2018 belongs on some kind of watch list for crimes against our international sanity, but you know what? At least the movies were good! The fact that Never Goin’ Back, First Man, The Night Comes For Us, The House That Jack Built, and Bodied have to live in my honorable mentions in this introductory paragraph and not in the top 10 itself says a lot. Because I love those movies. And I love a ton of movies that didn’t even make that shortlist. Movies! They’re good!
So here are my selections for the 10 best movies of 2018, which run the gamut from the most impressive Hollywood blockbusters $150 million can buy to arthouse experiments that defy traditional cinema in every possible way. Hell, I’d argue that one of those movies manages to be both of those at once (hint: it’s number two on the list). I say again: movies!
Jacob Hall’s Top 10 Movies of 2018
10. Mission: Impossible — Fallout
It’s easy to scoff at the sixth entry in a movie star-powered action franchise. By now, surely it’s run out of steam. By now, surely it’s started to repeat itself. By now, surely it’s stopped pushing whatever boundaries it once brushed against. But somehow, it’s impossible to scoff at Mission: Impossible – Fallout, one of the most impressive action movies ever made and one of the most purely entertaining films of the past…decade? Ever? In director Christopher McQuarrie, leading man/daredevil psychopath Tom Cruise has found the perfect collaborator, a brainy and brawny born storyteller who delivers exposition with two fists, often while literally falling out of a plane. Emphasis on the literally – the tactile thrills delivered by the stunt work in this film is unmatched. By the time Cruise is flying a real helicopter in a death-defying aerial chase during the climax, you realize that so much “difficult” filmmaking and so much “difficult” acting is just a bunch of macho posturing. Sure, you ate a bison organ in an agonizing long shot – collect your damn trophy. Cruise and McQuarrie are master technicians who make the impossible look, well, easy. And it’s exhilarating to watch them work.
9. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Can You Ever Forgive Me? is the ultimate hangout movie for depressed, bitter, lonely creative-types with pennies in their bank accounts and plenty of time to drink instead of write. In other words: this movie spoke to me in a profound way, from its casually queer characters to its frank depiction of just how goddamn hard it is to commit to a personal project. It’s hard to imagine anyone with a creative bone in their body not nodding along at the story director Marielle Heller is telling here, wincing and cringing and nodding and chuckling with recognition. By the time the wryly funny hanging-out has transitioned to a tale of bottom-of-the-barrel crime (celebrity letter forgings!), you’re on board for whatever these beautiful, ugly, wonderful, hateful people are going to do next. In Melissa McCarthy‘s Lee and Richard E. Grant‘s Jack, Can You Ever Forgive Me? introduces the greatest platonic couple of 2018 and it’s a shame we only get to spend two hours with them and their poor (and wholly relatable) decisions. Onscreen friendships this strong are a gift and we should treasure this one.
8. If Beale Street Could Talk
If movies truly are a machine built to explore empathy, director Barry Jenkins is one of the best engineers in the business. If Beale Street Could Talk is his follow-up to Moonlight and it proves that he’s not going anywhere – he’s one of the finest, clearest, and most evocative voices in modern American cinema. This film is nothing if not transportive, placing us in the room with a loving couple as they have sex for the first time, placing us in the room as an unexpected pregnancy is announced, placing us in the room as a man unleashes the floodgates of traumas that were visited upon him in prison. If Beale Street Could Talk floats through time, dances from scene to scene, feeling more like a collection of memories than a proper narrative. We live the good times. We endure the hard times. We laugh. We weep. We fight. We survive. We stand for ourselves. We stand for others. This is a film as complicated, as tough, as tragic, as funny, as sexy, and as heartfelt as a human life.
Blindspotting is a movie brimming with life. Carlos López Estrada‘s directorial debut, set in a rapidly gentrifying Oakland, loves is characters, loves its city, and loves the unexpected detours in the road that make our day-to-day existence. It loves the friendship between Collin (Daveed Diggs) and Miles (Rafael Casal) and happily steers into the speed bumps this duo encounters every day as they work together and hang out and bemoan what has become of their hometown. But Blindspotting is also a wise movie, one that knows that behind every crime, behind every tragedy, is a human being. Blindspotting is such a fun, warm movie that when it pauses in the face of horror, like when Collin witnesses the execution of an unarmed black man at the hands of white police officer, we feel the punch in the gut. We feel the fear, the anger, the rage, the helplessness, the sense that our world is spiraling out of control and there’s nothing we can do about it.
In one of the most harrowing scenes of 2018, Collin raps his feelings to an unexpected character, a scene that probably felt awfully silly on paper but works beautifully in execution. Partly because Daveed Diggs is nothing short of incredible, but also because Blindspotting is an engine designed to achieve maximum empathy – our feels build and bluster and sometimes all we can do is let them out in a primal, rhyming rage. Collin speaks for himself, passionately and powerfully – we are allowed to exist in his shoes, his soul, for a funny and furious 95 minutes.
6. The Favourite
A blend of history, pitch-black comedy, aching tragedy, and enough cattiness to fuel twenty remakes of Mean Girls, The Favourite is a period costume drama unlike any other. For starters, it’s delightfully gay, easily the gayest film to receive a wide release in 2018, a welcome reminder that history wasn’t nearly as stodgy as so many dusty movies lead us to believe. Stories of the royal court aren’t just fancy dresses and grand proclamations from whoever is wearing the crown – they’re also the realm of secret lesbian trysts, snarky backtalk, scheming, and longing that had yet to be properly or clearly defined. Of course, director Yorgos Lanthimos explores all of his with his trademark evil wit, transforming the court of Queen Anne into the world’s most ornate high school cafeteria. The Favourite is one of the funniest movies of the year and I’d happily watch several additional hours of Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and Olivia Colman trading barbs and suffering abuse at each other’s hands. But when the abuse comes home to roost, when it all becomes too much, Lanthimos twists the knife. Because pain, the deep harm that warps our souls, is the source of comedy in the first place. And The Favourite never forgets that.
Toni Collette is the broken, twisted heart of Ari Aster’s Hereditary. Her Annie, an artist specializing in miniature recreations of domestic scenes from her life, has lost her mother when the film begins. And as the film goes on, she loses more. Much, much more. Because in Aster’s twisted, terrifying chiller, the ghosts that haunt us don’t live in the house – they live in our blood. We can’t escape our family, our heritage. We can only wait for the demons encoded into our genetics to catch up with us. It’s a grim, nihilistic worldview, and one that could prove unpalatable if Aster’s control of tone wasn’t so secure, if his script wasn’t so smart and grimly funny, and if his cast of newcomers and veterans alike didn’t inject so much empathy and rawness into the increasingly outrageous scenarios. And it all comes back to Annie. Poor, doomed Annie. In the performance of a lifetime, and easily the performance of 2018, Collette plays a woman with an inferno just blow her skin, a lifetime of rage and regret fueling it. This is mature, brilliant horror from a filmmaker who just earned himself a lifetime pass to dabble in the genre as he sees fit…and a reminder that Toni Collette is one of the finest actors alive today.
Late in Annihilation, Natalie Portman‘s scientist encounters an extraterrestrial entity that won’t let her leave the room. It mimics her every movement, blocks her every path, and engages in a vicious but strangely non-malevolent dance where progress, where escape, is impossible. It’s the horrifying denouement to a brilliant movie, the moment when director Alex Garland reveals his cards. Yes, this is a terrifying movie about four women who journey into an area taken over by an alien life-form that has twisted nature and reality to its will. And yes, what they encounter there makes Annihilation one of the most chilling and twisted genre films of the year. But it’s how these women encounter these creatures, the reflections of their inner demons, that transform the film into a masterpiece. Each character feels designed to connect with a different kind of person, but I will never stop thinking about Natalie Portman’s encounter with the dark foe that knows her every movement, that takes her shape and blocks her path. If there has ever been a better metaphor for depression, I have not seen it. Annihilation, the kind of science fiction that is as humane and wise as it is wild and creepy, will sit under your skin. It may never leave.
Luca Guadagnino makes films that transport the viewer to their time and place, asking you live in them, soak in the detail, and feel like you are part of the fabric of their world. His remake of Dario Argento‘s horror masterpiece Suspiria is an unlikely triumph not because it follows the original in any way, but because the filmmaker eschews the original’s surreal nightmare logic in favor of his trademark specificity and lucidity. We aren’t just watching an always dazzling and sometimes baffling (in a good way!) drama epic about witches running a dance school in 1977 Berlin – we are living it. We can practically smell the sweat on the dancers’ skin and the cold, rainy air outside every window. And while Guadagnino ultimately delivers the gore and the nastiness you’d expect (the climax is a horror set piece for the ages), he dwells on those tangible details you wouldn’t expect. The politics of a coven. The intersection of gender and revolution. Dance as an art form and as a tool for communicating lost magics. Suspiria is a film so jam-packed with detail and nuance that it takes multiple viewings to appreciate every layer. I’m going to be studying this film for years to come.
2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Look, I’m as surprised as you are. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse isn’t just the most entertaining movie of 2018 – it’s an instant classic that pushes the boundaries of animated storytelling in profound, jaw-dropping directions. One film would be lucky to have one great relationship amongst its ensemble – this one has about five. One film would be lucky to contain half as much story as Spider-Verse – the way character development, action, and exposition fold together like some kind of impossible comic book origami looks so effortless that you can imagine a number of experienced filmmakers wondering how they pulled it off…while encouraging a new generation of storytellers to rise to that level.
And that’s certainly appropriate, as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the tale of a young man rising to a new level. Our hero is Miles Morales, a young kid who gets bitten by a radioactive spider and must team up with a number of spider-powered folks from alternate dimensions to save the universe. It’s silly but sincere, hilarious but exciting, direct but complex, and above all, it’s deeply moving in ways that are impossible to see coming, blindsiding you even on repeat viewings. The filmmakers are aware that they’re dealing with a vital cornerstone of American pop culture here, treating Spider-Man as a character and a symbol with the respect he deserves and the change he requires. This isn’t just another Spider-Man movie – it’s a deconstruction of Spidey’s iconography, an exploration of what he means to both creators and audiences alike. It’s the best superhero movie ever made.
Director Panos Cosmatos speaks a variety of languages. He speaks the language of glorious VHS-era trash, a landscape of leather-clad vengeance-seekers and bloody rampages. He speaks the language of the arthouse installation, the non-narrative powered by sound and color and tone and the hint of a foggy answer lurking behind clouds of enigmatic questions. He speaks the language of horror, of heavy metal, of offbeat romance, and of Nicolas Cage, one of cinema’s greatest secret weapons when utilized correctly. So Mandy is a film fluent in all manner of pop culture, capable of speaking to those looking for a surreal acid trip and those looking for wacky action romp and those seeking a deconstruction of the revenge movie and those looking for an unsettling examination of profound grief. The fact that Mandy does all of this while remaining a cohesive whole, a movie with a singular voice, is nothing short of a miracle.
The first half of the film is dominated by Mandy (a transcendent Andrea Riseborough), a mysterious and ethereal woman whose greatest crime in the eyes of the malicious cult leader who wants to possess her is that she won’t submit (her laughter after his extended proposition is a great moment in a film filled with many). The second half of the film is dominated by Red (an unreal Nicolas Cage), who embarks on a mission of revenge against that cult leader armed with a brutal arsenal of weapons and must slice and dice his way through demonic biker gangs and navigate an increasingly surreal and hostile landscape to track his quarry. The shift from the staid, oddball dream of Mandy’s story to the raging, psychotic nightmare of Red’s story is handled with great care – the film only hits pause on its psychedelic mania to let Red grieve, and to let Cage portray that grief in the most realistic, unsettling, and brave manner possible. Yeah, Red is our lone desperado, one of 2018’s most instantly iconic badasses, but he’s as broken as they come. And he isn’t just a visitor to the brutal, increasingly fantastical world that becomes his killing ground – he lives there now. Without love, madness lies ahead.
Oh, and there’s one hell of a chainsaw fight. Five stars. 10/10. A+.
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