Each year it seems that someone will make the decidedly naive comment about how “it’s been a bad year for films” and every year countless others will have their “well, actually’s” on standby along with a tidy list of titles that have made the given cinematic year its appeal. That being said, there have been lulls, as there always are, particularly in June where BIG MOMENT films fell flat. Otherwise, however, it’s been a solid run so far in 2018, even with the remainder of the year and upcoming fall festival season caught in a bizarre standstill. Marvel has put out two if it’s best films ever, period, studio pictures have allowed themselves to get stranger, indie horror is once again hitting new peaks and Netflix even managed to revitalize the feel-good romantic comedy, opposed to the sad romantic comedies that have come to dominate the genre. (They’re great, but it doesn’t all have to be so realistic.)
We polled our writing staff to rank their favorite films of the year so far, with Avengers: Infinity War, The Death of Stalin, Isle of Dogs, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Tully and Beast just nearly making the cut. Take a look below and let us know what films would have made your list.
5. Black Panther [tie]
Getting the most votes out of every film that was on our writers’ lists, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther will be the studio event film to beat of the year. It was colorful, diverse, empathetic and action packed and starred a tremendous Michael B. Jordan as perhaps the best MCU villain to date.
“Black Panther is going to be a cornerstone of blockbuster cinema, giving a criminally undervalued community the chance to not just be on-screen but to thrive on-screen. That has value in itself, but what Coogler has delivered here is much more than just a social talking point. This is one of Marvel’s most well-realized films to date, a genuine passion project from an immensely talented filmmaker who has nowhere to go but up. It may not break any boundaries in the story department, but perhaps that is necessary when creating a film that has so many other new aspects to offer. It’s time to show the king of Wakanda our respect and bow down.” [Michael Fairbanks]
5. Lean on Pete [tie]
A film that I was able to see at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival, director Andrew Haigh once again struck gold with his somber yet quietly hopeful Lean on Pete, which asked us to sit still as we watch a teenager venture through a vengeful and cold world in chase of a place to call his home.
“The film doesn’t have a distinct or obvious message and it’s themes about finding family where you can is only partially applicable. In one moment of the film, Charley bemoans the idea of a friend and his family seeing him how he is now, his pride more important than his personal safety and it’s a heart achingly childish but honest thing to say. At it’s core, Lean On Pete is more than a story about a boys bond with his pet, it’s about his perception of himself being warped, to the point where his only thought is to see the day through, to press on because that’s all he can do. It’s a coming of age story without the sweet middle or the empty placating. It’s a story that in equal measures is about the treachery of loss of youth and the importance of retaining some youthful hope. It’s all about duality and the ability to tell the same story with streamlined meanings. That, plus a remarkable central performance, is what makes Lean On Pete so hauntingly beautiful.” [Allyson Johnson]
Horror continues to be one of the best genres to watch in a busy theater (because there’s power and courage in a group setting opposed to dealing with jump scares alone at night), and Hereditary further proved the point with a film many are calling the scariest in years.
“[Toni] Collette is a frightening wonder. She begins as a grieving daughter, struggling with the idea that she hated and loved her mother. Collette embodies grief in a way that’s nuanced and familiar. As the dread plummets and Annie turns more erratic, Collette delivers a convincing transformation into someone so consumed by the tragedies in one’s life that all she can do is hang onto the past. Gabriel Byrne plays Annie’s husband, Steve, in an understated, but memorable performance of a man at a complete loss. Though he doesn’t have as much to do here, Byrne brings a quiet sense of grief to rival Collette’s anger. Alex Wolff’s Peter, son to Steve and Annie, who could arguably be considered the main character, also shines throughout. Where Collette’s descent into madness is loud, Peter’s takes on the stoic, shell-shocked demeanor which is equally effective. Young Broadway actress Milly Shapiro gives a chilling turn as Annie’s daughter, Charlie, a thirteen year old obsessed with death.” [Katey Stoetzel]
Paul Schrader continues to question religion and mankind’s place in the universe with a dazzlingly insightful film that will in equal measures rile you up before taking you down.
“First Reformed is skilled enough to acknowledge and deeply empathize with Toller’s concerns while holding him accountable for his actions, mostly via a fellow pastor (Cedric the Entertainer) who tells him he doesn’t “live in the real world” and that God might not share his reverence for His creation, seeing as how He once destroyed it over a period of 40 days and 40 nights. What emerges is a magnificent portrait of despair, in which even the lone bright spot amidst the darkness may be nothing more than another illusion.” [Andrea Thompson]
Lynne Ramsay is one of the world’s greatest directors and Joaquin Phoenix one of our most gifted actors. Put the two together and magic is inevitable.
“Joe Bini’s editing cuts in fast shots of Joe’s past, giving us just enough detail to guess at the demons Joe is struggling with. Disturbing images bolstered by Johnny Greenwood’s incredible and spine-rattling score complete this eerie and dream-like picture of fighting for survival, even when the reason to continue on looses its clarity. It’s the score and the editing that refuses the audience time to recover from the events on-screen. When you think nothing else could possibly happen, strobe-light like cuts and loud music are there to remind you it isn’t over yet. The use of sound in the film especially works well with imitating the thoughts in Joe’s head. Like the car horns and bustling traffic of everyday life, some things just can’t go away.” [Katey Stoetzel]
There’s no scraping the images left behind from Alex Garland’s Annihilation off from the back of your eyes. A grueling film-going experience that is bound to leave you shaken and inspired, it isn’t for the faint of heart and will go down one of the most alarmingly beautiful science fiction films and, possibly, one of THE great films of our lifetime.
“Life, in Alex Garland’s Annihilation, his follow up to Ex Machina, is a ponderous, methodical, and unbalanced matter. Natalie Portman’s Lena, vacant and distant, states that the mystical “shimmer” isn’t destroying, but “creating something new”. The feverish world Garland has created inside this bubble where a nuclear wasteland gives birth to spooling green forests is one that envisions impossible horrors and even more spectacular visions of beauty. It’s tremendously frightening, dizzyingly beautiful and excruciatingly unsettling as we watch, breath caught between disbelief and panicked laughter, as this world so meticulously built, disassembles itself. The film, too, is creating something new.” [Allyson Johnson]