“Um…”

That’s the first word or filler sound to come out of the average person’s mouth when you ask them to name their favorite films of the year. It’s only natural – they have to stop and think about it. If it’s an epically good year for movies, the “um” is short-lived and gives way to an excited listing of titles. If it’s a bad or mediocre year, the “um” is prolonged, often followed by, “Let me think. What all have I actually seen this year?”

Sadly, I’ve heard a lot of the latter when I’ve asked around to hear people’s picks for best films of 2018 so far. Eventually, most people just name the big blockbusters (Black Panther, Infinity War, Deadpool 2), maybe a horror movie (A Quiet Place) before they start grasping at straws (um, Game Night was pretty solid, I guess).

Last year was different. Last year spoiled us. By this time last year, we’d been treated to Get Out, John Wick: Chapter Two, Logan, Beauty and the Beast, Wonder Woman, The Big Sick, and Baby Driver. 2018 hasn’t lived up to that, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been some damn fine movies. Here are the 15 of them:

15. Tully

Somewhat similar to Jennifer Fox and The Tale, Tully is a prime example of what happens when more women are allowed to tell their story on film. In this case it’s Diablo Cody’s personal experience with postpartum depression. And every time Cody and Jason Reitman get together they make a movie about growing up – Juno’s about growing up too fast, Young Adult about waiting too long to grow up. Now, Tully tackles how to accept adulthood and say goodbye to who you used to be, for better and for worse. It might just be their best and most mature effort yet, regrettable third act twist and all. The ending is what drew the ire of so many, but even with it Tully is a moving profile of a mother suffering in silence.

How Can I Watch It?: Due On Home Video 7/17

14. Paddington 2

Imagine if Wes Anderson made a kid’s movie with genuine sentiment and emotions. That’s Paddington 2, which plays like pure weaponized whimsy. This would be on my list for just those delightful storybook sequences alone.

How Can I Watch It?: On Home Video

13. Cargo

Cargo shines as a character-driven survival story in the Australian Outback, less concerned with scaring you and more determined to earn your tears as you root for a father stuck in an impossible situation and surrounded by death. Oh, also, it’s a zombie movie, a genre endlessly picked over and mined for all manner of social commentary. Cargo finds a slightly new, more emotionally-rooted angle on the genre.

How Can I Watch It?: On Netflix

12. The Ritual

Adapted from an Adam Nevill novel and directed by V/H/S’s David Bruckner, Ritual delivers a wonderful sense of dread, smartly executed thrills and takes full advantage of the inherent eeriness of its setting. Even before the monster-revealing third act, the film seriously unnerves you through masterfully foreboding wide shots and overhead shots making it seem as if the woods are literally swallowing the characters. Of course, similar to The Descent the horror is all just an excuse to force the characters to own up to all the drama they’ve been suppressing, which allows Rafe Spall to shine as the deeply depressed fuck-up of the group. The Ritual ultimately stands as one of the finer cabin-in-the-woods fright fests in recent memory.

How Can I Watch It?: On Netflix

11. Annihilation

From one movie (The Ritual) about a group of men heading into the woods to a movie (Annihilation) about a group of women doing the same, only to equally horrifying, but significantly different results…

Leave it to Alex Garland, the man behind Ex Machina, to take a familiar movie premise and turn it into a thoughtful reflection on broken people, self-destructive behavior, and the inescapable suspicion that the whole thing is just a giant metaphor for something much bigger, probably cancer. Plus, he threw in a hybrid bear monster which lets out human screams instead of roars. Nightmare fuel.

How Can I Watch It?: On Netflix for those outside the U.S., on home video for those within the U.S.

10. The Tale

The meta-ness of The Tale is sometimes overwhelming. Laura Dern plays Jennifer Fox, a documentary filmmaker who uncovers an old autobiographical essay she wrote as a 13-year-old chronicling a romantic relationship with her 40-year-old track coach (played in flashbacks by Jason Ritter). This triggers a series of repressed memories to resurface and sets off a personal journey to understand what exactly really happened and why.

Except, of course, The Tale is written and directed by the real Jennifer Fox, and everything in the film is based on her own experience, right down to tracking down her abuser and confronting him. Thus, The Tale is as pure an exercise in sitting down to listen to one woman’s story of abuse as I can imagine from any narrative film. However, while there is eventually much time for anguish and anger there’s also a fair deal of thoughtfulness about the peculiarities of memory, like how the flashbacks keep changing the more Dern finds old pictures to jog her memory. It all adds up to the eye-opening chronicling of the lifelong effect of sexual abuse, perfectly capturing the exact moment Fox accepted that she was victimized and wasn’t somehow guilty or complicit yourself.

How Can I Watch It?: On HBO Now

9. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Oscar-winning director Morgan Neville thought the world needed Mr. Rogers again, and he gave it to us as much as possible in the form of the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Those expecting salacious details, shocking scandal, or startling new revelations about Fred Rogers are in for a disappointment. Instead, Neville presents a man who truly was exactly who he appeared to be. Exactly as Neville guessed, Rogers’ innate goodness, as well as the soul-nourishing strength of his message, feels sorely missed. This movie is thus an empathy machine released into an age of perpetual outrage.

How Can I Watch It?: Still in Theaters

8. Hereditary

Early euphoric quotes touting this as being on par with The Exorcist raised the bar too high (and also picked the wrong classic for comparison since this is obviously far closer to Rosemary’s Baby). The ads suckered in lots of impatient viewers who ended up openly mocking the movie. However, for those attuned to this particular branch of arthouse cinema Ari Aster’s Hereditary is an uncommonly unsettling family drama that happens to eventually remember it’s a horror movie and puts Toni Collette through the emotional ringer, transfixing us in the process. The family drama arguably works better than the actual horror, but Collette carries the day either way and deserves to be remembered come awards season.

How Can I Watch It?: Still in Theaters

7. Upgrade

Upgrade blends together so many familiar elements – a little bit of Her and Blade Runner, a lot of Robocop and DeathWish – into something refreshing and new, the type of kickass action sci-fi that appeals to the 14-year-old in all of us.

How Can I Watch It?: Still in Select Theaters, Coming to Home Video 8/28

6. Adrift

The screenplay effectively uses a flashback structure to avoid coming off as little more than a female-led All Is Lost, and Shailene Woodley and Claflin make their central love affair believable and tragic, as we watch young love in the past contrasted with certain death in the present. Similar to Tully, the story eventually executes an unfortunate twist, but as one woman’s story of survival and a young couple being put to the ultimate test Adrift is in equal turns moving, deeply romantic, and truly harrowing.

How Can I Watch It?: Still in Select Theaters, Coming to Home Video 9/4

5. Avengers: Infinity War

As a cinematic event and one-of-a-kind viewing experience, Infinity War has no equal. As a movie, it’s decidedly incomplete and overstuffed with character and incident. Its ultimate worth will be determined when we see the second side of the story in Avengers 4. Until then, blockbuster cinema will struggle to ever top this film’s snappening finale and heartbreaking use of the phrase “I don’t feel so good.”

How Can I Watch It?: Still in Theaters, Due on Home Video 7/31

4. A Quiet Place

More a suspense thriller than a straight horror movie, A Quiet Place takes silence and uses it against us, demanding it of not just the characters but also audience members. This allows John Krasinski and his talented cast to deliver several Chekhovian thrills, such as that damn nail we just know Emily Blunt is going to step on at the absolutely wrong moment. The further you get away from the film you more you turn into the logic police pulling on loose threads, but in the moment of watching A Quiet Place for the first time, it’s almost a primal experience of unease and, eventually, joy. Never before has the simple sound of a gun cocking sounded so damn triumphant.

How Can I Watch It?: On Home Video or in Select Theaters

3. Black Panther

Really, what more needs to be said? Wakanda Forever.

How Can I Watch It?: On Home Video

2. Veronica

Veronica isn’t quite up to all of the “scariest movie of all time” hyperbole, but this Spanish-made horror film takes old tropes like Ouija boards and demonic possession and finds an impressive new use for them through the story of a beleaguered 15-year-old girl who’s been asked to grow up too soon. Is there a Nightmare on Elm Street 2-level gay subtext? Is Veronica seeing memories of her more innocent years, her friends, or total strangers when she looks with envy across the way at a girl and her family and their more carefree life? I don’t know, but I’ve loved talking with people about it and debating the finer points of such a fine film.

How Can I Watch It?: On Netflix

1. First Reformed

The guy who wrote Taxi Driver is super worried about the world, particularly the environment. So, he wrote a movie about a man – Ethan Hawke’s mentally and physically anguished priest – being consumed by a similar despair. Think of it as Taxi Driver meets Silence meets An Inconvenient Truth.

On first viewing, the film struck me as an effectively subdued character study, but the full emotional impact didn’t hit me until much later. What writer-director Paul Schrader perfectly captures is the sense of isolation and spiritual ennui infecting this land, chronicling how even the best among us can be driven to extremism and self-radicalization in a world which seems to be losing its soul. How perfectly 2018.

How Can I Watch It?: In Select Theaters

Honorable Mentions: Deadpool 2, Incredibles 2, The Endless, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Game Night

Dishonorable Mentions: The Cloverfield Paradox, The 15:17 to Paris, Gringo, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

2018 Films I Simply Haven’t Seen Yet: Sorry to Bother You, You Were Never Really Here, Leave No Trace, Lean On Pete, Three Identical Strangers, Revenge

What about you? What are some of your favorites of the year?

Advertisements

Posted by Kelly Konda

Grew up obsessing over movies and TV shows. Worked in a video store. Minored in film at college because my college didn't offer a film major. Worked in academia for a while. Have been freelance writing and running this blog since 2013.

4 Comments

  1. Still waiting for 2 to go on sale (cuz I’m cheeeeeap!)

    Reply

    1. Oops this was meant for an entirely different comments section. Disregard, delete, whatever.

      Aaaaanyway…did anyone ever confirm the whole Veronica was gay for Luisa thing?

      Reply

  2. Excited to see Black Panther so high on your list. I’ve been really slacking this year at seeing movies…albeit more recently…I still need to see Sorry to Bother You and Won’t You Be My Neighbor.

    Reply

    1. Black Panther, by virtue of its historic success, has been subject to a lot of and inevitable “I dunno. It was good, but not that good” backlash. I’ve even given into it on occasion, thinking back to some of the more nitpickier parts of the final battle. But, no, when I stop and really think about it I remember Black Panther is just a damn good superhero movie, one of the best in recent memory.

      I’m actually seeing Sorry to Bother you later today. Won’t You Be My Neighbor I saw at the Alamo Drafthouse in Denver while I was in town for their Comic Con. They gave everyone a small kleenex package since everyone seems to cry at this thing. We all laughed about it before the movie started. By the end, pretty much everyone crying and pulling on those kleenex packages. An interesting experience, for sure.

      I didn’t mention it in the piece, but I owe a lot of my filmgoing in 2018 to MoviePass. Actually, that’s been true for going on 3 years now.

      This year, I have watched way more Netflix movies than usual, mostly because that’s what my stats show get the most hits, and I want to be a part of the conversation everyone’s having about whatever the movies of the moment are. But it’s been a real, real mixed bag. 11 of my 15 favorite movies of the year are still the ones I saw in theaters, often thanks to MoviePass.

      That being said, maybe I somewhat cynically made the point in my intro, but I do have an overall sense this hasn’t been quite as exciting a year for movies as we’ve had in the past. It might be that some of the best films out there – like Lynn Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, Lean On Pete, or Leave No Trace, none of which I’ve seen yet – aren’t on Netflix nor are they really in theaters unless you happen to live in LA or NY, and even then these smaller movies aren’t staying very long.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.