2018 was an interesting year.
The domestic box office, thanks to Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Incredibles 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and Aquaman, the five highest grossing films of 2018 helped haul in $11.8 billion. The worldwide gross topped $41 billion, so it was a good year for film studios.
This was a difficult year to choose a top ten – it turned out there were a plethora of movies to choose from. By Christmas I had 25-30 films in mind, whereas last year my list was trimmed to… maybe 15.
Here are a list of films that are outstanding but didn’t make the cut. All are worth a look, even though (obviously) not all films are for everyone: American Animals, Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Crazy Rich Asians, Creed II, First Man, First Reformed, The Hate U Give, Hearts Beat Loud, Hereditary, Isle of Dogs, Love, Simon, mid90s, A Quiet Place, Searching, The Sisters Brothers, A Star is Born, The Tale, Thoroughbreds, Tully, You Were Never Really Here.
As always, I’ve always listed my ten in alphabetical order – I dislike assigning my favorites with numbers. It seems like a copout but if you pay attention you’ll likely discover my absolute favorites.
I’d love to hear your opinion in regards to my top ten. No list is above discussion because tastes differ. But let’s get this over with – my favorite films from 2018…
This sci-fi thriller was released theatrically in just three countries (the rest of the world could only see it on Netflix), so it obviously wasn’t a box office success ($43 million against a budget of reportedly $40-55 million). Writer-director Alex Garland followed up the critically acclaimed Ex Machina with a film that was bolder in scope and more diverse in regard to its cast (which co-stars Natalie Portman, Jenifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny). Despite its ambiguous leanings and dour tone, Annihilation is thought provoking, ominous, visually striking and well-acted. This is one of the best sci-fi films in years (and, yes, that includes Star Wars).
With cinephiles talking of the insanity within Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, it may have drawn attention away from its less chaotic partner, Blindspotting. Co-written, co-produced and co-starring Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, director Carlos López Estrada shows audiences what’s in like to be a black man in today’s America, though the eyes of an an ex-con during his last 3 days off parole, all while flipping our everyday conventions and norms. It is both funny and serious, and it’s as timely as films come. It hits hard without jumping the shark, and it provides some biting social commentary. Daveed Diggs, who was recently nominated for a Best Male Lead Independent Spirit Award, represents fresh and amazing new talent, while Casal is equally as impressive. Blindspotting is excellent, thought-provoking fare which needs to be seen.
South Korean cinema gets little love in the States. That’s too bad, because South Korea is home to some incredible features from a plethora of talented South Korean filmmakers. The latest great film comes courtesy of Lee Chang-dong. Burning is visually breathtaking, and is creepy enough to make your skin crawl. Much of the creepiness comes courtesy of Steven Yuen, who, in less time than it takes to crack open a soda, will make you completely forget the noble Glenn Rhee he played on The Walking Dead. Yuen isn’t even the star – he is a secretly wealthy man who comes between a man and the woman he loves. That man is played by Ah-in Yoo - who is memorable with subtlety, playing an aspiring poet looking to get over his loneliness when he runs into a woman from his childhood. Burning is a stunning look at class conflict and is slyly one of 2018’s most chilling entries.
Eighth Grade comes to us courtesy of Bo Burnham, the comedian-actor whose star's been rising of late. After headlining comedy specials on Netflix (and standing out in a supporting role on The Big Sick), Burnham wrote and directed this amazingly touching feature chronicling the ups and downs of being a teenage girl. The girl in question is played magnificently by Elsie Fisher, who’s won over the hearts of audiences everywhere with her natural performance – in the process she netted Golden Globe and Film Independent Spirit nominations. Eighth Grade also scored Film Independent Spirit nominations for Best Supporting Male (Josh Hamilton, playing Elsie’s dad), Best First Screenplay for Burnham, and Best Feature. Eighth Grade is honest and poignant and pushes all the awkward buttons without crossing any lines. Burnham, in only his first feature, evokes empathy with material that would seemingly be best handled by a female.
Goodness, Yorgos Lanthimos films seem to improve each time out. Lanthimos didn’t write this film’s script, but talk about getting the best from your actors. Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz co-star as bickering cousins looking to win over the attention and affection of Olivia Colman. This isn't an ordinary brown nose competition – Colman is Queen Anne, as in the leader of Britain. With Anne’s health worsening, she’s not interested in governing, which means she can be swayed. Lanthimos, ever the purveyor of toxic relationships, created the ultimate dark comedy which just so happens to be based on true events. Squabbling amongst the rich and powerful is nothing new – many empires have fallen due to entitled adults acting like spoiled children. But never has it been shown with such panache and fun. The Favourite is likely the least accessible entry on this list, but it best reflects the awful behavior from today's leaders. To that effect, The Favourite may sadly be more of a documentary.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
I don’t know how Tom Cruise does it. The veteran actor turns 57 in 2019, yet he seems to age like fine wine. This comes after witnessing the insane stunts he performed for his latest actioner. Fallout is the sixth entry in the Mission: Impossible series and arguably the best in the franchise (which runs parallel to Cruise's career trajectory). Fallout pulls out all the stops – HALO jumping; free-climbing a cliff (which he’s done before); jumping from one building to another; hanging from a rope attached to a helicopter... while in flight; riding a motorcycle during a high speed chase... against traffic… WITHOUT a helmet (and with the beautiful Arc de Triomphe in the background). All of those stunts were performed by Cruise (no stunt doubles here!), and it pays off handsomely with an relentless action film that is the best of its genre since Mad Max: Fury Road
Roma is the latest from writer Alfonso Cuarón and, considering last release, Gravity, took home 7 Oscars, this would have to blow the doors off. Suffice it to say, Cuarón’s semi-autobiographical story of a service worker dealing with personal obstacles during civil unrest, does just that. It manages to balance an intimate story against an epic backdrop, and is told solemly through the eyes of a first-time actor (Oscar nominee Yalitza Aparicio). Roma provides the most beautiful cinematography of 2018 and is easily Cuarón’s most personal film. This may be his masterpiece because he was able to successfully recreate his chilhood memories, all while paying tribute to those who molded Cuaron into the person he is today. This is brilliant work from a master filmmaker.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man movie, hands down. What’s more impressive is its success was born from failure. After The Amazing Spider-Man 2 failed to conquer the box office and win over critics, Sony went into panic mode. They needed to resuscitate the Spider-Man franchise and they did so in two ways. Sony went ahead with a second reboot, which lent Spidey back to Marvel (in certain aspects) so the character could regain favor by appearing in the MCU. Then they greenlit an animated film where Miles Morales was the focus instead of Peter Parker. Using bold, fan service-centric storytelling and amazing eye-catching animation, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were able to revitalize the franchise by opening up the Spidey playbook. That means they included multiple variations of Spider-Man, all of which were inclusive to people of different races and genders. In addition, Lord and Miller (who were responsible for 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie) made a fun movie that incorporated a wide range of emotions. Spider-Verse is everything a superhero film should be and it does so without being overly serious. It’s basically a potpourri of genres which will be the favorite to win Best Animated Feature at the 91st Academy Awards.
Writing and directing his first film since 2013’s powerful 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen jumps ahead to a more contemporary setting with Widows. McQueen’s latest is a heist film with a message – think Ocean’s Eleven but with women. The biggest difference (besides the gender swap) being these women NEED to pull off a big heist in order to survive. Whereas Danny Ocean and crew were having fun robbing a bunch of casinos, Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo merely want to stay alive. And they’re novice criminals, which means their success rate is very low. It’s an art film that uses a widely-accessible concept, but McQueen’s deft filmmaking means he’s sprinkled nuggets of social, economic and political commentary. Widows is McQueen at higher level, which is impressive because 12 Years is a 3-time Oscar winner.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a documentary about the life of Fred Rogers, best known as the host, creator and star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Produced and directed by Morgan Neville, this is more a portrait that chronicles Rogers’ philosophies and his upmost respect and careful treatment of children. In the face of hated and anger, Fred Rogers represented and practiced the exact opposite - a beautiful and welcome thing to see. Archival footage provides viewers a nice dose of nostalgia while Mr. Rogers accepted and celebrated people of all ages, genders, races and creeds. Sadly, this WASN’T nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars – a disappointing oversight considering many critics pegged it as a frontrunner. Regardless, Won’t You be My Neighbor? is a beautiful account of a man who exemplified decency, civility and kindness.