2018 saw some talking heads opine the dearth of good movies, but while it feels like a lazy contrarian take it’s more likely just an ill-informed one. This year, like every year, saw dozens of great films and even more good ones, and if anything the real struggle was narrowing them down to a limited and ranked list. But I did it… because I care.
All of these films were released in the US this year, and while they didn’t all find an audience they sure as hell deserve to. Keep reading for a look at the 18 best movies of 2018.
18. The House That Jack Built
Lars von Trier’s films have never really connected with me as I’ve never felt their intent to be supported by an engaging artistry, but that changes with his latest, boldest, and best film. Presented as a series of vignettes highlighting a serial killer’s accomplishments, the film sees a man defending his “art” against judgment beyond his control. What von Trier lacks in subtlety he celebrates in audacity through Jack’s kills and his subsequent journey into hell. It’s a wickedly entertaining descent.
Remaking something like Dario Argento’s Suspiria is a fool’s errand on the face of it as it’s a memorable horror classic due exclusively to the sensory experience of watching and hearing it unfold. Luca Guadagnino wisely tackles a redo with a focus on story that he pairs with his own approach to beauty both in cinematography and score. It’s a sumptuous feast that brings the genre goods, some historical context, and a searing call to arms for the women of the world.
Writer/director Ari Aster’s feature debut is a stunner of tension and tone as it follows a dysfunctional family’s struggle with some devilish situations. Fantastic performances (by Alex Wolff and Toni Collette in particular) and smart writing pull viewers in close before the script slowly starts squeezing characters and viewers alike in its vicious grip. The film touches on familiar genre threads but weaves them into an experience of its own design. It’s paced like 2015’s The Witch, but it also delivers with similarly intense and horrifying bursts of terror.
15. Can You Ever Forgive Me
Melissa McCarthy plays a writer who’s no longer commercially viable and forced to make ends meet by any means necessary, and those means are forgery. This is a true story about one woman’s epic scam on the literary world, and it’s told with warmth, wit, and an honest eye. McCarthy is fantastic, and she’s matched beat for beat by a brilliant Richard E. Grant. The film offers a glimpse into the life of an ornery woman with talent and without scruples, and it’s a terrific watch.
We’re used to Spike Lee’s pointed attacks against America’s racist past and present, but his latest film holds that mirror up to a story too ridiculous to be true but true all the same. It’s the story of two police officers in Colorado — a black man and a Jew — who together infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. Lee plays it unavoidably as a comedy but the laughs are punctuated with reminders of how serious it all is for America, and the film ends with an extended dose of reality driving all of its points home in stark fashion. It’s Lee at his angriest and most creative.
13. The Favourite
England’s Queen Anne has seen better days, but rarely has she seen as engaging a portrait as the one presented her by director Yorgos Lanthimos. His latest pits the mentally frail ruler against two women vying for her attention and power, and the results are funny, sad, and deliciously thrilling. It’s a beguiling rendering of royalty brought to wicked life by a trio of perfect performances from Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone.
12. Game Night
As I mentioned on another list recapping the year’s best films this studio comedy has no business being as sharp, creative, and beautifully crafted as it is. The laughs are big and frequent, but the craftsmanship is even more impressive from the set-pieces down to the cinematography that leaves certain scenes resembling a game board. It’s one of the year’s most purely enjoyable watches with a cast fully up to the task at hand including a terrifically comic turn by Rachel McAdams.
Grief and loss are powerful forces capable of turning our worlds upside down, and while the themes can devastate in a straight drama they’re no less destructive in a sci-fi/horror scenario. Alex Garland’s latest drops five women into the unknown in search of answers, and what they find strikes at the very heart of our existence as humans. Beyond the heady ideas, the film offers up glorious visuals and thrilling set-pieces striking enough to thrill any genre fan. The bonus is the thought-provoking nature of its conclusion.
10. The Tale
Sexual assault is an ugly reality that gets even uglier when it involves a minor, but writer/director Jennifer Fox’s brutally honest tale of reflection crafts a story about it with such creativity and raw power as to be utterly mesmerizing. It still hurts to watch, but smart writing and a structure that sees a woman talking to her younger self as memories arise from the haze of time and shame bring its sadly relevant truths to the surface in powerful ways. Laura Dern, Elizabeth Debicki, and an equally brave Jason Ritter all shine.