The summer moviegoing season of 2018 is over. In fact, given the last good blockbuster opened almost a month ago (and will later appear on this list), some might argue it ended earlier than this last week or two. Be that as it may, we consider this the perfect time to reflect on the year that has so far been, and the best that American cinema has had to offer us.
As the industry gears up for the increasingly draining awards season that kicks off during the highest profile film festivals next month, we glance at the first seven months-plus of 2018 to figure out what has been the most transformative or simply entertaining experiences at the movie theater, and what is already etched in our memory. So please join us for the top 10 movies of 2018. So far.
10. A Quiet Place
Who knew that John Krasinski had such a pulpy taste for tension underneath his friendly countenance? Presumably his wife and leading lady Emily Blunt, for she co-stars with Krasinski in his second film, which is also the most crowd-pleasing horror movie of 2018. Enjoying one hell of a crackerjack sci-fi premise—blind aliens have turned Earth into their hunting ground with supersonic hearing that can pinpoint your “inside voice” within a five-mile radius—
A Quiet Place is nothing more and nothing less than an expertly designed exercise in dread.
With barely any dialogue, and a superb cast that includes the genuinely hearing-disabled Millicent Simmonds, it's is a nightmarish ride that pulls liberally from Hitchcock, Spielberg, and maybe a dabble of Kubrick, all while making something unique to its modern environment: a chiller that is actually cold to the touch, even with a warm heartbeat underneath.
9. The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Despite winning the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year, Desiree Akhavan’s
The Miseducation of Cameron Post has fallen under the radar in the broader film culture. That’s a shame considering how simple yet elegantly designed this coming-of-age tale is. Beyond featuring the best adult performance of Chloë Grace Moretz’s career, the reason to see this poignant addition to LGBTQ cinema has everything to do with its frank candor in addressing its subject matter of growing up in gay conversion therapy camps…. and the culture that breeds them.
Set in the 1990s during a time where “pray the gay away” was even more prevalent, and cinema often coddled the ignorance of religious institutions as well-meaning,
Cameron Post does not shy away from addressing the insidious cruelty of such places, and the menace of confusing (and destroying) young minds. But neither humorous or horror, there is a wistful melancholy to the universality of growing up, even if it is in such a bizarre circumstance as a glorified prison camp for teenagers. This is a quiet, yet at times devastatingly effective, vision offered by Akhavan of a young woman finding her peace, complete with a top notch performance by Jennifer Ehle as the face of a different type of Christian devil.
8. Black Panther
It took Marvel Studios over 15 movies, but with Ryan Coogler’s
Black Panther we at last have a non-James Gunn entry that's actually about something. And something with plenty of punch too. Directed with a confident style by Coogler,
Black Panther introduced to the broader global mainstream an exciting vision of Afrofuturism, as well as a long overdue (almost) all-black cast leading a four-quadrant superhero flick. To be sure this is still very much a Marvel movie, complete with indulgent chase sequences and, at times, questionable CGI.
Yet it is also standing on the precipice of subversive for a Disney film, and downright challenging during its second and best act. Marvel introduces its greatest villain to date with a fearsome turn by Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, the African American son of a heritage that has been forgotten and ultimately denied. Tapping into the anxiety many feel given a continental and cultural divide, the clash between Chadwick Boseman’s superhero and Jordan’s supervillain is so compelling because the villain is justified in his motivation, if not his violent solution. And the hero is forced to concede that point in an ending that likewise rejects the Western creep toward aggressive and antagonistic isolationism. Plus, it’s simply an exciting adventure with one of the best casts the genre has seen, refusing to treat the women as damsels or props, or reality as something to fully escape from.
7. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Yet the best blockbuster of 2018 for our money is—and will likely remain—Christopher McQuarrie’s crackling
Mission: Impossible – Fallout. In addition to relying on an audacity that’s now verging toward insanity, with 55-year-old Tom Cruise dangling from dazzling heights, McQuarrie’s spearheaded one of the most honed action movies in recent memory. He’s the first director (and writer) to return to the franchise, and he does so while throwing out much of his old school Hollywood classicalism from
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation in favor of a more modern, stiletto-edged thriller.
With every action sequence fine-tuned and designed for maximum suspense, the movie is a building storm of white-knuckled adrenaline, and all the more irresistible because it really is Tom Cruise jumping out of that plane at 25,000 feet, or breaking his foot as he leaps headfirst into the wall beneath another building’s rooftop. It’s exhilarating and also an ode to how the old ways of making movies are still often the best. It stands like a dazzling island lost in a sea clouded by a computer-generated beige.
In the less than two weeks since Spike Lee’s new joint was released, there’s already been harsh criticism, including by other filmmakers on this list who take issue with the film being an ultimately highly fictionalized and sympathetic portrayal of police officers released in 2018. However, those same critics who seek to discredit the real Ron Stallworth as an unreliable source are just as quick to condemn him without evidence of what occurred when the Colorado Springs Police Department infiltrated the KKK.
But all of this ignores the ambiguity with which the wall of blue is presented as in
BlacKkKlansman, as well as what the film really is: Lee’s best joint in years that in addition to superb craftsmanship and filmmaking—effortlessly drifting between comedic and thriller elements, poetic essay and Blaxploitation wish fulfillment—also challenges the very role of historical revisionism in cinema. It offers a compelling counterpoint to the century-long narrative of hate that has festered its way back into the mainstream and White House. Aptly drawing critical eyes toward a far more malevolent form of cinematic transfiguration, like
Birth of Nation and
Gone with the Wind, Lee creates a rebuttal to a narrative of hate that emboldened the real Ku Klux Klan in favor of one of inclusion and unity among disparate elements. This not only pertains to cops and black activists, but a union of progress against regressive hate, which
BlacKkKlansman compellingly traces from the backrooms of KKK initiations led by then-Grand Wizard David Duke to the real life tragedy of Charlottesville where Duke gleefully celebrated a white supremacist rally that ended with an attack on a multicultural counterprotest and the death of Heather Heyer.
BlacKkKlansman is a potent and needed film in 2018, drawing an engrossing and beautifully acted melting pot of styles and ideas into a consolidated front against a white supremacist culture that has long wallowed in a false history “written with lightning.” Lee fires back with his own thunderbolts.
In this purported modern renaissance of thinking peoples’ horror movies, no indie studio is making us think more in their output than A24. In that vein, writer-director Ari Aster knocks it out of the park with his feature debut in this vaguely perverse nightmare. A film derived from dread and the often overlooked storytelling tools that made
Rosemary’s Baby and
The Exorcist endure in our haunted subconscious beyond the red eyes and green pea soup,
Hereditary is both a throwback and something startlingly original. Showcasing the slow descent into madness and despair of a family with an already tragic history, the film cheerfully muddies the water between supernatural and psychological terror, suggesting they’re one in the same.
Hereditary also features a tour de force performance from Toni Collette, who should very much be in the running for any Best Actress considerations next year, as she personifies the messy overlap of trauma, anguish, self-loathing, and maybe even complicity due to the horrors that bedevil her family. Plus, for our money, this movie has the most unforgettable shot composition of 2018. Albeit once witnessed—and experienced in its breathtaking delivery—you’re just as likely to wish your eyes had never been so scarred.
4. Three Identical Strangers
Tim Wardle’s hypnotic distillation of a stranger-than-fiction story proves that sitting in a movie theater can still be quite like a seesaw. One moment you’re on top of the world, savoring the euphoria of this one-time beloved human interest story from the greater New York area, and then you’re falling into the creepiest conspiracy theory you’ve heard in ages. Mostly because it actually happened.
As a film that benefits from the less you know,
Three Identical Strangers unspools its story as a mystery rather than a series of events. By judiciously choosing to withhold and reveal information at the most dramatic times, Wardle presents the seductive appeal of a news story that took talk shows by storm in the early ‘80s before uncovering the realities that challenge our very ideas of nature versus nurture.
As told by the charming boys who lived the seeming fantasy,
Strangers picks up during 19-year-old Bobby Shafran’s first day of college when, in his own words, everyone mistakes him for a guy named Eddy Galland. It’s understandable, however, because it turns out they were brothers separated at birth. With neither knowing that the other exists, things only get more phantasmagoric when they discover they have a third brother named David. Each of the triplets grew up in a different socio-economic class, and each of them initially appear to have more similarities than differences. And then things get truly wonderful and heartbreaking after that. To say more would ruin the experience of this captivating doc.
A purely desolating love story, yet so much more,
Disobedience is the whist theological epic that nary leaves its cloistered London suburb. Set in the aftermath of a tightknit Jewish Orthodox community losing its most prominent rabbi, director Sebastián Lelio patiently colors in his canvas with masterful restraint. Refusing to ever divulge too much with trite exposition or zealous bursts of emotion,
Disobedience eventually reveals itself to be the story of a woman who was banished (or did she leave by choice?) from this community almost 20 years prior. She also was the rabbi’s daughter.
Now as the one person to leave, Rachel Weisz’s Ronit returns for a funeral she isn’t sure she’s invited to, and to a love triangle that is more humanistic and empathetic than it might first appear. The love of Ronit’s girlhood is Esti (Rachel McAdams), who is now married to Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), the surrogate son of a father who disowned and forgot Ronit, and who is aware of his wife’s desires. But he’s neither the fool or the villain, nor is his marriage the sham that cliché might suggest. Without condemning a community steeped in tradition—while acknowledging the shackles within—
Disobedience is a tidal wave of emotion that goes unsaid beneath the surface, and a showcase worthy of awards consideration for all of its leading cast members, most especially an agonizing McAdams.
When Paramount saw the writing on the wall, they gave up attempting to market to international markets Alex Garland’s second effort as a writer-director, the captivating and mind-bending
Annihilation . Given that domestic audiences steered clear of this opus in theaters, the studio might be justified in dumping it on Netflix, but the global moviegoing community is poorer for it.
Annihilation is an exquisite masterwork in adult science fiction that harkens back to a day where movies weren’t expected to be “explained.” They were meant to be felt as viscerally as the turning of a tide or the first wisps of a summer evening’s dusk.
Make no mistake, this ostensible sci-fi thriller is an art installation every bit as beatific as when the film’s alien entity, called “the Shimmer,” turns human bodies into sculptures of grass and petal. And that is just one of the numerous evocative images in a film about a group of women who enter an ecological disaster—a huge swath of southeastern American marshland that has been trapped beneath a kaleidoscopic bubble. Anyone can walk in but nobody walks out. Well, save for the husband of heroine Lena (Natalie Portman). But he’s different, so much so that Lena walks in to find out why.
The answers transcend traditional narrative and reach for a level of Kubrickian metaphysical grandiosity. And more astounding still, the movie makes good on that lofty promise by achieving a third act that science fiction aficionados will debate for as long as this movie’s other broader themes are raised, such as what is the nature of humanity and why do we seek our self-destruction? Coupled with a stellar and almost entirely feminine cast,
Annihilation also acts as a genre reclamation.
1. Sorry to Bother You
Film criticism too often relies on the claim “you haven’t seen anything like this before,” yet that is to put it mildly in the case of Boots Riley’s
Sorry to Bother You . Rushing onto the cinematic scene with more creativity and ambition in his debut than many directors can tease in a lifetime, Riley announces himself to film culture with a defiant and deafening mic drop.
Sorry to Bother You is not only an original vision, but something even rarer in its industry: an actual subversive manifesto.
Merging magical realism with a joy for balancing multiple allegorical conceits,
Sorry to Bother You is a pro-union, anti-capitalist, and fanged deconstruction of the corporate-labor-media triptych that grinds most Americans in their everyday life into dust. It is also funny, insightful, and features a fantastic leading man turn by Lakeith Stanfield. Armie Hammer also turns in perhaps his finest work to date as the devil made white CEO-bro flesh. It follows Stanfield’s success as a telemarketer after adopting a white voice (an honest to God alabaster cadence, compliments of David Cross’ vocals), even as his Cassius Green (or just “Cash”) becomes a scab during a union strike in the process. It might cost him his artist-activist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson), but it also brings him to Hammer’s Steve Lift, who throws the kind of party no moviegoer will soon forget.
With a humor sharper than most comedies, and a Grand Guignol edge that can be more shocking than any horror, there simply isn’t anything else like
Sorry to Bother You out there. It’s still the best movie of 2018 and will almost certainly remain near that very top long after the year’s over.
So that’s it for our favorites of 2018 thus far. And to be honest, even this list was in flux. Part of me really wanted to include Bo Burnham’s lovingly awkward
Eighth Grade as well as any of the rest of the bottom five, and some of us have made strong cases for
You Were Never Really Here and
Crazy Rich Asians. Also, personally, Steven Spielberg’s
Ready Player One was a vast improvement on the novel and as entertaining as any popcorn movie this year. What about you? Were you upset any of those above four were left off, or perhaps something else altogether we are simply ignoring? Let us know in the comments section below!
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