I watched a lot of movies this year. 50, to be specific. To be more specific, I watched 50 movies from the year 2018 A.D. It was really a great year for film. Massive cultural moments and top-notch indies reigned supreme both at the box office and on Rotten Tomatoes, and all the praise is well-deserved.
I saw films that made me laugh, cry, do that thing where I raise one of my eyebrows but not the other one, and every other emotion in the book. I loved a lot of them and hated some, but I watched them front to back. I had so many thought swirling around my head after each one, I felt compelled to share at least a little bit (yes, this is “a little bit”). So here they are, the 50 movies I saw this year, ranked:
50. Isle of Dogs: If you can withstand every Japanese culture stereotype in the book and a literal white savior, then maybe you’ll like stop-motion animated dogs fighting robots.
49. Vox Lux: More like Vox Sux! Seriously, this movie was bad.
48. Bohemian Rhapsody: If the stories featured in Bohemian Rhapsody are true stories, Queen is not even remotely close to as cool of a band as we think they are.
47. Vice : So much happens in Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic that pretty much nothing actually happens.
46. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot:
45. SOLO: Not Harrison Ford? No, thank you (I still enjoyed it but eh).
44. Love Means Zero: I feel bad for ranking this so low, but I got like no sleep the night before, so I nodded off a few times while watching it.
43. Incredibles 2: There were some good laughs and a great score. Otherwise, it’s just fine.
42. Blindspotting: I think this movie tried to say so much that it said nothing; also, it felt like Daveed Diggs just wanted to rap.
41. Set It Up: Glen Powell and Zoey Deutsch are two of the most charismatic, enjoyable rom-com leads in recent memory; it’s just a boring story. Also, I kept thinking about this:
40. Creed II : This was not nearly as good as the first one, and honestly, I cared more about the Drago’s side of the story than Michael B. Jordan’s!
39. Green Book: The dialogue is pretty rough. Mahershala Ali does the best with what he’s got, but Viggo Mortensen was cliche New York Italian.
38. Crazy, Rich Asians: In a vacuum, a sweet movie with some laughs. Out of a vacuum, monumentally important.
37. The Miseducation of Cameron Post: The Misfortune of Cameron Post being only the second most dynamic and moving gay conversion therapy story in 2018.
36. Lean On Pete: Great horse movie, also a sad horse movie. A really rushed ending, so I was disappointed.
35. At Eternity’s Gate: I really liked a lot of things about this movie — Willem DaFoe as Vincent Van Gogh, vivid colors, deft performances, gorgeous settings — it just never really felt engaging on an emotional level.
34. Annihilation: The movie looked very cool and different from typical sci-fi movies. So, points for that. Otherwise, the characters were not very good, and the dialogue was worse.
33. Thoroughbreds: A really strange but enjoyable movie! Olivia Cooke is captivatingly weird, Anton Yelchin (RIP) is very funny and…..yeah, I don’t know, it’s just a bizarre movie.
32. A Star Is Born: A great first hour and a terrible second hour. Ally’s ascension was the most enjoyable part of the movie, but after 45 minutes it was all about Bradley Cooper. I love BC, but Gaga was way more interesting, and focusing on her would’ve been a welcome change from previous renditions.
31. Three Identical Strangers: Uuuuuh it’s the most WTF rollercoaster of a documentary I’ve ever seen.
30. Private Life: There’s a line in the movie that says “She’s got a BA in journalism and cinema studies. No wonder she’s selling her eggs; she can’t get a job.” I’ve never felt more flamed in my life.
Over 90% of American movies made before 1929 are lost, no copies are known to exist.
29. Black Panther: As a noted Marvel h8r, Black Panther blew past my expectations with really good action and dazzling visuals, and, like Crazy, Rich Asians, it was more than a film. It was a cultural moment.
28. The Rider: This touching film from Chloé Zhao, which included some great acting work by a ton of non-actors, was the premier horse movie of the year.
27. Support the Girls: This is may be the most honest workplace comedy in the world!
26. All About Nina: The first movie I thought of after finishing All About Nina was 2014’s Obvious Child. Much of the same powerful tonal and emotional elements are present. They both flew under the radar, but Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives a raw and powerful performance that deserves to be seen.
25. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse: The look and animation styles are really unique and warrant your attention regardless of the content, though the story and characters were delightful and heart-warming to boot.
24. Game Night: A really great studio comedy! Its winding story holds together really well, and every actor is hilarious, especially Rachel McAdams and Jesse Plemons. Also, one of the directors is the little kid from Freaks and Geeks.
23. Boy Erased: Despite some bumps along the way (Troye Sivan — good singer, bad actor), this is super moving. Plus, Lucas Hedges just can’t be stopped.
22. The Sisters Brothers: John C. Reilly (a king) and Joaquin Phoenix play bad dudes so likable, you root for them as they kill and steal their way across the West. Also, the movie wins the award for my favorite trailer of the year.
21. Leave No Trace: Two stellar performances from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie bring you into their minimalistic world, and the stillness of the film tricks you into thinking you, like them, can’t move a muscle.
20. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: Rogers was, and still is, one of the most interesting media figures in history, and the documentary does nothing to say otherwise. It doesn’t solve who he is, but it doesn’t want to. It just furthers the legend.
19. Paddington 2: This movie is charming as [REDACTED]. Seriously, with all of its color and laughs, I didn’t know movies could be this wonderful. Plus, it’s overflowing with great performances from every British “oh, it’s that person!” actor in the world.
18. Mid90s: I’ll be honest. The character named “Fuckshit” had me a little worried about what Jonah Hill’s directorial/screenplay debut would be like. But I was pleasantly surprised! There was a real charm to a group of teenage L.A. skateboarders, whose shenanigans tested their friendship and courage. Was it irreverent? Extremely; they’re rowdy teenagers who just want to skate. They’re disrespectful of everything they come in contact with (particularly a rent-a-cop played by Jerrod Carmichael, in what may be my favorite scene of the year). But their irreverence is rooted in fear and rebellion, which makes for a very emotional and occasionally uplifting film.
17. Beautiful Boy: This was a really challenging film to watch, mostly because of my crippling phobia of needles. Even so, it was conflicting to watch the real-life relationship of a frustrated father and his drug-addicted son (Steve Carrell and Timothée Chalamet, respectively) play out. Every time Chalamet’s character, Nic Sheff, relapsed, I felt genuine sadness and disappointment.
It’s not a perfect film by any means: It drags or goes too quickly, it pushes emotion in parts where it’s not needed or pulls back at climactic moments, and there are some essentially useless scenes. But Chalamet’s effortless magnetism makes the film personal and powerful.
16. Eighth Grade: We all were, at one point, uncomfortable with others and primarily ourselves. Actress Elsie Fisher and writer/director Bo Burnham gently force audiences to empathize with that feeling. There are moments where you want to celebrate Kayla (Fisher) for her individuality and moments where you want to shield her from the harsh realities of the world. Sometimes those moments were the same. At the end of the day, it’s one of the most visceral movies of the year simply because there’s a universality to feeling alone or uncool, whether it came in the year 1948, 1988 or 2018.
The Top 10 Best Films of 2018
15. First Man: The most confusing part of this year was when First Man didn’t become the biggest movie of 2018. Everything about it screams success. A great leading man, Ryan Gosling, takes on one of the most legendary American figures, Neil Armstrong, as the astronaut embarks on one of the United States’ greatest adventures: the moon landing. Plus, it’s directed by Damien Chazelle of La La Land and Whiplash fame and scored by his partner in crime, Justin Hurwitz. I didn’t think there was a point at which a Ryan Gosling vehicle would be considered underrated, but here we are.
Perhaps it’s because it’s not exactly a glowing, self-indulgent portrait of Armstrong and the space program. He’s haunted by the losses of his young daughter to illness and numerous friends to space missions, and his grief leads him to keep his head down while preparing to pilot a mission to the moon. Gosling is very reserved and very Midwestern, but excellent nonetheless. Matching him step for step is Claire Foy as Janet, his wife and rock, in one of the best supporting performances of the year. She steals the movie in a brief scene with Kyle Chandler.
The highlight of the film, however, is the moon (I’m not spoiling anything, we know he makes it!). Words can’t do the scenes justice, but I was breathless, much like I would be if I was in space without a helmet.
14. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: If the Coen brothers started a cult, I would be the first to sign up, so it’s not a surprise I love this collection of shorter stories rolled into a 2 hour and 13 minute film. They’re only loosely related in their setting and time, so there’s no real connection to any of the characters or conflicts, but that’s not a problem. Each story is so realized and the protagonists so vividly characterized that, in the limited amount of time they have to unfurl, the viewer is left fully satisfied.
Of the six stories, a few stand out. The titular short is the first one if you’re watching in order, and Tim Blake Nelson’s Buster Scruggs is as delightfully cheery as he is precisely violent. This is the only one I wish we had more time with, but only because I was enjoying it so much. One of the last shorts, called “The Gal Who Got Rattled,” is also the longest, so we have plenty of time to spend with Zoe Kazan and the charming Bill Heck on their wagon train to the West. This one is probably the best, with plenty of time for subtle but beautiful moments, although the end is, uh, not very uplifting. My personal favorite, titled “All Gold Canyon,” stars Tom Waits as an old prospector on his quest for gold. Waits is hysterical and needs to be seen.
"Into The Wild." The temperature outdoors was at freezing when Emile Hirsch performed the naked back float down the stream.
13. The Old Man & The Gun: When I went to see Robert Redford’s supposedly final feature in the theater, I was the youngest audience member by a solid 30 years. I suppose that makes sense because so many people grew up with Redford’s career, and if this really is his last on-screen role, that’s a pretty big deal. Anyway, those people that love Redford enough to follow his career aren’t going to like what I say next: Robert Redford was the worst part of this Robert Redford movie. That doesn’t mean Redford was bad. He was great! His character, based on a real-life bank robber profiled in the New Yorker story the film is inspired by, is so relentlessly charismatic that you forget that he’s objectively a bad person! I mean, he’s a bank robber who lies to women; he’s not exactly citizen of the year. But you wind up rooting for him because, despite a performance riddled with rigid line readings and forced youthfulness, he’s still got it.
But there are a lot of aspects of this movie that shine brighter than the star, specifically some performances from Sissy Spacek as Redford’s love interest and Casey Affleck as the detective hot on the robber’s trail. Spacek has a really great chemistry with the aging thief, and who doesn’t love to watch old people fall in love? Affleck only interacts with Redford a few times, but it’s tense and conflicting, particularly one scene in a diner, the standout scene of the film. As for the rest of the movie, the tone is subdued but effective, and despite the severity and number of crimes, it’s a very calming feeling. The music only adds to that. This feels like another one that flew under the radar, but hopefully time rights that wrong.
12. BlacKkKlansman: If I had a dollar for every time I saw a “Spike Lee is back!” tweet or headline, I’d probably be able to pay my rent for a couple months. But they’re also correct because Spike delivered one of the funniest and most relevant movies of 2018. It pulls exactly zero punches, dropping conspicuous references to today’s political climate every chance it gets. And they work well, showing viewers that things haven’t really changed. He balances it with sharp humor, but any laughs are stifled moments later by a moment of horrific prejudice that mirrors the United States today.
The actors he got to commit so wholly to these rolls are fantastic. John David Washington (son of Denzel) leads as Ron Stallworth, and Adam Driver is almost sure to get a supporting actor Oscar nom. Topher Grace as David Duke is slimy and snide, which, mission accomplished, I guess.
As much as I enjoyed this movie, what Spike chooses to do after the film leaves audiences shell-shocked and depressed at how allegorical his film was. It’s also an important reminder that while this movie, and all movies, can be used as some form of fun escapism, we shouldn’t allow it to trivialize the real-world issues they draw inspiration from.
11. American Animals:
This was, stylistically, the most unique film of the year. It’s sort of a documentary? But it’s sort of not? The story is about four college-aged boys who hatch a plot to steal a massively valuable book from a small Kentucky college library. This actually happened . The movie, directed by Bart Layton, is shot in a narrative style using semi-popular actors Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan, along with occasional talking-head interviews with the actual boys (now men) involved in the caper. When the two worlds interact, the concept is completely upended, leaving you to wonder what’s real and what’s not.
Layton’s carefully precise storytelling is not only effective but also just really fun and thrilling. It has great heist-film elements — planning, scoping, getting the gang together — which I’m a sucker for, but also real emotional, existential inner conflict from Keoghan and the excellently maniacal Peters. The heist itself and its consequences are heart-pounding. I was quite literally on the edge of my seat. Some of the biggest criticism of the film was that it made the scale of the theft seem too big and important for what it actually was. My counter to that is simple: To those boys, it was that important. The whole point of the film (and the real-life event) was that the main characters thought this would cure them of their struggles with direction and purpose.
You can warn me about possibly seeing a boob but not about the fact that I might need hospitalisation afterwards?) I have not stopped screaming about this since I saw it, to the point where I have had friends email me saying “Hey, I just saw this movie you’re probably going to go see, it has strobe lights so be warned about that” The only reason that I did not put this on the list proper is because it is still a technically good film, albeit with a horrific element that will cause children to have their first seizure.
While I’ve never thought about executing a multi-million dollar book heist, I’ve definitely longed to do something that matters in the grand scheme of the world, so when we’re watching this play out through the boys’ eyes, it should look this grand. As far as pure enjoyment goes, this was unequivocally my favorite movie if the year.
10. Shirkers: There are movers and shakers, and then there’s Shirkers. That’s almost a direct line from this documentary by Sandi Tan. It’s a documentary about a movie, which is #filmception. The movie in question is one that Tan made with her friends as a young adult before a mysterious figure disappeared with all their footage. The doc follows her journey from making the movie to reconnecting with people to get it back. It’s weird and mysterious, but also very colorful, dream-like and personal. It’s a marvel to look at and a puzzle to think about.
But the content Tan works with isn’t the only great part of the film. A lot of what she finds on her journey isn’t about where old tapes are hidden or where this figure disappeared to. It’s about herself. A great deal of introspection arises from talking with old friends and thinking about how the film was made. She was idealistic and bossy, or, to put it shortly like one of her old friends, “an asshole.” But that’s half the wonder; reliving old memories is at once a cathartic experience for us and an embarrassing one, allowing us to realize that we’ve changed into someone better (or worse) from what we once were. Tan’s journey of self-discovery makes the documentary all the more rewarding.
Bruce Lee was so fast, they actually had to run his films slower so you can see his moves.
9. Widows: Daniel Kaluuya! Viola Davis! Elizabeth Debicki! Brian Tyree Henry! Colin Farrell’s accent! All these people and more make up the cast of Widows, the best heist film of the year! I was hyped for no other film this year more than Steve McQueen’s Widows, mostly because of this gif in the trailer:
And also this one:
So, yeah, big Kaluuya guy here. Anyways, this movie is super fun and also extremely emotional. Plus, it tackles social issues! Wow! All the acting is great, the dialogue is heavy and sharp, and the storyline is predictable enough from the trailers but with enough twists and turns that you’re riveted the whole time. It’s tense, vivid and made with such measured brush strokes from McQueen and the actors that it might be the most stylish movie of the year.
The four actors I mentioned are all standouts in the film (except for Farrell’s accent — atrocious), but a lot of other great supporting work is done, namely Robert Duvall and Cynthia Erivo. Also, Liam Neeson is there. Also note that I said it was a heist movie. That is technically true, because the central plot revolves around a heist, but it brings in so much more than that — politics, racial inequality, corruption — that really, it’s just a great big movie. It was my favorite theatre experience of the year.
8. Sorry to Bother You: Boots Riley’s debut feature took such a hard left turn that it went right. It was easily the most bizarre plot twist in a movie I’ve seen, maybe ever? But that’s not a bad thing; its jaw-dropping randomness was still quite funny and only added to the movie’s ridiculousness. It’s a wildly inventive film from Riley, backed by tight dialogue and really likable characters. Plus, we all like a good stick-it-to-the-man plot.
This was LaKeith Stanfield’s first leading role in a major feature, and it’s evident that it’s a space he’s perfectly capable of occupying. He starred as Cash, the protagonist, whose frustrating-then-rewarding journey to the top of the food chain serves as the plot vehicle. And it’s what Riley has him experience along the way that skewers the commercial, racist society we live in today. Like BlacKkKlansman, it plants ideas in the back of your mind as you’re laughing, leaving you with much to think about after you’re done thinking about how weird that ending was. Stanfield’s performance is nothing, however, without the help of Tessa Thompson and Steven Yeun, plus a short visit from a disturbing Armie Hammer.
7. If Beale Street Could Talk: Barry Jenkins is at it again, folks. His follow-up to 2016’s Moonlight is, as Moonlight was, the most beautiful film of the year. Stark colors, a centered camera and perfectly lit black bodies harken back to Jenkins’ previous film, yet also feel all their own this time around. It’s a story about love and family, and through the eyes of the characters, it’s told brilliantly.
Stephan James and Kiki Layne play the couple at the center of the film, and they’re both great, but the smaller roles really bring it to life. Brian Tyree Henry, Dave Franco, Ed Skrein and Diego Luna pop in for at least a few minutes each, and all of them interweave moments critical of society that are relevant today, though the movie takes place in the early 1970s. But the best supporting role (and one of the best of the year) is Regina King, who mastered one of the must excruciatingly difficult scenes of 2018. Don’t just take my word for it — this is one of the few films on the list still in theaters as of this writing, so go see for yourself.
Also, Nicholas Britell’s score is the best of year. It’s exquisite.
6. Roma: Alfonso Cuarón has directed great films like Gravity, Y Tu Mamá También and, of course, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but Roma is unquestionably his greatest. It’s such a technically proficient experience that it’s basically a master class in filmmaking. The camera work, environmental sound and the framing is exquisite. And the color, or lack thereof, is striking. For being shot in black and white, it really is rich with aesthetic pleasure. It’s largely a slow, quiet film, but never clumsily so. Those aspects are measured so precisely that you’re afraid to breathe so as not to disrupt the stillness.
Its emotion packs a punch, too. Based around love and family, it’s immensely heart-breaking and uplifting at the same time, but your emotions are never grappling with each other. They come in and out, sort of like the tide (*winks*), ebbing and flowing throughout the film while we follow Cleo, a well-to-do family’s maid in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Cuaron’s native Mexico City. Cleo is played by Yalitza Aparicio in an unheralded performance. She blew me away with her subtle telling of Cleo’s story, always keeping it together for others until she needs to let go herself. It’s one of the most affecting films I’ve seen in a long time.
5. Wildlife: I liked Wildlife a lot when I saw it. Like a lot a lot. It’s not the most exciting or relatable story, and the movie is quite a long, slow burn. But that’s what makes every moment in the Brinson family’s life so important. Through the eyes of their son, Joe (Ed Oxenbould), a couple, Jerry and Jeanette, is depicted as a typical 1960s nuclear family. Joe and Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) play football in the yard while Jeanette (the queen Carey Mulligan) makes dinner. Eventually, they begin to unravel. Gyllenhaal’s hopelessness and lust for meaning are dazzling to watch, and although he’s physically absent for a lot of the film, his presence looms large. And Mulligan…my god, Carey Mulligan put in that work. This is unquestionably my favorite lead performance of the year. You can see every waking minute taking a toll on her, especially her scenes with Bill Camp, and I found myself wondering for her sake just how much further she could go. But she went there.
The film is quite drab to look at, but in a way that plays well with the family’s life in Montana. The wildfire (there’s a wildfire, by the way), on the other hand, can be felt through the screen. It’s remarkable work for first-time director Paul Dano, who wrote the efficient and tense script with his partner, Zoe Kazan (solid year for her). Months have passed since seeing it, but the more I think about these performances, the higher Wildlife climbs on my list. It’s a simple concept, but it’s pulled off flawlessly, and should be recognized as such.
"The Mummy." Brendan Fraser nearly died during a scene where his character is hanged. Rachel Weisz remembered, "He stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated."
4. The Favourite: It’s the greatest rom-com in the history of the genre. Seriously. The period piece set in the early 1700s is laugh-out-loud funny and centers around an intense and political love triangle between Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and her two ladies-in-waiting, Sarah and Abigail (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, respectively). All three women are hilariously biting, almost always at each other’s throats. All three deserve to be recognized, but none of them would be without the chemistry they had together, so it’s a real team effort. Other strong performances and a sharply funny script really tie together the film, helmed by Yorgos Lanthimos.
It’s set in a royal palace, so the sets are grand, ornate and extremely large, filled with empty space Lanthimos uses to show how small or insignificant his characters are in the grand scheme of things. There’s also a very cool dancing scene that I just have to point out. Also, a secret passageway, mud baths and rabbits. So many rabbits. I wonder how much rabbit poop they had to clean up, and if that was somebody’s job. Anyways, it’s remarkably fun and fascinating, so watch it.
3. Minding the Gap: Far and away the best documentary of the year, which is no small feat in a year flush with great documentaries. On the surface, and through the beginning of the movie, it seems like a simple concept: an enjoyable look at the skating community in a small Midwestern city and how that community grows up together. But as we dive deeper with director Bing Liu, who himself was a part of this crew, we learn that it’s a story of abuse, race, relationships, toxic masculinity, parenting, family and friendship. Basically, it’s about life.
Liu lets the audience get about as intimate as they possibly can with his subjects, who are primarily young men: Zach, a young white man whose relationship with his ex-girlfriend and their daughter is under the microscope, and Kiere, a black teenager who struggles with understanding his family and his own identity. To a lesser extent, it also features Liu’s mother, mostly in a talking head interview in which we watch Liu directly interact with her (he interacts with the other subjects too, but always from behind the camera), in the film’s most personal moment. It’s not always uplifting, and not all the questions that arise find answers, but it’s rewarding to watch these young men literally grow up before our eyes, make mistakes, find independence and make more mistakes. They’re just living, like everyone else.
2. Thunder Road: I watched this after I had started the list, not expecting it to jump very high. It’s written, directed and starred in by one man, Jim Cummings, with a relatively low budget and very little national fanfare. But holy hell, this film is a whirlwind. I’ve mentioned a lot of movies before this one that are based in conflicting emotions, but that alone would sell Thunder Road short. I experienced almost every emotion in this laugh-out loud, cry-out-louder tale. Cummings plays Jim Arnaud, a man whose life basically falls apart in an hour and a half, starting with an exquisite opening scene at his mother’s funeral (originally its own short film before being built upon). Sound depressing? Well, it is, but I also haven’t laughed harder at a film this year.
Cummings’ confessional and satire of the white American male is both scathing and affecting, told through a series of connected vignettes that show off how determined Arnaud is to turn his life around despite his social ineptitude. The loosey-goosey script flies off the page and out of the mouths of Cummings and the other relatively unknown actors he interacts with, particularly his best friend Nate (Nican Robinson), and it’s a joy to see. I cannot recommend this movie enough, even more so after learning more about its inception from this story by The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey. While any of the top five could be my favorite film of the year 10 or 20 years from now, this one may have the highest odds.
1. First Reformed: I tried really hard to think of a movie that left me feeling like First Reformed did, and I just couldn’t. When the credits began to roll, I legitimately felt like the wind was knocked out of me. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. It’s a tremendously powerful, eye-opening story about introspection, responsibility, religion, the environment, hope, love and Cedric the Entertainer (not really, but he’s in it). Paul Schrader’s minimalistic design is visually pleasing and gives readers enough space to absorb everything without being overwhelmed. It’s a film that challenges your beliefs and breaks apart your ideas about the world and our society. Your head might hurt afterward.
This film doesn’t work without a lead actor to portray every conflicting thought and every radical realization effectively, and that lead is Mr. Ethan Hawke. Hawke gives the performance of a lifetime as a pastor of a small Northeastern church whose eyes are opened to the physically changing world around him, and much of the film follows his spiritual journey as he battles his own demons to discover a sort of truth that he never set out to search for in the first place. It’s mesmerizing and haunting, and it refuses to let your eyes leave the screen. I walked away from the film truly moved and truly terrified of what we might be headed toward.
Screen Nerds: The Must See Films of 2018
Yes, Schrader is definitely trying to send a message, but it never feels like he’s preaching from a high horse. It’s honest and scathing, he directs the hell out of it, and Hawke has seared his performance into my brain. It’s a beautiful, provocative film that demands your attention from the start, and you should pay heed.