I love movies and I love making lists, especially end-of-year rankings.
This, the year of MoviePass, was a good year for that. RIP MoviePass and shine on, you crazy gem.
This year, I saw 57 movies released (mostly) in 2018. Some of these premiered in 2017 at film festivals and opened wide this year, so consider “2018” a rough guide.
There are also a few movies left that I 100 percent will see and may land high on this list, including Creed II and Destroyer Just pencil those in for later.
I’m also aware of the takes within this list, takes that range from “moderately warm” to “fire hazard.” All I can say is it’s my list and I hope each entry explains my reasoning.
The list, from worst to best:
John Travolta stars as your uncle doing a gangster impersonation. Dumb, bad, boring. Atrocious lighting.
56: The Sisters Brothers
I never walk out of movies, but I did here. Just dull, not to my taste and too long.
55: Pacific Rim: Uprising
John Boyega didn’t deserve this.
54. The Happytime Murders
You know what the worst part about this allegedly R-rated puppet sex movie? It’s not even that shocking.
53. The Death of Stalin
I get what they were going for but the sense of humor felt like nails on a chalkboard.
52. Ready Player One
This movie is about flattering the audience for knowing pop culture trivia. It has nothing deeper to say about fandom or anything, really.
51. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo should not exist. It is provides backstory that makes the universe worse. It wastes Thandie Newton. It was so bad it killed the Star Wars spin-offs.
Alden Ehrenreich did alright at taking Han Solo from Harrison Ford, but the rest of the movie is awful.
50. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Fallen Kingdom is not good. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, two actors I like, are useless in a weird plot involving clones (???). Still, the film has one good idea that it half-executes in its latter half: It turns into a slasher movie where the killer is a dinosaur. More of that, please.
49. Mom and Dad
Not enough crazy Cage, but good to see Lance Henrikson again.
48. Tomb Raider
It’s alright. Tonally discordant, forgettable.
47. Mortal Engines
No one saw this, no one will. The opening scene where London (the city) chases down another city was cool, but otherwise a wasted opportunity.
This was okay! The Rock is charismatic, even if the rest of the movie doesn’t have much going on. Some cool scenes. Would watch on an airplane (but not a tall building).
Jinn is an affectionate portrait of black Muslim life, led by the always compelling Simone Missick. The writing felt clunky and reminded me of the straight-to-DVD religious movies my super Christian relatives gave me as a kid (e.x. Facing the Giants).
44. The Commuter
A decent Liam Neeson action movie. Too predictable, and too long.
43. Hearts Beat Loud
The most remarkable thing about Hearts Beat Loud is how straight down the middle it is. The acting’s good, but not amazing. I liked one of the songs, but not the rest. The story is nice, but not deeply explored. It is okay.
42. A Wrinkle in Time
Ava DuVernay attempted to film an unfilmable book. The result is… interesting. When A Wrinkle in Time Works, it’s doing things no other movie does. When it doesn’t, it’s still so weird you can’t help but watch.
41. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Mr. Rogers was a nice man who lived a nice life. This documentary is nice.
Decent but forgettable. The monster design is uninspiring. The shot of Mathilde Ollivier shooting a flamethrower is cool.
39. Ocean’s 8
The cast is good, the outfits pop, but there’s something missing from this.
38. Avengers: Infinity War
An overstuffed, overlong epic. In a year where we got a lot of extremely good comic book movies, the best thing I can say about Infinity War was it was a way to spend a two and a half hours.
37. Leave No Trace
Leave No Trace is an interesting piece about a veteran father trying to raise his daughter in the woods. It understands its characters and their relationship well.
Claire Foy impresses in this decent suspense thriller. It was shot on an iPhone, which is cool.
35. Game Night
Game Night is a nice little comedy. Didn’t go where I expected and had plenty of good jokes.
Cam is a horror movie written by a former camgirl. The parts where it leans on her experience, it shines. The actual horror movie parts are not at all compelling. Should have been a drama about being a camgirl, honestly.
33. A Simple Favor
If I tried to describe the plot of A Simple Favor, I’d sound like I was having a stroke. This movie is Paul Feig showing us what would happen if a character from a Paul Feig comedy (Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters) were caught up in a murder mystery. It is bananas.
32. The Rider
A moody, interesting film about chasing your dreams and learning to let go. The lead, Brady Jandreau, is a natural despite not being an actor. Credit to future Marvel director Chloe Zhao for spotting this guy. Whatever it is, he’s got it.
Mandy is a metal album cover come to life. It pulses, glows, threatens, confuses. It is the second-most visually gorgeous movie I saw in 2018. That said, there wasn’t as much thematic depth as I would have liked and the kills were just okay.
30. Paddington 2
I get why these movies have such a dedicated fanbase. Paddington 2 is committed to being a nice movie about nice people and a nice bear. Good kids movie with lots of genuinely clever jokes.
29. Ralph Wrecks the Internet
God, do these filmmakers understand how to make me sad. Hope you don’t have anyone you wish lived closer to you.
Most of Ralph is decent. Ralph and Vanellope’s relationship is pure. The princess scene is ingenious.
28. Sorry To Bother You
Sorry To Bother You had me sold with the seconds-long shot of [CENSORED].
There are so many good actors doing great work in here: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Steven Yeung, Armie Hammer. I can’t wait to see what Boots Riley does next.
27. Deadpool 2
The highest compliment I can give Deadpool 2 is for me, the joke didn’t get old. With Disney buying Fox, we may never see Deadpool again, but at least he got a good sendoff.
26. Eighth Grade
Eighth Grade sees comedian Bo Burnham use his considerable talents in the director’s chair. He accurately portrays the loneliness and terror of existing at objectively the worst period of your life.
Credit to Bo for creating one of the only movies to really understand social media, phones and our relationships with each.
25. Hotel Trannsylvania 3
It’s a fun kids movie! Selena Gomez is still weirdly good, Adam Sandler’s vampire schtick is still charming, it all still works.
24. Minding the Gap
A fascinating, intensely personal documentary about the director and his childhood friends. Their broken childhoods and lives spent in poverty in small-town America do not make easy viewing, but they are powerful.
23. The Ritual
Good little horror movie about a group of hikers finding something unexpected in the woods. Beautiful shots of Sweden and an extremely cool design aesthetic. Would have liked it to rely less on sudden loud noises.
22. Ant-Man and the Wasp
What sets Ant-Man and the Wasp above regular comic book movies is its clarity of purpose. It is a fun, funny action comedy. Plus Evangeline Lilly ditched that ridiculous wig.
21. The Favourite
Yorgos Lanthimos turns in another great comedy. The Favourite is fascinated by power, relationships, love, sex, money, decadence and how people try to convert any one of those things into another.
It is anchored by three tremendous lead actress performances. Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman and Emma Stone are all excellent.
This is what I want out of my B-movies: good premise, acceptable acting and great kills. The ending surprised me and felt thematically coherent. Upgrade knows what it is and executes well, pun intended.
19. Support the Girls
A wonderful comedy with a bonanza of great actresses. Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson and Shayna McHayle are fantastic in this heartfelt comedy about a Hooters-esque sports bar. I would recommend this to anyone.
18. First Reformed
A prickly, cold, distant movie about a prickly, cold, distant man. I don’t love this movie, but I’ve grown to appreciate it. There’s a wild, feral quality hiding under its fancy title cards and ostensibly staid premise.
First Reformed has a lot on its mind and by the end, you’ll understand why.
Aquaman felt thrilling to watch. I cannot believe any studio, let alone Warner Bros, let this movie be made.
Aquaman is a deeply nerdy movie that takes its titular hero seriously. It has discussions about Atlantean politics and an octopus playing the drums. It has a villain who unironically calls himself “the Oceanmaster.” It has Nicole Kidman hork down a goldfish five minutes into the movie.
It kinda rules.
16. Incredibles 2
The first Incredibles is a perfect movie. A sequel was always going to be hard. Incredibles 2 doesn’t fly that high, but it’s still good.
15. Crazy Rich Asians
I don’t generally like romantic comedies, but this one got me. It has living cinema legend Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)! It’s funny, touching and historic. It deserves every bit of its success as the highest-grossing romcom of the decade.
Blockers was my favorite comedy of the year. Three parents freak out about their daughters’ prom-night pact to lose their virginities and hijinks ensue. I appreciated that at least one of the parents is along for the ride to stop the other two and thinks teenagers having sex is not a big deal.
Funny, profane and NSFW as hell.
13. Mission: Impossible — Fallout
Christopher McQuarrie is getting great at this. Fallout is some of the best action filmmaking you’ll see this year. The stunts, the setpieces, all of it is an absolute blast. You don’t need to know anything about the Mission: Impossible movies (though seeing Rogue Nation would help) to appreciate some good chase sequences.
12. A Star Is Born
I didn’t love A Star Is Born, but I did like it a lot. The scene where Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga buy frozen peas for her hand is good.
Oh, and the soundtrack is incredible; I may or may not still listen to “Shallow.” No comment.
Venom is an objectively bad movie: bad CGI, bad fight scenes, bad writing for Michelle Williams, a bad villain, bad editing and a bad plot.
Tom Hardy’s performance is so deranged it crosses into unintentional comedy. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Venom is this high because I had a blast watching it. This is a trash masterpiece and one of the best worst movies of the year.
10. Mary and the Witch’s Flower
It’s something about the soundtrack. From the first action scene, I was spellbound by Mary and the Witch’s Flower. It comes across as utterly sincere. Mary is a wonderful tribute to Studio Ghibli.
9. A Quiet Place
A Quiet Place is one of the year’s best surprises. On the surface, it’s an enjoyable thrill ride built around a killer concept (the monsters hear everything!).
Going deeper, A Quiet Place is about the terror of being a parent. How can you raise kids when there are dangers you cannot stop? What does it mean to have children in a dangerous world? What would you sacrifice for them?
I would recommend this to people who don’t normally watch horror movies. Lots of tension, minimal gore.
8. If Beale Street Could Talk
If Beale Street Could Talk is a story only Barry Jenkins could adapt this well. Every frame thrums with emotion. Jenkins, a filmmaker of boundless empathy, cares so much for these characters.
The whole cast is excellent. Regina King is correctly getting awards attention for her part. Brian Tyree Henry nails his one scene.
It’s Kiki Layne, however, who sings. She is a supernova. She is so good, it almost hurts the movie by making Stephan James (who is doing excellent acting!) look worse by comparison.
Kiki Layne effortlessly channels her character’s emotions. She is fantastic and charismatic and a born star. My absolute favorite performance from an actress in 2018.
7. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
The last decade has not been kind to Peter Parker. When your high-water mark is Spider-Man: Homecoming, a mediocre and forgettable movie, you are not in a good place.
Into the Spider-Verse leaves all that behind. It is the best expression of comics on the big screen I’ve ever seen. Spider-Verse is gorgeous, pioneering a new blend of 2D and 3D animation. It demands to be seen in 3D.
Underneath that is a workmanlike, charming plot about Afro-Latino teenager Miles Morales. Comic fans will recognize him as an alternate version of Spider-Man. Marvel has made quite a few alternate Spider-People in spin-off comics, and it brings them together in this dimension-hopping adventure.
Into the Spider-Verse is a gorgeous action-comedy I would recommend to anyone.
Widows is the best movie this year that no one saw. It’s a taut thriller with an great cast. Viola Davis is a juggernaut and crushes every moment she’s on screen. Daniel Kaluuya’s gym scene is director Steve McQueen showing off his unimpeachable talent.
McQueen is on the ball from the opening shot to the weird ending. Widows kicks ass.
At this point, director Spike Lee is so good at what he does it almost feels like cheating. BlackKklansman is nothing but Lee making offbeat, brilliant artistic choices.
Take, for example, the scene where protagonist Ron Stallworth goes undercover in a meeting of the local black student union. A worse movie would cut away after he went inside. Instead, Lee shows the speech from civil rights leader Kwame Ture (born Stokely Carmichael). He overlays the faces of the listeners as Ture speaks, showing how his words move the crowd. Lee does ingenious things like this the whole movie.
I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say Lee picked this story in 2018 for a reason. The stinger left my theater in stunned silence.
BlackKklansman is an unsubtle movie, but these are unsubtle times.
The rape-revenge genre (Wikipedia) is not the most reputable. These are three-step horror flicks:
- A woman is sexually assaulted
- She (or her loved ones, if she is killed) recover and regroup
- The woman or her loved ones kill the attackers
As you might guess, unscrupulous filmmakers have used this structure in gross ways.
This is why Revenge is so fascinating. It was written and directed by Coralie Fargeat, a female French director so new to the international stage she does not even have a Wikipedia page. She rewrote the genre tropes and made a feminist rape-revenge thriller.
Revenge follows a young woman who is assaulted and left for dead. Fargeat does not even show the assault. What she does show, however, is the protagonist Jen going on a rampage against those who wronged her.
Revenge is masterful filmmaking. I saw the opening 20 minutes compared to a Michael Bay movie, which feels right. Her action scenes go places I never imagined, to degrees I was not expecting.
This film is not an easy recommendation. Seriously: content warning for sexual violence, blood, gore, drowning… it a hard watch.
However, if you’re up for it, Revenge is a fantastic horror movie.
3. Black Panther
Black Panther is a stunning masterpiece. It is a landmark work of Afrofuturism. It’s easily the best Marvel movie ever made. It stands as the best Ryan Cooler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) movie, which is saying something.
Start with the world. Coogler and his crew have built one of the best-realized fictional places in cinema. Wakanda is gorgeous. The costumes are amazing. The customs, the traditions, the chants, Forest Whittaker as the high priest - all of it works.
There is not one bad performance in the ensemble cast. Danai Gurira as Okoye, the badass general? Excellent. Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, the shifty-eyed friend? Great as ever. Letitia Wright as the breakout star Shuri? So charming.
The real star of the show, of course, is Michael B. Jordan. It was brilliant to put his off-the-charts charisma behind Killmonger, a villain whose appeal is that he’s half right.
Jordan deserved an Oscar for Creed, and he sure as hell deserves one now. Play the clip of him angrily wiping away a tear on loop forever.
And for god’s sake, give Coogler a Best Director nomination. The ending of Black Panther, where Wakanda uses its resources to open a community center in Oakland, is so smart and so good on a textual and metatextual level.
Hereditary is one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen. It’s as simple as that. Director Ari Aster, in his first movie, has turned in something terrifying.
There’s a limit to what you can say about Hereditary without giving away its tricks. The film circles and taunts the viewer. It’s not until the final reveal that you realize how bad things really are.
Like its subject matter, Hereditary is densely packed with secrets. It’s slippery, elusive. Just when you think you know what’s going on, the movie comes to a head and veers in a new direction. It gets better every time I see it.
This may be the year of The Favourite with regards to female acting Oscars, but I hope Toni Collette is not forgotten. She, Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro turn in spellbinding performances.
It’s hard to talk about Hereditary. Just watch it. You’ll see.
To understand Annihilation, you have to understand what it did to the people involved. It tanked the film career of director Alex Garland. It caused Paramount to write it off by selling the international distribution rights to Netflix.
Hollywood spit out the movie because Garland refused to change its ending. That ending, simply put, is the best 20 minutes I spent in a theater this year.
The ending of Annihilation is pure and overwhelming. The heady sci-fi thriller discards all gestures toward literalism. The movie goes full 2001 and overwhelms you with a wall of light and sound. It is weird and crazy and challenging and I loved every second.
Before that, Natalie Portman plays a scientist on an expedition into a zone where unexplained things are happening. Things quickly go wrong and the team finds themselves tested in ways they could never imagine.
Everyone here is at the top of their game. Jennifer Jason Leigh turns in another dynamite performance. Garland is still one of the few people in Hollywood who understands Oscar Isaac can be as scary as he is charming. The effects are creepy.
Annihilation is a top-tier science fiction film. It holds an emotional core about the ways we hurt ourselves. It has an ending that demands to be seen. It is far and away my favorite movie of 2018.