I don’t consider myself an expert on great film. Great TV, yes. Great animation, sure. Great comics, kinda, so long as they involve powerful people in tights. But the world of cinema is too wide and varied for me to get a firm handle on, at least thus far.
So the following Top 10 list won’t be as broad or all-encompassing as your typical critic’s. Oh sure, it tries to cover a lot of ground – both comedy and drama, both popular and obscure. There’s even one film on my list which some people are saying isn’t even a film so much as a brief TV series. (And, let’s be honest, those people are total snobs.) But because I couldn’t watch nearly every film that debuted this year, the list is not as detailed or microcosmic as one from a paid professional.
Still, the fact that you clicked on the link tells me you’re at least somewhat curious as to which films most livened up my year. In that case, friend, I will gladly share my non-expert, unprofessional (and thoroughly inarguable!) picks.
These were the 10 best films of 2018.
10. Game Night
Tightly constructed, terrifically funny, and packed with unexpected twists, Game Night is among the most energetic and entertaining films of the year. The premise – a friendly evening gone horribly wrong – is fairly thin, just tangible enough on which to hang a series of offbeat comic scenarios that delightfully combine dark drama with free-spirited laughs, successfully sustained throughout the film’s running time. While not among the year’s deepest films, it’s just too much fun to leave ignored.
9. The Death of Stalin
“What if Veep took place during Soviet Russia?” asked nobody ever. Yet we still got an answer – a surprisingly good one. Armando Iannucci’s disarming black comedy, set against the backdrop of a politically tumultuous Soviet Union, depicts the Central Committee as a sea of witless dolts, each one more desperate to grab the coattails of power than the last. Through their antics (captured by an excellent cast), we see the machinations of a power structure come undone, a sobering reminder of how easily the mightiest can fall. Though its farcical comedy lags after a while, the film is among the most pointed political statements of the year.
8. Leave No Trace
One of two films on this list with a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (based on over 200 reviews), Leave No Trace is a beautiful story of family bonds and the ways they can be strengthened or severed. Slow and often silent, with excellent performances from both Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, the film explores the needs and necessities of human connection with remarkable poignancy. It’s the rare film that can resonate with children yet feel entirely adult in its themes – an incredible accomplishment for any genre.
7. Black Panther
Sure, it was hyped beyond all reason, as journalists stumbled over each other to call this the Most Important Movie of the Year. But beyond its cultural impact, Black Panther is among the finest and most intellectually realized films the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet offered. Featuring excellent work from director Ryan Coogler (and a standout performance from frequent collaborator, Michael B. Jordan), the film depicts Wakanda as an outsized, futuristic world that can’t quite desert its African roots, using this backdrop to springboard into a variety of themes about racial and cultural divergences. Complex but not ham-fisted, mature yet never dull, Black Panther is a shining standout in the crowded superhero movie field.
6. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Coen Brothers films can suffer from overlength, letting intriguing ideas outstay their best-allotted runtime. But Buster Scruggs neatly sidesteps this issue – featuring six unrelated Western tales, it channels a variety of comedic tones, ranging from the broad (the titular piece) to the disturbing (“Meal Ticket”) to the minimalistic (“All Gold Canyon”). Some shorts work better than others – and the weakest segment, “The Gal Who Got Rattled,” is regrettably the longest – but combined they form a compelling symposium of intriguing Old West oddities.
5. Paddington 2
The year’s other perfect score on the Tomatometer, Paddington 2 is a crowd-pleasing film in every sense of the word. Topping its already delightful predecessor, this sequel sets out to find the humanity (bear-ity?) in all its characters, mixing whimsical comedy (topped off by a sincere homage to The Grand Budapest Hotel) with heartfelt emotion. Hugh Grant gives one of the year’s most memorable performances as a chameleonic and broadly theatrical villain, yet no character remains as memorable as the innately charming, sweet-as-marmalade Paddington himself.
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
As computer-animation continues to push safe and marketable over daring and innovative, Sony’s latest cartoon wonder bucks the trend with a wild, wondrous-looking film that’s as thrilling as any live-action superhero adventure released this year. Stylized like a living comic book, with sincere homages to both four-color prints and modern multihued splashes, Into the Spider-Verse is a fast-paced, freewheeling adventure with a gleefully funny script. It’s a superhero film, and an animated film, like none other.
3. A Quiet Place
Horror films continue to reign at the box-office, as audiences continue to enjoy the collective fears they experience in a dark and populated theater. No film this year made the message more apparent than A Quiet Place, the low-budget smash that catapulted director-star John Krasinski to global fame. Krasinski and his wife (the excellent Emily Blunt) headline the compellingly minimalist story, which plays with the concepts of sound and its absence in creative and often frightening ways. The film also features strong pro-family messages which emphasize the peril of the lead characters, leaving us breathless (and soundless) through the final act.
2. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Sixth time is still the charm for filmdom’s best ongoing franchise, which continues to push new heights and top itself with each new installment. Featuring some of the best large-scale action on the silver screen in years, and anchored by the stoic, never-say-die performance of Tom Cruise, Fallout successfully maintains suspense for its 147-minute running time, growing more exhilarating as it progresses. The final half-hour, in which all the story’s plot and character threads converge into a thrilling climax, is a marvelous orchestration of white-knuckle filmmaking.
1. Eighth Grade
There were so many ways that Eighth Grade could have gone wrong. As a coming-of-age drama, it could have easily fallen back on teen movie clichés. It could have fumbled itself with an uninspired script, or a miscast lead, or by simply drowning in a sea of social-media jokes and other up-to-the-minute references. Yet amazingly, Bo Burnham’s first film avoids every pitfall, and turns out to be one of the most poignant commentaries on American youth in recent history.
Elsie Fisher gives the breakout performance of the year as Kayla, a young girl preparing to make the perilous transition from middle to high school. Through her eyes, we experience an introspective look at teenage anxiety, in ways as awkwardly comic as they are retrospectively painful. We’ve all been where Kayla is, yet none of us have experienced her attempted growth in such an Internet-conscious age, when YouTube vlogging demands our attention and old Twitter posts become ticking time-bombs. Eighth Grade charts Kayla’s journey through these murky waters, capturing the darker side of post-millennial youth even as its messages may resonate even more meaningfully with older audiences. It’s a poignant, funny, liberating tale of adolescence, and the best film of 2018.
Adrift, Alpha, Annihilation, Crazy Rich Asians, First Man, Isle of Dogs, Ready Player One, The Rider, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, Tully