I can’t say I’m as knowledgeable about films as I am video games, but I do find myself in the theaters quite often. Indeed, if one were to take the journalists at face value, one could get the impression that 2018 was a triumphant year in filmmaking, setting the bar higher while surpassing the masters of old. Having watched many classic films at home throughout 2018, I can confirm this is absolutely not the case. As a year, 2018 had not even the vague affectations of consistency. While I admittedly enjoyed a majority of the praised films from 2018, every now and again, I would see an acclaimed dud. In 2017, the worst film I saw in theaters was also the one with the least acclaim. In 2018, there were several instances in which I enjoyed films with relatively low scores over ones universally praised. When critics think solely with their hearts, it can make assessing the quality of their favorites tricky.
Partially as a response to the innumerable infantile think pieces penned by professional journalists, but mostly to try something new, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and write my own list what I consider the best films of 2018. Here are most of the films from 2018 that I have seen.
- Pad Man (R. Balki)
- Black Panther (Ryan Coogler)
- Annihilation (Alex Garland)
- Love, Simon (Greg Berlanti)
- Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)
- A Quiet Place (John Krasinski)
- You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay)
- Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony Russo & Joe Russo)
- Tully (Jason Reitman)
- Deadpool 2 (David Leitch)
- Upgrade (Leigh Whannell)
- Hereditary (Ari Aster)
- American Animals (Bart Layton)
- Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird)
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville)
- Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)
- Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed)
- Whitney (Kevin Macdonald)
- Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley)
- Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle)
- Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham)
- Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie)
- Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada)
- BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee)
- Crazy Rich Asians (Jon M. Chu)
- Searching (Aneesh Chaganty)
- Alpha (Albert Hughes)
- A Simple Favor (Paul Feig)
- Mandy (Panos Cosmatos)
- A Star is Born (Bradley Cooper)
- First Man (Damien Chazelle)
- The Hate U Give (George Tillman Jr.)
- The Old Man & the Gun (David Lowery)
- Halloween (David Gordon Green)
- The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Ethan Coen & Joel Coen)
- Widows (Steve McQueen)
- Mirai (Mamoru Hosoda)
- Roma (Alfonso Cuarón)
- The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, & Rodney Rothman)
- Bumblebee (Travis Knight)
- Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
- If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins)
- Free Solo (Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi & Jimmy Chin)
- Green Book (Peter Farrelly)
- Bohemian Rhapsody (Dexter Fletcher)
- Stan & Ollie (Jon S. Baird)
- Vice (Adam McKay)
- They Shall Not Grow Old (Peter Jackson)
- Cold War (Paweł Pawlikowski)
I’ve decided not to include films such as High Life and Gloria Bell that were not released to the general public in 2018. For that matter, First Reformed isn’t on this list either despite having been publically released in 2018. If you’re convinced what you made is good, you shouldn’t wait nine months before giving it a limited release. Regardless, I can assure you none of those films would’ve made the cut anyway.
Given that a majority of these films are ones I have or would award seven points, I had to greatly condense the list. Doing so left me with a far more manageable sixteen entries. I had an idea of what would make my top three; it was the other seven slots that gave me trouble. Eight of these films were nominated for “Best Picture” at the 91st Academy Award ceremony. When the nominees were revealed, I made it my mission to see all of them and rank them from worst to best. The selection of films ended up being pretty dire, as I was only able to award three of them a passing grade – and even then, none of them scored more than seven points. You may be curious as to where I would rank the three films that did manage to get my seal of approval on this list.
That’s right, not a single one of the nominees made the cut. I stand by my assertion that 2019 had the single weakest set of Oscar nominees since I seriously began watching films. Despite being a mark of a professional journalist, I do not intend to write a think piece about why Green Book didn’t deserve to win and how its fans are willingly ignorant degenerates. A certain critic writing for the Los Angeles Times already did that – within twenty minutes of Green Book winning, no less.
Nonetheless, while I hoped Black Panther or Roma would win, I feel the victory of Green Book was highly fitting from a meta standpoint. You could not have picked a better film to show a large audience just how inconsistent of a year 2018 was for the medium.
Many filmgoers elect to make a top ten list of the worst they’ve seen. I can’t reasonably attempt this given that I usually only see critical darlings. My attempts to do so would therefore include at least a few films I mostly liked. However, as an added bonus, I can write about what I considered to be the three biggest disappointments of 2018 aside from the aforementioned First Reformed. They will be presented from least bad to worst.
Hereditary by Ari Aster
It has been argued that the horror fans’ backlash to Hereditary is a case of them looking a gift horse in the mouth. If that is indeed true, then Hereditary is the film equivalent of a gag gift. To be fair, Ari Aster’s directorial debut is far from the worst critical darling I’ve seen. Barring the absolute most exceptional cases, I always favor the storyteller over the preacher, so at the very least, you can rest knowing that as bad as Hereditary gets, it’s still a more worthwhile watch than A24’s other critically acclaimed duds such as First Reformed or Ex Machina. Still, it really says something about 2018 that had Hereditary premiered in almost any other year of this decade, it would have been the incontestable nadir for me. As it stands, Hereditary is merely a film with a lot of promise that ends up crashing and burning in the final act. That makes it worthy of a failing grade, but it’s fairly inoffensive in the grand scheme of things.
Vice by Adam McKay
The Big Short wasn’t a good film, but I, at the very least, have to give Mr. McKay credit for being ambitious. The Academy felt similarly and ended up giving him an Oscar nomination for his troubles in 2016. Sadly, he let the success go to his head and Vice was the disappointing follow-up. As I said in my review, there is a fine line between challenging your audience and belittling them, and Mr. McKay fell squarely in the latter camp. As such, and like many contemporary satirical works, the only people who could possibly get anything out of Vice are those who share the author’s viewpoints. Satirists will never get anywhere if they’re too afraid to leave their comfort zone and appeal to anyone outside of their intended demographic. You’re better off taking the young adults who appeared in this film’s stinger up on their offer by seeing the latest The Fast and the Furious installment instead.
Upgrade by Leigh Whannell
If there was a single film that could sum up exactly what made the 2010s such a terrible decade for science fiction, Upgrade would be the one to pick. It’s a mean-spirited mess of a film that is in complete denial about its blatant anti-intellectualism. People wishing for technological progress are wrong while the one who is a comparative Luddite is one of the few unmistakably good characters in the story – and the narrative will stop at nothing to make the latter suffer. It’s works such as Upgrade that I point to in order to justify my rule regarding weak endings because I believe it to have the single worst one I’ve ever seen. The film had so many interesting things about it from the augmented humans running around to the novel take on the archetypal revenge plot. If it stuck the landing, I would’ve considered it one of the better films of the year. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, and by pretending its distinct brand of sophomoric edginess is innovative, it’s a poor effort all-around. I know there are worse films than Upgrade, but few succeeded in making me angrily storm out of the theater the instant the credits rolled.
With that out of the way, I’d say it’s about time we ditch the negativity and move onto the main attraction. Here is my list of what I feel to be the best films of 2018.
10. Mirai by Mamoru Hosoda
Mirai was the very first film of Mamoru Hosoda’s I had seen, and it immediately convinced me that he is one of the most talented animators of all time. It takes a very special talent to make a character as overtly irritating as Kun not only watchable, but also endearing. It’s also admirable how his character develops. He learns several important lessons throughout the film, but his character evolves in increments. Mr. Hosoda makes the case that while self-improvement is possible, you need to actively fight against your old habits and vices to make it happen. Other than that, much of the beauty of the film lies in its ambiguity. Is Kun going on these fantastic adventures or is it all in his imagination? There’s evidence for both possibilities, and the onus is on you to decide what is or isn’t real. This is a film that takes its audience seriously regardless of age, and it’s a better effort than most for it.
9. Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson
The Grand Budapest Hotel stands not only as one of the greatest films of the 2010s, but also Wes Anderson’s magnum opus. It couldn’t have been easy to follow up such a monumental film. Although I don’t think Isle of Dogs quite measures up to its predecessor, it still manages to stand out as one of 2018’s highlights. It was exceptionally rare to see an animated feature neither aimed towards children nor mature in the nominal, South Park sense of the term. Isle of Dogs hits a happy medium, and it’s all the more memorable for it. Even two decades after leaving his impact on the world of cinema with Rushmore, Wes Anderson proved he hadn’t lost his touch, giving us yet another film rife with great character moments and snappy dialogue.
8. Widows by Steve McQueen
For his follow-up to 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen revived a classic British television series, updating the setting in the process. Widows is an excellent crime drama in which its four characters find themselves in a dire situation with no obvious legal solution. You really get a sense of how the odds are against them and that nobody would ever expect these mostly unassuming people to pull off something as audacious as grand larceny. Helped along with a powerful third-act twist that wouldn’t have felt out of place in a certain classic film from the 1940s, I can declare Widows another solid addition to Mr. McQueen’s body of work.
7. Mandy by Panos Cosmatos
Ever wondered what would have happened if Andrei Tarkovsky directed Death Wish? We can never know for sure how such an outlandish scenario would pan out. However, I get the feeling the result would be highly similar to Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy. From a visual standpoint, it is absolutely stunning, perfectly capturing the otherworldly qualities of its premise. Of course, the real star of the show is none other than Nicolas Cage himself. He had been the butt of every other internet meme throughout the 2010s. The interesting thing is that his performance doesn’t have him drop what makes him so bizarrely fascinating. Instead, Mr. Cosmatos merely took that strange energy Mr. Cage exhibits and weaved a narrative outlandish enough to fit it. Such a feat sounds impossible, but the results are undeniable. Although one could argue Mandy takes a while to go anywhere, should you decide to stick it through to the end, you can rest easily knowing your patience will pay off in the best way possible.
6. A Simple Favor by Paul Feig
After I saw A Simple Favor in theaters, I remarked that unless Hollywood or A24 stepped up their game, it would end up in my top 10. They didn’t, so here it is. Paul Feig had a lot to prove after his controversial 2016 Ghostbusters reboot, and I am proud to say he bounced back big time with A Simple Favor. For reasons I won’t go into fully to avoid spoiling the films too much, I have to say A Simple Favor is an overall better version of Gone Girl. Its twists and turns are much more creative, and it has a likable, charismatic protagonist, which counts for a lot. It is a shame critics weren’t more enthusiastic about this film because it has a lot to offer anyone willing to give it a chance.
5. Searching by Aneesh Chaganty
I’ve remarked in the past that as far as storytelling goes, video games have been at their best whenever developers actively embrace the oddities of the medium rather than push them away. I feel a similar principle applies to Searching, for it is easily one of the most innovative films of the year. By acknowledging the pros and cons of social media and its users, Searching is a better effort than a significant chunk of its contemporaries. Having watched a fair share of Let’s Plays, I’ve always found there to be a lot of character in how the player interacts with the game, and I see a lot of that in this film. Aneesh Chaganty was clearly channeling Alfred Hitchcock when he made this film because you will be entranced every step of the way once the plot begins in earnest.
4. Sorry to Bother You by Boots Riley
To me, Sorry to Bother You was the film BlacKkKlansman tried and failed to be. I posit the main weakness with a lot of satirists is that they attempt to have their cake and eat it. They paint an exaggerated world while also attempting to pass it off as realistic human behavior. The other common pitfall is inserting timely references into their work, ensuring historians can date it to the exact year in which it was released. For his directorial debut, Boots Riley avoided both traps. He presents a world in which people have become complacent and foolish, but it takes place in an alternate history – as a development in the last third makes explicitly clear. Furthermore, while Spike Lee showed no restraint making BlacKkKlansman, Mr. Riley excised timely references from his own work, lending it a degree of applicability most 2010s satirical works simply don’t have. When it comes to art, it’s best to favor the story over the historical document.
3. The Hate U Give by George Tillman Jr.
There was no shortage of films tackling the touchy subject of race relations throughout 2018, and The Hate U Give reigns supreme over all of them. There are several reasons for this – many of which I’ve alluded to in the past. Although it has a clear message, it’s still ultimately a story first. It also has a degree of nuance many similar works lack. It doesn’t just condemn the weapons-grade racism associated with the far-right, it also calls out the subtle variety that often goes unnoticed. However, I think the primary reason it succeeds over a majority of its contemporaries is because it has the temerity to instill hope in its audience. Many times have I heard it argued that ending works like this on a feel-good note would give audiences the wrong message, tricking them into believing the problem has been solved. Though can certainly see the validity of that argument, many satirists overcorrected, painting utterly hopeless worlds and giving their audience the impression there’s nothing they can do. Angie Thomas had the right idea; approaching the problem with love in addition to an understandable anger is a much more effective way to get your audience to get out there and begin addressing any societal issue.
2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, & Rodney Rothman
If what I’ve seen of the nominated animated features is any indication, all of the best works of 2018 clearly ended up in the Oscar category traditionally taken less seriously. Even after six live-action Spider-Man films since the beginning of the twenty-first century, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse still managed to stand out as one of the most imaginative films of 2018. It continues to demonstrate what makes these comic-book adaptations so good. You get films based loosely on familiar comic book storylines, yet most of these directors know exactly how to go about adapting them for the silver screen. What the trio consisting of Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman created plays around with the Spider-Man lore in many creative ways, making something new out of familiar elements. Boasting an excellent cast with a great lead character and a writing staff unafraid to tackle heavy subjects, and you have yourself an instant classic.
Avengers: Infinity War by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Avengers: Infinity War, not Black Panther, was the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film of 2018. There isn’t anything wrong with Black Panther; it just simply couldn’t compare to Infinity War. However, I decided against including it on this list because when 2018 drew to a close, I could not render a verdict due to the manner in which it ended. There was a substantial amount of payoff in the long run, but we would have to wait a year before we saw much of this film’s goodwill amount to anything.
Bumblebee by Travis Knight
Nobody could’ve anticipated after ten years of disappointing live-action Transformers features, that Travis Knight, best known for having directed Kubo and the Two Strings, would be recruited to inject some much-needed heart into the series. While Bumblebee doesn’t quite make my top ten, that such a quality entry would surface coming off the heels of five terrible predecessors alone makes it worth checking out.
Free Solo by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi & Jimmy Chin
Free Solo is one of the greatest documentaries I’ve ever seen. The subject is given an interesting portrayal in that he is shown to be brave, yet is also a little selfish for being so lax about endangering his life. It doesn’t make the feat of free soloing El Captain any less impressive, however. It stands as both a technical marvel and as a remarkable feat of human endurance.
Tully by Jason Reitman
Do you enjoy those films that become a completely different experience upon watching it a second time? If so, Tully has you covered. It’s a film that takes a middle ground when it comes to discussing the themes of motherhood, portraying it in a fashion neither idyllic nor overly cynical. Seeing a take on such a universal experience that had actual nuance to it was highly refreshing.
A Quiet Place by John Krasinski
Forget Hereditary – A Quiet Place was 2018’s premier horror film. The 2010s wasn’t a good decade for science fiction, but it seemed to be a halcyon period for horror. Suddenly, we weren’t subjected to casts of unlikable idiots bumbling around until the obligatory slasher killed them off; directors with actual imaginations came up with some of the most creative scenarios the genre had ever seen. Certain journalists may dismiss A Quiet Place as an insipid, crowd-pleasing work, but there’s a lot more to it than that. It really says something about how invested people were that audience members lashed out at people noisily snacking in theaters. If that wasn’t enough, thanks to A Quiet Place and Bumblebee, Michael Bay ended up co-producing two quality films in the span of one year. It really goes to show that anything can happen in this medium.
First Man by Damien Chazelle
When one reads about the Apollo 11 incident, it’s easy to be subject to survivorship bias. Of course, Neil Armstrong would make it to the moon; he had the United States’ best and brightest guiding him every step of the way. What this film makes clear is that there were several failures on the road to success. Many brave astronauts who could have just as easily made it to the moon before Neil Armstrong perished in training missions and on the field. It’s important to remember the many sacrifices made along the way to this historic moment.
1. Leave No Trace by Debra Granik
During the 2019 award season, countless film journalists wrote think pieces lamenting the lack of female representation among the nominated directors. Although they realistically don’t really have much say in what does receive an Academy Award nomination, I feel they didn’t help their cause when they utterly failed to drum up any hype for Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace. It’s a shame that, given critics weren’t particularly interested in parsing stories in 2018, they let Leave No Trace fall by the wayside, for it is easily the best film of the year. It really does have it all. Its cinematography is astounding, perfectly capturing the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. The writing is exemplary as well. You get a sense of true humanity from these characters. They have many personal demons haunting them, but you’re only ever given the smallest glimpses into what drives them to live these lives. Whenever they make life-changing decisions, the narrative doesn’t go into too much detail, letting audiences draw their own conclusions. When you watch it, you really feel as though you’re reacting to these developments along with the characters, and it’s a journey you absolutely need to experience for yourself.
- Leave No Trace
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
- The Hate U Give
- Sorry to Bother You
- A Simple Favor
- Isle of Dogs