Folks, we’ve made it through another year. This is the third time that I’ve written one of these end of the year rankings, and it’s the third time you all are owed congratulations for getting through another incredibly rough year. Things just keep getting rougher and rougher, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to get much better anytime soon. And yet, in the face of the darkness and adversity that makes up our lives, there’s still one surefire source of joy and entertainment in this broken world. The movies. By now it’s become blindingly apparent to me that the myth that we live in a fallow period for film is utter bullcrap. Because the world of the movies has been amazing, and they just keep getting better. I feel like I say this every year, but I really had an insurmountable task to narrow this list down to even 15, coming the closest I’ve ever come to actually breaking down and doing a top 20. I ended up seeing 86 new releases this year, and the sheer variety and high level of quality of them was staggering. As always with this list, these are my 15 favorite films of the year, not what I’d consider some objective best. These are the films that I had the best time with, and that I personally will remember 2018 for, as of now. But, that’s enough preamble, let’s get to the list.
15. You Were Never Really Here
I usually do my best to write about every movie I see in the theater. Sometimes I don’t manage that simple task though, maybe because I got too busy, or occasionally because I just didn’t feel like I had anything to say. The only film on this list that I haven’t already written about here on the site is my number 15, You Were Never Really Here, and I think the reason for that was that I just couldn’t find anything I could say about the film. And, eight months later, I’m still not sure what to say about it that would do it justice. It’s a dark, ugly, beautiful little film that follows a thoroughly broken man as he does the only think he knows how to do. Killing other people in order to save children. It’s a deconstruction of the revenge thriller, sort of like what would happen to an actual person living out some sort of Taken plot. And it’s heartbreaking. Visceral, upsetting, and simultaneously a film that can be hard to watch while impossible to look away from. Words can’t describe the feeling of watching this movie, so if you feel like ruining your day in the best possible way, check it out.
You Were Never Really Here was written and directed by Lynne Ramsay.
When you watch as many movies as I do in a year, one of the surest signs that I’ve enjoyed a film is when it sticks with me. I see a lot of stuff that I can enjoy in the moment, but that kind of just falls off me, moving on to bigger and better things. But, sometimes a see a movie that just makes a home in my mind, popping up when I’d least expect it as my mind chews over in for weeks, if not months, to come. And, the perfect representation of that idea is Mandy, the acid-soaked heavy metal fever dream that brought Nicholas Cage back to screaming glory this year. This movie almost defies explanation, but I love it so completely. It’s a completely unrestrained id, a movie that finds the line it shouldn’t cross, and leaps over in with abandon, giving into every insane temptation and becoming one of the most joyfully maddening films I’ve seen in years, perfectly bringing back to life the Platonic ideal of a heavy metal show. If you can get on this movie’s wavelength, it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.
Mandy was written by Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn and directed by Panos Cosmatos.
13. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Any year that the Coen Brothers decide to give us a movie, it’s probably going to show up on my list. There are few other working directors whose output is so incredibly my speed, and they would have to do something incredibly strange and out of character to make a film I wouldn’t enjoy. And, the great thing about the Coen’s is that even when they do do something out of character, and not what you’d expect, it still turns out pretty damn great. Take this year’s Ballad of Buster Scruggs. I wouldn’t have anticipated the Coen Brothers to make an anthology film full of morality plays and Tall Tales that showed off the gamut of their creative sensibilities, but I easily could have anticipated that I’d love it this much. Never bet against the Coen Brothers, and their ability to make anything they touch turn to gold, because as this movie reminds us, they can do damn near anything.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.
One of the prevailing themes of the best films of 2018 was black filmmakers and creators getting to share their views of the world at large, and America specifically, with the general public. It’s been an eye-opening and illuminating experience, even as it’s been uncomfortable to watch people pitting the various “black movies,” against each other this year, as if they can’t all be valid and wonderful. And one of the more searing films of that group is Spike Lee’s latest take on the role of institutional racism in America, Blackkklansman. This film comes straight from the history books of my own home-state, and remains one of the most powerful theater experiences I’ve had all year. It’s funny, it’s terrifying, and it even ends with a glimmer of hope, before the rug is pulled out from under you, reminding you that some things never change, and that America was never great, and maybe never will be.
BlackKlansman was written by Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, and Kevin Willmott, and directed by Spike Lee.
11. The Sisters Brothers
2018 was a hell of a year for Westerns. The genre seems to be on a serious comeback, giving us several wonderful additions in all manner of medium. But, the Western experience I most enjoyed this year ended up being a film that appears to have been criminally underappreciated. The Sisters Brothers is a hell of a film, and one that I really don’t see many people talking about. Good or bad. It just seems to have slipped through the cracks. And that’s a damn shame, because I thought the world of it. It tells an incredibly satisfying Western story, while also examining the burden of brotherhood and family, in all of its glory and frustration, all while being bolstered by a pair of terrific performances from Joaquin Phoenix and John C Rielly. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, and I would assume most people haven’t, give it a shot, it’s really something special.
The Sisters Brothers was written by Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain and directed by Jacques Audiard.
10. The Favourite
I’m still kind of shocked that a film from Yorgos Lanthimas made it onto my list at all, let alone this high. I really haven’t connected with his films before, and yet this movie completely clicked for me. To the point where I’m considering giving his other movies another shot, to see if this has unlocked something for me. Because this movie is a hoot. On its surface it’s a goofy and fun little movie, full of absurd humor and some of the most wickedly sharp dialogue of the year. But, when you start to scratch everything away, you realize it’s one of the most biting satires of the year, a film in the grand tradition of movies like Dr. Strangelove that reminds us that the people in power are just people, full of the same vanity and weakness that we all are, if not more so. It’s a funny film, full of three absolute all-star performances, but the more you think about it, the most depressing it becomes, a reminder that the times have never really changed, and we always have been, and always will be, governed by buffoons.
The Favourite was written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara and directed by Yorgos Lanthimas.
I’m a sucker for a good heist flick, and 2018 gave us one of the finest heist movies I’ve ever seen. I really had no idea what to expect from a female-led heist movie written by Gillian Flynn and directed by Steve McQueen. That’s a very strange combination of influences and creators, which you might initially think would be at odds with each other. And yet, it all came together beautifully to create one of the most thoroughly enjoyable movies I saw all year. It’s a rip-roaring crime film that actually had quite a bit on its mind in regards to gentrification, the legacy of power, and good old fashioned sexism. It’s a movie that you can go into looking for a good time, and walk away with some serious questions to ponder, which is my favorite type of movie.
Widows was written by Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen and directed by Steve McQueen.
8. Sorry to Bother You
When I first saw Sorry to Bother You this summer, I really wasn’t quite sure what I thought of it. I absolutely loved the first two-thirds, giving me one of the most biting social satires that I’d seen in years. But then the movie takes a very strange turn, one which you either need to roll with or be thrown from the movie at. And, at the time I was kind of thrown. But, as time as gone on, and some distance from the film has been given to me, it’s raised in my opinions. That turn is still really wild, and I’m not a hundred percent sure it stuck the landing, but it’s impossible to deny how great the movie holds together as a whole. It’s angry, it has opinions, and it demands that you listen to them. It’s the kind of film that so rarely gets made anymore, one with something to say that manages to say it without any compromise. And, for that alone we should respect it. But, it’s also full of so much life and manic joy that it doesn’t feel like a lecture, which can be a hard feat to pull off.
Sorry to Bother You was written and directed by Boots Riley.
7. First Reformed
Few films in 2018 have stuck with me the way that First Reformed has. When I first watched it, I was pretty blown away by the affect it had on me, but it hit in June, when the summer blockbuster season was getting to ready to kick into high gear, and I kind of expected it to be a little bit of an art-house palate cleanser that would then fade off into my memory until it came time to reckon with the films of the year. And yet, throughout the ensuing months it’s been damn near impossible to get this movie out of my head. Probably for the worst reasons. It’s a movie that poses the question of whether it’s ethical to bring children into a world that is probably doomed. And, as this year has unfolded, it’s a question that has come to my mind over and over again. The planet it melting, at a rate that is possibly too fast to stop, and ever day bring some fresh hell for us all to deal with both ecologically and politically. Things are pretty terrible, and this is a film that looks at that, and has to agree. It doesn’t sugar coat it, it doesn’t give us a glimmer of hope. It’s just a reflection of the darkness we all live in, and it’s kind of the most 2018 movie I could possibly envision.
First Reformed was written and directed by Paul Schrader.
6. Black Panther
I always have to find room for the MCU on my list of favorite films of the year. I’m so thoroughly in the bag for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there are very few movies in the increasingly massive franchise that don’t work for me. But, I wasn’t really expecting Black Panther to hit me the way that it did. We’ve had it for almost an entire year now, and I find myself coming back to it time and time again, including literally the night before writing this list. It’s one of the most impressive things that the MCU have brought to the screen, and it’s almost entirely thanks to Ryan Coogler, an absolute genius who was given free reign to bring this film to life in the way that he wanted. It’s everything a superhero movie should be, while also delivering one of the most eloquent deconstructions of the difference between revenge and justice I’ve ever seen. It’s a complicated film, with a whole lot to say. And the fact that it gave us those thoughts in what is almost certainly the most successful film of the year is really special.
Black Panther was written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole and directed by Ryan Coogler.
As I said earlier, 2018 was a great year for stories about the experience of black people in modern America. There were several huge films that people seemed to force into competition that tackled this concept, but one of them seems to have been almost entirely left out of the conversation. And it’s the one that I loved the most. Blindspotting is a movie that I wasn’t really expecting much from. It looked decent, but the main draw for me was the fact that I enjoyed Daveed Diggs from Hamilton. But I left the theater a complete convert, and have been doing my best to spread the good word of Blindspotting for the rest of the year. It’s a movie that left my entire theater breathless, and it’s a hell of an experience to hear an entire theater release their held breathe at once, let alone several times in one movie. It’s a beautiful meditation of race, friendship, identity, and the way that others view us. All all the while it contains two absolutely terrific performances by real-life friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, lending an incredibly amount of realism to the film. Not enough people saw this movie, and that really needs to be changed.
Blindspotting was written by Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal and directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada.
I love when a movie comes almost completely out of nowhere, and just completely delights me to no end. I had no real anticipation for Thoroughbreds, and other than a decent trailer didn’t even know what to expect when I went to see it. But, I see damn near everything, and March is often a pretty empty time for movies. And yet, even though I was really just going to see this movie because I was bored and had to watch something, I was pretty damn blown away. I definitely feel like this movie has been more or less forgotten by now, but I really loved it, and it has stayed in my mind for the entire yet. It’s pitch black and incredibly twisted, but in the best possible way. There wasn’t anything too deep or meaningful about the movie, it was just a really fun time at the movies, and I appreciate it greatly for that. Sometimes we just need a teenage-girl murder thriller.
I love to start a year off with what is almost certainly the strangest movie it’ll provide us. People seemed completely caught off guard in February when Annihilation was dropped on an unsuspecting public, which really ended up hampering the attention this movie deserves. It’s strange, beautiful, horrifying, and one of the most singularly affecting experiences I had in a theater this entire year. The film carved out a spot at the top of my list early on, and has been a bar to which all other movies had to be judged, and only two managed to pass that test. We just don’t often get sci-fi movies like this anymore, ones that aren’t afraid to be a little obtuse, to ask real questions and provide little answers. I know that there’s some controversy surrounding the film and some white-washing in the casting, and that’s a real disappointment. I don’t know what the right answer in that problem is, but there’s nothing that can be done now. All we have is the film we were given, and it remains one of the more powerful and confounding experiences of the year, becoming a half-remembered nightmare that has stuck with me the entire year.
Annihilation was written and directed by Alex Garland.
2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
This entire list was hard to put together. But the top two films? It was damn near impossible. For several months I felt confident what my number one film was going to be. And, looking ahead at what the last chunk of the year had in store for me, I felt it was a lock. And then I saw Into the Spider-Verse. I had assumed that I was going to like this movie. I love Spider-Man, I love Miles Morales, and the idea of having an animated Spider-Man movie that centered around Miles Morales that also involved several different variations of the Spider-Man character seemed like it could have been fun. But I had no idea I was going to love this movie the way I do. It’s simply one of the most incredibly movies I’ve seen this year, and this decade. It’s beautifully animated in a way that challenges the form, daring animation to become something new and different for the first time this century. Do you remember when you were a little kid, watching a movie over and over again in the same day? Just rewinding it as soon as you were done with it so you could watch it again? This movie brought that feeling back to me. Not a day has gone by since I first saw it where I didn’t feel the urge to go back to the theater to experience it again. It’s everything I love about Spider-Man in one movie. It’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s full of heart, it reminds us that we can all be heroes no matter who we are. It’s Amazing. It’s Spectacular. It’s Spider-Man. And I love it.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was written by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman and directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsay, and Rodney Rothman.
1. Bad Times at the El Royale
I did a lot of thinking when finalizing this list. Spider-Verse came damn close, and in a year, who knows, maybe things will be different. But, as of right now, I just had to admit to myself that my favorite film of the year, the one I enjoyed the absolute most, was none other than Bad Times at the El Royale. This movies didn’t seem to get the audience it deserved when it came out, being kind of passed by almost immediately. But, I loved it, thoroughly and completely. I spent the entire sprawling run-time with a smile plastered on my face, enjoying every second of it. It’s rare that I find a movie like this, that seemed to be custom-made for me in particular. It’s a neon-drenched neo-noir, full of a bunch of ridiculous characters whose lives become intertwined in a single location, all while scored by soul music. I mean, did I dream this movie? It’s perfect! People have complained about its length, or that it drags on, but I couldn’t disagree more. I loved every moment of this movie. It’s dripping in aesthetic and mood, and in a way that could have become pretentious and over-bearing if handled by a different director. But Drew Goddard took a life-time of pulpy influences and boiled them down to this movie, a pure distillation of an entire aesthetic. And it just so happens to be an aesthetic that I enjoy quite a bit. It’s not for everyone. It might not even be for a majority of people. But it’s for me. I love it, and it’s my favorite film of the year.
Bad Times at the El Royale was written and directed by Drew Goddard.
So, there you have it. My favorite films of 2018. And, like I said earlier, this isn’t what I would say are the objective best films of 2018. These are just the ones that I loved the most, and that had the biggest impact on me. I saw an absurd amount of movies this year, and a whole lot of them were simply amazing. I had to force myself to stick to this top 15 thing I’ve been doing, because otherwise this easily could have sprawled into a top 30 list. 2018 was absolutely jam-packed with amazing movies, they just all couldn’t stick on this list. So, there are a bunch of other movies I’d love for you all to see. Movies like If Beale Street Could Talk, Roma, Anna and the Apocalypse, Death of Stalin, and Suspiria all came incredibly close to making it on this list, and I would highly recommend checking out all of them. Because you really can’t go too wrong with the movies of 2018. There were some stinkers in there, as with any year, but it’s no good to focus on the negative. Things are bleak out in the world, but we continue to get fantastic stories. So, when the world has you down, pop in a movie and be reminded of the power of film.
Categories: Reel Talk