I know what you’re thinking: December 2019 is a weird time to write about my favourite films of 2018. You might be right, but also there’s never a bad time to write about great movies. Last year I was on a break from blogging, this year I am back at it.
See, it all makes sense.
In any event here are a few disclaimers. First, I wrote this list at the end of 2018 so subsequent viewing in 2019 doesn’t really affect it. Second, if a movie you love doesn’t appear here there are two explanations: either I didn’t see it or it’s not one of my favourites. Third, this list is presented in alphabetical order (ie: not ranked) except for my absolute favourite of the year, which is last.
Alright? Alright. Let’s get started.
(written & directed by Alex Garland)
Horror isn’t one thing. Some horror films bring you blood and guts and gore, and some bring you a sense of existential foreboding. Oh, and mutated bears that scream in the voices of our departed friends.
Annihilation is not an easy watch and not a film you can only watch once. It’s terrifying, enlightening, and questions the very nature of its characters’ sense of self. By the end, characters will be wondering if they are who they think they are, but more importantly if it even really matters.
Avengers: Infinity War
(written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, directed by Anthony & Joe Russo)
I have watched Infinity War, according to my records, six times since it was released in theatres. My feelings have been mixed at times but here’s where I land:
First, it functions as the first act of a story later finished in another film. As the front half of a whole, it does everything that it needs to do and more.
Second, it still stands on its own. You don’t need to watch Endgame to get this one. In your own personal headcanon, you could leave our heroes with a devastating loss and that would function just fine.
Third, that devastating loss at the end is both ballsy (they killed off all their future characters) and brimming with hubris (look how many of these characters you love we can kill and you’ll still come back) and while it was certain that most of them would come back it was by no means certain who would not.
(written by Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole, directed by Ryan Coogler)
I don’t really like to rank movies anymore but this is one of the best Marvel films, and maybe the best one. The bright and stunning afro-futurist aesthetics and attitudes of the characters plus the implications of what a super-advanced, secret society existing in Africa might mean to the world we inhabit are a joy to watch unfold.
Plus, Michael B Jordan’s Killmonger is easily one of the best villains that Marvel has ever put to screen. Angry, but with good reason and with a plan to take over the world, but with the correct intentions. While his plan is foiled, his intentions are taken up by the hero in the end as Black Panther has to let go of the fear, biases, and hubris of his fathers.
While it’s true that it devolves into a mess of pre-visualized CGI toward the end, that last CGI battle takes place on the tracks of a literal underground railroad. It’s not subtle, but it works.
(written by Rafael Casal & Daveed Diggs, directed by Carlos López Estrada)
Blindspotting isn’t so much a movie with things to say as it is a movie with things it wants to get off its chest. A story of two friends, one trying to get through the last few days of probation and the other a hothead who is basically designed to make trouble.
Following an incident in which a white police officer murders a black civilian, the film dives headfirst into the social fabric of Oakland, and of America. Culminating in an intense confrontation and in which Daveed Diggs Collin raps his way through his distraught emotional state, Blindspotting is fresh, raw, and powerful.
(written by Mark Perez, directed by John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein)
Here’s a thing that I have learned: people who say things like “they don’t make movies for adults anymore” are almost always the same people who overlook a movie like Game Night: an r-rated comedy with a great ensemble lead by two great lead performances featuring some wild antics, some impressive direction and camera work, and a killer score.
It would be easy to write it off as just another studio comedy, and maybe that’s what happened, but when a movie is bold, engaging, and hilarious you have to tell people. So this is me telling you.
(written & directed by Ari Aster)
Let’s just get this out of the way: Toni Collette is a treasure, and it’s a travesty that she wasn’t nominated for any acting awards for this movie.
Playing a woman in grief following the death of her secretive mother, and perhaps slowly going mad in the aftermath, Collette is transcendently good in Hereditary, which also happens to be the scariest movie of the year.
That might sound like hyperbole, but there’s a scene in this movie where the sole action is a character waking up and leaving their bedroom which might be the scariest thing in the whole movie.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
(written & directed by Christopher McQuarrie)
We’ve all known that Tom Cruise will put his entire being on the line in order to entertain and the Mission: Impossible franchise is the one he uses to really prove that.
This story has him jumping out of planes from 30,000 feet (for real), dangling from helicopters (for real), piloting helicopters (for real), scaling sheer cliff faces (for real), and so much more.
What makes it a great movie though is that Tom Cruise is also a great actor. He doesn’t just jump from 30,000 feet or climb a sheer cliff, he acts literally all the way.
Made all the more impressive by writer/director Christopher McQuarrie writing and re-writing the entire story on the fly as they made the movie with the story taking shape as they went.
Add an outstanding supporting cast to the mix –including Henry Cavill as a heavy so heavy he literally has to reload his arms at one point–, gorgeous location filmmaking, and a killer score, and you end up with a masterpiece of action filmmaking.
(written by Aneesh Chaganty & Sev Ohanian, directed by Aneesh Chaganty)
The from-the-computer-screen version of found-footage conceit is not a new one, but Searching is maybe the first movie to really get it right. John Cho plays a desperate father whose daughter disappears and he attempts to aid the police in their search for her.
Through her social media accounts and chats with friends, we learn all about the daughter and her relationships. There are revelations and reveals that will stun and shock, but it’s a great mystery so I can’t tell you any of them.
What I can tell you is that at one point in the movie someone deletes a Google Calendar event and it made me cry. That’s a sign of quality filmmaking right there.
Sorry to Bother You
(written & directed by Boots Riley)
If you haven’t seen Sorry to Bother You and someone says “Hey, have you seen Sorry to Bother You?”, shut them down immediately and watch the movie. I don’t want to tell you why to see it or, honestly even tell you why I love it for fear of spoiling any part of it and the shock value is all part of the experience.
It’s a pitch-perfect dark satire of corporate greed and capitalism, a near-perfect blend of real-world politics and completely bonkers absurdity. That Boots Riley has never made a film before and the resulting filmmaking is a little rough around the edges only adds to the experience, creating a world that is all at once far removed from and directly adjacent to ours.
I hadn’t seen anything quite like it before and I haven’t seen anything quite like it since.
(written & directed by Jennifer Fox)
Memory is unreliable. This is the crux of The Tale, a story about a woman who is forced to confront a childhood past she thought was idyllic, but once she starts digging in her own memories it turns out it was something more sinister.
It’s hard to say what, exactly, without getting into spoiler town but once the splot gets moving the film begins to cut back and forth between the adult woman’s present and her recollections of the past.
Laura Dern gives a fantastic performance as the adult Jennifer, a character forced to re-evaluate not only her past but also how that past has affected her adult life. She is an unreliable narrator for her own story, and one worth paying attention to the margins while watching.
(written & directed by Leigh Whannell)
Body horror is something that can be tricky to get right, but the idea of your body being outside of your own control is indeed horrifying. Logan Marshall-Green plays a man left paralyzed after an assault who has a computer chip implanted in his spine to bridge the gap between his mind and body.
What follows is a scrappy actioner which takes it’s b-movie premise and elevates it into something just a little bit more though a combination of great effects, great camera work, and a great lead performance.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
(written by Phil Lord & Rodney Rothman, directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, & Rodney Rothman)
And in the end, what else could it be, really? Into The Spider-Verse is easily the best Spider-Man movie ever made, and in the conversation for the best super-hero movie ever made, but it’s also just a great film.
The team behind the movie constantly re-evaluated the way animated movies are supposed to be made and then redefined those rules. The result is a film in which literally every frame is a feast for the eyes. I fully expect other animation studios to be copying things done here for decades to come.
And then there’s the story, which manages to be all at once nerdy, fan service-y, open to new audiences, and in the end poignant and beautiful. It introduces us to a new definitive version of Doctor Octopus, and two different great versions of Peter Parker, and the best spider costume in years. Oh, and let’s not forget the cast, in which Shameik Moore bring a childlike wonder and fear to the character of Miles, but also Jake Johnson is perfect as the sad-sack mentor version of Peter Parker.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is far and away my favourite film of 2018.