Amid the comic book movies, Star Wars installments, sequels and remakes 2018 pushed out some originality including one of the best horror films, comic book movies, teenage movies and the best studio comedy in years. Starting with my favorite film of the year, the best of 2018…
Hereditary – (Dir. Ari Aster) If Aster’s astonishingly assured, old fashioned slow-burn gothic horror film in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby didn’t have it’s supernatural spin-tingling cherry on top, it would still be a riveting, powerfully acted and gorgeously shot family drama of the worst-case scenario kind. Bridging ground between a traditional haunted house film and a more nihilistic Lars Von Trier style nightmare where life itself is a cursed clockwork of misery our heroes are trapped in, Toni Collette gives a lifetime performance as a mother with secrets who deals with a pandora’s box of misfortune after her mother passes away and seemingly curses her family. Conspiracies, decapitations and hallucinations ensue and I loved every methodical second of it from its opening tracking shot to its totally bonkers finale. It’s not just an excellent horror movie, it’s an excellent movie.
Eighth Grade – (Dir. Bo Burnham) In another ambitious debut, Bo Burnham creates an empathy machine for the shy teenage girl trapped in the social media generation. The film feels visceral, stripping away the cinematic barrier between us and young Kayla (Elsie Fisher, so good she seems to not be acting) and putting us in situations from awkward (Kayla dragged to a pool party where she isn’t wanted) to brutally awkward (Kayla is awarded Most Quiet in school) to 5 alarm squirm inducing (Kayla goes on a date). A great father/daughter film, Burnham brings a new angle to the kids glued to their phones: that behind those blank stares lies an entire world online where they express themselves – whether true or not.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse – (Dir. Rodney Rothman, Peter Ramsey, Bob Persichetti) Blessed with a self-aware and character focused script from Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Into the Spiderverse wades into the most crowded of fields – not just comic book movies, not just origin stories, but Spiderman origin stories at that) and gives it a fantastic and fresh new spin. The movie’s visual style is incomparable and it’s alternate universe spidermen are hilarious, but best of all the film has the cleanest story structure of any recent comic book film, it carefully builds its set up and pays them off more satisfying than any comic book movie in recent memory. Miles Morales faces obstacles and when he becomes Spiderman – his version of Spiderman – it is thrilling.
Isle of Dogs – (Dir. Wes Anderson) Anderson’s second stop motion animated film and the third in his rebellion and oppression trilogy (starting with Moonrise Kingdom and passing through The Grand Budapest Hotel) is rich in details, high in ambition (the film does not subtitle the Japanese, allowing them to speak their language and force us to keep up, a decision deemed racist by the US-centric racists at RogerEbert.com). Like all of Anderson’s recent films, Isle slowly ticks up like a rollercoaster before letting loose, building momentum with each inventive revelation.
Game Night – (Dir. John Frances Daley and Johnathan Goldstein) In the best and most surprising studio comedy since 21 Jump Street or The Hangover, Freaks and Geeks star Daley co-helms a clever, exciting comedy that mixes several different styles of humor (instead of beating the same note over and over, a la Will Ferrell), a twist-filled plot and some scene stealing work from Rachel McAdams and Jesse Plemmons. This movie also has one of the best action scenes of the year.
Roma – (Dir. Alfonso Curon) Roma didn’t have to be over 2 hours or black and white or full of beautiful wide-shots and unbroken tracking shots or ambient sounds that bring the city it inhabits to life, but this tale of a Mexican maid whose own drama parallels the dissolution of the family she serves is elevated above it’s material by sheer filmmaking talent. It’s a hard, sometimes painful, film to watch as it is a cinemaphile’s joy to get immersed in.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout – (Dir. Christopher McQuarrie) A high point for a consistently great series, Fallout puts together some of the best action scenes in recent memory while running through global tourist sights, but it also challenges actionman Ethan Hunt’s methods and team better than any previous sequel. Hunt, it seems, operates on sheer unbridled determination leaping into plots without a plan and looking after his team/family first – all of which has consequences in Fallout. The final nail-biting 30 minute set piece won’t soon be forgotten.
Annihilation – (Dir. Alex Garland) A nice companion piece to his previous film, Ex Machina, Annihilation makes beautiful nightmares in the wrapper of a dry, ice cold, existential sci-fi film. This excellent puzzler of a film is proof that people on care about “representation” in big movies they already plan to see – as Annihilation’s all-female cast of female scientists saving the world from an alien microb went undetected in a social media willing to herald far inferior films. The bear sequence in this film is freakier and arguably scarier than anything in any other studio horror film this year.
Three Identical Strangers – (Dir. Tim Wardle) Great documentaries tell great stories, excellent documentaries shape great stories into something bigger. Oscar ineligible for it’s use of subtle recreations, Strangers tells the unbelievable true story of the New York Triplets who met after being separated at birth and beguiled the world with the story of their deep bond and identical behaviors. That this spirals into a mystery about why they were split up, a hunt for their birth mother and an MK-Ultra like experiment poses an answer to the age old nature vs. nurture question.
Avengers: Infinity War – (Dr. Joe and Anthony Russo) – Working both as a backdoor origin story for it’s titanic Thanos and as a payoff to 10 years of Marvel films, Infinity War’s dire stakes, great villain and a most effective mix of the Marvel trademark action-and-self-referential-jokes formula turns out peak superhero movie that breaks down superhero fatigue. From juggling 20 characters effortlessly to it’s ambitious, audience-challenging ending, Infinity War gave a generation their Empire Strikes Back moment.
Honorable Mentions and Must-Sees: Widows, Revenge, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Into the Dark, A Quiet Place, The Favourite, The Night Comes for Us, Mandy.
Best 2017 Catch-up Film: Super Dark Times – A moody, lyrical look at teen angst circa 1994 where budding masculine rivalry ends up in a samurai sword death and a cover up that splits friends against each other. A work capturing high school as a hot box of hormones in a time before Columbine would blow it open. A terrific and criminally under-seen movie.