2018, what a number. It's even, not divisible by 9 (but close), and it only overshoots the big 2000 by 18 or so. 2018 was also a big year in movies. We had some icky goo thing take over Tom Hardy, a helicopter almost beat up Tom Cruise, and Thanos made the biggest on-screen snap since the Sharks and Jets took up group ballet. Every year feels like a big year for movies, but this one was THE year, you guys.
Like always, I loved my time at the theater, and even on streaming services. This past year saw a rise in the "at-home auteur" experience, with films like Roma becoming heavy hitters on the awards circuit, and movies like Bird Box ascending to mainstream memedom faster than Big Neck Guy meeting Long Neck Guy. How we take in art and entertainment is constantly changing, and now the way we watch movies is becoming exciting and scary, all at once. Thankfully, more and more people are getting access, and I can't be mad at that.
With more trips to the cineplex than ever before, I still missed out on some real gems. I tried my damnedest, but Cincinnati isn't exactly Sundance Film Festival. To be transparent, I did my best to write down every single movie I saw this year, and group them into 4 categories: Top Contender, Pretty Damn Good, Meh to Okay, and Garbage. So everyone can see for themselves, I'll expose my latter three in groups, before tackling the real deals of 2018. I've written reviews on a few of these, but those opinions might have changed since then. If my list poo-poos on your favorite, or elevated a gem to legend status, let's talk about it. If you pay for dinner, hell, we can talk in person! I love free meals and spirited debate too much to consider the risks of meeting people from the internet. With that in mind, let's go!
Meh to Okay
Pretty Damn Good
Top Contenders: The Consolations
You did it! You made it through all the baby peas and roasted carrots to the meaty entree (for you veggheads, it can be a portabella mushroom or something made from chickpeas). But first, a quick note before we dive in. There were 17 films to make my Top Contenders list, but I was aiming to focus on only 10. With it being such tough competition, I have decided to give some brief love to the close calls, and then we get into the nitty gritty.
Sorry, Bradley Cooper, but Blaze just edges out for "Damaged Music Man" movie.
16. Bad Times at the El Royale
Some of the most fun I've had at the movies that wasn't related to blowing the paper off those big plastic straws. A genuine, surprising treat.
15. Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Finally, a film that perfectly pits my moral disgust for Tom Cruise against my pure joy from watching Tom Cruise jump on and off things. Also, Henry Cavill is good to look at.
14. Black Panther
Wakanda Forever, Good CGI sometimes, Michael B. Jordan always.
No spiders, all badass women. And a dog. Man, what a dog.
12. Game Night
It was close, but the same dog from Widows is just a bit better in Game Night. That, and it's one of the best conventional comedies I've seen in years.
11. Sorry to Bother You
The most audacious feature debut for a director since that Facebook video of me in a coney eating contest.
Top Contenders 2: The UnToppening
Ahh, the Top Ten. These come with pictures!
I have four relatively useless degrees in the political field, and somehow still enjoy talking about it. And yet, even I had trouble ingesting Vice. Don't get it twisted, this is a marvel of a film. Adam McKay has presented something entirely timely and still brings the big laughs. Christian Bale might as well be the man himself, and the rest of the cast shines bright on their own merits. McKay effectively questions our current political situation without having to leave Cheney's reign-ey, resulting in one of the best political statements on screen in decades.
9. The Death of Stalin
If you ever wondered how hilariously devastating a Soviet CSPAN would be, just watch The Death of Stalin. A political comedy that never holds back on the painful punches of a defunct, cruel regime, Stalin is a morbid revelation. Armando Ianucci paints in the blackest of blacks for this portrait of the events following the fall of Joseph Stalin, and yet my sides are still left hurt from laughing. Few comedies make me the right kind of uneasy, but Ianucci found the perfect balance.
Just when you think you're safe, a movie decides to latch itself to your gut and stick with you for a near calendar year. I enjoyed Annihilation when I first saw it, but that one viewing sparked a small wildfire in the back of my mind. Still raging, this film is a cinematic anomaly: So expertly crafted, stealthily moving, and still popcorn-pushing fun. Alex Garland, if you're reading this, please keep making movies, or even television. Hell, make a Super Bowl commercial, and I'll probably be meditating on it into the next decade.
Save your snaps, rhinos, goo balls, Jack-Jacks and Momoas. Miles Morales is the hero of 2018. This was, hands down, the best superhero movie of the year. You can @ me, send me hate mail, or put a horse head in my bed. This was the only caped crusader cinema of the last year to have me so enamored by color, humor, and love, that I felt 12 year old me awaken, ready to pour through old comics in the back of Sharonville Public Library. There is such a thoughtful joy in every moment of Spider-Verse, and each performance feels so palpable I might expect to see them pop up on my next trip to NYC.
6. If Beale Street Could Talk
Forget iPhone Portrait Mode. You need an showstopping selfie? You call up mothableeping Barry Jenkins. If his film was nothing more than its close-ups, it would still find it's way to my Top Contenders list. And yet this is loaded with so much heart and bite that I question whether I even want to attempt going into film. Barry just does it better. I don't typically cry at films (likely due to dehydration), yet this one had me teasing sniffles from a few minutes in.
I don't like scary movies, or at least most modern ones. Cheap scares and questionable performances just feel like a waste of a matinee ticket. Suspiria is maddeningly aside from any other spooks in theaters. Director Luca Guadagnino, who also made last year's Call Me By Your Name, substitutes love peaches and Italian getaways for the most arthouse, wicked absurdity of the German ballet. Yep, this is also a dance movie. Kind of. Not at all. Shoot. What Luca has managed is the seamless integration of so many odd narratives into an entrancing and beguiling affair. Leaving the cinema, I felt seduced by the Devil himself. And the Devil is not attractive, at all. Just full neckbeard, dry skin patches, bad tattoos. It is not a good look, dude. Yet Luca manages the frighteningly impossible, and gorgeously so.
4. The Favourite
If you find your body oozing and crackling all at once, please, go see a doctor. If the movie you're watching oozes and crackles, however, then it might very well be The Favourite. This film is that overindulgent slice of triple chocolate cake from Costco, if that cake was also laced with some much more . . . funky materials. Director Yorgos Lanthimos continues his hot streak of hilarity and awkward carnage, and the three actresses at the center demand every moment of your attention. I still find myself darkly enjoying this movie's twists and turns.
3. Eighth Grade
This is a fantastic movie in its own right. Elsie Fisher gives a raw, relatable spin on the "growing up awkward" trope as Kayla in Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade. The film feels plucked from down the street; a story so honest-to-life, you'd never realized it was a few houses away. Where Bo Burnham excels further is in the scope of growing up. Sure, it's emotionally brutal, but it's also immensely loving, incredibly funny, and flat-out joyous, just like growing up. Moving it up a few spots on my list is due to the painful parallels between Kayla's story and that 6th grader at the top of this article (still a looker, though). It takes two hands' worth of fingers to count the number of times I thought, "Trust me, Kayla, don't do tha- you did it. You did it! Of course you did that, I did." Maybe Burnham is getting at the heart of some greater universal truth, but this one felt tailored to my past.
Take any movie listed above. Go ahead, pick one. Maybe it's one you've seen this year. Try and think of the best shot in that movie. Was it when the purple fella was like, "After 26 happy meals, I finally collected all five Infinity Stones"? Or when Cheney looks directly at the audience and says, "Gotcha, b****"? Doesn't matter, every single shot in Roma is better than the best of any other movie. This film is a Royal Family Christmas Feast for the eyes. Alfonso Cuaron proves himself a master of visual storytelling, in a quiet drama that doesn't need the perfection in scenery, but is also that much richer for it. Each moment breathes with quiet fire, warm enough to embrace without failing to singe your emotional nerves. It is sorrowful, delightful, and as real as the pile of tissues beside you.
The quietest film of the year still makes the loudest noise on my heart. First Reformed is a creeping storm that brews with faith and action. Paul Schrader serves as writer and director to this brooding display of inner conflict. His soul is poured onto the screen and slows to a standstill. This static film-making draws us in to a small town priest, played by Ethan "Give Me the Damned Oscar" Hawke. His performance, matched by Schrader's careful hand, unravel a slow descent into madness and action, while pressing on its viewer to question our every decision. I am wrecked just by seeing the film come up in my recommended list on Amazon Prime. In a year where faith and consequence were challenged in politics and culture, First Reformed deftly entwines the two, as we never knew they always should be.
Bonus: Extra Favorites