Another year come, another year gone in movies. More than anything, 2018 in cinema was…weird. We started the year with MoviePass as the Wild Wild West, and we ended the year with MoviePass as the app that allows you to see the 10am showing of Instant Family and only that. It was a year where rom-coms returned and superhero movies became fun again! And by all accounts, this was a monster year for documentaries and foreign films too. (The only one I checked out in either category was Roma.) But overall this felt like a mostly down year for traditional, narrative-driven, English-language films. Your Oscars guesses are as good as mine. Still, there was a lot to really like in movies this year, and even some stuff to love. I’m headlining this blog with my obligatory, movie-critic-wannabe Top 10 of the Year. (I used to rank movies both objectively and subjectively, but that got confusing even for me, so now I’ve lumped them together.) But I’m also including the best and worst of other categories – some of the awards show variety, others made up by yours truly. I saw about fifty 2018 releases, and here’s what I thought about them.
(Haven’t-Yet-Seen Notables: Bad Times At The El Royale, Blindspotting, Burning, Halloween, If Beale Street Could Talk, Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Ocean’s 8, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Support the Girls, The Rider)
TEN BEST MOVIES
10. Ready Player One
No, I haven’t read the book. I haven’t read most books, if you’re asking. So I went into this movie completely blind, and two hours later I emerged with possibly my favorite theater experience of the year. A meditation on how CGI action can actually be awesome, Ready Player One is an absolute visual delight. Are the characters underdeveloped and is the story far too reliant on exposition? Sure. But this movie is proof that Steven Spielberg can still capture our imaginations, and that’s worth a whole lot.
I’m not sure if Spike Lee ever lost it, but if he did, well then he’s found it. A tonal mashup like no other in 2018, BlacKkKlansman tries to be a ton of different things at once, and it succeeds on most levels. And that’s including a tie-in to reality at the credits that hits devastatingly hard. Occasionally Spike swings and misses and a few scenes bothered me, but this is an incredibly well acted movie that manages to be haunting and hilarious at the same time. (Responsible for my loudest laugh in a theater this year.)
8. Paddington 2
Yup, I’m eating the marmalade too. I was late to the game, but these movies are just as wonderful as everyone says they are. I slightly prefer the original to the sequel, but Paddington 2 is still the best Wes Anderson movie that Wes Anderson movie didn’t actually make. You know in the back of your heart that nothing harmful can actually happen to Paddington, but that doesn’t stop you from worrying sick at all times about the well being of this polite bear from Darkest Peru. And DO NOT even get me going on the ending. Good lord, I still can barely handle it.
7. A Star Is Born
After an onslaught of a marketing campaign and Oscar buzz for Lady Gaga that feels like it started in 2017, A Star Is Born annoyed me before I even saw it. But then about halfway through the movie after that scene (more on it later), I thought to myself, “oh, so this might be the best movie ever.” That ended up definitely not being the case after a flawed second half, but I was still blown away by the final product. The soundtrack, the acting, the direction – I still can’t believe that Bradley Cooper actually delivered.
6. Avengers: Infinity War
For about 95% of the movie, I was properly satisfied with Infinity War. The Russo Brothers balanced all of the characters really well, there were some great fight scenes, Thor’s arrival on Wakanda was electric – it all did the job. Then that ending happened. The one that probably didn’t change the game but still feels like it changed the game. It was so bold and unexpected, and it instantly vaulted Thanos into elite villain territory. Who cares if its sequel is already being promoted? Let’s enjoy Infinity War as long as we can.
5. Black Panther
For as much as I obviously liked Infinity War, sometimes the Marvel Cinematic Universe can feel too big. So for a self-contained story like this to debut right beforehand while being the most original and thought-provoking entry in the MCU yet…yeah I’m a big fan. Undoubtedly the movie event of the year, Black Panther deserves all of its hype. Cool and funny with a great cast of characters and maybe the best world building…ever? More of this, please.
4. First Man
I’m not sure how this happened, but Damian Chazelle managed to make the most underrated movie of 2018. I think it was overlooked because it’s not an Apollo 13-style adventure or Americana propaganda, but it’s all the better for it. Instead focusing deeply on the private life of one of our lesser-known American heroes, Ryan Gosling plays a subtle yet strong Neil Armstrong with Claire Foy knocking it out of the park as his wife. The cinematography is a work of art and the score is my favorite of the year. I’m not sure that First Man reaches Chazelle’s heights of Whiplash and La La Land, but it’s definitely not far off.
3. First Reformed
Best performance of Ethan Hawke’s illustrious career? Check. A screenplay with genuinely profound themes and the best dialogue of the year? Check. Gorgeous camera work? Check. An ending that is so surreal that you’ll have no clue what the hell you just watched? Check. To some, First Reformed and its dearth of action might be too slow. But for others like me, this movie is mesmerizing and has been on the mind since the summer.
2. Crazy Rich Asians
About 30 minutes into Crazy Rich Asians, I was surprised by how much fun I was having. But everything that I had come to learn about movies told me that there was no way the fun could last. But then, something happened. The movie got…even better? Seriously, in addition to simply being a blast of a movie, Crazy Rich Asians is absolutely terrific. The characters and the performances are excellent, the screenplay is sharp and hilarious, the production and costume designs are beautiful, the music is perfect…I could keep going. With multiple starmaking performances and the foundation established for sequels, Crazy Rich Asians feels like the start of something huge. And I am HERE for it.
1. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Despite all of my glowing words for the previous nine movies, there was only one film in 2018 that will probably go down as an all-timer for me, and that movie is Fallout. One of my personal highlights of 2018 was binging the first five Mission: Impossible movies in anticipation of Fallout, and then having it exceed all of my wildest expectations. Forget the stunts and the action scenes being the best of the franchise. They are some of the best the genre has ever seen. Even the characters are great! Henry Cavill’s August Walker was an excellent addition, and Ilsa Faust continues to be the best non-Ethan character in the franchise. I’m not sure if Fallout is perfect, but it was as close as we got to perfection in 2018.
Just Missed The Cut: Widows, A Quiet Place, Leave No Trace, Searching
FIVE MOST DISAPPOINTING MOVIES
I don’t see the appeal in going out of my way to pay for then spend two hours watching a bad movie, so these are definitely not the five absolute worst movies of the year. These are just the five worst movies that were either intriguing in some way or I thought could be good.
5. Borg vs McEnroe
I was really amped about this movie, being a huge tennis fan and someone who thinks Bjorn Borg’s story needs to reach a bigger audience. But Borg vs McEnroe has a ton of problems, starting with its title. Shia LaBeouf plays a good John McEnroe, but he’s in the movie for maybe 15 minutes. It’s all about Borg, which could have been a good thing but they don’t do anything interesting or provide any new information. Between that and the subpar tennis scenes, I couldn’t help but think the entire time how it would have been better as a 30 for 30. Maybe next time actually consult the subjects of the film?
4. Bohemian Rhapsody
I’m trying to decide on the scene that best encapsulates this movie. Is it when Freddie Mercury watches a trucker go into a rest stop bathroom, then all of a sudden he’s gay? Or when his friend sees some white dust on his living room table, then all of a sudden he has a drug problem? Or maybe when Freddie decides the band should go disco, then all of a sudden the “Another One Bites The Dust” bass riff is written? It’s an absolutely preposterous script that takes so many liberties, yet it somehow still manages to be a cookie-cutter take on one of the wildest rock bands ever. An admirable performance from Rami Malek and the impressive Live Aid recreation don’t save this from being one of the dumbest blockbusters in recent memory.
3. Isle of Dogs
The stop-motion animation is cool. I liked the score a lot. That’s where my compliments end. It’s the most painfully Wes Anderson movie in years. The story is quirky in the most boring way and his stupid humor falls completely flat. I honestly wanted to punch him in the face by the end of this movie.
I can’t really remember what convinced me to see Venom, since the reviews were terrible and I thought the trailers looked like garbage. And boy, was I right! This movie did practically nothing well. Tom Hardy gives a truly bizarre performance that I’m still unsure about, and his screen chemistry with Michelle Williams is some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Throw that on top of one of the least compelling villains ever, bad action, and a PG-13 screenplay that tried its hardest to be edgy, and you have this dumpster fire of a film.
1. Sicario: Day of the Soldado
Of all the movies that I saw in 2018, there was only one that I truly resented, and that was Sicario: Day of the Soldado. Sicario is one of my favorite movies of the last decade, and it’s quite possibly the single last movie that I desired a sequel for. All of the tension, emotion, and ambiguity of the original is essentially replaced with, “what if we made the border seem…cooler?” Characters are developed in ways that actually make them far less compelling, the stakes are almost always unclear, and the movie ends with a scene that has the subtext of “we’re going to milk every single cent out of this franchise.” When Denis Villeneuve and Emily Blunt, possibly the hottest director and actor going in Hollywood right now, both pass on your sequel…then maybe don’t make one?
Just Missed The Cut: Ant-Man and the Wasp, Vice
TWENTY BEST PERFORMANCES
20. Ike Barinholtz (Blockers)
Barinholtz rolling up to his daughter’s pre-prom party while standing out of a limo sunroof, holding sparklers, and yelling “Taio Cruz!” was nothing short of movie magic.
19. Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Great to see McCarthy finally get a lead role that doesn’t ask her to just do slapstick. (She’s still really funny in this movie.) Hoping to see her get an Oscar nomination.
18. Michelle Yeoh (Crazy Rich Asians)
You’re lying if you say you weren’t terrified of Yeoh in this movie. Even thinking about that mahjong scene makes me nervous. Perfect casting here.
17. Jason Isaacs (The Death of Stalin)
Isaacs doesn’t appear in The Death of Stalin until about an hour into the movie, but he comes in like a wrecking ball. He takes over every scene that he’s a part of.
16. John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)
I think we can stop calling him “Denzel’s kid” now.
15. Blake Lively (A Simple Favor)
As someone who watched all of Gossip Girl in 2018, I saw a lot of Blake Lively this year. Let’s just say her acting this time around is…much better.
14. Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)
I wasn’t nearly as high on The Favourite as most, but the acting is great across the board. My favorite performance of the bunch was from Weisz, who nails the publicly steely, privately vulnerable act.
13. Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible – Fallout)
The guy is 56 years old and doing helicopter stunts and jumping out of airplanes from extremely unsafe altitudes. I don’t care that it’s not traditional acting. It’s incredible.
12. Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace)
No one born in the 21st century has any business being this good at acting already. She’s going to be around for a looooong time.
11. Elizabeth Debicki (Widows)
I didn’t even know Debicki’s name before seeing Widows, and now I want her cast in everything. Definition of a scene-stealer.
10. Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
All right, let’s talk about Gaga’s performance, because she’s going to win a trillion awards. Would I give them all to her? Probably not. I think her newness to the screen is evident during some intimate, conversation-driven scenes. But that doesn’t mean that she’s not goddamn amazing in this movie. Her vocal performances are the stuff of icon status. She was already a legend, but this just added to it.
9. Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
We’ve reached the territory of names that I will be actively rooting for at the Oscars. Grant is so insanely good and funny in this movie, and he compliments Melissa McCarthy perfectly. My favorite chemistry of the year.
8. Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)
God bless Elsie Fisher for taking on this role. In one of the more awkward movies in recent memory, Fisher doesn’t shy away during the tough scenes and manages to win over everyone in the process. Casting actual young teens to play young teens…actually good!
7. John Cho (Searching)
This movie has such a batshit premise that I don’t even think it works with an average lead performance. But Cho goes so far beyond average that the movie doesn’t only work, but it became one of the year’s best. For a longtime actor who is still perhaps most famous for a character literally named “MILF Guy #2,” I hope Cho gets the recognition he deserves here.
6. Toni Collette (Hereditary)
I wasn’t crazy about Hereditary as a whole, mainly because of how far it goes off the deep end with its ending. So having Colette ranked this high, and as the top lead female performance of the year, should speak to how transcendently good she is in this role. Simply put, it’s one of the best performances ever within the horror genre.
5. Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Elliott is only in a handful of scenes in A Star Is Born, but my god does he make all of them count. In what might be the best pound-for-pound performance of the year, Elliott is devastating as Bradley Cooper’s much older brother. If he wins some hardware during awards season, don’t frame it as a lifetime achievement thing. He deserves everything he gets for this performance.
4. Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
What Driver does in this movie is insane. He’s basically playing two characters: one is a cop who’s trying to take down the local chapter of the KKK while understanding the hardships faced by his African-American partner, and the other is a buffoon who joins that chapter of the Klan. AKA, polar opposites. And not only does Driver make it work, but he’s hilarious in the process without the performance ever feeling insensitive. Even with a Best Supporting Actor class as loaded as this year’s is, Driver stands out.
3. Claire Foy (First Man)
There are a lot of things that make First Man work as well as it does, but nothing more than the dynamic between Ryan Gosling and Foy. As Gosling’s Neil Armstrong remains stoic throughout the movie to an unnerving degree, Foy’s Janet Armstrong slowly breaks down, and it is captivating to watch. From her accent to her delivery, everything about this performance works. Let’s hope the Academy agrees.
2. Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
There’s commitment, and then there’s what Bradley Cooper did for A Star Is Born. He learned and mastered multiple instruments, became a legitimately good singer, nailed that deep drawl, and transformed himself to look like a member of Kings Of Leon after a weeklong bender. And I haven’t even mentioned his acting yet. We always knew he could do that, but his breakdown in rehab scene might be the pinnacle of his career so far. Rami Malek might edge Cooper for awards for a performance where he wore fake teeth and lip-synced to Queen hits. Please don’t do that.
1. Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)
Narrowing this list to twenty performances and ranking 2-20 was tough, but this part was easy. Undoubtedly the top performance of the year, Hawke is this movie. Playing a priest who is in the midst of both a physical and a mental crisis, Hawke claws you in and doesn’t let go. Even though you know that things can’t end well for his character, it never stops being hypnotizing. It’s dumb that Ethan Hawke has never won an Oscar. It will be a crime if he still doesn’t have one after this year.
Just Missed The Cut: Ben Foster (Leave No Trace), Sunny Suljic (Mid90s), Jesse Plemons (Game Night), Olivia Cooke (Thoroughbreds), Lakeith Stanfield (Sorry To Bother You), Armie Hammer (Sorry To Bother You), Josh Hamilton (Eighth Grade), Michael B. Jordan (Creed 2), Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns), Tim Blake Nelson (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Na-kel Smith (Mid90s), Hugh Grant (Paddington 2), Ronny Chieng (Crazy Rich Asians), Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War), Jude Law (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald)
FIVE WORST CHARACTERS
It’s usually tough to separate a performance from a hopeless role, so these are the characters that sucked the most in 2018.
5. i-R0k (T.J. Miller, Ready Player One)
It’s a miracle that Ready Player One turned out as good as it did after spending so long in production hell. But they didn’t completely avoid problems during that time, because T.J. Miller fell out of favor with just about everybody by the time the movie was released. Playing a character who barely serves a purpose beyond comic relief becomes an issue when the actor just isn’t very funny.
4. Rez Gavron (Rafi Gavron, A Star Is Born)
If you are asking yourself who this is, he is Ally’s manager. Not only is this character random and poorly acted, but it’s pretty evident that he only exists to push Jackson Maine to his inevitable conclusion.
3. Topsy (Meryl Streep, Mary Poppins Returns)
Man…I HATED this character. I’m not sure if Meryl inserted herself into the movie or if Disney demanded it, but I figure it has to be something like that because this character’s existence just makes no sense. It’s such an unnecessary ten-minute detour to meet Topsy, who has a stupid accent for some reason and is the center of one of the more forgettable numbers of the movie. If Topsy was in more than one scene, then she probably would have been at the top of this list.
2. Martin Addison (Logan Miller, Love, Simon)
I really liked Love, Simon, but I did have a few problems with the movie, and they basically all regard Martin. He’d probably be on this list just for being so unfunny and cringy, but he ranks second because he also VINDICTIVELY OUTS SIMON AND KINDA TOTALLY GETS AWAY WITH IT. Like, one of the meaner things you can possibly do to a person, and the only consequence was that he got yelled at a little bit.
1. Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, Venom)
I’m not sure what’s the worst part about Carlton Drake: the lifeless writing of the character, the bizarre decision to cast Riz Ahmed for it, or Ahmed’s completely unconvincing performance. As uncool and unimposing as a villain can possibly be, it’s fitting that it happened in a Venom movie, because this performance joins Topher Grace’s portrayal of Venom from Spider-Man 3 as one of the worst ever.
Just Missed The Cut: Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins, Ant-Man and the Wasp), Goh Wye Mun (Ken Jeong, Crazy Rich Asians), Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy, Venom), Paul Prenter (Allen Leech, Bohemian Rhapsody), Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy, Unsane)
TEN BEST SCENES
(SPOILERS AHEAD, OBVIOUSLY)
10. X-Force Takes Flight, Deadpool 2
9. Charlie Leans Out The Window, Hereditary
8. The Ending, Paddington 2
7. The Opening, A Quiet Place
6. The Beach Rescue, Roma
5. The Drive Through The Neighborhood, Widows
4. Thanos Snaps His Fingers, Avengers: Infinity War
3. The Bathroom Fight, Mission: Impossible – Fallout
2. The Moon Landing, First Man
1. “Shallow,” A Star Is Born
(Not the actual scene, but closest I could find.)
Just Missed The Cut: Cash Raps For The Room (Sorry To Bother You), The Race (Ready Player One), The Wedding (Crazy Rich Asians), “BROTHER FUCKER!” (A Simple Favor), Tom Says Goodbye (Leave No Trace), Toller Talks To Michael (First Reformed), Elastigirl Saves The Train (Incredibles 2), “Always Remember Us This Way” (A Star Is Born), Prom Party Arrival (Blockers), Killmonger Robs The Museum (Black Panther), Stevie Goes For The Jump (Mid90s), Thor Arrives On Wakanda (Avengers: Infinity War), The Screaming Bear (Annihilation), Sharing A Pizza (Set It Up), The Pool Party (Eighth Grade), Blaming Beria (The Death Of Stalin), “Can You Imagine That?” (Mary Poppins Returns)
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