You’ve seen me say nice things about every other movie I saw last year, so here is the final ranking. I will note, that there is one movie that I imagine will make a very strong run at my top five, with Barry Jenkins’ gorgeous looking adaptation of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk not making its way to me until January, but I will still consider it a 2018 release. I will likely review it and tell you where it would have fallen had Cincinnati been significant enough to get it upon its initial release.

Before I dive in, I do want to thank everyone for taking the time to read/skim through this, and for everything that you have read. This can feel a little silly sometimes, so any engagement means the world to me and I love you all for it.

20. Mandy

Even though this movie was not entirely my thing, it is hard to deny the striking imagery this psychedelic horror movie creates. One scene, in particular, comes to mind, as the crazed cult leader Jeremiah Sand’s (Linus Roache) face takes up the entirety of the screen as he monologues to our titular character (the truly chameleonic Andrea Riseborough). His face would melt into that of Riseborough and then melt back into Roache’s. It’s a shot that lasts for what feels like ten minutes, and it’s never not horrifying. It also gives us the last score of the incredibly talented and tragically late Jóhann Jóhannsson, whose haunting electronic sound was a perfect fit for this nightmare of a film.

Best Moment: There are a lot of truly horrifying and heartbreaking sequences in this movie, but it also features Nicolas Cage in a chainsaw fight. So I’m going to say Nicolas Cage in a chainsaw fight, because I’m basic. The clip isn’t on YouTube, but here’s Jóhannsson’s score.

19. First Reformed

This is a heavy, heavy movie, that offers a bleak look at the role of faith and religion in a time when the planet is dying, but many refuse to accept it. It’s a brutal film, anchored by Ethan Hawke’s best work in his career, and Paul Schrader’s unflinching direction and script. The last twenty minutes of the film is probably the tensest sequence of any film that I have seen this year, as the weight of the film finally begins to takes its toll on Hawke’s preacher character, and as he comes to term with what he believes is his only option in the face of bleak circumstances.

Best Moment: The Magical Mystery Tour, a favorite moment of some real critics, did not work for me and actually stopped this movie from being ranked higher, so instead I’ll point you towards the aforementioned climax of this film, which was a rare sequence I wanted to end because it was too effective at what it was doing.

18. The Incredibles 2

The first of a small handful of superhero movies on this list, with the running theme of the three of them being that they are not your traditional superhero movie. Here, as with the 2004 original, this movie works because it focuses on the family portion of the Superhero Family idea as much as, if not more than, the superhero portion. As I talked about in my full review of this movie, Mr. Incredible’s role in this movie is what left the strongest impression on me in this movie, as he struggles to be a good dad in a very real way. He isn’t struggling to do parent things in general, which is something a storyteller weaker than Brad Bird likely would have done, he’s just struggling with feeling like he is not succeeding as a dad. It’s some deep stuff, but as Pixar has shown on countless other occasions, it works best when it gets into the emotion of a story.

Best Moment: An exhausted Bob apologizes to Violet and tells her that he just wants to be a good dad. Craig T. Nelson’s delivery here, alongside the animation (particularly giving him some five o’clock shadow to really lean into how tired Bob looks) combined into giving me those classic Pixar tears.

17. Annihilation

Alex Garland’s adaptation of the Jeff VanderMeer novel of the same name is really not even an adaptation which, for someone who did not particularly enjoy the book, or the rest of the series, is very good news. Instead of focusing on individual moments, Garland focused on the overall tone and feel of the novel, particularly as our band of women go into the Shimmer. Garland and his production design team, in particular, have a fun time taking horrifying imagery and making it strangely gorgeous, as the environment of the Shimmer encompasses the remains of all those that die within its borders. The eerie imagery makes way for outright horror in the film’s third act, which eventually makes way for…well, it makes way for one of the strangest climaxes of a movie you’ll ever see, as Natalie Portman engages in a mirror dance.

Best Moment: In a preview of the only award I give out every year, the nightmare bear scene is pitch perfect in its tension and its high levels of discomfort.

16. Black Panther

After his debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, the superhero movie world held its breath for T’Challa/Black Panther’s solo debut, and Ryan Coogler did not disappoint. Not only did he introduce a world filled with characters even more interesting than Chadwick Boseman’s titular character, including his sister Shuri (played with delight by Letitia Wright), the competing tribal leader, M’Baku (a thirst-creating film debut by Winston Duke), and, most essentially, Erik Stevens, played by Coogler’s frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan. It’s with Stevens where Black Panther really begins to differentiate itself from an over-crowded genre, with Coogler’s script creating a villain with a genuine point. Although the full details of his plan are, uh, less than ideal, his desire to use the incredible wealth of Wakanda to assist black people across the word in throwing off their shackles, both literal and metaphorical, is easy to empathize with, and is enough to make King T’Challa to move beyond his nation’s former isolationism and begin to share his technology beyond the borders. Sure, he could have saved a lot of lives if he had just listened to Lupita N’Yongo’s Nakia, but, uh. Yeah, actually there’s no but. Listen to women, T’Challa.

Best Moment: When Kilmonger walks into the throne room for the first time, and his genetic claim to the throne is revealed, he throws a quick “Hey, Auntie” to Angela Bassett’s Ramonda, and it’s just the perfect amount of arrogance and suaveness that helps solidify him as a badash villain, even beyond his motives.

15. Widows

After his previous directorial effort, 12 Years A Slave, was named Best Picture, the film world was eager to see what his next film would be. What people probably never would have guessed was that his next film would be a heist film with a script from Gone Girl‘s Gillian Flynn, but what a gift of a choice that turned out to be for the, like, 30 people who saw the movie. With great performances throughout its ensemble cast, led by the always impeccable Viola Davis (and including 2018 MVPs Brian Tyree Henry and Cynthia Erivo), the tale of three widows, joined by a hairdresser looking for a way out of the bad parts of Chicago, is mixed with political intrigue and gangs, with every reveal adding to the intense intrigue. The heist itself is quick, but effective because McQueen and Flynn have taken the time to allow us to know these characters on a personal level, so when danger comes, we’re terrified by what might happen. An unconventional follow-up to a brutal slave drama, McQueen shows that we have not even begun to understand his true talents as a director.

Best Moment: A tense, single shot scene in a gym, where Daniel Kaluuya, the brother of a mob boss/political candidate, forces two gang members who made a mistake freestyle rap, as the camera circles the group. The way Kaluuya, fresh off his Oscar nomination for Get Out, slowly approaches the men, is terrifying, and the circular camera motion is dizzying and builds tension. The climax of the moment, as he shoots both men, does little to actually release the tension, as it builds tension for what could come throughout the rest of the movie.

14. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

It’s rare that I watch documentaries, but this is one that got enough attention all across the internet, that I felt I had to give time to it, and I’m glad that I did. A documentary that looks at Rodgers in the best positive light (it could have been more interesting to see something that looked at him as a more complex man) is something that 2018 needed, as we see him go from the local television program host to the moral compass that we could use now. Rodgers has been grilled for telling people that they are special, which people seem to think means “entitled,” but that wasn’t what Rodgers was trying to tell us. He was trying to tell us that we are worthwhile, even when those around us (or our own minds) tell us otherwise. Especially now, where hateful people and governments are loudly attacking people for being gay, or trans, or non-white, a guiding force reminding people of their self-worth is something that we could all use a bit more of.

Best Moment: The documentary directors take a page from Mr. Rodgers book, and ask all of their contributors to take a single minute to think of someone who has influenced their life. The film cuts between each face as they take their minute. Their faces show expressions of profound happiness and gratitude. It’s a truly touching moment to end an emotional look at a man who I wish was still with us now.

13. Hereditary

Realistically, this is better executed than a lot of the movies that make up the rest of this list. But the fact I hope to never see it again really should have an impact on where it ends up on a ranking of my favorite movies. This horror movie about the real horror of dealing with familial trauma, and the additionally real horror of demons, is one of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences I have ever put myself through, one that I constantly wished would end as soon as possible. I’ll never forget as my two friends and I left the theater and all experienced a strange arm pain, and as well all bent over with discomfort even on the sidewalk outside the theater. I doubt that Toni Collette will get the attention that she deserves for her role in terrifying me, and that’s a damn shame because her performance in this is probably the best one I saw this year. She’s an incredible talent, as is writer/director Ari Aster. This movie is truly something to experience. I still wish that I had not.

Best Moment: There are some truly haunting shots in this movie, but the one I will always remember is when the son wakes up at the start of the film’s climax, and we get a shot from one wall, showing his bed and the opposing wall in its entirety. In the corner of one shot, Aster hides a major scare, but attentive viewers will be left wondering “uh…is there something there?” only to have the film confirm moments later with one of the film’s few jump scares, that, yep, there was something there. It’s a small horrifying moment that sets up a climax that is filled with large horrifying moments.

12. Suspiria

What a deeply strange horror film that is rarely traditionally scary, but instead allows its artistic style to simply build a sensation of discomfort throughout the films significant run-time. Very different from the original film’s vibrant style, Luca Guadagnino chooses to shoot his film about a dance studio/witch coven in muted colors to fit its 1970s German setting. The muted colors cause the film to feel more realistic, making the infrequent scenes of genuine horror feels more uncomfortable than they might have had Guadagnino tried to imitate the bright colors of the Dario Argento original. Also lifting up the remake are strong lead performances from Dakota Johnson, continuing to show that she is a genuine talent who fell into a Fifty Shades franchise that was not worthy of her, and Tilda Swinton, who plays a small handful of characters here, all three of which feel noteworthy in their own way (one, for its gloriously absurd design). Although it was not quite the experience I had hoped for after viewing the trailers, it was still a wonderful experience, one I’m lucky to have been able to see in theaters the day before it left Cincinnati.

Best Moment: A scene that I had heard talked about for months, when the dance moves of Dakota Johnson’s Susie causing fellow dancer Olga to be thrown around a room without her will, causing her body to be bent in unnatural ways. By using Elena Fokina’s genuine flexibility, some impressive prosthetic work, and some well-timed sound effects the audience is tortured to watch as Olga’s body is folded upon itself in ways until there is little left to identify the twitching mound as a woman. I had high “hopes” since I had heard about the scene frequently since the production company inexplicably showed it during lunch at CinemaCon, but it still caught me off guard with how gross it truly was. The linked video (which offers a fair amount of spoilers) goes into detail on how they did this bit, as well as several other makeup transformations, and really makes me hope that this work gets recognized.

11. Game Night

After a trailer that did little to capture my attention, this movie proved itself to be an exceptionally executed comedy, filled with actually interesting shots (an overhead zoom-in that makes a neighborhood feel like a board game, a camera latched to a car door to emphasize its motions, building the tension of a moment). The story of a game night got tremendously wrong puts several bright (and one tremendously stupid) people through the ringer as they learn that a kidnapping to start the night was not a part of the game promised by Kyle Chandler, but instead the true actions of a mysterious man known only as The Bulgarian. Watching the three lead couples stumble through the game, and then the true crime, is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, with Billy Magnussen’s performance as the deeply stupid Ryan stealing several scenes, as well as the genuinely unnerving presence of the always welcome Jesse Plemons demanding our rapt attention, even as he is basically in the background for most of the film. Coming from someone who will soon wish another film would leave well enough alone instead of giving us its announced sequel, I genuinely hope this is not the last that we have seen of this game night crew.

Best Moment: Billy Magnussen trying to bribe a woman with $17, as the film refuses to cut away from his hand very slowly, very deliberating pushing the insignificant amount of money across a desk, one bill at a time, is probably the most I’ve laughed at a purely physical gag in a very long time, as it somehow balances the line between unexpected but also still deeply stupid comedy.

10. The Hate U Give

This film, like the book before it, shows that young adult media can be about more than just dystopian societies or supernatural romance. The plot follows a young black girl as she struggles to live the seemingly conflicting parts of her life, living in a poor neighborhood while going to an affluent school, all complicated by the murder of her unarmed friend by a police officer. Watching Starr, played with confidence by the talented Amandla Stenberg, struggle with both parts of her life, as well what her role should be in the protests over the murder of her friend, is heart-wrenching but awe-inspiring, as we see what a courageous teen is able to do when armed with the truth. This side of the story is particularly moving in light of the actions of the survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who have brought life to a previously frustratingly stagnant gun control debate. The amount of courage it takes to constantly relive a traumatic experience by constantly bringing it to the attention of the general public is something I cannot even begin to fathom, and I hope that this is the start of a new realm of YA media, focusing on the courage teens can have in our own real world.

Best Moment: Although some characters, like Starr’s uncle, are made less interesting than in the book because of a film’s limited run time, Starr’s father, played by Russell Hornsby, is given the moving scenes he deserves. For me, the film’s standout moment is when the father takes his three children and has them stand out in the yard and he reminds them of the strength and power they all have, even despite their young age.

9. Bad Times at the El Royale

I’ve spoken at length about my appreciation for writer/director Drew Goddard, and how refreshing I find his style, which I tried to describe as a less misanthropic version of what Quentin Tarantino does (although I don’t think that Goddard has reached the skill level of QT, either). With his second film effort, this time with a script solely written by himself, he continued to impress, with this story of one very eventful night in a rundown hotel on the California/Nevada border. Told through a disjointed timeline, with flashbacks from days or weeks or years, or even just a few hours prior, Goddard gives us new information as we need it, even if that information just happens to be a slightly different perspective of a scene we have already seen. Its confident storytelling from an artist who tragically few people know, and I hope his box office takes do not stop other people from giving his an opportunity to be filmed. With an ensemble cast, including Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson and Cynthia Erivo (a stand out here like she was in Widows, making 2018 a very impressive film debut from the Tony Award winner), each character gets their time to shine, an impressive feat when juggling so many major players.

Best Moment: The duet between Cynthia Erivo’s voice and Jeff Bridges on the ol’ hammer and crowbar against floorboards.

8. Anna and the Apocalypse

This movie is probably the Most Me Movie that came out this year, as its a zombie comedy musical, and I am happy to report that it did not disappoint me. Although the zombie action is of a relatively low budget, and the musical numbers are not as big and highly choreographed as other films in that genre, the two genres are lovingly brought together in a wonderfully funny and surprisingly heartfelt way by writers Alan McDonald and Ryan McHenry, as well as director John McPhail. The production is further supported by its impressive young cast, with the charming Ella Hunt bringing the titular Anna to life. Hunt has the musical chops to carry some of the film’s bigger numbers, but also has the acting ability to bring to life one of the film’s more heartbreaking moments, as Anna numbly murders a small horde of zombies after her good friend is infected and sacrifices himself. While Hunt gives a subtle, emotional performance, we have Game of Thrones alum Paul Kaye chewing the scenery as an admittedly unnecessary, but also tremendously welcome, human villain. It’s a movie that my family welcomed with “uhhh, okay” but it’s also a movie I consider to be a tremendous gift to me, so, I win.

Best Moment: After a brief skirmish in a bowling alley, a zombie’s head is severed by the pin return, and is later ejected out of the ball return. It’s wonderful and absurd and the best.

7. A Quiet Place

After rewatching this film on TV in light of watching Bird Box and having the two films compared, I was pleasantly surprised to find how well my enjoyment of the movie held up, even when I’m not able to watch it alongside a surprisingly quiet audience in a theater with full surround sound audio. From the film’s opening moments, we are thrown in a world ravaged by creatures who hunt via sound, and the tension is immediate. The tension builds throughout the film, as we are treated to a final climactic battle that is basically the second half of the movie. Anchored by a strong performance from the immensely talented Emily Blunt and a sound design that accentuates even the smallest of natural noises, John Krasinski’s directorial debut is an impressive one and one that really should have been left alone, instead of whatever sequel no one really asked for that we’re apparently getting. Even when the sequel disappoints us, I’m hopeful that I will still be able to look back fondly on the film that led to me getting a little bit angry when someone moved their straw against a lid when I saw this movie in theaters.

Best Moment: The film’s closing moments as Millicent Simmonds and Emily Blunt prepare for what is to come by turning up the volume on a speaker system and by cocking a shotgun. It’s a genuinely badash and victorious moment in a film otherwise bereft of them.

6. Paddington 2

Listen, when Rotten Tomatoes announced that this was the best-reviewed movie on their site, I was more than a little skeptical, but this movie is a genuine joy, from start to finish, even as it places the titular character in prison. It’s actually in this prison where the movie really starts to shine, as it offers a kinder look at prisoners than most films give, as these theoretically hardened prisoners are shown as well-fleshed out individuals who want the same things as most people, companionship, good food, and to be understood as more than just criminals, all things Paddington is ready to give them, despite being imprisoned for a crime he did not do. Throw in a surprisingly fun and slimy performance from Hugh Grant, and it’s easy to comprehend how so few people have an outright negative reaction to this charming British bear.

Best Moment: I’m pretty quick to cry during movies, but this one had me fairly dried eyed for the most part. Until the film’s last two minutes. I won’t go into too spoilery of details, but the moment the film is building to is apparent before it’s officially revealed, and even that is enough to open up the floodgates, let alone when the reveal actually happens. It’s a beautifully touching end that Paddington deserves.

5. Eighth Grade

With his writing/directing debut, Bo Burnham rises above his arrogant and combative stand-up persona to tell an honest and funny story of an eighth-grade girl struggling with, well, being an eighth-grade girl. Although the script is worth praising, the real reason this movie is this high up on the list is because of the impeccable lead performance from Elsie Fisher as Kayla. She portrays her character’s anxiety and discomfort with a heartbreaking an endearing honesty, and it’s difficult to not fall in love with her, and hope that things will start to go her way. Her performance is never short of pitch-perfect, but the moments in the film when we see her YouTube blogs are particularly strong, as she struggles to get through her message, stumbling over her words and using “like” in a very real or genuine way, not because she is lacking in intelligence, but because she is uncomfortable, and is trying to push through it. We should all hope that this is just the start of a long and illustrious career for Fisher, because she is a wonderful presence, and I cannot wait to see what she does next.

Best moment: As much as I want to say its when Fisher gives an awkward and endearing finger gun to the popular girl at her school, after giving her a thank you note for inviting her to a birthday party, the true standout moment is the culmination of that scene. After the popular girl continues to treat Fisher’s character as if she doesn’t exist, Kayla finds the courage to stand up for herself before graduation. Although its still peppered with Kayla’s typical discomfort, it’s incredible to watch her find the strength she needs to stand up for herself.

4. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

It’s at this point that I want to remind you that this list is meant to be a list of my favorite movies, not necessarily the best movies. This is also the point that I want to remind you that this movie is a genuine joy that allowed me to forget about the bleak reality of our world in 2018 for two hours, and that is one of the greatest gifts of all. A significant improvement over the 2008 adaptation of the Broadway musical, the movie finds a genuine musical talent, something the first film was lacking in, in Lily James, and allows the rest of their cast to simply have fun with the musical numbers, instead of relying on them to be genuinely good at singing and dancing. If you don’t like this movie, I feel sorry for your cold, dead heart.

Best Moment: “Dancing Queen,” particularly everything that Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgård do. Most notably, the below shot.

Titanic Mamma Mia

3. Mission Impossible: Fallout

A decades’ old spy action franchise starring the same lead actor as the first one has no right to be as good and tense as this movie is. But with Tom Cruise now channeling his insanity through stunts that could easily kill him, and with the confident direction and writing of Christopher McQuarrie, the sixth movie in this franchise is easily in the conversation for its best (something that neither Sean Connery nor Roger Moore had any right to say at their respective points in the James Bond franchise). Where this movie really stands out is how McQuarrie honors the rest of the franchise, being the first to bring back a villain and a female lead from a prior film (Sean Harris and Rebecca Ferguson both as good here as they were in Rogue Nation), and bringing back Hunt’s wife from the third film. Add in great new faces like Henry Cavill and his reloading arms, as well as Vanessa Kirby and her terrifying yet beautiful smile, and you have the best action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road.

Best Moment: In a film with several breathtaking action sequences, the close quarters of the bathroom fight still somehow stands out among the rest. You really feel each impact, especially as Henry Cavill, with freshly reloaded arms, just wails on Liang Yang. Also worth noting, you can choose almost any action sequence from this movie and make a point that it is the best one.

2. Roma

I plan on writing a full write up of this in one way or another, so I’ll be quick here. Alfonso Cuarón is simply one of the best filmmakers of his age, and this movie is just another example of it. This film about the everyday life of a maid in Mexico City during the 1970s is a testament to the incredible strength of women, particularly seen through Cleo, played with heartbreaking honesty by Yalitza Aparicio. There’s much more to say about this, which I hope to have out soon, but I’ll leave you with this gif.

Best Moment: The beach scene. The sound design on this scene is absolutely punishing as each wave strikes Cleo, significantly adding to the tension of an already tense scene.

1. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Knowing that next year has at least five superhero movies, I know what I’m about to say is obviously not going to happen, but I stand by it: Superhero movies should end with this. Nothing will ever compare to what this movie does, and I honestly feel bad for anything that has to follow it (especially Spiderman: Far From Home). Not only does this introduce the general public to Miles Morales, but it gives him an origin story worth caring about, as the runtime of the movie is dedicated to him truly coming to terms with and beginning to master his powers, instead of the hero going through a quick montage or two and already being a professional as the hero they are meant to be. We watch Miles struggle and learn. Not only that, the film’s multi-verse plotline gives us several great Spider-People/Animal performances, with John Mulaney and Nicolas Cage offering scene-stealing line readings as Spider-Ham and Spider-Noir, respectively, and Jake Johnson somehow became my quintessential Peter Parker. It’s also a movie that actively confronts how terrible a tear in the space-time continuum would actually be. In a year where there were some truly remarkable movies, and where creating a ranking was kind of difficult, this movie was easily the best thing I saw this year. It’s a gift.

Best Moment: The leap of faith scene, which Sony has blessedly put online. I will say, if you have not seen this movie in theaters, you should wait to watch this clip. If you have seen this movie in theaters, you know that this is the best moment any superhero movie has ever given us.

Second Annual Korg Award For My Favorite Character In Any Movie

Nightmare Bear- Annihilation. Even I know that this is a very weird choice, because the nightmare bear is only in one five-minute or so scene, but that moment captured my attention in a very wonderful way. The choice to make the bear’s head a practical effect, with the addition of its growls being the screams of its last victim, lead to one of the most unsettling moments I’ve seen in a movie this year (moments from the last few minutes of Hereditary not-withstanding). It’s a wonderful sequence that really sets the tone for the third act of the movie, one of the best acts of film that I saw this year.

Photo Credits
Annihilation Bear
First Reformed
Incredibles 2
Won't You Be My Neighbor
The Hate U Give
A Quiet Place
Paddington 2
Eighth Grade
Mamma Mia Screengrab From
Kimmy Schmidt

2 thoughts on “Favorite 20 of 2018

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