Here we are, now at the end of our journey through the decade in film (at least, this particular one, anyhow), and my, what a year 2018 was. There was no way to know we’d be getting the best Spider-Man movie ever, or the most sweeping portrait of intimacy from Alfonso Cuarón’s own back yard, nor yet another awards-favorite remake or the best coming-of-age and horror films to come out of one studio in the same year in decades (maybe ever). And yet, we got all of that and more, including the best and most challenging Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back (although it just barely missed this list), and the first-ever live-action Transformers movie that is an unquestionably solid 80’s film with heart to spare and a lot innovative visuals to go with its stellar action sequences. The year in movies was certainly one for the books, much of it re-affirming that cinema was alive and very, very well. So, let’s take a few more steps on our road towards the Best Movies of the Decade, and reflect, recall, and re-affirm the films we loved from this past year before we move on to this year. Here are, one more time, my Top 10 Movies of 2018!
In a perfect world, I would have swapped this out with the astounding documentary Minding the Gap, which took the 11th spot when I first formed this list, but Steve McQueen’s first foray into mainstream filmmaking is no less entertaining, wonderful, and pulse-pounding even if it might have otherwise fallen off this list. With a stellar ensemble cast, a biting script by Gillian Flynn, and some of the best cinematography heist films have ever seen, Widows is something more akin to the experience of adrenaline and desperation than to watching a standard-fare thriller. It’s a shame this one mostly got shut out of the Oscars last year even with its high critical ratings.
9. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Who would have thought that after 15 years of Sony trying to make a Spider-Man movie as good or better than Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 (and barely getting even halfway there with Spider-Man: Homecoming), creative team Phil Lord & Chris Miller would succeed in bringing us not just the best and most innovative Spider-Man movie ever, as well as one of the most astounding superhero movies in the entire genre, but one of the single greatest animated movies of all time? We all knew the origin of Miles Morales was going to be something special once those trailers started coming out and we got to literally see a comic book come to life with genuinely jaw-dropping animation, but none of us were prepared to deal with just how magnificently funny, heartfelt, and inspiring Into the Spider-Verse would end up being. It’s hard to imagine that no other Spider-Man movie really ran with the idea that anyone could wear that mask and be their own superheroes, but before this, none of them had even touched the idea. Every single thing about this movie works on just about every level, and the “What’s Up Danger” scene with Miles ascending upside down to become his own version of Spider-Man, complete with his own unique style of moving around and fighting is just as, if not more, iconic than the first time we saw the Spidey character in Sam Raimi’s first film. Every individual Spider character is wonderfully animated and fits with their own fighting and moving styles, every character is just as dynamic and charismatic as the next, the voice work is perfect, and the Doc Ock reveal might be the best version of the character ever. Maybe they could have done a little more with Kingpin, but as it stands, it’s not nearly enough of a bother to matter; I could genuinely write about this movie for days, but we have 8 other movies to get to, so I’ll move on now. (Seriously though, this movie is amazing.)
8. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
When the Academy announced its 2018 nominations, and this movie was found to be absent from the Documentary Features list, everyone I knew that had seen it was aghast. We had all picked this to win the entire category, so to see it not even nominated was the most shocking omission since The Lego Movie’s animation snub in 2014. What makes this film particularly special is its efforts at re-affirming its subject; most documentaries involving larger-than-life heroes from our childhood nostalgia days only get this involved when attempting to deconstruct our lionized icons and show us who they really were, but Won’t You Be My Neighbor instead offers a glimpse at the real Mr. Rogers, who the film concludes really was as good and wonderful as we had all believed him to be. In the MeToo and TimesUp era, as many of our icons were revealed to actually be pretty terrible people, it was a bright spot of hope to see that Fred Rogers would not be counted among them, and that spot shines even to this day.
Over the summer, I took a trip to Louisville to see this one with some co-workers, and all of us ended up agreeing that it was far better than even we had expected it to be; the more I thought about it, the more its unique creative energy pulsed through my mind, and the brilliant script which sees both Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal giving career-best performances, tells a story about black and white conflict, racial reconciliation, place, belonging, and friendship so true-to-life and raw that it easily should made it an Oscar nominee for Original Screenplay (certainly in there over Green Book, at any rate). The climax of this movie is one of the most tense of any movie released in 2018, and Diggs and Casal sell every second so well, I was actually gripping my arms rests. This truly is a very special indie film, one of the deepest yet most endlessly watchable in recent memory, and if you get the chance to watch it, your life will be better for having experienced everything this movie has to teach you.
6. Sorry to Bother You
Easily the most likely movie on this list to divide audience members on whether it’s a comic goldmine or a middle school boy’s wet dream, Boots Riley’s anti-capitalist satire is packed with so much absurdism at such a ridiculous level that the notion of it working even half as well as it ultimately does could serve as the sole minor miracle of filmmaking provided its absolutely bonkers conception. And yet, the film is such a furious blend of energy, wit, and originality, playing like someone at The Onion snorted a mountain of coke and just forgot to stop writing after a few hours, that one can’t help but admire the audacity it must have taken for Riley to not only pitch this to relatively mainstream indie studio Annapurna Pictures, but make this his directorial debut. This is Riley announcing himself as a storyteller with a lot to say and a lot of different ways to say it. Something about the creative drive behind this movie never ceases to astonish me every time I watch it, and it is the perfect movie to show to your friends for the first time if you want some truly memorable reactions.
5. Eighth Grade
Bo Burnham’s directorial debut for A24 might be one of the most heartfelt, awkward, and remarkable coming-of-age films ever put to screen, but what really sells it is the focus on authenticity; we can tell these are real characters having conversations that the people in these social spheres would have, and lead actress Elsie Fisher astounds as Kayla Day, with Josh Hamilton providing some of the film’s most deeply felt moments as her father. Young girls will be able to look at this movie and see themselves in it, represented as they are rather than as what they’ve been told to be, and that’s a tragically rare thing in mainstream Hollywood circles. Luckily, Burnham comes from a place of knowing how to communicate that oh so human struggle of needing to fit in and fill a certain niche in order to be liked (or likeable, even) on screen, and I cannot wait to see whatever stories this guy has to tell next.
4. A Star Is Born
There were a lot of great debuts behind the camera in 2018, and Bradley Cooper’s remake of the 1976 version of A Star Is Born was right up there with them, oozing confidence so loud, one could have sworn he’d been directing for years. The concert scenes feel vibrant and lived in, the music itself is (for the most part) exceptional, and the first 40 minutes of this movie might be the most perfect single stretch of pure editing and filmmaking in anything coming out of 2018. Even though the film does dip just the tiniest bit in quality over its next two acts, they’re still hitting so far above board, you can’t help but get swept up in their power, and Cooper lends to that power by pulling fantastic performances out of co-stars Sam Elliot and Lady Gaga (who was the frontrunner to win Best Actress for a while), as well as delivering perhaps the best performance we’ve ever seen from the actor on screen.
The most impressive of the directorial debuts on this list, Midsommar director Ari Aster’s first film brims with a terror unmatched by most horror since its opening. The specter of unfathomable grief and the messed-up ways in which people channel it haunts this movie’s characters so desperately that any action they take seems to make things better for them, but worse for the audience, and then the film does a 180 right in the middle of itself, and we are left as stranded as Alex Wolff on the highway. We all remember where we were when that road scene happened halfway through the film and completely changed the direction we thought it was going; in fact, it was such an effective trick at switching perspectives and character, A24 used it again for Waves. And it’s all headed up by one of Toni Collette’s most magnificent performances ever, arguably the one that put her back into the spotlight, as well as truly committed turns from the aforementioned Wolff, Milly Shapiro, and Gabriel Byrne. Everyone in this movie pulls off fantastic work, and a mere one year after its release, the film continues to top and crack any number of charts listing the greatest horror movies of all time.
2. Leave No Trace
Many debuts impressed in 2018, but it was this return to the screen from director Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone) that surprised me the most when I first saw it. War veteran PTSD is a hard thing for a lot of filmmakers not to milk on screen, as it’s practically catnip for emotional sequences, great moments for actors to play with, and audience investment, but Granik’s approach to telling an unsanitized story that neither glorifies nor demonizes either side of the conflict in the film is an astounding display of subtle control. The script doesn’t have a false note in it, and with every new development both in story and character, we know that somehow, whatever change occurs will cost something at the end of the day. Ben Foster’s Will attempting to provide for his daughter the best way he knows how breaks our heart because we know she loves him and loves their life, but ultimately wants something different, something he can never know and never have; she wants to have a normal life. It’s a painfully real portrayal of the ways that war can irreversibly change a person in ways one can’t anticipate. Granik knows exactly where this film is meant to be going, what she wants to communicate, and the performance of Thomasin McKenzie as Tom is one of the most perfect performances of any movie in 2018, working step-in-step with a brilliant script and a filmmaker at the top of her game.
Roma is about as close to a perfect movie as Netflix has ever been able to get, and though they’ll more than likely have far greater success with Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman in terms of winning Oscars this year, they really have Alfonso Cuarón’s personal black-and-white journey through the prism of his memory to thank for forcing that door to burst open. Not only is this the most astounding-looking movie of 2018, with the most beautiful cinematography and astounding production design of any movie that year, it’s also the most vital and most quietly powerful, demonstrating how the actions of the high and mighty can ripple throughout every corner of life, even down to those who might be considered the lowest among us. Yalitza Aparicio’s acting debut as Cleo is note-perfect, Marina de Tavira’s role as Sra. Sofía steals the entire show, and the epic intimacy of this journey through life in Mexico in the early 1970’s contains some of the most horrifying, emotional, and hilarious moments in any international film ever made, including one crib shopping sequence that ultimately ends in a hospital to form one of the most powerful scenes of 2018. This film is perfectly shot, acted, written, directed, edited, designed, and executed, and its timely release as those in power in the U.S. look down on the Mexican people cannot be ignored when it comes to the discussion of how important a movie this truly is.
And, at long last, those are my Top 10 Movies of 2018! How many of these have you seen? Are there any you’re now excited to check out? What are your favorite movies of 2018? Let me know in the comments section below! I hope you’ve enjoyed coming with me on this journey through my Top 10’s of the decade so far as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it, and be sure to watch for my 2019 lists, including my Top 10 Trailers, Top 10 Surprising and Disappointing Movies, Recommendations, and the Top 10 Best & Worst Movies of 2019, coming very soon! Thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan