Partly because the power of the groundhog compels me and almost entirely because limited-release Oscar contenders often don’t get shown in Omaha until January of the following year, my year-in-reviews are always later than everyone else’s. It’s like my advice for attending parties: If you can’t be punctual, wait to show up until everyone else is drunk and then disapprovingly judge them. I’ve had a chance to review eleventy billion other best/worst lists of 2018. I’m happy to tell you everyone else is drunk and wrong! I’m kidding, of course, but here is my take on the year that wouldn’t die.
Worst Movies of 2018
I realize that I’m in the minority on this, as audiences have apparently long hungered for a movie that features both an octopus playing drums and a superhero letting a father die slowly in front of his son.
4.) Maze Runner: The Death Cure
The negative review I wrote for this is the only one that ever prompted the author of the source material to angrily Facebook me. I’m good with that.
3.) Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
I don’t know if it’s worse that this money-grubbing franchise is sapping the wonder out of one of the most beloved fictional properties of all time or that it gave magic Hitler a quasi-sympathetic speech. Probably the magic Hitler thing.
Dear Mr. The Rock: Please feel free to pass on a project here or there, even when you are promised a chance to wear a white or gray T-shirt and khaki pants. I know that’s your Kryptonite, but you can do it on your own time.
1.) Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Easily the most flagrantly offensive and intellectually bankrupt movie of the year, this sequel jettisoned Emily Blunt in favor of racist fear-mongering. That’s a trade so bad, I’m surprised it’s not our official foreign policy.
Top 10 Movies of 2018
In the 16 years I’ve been reviewing, this is the most stacked top 10 I’ve had, as evidenced by the fact that Annihilation could have contended for the top spot in some previous years. Gorgeously Lovecraftian, which is to say it has creepy insane visuals and not H.P.’s horrifyingly racist ideologies, this sci-fi meditation asks profound questions about love and life’s purpose while also featuring a bear with an inside-out face that screams like a person. So it’s the best of all worlds.
9.) Black Panther
Set aside the insanely significant cultural impact, and Ryan Coogler’s flick is still profound. From the bold afro-futuristic visuals to the single best-written supervillain of all-time(!), the film highlights a newly resonant subplot or subtle kick-ass moment on each rewatch. Each complaint leveled against Marvel franchise films was reversed into a strength here, including the score, cinematography and character arcs. Long after the superhero genre ebbs from its current hella flow, this one will be remembered.
After watching Suspiria I immediately knew that it was one of the year’s best. Months later, I still don’t know if I, you know, actually enjoyed it… Director Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s cult classic is full of body horror, lyrical visuals and thematic constructs dense enough to feel like homework. But the good kind of homework! I’m still parsing some of the symbolism and pondering its messages. Unrepentant and divisive, this is a testimony to cinema’s dominance as a modern art form. Also, it has three Tilda Swintons, which is the right number of Tilda Swintons.
7.) The Favourite
Watching three of this generation’s best actresses banter and box for two hours is as much fun as can be legally had in the vast majority of Britain’s former colonies. Ripping apart the seams of the exhausting corset-drama, the nonstop cleverness and relentless acting intensity features three of the best performances of the year. Apparently, there is no subject matter upon which director Yorgos Lanthimos cannot leave his indelibly weird stamp. Were he to direct a live-action adaptation of the tax code, Rachel Weisz should still get an Oscar nomination out of it.
6.) 8th Grade
As everyone expected, a former breakout YouTube star famous for funny songs wrote and directed a poignant movie about a young girl’s maturation. If you went back in time and told me that my top 10 list would feature a costume drama followed by a coming-of-age movie, I’d ask why you wasted time travel on that and not lovingly raising baby Hitler with Ben Shapiro. No movie about growing up has felt this authentic, at least to those of us battling lifelong anxiety. As hopeful as it is heartache-inducing, this one is as special as every young kid who worries she isn’t.
A true cult classic in an era when I thought such things were impossible, Mandy allows writer/director Panos Cosmatos to unleash Nic Cage’s unbridled lunacy in unparalleled fashion. Featuring a hippie cult led by a former Law and Order D.A., demon bikers, a cheddar goblin, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s swan song score, heavy metal fonts, and so much more, Mandy will probably be the film on this list I rewatch the most. It’s decidedly not for everyone, but if it is for you, you’ll probably be pissed it’s not No. 1 on this list.
4.) Sorry to Bother You
From here on out, all of the movies could have been in the top slot. Writer/director Boots Riley’s debut is so wildly original that any of the uneven, awkwardly constructed elements are immediately forgiven. Somehow both explicitly literal and divinely surreal, Sorry to Bother You makes it impossible to categorize the film’s genre. What is unquestionable is that its observations are scathing. Whether it’s a minor moment like the white crowd at a party emphatically chanting a racial epithet when given the smallest excuse to do so or the third act’s bonkers, sci-fi-ish twist, this is like an episode of The Twilight Zone written by Salvador Dali. If that doesn’t get your motor humming, we are fueled by distinctly different energies.
3.) If Beale Street Could Talk
Writer/director Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s work is literally the reason this list is as late as it is. I couldn’t in good conscience put together the best films of the year without seeing a movie that Jenkins created that qualified. Waiting was the right call, as Beale Street is a profound treatise on the power of love to expose systemic inequality and a lush, poetic masterwork of atmosphere and emotion. It is only fitting that the story of two young people who carry each other’s hearts carried mine right along with it.
This horror movie about the inescapable terror of grief sports an ending that made some in the theater laugh out loud. I loved it. The furthest edges of fear border on hilarity, and Hereditary tightrope-walks that razor’s edge. Toni Collette has two of my favorite acting moments in all of cinema in this one. The first is when she vomits a scream of sorrow that is among the purest facsimiles of legitimate loss ever. The second comes when legit supernatural shit starts happening, and she reacts as a normal person would, by losing her G.D. mind. Hereditary isn’t “so scary, you have to see it.” It’s a meticulously crafted use of an often-silly genre to mine the scariest places our hearts all one day explore.
1.) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
As “in the tank” as I am for the character that helped raise me, I had no clue that this Spider-Man film could possibly wind up at the top of this list when I first saw it. A pop art masterpiece that shouts across generational divides, this animated adventure spelunks the deepest recesses of what makes superhero content so universally captivating and inarguably important. The first viewing left me dizzied. The second showered me in the joy and inspiration I felt the first time I picked up a comic book. I don’t care if it seems silly to put an animated family film in this top slot. This was the best movie I saw in 2018, and I love it so, so, so very much.