously detailed fictional world.
17. THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS dirs. Ethan and Joel Coen
Somehow the Coen brothers have emerged as the unlikeliest of saviors for the Western genre whether through their neo-Western No Country for Old Men or their more traditional remake True Grit. But with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the Coens most explicitly play with the conventions of the Western while the anthology nature of its narrative (another movie format the Coens have brought back from the dead) allows the directing duo to ruminate on their usual obsessions of fate and free will in hilarious, tragic, and terrifyingly nihilistic ways.
16. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE dirs. Bob Perschetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman
While the huge advancements in CGI over the last few decades have made it increasingly possible to bring our comic book heroes to life, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the first movie to actually replicate what it feels like to read a comic book. This is thanks in no small part to the wild, inventive, and truly original animation on display, the vibrant and propulsive soundtrack, and a willingness by the directing crew to embrace a truly gonzo superhero story. The appeal of comic books is that it is an art form that can promise infinite possibilities. Into the Spider-Verse is the first movie to truly embrace that idea.
15. PRIVATE LIFE dir. Tamara Jenkins
Sometimes the problems of a couple seem extremely petty and small to everyone around them, but feel like millstones around the neck of the people going through them. Such is the case with Private Life which chronicles the increasingly desperate journey of Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti) as they navigate the harrowing and often dehumanizing journey of trying to get a child whether by medical or adoptive means. Director Tamara Jenkins (Savages) once again shows her penchant for empathy as she takes the subjects of infertility and impotency, things that are usually confined to the periphery of polite conversations, and instead blows that conversation into the open with humor, sadness, empathy, and tears.
14. WIDOWS dir. Steve McQueen
After pounding us with harrowing dramas like Hunger, Shame, and 12 Years a Slave, director Steve McQueen takes a left turn and decides to give us an out-and-out crime heist thriller and proves surprisingly adept at this more conventional material. Anchored by yet another commanding performance by Viola Davis who manages to be sympathetic and terrifying and often in the same breath, Widows represents that rare and increasingly endangered movie: A Hollywood popcorn movie aimed squarely at the adults in the room that is willing to challenge you intellectually while thrilling you.
13. EIGHTH GRADE dir. Bo Burnham
While I have seen many horror movies in the past year, and some of them have truly terrified me (see: Hereditary), nothing has left me lying in a cold sweat more than Bo Burnham’s debut film Eighth Grade. That is because Burnham and Elsie Fisher, the movie’s breakout star, have crafted a pitch-perfect and visceral depiction of the anxieties, awkwardness, and altogether hellishness that is being a kid in middle school. But beyond evoking our childhoods, what Eighth Grade does best is illuminate the particular stressors and pressures that make being a middle-schooler difficult today; all this is made somewhat palatable by the ineffable and unpretentious charm of Fisher’s Kayla Day who makes it extremely easy to empathize with what it means to be a thirteen year old again.
12. BLACKKKLANSMAN dir. Spike Lee
Spike Lee is a director who does nothing but take big swings. While that has meant his filmography is littered with plenty of misses, it has ensured that every film he makes is at least interesting. But in BlacKkKlansman Lee hits a home run. The movie, about a black cop who successfully infiltrates the Klan, could have easily descended into a preachy “message film” about our modern realities of racism. But instead, Lee plays the movie fairly straight – the movie is filled to the brim with broad comedy, visual flair, and a smooth thrill so that when he finally does decide draw the straight line between racism of the past and racism today, he lands that punch on his audience with great effect.
11. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT dir. Steve McQueen
One of these days Tom Cruise is going to get seriously hurt performing a death-defying stunt for this increasingly over-the-top franchise and we are all going to feel guilty about it. Because there is no doubt that part of the reason Cruise keeps performing at this ridiculously dangerous level is because he has a professional commitment and desire to keep us, the viewers entertained. And with Mission: Impossible – Fallout, he delivers on his promise by jumping out of a plane, sprinting for what has to be five kilometers, engaging in a truck, car, and motorcycle chase through Paris, and doing his own helicopter stunts through mountainous terrain. It is insane, it begs the question of how the series could possibly top it, and it makes me genuinely terrified for Cruise’s safety. But it is also undoubtedly pure entertainment.
10. ANNIHILATION dir. Alex Garland
Annihilation is the latest in the long-line of science fiction movies that force humans to confront the mysterious and unknown that causes those humans to slowly grow insane (2001: A Space Odyssey as perhaps being the progenitor of that filmic tradition). Where Annihilation is a breath of fresh air is in the seemingly radical decision to allow women to be the ones who encounter and confront the ominous unknown. The all-female scientific crew made up of expedition leader Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), biologist Lena (Natalie Portman), paramedic Anya (Gina Rodriguez), physicist Josie (Tessa Thompson), and geologist Cass (Tuva Novotny) is remarkable only because they slide into sci-fi movie roles that have traditionally (and wrongly) belonged to the domain of men, and they do so seamlessly. Oh, and on top of that Annihilation also happens to be one of the most visually breathtaking and cerebrally challenging science fiction movies of the century. So it has that going for it.
9. SUSPIRIA dir. Luca Guadagnino
If you look really closely, there is a powerful and unconventional story of redemption buried in Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the cult horror classic Suspiria. The problem is that in order to find it, you’re going to have to sit through a masterclass of visceral discomfort as Guadagnino frequently conjures up nightmarish images that are as disturbing as they are confusing (if you can stomach it, watching this more than once really helps you understand what’s going on here). Dakota Johnson puts on a masterclass here as the doe-like Susie Bannion whose arrival at the Markos Dance Academy sets off a cataclysm of events, while Guadagnino seems intent to refuse to give you anything resembling traditional horror scares – he is much more interested in horrifying you instead. And on that front he most certainly succeeds. While there are better movies released this year, Suspiria is no doubt the movie that is, for better or worse, going to be seared in my mind the longest.
8. SHIRKERS dir. Sandi Tan
Admittedly, as a Southeast Asian who was raised in the 80s and 90s, it is hard to imagine a movie that caters more to me than Shirkers, a documentary about three daring female filmmakers living in Singapore in the 90s and find their inventive and groundbreaking debut film literally stolen from them for reasons unknown by their American-born producer. But beyond the hyper-specific tastes that make this kind of movie my catnip, this is an intensely compelling documentary about the power dynamics of gender, the joy and sorrow of finding lost art, the infectious giddy energy of youth and the tragedy when it meets the harsher realities of life, and the liberating power of seeing the director Sandi Tan exorcise her own personal demons and find her voice again.
7. THE DEATH OF STALIN dir. Armando Iannucci
Armando Iannucci has made a career out of cutting down the powerful and exposing their petty ways of trying to attain it. By setting his latest in an anachronistic (though in many ways accurate) Moscow post-Stalin, Iannucci allows us some sense of remove from our current political realities which in turn allows him to unleash the full power of his satirical wrath on our political contemporaries. Steve Buscemi has never been better as the skittish and conspiratorial Khruschev, and he is backed up by an all-star cast of comedic talent who bounce off one another with relentlessly petty and hilarious speed, masking the sobering heart of this extremely dark comedy with all the wit of a very rude Shakespearean play.
6. THE TALE dir. Jennifer Fox
Frequently critics of the #metoo movement cite that the distance of time between an act of sexual harassment or sexual abuse and when a victim comes forward somehow has any bearing to the validity of the victim’s claim. Jennifer Fox’s The Tale is a feature length dismantling of that criticism as it weaves the nauseating tale of an adult coming to grips not only with the sexual abuse she suffered when she was a child but of the twisted way she crafted a narrative of empowerment to turn her abuser’s heinous acts into a stepping stone to her personal growth. It is by no means an easy watch, but Laura Dern makes it compelling with one of the great performances of the year.
5. FIRST REFORMED dir. Paul Schrader
The best part of Ethan Hawke being shunned for a Best Actor Oscar nomination (a ridiculous act of injustice if ever there were one), is that his weird, wonderful, and iconic performance can be appreciated on its own terms and away from the politics and shenanigans of Oscar season. But Ethan Hawke now officially carries the moniker of Hollywood’s most underrated actor as his performance as the Rev. Ernst Toller anchors First Reformed and gives director Paul Schrader his best movie in two decades. Toller’s living at the intersection between faith and doubt provides perhaps the clearest expression of what an honest faith should look like and does look like when there is nothing but bleak reality to observe and quiet hope to cling to. No doubt this will annoy those who are coming to the movie hoping either for an affirmation or condemnation of faith, but Schrader is clear that people looking for that sort of thing in our messy world are missing the point.
4. PADDINGTON 2 dir. Paul King
Here’s the thing: Paddington 2 is just about as perfect as a children’s movie could be. It has a plot that is simple enough for a toddler to understand, yet it frequently finds ways to delight and surprise even the most seasoned moviegoer. It is surrounded by a colorful cast of distinctive characters, yet no one is one-note and no one is caricatured. It’s core, like Paddington himself, is kindness and gentleness and never feels the need to bring meanness into the picture for drama. It has a strong message about the importance of diversity, of acceptance, and of rejecting fear but never comes across as preachy about it. The movie is a constant visual delight with a picture book quality that both gives it an unexpected level of artistry while rendering it perfectly appropriate as a children’s movie. The only thing the movie has going against it is that it is unabashedly a “children’s movie”, thus rendering it ineligible for any serious award consideration. But I feel that says more about us and our own hangups than anything about this perfect little movie.
3. THE FAVOURITE dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
The Favourite is proof-positive that a protagonist’s likability is severely overrated. Yorgos Lanthimos has the audacity to provide us not one, but three extremely unlikeable heroines in the childish and wrathful Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), her conniving and manipulative advisor/lover Sarah (Rachel Weisz), and the insincere and scheming Abigail (Emma Stone). Each of them spend the movie trying to outmaneuver one another while treating everyone around them horribly with a level of contempt and cruelty not often seen outside an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. People looking for anything resembling historic accuracy are bound to be disappointed, but if the idea of an aristocratic Mean Girls sounds like an exciting time then this hilarious movie is tailor-made for you. Also in a year of shockingly amazing female performances, this trio takes the cake.
2. ROMA dir. Alfonso Cuaron
Roma is the kind of movie that only a director with the reputation and lifetime moviemaking capital of Alfonso Cuaron’s stature could make. This is a meditative and intensively personal portrait of Cleo, a live-in housekeeper of a family, living during a tumultuous time not just in Mexico City but in the life of this family. Cuaron creates a world that feels fully breathed-in as just about every frame of this movie evokes a real time and place and is begging to be paused and appreciated. And in his portrait of Cleo, herself a stand-in and ode for a housekeeper who helped raise Cuaron as a child, Cuaron engages in an act of secular beatification, showing the world just how saintly her acts of domesticity truly was. It is a movie that begs to be viewed over and over again, and thanks to its availability on Netflix, that is exactly what you can do with this miracle of a movie.
1. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK dir. Barry Jenkins
Honestly, the top spot was a toss-up between any of the top three movies on this list. But given the fact that The Favourite and Roma both ended up with Best Picture nominations and If Beale Street Could Talk didn’t made the decision easy for me. Along with this adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel and his Oscar-winning Moonlight Barry Jenkins has somehow crafted two of the best movies of the 21st century and established himself as one of America’s great current directors. I have no doubt we will look back at the decision not to give his beautiful and heartbreaking If Beale Street Could Talk a Best Picture nomination as one of the most bone-headed decisions the Academy has ever made.