The Best Films of 2018

This was a weird year—a great one for film, but a weird, confusing, exhausting one personally. I haven’t been all the way there when it comes to maintaining this site OR keeping up with the year’s best cinema. I’ve had prolific spurts broken up by life’s unpredictability, but I’ve seen enough that a post honoring the best of what I’ve seen still feels appropriate.

That said, I’m not going to rank these films. Instead, I’m going to write up, in alphabetical order, every film that, as of the end of 2018, feels “great” or something close to it. I’ll add to the list as I continue to catch up, and maybe in a few months, when it feels right, I’ll supplement this with a proper top ten.

Until then, all of these movies are gems worthy of your time, money, and media bandwidth. They distracted me when I needed a distraction. Some thrilled me. Some moved me. Some made me consider my place in the world or the places of others. A special select few did all of the above.

Here are my favorite movies of 2018:

Avengers: Infinity War Review

Avengers: Infinity War
I sort of hate to kick off my list with something that’s as formulaic as it was commercial. But sitting in that theater, knowing (sort of) how it would turn out for our roughly three dozen heroes, I was still in awe of the joy present from frame to frame. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor improbably broke out as the star of the “universe,” but Infinity War also gives extra weight (all satisfyingly) to the respective personal plights of Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). And that’s not saying anything of Josh Brolin’s Thanos—one of the most menacing villains in superhero history.

Ballad of Buster Scruggs Review

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Coen Brothers’ sextet of wild west treatises on death is everything you’d expect out of a film from these two—hilarious, violent, surprising, patient, and haunting. The craft is exquisite, and while the film’s structure (and the present of two very flawed chapters) caps its ceiling at mid-tier Coens, when it’s good (hello, Tom Waits and Zoe Kazan), it’s really really really good.

Black Panther - Best Movies of 2018

Black Panther
Yes, another Marvel movie, though this one’s probably less controversial. Black Panther is the perfect template for what these movies should do. The stakes are high, but they’re almost entirely self-contained within these 120+ minutes. A true auteur (Ryan Coogler) is in the director’s chair, and he’s permitted to do what he does best (meaningful, beautiful studio cinema). All this attracts A+ level actors whose characters are interesting and three-dimensional. While Thanos is all might, Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is the threatening in a way that recalls Loki—aggrieved, clever, and merciless.

Blackkklansman - Best Movies of 2018

If I had to choose a favorite film of 2018 (so far), it’s this one: Spike Lee’s dramatization of the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) and Flip Zimmerman’s (Adam Driver) effort to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in 1970s Colorado Springs. It’s a film that touches so many genres—comedy, buddy movie, racial drama, thriller. There’s touches of romance throughout, and as it goes on, the story’s connection to the state of the country today is plain and powerful. He doesn’t get there subtly, but no one does unsubtle like Spike Lee.

Blindspotting - Best Movies of 2018

Right behind BlackKklansman on my list of favorites among favorites is director Carlos Lopez Estrada’s impossible to classify story of two friends navigating the complex racial politics of a rapidly gentrifying Oakland. Based at least partially on the places where they grew up, childhood friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal co-wrote the screenplay and star in the film, which asks a lot of hard questions without offering any easy answers.

Eighth Grade Movie

Eighth Grade
“Cringy” isn’t often a word associated with one of the best films of a given year, but it’s hard to think of a more appropriate adjective to describe Bo Burnham’s directorial debut. Elsie Fisher gives one of the performances of the year as the social media obsessed Kayla, and she’s equaled at every turn by Josh Hamilton as her caring but clueless father. For parents whose kids have survived this time period, the film may evoke some feelings resembling PTSD. For parents of youngsters, I’d imagine this surpasses Hereditary and others as the horror film of the year. And for non-parents, you won’t find a more effective form of birth control at any pharmacy across the country.

Free Solo - Best Movies of 2018

Free Solo
There’s great cinematography and then there’s Free Solo, a film in which cinematography is the whole point. Capturing famous climber Alex Honnold’s equipment-free ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park is no easy task, and filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin peel back the curtain to explain both the process and the peril in their endeavor. Of course, we also learn all about Honnold, the climb itself, and how and why he takes such risks. He’s not exactly a warm and fuzzy protagonist, but his reckless abandon in both professional endeavors and personal relationships makes him oddly compelling.

Leave No Trace - Best Movies of 2018

Leave No Trace
Director Debra Granik, making her first movie in eight years, is very quiet but no less commanding than the year’s other great directors when it comes to her control of craft in this story of a father and daughter who live off the grid in the Oregon wilderness. Also quiet and commanding are Ben Foster and especially Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie in the film’s beautifully written lead roles.

Love Simon - Best Movies of 2018

Love, Simon
Of all the films on this list, this one surprised me the most. It seemed like a sort of saccharine, overly familiar coming-of-age story, but it’s much more thoughtful than that. It’s not formally radical like Eighth Grade almost is, but it’s relatable for its specificity, and it’s emotionally available in ways most studio films don’t dare.

Mission: Impossible—Fallout
The sixth edition of the cinematic saga of Ethan Hunt is the best yet. By bringing Christopher McQuarrie back to the director’s chair following Rogue Nation, the series leans on continuity most explicitly, but it’s a welcome move as Rebecca Ferguson’s Elsa Faust and Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane are both outstanding characters worth spending more time with. Henry Cavill’s August Walker and Vanessa Kirby’s “White Widow” are wonderful additions to the canon, and several of the film’s exquisite action sequences are truly unforgettable.

Paddington 2 - Best Movies of 2018

Paddington 2
The year’s most purely joyful film was its first (at least for me), which recalls Frank Capra, Charlie Chaplin, and Wes Anderson, among others. I watched it with my wife, both enormous fans of the first Paddington, and after a joyful prologue explaining how Paddington came into a perfect life and family, we asked each other how this was going to turn into a film with conflict in it. Well, a prison sentence and several near death experiences later, I was both stunned at the places it went and the joy that still accompanies it. More than any other scene this year, I remain obsessed with the opening of Paddington’s prison cafe.

A Quiet Place - Best Movies of 2018

A Quiet Place
I’m not a proponent of looking at your phone while watching movies, but I couldn’t help myself during director John Krasinski’s instant horror classic about a family grieving in a world where sound equals death. As a pregnant Emily Blunt (amazing) struggles through labor pains with a murderous creature in the same room, I was hyperventilating with anxiety. Once its breezy 90 minutes pass, though, you’ll be longing for more.

A Star Is Born - Best Movies of 2018

A Star Is Born
Perhaps the ultimate theater experience this year, the sound, images, and larger-than-life performances in Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut were best experienced on the biggest screen in the loudest theater with as many other teary-eyed suckers as possible. Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” performance will stay with me for a long time.

Vox Lux - Best Movies of 2018

Vox Lux
After one viewing, I was mixed, leaning negative, on director Brady Corbet’s anti-Star-Is-Born. It’s an oddly paced film filled with deeply unpleasant characters that seems to go out of its way not to say anything without the use of a blunt force instrument. After letting it marinate and eventually giving it another look, I realized that was sort of the point, and it’s a fairly radical take on something very familiar and rarely so exciting. More so than any other title on this list, this film won’t be for everyone. But it flummoxed me in the most exhilarating way, and I can’t wait to see the way changes with time and more viewings.

Widows - Best Movies of 2018

After the Best-Picture-winning 12 Years a Slave, I was very curious to see what director Steve McQueen crafts would do next. I didn’t think it would be a heist film written by Gone Girl scribe Gillian Flynn, but I underestimated how politically and socially vibrant the heist film could be. Widows, with Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Elizabeth Debicki atoning for the sins of their husbands, treats its audience with respect, and earns every gasp, tear, and satisfied fist pump you’ll give it.

Won't You Be My Neighbor? Review

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
If 2018 was the year of films about where we are, Morgan Neville’s Fred Rogers documentary is the ultimate film about where we were. What’s most interesting about it is how much things have changed in some respects (the differences in children’s programming, for instance) and stayed the same in others (Rogers first week of shows was about a mad king who wanted to build a wall around his kingdom).

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