Okay, it’s that time of year again, the time of year I swear I’m not going to make a best-of list, only to cave and ultimately do just that. At this point, you’re probably sick of hearing me rant about how I hate ranking movies, pitting them against one another, and stating that one is objectively better than another. I don’t believe that’s true. What I put stock in is personal preference. And that’s what this list is. It’s not a “ten best movies” list, that should be readily apparent, it’s a “my ten (or whatever number) favorite movies list.”
I don’t have a set, concrete criteria, I don’t go back and look at what I initially rated a particular movie—those grades are more or less obsolete to me the moment I hit publish on a review. I do this primarily by feeling, by those movies that stick in my head and that I can’t shake for one reason or another.
Because of that, I’m not going to list movies in any particular order. The first two are actually my two favorites of 2018, but outside of that, it’s basically the order in which they occur to me. Even if I try to rank them, the sequence changes as soon as I get it set, so it’s pointless.
Know that, if a movie shows up on my list, it blew my hair back, wrecked me in some way, or burrowed into my brain and refused to leave. Even the ones that don’t fall on the proper list—there’s sure to be a lengthy coda where I namedrop a bunch of other films—they all get my highest recommendation. I’m sure as soon as I finish, I’ll think of ten more titles I love and want to include, but for now, this is show time.
Like every year, 2018 has been an incredible year for movies. People who claim otherwise don’t watch enough movies, don’t actually like movies, don’t look hard enough, or are just dead inside. Or some combination.
Drumroll, please. Without further ado, here are my ten (actually eleven) favorite movies of 2018:
For all my bluster about not wanting to put one movie over another, Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy stands tall as my favorite of 2018. In my review, I called it a “bug-nuts crazy, drug-addled, apocalyptic-doomsday-cult-fueled, chainsaw-fighting, demon-biker-having bout of madness and mania.” It’s a hallucinatory fever dream anchored by Nicolas Cage giving an exposed-nerve of a performance that both reminds you he’s a lunatic and that he won an Oscar for a damn good reason. It also has the best score of the year, the final work from the late Johann Johannsson.
While Mandy is clearly number one, Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria clearly sits at number two. I understand why it’s so divisive—this is not a film for everyone, but it is very much a film for me. Psychologically layered and hellishly grim, historically dense and currently poignant, this tale of an elite German dance troupe full of witches is a twisted slow-burn nightmare that feels like an orchestra playing single, shrieking, drawn-out note on your spinal cord.
If Beale Street Could Talk
Of this list, this is the movie I watched most recently. I’m still digesting, but I already know I won’t get Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk out of my head anytime soon. I’m not even sure where to start. Achingly romantic, one of the most beautifully shot films of the year, dire and accusatory at the same time it’s hopeful and optimistic, with a score that soothes and haunts, this simply won’t leave me alone. Jenkins creates warmth and empathy like no filmmaker working today.
Minding the Gap
Skateboarding is so much more than a sport or a hobby or even a lifestyle; it’s so much deeper than rolling around on a wooden plank. It’s a metaphor for life, a way to create a family, an artistic expression, a survival mechanism, and anything else you need it to be; it’s screaming at the top of your lungs that you’re here. No film understands this like Bing Liu’s documentary Minding the Gap. He filmed himself and his friends over the course of years and in this marvelously edited footage, we watch them grow up, grapple with race, poverty, fathers and fatherhood, cycles of abuse, and more, warts and all. It’s not always easy to watch, but it’s real and earnest and raw. I knew these kids, I was these kids—when nothing makes sense and everything else is trash, you can always skate—and no movie in recent memory made me feel more feelings than this.
You Were Never Really Here
Stripped down, spare, and quiet. Lynne Ramsey adapts Jonathan Ames’ sparse novella, You Were Never Really Here, and along with a career-best performance from Joaquin Phoenix, creates a delicate story of the cost of accumulated violence and trauma. Near-silent, punctuated by sudden bursts of ball-peen-hammer-wielding brutality that bubbles just beneath the surface, I call it, “bleak and grim, but also a human, tender story about baptism, rebirth, and being repurposed.” It’s beautifully photographed, Jonny Greenwood’s score is aces, and let’s hope it doesn't take Ramsey another seven years to make her next movie.
Blindspotting is, among other things, a banger of a buddy comedy, formally experimental, and a sharp excision of race, privilege, police brutality, and gentrification, to name a few concerns. A palpable expression of suppressed frustration and rage, it’s a story of friendship and evolution and all the bumps along the way. Co-writer and star Daveed Diggs announces himself as a leading man in the making as he plays a recently released convict trying to keep his head down and survive a rapidly changing Oakland home he barely recognizes and his wild, chip-on-his-shoulder best friend. It offers a fresh, vital new cinematic voice.
Writer/director Ari Astor’s debut, Hereditary, shook me to my core; it hits a deep, dark, primal place. What begins as a creepy, cryptic horror tone poem about coping with loss, grief, and unimaginable tragedy, builds into a maniac of a supernatural genre finale that’s both off the wall and totally fitting. Tension and dread and an all-timer of a Toni Collette performance mix with an off-kilter aesthetic the makes unconventional and fantastic use of miniatures to exacerbate the sense of mystery and discomfort.
After making a splash with her documentary, The Wolfpack, director Crystal Moselle makes her feature debut with Skate Kitchen. Based on and starring a real-life crew of young female skaters in New York, she offers a quiet, unassuming, authentic coming of age tale about friendship, growing up, and all the inherent struggles—drugs, romance, parents, finding direction, and much more all play prominent thematic roles. Both as a saga of dealing with youth and as a skateboarding story, Skate Kitchen rings true in ways most movies dealing with both topics never do.
As far as Hollywood action franchises go, John Wick tops my list—that gritty, stripped-down style is easily favorite. But as far as bonkers, over-the-top mayhem, nothing beats what Mission: Impossible has become, and the latest, Fallout, is sheer off-the-wall insanity. Tom Cruise jumped out of an airplane countless times, including multiple HALO jumps. He learned how to fly a helicopter just so we can tell it’s really him during a high-flying chase. Every time we think he can’t push things further, he goes and proves us wrong. I’ve said it before, but if he can die, and the jury is still out on that, he’s going to die filming one of these movies for my entertainment, and I find a certain nobility in that.
Sorry to Bother You
Messy, uneven, and definitely the work of a first-time filmmaker, Boots Riley, frontman of hip-hop group The Coup, makes an audacious, gonzo debut with Sorry to Bother You. The story of a down-on-his-luck telemarketer (a crazy good Lakeith Stanfield) who discovers wild success when he uses his “white voice,” satirizes race, capitalism, art, and more. Incisive, biting, and weird as all hell, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a Coup song: an electric party jam steeped in radical politics and the desire to burn this whole mess down. This is as exciting a first film as we’ve had in a long time.
The Night Comes for Us
Hands down, the best action movie of the year goes to Indonesian madman Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes for Us. Hell, it’s the best in many years. I’ve never cringed, recoiled, and blurted, “Oh damn,” watching a movie so many times in my life. Gut-level, visceral violence, non-stop pummeling, and a frenetic pace create a soaring crime saga that I don’t think gets enough credit—it’s a sprawling world of baddies, brotherhood, and betrayal that, like John Wick, hints at a much deeper, more expansive world. Joe Taslim finally gets his own platform and takes center stage as a gangland enforcer trying to extricate himself from his old life. He puts his considerable martial arts skills on display alongside Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, and a collection of the best movie martial artists currently working. The acrobatic face-punching, gut-ripping, machete-swinging madness builds on the foundation The Raid movies laid before. And, in theory, this is the first in a trilogy, which brings so much joy to my heart you won’t even believe.
2018 has been such a great year for movies, this rundown could easily spool out into the dozens. I’m going to cut the list proper off here, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t tons of other fabulous films from the last 365-ish days to check out. If you need more, here are a few worthy titles to add to your list:
Supa Modo is a movie that made me glad theaters are dark because I ugly cried my way through all 74 minutes. With Black Panther, Ryan Coogler delivers one of the most electric superhero movies of all time, with easily one of Marvel’s two best villains—there’s Killmonger and Loki and no one else.
With Revenge, French director Coraline Fargeat creates an aptly titled, brutal-as-hell, hyper-stylistic, feminist-as-fuck take on the rape-revenge subgenre that marks her as a major new talent. Indonesian import Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts offers a gorgeous, seething take on the same subset, all while putting a spin on Bring me the Head of Alfred Garcia.
We had a couple of great representational rom-coms in Crazy Rich Asians and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, that, not only drove home the fact that people enjoy seeing themselves represented on screen, but both breathe a bit of life into an often-stale genre.
Movies like Shoplifters, which did not go as I expected, and Support the Girls, buoyed by Regina Hall’s quietly devastating performance, offer up alternate ways that we make our own families. Called by a friend a “warm hug of a movie,” Hearts Beat Loud portrays one of the best father-daughter relationships I remember seeing on screen, and it might make you weep with joy.
Jeremy Saulnier follows up Green Room with Hold the Dark, a grim, desolate wildness burner. Though very different from his previous movies, Gareth Evans’ period cult horror Apostle echoes The Wicker Man and Kill List, and shows The Raid director has other gears besides full-throttle ass-kickery. And in the wake of A Prayer Before Dawn, we can never say arthouse player A24 never gave us a dark, Muay Thai, prison drama. I have no clue why, but Issa Lopez’ Tigers are not Afraid still doesn’t have a release date—and barely a distributor if I’m not mistaken—despite being a moving, gorgeous, magic realistic fable about the drug war.
I saw someone—I can’t recall who—say First Reformed is the movie we need about both Christianity and environmentalism right now, which strikes me as accurate. It boasts both director Paul Schrader and star Ethan Hawke, as a priest struggling to reconcile his beliefs with the current state of the world, working at the top of their respective crafts. Speaking of incredible performances, the only thing that overshadows Ben Foster in Debra Granik’s long-awaited Leave No Trace is his young co-star, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, who is an absolute celluloid revelation.
Alex Garland’s Annihilation offers up a visually stunning Heart of Darkness style sci-fi thriller with an incredible diverse, female-fronted cast. Belgian duo Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s Let the Corpses Tan watches like a spaghetti western and a '70s Italian crime drama had a bastard child that was raised in an arthouse movie theater. It’s furious and striking and I’ve seen complaints of style over substance, but what a damn style.
I could go on and on and on, so I’ll call it a day here. I like movies. Movies are great. Watch more movies. That’s all.
Later, I do plan to write up both a best horror and best documentary list. Those will probably drop middle of next week, as will my most-anticipated movies of 2019 list. So, check back for all of those. Until next time.