Coming up with a top 10 list is, by its very nature, a subjective exercise. While it’s fairly easy to compare, say, two action films, and decide which one you liked better, how does one compare the best action movie you saw in a year with the best drama or the best comedy? Which one is truly better? While there is certainly some criteria that exists across all genres, so much of what makes a particular sort of movie good is exclusive to that kind of movie. And yet, it’s the end of the year, and that means it’s time to put every movie I saw in 2018 on a list, and then focus on the best.
In the end, the final categorization was easier than I expected. To be clear, there are some stellar movies that aren’t on this list. The Fred Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor had me ugly crying on an overnight flight to New Zealand. I absolutely reveled in the viciousness of Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone in The Favourite. I sat in utter shock at the ending of Avengers: Infinity War, and yet, they’re nowhere to be found here. Maybe this order could change slightly if I thought about it a bit longer. For now, we’ll go with it. Here are my 10 favorite movies of 2018. Let me know how this list stacks up to yours in the comments below.
10. Sorry to Bother You
When I saw Sorry to Bother You over the summer I figured it was a shoo-in for the year’s top 10, and yet, it just barely squeaks in at the bottom of the list (just ahead of The Favourite if you’re keeping score). It was just such a unique, original, and weird as fuck movie. You don’t have to watch as many movies in a year as I do for most films to be predictable as hell, so when Sorry to Bother You pulls the most crazy original plot twist in the history of plot twists, you have to respect the project.
Boots Riley’s script is smart and fun and makes you laugh uncomfortably throughout. The idea of crowd-sourced indentured servitude in the “gig economy” is the sort of idea that, once you think about it, you realize maybe isn’t quite as insane as it should be. And how can you not respect a film that includes Tessa Thompson making a performance art reference to Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon?
9. Paddington 2
The original Paddington was a film I saw in theaters almost by accident, but it was one of the happiest accidents in recent memory. Truly a joy of a film from start to finish. Paddington 2 somehow does the impossible, it improves on the original in every conceivable way and makes a movie that isn’t just funny and heartwarming, but truly special.
Hugh Grant’s turn as the film’s villain deserves special recognition. Nobody is having quite as much fun watching this movie as he appears to have had making it. Having said that, every member of the cast is fully committed to making sure the audience is on board with Paddington 2 ‘s unflinching optimism and they all succeed. For such a simple film, it is visually stunning as well.
8. A Quiet Place
In an era where so many movies are sequels to stories based on comic books, there was possibly no film braver in 2018 than A Quiet Place. An original concept with a wild conceit meant there would be next to no dialogue for the entire run of the film. If this gamble didn’t pay off, the movie could have failed completely.
Luckily, for both director John Krasinski and everybody who went to see this massive hit, it all works perfectly. Not only is A Quiet Place a great movie in its own right, but it makes the actual watching of the film part of the experience. The lack of dialogue means the actors have to step up their performances in other ways, and every performer does just that. The simple sound design is actually an incredible technical achievement, which absorbed me into the story in a way few movies have.
7. If Beale Street Could Talk
The follow-up to Best Picture Winner Moonlight by director Barry Jenkins was always going to be a movie that people had their eye on. Whether or not If Beale Street Could Talk wins as many awards as Jenkins’ previous effort still remains to be seen, but there’s little question that he has crafted another beautiful movie that is having a big affect on audiences.
The broader social themes of the film, including a black woman forced to go through a pregnancy alone since her boyfriend is in jail for a crime he did not commit, are obvious. But what sets If Beale Street Could Talk apart is that it isn’t just about the message, it’s about the people. A pair of powerful performances from Stephen James and KiKi Layne anchor the film and give faces to those broader concepts. At its heart, Beale Street is a romance, and like all great loves, it comes with its share of pain.
The best thing I can say about Alex Garland’s Annihilation is that the movie came out almost a year ago and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. On the surface, it’s a cerebral science fiction movie about an alien presence arriving on Earth. The Shimmer is a beautiful place to get lost and the journey of our team of heroines is equal parts mesmerizing and terrifying.
Of course, as with everything Alex Garland has done, Annihilation isn’t really about what you see on screen It’s a metaphorical film that asks deeper questions about identity and trauma. I know Annihilation frustrated a lot of people with its seeming ambiguity, but sometimes art is designed simply to make you think rather than tell a straightforward story.
5. Black Panther
Like most movie fans, I enjoy the hell out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. I was in awe of the epic experience that was Avengers: Infinity War as much as anybody, but when I really stop to consider the three Marvel movies that came out this year, there’s only one that really belongs on this list.
Black Panther was a revelation. At once, an exciting comic book action movie, but also so much more than that. Ryan Coogler gave us a perspective on the superhero genre that nobody had before, and few others ever could. It wasn’t simply the welcome diversity that Black Panther brought to the big screen that made it special. It was what comes along for the ride because of that diversity. Black Panther has a tone, a point-of-view, and a feel all its own which makes it one of the best MCU movies to date and clearly one of the best films of the year.
4. The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give is one of several movies that came out in 2018 that focuses on race relations in America. What makes this one standout is that it’s based on a YA novel, making the perspective and the voice very different from its contemporaries. The perspective of youth gives the movie a rawness that many other films simply don’t have. I left the theater seriously contemplating where I might have stood if a firestorm like this one came down around me. The best films don’t just ask the hard questions, they leave us trying to find the answers.
However, the movie isn’t simply about the cycle of racism and violence that permeates the world we live in. It’s about the optimistic idea that maybe someday it will be broken. Amandla Stenberg gives a radiant performance that belongs among the best given this year.
Given the divisive response to Vice among critics, this choice will clearly not sit well with everybody, but Vice was absolutely one of the most exceptional films I saw this year. Regardless of what you think of the film’s subject matter, former Vice President Dick Cheney, Christian Bale absolutely transforms himself in the title role and Amy Adams gives an Oscar-caliber performance as Cheney’s wife Lynne.
Those two performances alone make Vice a great film. But in the same way that Adam McKay’s previous effort, The Big Short, had a style and structure which made the movie fun and entertaining while dealing with serious and obtuse financial issues, Vice plays similar games with politics. Vice doesn’t simply know it’s a movie, it revels in the fact. The film will likely infuriate you to varying degrees regardless of your political affiliation, but it will also keep you laughing while you’re screaming inside.
2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse? It’s the best superhero movie of the year. It’s the best animated movie of the year. It’s the best Spider-Man movie, probably ever. It’s a visually stunning feast for the eyes. It’s a movie that has the potential to have great power, and it is more than willing to accept responsibility.
Spider-Man has found his true home in animation because, even with everything modern filmmaking can do with CGI, it still can’t do that, and Spider-Man needs that to fully make the leap from the page to the screen. It’s a movie that has everything, and every possible version of the wall-crawler you could want. Spider-Verse elevates the art of animation in ways we haven’t seen since Pixar first took the screen. The bar has been raised for the technology as well as the genre. Time for everybody to up their game.
1. Mary Poppins Returns
For those that know me, my number one movie of the year will surprise literally nobody. It’s about as “on brand” as I could be. So much so that I seriously considered flipping the top two selections if only to not be “that guy.” Mary Poppins Returns was certainly my most anticipated movie of the year going into 2018, but the thing was, while I was looking forward to it, I was also terrified of it. I couldn’t believe that a sequel to a movie like Mary Poppins could possibly be as good as it needed to be. How do you replace Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke? How do you make new music that’s as good? How do you make a worthy sequel and not a poor carbon copy? Everything was actually against this movie being any good.
And that’s why it has to be the number one movie of the year for me. The bar was set so high, and Mary Poppins Returns didn’t simply clear it, it grabbed an umbrella and floated over it effortlessly with the confidence of, well, Mary Poppins. Emily Blunt is absolutely magical in a role that will define Mary Poppins for a new generation. It is both an homage to the original and steadfastly its own story. I still can’t believe it worked. It’s the best movie of 2018.
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