2018 in Review: The Best and Worst Movies

Another incredible year for film, even if there’s a lot more “very good” and less “great” than years past. If there was an overarching theme in 2018’s movies, it was the struggle to hold onto one’s identity. Your surroundings might change, your circumstances might change, even your DNA and the very fabric of reality might change. Trying to retain what makes you you? That’s easier said than done.

Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs in Blindspotting
10. Blindspotting (dir. Carlos López Estrada)
Of the many excellent films about race relations in the U.S. (and particularly among African-American civilians and white police officers), Blindspotting still remains the best and most startlingly original of the bunch. Longtime best friends and co-stars Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs have written a harsh love letter to their rapidly gentrifying hometown of Oakland, while also unleashing a primal scream of pent-up rage at the senseless deaths of so many. But perhaps even more impressively, this movie tackles heavy topics while also being wildly funny. For first-time writers (and first-time director Carlos López Estrada) to pull off such a tricky mesh of tones proves they’ve got long careers ahead of them.

Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther
The Spider-People of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
9. Black Panther (dir. Ryan Coogler) | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (dirs. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman)
If we must be subject to superhero movies every other weekend, may they all be as colorful and thematically resonant as these two films.

Ethan Hawke in First Reformed
8. First Reformed (dir. Paul Schrader)
Paul Schrader is back from wandering in the wilderness and he’s pissed. Ethan Hawke gives a career-best performance as a priest going through the motions at a church that gets more visitors for history lessons than sermons. But a visit with a suicidal parishioner jolts him awake, reigniting his passion, hungry for justice against the children of God who have destroyed the home He made for us. But like Schrader’s protagonist in Taxi Driver, his methods are horribly wrong. And like Taxi Driver, the film’s ambiguous ending is in the eye of the beholder.

Henry Cavill, Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible – Fallout
7. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (dir. Christopher McQuarrie)
At a time when it seems like all we get at the theater is spectacle, at least there are still some actors and directors who put a lot of thought into the spectacle. Too many big-ticket movies feel like product or content, so thank God for Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie, making the sixth entry in this franchise feel fresh, or at least operating at such a high level that the clichés don’t show. This is breathtaking action filmmaking, something Americans haven’t been so hot at in the last decade.

The cast of Annihilation
6. Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland)
Sadly, if you’re outside North America, this was probably relegated to the endless scroll of your Netflix feed. Alex Garland’s mesmerizing adaptation of Jeff VanDerMeer’s sci-fi novel certainly isn’t for everyone (possibly including fans of the novel), but if you’re on its wavelength, you’ll be enthralled and horrified, often at the same time. Part of its terror is literal – especially during the second bear attack, the most unsettling scene of the year – but most of it is existential. If you survive the unexplainable, are you still the same person?

KiKi Layne and Stephan James in If Beale Street Could Talk
5. If Beale Street Could Talk (dir. Barry Jenkins)
Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to the best movie of 2016 is another tribute to black love, and how it’s often the only thing to keep our marginalized heroes going. This is a film where sadness is in every frame, yet it’s never depressing. There’s hope just beneath the surface of every gorgeous close-up by James Laxton and every uplifting note of Nicholas Britell’s score. It’s an overwhelming experience, but with standout scenes of melancholy (like Brian Tyree Henry’s 12-minute takeover) and kindness (like an added scene where Dave Franco’s landlord actually treats our couple like people).

The subjects of Minding the Gap
4. Minding the Gap (dir. Bing Liu)
Being an adult is hard. It’s a lot harder when you didn’t finish high school, when you had a kid before you were ready, when you can’t get steady work, and especially when you’ve never really dealt with your family’s cycle of abuse. Minding the Gap is a movie about America’s problems in microcosm. Focusing on a group of skateboarders in Rockford, Illinois (which has seen its population rapidly decrease in the past decade, alongside a tragic rise in domestic violence), it eventually expands its scope to become a deeply personal film for its director, who’s skating and confronting his own demons right along with his subjects.

Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone in The Favourite
3. The Favourite (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
That The Favourite is Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ most accessible film is really saying something. This is a film that features extended vomiting, sad handjobs and Emma Stone menacing a poor rabbit. But the sexy scheming between Stone and Rachel Weisz for the affections of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is irresistible. Each of the cast members is doing their best work, always thinking they’re smarter than they actually are. It’s classic farce, but with extra-weird touches.

Ryan Gosling in First Man
2. First Man (dir. Damien Chazelle)
Damien Chazelle’s first film since winning Best Director is one of the least triumphant movies about space. While it never reduces the impact of the first person to set foot on another celestial body, it’s truly a biopic about Neil Armstrong, a quiet person who was absolutely the wrong person to be the face of NASA’s space program. More than any other movie about astronauts, First Man is interested in the technical and emotional challenges of actually getting to space. When Armstrong (Gosling at his stoic best) finally gets to his destination, reflecting on all the people he’s lost on this journey, it’s one of the most powerful moments of the year.

The cast of Roma
1. Roma (dir. Alfonso Cuarón)
The latest masterwork from Alfonso Cuarón sometimes shows off a little bit, but otherwise this is a genuinely moving tribute to the women who raised him. Shot in lush black-and-white by Cuarón himself, it’s empathetic, tragic and funny, often in the same scene. Life continues to move forward, even when it’s interrupted by moments of inexplicable loss, and we have to cling to each other if we’re going to survive.

Honorable Mentions
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (dirs. Joel and Ethan Coen)
Black Klansman (dir. Spike Lee)
Burning (dir. Lee Chang-dong)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (dir. Marielle Heller)
Deadpool 2 (dir. David Leitch)
The Death of Stalin (dir. Armando Ianucci)
Eighth Grade (dir. Bo Burnham)
Game Night (dirs. John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein)
The Hate U Give (dir. George Tillman, Jr.)
Hereditary (dir. Ari Aster)
Incredibles 2 (dir. Brad Bird)
Isle of Dogs (dir. Wes Anderson)
Leave No Trace (dir. Debra Granik)
Mandy (dir. Panos Cosmatos)
The Old Man & the Gun (dir. David Lowery)
A Private War (dir. Matthew Heineman)
Sorry to Bother You (dir. Boots Riley)
A Star Is Born (dir. Bradley Cooper)
Support the Girls (dir. Andrew Bujalski)
Suspiria (dir. Luca Guadagnino)
Three Identical Strangers (dir. Tim Wardle)
Tully (dir. Jason Reitman)
Widows (dir. Steve McQueen)
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (dir. Morgan Neville)
You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsey)

Didn’t See But Probably Would Have Loved
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
Monsters and Men
The Other Side of the Wind
Private Life
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Thunder Road

The Worst Films
40 Years in the Making: The Magic Music Movie (dir. Lee Aronsohn)
Breaking In (dir. James McTiegue)
Death Wish (dir. Eli Roth)
Sicario: Day of the Soldado (dir. Stefano Sollima)
Slice (dir. Austin Vesely)

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