Maybe I'm biased. See, my wife gave birth to our first child, a girl. So 2018 has given me sparkly glasses and no matter what, 2018 was a win simply because my baby girl is in the world. That definitely kept me out of the theater this year though. The last half of the year, I barely walked into a movie theater. My year mainly was constructed on Netflix originals and movies as they hit video (can I even still use that term now? Is it Redbox? DVR? VOD?). With that said, I still managed to see 151 2018 releases this year. Knowing that I usually see around 160-170 when I'm at my most active, that 151 is actually not bad at all. (If you're curious what I watched, check out the following link, I always keep a list of all new releases I see in a year: https://www.imdb.com/user/ur26325354/watchlist?ref_=nv_wl_all_0) There is still plenty I missed, so who knows how this list will change in the future, but even in a good year, I don't see everything. You may also noticed I didn't write nearly as many reviews for the things I saw as I would have liked, but having a child slows you down, and for all the movies that appear on the list today that didn't get a review, I'll write up a decent capsule for you.
Having a baby definitely changes your life. Not just because I didn't go to the theater as often or I missed the Chicago Film Festival, because I can live without those things easily. Its the realization that there is a person you are responsible for. This person is always going to worry you; no matte how healthy they are, no matter how well they do in school, no matter what job they get, no matte how financially successful they are as an adult, I will always worry about her. I can do my best right now to teach her morality, good and bad, and raise her to be a good, honest, strong person. But there are going to years where she makes decisions herself, when I'm not around. That's definitely affected me going forward. I truly think that there are movies on this list that wouldn't be had I seen them before having a child. Heck, there are movies I saw years and years ago that feel like brand new experiences simply because of having a daughter. Its been a beautiful, thrilling, anxiety-ridden but all good roller coaster having a child.
But 2018 was an incredible year. A year where you didn't just see great movies, but you maybe felt seen by those movies. A year where anybody of any type of movie fan was satisfied. Whether you liked mainstream blockbusters or indie fair or award hopefuls or obscurities. Whether you like movies to take the whole family to or movies to ground yourself in. Every genre came to play, and there were favorites in the foreign and domestic arenas that shined bright this year. Some of the most expensive movies made my list this year, and one where it took a GoFundMe page just to get made.
A year this good deserves a list that represents that, and I'm not sure cutting the list down to ten serves 2018 justice. So this year, I am trying something new. I've got a list of five movies. These five movies tower over everything I saw this year. They are what made the year truly, truly special. Movies that have etched themselves into my heart for all time. These five movies I am setting aside to discuss, my top five of 2018. Then I will list 25 additional films alphabetically. These are movies I watched vigorously, or movies that had something special that made 2018 essential or something that hit me in a personal place. I'm a huge movie nerd, and I usually like more movies than I dislike. With so much to love in 2018, why not make a list that represents how great a year we had? I hope you enjoy this new twist to a Best-Of-The-Year list. Now lets take a look back at 2018.
The Top Five of 2018
If none of that sounds intriguing to you, at least see it for the fucking mutant bear scene.
Spike Lee is becoming more and more fascinating as he gets older. I also see that he's getting less and less likely to bash his agendas over your head, while still remaining righteously angry as makes film after film. On one surface, "BlackKklansman" is wild case of dramatic-comedy, so rich and so pulpy and that would have made my list. But what pushes it this high is well Lee is able to make a case for how things have barely changed in this country. No matter how well enlightened you think you are, privilege is real, race is still an issue and blacks still have it piss poor in this country. The ending showcasing the Charlottesville riots isn't misplaced at all. Its Spike Lee's stroke of pure genius.
The year's most beautiful film, but it might also go down as one of the most beautiful films ever made. Not bad for a modern black-and-white film. As far as Netflix originals go, this is a doozy and I can't believe a movie this good is only a click of a button away. But what else should I have expected from Alfonso Cuaron? The guy is telling the world that he is a cinematic genius, and we will look back at his career in awe when its all said and done. The main draw for me is that this is a movie that literally feels like Cuaron took the audience and put them inside someone's memories. I've never seen such a raw and rigorously realistic movie in my life. Its a brutally clear and brutally true portrait of class warfare and how we latch onto to the people in our life, because sometimes we have no choice. This could break a huge mold come award season and it absolutely deserves to be the movie to do it.
Is it just me, or all the great movies being hidden away this year? "Bodied" is a movie you can find only on YouTube right now. Too bad, because this could have easily been sold to the masses and it would have made a fortune. Produced by Eminem, it follows the story of a college student writing his college thesis paper on rap music, and goes to local rap battles for research. Turns out he can battle hard, and he rises through the local tournament. Let me mention right now that he's white and kind of dorky. Not only is this a goofier than usual comedy, not only is filled to the brim with style, but it also both criticizes and welcomes political correctness. Is it okay to say offensive things in a rap battle? How far is too far when you are representing yourself through spitting game? This is a much smarter movie than it looks and it has shocked my world ever since I saw it.
5. A Star Is Born
A few more years down the road, are we going to be calling Bradley Cooper the next Ben Affleck? Here's a guy who was an original English major graduate turned actor and now all of a sudden he can direct? Yes, believe it, Cooper looks like he has been making movies for years and no matter what you hear about this one, it deserves all the respect and praise its been getting the past few months. Both Cooper and Lady Gaga are huge talent discoveries here and they provid an unforgettable journey of music in this masterpiece.
The 25 Other Great Movies of 2018 (In Alphabetical Order)
Netflix just happened to be on fire this year. "22 July" tells the true story 2011 Norway terrorist attacks. One summer in 2011 in Norway, several teenagers met on an island for the countries annual Worker's Youth League organized by the ruling Labour Party. These are the future leaders of Normay and they are getting together to be groomed for some big occupations in their future. When they learn of a bombing on the mainland, things get a little shaky. But things get shaky to downright terrifying once a right-wing terrorist starts attacking the children. Sure, you can look at "22 July" and say well its just like any other terrorist-survival movie, I've seen it all before. Well, that's what I thought. But the slowly moving terror that pushes itself through the film hurts much more than any other move like it. The cast is all amazing from across the board. It is directed with just enough realism that it feels like your there, trying to survive with the other teenagers. And it leads to quasi-unexpected finish.
A Quiet Place
I don't mean to sound rude when I say this, so I will tread forward covering my ass with the familiar "with all due respect."But if you are clamoring over the already overrated "Bird Box" on Netflix, let me show you John Krasinski's vastly superior horror film that is similar to it. In "A Quiet Place" aliens or some kind of monster have taken over the Earth, and they are attracted to sound. A family has been building a new normal with sign language and a life of absolute silence. Things get crazier as the couple tries to bring another life into this dangerous world. "A Quiet Place" is a step above the rest because it takes full advantage of its idea. And Krasinski does an effortlessly magnificent job getting every scare and jolt from the audience, without any cheap thrills. The bathtub birth scene should be one of the most talked about scenes in any movie this year and Krasinski has emerged as a director for the ages.
A Simple Favor
Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, a food blogger with a dark past. She has a son and he quickly becomes fast friends with the son of Emily, played by Blake Lively. Emily and Stephanie also begin to come close and Stephanie seems to see things in Emily she wishes she had. Emily is rich, a free spirit, has a hunk of a husband. One day, Emily says that her husband is overseas and she has a business trip to attend and asks Stephanie to watch her son for a day. That day turns to almost a week, and it becomes clear that Emily is missing. Eventually Emily is found dead, and Stephanie and Emily's husband conduct an investigation of their own on what happened to Emily. This is a modern age neo noir with a bit of a Alfred Hitchock mystery vibe to it. But on another hand, its got some George Carlin black comedy to it too. This is blended into a one-of-a-kind experience full of laughs, twists and turns. Its also a great showcase for Lively and Kendrick.
Avengers: Infinity War
Marvel has officially done the unthinkable. They have built their massive crossover at last, and its crazy to think that they made it all look easy. I remember quite vividly back in 2008 and 2009, when all the naysayers were doing all their naysaying. I remember people saying that Marvel was crazy. There would be no way a movie like "The Avengers" would ever work. Would all the big name actors expect big salaries? Would the movie have to be four hours long? Would the effects work be off because of the money going to the actors? When "The Avengers" burst onto the screen in 2012, it shut everyone up and the superhero game in movies changed forever. "Infinity War" is the massive payoff for fans who have stayed loyal for ten years. This is what superhero movie making has been building up to and I am overjoyed that people are even allowed to make movies that look like this. I can only hope that now we've finally crossed a certain threshold, that this genre will only keep getting weirder and more awesome.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
If "22 July" and "Roma" somehow not get big nominations in the foreign film of this years award circuit, then hopefully the Coen Brothers masterpiece gets a shot at some big nominations. It certainly deserves it. It seems to me that The Coen Brothers are destined to be Western guys. Because anybody who can make a remake of a classic such as "True Grit" and actually make it not just watchable but great gets an ace in my book. Let's be honest too, "Blood Simple" and "No Country For Old Men" are just Westerns wearing disguises. In their latest movie, the Coens were able to cram every single myth, legend, cliche, norm and story structure from the Western mythos and somehow made an anthology that was eye-popping, joyous and entertaining. Yes, all the typical Coen quirks are here too, but this movie feels like sitting around a campfire and being wowed by some master storyteller, telling legend after legend, never missing a beat.
Sorry critics, but you severely missed the boat on "Beautiful Boy" and all the merits it highlights. Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet should be getting all kinds of nominations for their work in this hard-hitting, no-nonsense look at what happens when a young man becomes addicted to drugs and what a father toys with the realization that there is nothing he can do to save his child from a certain fate. Some argued over the movie being repetitive. Yes, okay, the boy in question relapses a lot over the course of the movie. But in doing so, the movie examines just how strong a hold drugs have over a user and no matter what you doing to better yourself, its easy to give into that hold. We feel the depression, we feel the slump in life, we feel like this boy had no other choice but to continue using until he destroyed all the trust he had in anyone or anything. This is as real as it gets, and I loved that the movie rubbed your nose in it.
In speaking of Marvel, not only did they create the crossover event of the century in 2018 but they completely shattered expectations this year too. There was a time in Hollywood where it was believed that only white people could sell tickets at the box office. That myth lasted much longer than I'm sure they'd care to admit. I know people as early as the 2000's who tried to get their movies greenlit but were told by studios that black actors couldn't be leads. Well, I'm sure "Black Panther" shut those people up for good. But "Black Panther" isn't just a superhero movie with a black cast. The way it plays with some very real world issues and anxieties through the skin of a superhero movie is both a pleasure and a miracle. Talking politics may be on everyone's nerves at this point, but its healthy in a big pop culture blockbuster like this. Simply put, these are the movies people see and they will be constantly rewarded by them afterward.
Here's the second most beautiful black-and-white movie of the year. An import from Poland, director Pawel Pawlikowski tells a romance that is supposedly based on the life of his parents. Tomasz Kot plays a choir director who discovers a vibrant young singer played by Joanna Kulig (who looks like a striking mixture of Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence). Set in the midst of the 1950's in Poland, when the Cold War was in full swing. These two people from different backgrounds and displaying conflicting temperaments, eventually fall in love with each other. Together, they navigate the world of traveling performances and how art, music and performance was viewed different during the Communist era in Poland. The film is well acted by Kot and Kulig, features some outstanding musical performances and creates a gorgeous portrait of a Communist country during the time. Not too many romances can knock me flat, but "Cold War" deserves kudos for never shying away from what it is.
I would have never expected that we would have got a spin-off movie from the Rocky franchise that was actually good. But the original "Creed" wasn't just good, but great in my opinion. Likewise, I would have never thought the sequel to the spin-off from the Rocky franchise would be any good, and it turned out being great. Michael B. Jordan was born to breathe life into the son of Apollo Creed, and he packed a punch in the first film. When Dolph Lundgren returns as Ivan Drago, bringing his son Viktor Drago to challenge Adonis Creed, it feels like a huge stunt in the movie. But the movie puts character first, and cooks up a relatable story about expectation, duty and pressure by those around us. Sure, you could argue that "Creed II" is just pieces of other Rocky movies, but I'm not sure that's entirely fair. The journey these characters go on tells something much different, and in a real, vibrant way that left me cheering throughout the entire film.
The violent rendition of Bugs Bunny returns and he's funnier, wackier and bloodier than ever before. Let's get real for a second guys. "Deadpool 2" probably won't win any major awards. Ever. I can't in good conscience call it an important movie. It's not going to change how you view the world or those around you (well, not in a serious way) and it doesn't challenge the status quo. Heck, it doesn't even do anything different within the superhero genre. "Deadpool 2" is here simply because of the overpowering entertainment factor it produces, and sometimes that's exactly what I am in the mood to watch. Ryan Reynolds was born to do this, and he impressively fits into this very bizarre corner of the Marvel/X-Men universe. He feels like a walking prank, but that's Deadpool at its best. This has been a remarkably strange ride, in the right possible way, and I want more, more, more.
I can't honestly believe I am putting a Michael Moore movie on my Best of list. Truly, I can't. I know the Conservative Elite will never forgive him for anything he's done, and I truly hate overly-emotional Michael Moore movies. But I must admit, he's getting looser and dare I say, wiser in his old age. He brings to light some things that have frustrated me about American politics, so much to the point that I feel I couldn't correctly articulate them. Now, I can just point to Moore's documentary when I need to. If you think this movie is just a massive screed against Trump, you're not entirely right. Moore is wise to break down exactly what both the Republicans AND the Democrats did for someone like Donald Trump to enter the White House. Believe it or not, its all our fault. Our political system has become a team sport, and not all of us have realized that the team we're playing for is a head attached to the same body of the team your playing against. And until the every-man who knows the world gets into some positions of power, we will continue getting taken advantage of. I would have never thought Moore would be the man to say that, and god bless him for it. According to how our future unfolds, this documentary may stand the test of time ("Fahrenheit 9/11 definitely has a big, fat 2004 stamped on its forehead) and if our political world continues down the toilet, we can successfully say that Moore warned us.
Ethan Hawke plays the pastor of a small-town New York church. One fine day, a woman (Amanda Seyfried) asks the pastor to consult her husband. She is pregnant and the father wants the baby killed. Not because he's not ready to be a father, not because he's a dead-beat, not because God or Satan is telling him to do it. But the father can't bear to bring a human life into an Earth that is slowly dying. No matter what anybody thinks of climate change, this father believes it and he doesn't want his daughter to see a world that breaks down like he expects it will. What happens next is a brilliant character study that challenges both religious faith and fact-based science. Hawke's pastor develops a crisis of conscience. Is there something the church should be doing in order to prevent the affects of climate change? Or is this God's will? God has killed humans before, its written in many verses of the Bible. So how do we know that God isn't doing it again? This is a shockingly well-done movie that both challenge and confirm your beliefs. Not many movies can stare difficult material like religion and science right in the eyes, but this film does without blinking. Ethan Hawke gives a career-high performance here, and Seyfried is more than willing to follow him.
The Hate U Give
I still stand by my statement that every American deserves to see this movie at least once. We are a country of differences, and those differences are supposed to make this country great. But sometimes, they have a way of bringing upon terrible despair. Sadly, black teenagers being killed by white police officers happen so frequently that the stories just bounce off of many of us now. "The Hate U Give" asks us all not to let these stories bounce off of us. Let's not stop talking about this just because its difficult or uncomfortable to talk about, otherwise teenagers will never stop dying. I have friends who are cops, I have a deep respect for the police. However, police are human beings and we are all responsible for our actions. We should hold those with so much power to those actions, not simply let them be because of who they are. But alas, "The Hate U Give" isn't meant to be divisive, quite the contrary. Its a movie that is begging all of us to never forget the value of all human life and that is an encouraging thought.
Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson has always been one of our best offbeat funnymen. But when he enters the world of stop-motion animation, that seems to fit him like a glove in a way I never expected. I'm sure he never did either. "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" remains one of the decades best from the 2000's. This year, Anderson delights and dazzles us again with "Isle of Dogs." I love this goofball Japan he creates and how all the countries dogs are shipped to an island due to a sudden influenza virus in dogs that may eventually harm humans. Its as strange a story Anderson can muster, but only he could find all the fun and silly charm in the story and make something memorable out of it. All of his usual friends, such as Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Anjelica Houston and Harvey Keitel all provide voices, ever expanding the discovery and style of this world Anderson has created, and one of the best ones yet.
If John Hughes was still making movies today, there is a chance one would have looked like "Love, Simon." It is pretty much a 21st Century John Hughes movie. Using every piece of technology and culture of the 21st Century but featuring every piece of humor, every wave of puberty, every need to find yourself, every difficult navigation of the angsty teenage years are well represented in this comedy. I'm sure there is a percentage of the population that will write this off completely, simply due to the movie's subject matter. And that's a shame. You certainly don't need to be gay in order to relate to romance or wanting to be loved or to crush on someone in particular. These are all real human emotions that the movie wisely crafts through a teenager trying to figure himself out. Its a thoughtful film full of charm.
If you asked me twenty years ago that I would eventually love what the "Mission: Impossible" movie universe would become, I would definitely laughed in your face. Now, I can hardly believe how far this franchise has come. Because let me tell you, its a freaking weird franchise. The first film is a mindbender, and even though I've seen it several times, I'd probably flunk a test on it. The second is this weird, dreamy, slow-motion, kung-fu ride that never felt like Mission: Impossible. The third film was a typical J.J. Abrams mystery box with no payoff. Then, in 2011, the franchise began to take a turn. Today, its not much a reaction to the Bond franchise, but its becoming a truer adaptation of the original television series. I love that its becoming a more team-oriented franchise, but with the flair of 21st Century action filmmaking. I also like that its starting to become a cohesive universe. "Fallout" is no doubt, the best of the bunch, a landmark example of how action filmmaking is done.
It was a great year for thrillers, and if one tried to describe "Searching," you could call it "Unfriended with a brain." The entire movie is set up so that you watching it through a computer or television screen. It opens with the audience finding out about a couple who have their first child, a daughter. As the daughter gets older, the mother gets sicker with cancer. By the time the daughter is in high school, the mother is dead. The father has no real idea of how to tackle the new family dynamic with his daughter or how to talk about his deceased wife with his child. One day, she disappears, and the father becomes hellbent on finding out what happened to her. Yes, the entire movie rides on a particular gimmick. But the twists and turns the movie follows are genuinely striking. You may remember John Cho from "Harold and Kumar" and "Star Trek" fame. He is electrifying as the lonely father looking for his daughter.
Sicario: Day of the Soldado
The years most unexpected sequel is also one of the best sequels in awhile. I never would have guessed after "Sicario" in 2015 that we'd ever get more story in that universe. I guessed wrong, and the results are truly amazing. I love a gritty, crime flick and both Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro seem game for anything that gets thrown at them. This story continues to submerge the audience in the difficult world of South American drug wars and just how blurred the battle lines are in this fight. No other film surprised me more with just how remarkably watchable it was and just how much stock there is in this potential franchise. Who knows if we'll get more movies in this franchise, but I only hope they are told with the power this one does.
Sorry To Bother You
By 2018, I've been told repeatedly by many people that all the world's mysteries have been solved. There is really no originality in anything anymore. I can honestly say I buy that, especially in the world of movies. Its not often I can point to a movie screen and tell you I've seen something new. "Sorry To Bother You" may look like a mere social satire at first glance, and for most of its runtime, it is just that. A young black man takes a job as a telemarketer and slowly climbs to the top of the business when creates a "white voice" to greet people with. But what begins as a social satire takes a super hard left turn by the end of the movie, and becomes something so unexpected, its kind of hard not to love it. The is something that feels original, something that feels so rare these days. I firmly believe for that reason alone, you should track this one down and see it just once.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
When I say that I can't wait to see how weirder superhero movies get in the future, I am also talking about what I saw in this latest "Spider-Man" adventure. Something like the multiverse is a crazy concept, and not something that would be easily accessible to many people who have never picked up a comic book in their life. So its a minor miracle that "Into The Spider-Verse" does such a nice job explaining the multiverse and how a team of Spider-men (and women...and pigs) can come together for the greater good. Making it a fun-filled, hilarious movie that's great for everyone is just icing on the cake. With this and "Infinity War" we are seeing the language of superhero films change and its healthy upbringing.
Three Identical Strangers
As someone who was adopted, this movie set me on edge and I haven't been able to shake it ever since watching it. It starts as coincidental true story that's stranger than you'd think. A boy shows up to first year of college, only to constantly be mistaken by someone who transferred to a different college. These two boys get together and find out they are twins, put up for adoption by the same family. When their story reaches the press, they find out they have a third brother. They are triplets given up for adoption to three different families. They become friends, start hanging out and its a silly at first. But when the presents the reason why the triplets weren't allowed to be adopted together, you are reminded just how cruel and cold this world can be at times and what people are willing to do in the name of research and science. Its an experience that nearly broke me, a wild true story in a world full of wild true stories.
This movie had one of the best cold openings all year. A cop who had just lost his mother is speaking at her funeral. And he wants to do a special dance that reminds him of his mother at her funeral. But he can't keep his emotions together, and he's a crying wreck and on top of it all, he can't get his boom box to work. Its a scene where you can't figure out if you feel bad for the guy or if you should laugh at how ridiculous the scene is. Its one of the many highlights in "Thunder Road." Jim Cummings plays Jim, the cop whose life is falling apart. He loses his mom, he's divorced, he shares custody of his daughter with his former spouse...and its all overwhelming. Jim Cummings not only stars, but directed and wrote this comedy. But its also a brilliant character study of masculinity and what makes a man in this day and age. Jim Cummings originally made this as a short film and began a GoFundMe campaign to get this movie made. It cost him $200,000 to make, and its a perfect example of the American Dream in this business. Its also quite the time at the theater.
Writer and director Adam McKay has had his hand in several Will Ferrell comedies. So he garnered much attention with "The Big Short." "The Big Short" was also a comedy, but it was pretty clear just how angry McKay was that a bunch of rich assholes ripped off the entire nation and drove us into a recession. Then somehow just walked away. In 2018, it appears that McKay wants to be the comedic Oliver Stone and I have absolutely no problem with that at all. I know Daniel Day-Lewis gets lots of acclaim for being a method actor and I wish the same acclaim would be heaped on Christan Bale. He absolutely disappears into the role of Dick Cheney. And he easily bounces off the Southern charm of Sam Rockwell's George W. Bush. Its a masterful performance and no surprise that he's being lauded this awards season.
The year's best cast leads the charge in this badass, brutal crime film about a group of widowed women who have to pay back a crime boss after their criminal husbands are killed in a botched job. With Viola Davis and Michelle Rodriguez in the lead, its hard to go wrong. But when you add Liam Neeson, Robert Duvall, Colin Ferrell, Carrie Coon, Garrett Dillahunt, Jon Bernthal, Jackie Weaver and bunch of other great actors, its an overwhelmingly good time. A special shoutout to Daniel Kaluuya for playing a creepy villain in this already amazing thriller.
Won't You Be My Neighbor?
We live in dark and disturbing times. And in the world we live in, we could use more people like Fred Rogers. This glorious documentary not only highlights what made Fred Rogers such a good person, but how he saw television as a tool for education. At the time, nobody was willing to take children's shows seriously, and Rogers was able to navigate that better than anyone, creating something entertaining, educational and warm all in equal measure. He was a man who told us not to focus on the superficial when meeting people, to not shy away from the emotions you were feeling at any given time. How many people can you truly think of that were so positive about everything at any given time? Like I said, we need more Fred Rogers' in the world. For now, I'll challenge all my readers to exercise at closes this documentary. Think of one person who left a positive, good stamp on your life. Take one minute out of your day and think of only that person and what they did for you. Its a truly captivating and emotional experience, and more of what I think people need right now. We all could focus on the good things in life, and Rogers taught us to like them just the way they are. Because they're perfect.
That's the list. As you can see, what a stellar year we had. One I miss now that its gone.
I've got more annual year-end lists coming, so keep an eye out.
Happy new year all.