Your friendly neighborhood multiplexes and art-house theaters still reign superior for the movie-watching experience. There’s no debating that assertion, but times are indeed changing, and as the streaming wars further inflame, Netflix and Amazon are ratcheting up their content coffers in terms of quantity and quality. As such, both services (but mostly Netflix) are offering movies that might land in Oscar territory this year and/or are simply damn enjoyable movies that you wouldn’t want to miss. So while you can and should absorb our overall Best Movies Of 2018 list that focuses upon theatrical releases, this list honors the ongoing transformation of the internet landscape from former cinematic dumping-ground status to a place where great films increasingly land for the first time.
This was a fine year for original streaming movies, given that superb film festival offerings were snatched up by both Netflix and Amazon, and these services are also producing quality titles on their own. And although some people were lucky enough to catch limited theater screenings of these movies, most folks will be streaming them. Yes, Netflix offerings do vastly outnumber Amazon’s fare on this list (while Hulu’s still focusing on original TV), and this list veers wildly in terms of genre and what you’d normally expect on a year-end list. Yet all of these movies deserve consideration for your queues, in no particular order.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
I wrote what I thought was one of my better film reviews this year about Buster Scruggs, and then a friend casually described it as the “Oops, all berries” Coen Brothers movie, and I wanted to punch him because that’s exactly right. If you ever wanted to see all of the Coens’ storytelling tics, favored themes, and consistent fascinations in one movie, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is for you. This one has it all — mortality, folk music, archaic vernacular, fluffy pets as harbingers of evil, Tom Waits — everything! Or, as a brave man (me) once put it: It feels like the Coens are trying to delve into the oldest stories we tell about ourselves in order to understand what we are, using a collective consciousness as a balm to the anxiety over mortality that underpins almost all their work. – Vince Mancini
This movie turned out to be one of my favorite overall watches (streaming or theatrical) of the year. Yet initially, I was skeptical about the premise — a teenage girl attempts to win the attention and approval of her deadbeat, ex-con father by joining the boys’ wrestling team at school. This seemed a little insulting at best (daddy issues in 2018? no thank you), and we’ve all seen underdog sports stories played into oblivion. Yet I was soon swept into Elvire Emanuelle’s performance. She fiercely dazzles as Mo, who pinballs between foster homes until finding purpose on the mat, while Sketchy Bio Dad (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) has different designs on her talents, tempting her into the world of bare-knuckled brawling. You may yearn to look away from a few of these bruising fight scenes but fail, as Abdul-Mateen’s charismatic ways will show you exactly why Mo has to fight so hard to find her own truth. It’s a bloody and unyielding film, full of breath-holding moments, and it’s a showcase for two compelling talents. – Kimberly Ricci