My Top Ten Films of 2018
Well, 2018 has graciously come to an end, and while there were some really terrific movies released throughout the year, there were also some real stinkers. For the first time in a while, I saw roughly as many bad movies as I did good movies. That said, making this list was pretty difficult for me.
Also as a note, I haven’t seen all of the movies everyone raves about, and two specific ones getting a lot of attention that I didn’t get a chance to see yet are Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Favourite. Don’t worry, I plan to see them, but not in time for my top ten list unfortunately. That being said, here is my list.
10. Avengers: Infinity War
I’ll be honest, this spot could easily have been taken by another big superhero release this year. No, I’m not referring to Deadpool 2 or Aquaman, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed but was also equally disappointed with. It was actually Incredibles 2 that I nearly placed at the tenth spot, because I really loved it and the wait was well worth it.
However, I have to give the edge to the latest installment of the MCU because it was just ever-so-slightly better in my mind. I especially appreciated that directors Anthony and Joe Russo approached the film as a story centered on Thanos, and Josh Brolin’s well-rounded performance sells what the Russo’s are trying to do. And even though the franchise machine makes the ending meaningless, it was still a ballsy way to end a film of this magnitude, and I loved every bit of it.
9. A Quiet Place
John Krasinski made his first foray into the horror genre by directing this chilling film that’s really more of a suspense thriller. The concept — that the world has been taken over by blind aliens with an intense sense of sound, forcing people to make absolutely no noise — is enough of a hook to get me in. But Krasinski focuses the story on a family that features him and real-life wife Emily Blunt as parents with two children, one of which is a deaf girl played by deaf-in-real-life actress Millicent Simmonds, and this becomes more than just a horror movie with a great concept; it becomes a story about how far parents are willing to go to protect their family.
Krasinski gives a great performance, but his direction is even more impressive. He immediately establishes himself as having a firm grip on tension, as I was holding my breath several times, but beyond that Krasinski is able to carve out some genuine moments between each character to elevate this from your regular horror film. The only reason this isn’t higher is because the plot “twist” near the end raises more questions than it solves, and thinking too much into it ends up dragging down the rest of the film.
8. Game Night
This is a film that I really, really wanted to rank higher than this, but alas the other films ahead of it were just too good. When I first saw the trailer for Game Night, it looked like your typical comedy with a somewhat intriguing spin on it, but nothing special. But word of mouth convinced me to go see it, and I was blown away.
The ensemble cast — which features Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury, and Jesse Plemons in his best role ever — gives it their all, and their chemistry and comedic timing is utterly hilarious. But what makes this a truly great film is the plot, which is as complex as an Agatha Christie novel with the self-awareness of the Jump Street movies. The third act goes on for ten minutes too long, but apart from that, Game Night proves to be the best surprise of 2018 and one of the greatest comedies of the century. Yeah, I said it.
7. Bad Times at the El Royale
Okay, now we’re really getting into some blurred lines. From here on through to the third film on this list, I had real difficulty ordering these ones, but Bad Times at the El Royale ended up here.
I get that noir might not be for everyone, but I love it. I even liked the Sin City movies — both of them. But Bad Times at the El Royale is some of the most intricate, fascinating noir I’ve seen in a long time. The ensemble cast hits every note perfectly, and writer-director Drew Goddard creates a beautiful synthesis of Alfred Hitchcock and Quentin Tarantino (hopefully without all the abuse of women those two are known for) that presents a thoughtful message about spirituality, even though that message never gets fully realized. Some people complained this film was too long, but I was all the way engaged and never looked away from the screen or came back from the edge of my seat, drawn in by the hauntingly picturesque cinematography. If you like noir or mysteries, give this one a watch.
6. A Star is Born
Only one film this year brought me to actual tears, and that was A Star is Born. In fact, the last movie to evoke such an emotional reaction in me was last year’s Logan. But this year it’s Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga playing fictionalized versions of themselves as musicians and lovers and how the ensuing fame effects their lives.
While this isn’t the first time Gaga has acted in something, it’s her first big lead role, and she knocks it out of the park with what I hold as the best performance from any actress all year long. Yet somehow Cooper outdoes her with his spot-on Sam Elliott (who is in this and deserves a Best Supporting Actor award) vocal impression while portraying the brokenness of his character. The best part is Gaga and Cooper’s chemistry, which sells the love story in a way that pulls at all sorts of heart strings. Oh, and by the way, Cooper and Gaga wrote the songs and they both created a soundtrack that can only be summed up as musical perfection. And this is all without pointing out that Cooper co-wrote and directed the film with aplomb. The story is somewhat predictable, but this is a beautiful, heartbreaking film.
5. Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson may not be for everyone, but I love his work. His last two films, Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, are tied for my favorites of his, but Isle of Dogs came darn close. It’s Anderson’s second foray into stop-motion, and it’s a captivatingly adorable story that, if you look just a little deeper, has some incredibly prescient political undertones.
The voice cast is also terrific, and I think it’s time to start talking about Edward Norton as the best Wes Anderson actor ever after this one. The story is great, the characters are great, and the stop-motion animation does wonders for all of it. Also, how can you not fall in love with a movie that focuses on dogs and a little boy’s quest to get his dog back? Add in Anderson’s unique visual flair, and this is an instant classic.
4. Mission: Impossible — Fallout
The Mission: Impossible franchise is one of those rare franchises that doesn’t have a single bad movie, and I’m also pretty sure that it’s the only one in the history of Hollywood where its sixth film is its best one yet. Tom Cruise, problematic as he may be in real life, keeps finding ways to up the ante of ridiculous and breathtaking stunts in these films.
But what really elevates this one is writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, who is in full command of his craft from start to finish and delivers a film where every single frame is molded into shape with extreme care and attention to detail. It has some of the best action scenes ever put to film, complete with Henry Cavill reloading his fists in epic fashion, and the film only gets better as it goes along. It’s not at all hyperbole to say that Mission: Impossible — Fallout is one of the best action films ever made.
I’m admittedly a sucker for science fiction. It’s probably my favorite genre, and the harder sci-fi films like Interstellar, Arrival, and 2001: A Space Odyssey are among my favorite films of all time. Well, now it’s time to add Annihilation to that list.
From Alex Garland, writer-director of Ex Machina and the criminally underrated Dredd, comes what is quite possibly a sci-fi masterpiece. It has one of the more convoluted stories out there, which is always welcome in this genre, and the narrative is pushed along with some hauntingly beautiful visuals. But my favorite part of Annihilation is that it refuses to answer some questions, instead forcing us as the viewers to decide on our own answers, which is the mark of great sci-fi in my mind. More than that, this film is one of the more comprehensive examinations of humanity and depression, and it does so in a wildly creative and poignant manner. The only reason it’s not higher is because these other films just spoke to me more.
Adam McKay gave us an absolute gem in The Big Short, keeping all of us entertained while watching a movie about stock markets while also explaining the stock market crash of 2008 to us. McKay turned it up another level, though, with Vice, the darkly comical and enraging film about Dick Cheney, allegedly the most powerful vice president in US history.
First and foremost, the cast of Vice is astounding from start to finish. Sam Rockwell, who looks nothing like George W Bush, nails the voice and mannerisms to give us the best portrayal of the 43rd president ever. Steve Carell is electric as Donald Rumsfeld, and Amy Adams is powerful as Lynne Cheney. But it’s Christian Bale who steals the show. There’s no other way to say it, he inhabits Cheney and it’s impossible to differentiate Bale from the former VP. McKay brings his style from The Big Short with him and subsequently reinvents the way biopics are told in one of the most creative ways imaginable, all the while explaining how a guy like Cheney became so powerful and how his actions are still affecting us today. It’s without a doubt the most infuriating film of the year, as well as the most timely and important film in several years. Some may disagree with me, but I hold that Vice is a downright masterpiece.
It’s undeniable at this point that Mexican cinema has (thankfully) taken over Hollywood. Guillermo Del Toro has been crafting thematic genre pieces for years and finally got the recognition he deserved with The Shape of Water. Alejandro Gonzalez-Iñárritu gave us some great pieces of filmmaking in Birdman and The Revenant. And after Children of Men and Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón has now gifted us a masterpiece with Roma.
And while a film this beautiful deserves to be seen on a big screen, it’s available on Netflix for those who can’t afford to drive out to one of the few theaters showing it. Roma is a story based on Cuarón’s own childhood told through the perspective of the family’s live-in maid, and through all of the mesmerizing cinematography and game-changing sound design, this film offers the most visceral and genuine look at life, love, and loss. My words can do it no justice, so read the review from my favorite film critic, Ryan Bordow, here. Suffice it to say this is one of the greatest films of all time, and it is an absolute must-watch.