It’s that time of year again, that time when we reflect back on all of the things the world of entertainment gave to us in the past year and rank them. Like it or not, ranking our favorite things of the year has become a modern-day holiday season tradition. So kick back, take a sip of pumpkin spice latte, warm your feet by a fire, maybe pull up the Holiday Music channel on Spotify, and get ready to enjoy our list of the best movies of 2018.
These are the fifteen films that we feel not only set the standard for excellence in the past year, but were also the most culturally significant for one reason or another. Feel free to share your own thoughts on the year in movies below in the comments.
Border is one of those movies that might be better the less you know about it going in, but we’ll do our best to recommend without ruining. We saw Border at Fantastic Fest, which was fitting, since it turns the fantastic into literal reality so well that it’s hard to even think of it as science fiction. The entire movie consists of the slowly unraveling mystery of what sort of being its oddball main character (Tina, played by Eva Melander, in Geico caveman-esque makeup) is. The discovery is just as exciting as the journey. It’s also a love story, with an unforgettable gender-bending sex scene that somehow manages to be simultaneously hilarious, touching, and kind of gross (like all sex, really). Border is somehow human and misanthropic in equal measure. Bizarre, wonderful, indescribable. — Vince Mancini
14. If Beale Street Could Talk
It’s hard to think of a filmmaker besides Barry Jenkins whose love for his characters comes through so strongly just in the way that he lights and shoots them. Every character in If Beale Street Could Talk positively glows. Watching it is like pulling your mother or father’s old coat out of the closet, smelling the collar, and being transported to another time and place by the sense memory. I know what you’re thinking, “wait, isn’t this movie about redlining and racist policing?”
It is! But plenty of blues and soul music is somehow comforting even as it’s telling sad stories, and Beale Street is the cinematic equivalent. It’s a master class in being honest about an unfair world while refusing to treat your characters like victims. — Vince Mancini
13. Game Night
“Man, glass tables are acting weird tonight.” Game Night was one of the more pleasant surprises of the year, both by virtue of actually being good and being hilarious. In theory, with a cast as talented as this one, perhaps that should have been expected. (And please, can we get more comedy roles for Rachel McAdams, because I can only rewatch Mean Girls so many times before I finally give up and add The Hot Chick to the rotation.) But the actual premise of a game night becoming real feels like another hokey attempt at a high-concept comedy that won’t actually deliver the laughs, and a good R-rated comedy is hard to find these days. Yet, Game Night does deliver, surpassing expectations with each passing scene. John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s work as a writing duo has been fairly hit or miss, but as the directors for Game Night, they definitely hit. — LaToya Ferguson
Blindspotting got off to a kind of strange start. It premiered way back in January as the opening night film at the Sundance Film Festival. I was in attendance that night and I was blown away by Carlos López Estrada’s story about a man ending his probation (Daveed Diggs) just trying to get through his last night without any incidents that might get him in trouble, but his longtime friend (Rafael Casal) is making that difficult. It’s a movie that deftly touches on police shootings, our criminal justice system, and the gentrifications of Oakland. It’s a pretty spectacular film.
The weird part was, the crowd that night didn’t know what to make of it. Since it was the opening night crowd, it was filled with mostly corporate sponsors who were, I’m guessing, expecting something a little more upbeat. Far different from the usual uproarious crowds that fill Sundance. So then the initial reports wound up saying things like, “it had a tepid reaction,” which was extremely unfair. So then now here’s Blindspotting, having to fight an uphill battle the whole year to finally get to where it is now: genuinely considered one of the best films of the year. — Mike Ryan
11. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? is one of those movies that just lingers inside your cranium for days and weeks after you see it. The characters grow even more on a person after time. Those characters being Melissa McCarthy’s Lee Israel and Richard E. Grant’s Jack Hock.
What’s interesting about Can You Ever Forgive Me? is that it’s the story of how Lee Israel forged letters from literary titans and then sold them for profit, so there’s a big long con, heist aspect to the film, but that’s not the part that sticks with you. It’s more just the interactions between McCarthy and Grant. These two are absolutely wonderful together and every second they aren’t on screen together, I just found myself wishing they were. I could watch hours of these two, sitting at a bar, day-drinking all their worries away. Both McCarthy and Grant play scoundrels, but what delightful scoundrels they turn out to be. — Mike Ryan
10. First Man
We spend a lot of this list touting movies that feel like the first of their kind, and Damien Chazelle’s First Man, starring Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong, clearly isn’t the first movie ever made about space, or the first movie ever made about going to the moon, or even the first movie about the Mercury program. But there’s the kind of boldness to go where no man has before, and then there’s the kind of boldness to go where many have and still trust that you have something new to say about it. Chazelle’s perspective is not the vastness of space but rather the claustrophobia of being an astronaut.
The scene between Gosling and Claire Foy, playing Armstrong’s wife, in which she demands that he acknowledge what he’s asking of her, and he resists, because the ability (and necessity) to refuse to acknowledge the possibility of imminent death is exactly what keeps him alive, gets to the root of the psychology of going to space better than anything has before it. — Vince Mancini
9. Paddington 2
Even if you don’t have kids, you’ll be charmed by this exquisite return visit from the Peruvian bear, and perhaps even more so because you’ll have no reason not to feel like a kid yourself. That’s a testament to this film’s timeless appeal and its Godfather II-esque status as a sequel that’s superior to its predecessor. This life-affirming movie infuses Wes Anderson’s and Edgar Wright’s spirits into just the right amount nostalgia and stiff-upper-lip Britishness, along with the injection of Sally Hawkins, whose presence helps launch this film into prestige-minded territory. Of course, Hugh Grant always does “bad guys” well, and his villainous turn here couldn’t be more nefariously charming. Further, no amount of accidentally pink-tinted laundry could dampen the joy of his jailhouse dance scene during the credits. In other words, come for the sweet and endearing treatment of a beloved childhood icon, and stay for the dancing cad. — Kimberly Ricci
8. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman and produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is visually and emotionally stunning animated film that takes one of the most famous superheroes (with one of the most well known backstories) and upends the whole thing into something new and fresh.
Then again, this isn’t the story of Peter Parker (though he’s very much a part of this film), because this is Miles Morales’ story and how he goes from being an awkward teenager to the new Spider-Man in town. Oh, and because of a glitch in time and space that would take too long to explain here, we’ve got multiple Spider-People all fighting alongside Miles’ Spider-Man – resulting in what just may be the best Spider-Man adventure to ever come to theaters. (Yes, Spider-Man 2 is still great.) — Mike Ryan
7. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Just when we thought the action blockbuster genre was destined to produce nothing but bloated, overlong B minuses, degraded by franchise mania and the need to appeal to the broadest possible audience, Mission: Impossible — Fallout came along to show just how fun an overlong mass-appeal blockbuster could really be. For me it was the helicopter sequence near the end that put Fallout over the top and cemented its place as the best film of the franchise, a scene that was as thrilling as it was hilarious, turning Fallout‘s own over-the-top ridiculousness into an inside joke, an extended Three Stooges bit of preposterously grand proportions. Not to mention that Henry Cavill’s mustachio’d fisticuffs turned out to be the perfect foil for Tom Cruise’s furiously pumping lil’ legs. — Vince Mancini
6. Black Panther
I’ll just come out and say it: It’s cool a movie like Black Panther exists, and it will probably never stop being cool. It’s also cool it ended up being as financially successful and as critically-acclaimed as it was. (Ryan Coogler might just know what he’s doing behind a camera!) While Chadwick Boseman is of course a standout as T’Challa, for me what made the movie work best was its phenomenally strong supporting cast — not just Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, but the unstoppable trio of Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Okoye (Danai Gurira), and Shuri (Letitia Wright). In fact, Black Panther is impressive in its very ability to — like Wakanda — standalone outside of the connected world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while also working perfectly in concert with the larger world that’s been built there. Wakanda forever. — LaToya Ferguson
5. Private Life
In Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life, Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti give two of the most raw, delicate, and pure performances of 2018. There’s a better-than-average chance you haven’t seen Private Life. This story of a married couple, both in their 40s, trying to conceive a child has been the definition of a “word of mouth” film since its premiere back at Sundance in January and its film festival tour over the last few months. The good news for you is that Private Life is on Netflix right now as you’re reading this and you can watch it immediately once you finish this list.
But be warned, this movie is emotionally devastating, but in a way that sneaks up on the viewer. It’s a gradual devastation – a feeling you don’t quite even understand until the credits are rolling. It’s a sad movie, but Hahn and Giamatti are both so transfixing to watch, peppered with just enough optimism, that it doesn’t always feel sad. Their performances are enveloping. We feel them instead of being told what to feel about them. Again, Hahn and Giamatti are dynamite and it’s hard to argue that they’ve ever been better than they are here. — Mike Ryan
4. A Star Is Born
Outside of the year’s Marvel blockbuster releases, I don’t think there was a single movie in 2018 that felt more like a thing — something of a cultural phenomenon — than A Star is Born did. It was one of those movies where the question you were often asked at parties wasn’t if you were going to see it, but if you’d seen it yet and if you had what were your thoughts on it. It was one of those movies that you were just expected to go see, because duh Bradley Cooper and (former Sopranos extra) Lady Gaga. (Sam Elliot was pretty damn great too.) It was also one of those rare movies that made people genuinely and unabashedly feel things from places deep inside of them. At the screening I attended in Los Angeles, it felt as though everyone in the theater was flat-out sobbing when that one scene near the end (you know the one I’m talking about) came around. Everyone was wiping tears from their eyes and faces as they exited the theater. We all felt things together, and sometimes it’s nice to do that. — Brett Michael Dykes
3. Eighth Grade
In a year with no shortage of coming-of-age films, internet comedy phenom Bo Burnham made his directorial debut with one that cut through the noise and earned real-life teen Elsie Fisher a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy. Eighth Grade follows Kayla Day’s final weeks as a junior high school student navigating popularity, social media, self-image, sexuality, consent, life with a single dad and how to live in her own body without being overcome by social anxiety. She fails early and often, struggling to find her voice in real life while trying to make connections with her effortlessly cool classmates and stumbling over her words as she makes self-help videos for her largely unwatched YouTube channel. Burnham set out to make a film about Gen Z and internet after scouring YouTube vlogs finding, “The boys talked about video games and the girls talked about their souls.” In the glow of an ever-present iPhone screen, Fisher delivers a performance that will give you such hardcore secondhand embarrassment it will circle back around to just being regular embarrassed over that one awkward thing you did when you were in eighth grade. — Frankie Greek
Roma is a breathtaking and devastating experience that’s unlike anything that’s really come before it. Leave it to Alfonso Cuarón to create a film about the experience of a family maid, Sofia (Yalitza Aparicio), in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City and somehow present it in just as immersive experience as his last film, Gravity.
Roma has also brought the Netflix debate front and center. Here’s a film that will certainly be nominated for Best Picture and might even pull of a win, although most people will never have the opportunity to even see Roma in an actual theater. And Roma is the perfect movie for theaters, yet it probably doesn’t even exist without Netflix. As important as Roma is even as a film, its place in history will be looked at as the moment everything kind of changed. — Mike Ryan
1. Sorry To Bother You
It’s hard to believe Boots Riley is a first-time director. No other movie this year felt so much like not only a fresh, new film, but an entirely new approach to filmmaking. It was out there, for sure, but always with a purpose, and it made everything else feel timid by comparison. The dexterity with which Boots Riley can show you where an idea comes from and then follow it through to its most fanciful conclusion is something to behold.
As critics and movie fans, we demand seemingly impossible things. We want stories to have relevant themes and social value but simultaneously demand they not be didactic or confined to single, narrow interpretations. Sorry To Bother You is the textbook example of navigating that paradox, a wild, improvisational romp that was as playful as it was strident, that treated politics as something other than an obvious answer you scream at the slow student until he learns. Oh, and it was funny. Sorry To Bother You set the bar for all future political satires. — Vince Mancini