The Movies That Made My 2018
I deeply disliked Lanthimos’ previous filmmaking effort, 2017’s tart body-horror excursion The Killing of a Sacred Deer. So imagine my relief when I discovered that his latest directorial foray, the madcap period comedy The Favourite, was not only far more enjoyable than its predecessor, but that it was also among the year’s cleverest, most delightful films. Built on sturdy performances from Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, and Nicholas Hoult, and a wicked screenplay from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, spun is a wild, partially true story of a royal, 1700s-set rivalry that finds an impressive balance between the broad and the precise. As a bonus, it’s great to look at.
As I watched this crackpot farce in a recliner seat at my local AMC, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking of foundationally similar caper films like Foul Play (1978) and A Fish Called Wanda (1988). Sure, these films construct comparable stories. But as was the case when I watched the latter two movies for the first time, Game Night felt like a classic — a movie I couldn’t wait to rewatch. Come for the consistent, old-fashioned laughs, stay for a Barbara Stanwyck-esque performance from Rachel McAdams.
This long-anticipated Marvel enterprise made for one of 2018’s premier thrills — exhilaratingly designed, spiritedly acted, and a landmark for representation. It made the superhero movie, now close to the point of cannibalizing itself, feel new again. The soundtrack, curated by the consummate rapper and producer Kendrick Lamar, was a year-end highlight, too. Like the movie from which it took inspiration, it seemed to crackle with electricity.
Garland’s creepy, borderline avant-garde sci-fi-horror hybrid drew comparisons to last year’s bound-to-be cult classic mother!, and not just because both financially flopped, were produced by Paramount, and pulled off a similar promotional bait-and-switch. What linked then, both in my mind and the minds of a handful of other critics, was their proportionate way of daring to be melodramatically outré and comprehensively ambitious, to a very divisive point. Fortunately, I was on the “love” side of the love-it-or-hate-it spectrum.
Aster’s directorial debut was undoubtedly the year’s standout horror movie, and I suspect, and not just because of my personal appreciation of the film, that it will grow to become a genre definitive: Akin to classics like Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973), it delineates a dramatic narrative that could work as the bedrock for a plenty-riveting film without all the horror detritus.
Technically, this delicate coming-of-age drama premiered in 2017, at the Venice Film Festival. But because it saw a general release in the spring of 2018, I’m inclined to put it on this list. For the third time now, its writer and director, Haigh, has managed to make me cry. (The other two instances were borne of 2011’s Weekend, which I also saw for the first time this year, and loved, and 2015’s 45 Years.) On paper, the movie sounds potentially maudlin: it is about an unsupported, by-chance vagabond of a teenager (Charlie Plummer, whom I think will become a star) who, after his father dies, travels across the country, with a pilfered horse by his side, to try to find his estranged, only living relative. Instead of being oversentimental, though, it is a naturalistic, wonderfully realized piece that made me often think about My Own Private Idaho, Gus Van Sant’s comparatively aimless bildungsroman from 1991.
Riley’s debut — a singular, off-center dark comedy — was a revelation for many reasons: the trenchant, stylish, and winningly outlandish writing and direction of its maker, who is best known for his musical ventures; Lakeith Stanfield’s and Tessa Thompson’s game performances; and its inspired satirizing of the exploitations and hypocrisies that imbue corporate culture.
Lee’s cinematizing (and at some moments, reimagining) of a landmark case in the black police officer Ron Stallworth’s career is a provocative and mordant quasi-comic commentary on racial politics that makes clever, though admittedly occasionally heavy-handed, connections to the now.
I’m jealous of the future generations who will be able to turn to Eighth Grade. Though few will likely be rewatching it tirelessly — unlike a great many coming-of-age movies, there is a distinct lack of fuzziness — it is refreshing to see a movie built on the endless uncomfortability of middle school make such an impression on the mainstream. Rarely are the anxieties of one’s formative years dramatized with such a marked dearth of polish. The feature is also remarkable for its superb use of the young actress Elsie Fisher, who gives a brave, unvarnished performance, and for the writing and directing of the comedian Burnham, which, as foreshadowed by his stand-up work, is unusually observant and mature.
The first live-action Paddington movie was released in 2015, and was one of the loveliest films of that year. The charm hasn’t diminished vis-a-vis its sequel, Paddington 2. Again has King helmed a percipient, unorthodoxly warm fable that hits harder, both comedically and thematically, than the majority of purely escapist children’s movies. Plus, it spotlights a blue-ribbon performance from franchise rookie Hugh Grant.
Robert Redford’s purported swan song, about an aging delinquent who refuses to give up his criminal life, even for love, is a sly, stirring meditation on aging. A lesser director might have made it with the same fabric as a “one-last-heist” sort of caper comedy. But instead, Lowery assembles an intuitive character study. It is a career centerpiece for the storied Redford, and also for supporting veterans like Sissy Spacek, Tom Waits, and Danny Glover.
The complaints you’ve heard about Guadagnino’s stark, oft-brittle remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 horror movie of the same name are right on the money. It is certainly too long, and explores era-specific historical context one-dimensionally. Yet, I was smitten with it. Guadagnino’s take on the story — which revolves around a young woman (Dakota Johnson) who travels to Europe to study dance, only to find out that the academy at which she’s learning is run by witches — is visually innovative (in ways, thankfully, that differ from the legendarily photographed original), audaciously violent, and expertly unnerving. I haven’t been able to stop playing the soundtrack, which was headed by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, either.
Reitman and the ever-evolving screenwriter Diablo Cody have long struck gold when working together. Their latest collaboration, Tully, like their other duets, Juno (2007) and Young Adult (2011), is similarly concerned with motherhood. But unlike its predecessors, which were respectively interested in the theme as it pertained to the future and to the past, Tully is tethered to the present In the film, Charlize Theron plays an exhausted mother of three whose life changes, seemingly for the better, when the eponymous young woman, a night nurse (Mackenzie Davis), enters her life. The movie is funny and acute — and though its finale betrays much of the foregoing canniness, in its observance of one woman’s experience does it make powerful, universal statements about the discomfiting social mores which surround maternity.
Never Goin’ Back, dir. Augustine Frizzell
I loved — probably more now, as I’ve been able to further digest what I experienced — this independent gross-out comedy, which concerns a pair of teenage pals (Maia Mitchell, Camila Morrone) whose plans to take a beach vacation are consistently thwarted by unthinkable bad luck. The gags are adeptly executed, and the laughs come frequently. But I was most drawn by the leading performances: Mitchell and Morrone’s friendship feels so lived-in that I found myself committed to the characters long before settling into the long misadventure of a storyline.
Schrader’s apostatic drama, which stars a career-best Ethan Hawke as a disillusioned pastor, is, like myriad movies from the filmmaker, disenchanted, overwhelmingly sad, yet compulsively watchable. It feels just right for the disaffection of the current age.
McQueen’s diversely cast and plotted heist-thriller-but-not-really never much settles on a fixed narrative, theme, or character, but in a way does its multifaceted passion and noncommittalism make it more exciting. It also features a roundelay of exceptional performances: terrific here are the bigwigs Viola Davis, Colin Farrell, and Robert Duvall, as well as relative newcomers Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Kaluuya, Cynthia Erivo, and Brian Tyree Henry.
Like Lean on Pete, The Rider could be considered a 2017 film — it first made waves at Cannes in May of that year. But it didn’t see a general release in the states until April, 2018, which leaves me disposed to include it here. The movie, Zhao’s second directorial endeavor, orbits around a fledgling rodeo star (played by Brady Jandreau, a real-life rider on which the movie’s narrative is based) who has to readjust to life in South Dakota after an injury leaves him unable to pursue the art he loves. I was profoundly moved by the feature, and I’m eager to see what Zhao comes up with next.
aking year-end lists ranking the supposed “best” movies of the year has always felt arbitrary to me, not just because many decidedly less-than-great features can still leave an indelible impression, but also because seeing every single movie released within a given year is only a fantasy, thus making the touting of a “these are the definitively finest movies of the year” listicle feel dishonest. (If I were able to be the impossibly omniscient critic, then maybe I might change my mind.) Here, then, is a list encompassing the films I loved watching the most in 2018, in no particular order.
Jan. 1, 2019