Another year of new movies done. I personally attempted to tackle this enormous year of film at an almost frightful level of precision and speed: I started taking note of all the movies slated to drop throughout the year only days after completing my Top 17 of 2017, and hit the ground running hard to never feel like I was falling behind. Alas, as always, time moves faster than my own wits, and I found myself once again scrambling to track down the late releases of the year, as well as smaller movies that had evaded me earlier. I watched exactly 150 movies released in 2018, from all over the world and through a seemingly endless array of late night triple features and early morning viewings (you can check out an article I wrote up on some them here). How in the world I possibly had the time to crush all these titles, you and I will never truly know; as Arthur Conan Doyle once noted, “My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation.”
Crass as it may be to compare myself to the professions of a noted genius, I've always found my mind more at ease and my time well spent when working on something that leads to a larger purpose, whether it be a wealthier knowledge of movies and stories, or to stay on topic, creating a list of my favorite movies of the year. And it wasn't easy. I probably saw 40 movies this year that I really, really dug, and while I'd love to generate a list that honors each and every one of them, I doubt anyone would read it all, and besides, 18 is already a larger number than what most would deem satisfactory. I look forward to another year of genuinely splendid movies, and I hope I can still pull it off with all this coming year has in store for me.
So... Let's punch it.
18. The Guilty
This bottled thriller explodes with tension and a honed craft for minimalism the likes of which completely blew me away only minutes into my first viewing. The film is tight, textured, and evocative of all the simple points it sets out to make. For what it's doing in the genre wheelhouse it embodies, The Guilty is arguably a perfect movie.
17. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Fallout is a meticulously executed action marvel. You just simply don't get a movie like this often, and while the action genre certainly has its share of motifs and go-to's that can sour an audience after having seen the same things for decades, Fallout delivers on these expectations, sometimes even blasting through them into new ground. The film not only overflows with quippy one liners, showstopping set pieces, marvelous, over-the-top cinematography and Tom Cruise running like a god, it also happens to be an incredible movie and an even more incredible time. Oh, and let's not forget: It has the best trailer dropped in 2018. Facts.
16. Summer 1993
How would you portray the trauma of losing everything and being forced to start over? Would it be an aggressive picture? Or maybe an image that gently comforts? Summer 1993 does both of these and more, with performances that genuinely feel real and most importantly, sensitive and empathetic. The movie is magic. Brilliant, beautiful magic.
15. The Favourite
Accessibility be damned, The Favourite is a fantastic achievement in the career of director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose style seems to only be maturing in the annual output he has started generating these past three years (referring to 2016's The Lobster and 2017's The Killing of a Sacred Deer). While his latest may not measure up for some to his more absurdist films, it's worth noting that a director is never done redefining their craft until they retire or (more than likely) die. Lanthimos is an ever-intriguing talent whose name should be on the tongues of every person who claims to give a damn about modern cinema, and this period piece of art is no exception, charming its way off the screen with amazing performances (Holla at my gurl, Olivia Colman!) and beautiful set designs that would make 1975 Kubrick blush.
14. First Reformed
A quiet, sometimes uncomfortable meditation on guilt and the trauma we inflict on ourselves, those around us and the literal world, Paul Schrader's latest endeavor is a must watch for anyone who owns a screen. A masterfully designed requiem of faith and dignity, First Reformed pulls no punches in its multi-tiered exploration of the things we allow to pass, and those we can never move beyond.
Unique. Gorgeous. Crazy. Deadly. Overwhelming. Dreamlike. Nightmarish. Luca Guadagnino's latest is a devilishly exciting piece of art. I could not get enough of this movie, which acts as not only a horrific dissent into darkness but also as a testament to the beauty and strength (and horrors) of the female body. The level of precision and care taken with the entire movie (which has a very strong history with many horror lovers) is palpable, a true movie-lover's type of movie. Gone are the dreamy colors of 1983 Northern Italy and the youthful hopes of young love that Guadagnino and cinematographer, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, cemented into the modernistic dominion of cinema with 2017's Call Me By Your Name (my second favorite film of that year). Here, replaced with a level of saturation and color isolation that looks the way goosebumps feel, the style is sometimes subtle, and often egregious, but always hits its mark in the context of the story it is telling, creating a penetrating mood piece that is going to age just as well as its predecessor.
12. Sorry to Bother You
A wild movie in every sense of the word, it is quite simply, a very, very special film. I'd say it maaaaayyyyyy be my funnest movie-going experience (or that could be my #3). A revolution of satire and a battle cry for originality and individualism, Boots Riley's flick is at all times entertaining, provoking and absolutely impressive. This is the type of movie people will be shamelessly ripping off for years, allowing those in the know to constantly bring it up in discussion on contemporary film and its use in cultural conversation. Very cool.
11. Madeline's Madeline
I caught this one a little late, at a time where I thought I had pretty much solidified the main contenders on my list. Nope. Madeline's Madeline is an absorbing experience, from its amazing lead performance by newcomer Helena Howard, to its exquisite delivery of the movie’s key themes, all told through the tiniest of metaphors or the most blatant of exclamations. I'll leave it at that, as I would hate to ruin any part of this delicate story. Go in cold, (the less you know the better) and be prepared to strap in, because this one has elegance and nuance to spare.
When you get one of the most talented auteur directors to make a throwback 90's-stylized heist movie written by the dangerously talented mind behind Gone Girl and Sharp Objects, you sit down and pay attention. And when you do, boy doggy, does Widows deliver the goods. Man, just writing about it makes me drool over the thought of standing in line at the local video depot with a Blu-ray copy under my arm. Packed with so much style and SO MUCH clever twists on classic heist motifs, Widows is a reminder of how fortunate we can be when highly skilled individuals get together to make something that's just as much fun to consider as it is to eat a whole bucket of popcorn to.
9. A Star is Born
Melodrama so often fails to connect with major audiences when it acts as the tentpole piece of a bombastic, awards season endeavor. Some people like their cheese reserved for the smaller screen, and that would push any rational viewer away from such tiresome genres as biopics, coming-of-age tales, mid-life romances, and the King of Celluloid Cheese itself: the musical genre. While A Star is Born is for sure a fictional take on the traditional biopic, it is most assuredly a realistic/diegetic musical, producing a soundtrack that has so many interesting and noteworthy songs, it's challenging to consider which one (if not more than one?) will be chosen to be performed this awards season. Bradley Cooper's directorial debut is commanding, having assembled a crew of some of the most talented people working behind the camera today, making it apparent that a fully-formed, bonafide, empathetic master of the lens has stepped into the spotlight. I would very much be doing a disservice to the power of the film if I didn't, at least for a moment, mention Lady Gaga's complete transformation into one of the most engaging characters of the year, creating a meta whirlpool in my mind of falling in love with Ally and watching Gaga pull off scenes with charm and talent I never would have assumed she naturally had. The movie is a musical about music; it is about the power of songs and the specific type of communication the words in the lyrics can convey. It's one of five new, modern masterpieces on this list (Mission: Impossible – Fallout and First Reformed were the previous two, #4 and #2 are the others to follow) and you would be really missing out on something special and caring if you didn't give yourself the chance to catch it.
Hereditary is the Muhammad Ali of 2018 horror movies, at least as far as butterfly and bee references go. The year was inarguably packed with horror releases that were of a higher tier of worth and execution than many in recent years, even with heavy-hitting bangers like It Comes at Night, Green Room, The Invitation, Get Out and The Babadook. I'll more than likely be writing something up on the many, many fantastic horror films of 2018 sooner rather than later, but for now I would like to say that with the exception of a few more to go on this list, (which are technically horror movies, but for which I adore for very different reasons outside of the genre and its trappings) Hereditary is a stone cold masterpiece. Full stop. This is the type of movie that gets under your skin and makes you like it. That's a very hard thing to do, even for the genre of film that is supposed to be doing that every time. The film also has the best performance of the year in Toni Colette's portrayal of the struggling, ever-crumbling mother figure/protagonist of the familial terror-show, with a cast of frighteningly reserved performances from her co-stars, and the fantastic, mind-blowing cinematography, as her super-powered support system. Director Ari Aster has made a friend in me, and I'm a friend to the end kinda guy.
7. The Rider
The Rider is not only one of the most mesmerizingly enjoyable films of the year, it is a perfect example of the very specific power that movies hold over all other forms of artistic expression. A film that allows its story to grow and evolve through what is shown, told, thought and questioned. No one will watch this movie without being moved or inspired, even in the slightest, and I dare them to even try to argue the opposite. And beyond all this, it’s a great story, one with such vigor you can’t help but cry and laugh at the exact times you are meant to, a sign of the truly skilled operation of the empathy machine. This is the type of movie that you reserve the term “a revelation” for.
Grief, fear and the fighting of the unknown are all common colors an artist can choose to paint their portrait with, and Israeli writer/director Samuel Maoz utilizes every moving gear of film (visual, audible, emotional, conscious or subconscious, etc.) to create a sweeping three act tale of moving in circles. Foxtrot hit most major film festivals in 2017, which garnered its inclusion on many a critics favorite of the year list twelve months ago, finally landing on US screens just this past June. Much like A Fantastic Woman and Phantom Thread, (both movies that garnered much praise during the end of 2017, but were not fully released until January and February of 2018) I fought with myself about whether to include the film, as technically it could be attributed to last year, and I was already running out of space on my already large enough list for 2018. And while I love (really, really love) both aforementioned films, Foxtrot is the one that will stay with me for a very, very long time. I've been sharing it with friends for months, ever since I was finally able to catch it myself, and I highly recommend going in as cold as possible if you're interested, (and for the love of everything, DO NOT watch any trailers for this thing; some of the greatest moments of the movie are not only spoiled but seem to be intentionally downright ruined by the film's marketing).
A fresh and intense new pillar into the figurative backbone of American Cinema, Blindspotting is almost too exciting and inspirational for its own good. Sporting an exquisitely honed in and tonally relevant/required soundtrack, the film exists on a constant high of utilizing the medium of film to communicate anything and everything it has on its mind. It's also really fucking funny. Not since the likes of Spike Lee's heyday in the 90's have we received such contemporary and bold think pieces on race and culture in the American landscape, at least not as unique as the director's first line-up of his filmography. Blindspotting is one of those movies it is very easy to throw the term “necessary” and “must see” onto, and nobody would be judged wrongly for doing so. It is exactly that: a solid piece of attitude driven filmmaking with a theme of despair and a lesson on empathy and understanding the world and your place in it, and just how might one come about changing both. “Don't be who you isn't.”
You just don't get much better than this, baby. Visually wonderful, psychologically engaging, and a genuinely “gets better every time” repeat-viewing triumph. Alex Garland (of 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Ex Machina fame, just to name a few) has crafted a beautifully bleak reflection (pun intended) on trauma, depression and how we all destroy ourselves in one way or another. It ultimately leads to that most painful of predicaments: being alone, isolated and at the mercy of the path behind you, forging so few ways forward, if any. A cinematic sensation, Annihilation will go down in the pantheon of film as one of the truly unapologetic and divisive films of the early 21st century, and it's phenomenal the conversations that have grown out of this little indie flick that could. Make no mistake, ambiguity is the name of the game Garland is playing, filling his movie's dialogue with as many “I don't know's” as “What does this mean's?”. The concept of turning the lens of criticism and understanding on oneself leaps from the screen, plunging the confusion and bewilderment (or sometimes fear) our characters are experiencing directly into the audience’s subconscious, disorienting the mind and tantalizing the senses, exploding with one of the most unique and rewarding third acts ever committed to film. Rewarding is a very fine choice of word to attach to Annihilation, its philosophies open and its merits indecisive, welcoming the theoretical musings of millions for years, while also delivering some of the best mix of both practical and digital effects in horror, period.
There's just no denying it: Mandy is an all-timer; it is a brand-spanking new, blood-drenched heavy metal roar into the eternities of the cult film B movie-making ethos. A true gem of gems, this wild ride is anchored by three phenomenally over-the-top performances, all tiptoeing the line of trash cinema in completely different ways. This is just what cameras were made for, man. Director Panos Cosmatos once anecdotally stated that in gaining funding for the film, he said, “I just want to go into the woods with Nicolas Cage and a smoke machine - is that too much to ask??” It's sort of nerve-racking to consider just how well Mandy will age over time; it's one of those movies that instantly feels like a classic even before you've finished watching your first viewing. Something about this tale of love, religion, drugs and chainsaws just feels so collectively endearing, yet also astonishingly original, that one can't help but feel like they are in the presence of something that will soon be a part of them; it's like the notion of love at first sight, but for movies. The late Jóhann Jóhannsson's final score could not be attributed to a better marker in the legend of the auteur composer, an equal distribution of film and artist both deserving each other in the wake of a terrible and unfortunate tragedy. Not to get too specific, but there is a moment in the middle of Mandy, where the story begins to take a turn, that Jóhannsson's score almost seems to break through the camera, covering every event afterwards in a glow of hyper-realized, 80's sensation, yet still grounded with the sadness and terror our heroes have garnered from the events of the film; you feel like you've been listening to this score your entire life, when in actuality, you've been waiting for it. Get some drinks, a couple friends and a few bowls of mac n' cheese, and get a viewing on. I really cannot recommend it enough.
To put it plainly, Alfonso Cuarón, the maker of multiple great movies, has done the unthinkable: he has made his masterpiece. Now, I'd imagine the director feels he has much, much more in him to deliver over the course of his remaining career, and I also know that some may believe his works, Children of Men or Y Tu Mamá También, to be superior to his latest work, Roma. They would be entitled to that opinion, but I would have to aggressively disagree. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who is as infatuated with Children of Men more than yours truly; I've seen it roughly 50 times, and have the entirety of its nearly two hour runtime pretty much committed to memory due to several back-to-back viewings during my time in the military, (where in what few off hours I had in the middle of the ocean there wasn't really a lot of options besides working out or sleeping, neither of which has ever really interesting to me). Regardless, the point is I love Children of Men. It's perfect. And Roma is a better film. A different type of film, to be sure, but I also believe it to be a harder film to execute, making its masterful final product something really deserving of our awe. Tearing apart the established, preconceived notions of language and culture in film, Cuarón meditates on oh-so-many queries about life and love, and the importance of the ones who teach us the importance of both. An outright delight and a bone-shaking piece of dramatic high art, Roma is another movie that, at the risk of sounding pejorative (a little late, I know), will be played on my living room screen over and over again for the rest of my life.
1. Thunder Road
I'm really going to try and reign it in here, because when you get me talking about this movie...fuck, it's just sooooooooo good. What do I do? Call it a masterpiece? An instant classic? A testament to how a good story perfectly executed doesn't need all the money in the world to be an authentic, original film? The best comedy in years? These all, while completely earnest opinions on the movie, fall short of really delivering just how special it is. This is another one to avoid trailers at all cost, (so I won't include it below), it does however stem from a short film made only a few years ago, which acts as the soft open to the final version of the film itself. (It was reshot and slightly altered, but the differences are very small and more procedural than artistic in nature, so I'll include the OG short film below in lieu of the spoiler-filled trailer). A human story first and foremost, Thunder Road is everything I personally want from a film: engagement, a rich theme, a devoted tone, great performances, set-up’s and pay-off’s, that not only work, but astound time and time again; it is exhilarating and bold, emotional and joyous. Go watch it, and if you're not 100% in love with this movie, I will personally apologize for recommending this beautiful and life-fulfilling, cinematic equivalent of a poem, to be experienced by a soulless monster.
Honorable Mentions: The Endless, Thoroughbreds, If Beale Street Could Talk, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, The Night Eats the World, Unsane, Five Fingers for Marseilles, Racer and the Jailbird, Revenge, Black Panther, Game Night, The Death of Stalin, Upgrade, The Ritual, Mohawk, Small Town Crime, Pass Over, Hannah Gadsby: Nanette, Like Me, Lowlife, November, Halloween, First Man, Searching, Calibre, Love, Gilda, Hold the Dark, Border, At Eternity's Gate, The Other Side of the Wind, The Night Comes for Us, The House that Jack Built, Terrified, Minding the Gap, Let the Sunshine In, Wildlife, Bodied, Mid90's, Cam, The Clovehitch Killer, Creed II, You Were Never Really Here, A Fantastic Woman, Phantom Thread, Double Lover, Eighth Grade, Midnighters.
Did not get to see: Anna and the Apocalypse, Let the Corpses Tan, Blaze, The Wild Boys, The Wife, Bad Times at the El Royale, Chained for Life, Burning, Shoplifters, Destroyer, Vox Lux, Cold War, Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Downrange.
That's all folks.
Founder of and programmer for Story Screen. Lover of stories and pizza in the dark. When he isn't watching movies, you can find him reading things about people watching movies. He lives in Beacon, NY with his cat who is named after Kevin Bacon's character from Friday the 13th.