I generally hate making lists like these. Exclusivity does not necessarily mean one is better than the other. I can tell you objectively which movies should be some of the top movies of the year, but this is my list and I’ve found ten movies I can’t stop thinking about for the year of 2018.
I will admit, I haven’t seen every movie out there (still haven’t gotten to “Roma” or “If Beale Street Could Talk” or “A Star Is Born”) so it’s fair to say this list might be a little premature, but by December 24th I think I’ve seen enough to make my arguments. So, I present to you (in no particular order – except my number one slot which is a clear top favorite) my top ten movies of the year.
A brand new entry into the horror genre that chilled me to my bones and left me quaking. No lie I stress-farted in the movie theater and we were all so scared everyone let me off the hook. Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, and Milly Shapiro deliver performances I will never forget. The camera work is sharp, dreamy, and deliberately skin-peeling. Ari Aster, I look forward to more of your work!
Spike Lee’s never been one to mince words, either in real life or in his movies. His confrontational approach always marked him as a fresh voice in cinema, no matter how long he’s been making movies. Blackkklansman delivers on plenty of things we’ve come to expect from Spike but this time his satire, tension, and message are razor sharp. From the opening sequence of Gone With The Wind to the screening of Birth of A Nation and finally landing on the Charlottesville marches of new-born Klansman he never truly delivers you from discomfort, even if the narrative satisfies a little old-fashioned revenge fantasy.
8. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
In a year where human empathy is in short change, this movie came along like a cool glass of water on a hot summer day. The tale of Fred Rogers and his eponymous tv show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” delivered on some good ol’ fashioned. What makes this documentary shine is the unique behind the scenes look at Fred Rogers, his life, and his passion. This documentary showed us a man who not only loved for love’s sake but treated every single child (and adult) as if they were his own. He never shied away from hard questions. I’m crying just thinking about it. You want to cry? You want to feel loved? Go see this movie.
7. 8th Grade
Bo Burnham’s directorial debut turned out to be the most naturalistic and honest film I’ve seen all year. It’s an honest look into our character’s growth and the harrowing experience of being thirteen. You watch this movie and agree with one of the side characters: “8th Grade is the worst!” You’re your worst self: unformed, ignorant, innocent, awkward, and just generally unsure of yourself. This movie succeeds by being so specifically focused on Elsie Fisher’s character that it reminded us all of our 8th-grade year (even if our 8th grade looked nothing like hers).
6. Black Panther
I’ve waited so long for this movie to come. Not specifically “Black Panther” but a blockbuster so good at empathizing you’re conflicted by the end. A movie that truly expresses both sides so thoroughly that by the end you have no choice but shed a tear. Chadwick Boseman is incredible as the center character but LITERALLY, EVERYONE ELSE in this movie shines just as bright: Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whittaker, Andy Serkis, and MICHAEL B. FREAKING JORDAN. They made Martin Freeman look downright dull.
Heart-wrenching fight scenes. Emotional throughlines. A personal and expressive look at the country of Wakanda. A visually stunning display of afro-futurism. This movie made itself the centerpiece of blockbuster discussions for months afterward and ignited the imagination of audience members all over the world. For the first time in a while we not only wanted to see Black Panther, we wanted to BE Black Panther. I saw this movie three times in theaters. Whatever you do, don’t sleep on this one.
5. The Standoff at Sparrow Creek
Completely on the opposite side of the spectrum from “Black Panther” and “Blackkklansman” is the indie drama none of you have heard of – yet. Produced by Dallas local Cinestate and shot in town, I will be the first to say: I love this movie. The conflict follows an in-state militia group as they lock each other inside their warehouse to find out who shot up a police officer’s funeral. This film is lightning in a bottle ya’ll. An excellent ensemble cast led by James Badge Dale bring this “Reservoir Dogs”-esque film to life. It’s stark cinematography, quiet atmosphere. Less violent than you’d imagine, but tenser thank you’d expect. I enjoyed every minute of this and the moment I can get my hands on it you bet I will be picking up the Blu-Ray. If you get the chance PLEASE go see this film.
4. Atlanta Robbin’ Season
Okay so this isn’t a movie, but holy crap is this show good. Doubling down on what made season one so unique and releasing the spring before Donald Glover’s performance in “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” it’s hard to see Donald Glover failing. So much so that he’s given the leeway to make a show so nutty, bizarre, and specific that you can’t help but feel like you’re the one who doesn’t know how to talk about this show.
It proved a much darker turn than the previous season and delivered on more drama than before. This season we see Donald’s character Earn slowly get edged out as he makes a few failures, makes some money (finally), and learns “no matter how high up you go there are always people trying to put you down.” The darkness in this show doubled from last season with episodes like “Woods” or the unforgettable “Teddy Perkins.” I’ll never forget that episode. I love this show. I’m committed to its success so season two was a genuine delight for me.
This movie completely snuck up on me and I’m so grateful it did. A first time out for director Carlos Lopez Estrada this movie delivers on a wide variety of feelings throughout its hour and a half long run. I love the stylistic flow of this movie bouncing to hip-hop beats and lamenting the gentrification of Oakland. I cannot recommend this movie enough. It’s stylistic, comedic, heartfelt, and touches on topics we struggle to express in a way that’s human and tragic.
2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
I’m not the first person to tell you this movie is amazing. It’s an origin story that doesn’t waste a ton of time on origin stories. Self-referential in the light-hearted way that makes it sincere yet still serious enough to merit a strong emotional swelling by the end. The unique cast makes this film a true standout and we’d all be lying if we didn’t admit Spider-Ham was a delightful addition. If that wasn’t enough, the animation style’s so unique I literally couldn’t stop watching it even if I wanted to. A bombastic soundtrack I’m going to be jamming every day adds to this flick. It’s easily one of my top ten of the year and I’m jonesing to go see it in theaters again. Sorry “Aquaman”!
1. First Reformed
“First Reformed.” What. A. Movie. With impeccably precise cinematography, breathless philosophical debates, and incredibly tense moments, I could not get enough of this movie. It’s a very tall glass of ice cold water, so I drink sparingly but man oh man is this movie rich. Rich with structural symbolism. Rich with moralist debates. Rich in performance (Ethan Hawke turns in the performance of a lifetime.) Rich in cinematography (I still remember the opening image.) I remember watching it and my jaw dropping the longer the movie went on because every single shot is perfectly framed. Not a single frame feels haphazard. This movie is intentionality personified and I’ve been singing it’s praises since I walked into the theater not knowing what I was going to see.
“First Reformed” (now on Amazon prime) asks tough questions, but more importantly SHOWS us Hawke’s descent. His story is a story many know: isolated, no family, guilt-ridden from his actions, and sentenced to die from consumption this protestant pastor witnesses all his networks fail him (the church, his family, his friends) as he struggles to counsel a violent young man and his expecting wife. It’s a nuanced film that never errs. See me at my TV for the Oscars telecast and I’ll be royally if pissed this movie doesn’t get more nominations.
I’m writing this section because I have to shout out these films. Whether the hype was too good to pass up or the story was too unique to forget, these are the films that should’ve made the list if I’d written this any other day.
Another outing for Alex Garland in truly inventive science fiction. At turns, skin crawling, myopic, or just downright bizarre this movie stood out in my head for being the most inventive sci-fi film of all 2018. I think none of us are forgetting that scary bear-man combo savaging the women in this film.
Equal parts thriller, horror story, and family drama this movie was SO GOOD. It’s a shame I didn’t have a place to fit it in my top ten. For a directorial debut, John Krasinski nailed it from the script to the production design to the big action sequences. It truly paid off and centering the plot around a torn daddy-daughter relationship proved pivotal. When Krasinski signs his farewell to our deaf-mute character tears were pouring out of my eyes. I’d watch again in a heartbeat. I may do that tomorrow…
So, I’ve yet to see this movie. Ironically this is the most hyped movie of all of 2018. Literally, every film critic I follow thinks this is the best movie to come out of 2018. I’ll watch it, I am 1,000% sure. Something tells me I won’t be disappointed.
Just about the funniest movie I saw this year. Hilarious, dark, and so mundane. After everything, you’d think you’re sick of the bleak humor but this one really catches up with you.
Things I’m Glad I watched in 2018
This is a category for movies I finally caught up on. It’s where I get back to business on black and white classics of foreign films. Here’s a shortlist:
“Embrace of the Serpent” – a truly dark and alarming story detailing the intertwining tragedy colonists brought with them even deep into the Amazon. Shocking, revelatory, hypnotic, and uncomfortable. I lived in the Amazon and I couldn’t look away. Multiply my surprise tenfold when I found out the movie loosely follows a true story. It’s jaw-dropping. Not for everyone, I’m sure, but this one really rattled my cage.
The First Ten Minutes of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” – look, I might be the only guy to embarrassingly embrace this second entry into a fatally revived franchise. Exploding volcano dinosaurs? Ridiculous Indo-Raptor monster stalking a Victorian mansion? What about that sounds boring to you? I’ll admit the emotional arcs and surprise revelations were ill-conceived and I’m still not really there for Chris Pratt’s character (he’s kind of a dick) but those first ten minutes? With the divers? And the – yeah. It drew me back to the first ten minutes of the original Jurassic Park. There was horror and shock and alarm. I rewatch those first ten minutes from time to time just to enjoy myself. Kudos to J.A. Bayona for a much more interesting sequel to rather uninteresting franchise revival.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Adventure Time” finally ending, “Never Goin’ Back,” “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” “Bojack Horseman,” “Bad Times at the El Royale,” “Mandy,” “Samurai Champloo,” and “Attack on Titan.”