In 2018 I saw 48 movies that were released, most of them in theaters but a surprising amount (7) were Netflix only releases, 8 if you count one big one that I sought out in theaters before it came out on Netflix. Even though I saw a fair amount of theatrical releases I was a little more selective than previous years and as such I don’t feel I really saw any “BAD” movies. The bottom of my list while not enjoyable to me were still very well made and I didn’t feel like it was a waste of money to see them. I guess what I’m trying to say is, it was a good year for movies in my eyes. This list isn’t necessarily a ranking, meaning this isn’t a “BEST MOVIES OF THE YEAR” list. I recognize there might be better and even some of the ones I picked probably won’t win any major awards These are just the movies I enjoyed the most.
Before I get into the list itself I wanna give a shout out to a couple of movies that even though they didn’t make the list were pretty great and each had some fantastic moments. A Star is Born, not just for the Lady Gaga “AAAAAHHHHAAAAAAAAAAH-AH-AAAAAH” moment but everything Sam Elliott did in this movie was absolutely amazing, especially that scene where he’s backing out of the driveway. Mid90s for making me feel like an old man and really nailing the joy of landing an ollie for the first time. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs for the gold prospector short, just all of it. Annihilation for the boar creature. Creed II for having the best father/son relationship of any movie ever and the whole “one foot in the tire” part of the training montage. If Beale Street Could Talk for delivering a crushing blow in a beautiful package. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society for being a heartwarming surprise and cementing Lily James on my “I’ll see any movie if this actor is in it” list. Lastly, Bad Times at the El Royale for having some of the coolest musical moments in a movie in a long time and revealing just how long Chris Hemsworth’s torso is.
Anyway, onto the list.
There ARE spoilers to this, so fair warning.
10. Eighth Grade.
Man, this movie was an experience.
There were so many moments in this movie that were just almost visceral experiences that reminded me of what it was like to be that age and I’m not even a woman! The scene in the car where Kayla is so incredibly uncomfortable and intruded upon by the older kid made me feel so powerless and afraid and something that as a man I’ve never really felt before. What stayed with me the most about that scene though was that “TECHNICALLY” nothing happened. She wasn’t touched inappropriately and the kid didn’t “say” anything bad, so if she were to tell people I’m 100% many of them would have been like “So? What’s the big deal?” and that made me so angry.
They also highlighted how kids use the internet these days in the sense of it being really a curated version of yourself and more aspirational than anything else. Instagram and Youtube are really who you WANT to be and who you wish others would see you as. Even the strangeness of the whole “content” generation aspect of the modern internet is kinda shown in the movie. I never felt more seen than when Kayla’s videos get literally 12 views but she keeps pumping them out.
Standout Moment: The pool party scene. The music, the camera, the cuts everything about it was so perfect and it was another one of those “crawl out of your skin” moments. This is also where she met her nice friend who procured all the dipping sauces from McDonald’s so that’s a plus.
9. Black Panther
T’Challa has a soft spot in my heart. To me he was like Iron Man if Iron Man wasn’t an alcoholic and also a head of state. Marvel I think captured him really well and Chadwick Boseman, despite being 41(!), does a great job of playing the young monarch but the real standout in this movie is Michael B Jordan’s Killmonger. From the moment he’s introduced taking back artifacts from an anthropology museum to his last scene, Killmonger rules every scene he’s in. Having him as the antagonist forces T’Challa to come to face with the fact that his country for all its greatness has failed in being a true “city on a hill” especially for people who look like him in America. Killmonger takes the cowl of the Black Panther by traditional means and then just about destroys all future potential Black Panthers which I think was another way in which he forces Wakanda to recognize their leader maybe shouldn’t be chosen by ritual combat? In any case, Killmonger is the true revolutionary force and largest agent of change in this movie and has just about the coolest death scene of any character in any Marvel movie.
Oh yeah, it’s a Marvel movie and it BARELY felt like one. That soundtrack too.
**Standout Moment: The M’Baku tribe showing up to stand with T’Challa got me so pumped. **
8. First Reformed
This movie touched so many of the things that resonated with me in this year that for most of the movie I was even shocked that I was watching a Hollywood movie and not listening to some “liberally Christian podcast”. From the very real anxiety of stewardship of the planet and how that itself is a spiritual issue that very few churches are speaking on, to the growing corporatization of American churches and the difficulties of praying. There’s a great line in the movie where Ethan Hawke’s character says "How easily they talk about prayer, those who have never really prayed” which was so refreshing to see it spoken of in a movie in this way. In
America and American Nationalized Churches, Jesus is spoken of in a way like he’s there but it doesn’t really affect your life and this movie showed that more than anything.
The tone of the movie is (to me) one of despair and seeking and it’s brilliant that it’s the old church the relic, the souvenir shop that is the place where Ethan Hawke’s Toller is having a crisis of faith and ultimately a revelation and renewal in his faith. A lot has been said about the ending of this movie,whether it’s all a fantasy or not. Even with the director refusing to answer that question, to me it was definitely very real, he didn’t drink the cup, the kiss happened, and was a punctuation to mark the end of his crisis. Just a great movie.
**Standout Moment: The discussion Reverend Toller has with Michael in their first encounter. **
7. Paddington 2
I saw Paddington 2 back in January of last year and for a long time it was my favorite movie of the year because everything about it is so good. It’s emotion, the visuals, the dialogue, the humor, the villain. It’s all so well done. My favorite thing about this movie as a whole though is that Paddington looks for the good in everyone. No one is evil for the sake of being evil and every character has some sort of depth that Paddington is willing to find in them. That’s a hell of a lesson, especially in this year. It was something I needed to be reminded of more and more as the year went on.
When I first saw this movie I lamented that it was marketed as a children’s movie because I feared people would miss out on it. This is still a very real concern to me and I always tell anyone who asks “What’s good to watch on Netflix?” to see Paddington 2, and I’m doing it again.
Standout Moment: Paddington imagining showing Aunt Lucy around London as he turns the pages on the pop up book...and the ending. I cried.
6. First Man
Astronauts and Test Pilots have been presented as brave pioneers, bold men who are larger than life and boldly push the technological envelope in the latest and greatest machine the brightest minds in the country have come up with. Their praises have been sung so much that there’s a whole generation of people who idolize them. First Man confronts that larger than life hero stereotype and shatters it, revealing that while these men are brave there’s nothing glamorous about it. In fact every time Ryan Gosling was in an aircraft or spaceship of some kind I had a tremendous amount of anxiety and just wanted the scene to end. Closed quarters janky camera, metal creaking about to rip apart, I have no idea why anyone would do that other than having a death wish...and that’s what this movie tried to explore.
To make this after La La Land took some guts by Damien Chazelle and I can’t imagine how many people walked in expecting to see Ryan Gosling tap dancing on the moon but instead were treated to anxiety inducing ship shots and a Neil Armstrong that was so quiet and incapable of communicating his emotions that when he talks to his children about his mission to the moon it’s exactly like a press conference. That being said, I loved that moment specifically and also applaud Chazelle for including some of the public outcry at the time about how much money was being spent on the space program at a time when the civil rights movement was in full effect.
I read somewhere that Chazelle wanted to make this movie after he heard that once up in the moon, Neil Armstrong stood above a crater and just stared at it quietly for a couple of minutes so he wanted to explore what might have happened at that moment. The whole movie built to that scene. It was perfect in showing how historically amplified men are still just simply men, with all their faults and shortcomings.
Standout Moment: Arriving on the moon and shifting from grainy film to crystal clear widescreen HD.
5. You Were Never Really Here
I think this is one of the coolest shot movies I’ve ever seen. From the very beginning when we see Joaquin Phoenix's Joe for the first time walking out of a seedy motel, the camera dancing around or at times being close to him or following behind and the colors looking so perfect when the title screen came out. I was just enamored with the style, and it just got better.
This movie is very violent but there’s this thing that it does where it will show Joe walking up to a guy hammer in hand, cut away before he does anything, and cut back with the guy spread out on the floor unconscious. I think this makes him seem even more brutal than anything we could possibly see on screen. The mind fills in the gap with horror. It’s brilliant. What’s also fantastic is how the movie shows how this brutal man can be so kind and gentle with his old mother.
Just stylish, cool, exceptionally paced, and with some of the best camera work in any movie. I’ve heard this called a 21st century Taxi Driver as a knock on it, but I don’t see it as such cus even First Reformed is a bit of that too…
Standout Moment: When Joe is sitting on the floor with the dying secret service guy, sharing a moment with one of the few people who understands him and what he does. Both the same guy just on opposite sides
4. Sorry To Bother You
So many of the movies that resonate with me this year seem to have some sort of angry energy to them, or if not angry at the very least showing some “fed upness” and Sorry To Bother You is full of it. Boots Riley’s directorial debut is an absurdist take on America but these absurdities reveal way more truth than distort it. It shows how much capitalism has warpedthe minds of people, how heinous acts are justified in the names of profitability and CEOs are hailed as emissaries of God on the streets. Protests are memefied and commodified in an instant and are also generating profits for companies and that’s seen as completely normal. It’s a powerful movie. There are moments when you think “that would never happen” then your thoughts very quickly shit to “Wait, that’s kind of already happening”.
The ending of the movie is really it’s only weak point, a little too on the nose, but I don’t care. By the time the ending comes around enough has been shown and said that it’s forgivable in my book. More so than any other movie this year Sorry To Bother You spoke to my anxieties and discomfort of living how I currently do and showed me there are others who do so too...now if only I knew what to do next.
Standout Moment: So Many strange moments...Cassius “singing” at the party has to be it though. Also the brief bit of literal CEO worship stuck with me more than anything else
3. Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse
This movie is a treasure, it’s not only the best Spider-Man movie it’s the best “Superhero” movie I’ve ever seen. Period.
Forget the mindblowing visual styles, the fantastic Better-Than-Black-Panther’s-Already-Awesome soundtrack, and the impeccable pacing for a second and consider that this movie actually had the biggest omission from most superhero movies: stakes. Miles Morales NEEDS to succeed, there’s no other way and there’s plenty of times where it feels like he’s just not going to do it. Peter Parker DIES in this one for crying out loud! I’ve been CLAMORING for ONE Super Hero death in a literal decade of Marvel/Disney movies and Sony Pictures Animation does it in their first movie. There’s no undoing this one, none of this cutesy crap Marvel is gonna pull in the next Avengers movie. Miles’s origin story too is told in a CRUSHING way, just emotionally so real. Plus Miles himself is so full of life, funny, genuine, and brave just a complete person. Add to all this the two things I told you to forget for a second and you can already see there’s no superhero movie like this one.
Another thing, I’ve always liked animation because it as a medium can be employed to tell stories that would not otherwise work. One of my favorite villains in the Spider-Man universe is Kingpin, but the massive bald NY mob boss would never work in a live action movie so the fact that he’s the main antagonist in this movie is just perfect. Shows a real understanding of the medium.
I could talk about this movie forever, I’ve seen it multiple times in theaters and you should do so too.
Standout Moment: The “What’s Up Danger” scene.
2. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
I was really nervous about this movie when I first saw that trailer. I grew up watching Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood on PBS and as a kid he was just a relaxing and soothing presence but his show was so simple and at times cheesy that I never really understood why I liked him so much. So on the one hand I was hoping I’d learn more about the man and learn why he had such an impact on my life, but the nervousness came from thinking that maybe the documentary would uncover some seedy underbelly to Fred Rogers and reveal that he really beat his kids, or something…
Well, that didn’t happen.
Instead Won’t You Be My Neighbor was 93 minutes of highlighting the life and service of a truly wonderful man who cared and thought about children in a way that very few people do or ever have. There’s a moment when he describes the space between a child’s eyeballs and the TV screen as “Holy Ground” and how children need to just be listened to and treated like actual humans. I cried, more than once. Fred Roger’s ways are truly radically simple. A genuine Christian who challenges any and all conceptions of Americanized Fox News Christianity.
In a year where movies were such a vehicle for me to express and give form to my fears and anxieties, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was a respite and refuge much like Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood was to me as a child.
Standout Moment: It’s you I like…
There’s so many things to like about Roma. The cinematography is gorgeous. It’s so dense that each scene is fertile ground for interpretation. The sound design is beautiful. I just want to talk about one thing that I liked about it though, and that is that it FELT Mexican to me.
Everything about it, from the way the house is designed with cars pulling into the property barely squeezing in, the dog poops all over the concrete/tiled patio, squeezing lime on everything, fighting over gansitos, tortas de colita de pavo, Siempre en Domingo on TV, to El Seguro Social. It was just so honestly, Mexican. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t grow up in Mexico and we were never well-off enough to have servants in the fashion of Cleo, but I grew up with enough of a Mexican culture and background to have those things resonate in me. Not to mention crossing over to Juarez a couple of times a week. There’s also so much of modern-ish Mexican history shown in it as well, like the Corpus Christi massacre or the general unrest as the PRI took over public ejidos and gave them to foreign investors. It was just...Mexico, from a Mexican viewpoint.
Cleo is a beautiful soul. The family and her relationship with it seem to me like a representation of Mexico. The middle class being sustained by the Native population who are exploited and at the same time are the only stable pillar for the country. I can understand if this movie isn’t for everyone and is seen as “NOTHING HAPPENED!” but even if that’s the case it’s worth watching to see a full bodied, entirely human, strong, enduring Mexico represented through Cleo and the family and maybe see a different image of Mexico than you might have seen portrayed in Narcos or Sicario.
Standout Moment: The first time we see the dad sloooooowly squeeze into the garage in the behemoth Ford Galaxy, just a perfect intro to a man who very clearly doesn’t want to be there