Every year when we get to this point there’s a mixture of dread and excitement concerning the compiling of this list [and I’m sure my fellow editors would agree]. On the one hand, it’s a chance to celebrate the years most thrilling films and the artists who made them – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, 2018 has been an astonishing year in film. On the other, it means we’re heading into a bleak January where, no matter the fact that months are becoming less and less indicative of the quality of films to be released, there’s no denying the first of the new year is a bit of a downer.
However, as mentioned above, 2018 – a general dumpster fire in reality – was tremendous for film with everything from blockbusters to micro-indies containing blindingly dazzling us every week, dating back to February with Black Panther (and if that realization doesn’t make 2018 feel even longer than it was I don’t know what will.) Few films reviewed have felt totally laborious (though I’m sure my writers will disagree) and while the duds existed (a big eye-roll to you Red Sparrow and Ready Player One) and some didn’t live up to expectations (I’m sorry Oceans 8) there’s no denying the sheer wealth we were allowed to escape into.
Take a look at our voted on and ranked titles below and let us know what films were your favorites of the year! – Film Editor Allyson Johnson
Lee Israel’s reflective, quick-witted, dryly hilarious 2007 memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a curious read: an insightful, engaging look at how the reclusive author went from bestselling biographer to literary forger through a cocktail mix of loneliness, exasperation, desperation and cunning. Writing — either as oneself or someone else — isn’t an easy thing to capture justly onto the screen. When the rights were secured and the movie went into motion, it wasn’t certain how it would translate — especially when you consider how shy and reserved Israel was as a person, using her writing to explore the lives of others rather than herself.
Thankfully, Israel’s complex legacy (she passed away in 2014) is given a rich and touching tribute. Through a wonderfully humane screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, gorgeously sensitive direction by Marielle Heller and a duet of stunningly lived-in performances from Melissa McCarthy as Israel and Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me? serves to fitfully accompany and, in ways, improve Israel’s recounting. It develops the story gracefully giving audiences and readers alike a sense of perspective when it comes to the hard-willed author’s journey through forgeries and identity— even if finding oneself means pretending to be other, more famous folks.
It gives Israel the introspective look that she never found in full during her shortened life. Ultimately, crime does pay, but justice is also served. Signed, Dorothy Parker. – Will Ashton
A Star is Born takes a musical powerhouse like Lady Gaga, a fantastic actor that has a surprisingly decent voice like Bradley Cooper, and a classic story that these two put their own spin on and creates one hell of an experience. Of all the films in 2018, A Star is Born has a little bit of everything that audiences crave when spending a few hours at the theater. There’s an emotional soundtrack, genuine chemistry between Cooper and Gaga evokes a sense of authenticity as well as a mess of humor and heartache that keeps the ball rolling. Not only is this one of Cooper’s finest performances, he also directed the film as well while Gaga proves yet again that her talents both vocally and theatrically are some of the best in the entertainment industry today. You leave this film feeling emotionally exhausted, but the music stays with you for long after. You will be surprised and pleased by the impact this film will have on our life and it truly deserves all the praise and award nominations it has received so far. – Tyler Carlsen
2018 has been a year filled with cruelty, horror and plenty of sadness, so it makes sense that one of the year’s best movies was a reminder of the significance of kindness. Despite being a sparse 94 minutes, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is stuffed to the brim with the methods and impact of Fred Rogers and his iconic children’s television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The world changed a lot in the 30-plus years Neighborhood was on the air but Mr. Rogers himself did not. Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) shows the fascinating dedication Mr. Rogers had to learning how to talk to children without talking down to them. Even when Fred couldn’t relate to the world outside his cozy studio, he still made the effort to help children grow up as a decent human being and to not let grown-up cynicism take too much of a hold. Neville’s documentary shows Mr. Rogers not as a TV star or even as a teacher, but a friend for people in times of confusion. He always had the same answer but it was one always needed: “It’s ok.” – Jon Winkler
It shouldn’t be possible for somebody’s debut feature to be this good. Granted, director Carlos López Estrada has been in the game making music videos for years. But in a year dominated by some of the heaviest hitters in black American filmmaking—Spike Lee! Ryan Coogler! Barry Jenkins!—it was Estrada who released perhaps the definitive statement on American race relations with his first film Blindspotting, a manic genre-hopping kaleidoscope of hope, hate, healing, and fury set in Oakland, California. Wildly veering between stoic social problem cinema, irreverent comedy, and urban fantasia, the film juggles every tone and emotion in the book without dropping any of them. A scene where a trio of hotboxing friends yank an endless supply of handguns from hammerspace to jokingly intimidate their parolee buddy can cut to one where a toddler is discovered by his parents playfully fiddling with a cocked and loaded pistol without missing a beat: this is indeed a universe where we can envision Looney Tune silliness co-existing with deathly serious fears of a young child accidentally inciting devastation. And Estrada makes it look so damn easy. Not since Tarantino has their been such an auspicious first film. – Nathanael Hood
As the climax of Into The Spiderverse begins, a newly empowered Miles Morales dons his signature black suit and takes a leap of faith off of a skyscraper. As he barrels to the ground, he throws a web into the air and starts to swing. Shouting in elation, Daniel Pemberton’s gorgeous orchestral score mixed with Blackway/Black Caviar’s “What’s Up Danger” cheers him on. In one exhilarating moment that combines classic and modern troupes of superhero stories, we see a young afro-latino man become Spider Man: the moniker has eclipsed Peter Parker. It is now emblematic of any ostracized person who is ready to become a rockstar.
This is the superhero genre’s most revelatory leap forward in ages, both a meticulously crafted, wickedly funny, emotionally resonant re-framing of the Spider-Man mythos and a bold realization of the visual style/energy of comic books. It brings to life what readers can only imagine while flipping through panels. It’s not animated to be family friendly but to make every second of screen time visceral, never faltering. In fact, this isn’t just the best Spider Man movie but the best movie Marvel has had to offer.- Michael Fairbanks
You won’t forget Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace. Eight years after her neo-realist narrative, Winter’s Bone, Granik is back with another delicate study on the rural community starring Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie as father and daughter who live off the grid in a national park in Portland, Oregon. Foster continuously proves that he’s one of the best actors working today, and with his role as the PTSD stricken Will, it’s a shock that he isn’t in the conversation for best actor, playing the part with such nuance, making the audience feel both sympathy and contempt towards his character. Yes, his struggles with PTSD are hard to watch but what about his daughter’s desires? “I don’t have the same problem you have,” Tom tearfully says to her father.
This tension leads to a quietly explosive (possibly divisive climax) but beautifully, tragically, it makes the most sense for the characters. What could have been a sensationalized and exploitative approach on PTSD is instead sensitive and nurturing, making it one of the most powerful films of 2018. – Yasmin Kleinbart
Paddington 2 is the feel-good movie that we didn’t know we needed at the start of the year. An awards contender even if the studio might not be pushing it, this little bear that could is constantly teaching the audience by giving us lessons. Even when Paddington finds himself being sent to prison, he’ll look for the good in his fellow inmates.
With Aunt Lucy turning 100 years old, Paddington wants to get her a gift, but not just any gift. It has to be the perfect gift and when he sees a pop-up book of London in Mr. Gruber’s antique shop, he knows what he has to do: work to make the money and buy it. The release of Paddington 2 came at a time in which there’s a lot of cynicism in the world but there’s good to be found. An adorable film, Paddington 2 provided another fun-filled adventure for audiences. – Danielle Solzman
Sorry to Bother You, Boots Riley’s bold directorial debut, is capable of balancing humor with serious sociopolitical commentary. The film is about a Black man who takes a job as a telemarketer who rises to the top of the sales ladder in a capitalist system that favors white people. Sorry to Bother You stands out due to its ingenuity and Riley is never afraid to go big, even when that means introducing an unexpected and head-turning aspect into the story. The use of the “white voice” is fantastic and really drives home the out-of-sorts feeling that Lakeith Stanfield’s Cassius carries with him throughout the entire film and the lengths he has to go to make clients feel comfortable by pretending to be someone else. Stanfield gives a great performance, one full of depth and humor. Steven Yeun and Tessa Thompson round out a great supporting cast and Thompson especially helps to ground the film. Riley has a distinct point of view and writes and directs with confidence, wholly intent on making a statement with his film. The film’s style, execution, and plot definitely make Sorry to Bother You one of 2018’s most memorable, unique, and important films. – Mae Abdulbaki
It seems natural to be drawn to Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest, really; all those years growing up around adorers of Cleopatra, Troy, Zhang Yimou-helmed wuxia, and TV’s Huan zhu ge ge and Dae Jang-geum render palace intrigue alluring by default. But the jousting between a duchess (Weisz) and her cousin-turned-chambermaid (Emma Stone) to be an ailing queen (Olivia Colman)’s confidante could still undo all the “conditioning” thanks to its quality spices. Dazzlingly snappy is the script from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, unfurling like Big Little Lies more than that-period-drama-you-favored — or, if one still has a heart for the headlines, a timely commentary with the exterior of a costumer (Sandy Powell is booking two spots at the Oscars again, folks) more than “Crownton Abbey” for the MMXVIII-th time. And similar to the Witherspoon-Kidman-Woodley trio, Colman, Weisz and Stone make up a piquant and top-tier acting Neapolitan that must be sampled. The Broadchurch and Night Manager veteran Colman, in particular, deserves praise for how effortlessly she “murdoor” the field as the turbulent monarch — hilarious now, heartrending later. Simply put, plots within regal halls are at its sauciest, sultriest and most searing here. May your head stay fastened should you express your disapproval.-Nguyen Le
At its core, Black Panther is still ostensibly a Marvel movie, containing huge set-piece battles, great looking costumes, and an excellent cast of well-written and likable characters. Yet, director Ryan Coogler sought to do something more instead of treading down the tired and familiar territory that people have become accustomed resulting in a film created with a distinct vision and framework in mind.
Coogler creates a superhero action/drama epic that is visually impressive, but simultaneously narratively complex and layered, blending the addictive, popcorn-munching euphoria that one inevitably gets with watching a film like this, all the while, giving the person the chance to gain a deeper understanding of a culture that is variably different than what they are accustomed to. Wakanda is crafted from the ground up as being this world with a vibrant mix of African cultures, ideas, traditions, and intellects. The diverse cast of characters are exuberant, funny, and more importantly, grounded. This film tackles a myriad of socio-economic issues like isolationism, colonialism, and the need for a society to advance beyond its boundaries. Coogler refuses to let the superhero genre label hinder his approach to addressing these issues, opting to creatively incorporate those statements within the narrative, making everything flow naturally. –Mark Wesley
Burning may be a slow burn, but that does not stop it from being one of the most invigorating cinematic experiences of the year. Lee Chang-dong’s new masterpiece builds to a crescendo of an ending, one that’s well-earned and satisfying in every sense and gives the audience so much to unpack. From masculinity to class differences, the film skillfully explores these themes with subtlety, much thanks to Chang-dong’s masterful touch and magnetic performances from the film’s leads, Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, and Jeon Jong-seo. The film, which follows Jong-su (Ah-in), is part mystery, part examination of manhood in today’s age. Wandering and seemingly restless, Jong-su reunites and falls for a childhood friend, Hae-mi (Jong-seo) but when she returns from her trip to Africa with a mysterious and wealthy new boyfriend, Ben (Yeun), Jong-su is both intrigued and distraught by Ben’s presence. There’s something about Ben that isn’t quite right, but at the same time, Jong-su is fascinated by him, especially after Ben confesses his hobby of burning down greenhouses. The film’s tension lies between these two men; Jong-su’s restlessness and Ben’s confidence hold up different examples of today’s masculinity, but what dwells within them ultimately says far more than what is seen on the surface. That, in turn, is a reflection of the film itself, one that requires the audience to dig deeper to uncover the many meanings Burning conveys. – Gabrielle Bondi
Inciting, insightful and some of director Spike Lee’s best work in ages, BlacKkKlansman doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to its intent, much to its success. What more apt description of Spike Lee’s career trajectory than the one he gives for himself in BlacKkKlansman? No longer the man who incited the riot at Sal’s Pizzeria in Do the Right Thing, Lee has near fully integrated into the industry he once sought to set ablaze. In telling the story of Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado Springs police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, Lee draws connections between this ‘70s setting and our own waking nightmare. Look closer between these lines and an auto-biographical question might also emerge. Can a cop still be a revolutionary? – Joshua Cabrita
Hirokazu Koreeda’s totally unconventional family drama Shoplifters has become somewhat of an anomaly in the genre as it is a film that is purposely atypical in its depiction of a family—a makeshift unit formed as a result of unthinkable social taboos; neglect, kidnap, fraud, scam and, of course, theft. But in this misfit family’s undeniable solidarity and repurposing of paternal roles, Koreeda rather than confuse purposely unblurs the lines of familial values. The Japanese movie maestro continues to find genuine familial affection even in the midst modern day Japan strictly institutionalized conceptions of family, where relations are demarcated (and often failed) by legal terms, institutional definitions and biological connections.
Shoplifters may be the first time in a Koreeda domestic drama where genealogy doesn’t play a major part in defining family roles. The members of Shoplifter’s family aren’t related but rather stitched together like a Frankenstein’s monster. Koreeda’s monster soon forms into a far more beautiful portrait of family, resembling less a monstrous creation than a flower in bloom as the film’s characters, sharing seemingly little in common, find a deeply ingrained connection in their everyday need for affection. The atypical household in Koreeda’s sublime tearjerker may defy most traditional definitions of family, but who can deny how Koreeda’s simple gestures, such as one member filling another’s bowl with hot food, is definition enough for any ‘family.’ – Gary Shannon
7. If Beale Street Could Talk
If Moonlight was a project of grand ambitions, director Barry Jenkins aimed for even greater heights with his follow up If Beale Street Could Talk. Based on the book by James Baldwin, Jenkins is one of the few to receive the blessing of Baldwin’s estate. Their faith paid off, with Jenkins bringing his signature style and grace to the love story between Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and artist Fonny Hunt (Stephan James) in 1970s Harlem. Tish and Fonny have known each other virtually all their lives and are passionately in love but just as their future together seems secured, Fonny is arrested and jailed for a crime he didn’t commit. Tish and her family know Fonny is innocent and desperately work to clear his name, a goal which takes on new urgency after Tish discovers she’s pregnant. Incorporating much of Baldwin’s prose to tell an epic yet intimate story as personal as it is political, If Beale Street Could Talk is a heartbreaking tribute to love’s enduring power even in the most harrowing circumstances. – Andrea Thompson
Widows is the perfect movie to see with a buzzing, anticipatory audience. Combining the auteurist flair of Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) with a razor-sharp, woman-centric script he co-wrote with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), Widows marries astonishing performances and insightful, deft social commentary with a thrilling, pulpy plotline. Viola Davis brims with tension and resolve as Veronica, a Chicago teacher’s union representative and wife of Liam Neeson’s Harry, a brutal, charming bank robber. When Harry’s last heist goes south, resulting in the violent deaths of himself and his crew, Veronica must gather together the wives the robbers left behind to complete one last job. Daniel Kaluuya steals scenes—and the very breath out of your lungs—as Jatemme, Jamal’s hypnotic and terrifying brother-enforcer. Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, and eventually Cynthia Erivo round out Veronica’s team, and play off one another marvelously as women with little in common except their involvement in this plot and a sense of frustration with their own lives. At my screening, the requisite twists were greeted with gasps, shrieks, and even cheering, as we watched these capable, dynamic, duplicitous women do what no one would have believed possible of them.- Deborah Krieger
Like Joaquin Phoenix’s Joe ferociously flourishes a ball-peen hammer in his undertakings rescuing trafficked young girls, director Lynne Ramsay swings a sharp, searing screenplay in one hand and brandishes a taste for all the sourness surrounding the act of killing in the other. And as Phoenix gives a hypnotic performance in You Were Never Really Here, sinking deep into the waters of his PTSD-wracked war veteran-turned-hired gun role (think taut back and shoulders that reads “perpetually afflicted” and a face like a map written in another language) and never once lifting his face to suck air from the surface, Ramsay offers as precise and daring a directorial effort as she’s ever made before. Turning the bleakness seen in source material from which it’s inspired, Jonathan Ames’ novella of the same name, from violence itself onto the people and places and moments that catalyze cruelty, You Were Never Really Here is as much a claustrophobic character study and exercise in careful plot construction as it is an exploration of trauma and the traumatized. It’s complex and concentrated, confident and unconventional, thick with vivid imagery (and not always of the blood and gore one might expect), and represents both Phoenix and Ramsay at their most assured and assertive. –AJ Caulfield
Few films left audiences as traumatically gobsmacked as Alex Garland’s finest film to date Annihilation. Few moments petrified the same way the scene with the straight out of hell bear did; fewer existentially devastated like Josie’s wordless, haunting exit; simply none matched the virtuoso dance that rendered viewers hushed, mouths agape. It’s a film that will go down as one of the finest examples of science fiction filmmaking of our lifetime: startlingly visceral and nightmarish on one hand with some of the grizzliest scenes to splatter the screen in the past decade while simultaneously possessing a grace that keeps it from becoming repellent. It is an anomaly of a film, one that doesn’t leave your mind for days, weeks, months even past. Instead, it engraves itself into the mushy center of your brain, terrifying with the merest remembrance of a perfectly placed desperate scream or stunning us with the evocative imagery of memories hard formed circling in our protagonists retina. You don’t remember movies the way that you feel Annihilation. – Allyson Johnson
There’s a quiet dread that builds the longer Hereditary continues. It’s the dread that comes with knowing something bad’s about to happen but you’re unable to figure out what it is, constantly looking over your shoulder and once you realize what it is it’s too late. Not only that, but it’s also something you can’t escape. That’s the fate that follows the Graham family as they descend into chaotic grief, a never-ending nightmare of loss and insanity. Ari Aster’s feature-length debut provided one of the most terrifying experiences in the theater, complete with auditory and atmospheric horror that demanded the lights to be turned on. Toni Collette’s performance as Annie Graham is one of the most memorable examples of grief portrayed on screen. The film’s slow-build and then abrupt introduction into its third act is jarring, but amazingly, the ending leaves you with a strange sense of comfort, as the music lightens and the fates of the Graham family are sealed. Aster commands the camera, lingering on not only the most horrific moments, but also the right ones, allowing the emotion of the film to lead, and the horror of the events simmering. –Katey Stoetzel
There is absolutely no reason why this movie should work as well as it does. A teenage anti-comedy about how cringeworthy eighth grade is? Directed by a male standup comedian in his late 20s?
And yet Eighth Grade feels like a miracle as it perfectly captures the anxieties of a 13-year-old girl with specific 13-year-old girl problems, but in ways anyone of any age will recognize. You can’t believe how invested you are in Kayla’s life, because you know how deeply she cares about every small thing she experiences, from the smallest victories to the biggest disappointments.
Eighth Grade is an empathy machine, forcing you into the head of another generation. It reminds you of how complicated human beings are, that we can’t just be labeled as introvert or extrovert. Kayla is shy, but she also has courage and will put herself out there online. It’s the 2018 film that managed to infuse some genuine positivity into the grumbling horrors of our time, while also recognizing the serious challenges kids today will face for decades to come with technology and mental health. But if the kids of today are as bold and inspiring as Kayla is in Eighth Grade, I’m feeling more hopeful about the future than ever. – Jon Negroni
Sometimes the worst thing a movie can have going for it is critical buzz. Hype can often snowball out of control and then the final product buckles underneath the lofty expectations that have been thrust upon it. However, Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s intimate, semi-autobiographical depiction of domestic drama in 1970s Mexico City, has earned every molecule of the monumental praise being thrown at its feet. From its dazzling black-and-white cinematography to its haunting emotional resonance, this gripping mood piece seeps into your skin, forcing you to stop and take notice. Cuarón’s signature lengthy, sustained shots are on full display, lingering on the poignant journey of Cleo (a star-making turn for first-timer Yalitza Aparicio) and allowing each heartbreaking chapter in her bittersweet story to breathe and expand into a painfully humanist symphony. Mimicking the director’s childhood memory, the hypnotic tale blends the personal with the universal, tying flashes of political outrage and historical exploration into its fable dissecting the burden of responsibility. For years to come, aspiring filmmakers will be studying these exquisite, methodical frames, in all of their texture and charm. Taste is, of course, entirely subjective, but it’s difficult to walk away from this immersive, dreamlike film without feeling moved in one way or another. Roma is sure to spark countless copycats, inspiring creativity and human decency in nearly anyone willing to give themselves over to its spiritual dynamism. – Brian Thompson