The end of the year is always hard for me, as it comes time to narrow down the 70 or so new films I watched this year into a list that reflects the ten best. 2018 didn’t come with as many films that I loved or personally connected with as past years have, but the ones that were good were really good (hence the reason why there are some films that just barely didn’t make the cut in my honorable mentions at the bottom). This year saw more mainstream Hollywood films taking their place alongside the independent releases; my top ten list for 2018 includes everything from horror to superhero movies to studies of racism to a foreign language drama. My picks are below, listed in no particular order; click the links to read my full review of each film.
Directed by Barry Jenkins, this drama based on the novel by James Baldwin is set in 1970s New York, where a young African American man (Stephan James) is wrongly accused of raping a woman. While he is behind bars his pregnant wife Tish (Kiki Layne) and family work to prove his innocence amidst a system of discrimination. This beautiful and intimately shot film features a riveting supporting performance from Regina King as Tish’s mother Sharon.
“Black Panther” is Marvel Studios’ crowning achievement. It doesn’t just break ground with its almost entirely all-black cast, but it’s one of the strongest superhero stories to date. It has a hero you can root for in the form of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the newly crowned king of the highly advanced African kingdom of Wakanda, who must prove he is able to follow in his father’s footsteps. But it also has a villain you can sympathize with in the form of Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), who goes by Killmonger, who believes that instead of Wakanda hiding their technological advances from the rest of the world, they should be using them to help the oppressed. With entertaining action scenes and beautiful sets and visuals that walk the line between fantasy and reality, “Black Panther” is a superhero movie that won’t soon be forgotten.
John Krasinski stars in his directorial debut alongside Emily Blunt as parents trying to survive with their children in a world ravaged by monsters that hunt by sound. The first half of the film is almost completely silent, as the characters cannot speak out loud, and must movie as silently as possible, making the second half of the film all the more terrifying when the pregnant mother goes into labor. It’s a tense thriller that plays less as a horror film and more as a poignant family drama that will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Spike Lee’s newest film is one of his best. “Blackkklansman” is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), who becomes the first black officer on the Colorado Springs police force in the 1970s, and infiltrates the local chapter of the KKK along with white Jewish officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). At times hilarious, at other times sobering, the film is a wildly thrilling story that addresses racism throughout American history, with its portrait of race in the 70s paralleling racial issues and discrimination that are still happening today.
The debut feature from filmmaker Boots Riley is a wild and provocative look at race and capitalism through an alternate universe starring Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius Green, a young black man who rises through the ranks of a telemarketing firm as he puts on a white voice to achieve success. The resulting conflict between the corporation—which has secrets of its own—and the activists rising against them becomes crazier and more absurd as the film goes on, but it remains a disturbing dark comedy that’s creatively told.
One of the most inventive animated feature films to come around in a long time—especially from a major Hollywood studio like Sony—“Into the Spider-Verse” is so much more than just another superhero movie. It’s one of the few superhero movies that looks and feels like a comic book, both in the animation (which is 3D but with a 2D look) and the cinematography. It also introduces viewers to an inspiring new hero in Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales, who must overcome his self-doubt and find the strength within himself to save his family and friends. With a fun and varied supporting cast that includes an older, more cynical Peter Parker, “Into the Spider-Verse” is an origin story unlike any you’ve ever seen.
“Eighth Grade” isn’t a quirky and funny teen comedy. Rather, it’s about an authentic a look at middle school as it gets, as seen through the eyes of shy, awkward teen Kayla. Elsie Fisher is a marvel in the role, as her performance and the script by Bo Burnham (who also directs) explores the anxiety and stress that accompanies school, trying to make friends, and the pressures of social media. It’s heart-breaking, but it also provides a level of understanding for those who have had similar experiences to Kayla, while seeking understanding from those who haven’t.
Melissa McCarthy gives the performance of a lifetime as author turned forger Lee Israel. She’s an unscrupulous character, but one you can’t help but feel for as the film (directed by Marielle Heller) gives viewers a peek at her sad and lonely life. She’s perfectly complemented by a flamboyant performance from Richard E. Grant. “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” also shows a lot of respect and love for literature and independent book stores that any reader can watch and appreciate.
The feel good movie of the year is so likeable that it’s easy to dismiss its flaws, predominantly its shallow take on racial issues. But this buddy road trip film about an Italian bouncer (Viggo Mortensen) driving a black classical pianist (Mahershala Ali) on a concert tour through the deep South in the early 1960s is genuinely heart-warming, thanks to its witty script and the charisma of its two leads, who really sell their burgeoning friendship. And it’s visually pleasing as well, as it whisks viewers on a nostalgic tour of 1960s America.
“Roma” is a masterfully created piece of work from Alfonso Cuaron, who serves as director, writer, and cinematographer. Gorgeously filmed in black-and-white, with shot compositions that make this look at a middle class Mexican family and their maid Cleo (a stunning performance by Yalitza Aparicio) in the 1970s look and feel epic, “Roma” is about as human a story as it gets. It’s simultaneously about nothing and everything, and its sincerity and simplicity is where it finds its power.