Hate to See You Go
A lot can be said about 2018. At times it felt long and draining while other times it felt breezy and joyous. Depending on who you talk to, the year either overstayed its welcome or was over in a flash. Cinematically speaking, 2018 was unusual in that many strong titles came in the spring and summer months as opposed to the normally heavy-hitting fall. Early outings included Black Panther, Isle of Dogs, Ready Player One, and A Quiet Place. In the summer we were treated to independent gems such as Leave No Trace, Eighth Grade, and Sorry to Bother You. 2018 was also the year of the first-time director, or more specifically, the actor-turned-director. Bradley Cooper gave us the best version of A Star is Born, Jonah Hill made his personal ode to skateboarding and adolescence with mid90s, and Paul Dano adapted the story of a boy watching his parents’ relationship deteriorate in Wildlife. This year was particularly strong for documentaries as well. Some of the best reviewed films of the year were docs, which is testament to the power real-life stories can have on audiences. Easily recommendable are RBG, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Minding the Gap, Three Identical Strangers, and Free Solo to highlight a few. Because nothing has really separated itself from the pack, 2018 might be seen as a down year for movies overall. But I would argue that the quality is still high, it’s just spread out across the entire year as opposed to being back-loaded which in my opinion is a great thing. Give us as many great movies as possible, no matter what month it is! That being said, here is my list of the best films of the year:
10. First Man – dir. Damien Chazelle
Fresh off the heels of the massive success of La La Land, Damien Chazelle could have picked any project on Earth. Considered Hollywood’s wunderkind, (at age 32 he is the youngest person ever to win the Directing Oscar), Chazelle instead decided to leave the planet and tell the story of Neil Armstrong and the years leading up Apollo 11’s mission to the Moon. Re-teaming with Ryan Gosling and DP Linus Sandgren, Chazelle avoids the typical pitfalls of biopics by delving into the psyche of Neil Armstrong and making him the emotional center of a story that would otherwise come off as cold. The technical craft on display here is obvious, but what elevates the story beyond the stratosphere is the way Chazelle and Gosling give us a portrait of a broken man trying to piece himself back together by any means. First Man isn’t the story of a man going to the Moon, it’s about a man trying to come back to Earth.
2018 Superlative: Most poignant moment
9. Mission: Impossible – Fallout – dir. Christopher McQuarrie
Just when you thought you’ve seen it all in action movies, here comes Tom Cruise. The running man himself just won’t quit, and this time he’s back in arguably the best Mission: Impossible film of them all (I still have a soft spot for Ghost Protocol). Never ones to be content, McQuarrie and Cruise continuously find ways to push cinematic boundaries in order to bring audiences enthralling, and downright ludicrous, action moments. Whether Ethan Hunt is jumping out the back of a cargo plane, evading police on a motorcycle through oncoming traffic in Paris, or crashing two helicopters into each other high above the mountains of Kashmir, Fallout is basically one big set piece after another. Just when you think you have a moment to breathe, Cruise and Co. are doing something on-screen to once again make you grasp for air. I don’t know how many of these Cruise has left in him, but I hope to God he never stops.
2018 Superlative: Best bathroom fight
8. Annihilation – dir. Alex Garland
If you enjoy thought-provoking science-fiction then Alex Garland is the director for you. Following up 2015’s excellent meditation on artificial intelligence Ex Machina, Garland stays in his sci-fi wheelhouse with Annihilation. Natalie Portman leads a research team of scientists into a mysterious area known as “the Shimmer.” What happens inside is largely unknown but reality starts to shift for the team as soon as they realize the Shimmer is changing and rearranging creatures on a molecular level. All of this culminates into one of the most bizarre and fascinating endings to a studio movie in a long time. It simply has to be experienced to be understood. Tragically underseen and barely receiving a theatrical release, Annihilation is clever in the way it masks its exploration of the very human themes of grief and self-destruction in the guise of an other-worldly scenario. Prepare to be in awe.
2018 Superlative: Scariest bear attack
7. Vice – dir. Adam McKay
Adam McKay has become the go-to director for turning otherwise dull and uninteresting topics into energetic, entertaining, and wild rides. Similar to the financial collapse in 2016’s The Big Short, McKay takes the rise of Dick Cheney (thrilling I know) and tracks his path to becoming America’s most private and powerful Vice President with righteous indignation. Far from the puff piece that some critics have accused it of being, McKay takes what easily could have been a jumbled cinematic mess and injects it with a vitality and urgency that makes for a compelling comedy, as well as layering it with key moments of drama. The way he deconstructs Cheney’s life into a series of seminal and charged events gives us as close of an inside look as we’ll get into the life of a man who is seemingly always in control of what information is put out. No movie left me by the end of it feeling as cynical, and wholly entertained, as Vice.
2018 Superlative: Best voice-over narration
6. First Reformed – dir. Paul Schrader
What if Travis Bickle had worn the cloth? That’s essentially what Paul Schrader asks with his latest effort in transcendentalism, First Reformed. Ethan Hawke plays Ernst Toller, a compassionate and intelligent pastor at the modest First Reformed Church. He leads a quiet albeit lonely life, constantly consoling the pain and grievances of his small congregation while trying to reconcile his own existence in the world after the death of his son. After the husband of one of his members commits suicide, Toller is thrust on a emotional and spiritual journey that threatens to tear apart the fabric of everything he believes in. It’s hard to be good in a bad world, and Schrader forces us to confront the destruction going on around on a daily basis, as well as facing the internal destruction slowly eating away inside us. Church is now in session.
2018 Superlative: Strangest use of Pepto-Bismol
5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
With all respect to Spider-Man 2, …Into the Spider-Verse is probably the best big-screen depiction of the masked web slinger. From the wonderfully refreshing animation to the dotted art-style, this film truly feels like a comic book come to life. The story follows Miles Morales, a young kid from Brooklyn just trying to have fun while doing right by his family. One night while drawing graffiti with his uncle, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider that gives him all new Spidey-powers. Throw in some space-time continuum deviousness by Kingpin that allows for multiple Spider-People from different dimensions to coexist and you have a fresh new Spider-Man story full of rich possibilities. Filled with references and visual treats galore, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a delightful and joyous celebration of what makes superhero films great.
2018 Superlative: Best post-credits scene
4. Green Book – dir. Peter Farrelly
If you told me that the creator of Dumb and Dumber and Shallow Hal would co-write and direct one of the most moving and stunningly acted films of the year I would sneer in your face. But that’s exactly what Peter Farrelly did with Green Book. Viggo Mortensen plays Tony Vallelonga, a burly and uncouth bouncer hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a piano concert tour of the deep south. What begins as a buddy/road movie quickly reveals itself to be a tender and warm recounting of a relationship that changes the lives of two men forever. The performances are funny yet layered, the script is crisp yet biting, and the cinematography is beautiful yet simple. I walked out of Green Book with a huge smile on my face and I’ll admit, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. Even when recapping the year in movies, it was a title that kept creeping back into my mind. This is a work that definitely should not be ignored. Anchored by the strength of its two leads, Green Book soars high above as the crowd-pleasing king of the year.
2018 Superlative: Best pizza moment
3. Vox Lux – dir. Brady Corbet
What a year for Natalie Portman. Not only does she appear twice on this list, but she does so in two radically different yet equally challenging projects. This time she plays Celeste, a gifted musical prodigy who is catapulted to fame after surviving a horrific tragedy as a young girl. While Portman shines in the latter half of the film, Vox Lux is largely carried through on the shoulders of Raffey Cassidy playing duel roles as young Celeste and Celeste’s future daughter. It’s a jarring casting choice upon first viewing but makes complete sense in context. The film is broken up into a series of chapters and features wonderfully exuberant narration by Willem Dafoe. Throw in some Jude Law, Stacy Martin, Jennifer Ehle, and Christopher Abbott for good measure and you have a cast that will blow you away. The trick of Vox Lux is that it successfully depicts, provokes, and satirizes modern celebrity culture. It also contains some of the most uncomfortable and violent images you’ll see all year. But that’s what makes Vox Lux so essential; it’s a film that tries to capture what it’s like to be alive right now by examining the choices we’ve made to get here. I guarantee it is unlike anything you’ll see all year.
2018 Superlative: Best opening credits
2. Hereditary – dir. Ari Aster
Speaking of strong directorial debuts, Ari Aster offers what might be 2018’s best directorial debut, and by far the best horror movie, with Hereditary. A kitchen-sink family drama hidden within a supernatural thriller, Hereditary is the epitome of smart filmmaking. Toni Collette gives a career-best performance as the matriarch of a family dealing with the death of her grandmother. What ensues is a deliciously twisted blend of witchcraft, cult worship, and ghostly possession. I can’t speak highly enough of Hereditary. It’s the cumulative effort of a passionate filmmaker working with a talented cast & crew in order to deliver effective scares while treating the audience with respect. This film does not rely on the tired cliché of jump scares and loud noises to spook. Instead it drives home its unique horror by ratcheting up the tension within the family and steadily building an atmosphere of dread. This film is layered from start to finish with subtle symbolism and rewards attentive viewers. Hereditary proves that the horror genre still has life, and its offerings can compete with the very best of the year. You’ll never stick your head out of a car window again.
2018 Superlative: Deadliest use of peanuts
1. You Were Never Really Here – dir. Lynne Ramsay
It’s no secret that Joaquin Phoenix is a Filmcache favorite, so you won’t be surprised to see that his latest collaboration with Lynne Ramsay tops the list as the year’s best. Ramsay has made a name for herself with films centered around dark and tragic characters, often isolated and disconnected from the world around them. You Were Never Really Here continues that tradition by following hitman Joe as he navigates New York City’s seedy underworld full of political corruption and sexual scandal. The filmmaking here is taut and stripped down to its essential parts. Ramsay is less interested in exposition and plot machinations and more focused on the emotional headspace of her protagonist. Joe is as damaged as they come, and the way she peels back the trauma surrounding his past is economical storytelling at its very finest. Featuring a towering performance from Phoenix and a magnetic score by Johnny Greenwood, YWNRH leaves an indelible mark, and will scar itself into your soul long after the credits roll.
2018 Superlative: Best use of a hammer
Best of the Rest:
The Favourite – dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
BlacKkKlansman – dir. Spike Lee
American Animals – dir. Bart Layton
Blindspotting – dir. Carlos López Estrada
Destroyer – dir. Karyn Kusama
Widows – dir. Steve McQueen