I've already counted down my favorite TV shows and albums of the year—so it's time to complete the trilogy with the best movies (according to me) of 2018! Spoiler Alert: for anyone who wants to jump straight into yelling and arguing in the comments section, let me save you some time and let you know that the number one film is...Gotti. (Note: This is a joke, but also not a joke.)
Blind Spots: Although I tried to watch as many films as I could this year (probably around 50ish), there were a bunch of great-reviewed movies I didn't get to see in time for this, many of which were smaller arts films that I just didn't catch in theaters before they disappeared (or in two cases, they arrived too late for me to include them). The major ones I'm still planning to catch up on in the new year: Shoplifters, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Old Man & The Gun, Cold War, The Rider, Leave No Trace, and Burning. I also haven't seen Bohemian Rhapsody, but something tells me I wasn't missing out on much there.
Honorable Mentions: If you were looking for pure escapism, you couldn't do much better than injecting ABBA straight into your veins with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which had the single funniest character reveal of the year (involving Andy Garcia and Cher, of course). Every action set piece in Mission Impossible: Fallout seemed better than the last one, but special shoutout to the Henry Cavill/Tom Cruise bathroom brawl. Melissa McCarthy and Nicholas Cage gave all-time great performances in two very, very different films, Can You Ever Forgive Me and Mandy. Josh Brolin portrayed Thanos as the most sympathetic mass-murderer in history in Avengers: Infinity War (though the most touching thing was probably Peter Parker's last words). Damien Chazelle's Neil Armstrong biopic First Man was purposefully chilly, much like Armstrong himself—but like his (superior) earlier film Whiplash, it was also a masterful film about process. And Christian Bale was transformative in the polarizing Vice, a movie that was very interested in the banality of evil.
And so, here were the 17 favorites:
17. BlacKkKlansman: No movie better connected today's shameful social and political realities with America's history better than Spike Lee's latest joint. The fact he was able to do so using the prism of the (mostly real) story of a black police officer who infiltrated the KKK is incredible. The fact it was often righteously funny—even when it was interrogating race, religion, and deep-seated hatred—was even more remarkable. But the best part was the slow accumulation of details about the KKK which exploded into the present day in the last five minutes, which was one of the powerful endings of any film I saw this year.
16. Private Life: Forget Hereditary—this was one of the horror movies of the year (the other one is farther below). I had my hands over my eyes for half of Tamara Jenkins' lovely, painful film about an artsy NYC couple desperately trying to have a child. It also featured one of the funniest scenes of the year (Paul Giamatti watching porn) and was one of several unforgettable Kathryn Hahn roles this year.
15. You Were Never Really Here: Lynne Ramsay was the perfect person to make a gritty hitman thriller, as she upends every contrivance and cliche of the genre. It was more intense, more visceral (kudos especially to the sound designer!), more in tune with psychological realism, and more hammer-ific. Whether it was Joaquin Phoenix holding hands with one of his victims and singing a song, or the way the camera artfully avoided showing the bloodiest set pieces inside a brothel, images from this film still linger with me. (Read our interview with author Jonathan Ames about the film here.)
14. The Death of Stalin: Armando Iannucci takes his unique talent for wringing black humor out of political insanity (Veep, The Thick Of It) to the Soviet Union in 1953, a time in which a bunch of paranoid, inept underlings frantically maneuvered to backstab each other for a chance to ascend to power. In other words...basically what's been happening in Donald Trump's White House for the last two years. The movie depicts it as equal parts cringeworthy and hilarious—that is, assuming you can ignore all the people being rounded up and/or shot in the background, which adds a necessary sinister subtext to the whole thing. Hey, did anyone figure out what happened to the national hockey team?
13. Spider-Man: Into The Spider Verse : This was a good year for superhero movies in general (people really like...Aquaman? Venom...was a romcom?), but this latest iteration of the Spider-Man mythos (the seventh Spider-Man film and ninth major movie appearance for the character) is something really special. It confronts superhero burnout head-on with wit, it includes some of the most beautiful (and complicated) animation styles I've ever seen combined in a film, it understands the meaning of Spider-Man better than any film outside of Spider-Man 2 (that anyone could wear the mask/pick up the mantle), it was chockfull of memorable easter eggs, it's was a truly great NYC film, and it happens to be one of the funniest films of the year. Literally everything John Mulaney's Peter Porker said had me cracking up.
12. Support The Girls: Writer/director Andrew Bujalski's wonderful and lowkey slice-of-life film about waitresses working at a Hooter's knockoff doesn't have any hitmen or Spider-People in sight. Instead, it's all about the everyday grind of working class jobs as seen through the eyes of Regina Hall's restaurant manager. It's warm and generous to all its characters, it's a little funny and a little sad, and it has one of the best and most cathartic ending scenes of any movie this year. If you're looking for a sweet little film that doesn't involve planetary destruction, this may be the movie for you.
11. Widows: The great director Steve McQueen brought his trademark seriousness to a "fun" genre film, remaking a British TV show and turning it into one part feminist heist movie, one part social commentary (the scene with Colin Farrell in the limo was more insightful than most political films), and one part Viola Davis acting showcase. It opens with a confrontational open-mouthed kiss, and only gets bolder from there, with lots of twists piled up toward the end. Daniel Kaluuya is spectacular in a supporting role as a psychopath. And it was also an important reminder that Elizabeth Debicki is really tall and really good at acting.
10. Annihilation: It feels like Alex Garland's thoughtful sci-fi beauty has been largely forgotten—maybe because it was released way back in February, maybe because it was an unapologetically radical adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer's hit book, maybe because the mutant bears were TOO scary. Both visually and intellectually, it was nothing less than a psychedelic horror movie about aliens, communication, and people's capacity for self-destruction. It was also an environmental allegory in a way few films dared to approach.
9. Sorry To Bother You: One of the most fun films of the year also happened to be the most politically trenchant. Musician/director Boots Riley's debut film is an anti-capitalist movie that is never boring or didactic. It tackles race, the absurdities of corporate America, and the dehumanization of the workforce with equal parts humor and fury. If you haven't seen it yet, don't read too much more about it—it's surprises aren't subtle, but they are very effective.
8. Eighth Grade : Private Life was rough, but this darling film was THE horror movie of 2018. If I had my hands covering my eyes for half of Private Life, I had them covering my face for 95% of comedian Bo Burnham's debut feature. I dare you to find a more terrifying, terrifically evocative scene than the pool party. Elsie Fisher, who plays Kayla, gave one of the rawest, most sympathetic performances I saw this year.
7. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs: The Coen Brothers are my favorite living filmmakers (give or take PT Anderson), and everything they do has an attention to detail that puts other filmmakers to shame. Their movies also generally have incredible replay value, which is most definitely true for the six anthology western stories that make up Buster Scruggs. As with much of their best work, the stories all revolve around absurd twists and fatalistic endings, but with an uncanny visual sheen that gives it the weight of beloved old folk tales. I particularly loved the Tom Waits showpiece All Gold Canyon and Zoe Kazan's melancholy The Gal Who Got Rattled, but this was the rare anthology film where the whole really was greater than the parts.
6. Black Panther: The best Marvel movie of the year, the best superhero movie of the year, the best popcorn flick of the year, and the best "reminder not to ever underestimate Michael B. Jordan" of the year. Ryan Coogler's masterful crowd pleaser was a defining moment for Black America, a movie that had big, serious ideas about legacy, cinematic history, and idealism vs cynicism, and also opened the door to tons of more diverse stories and kinds of heroes. Also, it has war rhinos. What other movie had war rhinos?!?!
5. A Star Is Born: HEY. I just wanted you to take another look at Bradley Cooper's ridiculous, over-the-top, melodramatic, and hugely enjoyable remake. A million things could have gone wrong with this film—hell, it almost did with the saccharine ending—but Cooper's attempt at making an authentic, indie version of the oft-told Pygmalion-esque story paid off completely. This was Cooper's best role ever, "Shallows" was a legitimately great song, and Lady Gaga deserves an Oscar for the butt song alone. Let's not forget that it also had the best trailer of the year:
4. The Favourite: I was most definitely not a big fan of Yorgos Lanthimos' previous films before this (Colin Farrell is good, but The Lobster was bad!), so it was a great surprise to realize how great his latest is (maybe it's better because he didn't write it himself?). It had the best dance scene of the year, and the three best performances of the year by female actors all came in the same kinky film. Rachel Weisz was cold as ice as the Machiavellian Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough; Emma Stone used every ridiculous facial expression in her arsenal as the upstart Abigail; and Olivia Coleman was a brilliant toxic combo of pitiful and pissed off as the gouty Queen Anne. They all deserve to win the Oscar for this film—if you haven't seen it yet, here's hoping you like fisheye cameras!
3. Paddington 2: You could probably reshuffle all the movies up above into whatever order and I'd be fine with it, but these top three picks stood out to me by far as the best movies this year. I'm not joking in the least about this one: this is the feel-good movie of the year. If self-care were a movie, it would be Paddington 2. You don't need to have a child to appreciate the morals of this delightful film: everyone has the capacity for growth, goodness and whimsy in Paddington's London. Even Hugh Grant, who deserves a best supporting actor nod for playing the diabolical actor Phoenix Buchanan. Just thinking about this film is getting me choked up!
2. Roma: Speaking of choking up: I cried at least twice during Alfonso Cuarón's intensely personal, dreamy black-and-white ode to his childhood in 1970's Mexico. It is a profound act of empathy for his childhood housekeeper/nanny (as played by first time actor Yalitza Aparicio), taking the story of one bourgeoise family and juxtaposing it with the revolutionary changes in the city at the time. The movie is filled with comically inept or absent men, delicately choreographed long takes, the intricacies of cleaning up dog poop, unforgettable set pieces (the New Year's Eve party, the Corpus Christi Massacre), and the kind of lived-in details that could only be drawn from memory. The movie, which spans a tumultuous year in the family's life, sneaks up on you with a series of moments, until the emotional weight of the entire thing crashes down on you like the waves at Tuxpan in the climactic ocean scene. See it in theaters, see it at home on Netflix, just turn your phone off and see it.
1. First Reformed: No movie moved me more deeply this year than Paul Schrader’s drama about an alcoholic ex-military chaplain going through a profound existential crisis. After years of toiling in little-seen and often unlikable B movies (see: The Canyons), Schrader made a spiritual companion piece to his Taxi Driver script that shares a similar intensity and focus—except this time, the subjects of that gaze are religion, terrorism, and most boldly, climate change. Ethan Hawke gives the finest performance of his incredible career as Rev. Toller, with the lines on his forehead suggesting cracks too deep to ever heal. The ending, which almost veers into magical realism, is a leap of faith for the audience and characters, adding up to nothing less than the most moving shot of 2018. This is a true masterpiece I recommend everyone check out.
And one more to consider, for real: Gotti: The promise of seeing John Travolta overact in a comically oversized wig while engaging in every mob movie cliche made this the movie event of the summer. The movie had been in development hell for so long (with numerous actor and script changes), you could see the train wreck coming before the train had even left the station. But the finished product was more than I could have imagined or hoped for.
It is the perfect encapsulation of 2018: an ineptly-made movie about objectively bad human beings made by people who think the terrible people were the heroes all along. And then it got its own conspiratorial ad campaign worthy of Trump's alternative facts (and it also may have been a MoviePass scam on top of that!). It's unintentionally hilarious to such an extent that I know it will one day command The Room-worthy midnight audiences. As fellow Gotti obsessive Matt Lubchansky put it, "People are constantly saying stuff like 'wow it sure is nice to be….in this mafia murder club!' It’s a movie by idiots, glorifying idiots. Watching it, you quickly settle into a dream state where everything is barely explained and half-remembered. You can’t extricate yourself from it, nor explain to a third party what’s happening or who anyone is." Go watch it now, you won't regret it!