10. First Reformed
In 1972, Paul Schrader wrote a book on transcendental filmmaking, and in 2018, he directed his first film informed by that spiritually-minded style he helped identify. First Reformed uses the cinematic grammar of transcendental filmmaking to explore Schrader’s decades-old obsessions: long, unedited scenes and stock-still camerawork zero in on the violence, vengeance, faith, guilt, and lone figures that have suffused Schrader’s long career since Taxi Driver. Ethan Hawke gives a performance as psychologically arresting as Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle in Ernst Toller, a New York reverend undergoing a crisis of faith that’s triggered by the earthliest of anxieties, while Alexander Dynan’s cinematography works in visual metaphors for Toller’s isolation throughout, diligently mimicking his descent into darkness right up until the film’s astonishing ending. Genuinely profound in the places faith-based movies tend to falter, First Reformed marks a new climax point in Schrader’s endlessly interesting career. (Farah Cheded)
Beyond the Black Rainbow director Panos Cosmatos returned to fever-dream form in his revenge/thriller/art-house/horror hybrid that sits in your mind like a lead weight hours after the pulsing synths of Johann Johannsson’s score have already trailed off. Mandy follows a battle ax-wielding and screaming Nicolas Cage on the road to bloody vengeance for the murder of his titular wife, played by an equal part enchanting and haunting Andrea Riseborough (it’s been a good year for her). The film is certainly more style than substance, but it’s critical and audience success is evidence of its status as an enrapturing and utterly infectious cinematic experience. Mandy truly has everything; it’s got a gang of bikers who tripped so hard on acid they somehow transcended their own humanity and devolved into monstrous, Cenobite-esque Neanderthals; it’s got Nicolas cage downing an entire bottle of vodka in a bathroom without pants on; it’s got Richard Brake as an enigmatic, tiger-owning chemist, occasional animated sequences, and, of course, a cult of crazy bible-thumpers preaching love and acceptance while burning people alive as their leader, Jeremiah Sand (a wonderfully irritating Linus Roache), shills his own self-aggrandizing music.
Mandy tows an impossible line between ridiculous and artistic, that somehow imbues gratuitous images of a blood-drenched Nicolas Cage with an effortless sort of beauty. A film colored in a hazy pink and red palette, with an atmosphere that boasts of an endless trance even when what we’re presented with, is supposed to be, on whatever bizarro-world level, reality, Mandy only asks for our patience. In return, the film gifts us with two straight hours of events and actions that, in another cinematic effort helmed by Nicolas Cage, might garner only ambivalence or scorn. In Mandy, Cage’s penchant for the extreme is both harnessed and tamed like a wild animal, while encased in a dreamscape battleground that will continue to linger on in your mind like a welcome brainworm long after the credits have rolled. (Brianna Zigler)
8. Paddington 2
Upon its release, Paul King’s sequel to his surprise hit about a talking CGI bear quickly became the best-reviewed film ever on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s because, like its predecessor, Paddington 2 is hilarious, heartwarming, and utterly charming. Even our own “Film Cynic” Christopher Campbell is a fan, as it topped his Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Movies of 2018 list. The beauty of the Paddington movies is that they promote a hopeful message that’s earnest, genuine, and inspiring. As far as feel-good fare goes, Paddington 2 is hard to beat and I hope they never stop making sequels as long as I live. As corny as it sounds, this talking bear is a reminder of how beautiful humanity can be sometimes. (Kieran Fisher)
7. Sorry to Bother You
Boots Riley is not here to change your mind. He’s here to launch a signal flare into the air and offer a life raft to the equally angry. Sorry to Bother You is a rallying cry and an explosion of frustration against the world we populate. By embracing magical absurdity, Riley scores a few laughs with his imagery, but each gag carries a sharp stab of truth. You may chuckle for the first fifteen minutes but then come to the tears, and rage after that. Don’t let that fire dwindle. Stoke its flames. Carry it with you to the voting booth. (Brad Gullickson)
From start to finish Blindspotting feels nothing short of miraculous. Every moment is bursting with energy and originality, it’s equal parts powerful rage and some of the best comedic moments I’ve seen on screen all year, and it balances all of this perfectly. Daveed Diggs — in an unbelievable breakout performance — stars as Collin, a man in the last days of his probation who witnesses a police shooting while out after curfew. Collin’s process of understanding what he saw and how to deal with it is further complicated by an increasingly contentious relationship with his best friend, Miles (Rafael Casal, who co-wrote the screenplay with Diggs). Grappling with everything from gentrification to the legacy of Alfred Hitchcock, Blindspotting is undeniably ambitious and unlike any other movie this year. This is a film that will shake you, anger you, render you speechless and invigorate you in ways you never see coming. (Anna Swanson)
5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Peter Parker is not the one-true Spider-Man, he’s not even the one-true Peter Parker. Better than any other interpretation that came before it, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse celebrates Stan Lee’s hope for humanity. Radioactive spiders and dead uncles don’t make a champion. We’re a species in constant battle with doubt, fear, and despair, but motivation for heroism is all around us. As Miles tells his audience in the film’s climax, “Anyone can wear the mask. You can wear the mask.” Find your strength and fight.
If that perfect distillation of the character was not enough, directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman deliver the most exhilarating adaptation of the comic book medium ever. Period. Full stop. Nothing better. Through next-level animation, Into the Spider-Verse is able to make absolute use of the mechanics of a stapled comic. Panels, captions, thought balloons, action-lines, materialized sound effects, etc. Here is a revolutionary experience that will change the art form going forward. (Brad Gullickson)
4. The Favourite
To sum it up in just a few words, if you love scheming, you’re going to love The Favourite. In what is surely Yorgos Lanthimos’s most accessible film to date (in a good way) Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), and the formerly royal but now disgraced Abigail (Emma Stone), viciously vie for the coveted position of Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) court favorite. The film, which also includes a hilarious Nicholas Hoult, is chockfull of knockout performances that perfect that distinctly Lanthimos absurdism. Colman is undoubtedly the standout, as she deftly transforms Queen Anne from comic relief into one of the most compelling characters of the year. Lanthimos disguises this outrageous and deliciously fun dramedy as a run-of-the-mill 18th century period piece but throws all our notions about what has earned a reputation as a famously boring genre out the window. For one, he puts many stylish spins on the period piece, most notably, in his encouragement that cinematographer Robbie Ryan use fisheye lenses and an abundance of wide shots. The Favourite also features the only handjob scene to date that has ever come close to rivaling Amy Adam’s and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brilliant work in The Master. And if that doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will. (Madison Brek)
3. Eighth Grade
What else would Bo Burnham make a film about but the Internet? YouTuber turned comedian turned director, the nearly 30-year-old Burnham casts an insightful eye on the relationship between young people and technology in his feature debut, Eighth Grade. Kayla (Elsie Fisher) navigates the waters of her final week of middle school, muddied by the waters of social media and the longstanding horrors of adolescent girlhood. Fisher is one to watch. She brings an authentic physicality to her performance, emulating our young selves in every self-conscious bite of her lip. The most mundane social interactions become minefields, but Burnham’s camera is compassionate. While her peers turn their backs, we linger, rooting for her through every sent Snapchat. It’s not often that we get to see a young girl’s story held up, 10 feet tall, on the screen before us. Burnham lets us relish in the chance, anxiety and all. (Megan Sergison)
There’s no one way to craft and execute a fantastic slice of sci-fi/horror, but the best pair the visceral terror of the latter with the big, existential questions of the former. Alex Garland’s Annihilation does just that with his tale of five women who head bravely into the creeping unknown. The result is a beautiful, haunting, and occasionally terrifying film that can be read both as a story about the mental battles we fight with ourselves and the physical struggles we endure. It’s a stunner. (Rob Hunter)
1. Black Panther
A few days ago, we named Black Panther as our Movie of the Year. A few of our followers on Twitter got into their feelings about it, telling us that we’re wrong and that Black Panther is “overrated.” Here’s something you should know if you’re ever going to be a successful Film Twitter pundit: don’t be the fourth dude to say “overrated” when we all know that you really mean something else, something you’d rather not admit publicly. We see you. Keep those takes to yourselves.
Here’s the truth about Black Panther — and keep in mind that it was released in February — it still sits at 97% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, 88 (out of a possible 100) from critics on Metacritic, 79% positive from the very malleable audience on Rotten Tomatoes, and even though it received 15,000 votes rating it a 1 (which, when you think about it is pretty funny — who really thinks this movie is a 1/10?) it’s still at a 7.4 on IMDB. It’s also the highest grossing domestic release of 2018. To date, it’s made $2-million more than Avengers: Infinity War in the US. It is the highest grossing Marvel Cinematic Universe (or any Marvel Comics) movie of all-time.
By every conceivable metric that doesn’t involve what a group of about 37 loud people on Twitter have to say, Black Panther has an insane resume. It’s one of the most accomplished, well-regarded, and significant releases in a year full of accomplished, well-regarded, and significant releases. It matters not how you slice it. And here’s the real spoiler: it’s an excellent film. Disney, arguably the most monolithic and four-quadrant-obsessed company producing anything anywhere ever, let the filmmaker behind the chest-crushing drama Fruitvale Station make a big superhero movie that was both a celebration of and a reckoning with hundreds of years of the black experience. It’s not just about asking hard questions about why a fictional African nation, one with incredible technical and military advantages, basically sat out slavery. It would be impressive for any film to be this culturally introspective and honest. This film was made by Marvel Studios inside the Disney machine.
Black Panther ends with Eric Killmonger, having just shaken Wakanda to its core with his (sometimes understandable) vengeance, saying, “Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage.”
Then they roll credits, show us the names of the thousands of hard-working people who worked on this massive studio blockbuster film, and they do the obligatory post-credits scene to keep the MCU appetites whet for more. If you’ve read anything about the way the film industry has worked for decades, you know that’s a miracle. In this house, we respect miracles of cinema. (Neil Miller)