Updated: 7 days ago
2018 was... well, it sure was another year. These year-end lists will probably get pretty repetitive if I continue to start them off with commentary on how the world at-large behaved. Fortunately, 2018 shared a lot in common with 2017, in that a ton of great art was created in the face of social and political adversity. It was positively jam-packed with a range of films that painted a diverse spectrum of emotion and experience. I saw 51 movies released in 2018, which is a new personal record, and I have a “still to watch” list almost as long. (I’m so, so sorry Mid90s, Wildlife, and Burning. I promise I will get to you soon). In a way, 2018 was a strange year from my own personal movie watching experience. There were a number of flicks that I expected would be entirely my thing and end up on this list. I built up assumptions in my head that only left me disappointed when those movies didn’t connect with me in the way I was hoping. I guess this is my own weird way of citing First Reformed, You Were Never Really Here, and Annihilation as my honorable mentions. I really enjoyed all three of these movies, and I respect the hell out of them. But I was let down when I didn’t fall in love them for reasons I have a hard time putting my finger on. I think the biggest lesson I’ll try to carry with me into 2019 is to avoid letting my expectations get in the way of my enjoyment, and to let movies meet me on their own terms. In that way, most of the movies that resonated with me most deeply this year were the ones that came as complete surprises. Here are my ten favorites.
10. The Night Eats the World
Listen, I get it. Zombie fiction is getting pretty tired. But I think this little indie darling proves there’s still some life to be found in the shambling genre. The Night Eats the World imagines how an introvert might spend his time during the apocalypse after being trapped alone in an apartment building. It’s sort of like a cross between 28 Days Later and I Am Legend. More than that though, it’s a pensive look at how an oppressively dark and dangerous world can lead you to build walls up around yourself. Maybe those walls are comfortable at first and solitude feels like a reprieve. Eventually though, those protective measures become a cage, and your isolation does far more damage than the world you’re hiding from. The Night Eats the World is an invigoratingly fresh take on the zombie metaphor that stuck with me more than any other flick in the undead genre ever has.
9. First Man
With First Man, Damien Chazelle took what could have just been a very competent historical biopic about the lunar landing and instead made a movie about the human cost of unchecked ambition. I was far more emotionally invested in Armstrong, his family, and his colleagues than I expected to be, thanks in no small part to a huge cast of stellar performances. This connection made it that much more impactful every time one of the characters climbed into, what more or less amounted to, a tin can with a rocket strapped to it. Chokingly claustrophobic cinematography and sound design made every expedition a breathless and traumatic experience. Every failure was that much more heartbreaking, and every victory more triumphant. All of that culminates to a somber, bittersweet finale that’s probably my favorite ending of the year.
8. The Favourite
Another year, another Lanthimos movie in Jack’s top list. With The Favourite, Lanthimos moved away from the explicit absurdity and stilted dialogue that I have come to love so deeply. Instead, he delivered a complex tale of personal intrigue and political maneuvering that’s probably his best film yet. Colman, Weisz, and Stone are a fantastic trio of leads whose chemistry is absolutely electric. My own personal bias against a more widely accessible Lanthimos movie almost prevented me from enjoying this one as much as I did, but the sheer craft here is just too good to deny.
7. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Sony pulled off a damn miracle with this one. Spider-Man has quickly become the most confusing and complicated superhero property out there, with multiple iterations of the character released by different companies in rapid succession. Then Spider-Verse comes along, based on the premise of multiple Spider-People, and proves to be the best of the bunch. It manages to simultaneously remain completely reverent to the broad comic book fiction, while standing on its own as a unique work. For longtime web head fans, it provides a deep vein of fun winks and nods to the long running character multiverse. For those coming in fresh, it’s a compelling and fun story that doesn’t depend on any prior knowledge to enjoy. On top of all that, it’s got one of the coolest and most gorgeous animation styles of recent memory. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse swung in from seemingly out of nowhere into my shortlist of favorite superhero movies ever.
6. Eighth Grade
It’s funny to see just how far Bo Burnham has come from his YouTube days. His corny but catchy videos were all the rage back when I was in high school over ten years ago. Now he’s written and directed one of my favorite films of the year. Eighth Grade perfectly captures all of the anxieties and hopes of middle school adolescence in a way that transcends generations. Elsie Fischer’s Kayla attends middle school in a much different looking time than I did, with smartphones and social media dominating culture. Yet all of her problems and fears remain instantly relatable to how I felt back then. Burnham directs some of these fears in a way that almost makes Eighth Grade feel like a horror movie, as these moments of social discomfort become visceral through Fisher’s excellent performance. Eighth Grade is a stunning debut for both Burnham and Fischer alike, and I can’t wait to see what they do in the future.
5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
This documentary was the only movie this year that had me openly crying in a theater. That was partially because of the tenderness and kindness of Fred Rogers and the purity of the life he led. It’s also partially because of the current lack of such a genuinely decent public figure that we so desperately need right now. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? tells the true story of such a man, revealing someone who, despite countless rumors to the contrary, really just wanted to teach people the value of empathy. I think part of what broke my heart about this documentary was the public cynicism that Mr. Rogers faced. Surely someone who presented as so nice must have some kind of dark secret. But the secrets revealed here were only that he dealt with severe self doubt, and that the cruelness of the world weighed down upon him. That makes Won’t You Be My Neighbor? both healing and sad at the same time.
4. Thunder Road Thunder Road is the feature-length version of a short film released by writer, director, and lead actor Jim Cummings in 2016. The film opens with a heartfelt if not unconventional eulogy by Cummings, whose energy and charm is immediately disarming. A lot of what I like about this movie can be directly credited to Cummings' performance. His role as a parent and a police officer going through an exceptionally tough time is perfectly balanced between laugh out loud funny and heartbreakingly tragic. It’s the kind of movie whose small, personal moments add up to far more than the sum of its parts, and one of the most touching films I saw this year.
A24 proves yet again that they sure do know how to pick ‘em when it comes to modern horror. Writer and director Ari Aster’s debut is an absolute masterclass of tension and dread. This is a movie that slowly seeps in from its very first shot, worming its way under your skin and burrowing into the dark parts of your brain. Toni Collette delivers one of my favorite performances of the year, one that’s surely destined to stand amongst the horror all-time greats. Hereditary is the kind of slow burn art house horror that A24 has made itself known for, and that’s consistently my most anticipated yearly release. Ari Aster has proven himself worthy of the company of Trey Edward Shults and Robert Eggers, and no doubt has an incredibly promising career ahead of him.
2. Sorry to Bother You
Sorry to Bother You had pretty much everything I wanted from a movie in 2018. Its combination of bonkers absurdist humor and scathing socioeconomic commentary is perfectly timely and cathartic. It feels like an exclamation point on a year where rising discontent with the political and economic status quo is reaching critical levels. This is the kind of movie that I’ve consistently seen people refer to as, “one of the craziest movies I’ve ever seen!” But really, it’s an insightful and honest film that is only slightly hyperbolizing an increasingly insane world. I’m hesitant to write anything more because it’s one of those movies that deserves to be seen with as little about it spoiled as possible. That said, it’s one of the freshest movies I’ve seen in a long time and I can’t recommend it enough.
Mandy was hands down, my favorite movie-going experience this year. I saw it knowing almost nothing about it besides the presence of Nic Cage and some positive early buzz from the festival circuits. I was completely delighted from start to finish. Mandy is sort of like two completely different short films put together that maintain a cohesive and unique sense of style. It’s partially a dream-like trance of a love story, with ethereal lighting and Johann Johansson’s rumbling ambient score. It’s also a loud, violent, bad hallucinogenic trip of a revenge thriller. Mandy also features Nic Cage in one of his career’s best, with a performance that ranges from quiet and understated to full on Nic Rage. All of these seemingly disparate elements come together to make a movie that’s surprising, beautiful, tragic, funny, and just downright cool in a way that I loved wholeheartedly.
Co-Head of Podcasting
Jack makes drugs for a living, but not necessarily the fun kind. He enjoys international travel and discussing music, movies, and games in excruciating detail.
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