Our Critics Share Their Favorite Films, Scenes, Performances and Theatrical Experiences And More From 2018’s Exceptional Year In Movies.
Well, it was another exceptional year at the movies.
And, sure, while 2018 brought saw us a share of exceptional independent films, what really stands out about the year as we look back now is how the biggest films we saw (Black Panther, Mission: Impossible – Fallout) managed to somehow wow us in new ways.
Another interesting takeaway is that identity played a major role in 2018 cinema, asking all sorts of questions in the process. Like, what does it mean to be true to your heritage? And what does it mean to be cool? Or what does it even mean to be human? The movies released in 2018 didn’t necessarily offer up easy answers to these questions, but the fact that they explored them at all was encouraging.
How our individual top 10 ballots differ from our combined list reflects that, too. Each of us had a totally different pick for our top film of the year — and none of our top picks even showed up on our colleagues’ lists at all.
Maybe that means cinema became a more personal experience in 2018? Just something to ponder as we look back at the year in film, I guess. – Kip Mooney
Movies We Loved Even If Most People Didn’t.
Angela Jones: In an age of sequels, prequels and reboots, Hotel Artemis was a nice breath of fresh air. It’s not the most memorable film, no, but it’s definitely a fun action thriller, all about a nurse who runs a hospital for injured criminals. There are interesting characters, there’s some mystery and there are tones of entertaining action pieces. Plus, it’s a crisp 90 minutes.
Javier Fuentes: I’ll go ahead and say Mandy only because not a lot of people saw it in general. But those of us who did were rewarded in spades. Really, after waiting more than five years for the follow up from Beyond The Black Rainbow director Panos Cosmatos, the wait was very much worth it. It’s got psychedelic imagery, sexist dudes being taken down a notch, giant sci-fi blades, a gnarly soundtrack and the best Nic Cage performance in years.
Kip Mooney: I’ll go with The Predator. Maybe it’s because I don’t have any particular affection for the Predator franchise. Maybe it’s because I loved seeing Sterling K. Brown as a scenery-chewing villain. Regardless, I was more than willing to overlook this movie’s numerous flaws because I just had such a good time with Shane Black’s ridiculous, hilarious, extremely violent take on the concept. Yeah, it falls apart the second you think about it, but unlike the long-suffering fans of this inconsistent franchise, I didn’t mind that. I just didn’t care, so I didn’t think that hard about it, and by choosing instead to focus on its numerous surface-level pleasures, I really dug it.
Movies Most People Loved But We Didn’t.
Angela Jones: I was excited for Bad Times at the El Royale. I really was! It appeared to be an homage to Tarantino films where a bunch of random characters converge on one location — and then chaos ensues. But instead of reinventing this type of film, El Royale just felt like a cheap knock-off. What little it has in style, it majorly lacks in substance. There are some tense moments and fun performances, but it didn’t stick its landing for me at all.
Javier Fuentes: Can I say two? Great, because I didn’t get the hype behind either Black Panther or Mary Poppins Returns. Like, yeah, Black Panther was obviously a fine movie, but all this recent talk of it maybe being nominated for the Best Picture honors at the Oscar? That is straight up insane. It legit feels like artificial narrative made up by Oscar prognosticators and podcasters. Mary Poppins Returns, on the other hand, is a movie that, while it left me super high when I left the theater, resonated less and less with me the more I looked back upon it. Basically, it went down like a spoonful of sugar, and then I realized those calories were just empty.
Kip Mooney: So, uh, Ocean’s 8 was a real bummer, huh? So disappointing. The eight women involved in the Met Gala heist here are all super-talented, but this no-stakes piece of intellectual property renewal wastes them all. The film seemed way more interested in #servinguplooks than telling a compelling story or making us care about any of these characters even one bit. The script basically took our existing affection for the cast and called things a day. Oh, what could — nay, should — have been.
Best Aspect of a Bad Movie.
Angela Jones: Rami Malek was pretty damn great as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. But Freddie Mercury is deserving of a new epic biopic about his life — he was the enigmatic front man of Queen and would have been a social media favorite if social media existed in the ’70s and ’80s — as Malek’s magnetic and confident portrayal is just head and shoulders above everything else in this movie, which amounts to little more than a very generic biopic. Still, I would recommend watching this one, if only for Malek’s powerful performance. Oh, and the music is ,of course, great.
Javier Fuentes: Raffey Cassidy’s performance in Vox Lux really resonated with me. Now, don’t get me wrong: Director Sean Baker’s film is truly a hot piece of garbage that uses horrible imagery and themes for no discernible purpose. But the young Cassidy is a high note in this needlessly morose movie about an unbearable pop star (played as an adult by Natalie Portman).
Kip Mooney: I personally thought the cinematography in Solo: A Star Wars Story was something else. Now, if you saw this lackluster, disjointed Star Wars film in a theater with less-than-ideal projection, you’re probably thinking I’m out of my mind. But I saw this at a theater where they actually gave a crap about it — and it really looked gorgeous. Bradford Young (Arrival) is one of the best young directors of photography around, and the backroom games, snowy train heists and desert double-crosses looked like money well-spent even if the movie itself wasn’t.
Scene of the Year.
Angela Jones: Oh, the last 10 minutes of Hereditary, for sure. Easily the scariest film of the year, this one starts off as a family drama but wraps up as a horror film you can’t stop thinking about. The last 10 minutes take things into serious overdrive, too. The tension in the theater I saw it in was so thick, you felt like you couldn’t breathe. Just in general, there were so many intense moments in this film. And I, for one, had no idea how it was going to end. Props to director Ari Aster, who proves himself to already be a master in tension and in the use of sound (or lack thereof). Somehow, this was also his first feature film. Nuts, right?
Javier Fuentes: The garage confrontation at the end of the breathtaking Blindspotting finds its lead confronting the racist cop who shot an unarmed black man earlier in the movie. And the tension leading up to this point? It’s palatable as hell. The catharsis that’s released in this moment is unreal, too. I don’t know that there’s been a better portrayal on film of the difficulties faced by minorities in the United States in 2018.
Kip Mooney: I’ve already raved about First Man on this site, but its moon landing scene deserves as much recognition as it can get. Even though I already obviously knew what was going to happen, director Damien Chazelle and editor Tom Cross still had me on the edge of my seat as Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) braced for impact on the lunar surface. Then, as Armstrong exits the lander, the entire frame expands and he becomes the first person to ever see Earth from the moon. His emotional experience up there, thinking about all the people he’s lost on this journey, is without question one of the most powerful moments of the year in film.
Performance of the Year.
Angela Jones: Definitely Elsie Fisher in Eighth Grade. I mean, sure, this is a biased pick because I am a teacher by day, but Fisher’s performance as the nerdy Kayla who feels very out-of-place as she’s about to enter high school, it hits close to home. Fisher perfectly captures the longing that 14-year-olds have to fit in and be cool (whatever that means), and no matter what she tries, she can’t seem to crack into the cool kids clique. It’s an understated performance filled with angst and emotion. Better yet, it was so natural, this film almost felt like a documentary.
Javier Fuentes: I can’t decide between Nic Cage in Mandy and Olivia Colman in The Favourite, but I think Colman takes this one. Her Queen Anne is a complex character filled with too many emotions and neuroses to list.
Kip Mooney: Sadly, almost no one saw Rosamund Pike’s incredible performance in A Private War. In it, she plays Marie Colvin, the award-winning journalist who was killed in Syria in 2012. And, honestly, Rosamund Pike may have even topped her powerful performance in Gone Girl here, playing Colvin the way she wanted to be seen — without an ounce of pity. Addicted to the rush of covering life-and-death stories and suffering from untreated PTSD, she made sure to lift up the voices of the many forgotten victims of conflict in her work. And while this movie was a major bummer, Pike’s performance will go down as the stuff of legend — well, if some more people see it.
Best Theatrical Experience.
Angela Jones: This year, I got to experience two movie marathons at the Alamo Drafthouse. First, was Dismember the Alamo, which was five Halloween movies. Then came December to Dismember, which showed three Christmas horror films. Many of the same people I saw at one came to both, and we had a blast trying to guess the body count of all the films, voting on a costume contest and seeing “Steve,” the skeleton co-host who made an appearance at both marathons. Plus, it’s always a fun to be introduced to films you wouldn’t otherwise see anywhere else.
Javier Fuentes: I really enjoyed seeing both Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and Mandy in theaters. One I saw on opening night with a mostly female crowd and the other I saw with the volume turned up real high at the Texas Theatre. For entirely different reasons, they were both awesome times.
Kip Mooney: You can currently watch Roma on Netflix, but it won’t resonate as well as the theater experience did. I’m torn about that. On the one hand, it’s exciting that it’s available for so many people around the world to see right this very second. But those people won’t be able to see how well Alfonso Cuarón’s passion project comes off as an immersive big-screen experience — especially in the climactic beach scene, as the sound of waves envelopes the audience. For me, watching anything on Netflix allows me the temptation to look at my phone (a habit I’m trying to break), but in a theater, where there are no distractions, you’re able to get truly lost in a lovely, heartbreaking film like this one.
Best 2017 Movie We Didn’t See Until 2018
Angela Jones: I was sad I missed Lady Bird last year, so I rented it on-demand in January — and my top 10 would have looked a lot different had I seen it before our year-end coverage for 2017 ran. This film about mothers and daughters and their relationships just hit so close to home for me. My mom and I went through a similar spat when I was graduating to the one shown so beautifully captured and shared here. It’s just a fantastic film, and I recommend it to anyone who is going or has gone through similar situation.
Javier Fuentes: In Paddington 2, the marmalade-loving bear is back! Also, he’s in jail after being framed for a robbery. Even with tough-talking inmates surrounding him, he never loses his demeanor and trademark phrase: “If we are kind and polite, the world will be all right.” I loved the spirit of this one. Plus, it made me super hungry for marmalade sandwiches.
Kip Mooney: Even as critics, we don’t get to see everything before the year ends. So I didn’t get to experience Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson’s twisted romantic comedy, until January of this year. It’s one of his oddest movies, and also his most lush. A sumptuous drama about an arrogant British fashion designer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the young waitress who becomes his muse (Vicky Krieps), it’s the opposite of a stuffy period piece. There’s plenty of outlandish bursts of humor, and a very intense moment where a main character gets sidelined with the shits. I love this wild movie the more I think about it, too — especially when you remember that PTA got some of his ideas for this from his marriage to Maya Rudolph.
Our Combined Favorite Films of 2018.
(tie) Hereditary and Suspiria (7 points).
The Favourite (8 points).
First Man and Mandy (9 points).
Eighth Grade, Roma and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (10 points).
Black Panther (11 points).
Minding The Gap (12 points).
Annihilation (21 points).
Our Individual Ballots.
1. Eighth Grade
2. Black Panther
5. Love, Simon
6. Minding The Gap
7. Crazy Rich Asians
8. Three Identical Strangers
9. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
10. Game Night
1. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
5. The Endless
6. Let The Corpses Tan
7. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
10. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
2. First Man
3. The Favourite
4. Minding The Gap
5. If Beale Street Could Talk
7. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
8. First Reformed
9. Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (tie)