By Jason Abdow
This year I saw more movies in theaters than any other year before. Thanks to Movie Pass (R.I.P.) and AMC A-List, I ended up seeing nearly 60 movies from this year, making this one of the most difficult lists for me to make. I even decided to expand my normal top 10, to 15 just so I could include all the excellent movies that deserved to be recognized.
First I would like to preface this with some movies I missed this year. I did not get a chance to see Bad Times at the El Royale, Blindspotting, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Old Man and the Gun, Ralph Breaks the Internet as well as several foreign language films.
And obviously there are a few honorable mentions I’d like to give love to, in no particular order:
Avengers: Infinity War, Isle of Dogs, Mission Impossible: Fallout, A Star is Born, Upgrade
15. Eighth Grade
Bo Burnham’s directorial debut is a truly one of the most realistic portrayals of adolescence that has ever been put to film. For better or worse, this brings back all of those awkward moments and embarrassing feelings that we remember having when we were 13. Despite the high cringe factor, Burnham’s able to fit humor into the film in a natural and effective way that makes “Eighth Grade” rewatchable for generations to come.
14. Black Panther
This will get a lot of hate but I think “Black Panther” is the best movie in the MCU. Technically speaking, the movie is shot beautifully, the score is fantastic, the sets and costumes are all unique and original, it all just felt new for Marvel. This is all before we get into the story which I absolutely adored. The themes of nationalism were effective, especially given the social climate now, the scenes with T’Challa and his father were deeply moving, and Marvel gave us their best villain yet with Killmonger (Thanos is a close second though). It definitely isn’t on the same level as a “Dark Knight” or “Logan” but I won’t be upset by its inevitable Best Picture nomination.
13. Paddington 2
Objectively speaking, there really isn’t anything wrong with “Paddington 2.” It is one of the most innocent films I have seen in my entire life. It is also a remarkably charming and well-made movie that everyone can enjoy. Usually family movies feel pandering and often lack genuine emotion but “Paddington 2” is one of the most genuine films of the year. The love for the source material shines and the story is moving without ever feeling manipulative. Also Paddington is one of the most adorable characters ever so bonus points for that.
I know “Unfriended” technically did the gimmick of filming everything from the point of view of technology but “Searching” really takes that approach to a far more satisfying level. I have not been this engaged with a thriller in years. The filmmaking techniques and different devices they would use to film on all helped bring me into the story. Obviously none of this would work as well if it weren’t for Aneesh Chaganty’s script that kept you guessing at every new reveal. John Cho’s performance is a career best for him and never gets lost in all of the technology he is being filmed with.
11. Sorry to Bother You
When it comes to originality, it is hard to find anything in 2018 that was more unique than “Sorry to Bother You.” This is a movie that was absolutely wild from start to finish, taking social commentary and stretching it into what could be argued as science-fiction. This is a movie that has so much to say and makes so many statements in new and inventive ways, many of which won’t be picked up on a first viewing. It is definitely not for everyone but for a debut, Boots Riley impressed with this one.
10. Three Identical Strangers
I don’t want to get into this one too much because the twists and turns that “Three Identical Strangers” takes you on are unbelievable. This is even crazier when you realize that this is a documentary and what is being told is absolutely real. It is one of those documentaries that could never be a movie because people would complain that “stuff like that can’t happen.” Go into this one knowing as little as possible and I promise you will be gripped by this story.
9. First Reformed
While “First Reformed” has a lot to say, it is smart enough never to get too preachy about its messaging. This is a movie that requires a lot of patience, which is not to say it is boring or slow, but instead carefully constructed so that the themes and messages are revealed in a subtle, more substantial way. This is all thanks to director/writer Paul Schrader who delivers his best work in decades. Ethan Hawke’s performance is also one of his finest and is deserved of an Oscar nomination, which I can hope will come for him.
Why can’t every action thriller be this great? There is no reason that this couldn’t have just been a generic popcorn movie that we all forget about, but Steve McQueen is too talented of a filmmaker to let that happen. His script with Gillian Flynn is smart, his direction is powerful and he is able to get together one of the best ensemble performances of the year. These are the kind of movies I would love to keep being made and be rewarded in both critical and commercial success.
7. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
This is the seventh theatrically released Spider-Man movie, and this isn’t even including the two other Marvel movies that have recently featured the character as well and the one coming next summer. Yeah, Spider-Man fatigue should be real but “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” was able to take this franchise to new and refreshing places to create the best Spider-Man movie to date. The animation is exciting and unlike anything I have seen before, the characters are all well-realized and the story is everything you could want from a superhero movie. This is a treat to comic book fans and truly one of the best animated films to come out in years.
6. Won’t You Be My Neighbor
Confession time, I had not seen a single episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” before going into this documentary so clearly that means this is something that everyone can appreciate. I think why this documentary works so well for so many people is how it really gets to the heart of who Fred Rogers was and explains his vision in a way that will likely feel new to both fans and nonfans alike. Like “Paddington 2” this is an example of the purity of excellent children’s programming, this time looking at the adults who make it happen and the reasoning why it was so important for them to make this kind of content for children. It was a beautiful film and one that fans of the show need to take the time and watch because it will undoubtedly bring up some deep, nostalgic feelings.
What makes “Roma” so fantastic is how Alfonso Cuarón is able to take the simple story of a maid’s life while taking care of a middle class family in Mexico City and make it feel as groundbreaking and inventive as any of his past films. The cinematography and sound mixing are all captivating and make every scene beautiful to look at and listen to. The performances all feel genuine, especially from newcomer Yalitza Aparcio, which help add to the scene of realism this film masterfully creates. I know this is on Netflix but do yourself a favor and watch this on the biggest screen you can and make sure to bring a few tissues with you as well.
4. The Favourite
British period pieces are usually some of the blandest movies to come out during awards season. Luckily, Yorgos Lanthimos knows how to pick his projects and this is far more entertaining than I would have ever imagined. The writing is sharp and clever, making this one of the best scripts of 2018. There is also no way to talk about this movie without praising the three lead performances from Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, all of which deliver career best work. While Lanthimos has made a career out of weird, disturbing films, this one is definitely his most accessible and possibly his best work to date.
3. If Beale Street Could Talk
Like many, I thought “Moonlight” was an amazing film and one I am glad went on to be so successful. That being said, there is a part of me that wants to say Barry Jenkins has outdone himself here. Like “Roma,” this could be seen as a simple love story, but the way this is delivered is what makes it so special. James Baldwin’s writing shines through and it is clear Jenkins is deeply passionate about the subject matter, making sure every shot, costume and set are authentic to it. Nicolas Britell’s score is my favorite of the year and is certainly a step up from his great work on “Moonlight.” This is one of the best made films of 2018 and easily had some of the strongest emotional resonance with me.
This is Spike Lee’s best work in decades. I loved every second of this movie, from the stylish editing and cinematography, the 70s inspired score, and the authentic costumes and hairstyling, this is a film that tackles its serious subject matter with an incredible amount of personality. Spike Lee is truly the star of this movie, with his presence coming through both in his script and direction. The story of Ron Stallworth is also fascinating and it is crazy to think it took this long for it to be told to us. By the end, I felt that I had seen one of the most important films of the year, and one that every American should take the time out to watch.
There was truly no other film that had a bigger impact on me in 2018 than “Hereditary.” I even feel comfortable saying this might have surpassed “Black Swan” and “Get Out” as my favorite horror movie of the decade. Despite being his debut, Ari Aster is able to expertly create tension, anxiety, fear and grief all over the course of the two hour runtime of this movie. Toni Collette gives my personal favorite performance of the year, seamlessly moving from scenes of grief and depression to those of pure terror. Any sense of control that is usually had in horror is completely stripped away here, making this movie even darker than the grim subject matter. If you have a strong stomach for horror films, do yourself a service and see this movie immediately. It has stuck with me more than any other movie this year and will likely be with me for years to come. For me, it wasn’t even difficult to pick this as the best movie of 2018.