Our quarterly look back at the year in movies continues with a group appreciation of the movies we love most so far. There are enough of us here at FSR to justify a list three times as long, but we’ve narrowed it down to fifteen of our absolute favorites that released January through June.
Our picks range from blockbusters to indies, from action films to kids movies, and the only common thread is that they’re all fantastic films that we’re excited to share and watch again. Keep reading for a look at the movies we think are among the best 2018 has yet to offer.
Follow Lena (Natalie Portman) into The Shimmer: a vast and growing expanse, an unexplainable area that suddenly appeared three years ago near the southern coast of the United States. But beware and don’t make the decision lightly. No one that’s gone into The Shimmer before Lena and her team (a stellar cast including Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Jennifer Jason Leigh) has ever made it out unharmed. Aware of this reality, the women know that the horrors that await them inside are sure to be legion but choose nonetheless to trek on in search of answers about this geological, biological phenomenon that might one day threaten all of life on earth. Writer-director Alex Garland‘s latest film begins as a typically enticing sci-fi adventure but just as quickly descends into an existential nightmare about the nature and inevitability of self-destruction. In other words, it’s a must-see. – Madison Brek
Avengers: Infinity War
For many, the latest Avengers film is a perfectly fine time at the movies. A summer blockbuster with plenty of action, an abundance of star power, and a bunch of spandex-clad heroes winking at each other between punches. That’s all fine. But for others, Infinity War is the culmination of 10 years worth of dedicated storytelling and movie-going, the climax of a massive project kickstarted by Iron Man in 2008. As a penultimate episode in the longest, most expensive cinematic TV series of all-time, it’s a magnificent accomplishment of meticulous, fulsome storytelling from the Russo Brothers. For those who invested early in the MCU, this was a big payday. – Neil Miller
A child asks a question to his father, and the answer rekindles decades of resentment and frustration. Why? Why do we hide in the slums of Oakland while our brothers and sisters fly in the skies above us? Black Panther reveals a hero in crisis. The newly crowned King T’Challa struggles with his position of power, protecting his borders, and progressing his people beyond the traditions that trap them. Ryan Coogler infuses his entry into the MCU with real-world rage, birthing a truly sympathetic villain in Killmonger. What responsibility do the powerful have to the desperate humans striving to live in a world indifferent to their pain? Here is a superhero film that brutally punishes its protagonist for the sins of his ancestors. T’Challa is schooled by those around him, and his reign as leader is determined by his ability to listen as much as his skill in combat. The eighteenth movie in Marvel’s shared cinematic universe shatters the barriers of what came before, expanding their palate as significantly as they did with Guardians of the Galaxy. Once known Wakanda cannot be unknown. With borders open, a new major force has been unleashed upon blockbuster culture. Spandex can have meaning and purpose. Wakanda Forever! – Brad Gullickson
This raunchy comedy emerges from a post-Bridesmaids cinematic world, in which physical humor and emotional maturity go hand in hand. It’s a prom night comedy that puts the helicopter parents in the sandpit and lets the kids make all the right decisions. But if the story’s settings and its teenage protagonists are conventional and ambitious, than at least the parents’ screw ups are the source of a great deal of cathartic comedy. Indeed, the film showcases funny performances that are funnier than the script. Unlike many Apatow-inspired comedies, it’s not contrived. The dialogue flows as freely as does cheap beer from a keg at a prom after party, and unlike most teen comedies, it’s the parents we worry about. As for the kids, well, they’ll be alright. – Sarah Foulkes
Borg vs McEnroe
The degree to which I’m not a “sports guy” often extends to my movie-going interests in that sports films focused primarily on/in the field, court, ring, rink, etc do little to raise or hold my interest. The exception, though, is tennis, and happily, there are only roughly seven tennis movies in existence. The latest opened earlier this year to little attention, but it’s not only the best tennis movie ever made it’s also one hell of a sports movie period. The film tells the true story of the rivalry between these tennis legends, and it moves gracefully between their personal demons in the days leading up to their first match and the match itself. It’s an emotionally affecting watch brought to life with powerful performances by Sverrir Gudnason and Shia LaBeouf, the match itself is a ridiculously suspenseful affair (even if you already know the historical outcome), and like the fantastic Warrior (2011) it frames the competition as one where we root evenly for both sides. We want both to win, we want neither to lose, and the simultaneous rush of triumph and despair is both satisfying and draining. Sports fans should watch, but so should viewers like myself who simply appreciate a beautiful tale of resilience, resistance, and the human spirit. – Rob Hunter
What does it mean to be a domestic violence survivor? How do children that grow up in psychologically draining, abusive environments cope? What does emotional manipulation by an entitled male with a bruised ego actually look like? Xavier Legrand’s masterful Custody doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but it sure does get pretty damn close to accurately articulating the spiritual (and physical) terrors of toxic masculinity. Custody starts in Asghar Farhadi-esque territory in its first act, sending its audience down through a spiral of truth seeking via shifting perspectives. But then it quickly morphs into a nerve-racking account of physical and emotional abuse with a frightening finale that wouldn’t be out of place in the Overlook Hotel. In his feature debut as a writer-director, Legrand proves to be a true master of building breathtaking tension and lets his audience settle into each of the patiently sketched sequences that favor anxiety-inducing long takes. A film of true skill, insight and present-day relevance, Custody is one of the finest movies that came out of 2018. (Note: “Just Before Losing Everything,” Legrand’s brilliant Oscar-nominated short from 2013, serves as a brief prequel to Custody, and best be viewed after the feature to avoid spoilers.) – Tomris Laffly
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have a knack for showing audiences things that are wholly unique with an aesthetic that is cultivated from pure imagination. In their debut feature Resolution it’s a series of photographs and videos that are preternaturally discovered by two friends. In their follow-up Spring, it’s a monstrous shape-shifting being that stalks a picturesque seaside town in southern Italy. And in The Endless, it’s something that is practically beyond description as two ex-cult members return to the home they escaped years prior. It’s refreshing and rare to see such an abstract narrative on the screen, and the secrets that lie behind the mystery of The Endless are exciting for genre fans searching for an all together original concept. But what is the anchor to The Endless, and a trademark of Benson and Moorhead’s body of work, is its rich emotional core. While the film may play in heady time-space ideas, it’s ultimately a deeply believable story of two brothers coming to term with a shared past trauma. The best films should be reflections on our own lives, and with Benson and Moorhead’s work they just also like to add monsters and mysteries. The Endless is truly a genre prestige film. – Jacob Trussell
If First Reformed isn’t the absolute best movie of the year, then it certainly is the best feel-bad movie of the year. In Paul Schrader’s bleak drama, Ethan Hawke (in a gut-wrenching and meticulously perfect performance) plays Ernst Toller, a reverend at the First Reformed Church in upstate New York who is struggling with grief following the death of his son. Toller becomes wrapped up the marital problems of a parishioner named Mary (Amanda Seyfried) whose radical environmental activist husband has become troubled by the state of the earth. As he grows closer to her, Toller questions his own place in the world and what can be done to prevent further damage to the environment. First Reformed has been frequently compared to Taxi Driver as well as the films of Yasujirō Ozu, Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Robert Bresson, and while I don’t mean to diminish these complimentary comparisons I do wish to emphasize that First Reformed is very much its own movie. It nods to the greats that have come before, even having been shot in the academy ratio to give it a look distinct from most films made today, but Alexander Dynan’s crisp digital cinematography is modern and lends itself to the pertinence of Schrader’s subject matter. As a film about a reverend struggling with his faith while confronting environmental ruin, First Reformed could have been rather nihilistic, but as it becomes increasingly ambiguous (something that could frustrate some viewers) I would argue that it offers us a glimmer of hope and human connection in the face of destruction and isolation. First Reformed offers no easy answers to the problems it presents and is likely the most challenging film so far this year, but for this reason, it’s also the most rewarding. – Anna Swanson
Is Hereditary really the scariest movie of 2018? Maybe. Is it the most stressful experience you can have in a theater this year? Absolutely. One of Hereditary’s greatest gifts is its marketing as a horror film. Because while it’s not without sinister, unexplainable, even paranormal elements, the film’s most horrifying moments are rooted firmly in reality. Grief and despair are the real stars of the show, and the genre instills a pervading sense of dread that heightens the tension to nausea-inducing levels, with just enough true “horror” to spare the audience from complacency. It’s a glorious and harrowing exercise in disquiet that even the weeniest of horror fans (like me) should soldier their way through. Enter the world of Hereditary in a scared, anxious state of mind, and you’re in for the best most miserable two hours of your life. – Liz Baessler
Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson‘s stop-motion animated adventure speaks to the millennial obsession with our canine companions. Set in a dystopian Japan where dogs are banned and exiled, Isle of Dogs follows the quest of Ataru Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin) to find his lost best friend, accompanied by a pack of good-hearted strays (Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban). Meanwhile, back in Tokyo, a feline conspiracy (no, seriously) threatens all of canine-kind. The imaginative environments, delightful voice performances, and Anderson’s storybook-like direction make Isle of Dogs a heartfelt little adventure that will melt the icy hearts of cat lovers and people with allergies alike. – Hans Qu
Paddington 2 is a shot of pure, shining happiness in the middle of a world that’s growing darker every day. It’s a movie about a talking bear and an elaborate pop-up book heist, yes, but it’s also a movie about the simple beauty of an act of kindness. It’s visually inventive, endlessly charming, and it features a murderer’s row of incredible performances from some of our finest living actors, including a radiant Hugh Grant as that most terrifying of villains—an actor determined to put on a one-man show. But there are no true villains in Paddington 2. No one is beyond redemption, and no one, least of all the audience, can escape the boundless enthusiasm and selfless charm of our clumsy ursine protagonist. – John DiLillo
A Quiet Place
Any time film goes back to the visual storytelling of silent cinema is a treat, but when there’s a narrative reason for doing so, that’s even better. A Quiet Place isn’t a “silent film,” though it is mostly dialogue-free because its characters have to be. They’re trying to survive an alien invasion where the creatures attack anything making noise. Survival is also a big part of why the movie is so compelling. It’s not about heroes defending the planet. It’s about parents trying to protect their family, and as both director and actor, John Krasinski captures that concern perfectly. Yet it’s Emily Blunt who deserves the most acclaim for her portrayal of a mother dealing with the usual hardships of a newborn while also dealing with the aliens. Ellen Ripley had it easy by comparison. Blunt’s Evelyn is the real deal and still a badass. We parents surely can appreciate A Quiet Place more than others, but this is also just a satisfying time at the movies on a surface level — it’s edge-of-your-seat thrills and emotionally engrossing drama. You feel a lot, see a lot. It’s got your senses covered. – Christopher Campbell
The rape/revenge subgenre is without a doubt one of the most polarizing forms of cinematic storytelling out there. Some scholars and fans have argued that films of this ilk have merit and, in some cases, are so much more than exploitative filth. Others, meanwhile, are of the belief that it’s a subgenre steeped in problematic material with no redeemable qualities; cheap schlock told through the perspective of the male gaze that aims to provide titillation from women’s suffering. Regardless of your opinion on the sub-genre as a whole, I doubt you’ll find many who’ll chalk up Coralie Fargeat’s debut, Revenge, as cheap exploitation fare that’s devoid of substance. The film employs the savage simplicity and beats that movies like this are known for, but it’s one of the rare ones that’s told from the perspective of a woman and it feels refreshing. On top of that, it’s just a beautifully-shot, stylish action movie which boasts plenty of blood-letting and a powerhouse lead performance by Matilda Lutz as she survives hell and seeks retribution. Fargeat is a filmmaker we should all be paying attention to, and we can’t wait to see what she does next. – Kieran Fisher
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Watching the new Mr. Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a little like finding religion in the sense that it’s a wholly overwhelming, incredibly uplifting, and highly personal experience that’s impossible to explain to others. And you’ll probably cry. A lot. That might sound like a level of vulnerability that you’re not willing to give during a movie-going experience, but you should still consider it; rarely if ever has a movie about enduring goodness and all its complicating factors felt more healing and necessary. You don’t need to have liked or even watched the big-hearted TV show in order to enjoy this documentary, which explores Fred Rogers’ unique relationship with children (essentially a blend of teaching, parenting, therapy, and subtle activism), his personal life, and his reputation with all the wonder and nuance these subjects deserve. If you’re a human being with a pulse, this story is for you. – Valerie Ettenhofer
You Were Never Really Here
A modern master of filmmaking returned to the big screen this year with Lynne Ramsay’s newest character study of a protagonist gone awry. Despite a seven year break full of false hopes and abandoned projects, the unyielding Scottish filmmaker returns at the peak of her form, delivering a psychological thriller that plays more like a tone poem, using sound and image to convey a broken mindset in a way only Ramsay has throughout her career. Carried by a tremendous performance from Joaquin Phoenix, the film is also crafted to perfection, with astoundingly emotional imagery from cinematographer Thomas Townend and a career best score from Jonny Greenwood. While many were disappointed by the film’s ambiguity and seemingly typical plot, it’s a powerful and sensory time at the movies that, in regular Ramsay fashion, discards the “what, where, when, why” of filmmaking for an intense focus on seeing and hearing the world through one’s own eyes. – Fernando Andrés
Related Topics: Mid-Year Report