With so many movies coming in and out of theaters and streaming services every year, it’s become my custom to withhold my best of list until just after the Oscars, so everyone’s had a chance to catch up on what was supposed to be good from the previous year. A best of 2018 list at the end of February may not be super relevant, but we’re not all critics who can see everything right away, so hopefully you find this list useful as you look to parse through the hundreds of movies that may or may not be worth your time from the previous year.
And yet, you could also completely disagree with my admittedly eclectic tastes, in which case, feel free to make your case in the comments or on my social media. Until then, enjoy getting mad at said takes as I present to you the 20 best movies of 2018!
Didn’t Make The Cut – Widows, Sorry to Bother You, The Commuter, Green Book, Black Panther, First Man, Isle Of Dogs: This is a list of my favourite movies of 2018, so I won’t bore you with the reasons why these didn’t make the cut, unless you ask nicely in the comments But it should be noted that I did enjoy all of them, just not any more than 20 other movies released in 2018.
HM – Tag/Blockers/Game Night: No straight-up comedy was able to break my top 20 this year, so I thought I’d give a shoutout to three I thought highly enough that I would totally consider revisiting in the future.
HM – Won’t You Be My Neighbor/Three Identical Strangers: My documentary game was weak in 2018, but I did manage to catch these two buzzworthy films that were both unfortunately snubbed at the Oscars. The Mr. Rogers doc was feel good and emotional, while Three Identical Strangers is the kind of doc I have shamelessly tried to get everyone to watch because of how crazy it is, which is the #1 thing I look for in a doc these days.
20. Deadpool 2
It’s not exactly surprising to see a superhero sequel match or surpass the quality of its predecessor, but a comedy that’s able to do so is extremely rare. Seriously, comedy sequels suck so hard that Deadpool 2 might just be the best comedy sequel ever made. It’s full of delightful twists, surprises, cameos and easter eggs, and most importantly, I think I probably laughed at it at least as much as I did Deadpool 1.
19. The Favourite
Before I finally got to see The Favourite, I thought it would be much higher on this list. Both of Yiorgos Lanthimos previous films were among my favourites of those years, and there’s something about his filmmaking that really speaks to me, as odd and stilted as it is. Perhaps The Favourite wasn’t weird enough, since it lacked his touch in the screenwriting department, but it felt as if this was a movie that didn’t know what it wanted to be nor did it really have anything to say, fluctuating between slapstick parody and poignant sociopolitical commentary. Swinging further in either direction would have made The Favourite more interesting, but even as it is, it’s still beautiful, well-acted and entertaining.
18. Leave No Trace
Debra Granik’s striking film about a father and daughter who live off the grid (and have to cope with being thrust into it after they’re caught) is a prescient look into some of the issues currently facing society and may wind up standing the test of time as a cult classic as some of her other films have. The only thing holding it back is that I don’t feel it goes far enough in a year jam-packed with culturally relevant indie films.
16. Creed II
Even though this sequel and eighth film in the Rocky franchises didn’t have Ryan Coogler at the helm (it was directed by Steven Caple Jr.) and the story relied heavily on revisiting things from Rocky IV, Creed II finds a way to nearly match the greatness of its predecessor, which is something I didn’t expect to be saying along with all those other qualifiers. I hope they keep making movies in this universe forever. Just keep rebooting it with the offspring of whatever side character every 20 years.
16. Eighth Grade
Also See: Eighth Greade and the Coming-of-age State of the Union
The genius of Bo Burnham’s directing on Eighth Grade and how he manage to capture the spirit of middle school teenagers has been much discussed ever since the film came out, but the truly impressive feat lies in his he was able to translate a week in the life of Elsie Fisher Kayla to an audience that includes someone like me, a dude in his thirties. If this is a sign of what millennial filmmaking is going to be like, we’re in good hands.
15. Love, Simon
For years, Greg Berlanti has been surprising and disappointing us with various DC comic book shows, so it was somewhat shocking to see him pull a movie like Love, Simon out of his sleeve, a very Hughes-ian movie that’s charming and graceful all while remaining poignant and making tough choices with regards to its story about a high school kid who makes every possible wrong move as he struggles with coming out of the closet and falling in love with a mysterious pen pal he’s trying to find. If Berlanti can do this after a decade of making, let’s be honest, middling superhero TV, I can’t wait to see what else he can do away from the formula he’s become accustomed to.
Also See: Mandy Review from Fantasia Fest 2018
I could show you the Nicolas Cage freakout scene from this movie as justification of its spot on this list, but that’s only the halfway point of this epic revenge fantasy that goes further than you might ever expect in order to pay off the tension it builds in its first half, as Cage’s character snorts drugs and fights demons with chainsaws on his journey to seek vengeance against the cult leader (Linus Roache) that wronged him. Mandy is the most metal movie I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s so gratifying to see that Cage has still got that in him, and that audiences and critics are still willing to buy it from him.
Spike Lee’s latest is not perfect by any means, and probably not his best, but it manages to prove that the 61-year-old director can still make relevant, poignant, and most importantly entertaining films that resonate with people just as much as they always have. The performances he’s able to pull out of John David Washington and Adam Driver are great, the way he’s able to weave the message of the story into a point about race relations in 2018 is impressive, and even devoid of that the story itself, about an African-American police officer who casually infiltrates the Klan is riotously entertaining. All of that combines to transcend the problems that most biopics face these days, proving that the stories of our past still have something to say about our present and future, despite less effective efforts from movies to toe a political line. Like Lee, his film is unambiguous about what it is or what it has to say, and that alone is worth your time.
Adam McKay’s second serious(ish) political film is perhaps a step back from The Big Short. His Dick Cheney biopic doesn’t go nearly far enough in admonishing its subject’s effect on 21st century politics, or his financial ties with defense contractors, but I suspect there might be legal reasons for that. But a middling political biopic from someone like McKay still manages to be inventive, entertaining and informative at a time where we need to be repeating these kinds of stories, lest we forget about the political mistakes that are barely in our rearview. I imagine that McKay’s best work is ahead of him, as he hopefully takes the criticism he’s received from his last two films seriously, but Vice still manages to be an important must-watch film in 2018 and likely the best biopic of the year, and that’s without even mentioning the transformative performance from not only Christian Bale in the titular role (who should have won the Oscar, if Gary Oldman as Churchill in a body suit is supposed to be the standard-bearer now), but also Amy Adams as Mrs. Cheney, Sam Rockwell as W., and especially Steve Carell as Donald Rumseld, who steals the show by playing him as a Chaotic Evil Michael Scott.
11. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Whenever Tom Cruise dies doing one of these crazy Mission: Impossible stunts, they’re going to finish the movie, include the damn death scene in the final product and we’ll all go and see it in some sort of massive countrywide funeral. That has to be the endgame here, right? And I think we’re all totally fine with that, because his opus is clearly putting his life on the line for us, the audience, and the result is consistently the best action you could possibly imagine, somehow defying the odds and reinventing and improving a franchise that by 2021 will be eight pictures old. And yet the scene where Cruise breaks his leg in a chase is only one of several awesome sequences. Take your pick between that, the helicopter duel, the final fight on a cliff, the damn halo jump and (my personal favourite) the club bathroom triple threat fight scene. It’s kind of insane how much these movies have to give.
10. A Star Is Born
Like everyone else, I was initially skeptical about this remake of a remake of a remake of a seemingly generic story about romance and art and fame that we’ve seen so many times before. But somehow, Bradley Cooper’s passion for the story he wanted to tell (both in front of and beyond the camera) turned this version of A Star Is Born into something special, including arguably the cultural and musical touchstone of 2018 with Cooper and Lady Gaga’s performance of “Shallow”, likely the one moment in film that will stand out from this year when we look back. I think everyone’s affection for this film (including my own) overall has kind of waned in the months since it was released, which is why it just barely scrapes into the top 10, but it’s hard to describe this as anything less than a well-crafted crowd-pleaser.
9. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The latest from the Coen Brothers came and went rather quietly, but I suspect this will be one of those Coens movies that winds up ranking surprisingly high on people’s top 10 lists in a few years time, because it’s hard to find much flaw in Buster Scruggs. While I remain curious about a Coens television anthology western, as this was once rumoured to be, I can’t really imagine it being any better than this, a crisp two-ish hour adventure that flows seamlessly from one tale to the next. Each story is compelling, and while the tone of each one ranges from absurd to macabre, it all manages to fit together perfectly, exactly as you’d expect it would from these creators, with the talent they’re capable of amassing on screen.
Hereditary is a rare horror film in that it spends the vast majority of its run time wringing out every possible drip of tension out of its story, setting and characters before absolutely drenching its audience with the payoff. Some might consider that a squandering of said tension buildup, but not this guy. I couldn’t appreciate the fact that everything it builds up pays off at the end, even if, upon my initial viewing, I didn’t know what the hell was going on. In that sense Hereditary manages to truly sell itself as a thrill ride, asking you as the viewer to simply hold on and trust that the filmmakers know what they’re doing. Whichever side of this coin you might fall on, though, there’s no denying that, in the process, Toni Collette delivers one of this year’s best performances, or that this film’s twists are brutal and crazy in a way that went unmatched in horror films last year.
Like with A Star Is Born, “well-crafted” is probably the first term that comes to mind when speaking about Roma. Alfonso Cuaron’s craft, his devotion to film, his keen eye for cinematography and creating the images he envisions (be it a single upper-class home, the slums just outside of Mexico City or full city blocks in the city itself) go unmatched. He’s probably the best working director in Hollywood and he’s earned every single Oscar on his shelf hands down. But outside of the craft, Roma feels a little hollow. I don’t think its story about class and status and the personal tales of its two lead actresses resonated as much as they would have in perhaps a different film. It’s harder to sell seemingly deeply personal tales, and it’s harder to identify with a movie like Roma, which maybe makes it more inaccessible. And yet as a mostly subtitled black-and-white period drama, I doubt Cuaron ever cared about that, and that’s part of what makes Roma such a great artistic achievement.
6. First Reformed
It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the quiet story about a contemporary New England priest having a crisis of conscience upon inheriting the plight of a man obsessed with the effects of climate change didn’t make a bigger impact than a lot of the movies on this list, but nevertheless, this is one of those movies that will certainly resonate if you manage to get your hands on it. Even after all these years, Paul Schrader is still capable of telling an incredibly relevant, multifaceted story, and Ethan Hawke, in one of his best ever performances (and arguably the biggest Oscar snub of the year) was the perfect vessel for that story. The only reason this one didn’t crack the top five is a weird ending which we won’t get into here, but otherwise, First Reformed is a movie more people should be talking about.
What I said about First Reformed could largely be applied to Blindspotting as well. It’s a film that’s incredibly relevant, imaginative, and well-acted, and the more poignant aspects of it find a way to hit you by surprise. The only differences are, obviously, that this isn’t a movie about climate change but instead about racism and the pitfalls of the American criminal justice system, as told through the eyes of a recent ex-convict (Daveed Diggs) trying to keep his nose clean on his last week of parole, and the negative societal influences around him (including his best friend, played by Rafael Casal, with whom Diggs co-wrote the film). The other big difference is that Blindspotting manages to stick the landing, with an imaginative and uniquely poignant ending that left me reeling after seeing it. I appreciate that the Oscars were capable of recognizing multiple Black films this year, but Blindspotting was perhaps ironically one that never got out of their blindspot.
4. Avengers: Infinity War
This shouldn’t have worked. Avengers: Infinity War is the first half of a movie designed to be the payoff and culmination of a decade of superhero films. It’s told from the perspective of the villain. It ends with that villain winning and turning half the good guys into dust. And yet it overcomes all of its flaws and gives us two and a half hours of the best that comic book adaptations have had to offer. The fact that Kevin Feige and Marvel pulled off what they said they were going to do is truly astonishing. And it’s only the beginning of the end of the beginning, with Endgame to come in 2019 and no end in sight to these films.
3. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
For seven months between the May and December, there was no question in my mind what the best comic book movie of the year would be, as we just discussed. And yet, along came a spider near the end of the year to turn everything upside down, reinventing not only what a superhero movie could be but creating a unique and immersive style of animation in the process, and telling a kind of story previously unfathomable, even with everything that Marvel has been able to accomplish with the MCU. And if that isn’t enough to sell you on an animated Spider-Man movie, this one features Nicolas Cage voicing Spider-Man Noir and John Mulaney as a spider bitten by a radioactive pig.
2. A Quiet Place
A lot of my favourite movies of last year had something to say. While I wouldn’t quite pretend as if A Quiet Place was devoid of any messaging, the reason it’s all the way up here has more to do with how finely crafted a science fiction movie it is than its themes or statements. John Krasinski’s unique vision comes to life in this movie about a world devastated by an alien that can’t see, but comes for you at the faintest hint of a sound. Of course the movie is also about female empowerment as it props up both Emily Blunt’s matriarchal character and their fictional daughter, who has a hearing disability that is much more than just a cute take on a world where sound is so important and so dangerous. But beyond that, it’s just a super cool movie with tremendous creature design, endless tension and great action, that leaves you wanting so much more (although it’s yet to be determined if they forthcoming sequel giving us more will be a good idea).
It’s hard to describe the experience of reading the Jeff Vandermeer novel this movie is based on. It’s a book that is completely disinterested in holding your hand through the world that it creates, the story it tells or what any of it is supposed to mean. It’s like a dream that leaves a lot to be interpreted. That’s why it’s completely unsurprising to see a visionary science fiction writer/director like Alex Garland take on the task of translating it to a visual medium, and just as unsurprising when you see the final product and realize that he pulled it off. If you’ve read the novel, Annihilation might not be what you quite envisioned the film version to be. It’s so different, and yet so much more. It’s weird, devastatingly frightening and most importantly completely original even with the novel tie-in. Garland recreates a hellish dreamscape that will leave you pondering what it all means for a long time after the credits role. Annihilation features no less than three haunting sequences that have stuck with me ever since I first saw it last spring, including a finale that is memorable and original in ways you couldn’t even imagine. This is a movie that’s an allegory for climate change, for the pitfalls of advancement, and even for depression and mental illness, and it’s the best movie of 2018.