2018 was a bad year for the world, but it was a good year for movies. Maybe I’m in a place where I’m open to new stories, new experiences, new ways of thinking about things, but a lot of stuff connected with me this year, made me feel feelings or just fascinated me. Any one of my 11–15 movies would have been a shoe in for my top 10 in any other year, and yet there they are. I want to talk about them, but they’re not in my top 10. And then I realized: It’s my list, I could make it my top 100 if I liked. So for the first time ever, I decided to make a top 15 instead of a top 10. So without further blathering, here are my top 15 movies of 2018:
This was a close spot, and I nearly put Deadpool 2 in this spot, but I feel reasonably secure in this choice. It was an imperfect movie, but a well made, funny and powerful one. In a list of the best single scenes of 2018, this movie would have two entries, which is worth applauding if nothing else. And goddamn, it is so fucking good to love a Spike Lee movie again. It’s been 12 goddamn years since Inside Man. Was Chi-Raq good? I haven’t seen it.
#14: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
By any measure, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a small movie, with a light plot, subtle acting and low stakes.But there’s a lot of depth there, a quietly brilliant performance from Melissa McCarthy and a lot of pathos in McCarthy’s closed off persona. I honestly love how it trusts the audience to know that her layers of defensiveness and closed offness is the result of being a unfeminine, lesbian, intellectual in a world that does not reward any of those things. You might not hear much about this film, but do not miss it.
#13: Assassination Nation
This movie is one of those rare movies you see nowadays, with jagged edges and chances that a more polished creative teams might not have been willing to take. But there’s an honesty and energy in that, that you just don’t see in most movies. There might be more polished, well made movies that aren’t on this list but fuck it, where else will you see a movie like this?
#12: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Oh, I put a Coen Brothers movie on my Best of the Year list, how shocking right? And what is it with everyone just now realizing the Coen Brothers are nihilists? Did they not see A Serious Man? Whatever, it’s a beautiful film, fantastically written and made in the ways that all their films are. Have I reached the point where I can just say that the Coen Brothers’ films speak heavily to me? Sure I have, but that doesn’t mean that their films aren’t incredibly well made.
#11: First Reformed
First Reformed is a strange strange film, and I find it difficult to explain just why it’s so good. I mean, if nothing else, I now have a new movie I can point to when I say I don’t just hate movies with religious themes. But more than that, it’s a look at how a person who genuinely cares can end up crushed by the system they’re trapped in, even if that system is a faith that is supposed to help people. And Josh Brolin is really good in this movie. Like, really really good.
#10: Eighth Grade
Oh hush up, it’s a beautiful, heartfelt film, with one of the best child performances of the decade and some truly great filmmaking. It would be easy to make this into an attempt at another indictment of social media and instagram (like Ingrid Goes West which was only compelling due to its nightmarish hatred of all of humanity) but this film instead opts for a gentle and sweet character piece, showing how they can both alienate us and bring us together.
This one is an odd choice, and I wonder if it would be on this list if it I didn’t live in Fairfield County, Connecticut (and thus know that it perfectly captures the feeling of being here). But it’s also a tense, engaging and very very funny film, an darkly comic film of the inherent sociopathy of modern rich culture, and an occasionally horrifying glimpse of what that looks and feels like from the inside.
#8: Won’t You Be My Neighbor
Jumping to exact opposite end of the spectrum, we come to a gently observed and quietly brilliant documentary about the best man who ever lived. You know what’s weird? Everyone I know cried during this film, myself included. It’s not sad, Mr. Rogers led a fulfilling life, accomplished what he set out to do, didn’t die young or tragically. It’s just…an emotional test to sit through the final minutes clear eyed, once which I happily failed.
Jumping again to a completely different spectrum (man, you really couldn’t find a set of movies more diverse than my 10–6 movies huh?) we have a movie that might as well have been designed for me? I mean, Nicolas Cage? 80s retro aesthetic? Chainsaw duels? Nicolas Cage? A brutal takedown of ultra-religious nuts? Nicolas Cage? But inside that is a well made film about miserable people trying to scrape out a bit of happiness (or numbness) in an uncaring film, and an opportunity for Cage to actually give a really excellent performance, both when screaming and when doing silent character work.
#6: The Favourite
I wish I knew what was going on in the writer and director’s heads in this movie. How did you go from a story about Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill’s friendship and falling out (which could have been an acceptable, but utterly standard, period piece) and make one of the funniest, darkest, most human and somehow weirdly touching movies of the year, infused to the bone with themes about the nature of power. The Favourite is still in theaters and you need to see it immediately.
#5: Black Panther
This one is utterly predictable, as Black Panther has been hanging around on best of lists since they started getting posted. And why not? It’s a gorgeous film, filled with great performances, fantastic action and a surprisingly deep story about the lingering effects of colonialism and how various people deal with it. And I know when I put it that way, it sounds like I’m describing Thor Ragnarok but believe it or not, the MCU can sustain two similar but fantastic in different ways, superhero films.
#4: Sorry to Bother You
I dunno if I can really describe this one without spoiling what makes it so special, but on the other hand, I dunno if I can actually spoil it, you’d probably think I’m making it up. For what it’s worth Sorry to Bother You is one of the strangest, funniest and most relevant films of 2018. It’s imperfect in the way really great films can be, but given that the thematically similar Cosmopolis is now one of my favorite films of the decade, this is one I’ll be looking forward to revisiting in a couple years.
#3: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
The premise of Into the Spider-Verse could have been cheesy, it could have been mawkish, it could have very very easily been unspeakably commercial (six different Spider-Men, collect them all!) But the directors, writers, cast and especially the animating team saw through every inch of mawkish, overly commercial nonsense layering the premise and drilled down to an incredibly funny, exciting and incredibly emotionally resonant film at the center, that blows every Spider-Man movie made since 2004 all the way out of the water. Also Nicolas Cage plays Spider-Man as film-noir detective. Did they make that just for me?
#2: The Death of Stalin
This is an early entry from the year, but thus it’s one of only a handful of entrants on this list that I’ve seen more than once and I am very very secure in its place here. It remains not only the funniest film of the year (and it is) but also one of the darkest and most relevant. Watching the film shift on a dime from screamingly funny to horrifyingly dark and not feel jarring at all is an incredible trick and worthy of high praise. Also give Steve Buscemi an Oscar already you monsters.
Right from the moment I saw it, Annihilation had a death grip on my psyche. I woke up thinking about days, weeks, even months later. And not just the overtly horrifying scenes (although, the bit with that bear will haunt my nightmares forever). The beauty of the visuals, the depth of the metaphors, all of it burrowed into my mind. Every year, there’s always an early year movie that gets inside my head, but of all the movies I’ve seen in 2018, I think this is the one that will stick with me the longest.
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