30) THE ENDLESSI’m a sucker for obvious metaphors, and The Endless doubles down on its reliance on them to surprising success. Writer/director duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead play brothers drifting through LA malaise after previously leaving a cult. Both seem to remember their experiences completely differently and agree to return to find closure, only to find their childhood memories replaced with a nightmarish Neverland-scape. How does one break cycles of abuse, and at what violent cost? The Endless is overly ambitious with both its budget and themes and it’s exactly the type of high concept indie filmmaking I adore.
29) AQUAMANSomewhere between Momoa’s WWE slo-mo intro and Pitbull’s cover of Toto’s “Africa”, James Wan’s vision for this film clicked. This is the film Snyder has been trying to make for years, massive set pieces and a glorious total lack of taste that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It’s impossible to critique the film from any angle since every line of terrible dialogue or overstuffed frame works in its favor, cultivating those joys only experienced on a mid 90’s Saturday morning with a bowl of Chocolate-Frosted Sugar-Bombs. Anything you thought was baddass when you were 12 (or 28..) is turned up to 11, so much so that I barely noticed when dinosaurs showed up. It’s the most honest superhero movie I’ve ever seen.
28) ZAMAZama is a Mood, with a capitol “M”. Stuck in a South American coastal town, officer Zama undergoes a steady meltdown of character and desire to live as every request for transfer gets dismissed. He spends his days staring at bathing locals or sucking up to his superiors, desperate for some relief from the sweltering heat and existential decay. He seems to be equally rejected by both this hostel land and the Spanish crown, and when asked “Do you even want to live” his mouth says nothing but his vacuous eyes speak volumes. Really some exciting filmmaking here.
27) THE SISTERS BROTHERSSporting my favorite male ensemble this year, Jacques Audiard once again displays his mastery of combining genre and tone. More of a series of vignettes than anything else (like another notable western this year) the film embraces the weirdness of the west, Gyllenhaal’s verbose manner of communicating to hilarious effect, or Riz Ahmed’s secret chemical X he insists draws gold straight from the ground. It’s a film of a million little joys and look for a delightful cameo by the magnificent Carol Kane.
26) CRAZY RICH ASIANSI’m annoyed that a part of me want’s to refer to this movie as a “guilty pleasure”. As a horror buff I’m used to people dismissing certain genres as less-than, but turns out i’m just as guilty. Director Jon Chu knows how to bring kinetic energy to every frame with his background in Step Up movies, and nails the emotion and entertainment factor of every scene like its nothing. Its helps that the cast is fantastic, Michelle Yeoh is her glorious tight-lipped self but Awkwafina and Henry Golding really blew me away, it was like being in a hospital watching the graphic birth of new Hollywood A-listers. (side note, I LOVED how the film doesn’t explain Mahjong to its American audience.)
25) THE DEATH OF STALINA Veep-esque satire about looming nationalism and the grotesque consequences of the uninhibited male-ego? Sounds vaguely topical. The humor is every bit as biting as Armando Iannucci’s previous works (Veep, In the Loop, The Thick of It), he’s like if Sorkin was British and had a shitty childhood. What impressed me the most with this film was the dark places it wasn’t afraid to go, every witticism and scathing remark punctuated by a gunshot and bloodsplatter. It has the scent of Monty Python to it but make no mistake, The Death of Stalin is more Black than Comedy.
24) POSSUMWhat, the guy who made Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place made a movie about a puppeteer! I couldn’t wait to see this movie, and it was NOTHING like what I was expecting. There’s not even the hint of campy humor, instead Possum is a pitch black intimate psycho-horror that shares DNA with Cronenbergs Spider or Lodge Kerrigan’s Clean Shaven. Sean Harris of Mission Impossible fame is more puppet-like than whatever nightmare lives in his bag, a stiff, crooked man that returns home only to slip into a schizophrenic Freudian dreamscape of his own making. Shot with desaturated sickly yellows and rust browns, Possum explores the notion of how we feed our own traumas and insecurities until they are strong enough to skitter down a dark hallway. “Here’s a bag, now what’s inside? Does he seek or does he hide? Can you spy him, deep within? Little Possum, black as sin.”
23) READY PLAYER ONEOk, so its possible I’m including Ready Player One in this list based on that Shining sequence. I’m a shameless Spielberg fan and while some criticize him as going the way of Hitchcock (his later films showed a lack of adapting to the changing times), that’s what I love about him. He’s one of those filmmakers where the more I learn about the technical elements the more I fall in love with his every camera movement and blocking. Its all so effortless. Also theres the fact that he is responsible for much of the nostalgia porn on display in the film, and that kind of nuanced reflective film-making could be a good lesson for a certain director working currently. (Hint: rhymes with Mars Von Sheer)
22) YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HEREGenre films got hit with a heavy helping of arthouse this year, and so I’ll start with this one. Of course You Were Never Really Here is really something of an anti-genre film, focusing on the quiet, retrospective moments before Jason Bourne or John Wick make heads go splat. Director Lynne Ramsay is a delicate maestro of tension and emotion, her limited previous work (We Need to Talk about Kevin, Morvern Callar) all showcasing a complete mastery of sound and editing. I loved the jelly bean, the spectral imagery, the brilliant framing that gives far more insight into Joaquin Phoenix tortured mind than anything he manages to mutter. I found the actual narrative to be too familiar and maybe that was the point, but it did distance me a bit from the film as a whole, but the presentation and approach of the material was nothing short of chilling perfection.
21) TULLYTully is a bit of an outlier this year in many ways. The third collaboration between Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, it was born from Cody’s experience with a night nurse. She takes this and uses the concept to explore the pressures of motherhood in ways I’ve never seen. Charlize Theron’s performance is even more physical than her portrayal of Aileen Wuornos, with the best montage of 2018 repeating the endless cycle of breast-pumping, rocking, diapers, and barely sleeping. I had no idea where the film was going the entire time and the last 30 minutes have stayed with me since I saw it in May.
20) WIDOWSWidows seemed like an odd choice for a follow-up to the Oscar winning 12 Years a Slave, but upon reflection I realized this story plays to all of Steve McQueen’s strengths. Every one of McQueen’s have one brilliant one shot (Hunger’s ending, Shame’s jogging, 12 Year’s hanging), but Widow’s car shot tops them all, so simple yet brimming with subtext. Viola Davis quietly broke my heart as she uses pure, muscular force of will to carry out a heist that has more significance than you could possibly understand until the final scene. THIS is how you elevate material. There is a by-the-numbers version of this film that plays it safe and shies away from saying anything meaningful but that’s not Widows. Oh wait the film I’m thinking of is called Oceans 8.
19) EIGHTH GRADE8th Grade is Welcome to the Dollhouse for the Fortnite generation. Nothing about this film would work without Elsie Fisher’s performance, she lets the camera catch the acne, the baby fat, the body-wracking anxiety that every person can relate to at some point. The film is hilarious but what’s so brilliant is that deep down we know we are laughing at ourselves, at our rolodex of embarrassing childhood/adulthood moments. It’s such a shame this film will be overlooked at the Oscars because it deserves better.
18) THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGSSo this is what the Coen Brothers can do with no restraints. I loved the internal logic to it all, the way death permeates these strange tales like the hand of the reaper himself is turning the pages. I really wish I had seen this on the big screen, every story uniquely color-corrected to create a mosaic effect. My favorites were the first one (that interior guitar shot I mean come on) and the Tom Waits chapter. And can I just mentioned how blown away I was by the screenplay, not only did it nail the dialect of the time but each story had its own internal flow and vernacular. Stunning.
17) PRIVATE LIFETamara Jenkins’ ability to mine every one of life’s laundry list of disappointments for that nugget of comedy is nothing short of masterful. Rachel and Richard just want a kid, its 2018 and there is always a new medical advancement in reproduction care. Or so they thought. As they exhaust every conceivable (lol) path to fertility it becomes clear that this desperation might be a sign of more pressing issues. I loved the scene where their niece comments on the fact that as 2 cultured, eclectic writers living in a trendy loft in Manhattan, they are embodying a marketable aesthetic sold to 20 yr olds, so great.
16) THE OLD MAN AND THE GUNThis movie could have been a soiled turd and based on the cast I still would have pre-ordered tickets. I’m slightly obsessed with old Sissy Spacek, and throw in Redford, Waits, and Glover and you have my personal screen legends. David Lowery was born in the wrong decade, amidst an industry selling sensationalism and spectacle, he takes whatever property he’s given and turns the knob down, looking for that specific wavelength where emotions take their time and there’s no hurry so long as you to where you’re going. Human dignity plays a major role in all his work, especially here where he takes a back robber and turns him into a man of character and fire. Ok Redford maybe had something to do with that too. I truly hope this isn’t his last film but if it is there isn’t a better, more fitting swan song to go out on.
15) SEARCHINGDefinitely the biggest surprise for me this year, Searching manages to evoke more tears and tension with its “on a screen” limitations than pretty much any film for me this year. The twists come fast and furious, red herrings expertly scattered throughout yet by the end you don’t feel cheated. Somehow. I kept trying to stay one step ahead of the Hitchcockian nail-biter about a father searching for his missing daughter and eventually I just let the movie happen to me. One of the best theater experiences I’ve had in a long while.
14) LEAVE NO TRACEI held off making this list till I had a chance to watch this film, and I’m so glad I did. I fell in love with Ben Foster way back in 2009 when he did The Messenger and I still don’t understand why he isn’t a WAY bigger deal. He’s such an intuitive actor, and he has this way of playing off his co-actors, especially here with Tomasin McKenzie. Recently I’ve been missing the Pacific Northwest bad and along comes this film like a balm, a tender story of father and daughter living in the wilderness. Their roles as parent and child flip constantly as Foster’s PTSD worsens and Tom begins realizing that she wants him to find peace but not at the cost of her childhood. (and can I just say I’m sick of Dale Dickey playing the same backwoodsy roles, can we get her in a romantic comedy with Mark Ruffalo? Please??)
13) ROMAWhat else can be said. There are shots that will forever be lodged in my head as “best of”, the theater shot, the opening plane shot, so many that in any other film would be that film’s calling card. Roma has like 19 of them. The Corpus Christi Massacre scene stands out as well, weeks of choreography went into that scene which was filmed at the same market where the slaughter occurred in 1971, even the clocks on the walls are time accurate. Alfono Cuaron works with backgrounds to tell his stories, and as Yalitza Aparicio observes the turmoil surrounding her tiny, vast life all we can do is stare into her eyes for a glimmer of hope.
12) CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE MEIts always exciting when a comedian goes dramatic (Think Punch Drunk Love, Truman Show), and Melissa McCarthy deserves every ounce of acclaim she gets for this role. The film explores that specific permutation of fear that is specific to the artist, the fear that you will never produce anything of note, or worse that you did in your past and now your previous success haunts you, stiffening your fingers an inch above the typewriter. Beautifully filmed with a classic NY winter palette, there is a resolute sadness that blankets the film, which sometimes takes the face of desperation or mania but underneath is ever-present, deep-rooted. Maybe I’d never be friends with the film’s characters but I’d certainly grab a late drink with them.
11) SUSPIRIAHands down my most anticipated film of 2018, I went into Suspiria with impossible expectations. As I walked out I was frustrated, not because the film was bad but because all the pieces weren’t clicking together in my mind. Suspiria is incredibly dense, Luca weaves together sociopolitical undercurrents with a brazenly feminist witches tale, with the chaos of post-war Berlin looming over it all. There are similarities to be made, certain holocaust symbolisms exists at the dance academy along with a tainted election process, but it’s a film that refuses to be tied in an easy bow. The film is completely engrossed with exploring the German post-war mindset of shame and frustration and I think as an American I’m just too far removed to fully appreciate. With time I believe Suspiria will be in my “all time greats”, and in the meantime I’m just glad I gave up my soul to the dance.
10) THE HAUNTING AT HILL HOUSEMike Flanagan has quietly been establishing himself as a horror master over the years, and The Haunting at Hill House is his crowing achievement to date. He has such a grasp on the importance of a legitimate emotional backbone for horror to work that every ghost and apparition feels secondary to the torment festering in each of the family members. I’ve never seen a show that more effectively uses the “chekhov’s gun” approach, every image and character beat plays like gangbusters in a future episode, the whole season snapping together with every moment informing another with vacuum-sealed tightness. Unfortunately the season peaks midway through, but episodes 4-6 taken as a whole are prime examples of the cathartic potential of horror and some of the best TV all year. And now to twiddle my thumbs till his sequel to The Shining “Doctor Sleep” hits theaters, my body is ready but my soul isn’t.
9) FIRST REFORMEDWhat if Travis Bickle decided to go into the seminary instead of driving a NY taxi? Paul Schrader’s First Reformed attempts to answer that question with Ethan Hawke’s finest performance to date, an isolated priest trying to provide answers to a community despite his advancing spiritual despair. At one point another minister tells Hawke that he can’t spend all his time in the Garden, even Jesus could only spend 1 night there. Environmental horrors begin creeping through mental cracks and the film takes a spiritual voyeuristic approach as we bear witness to a modern dark night of the soul. Essential viewing.
8) THE FAVOURITEOlivia Coleman for all the Oscars. It takes a truly great actor to play pathetic, to play weak and yet create an underlying sympathy that evokes pity over disgust. And she is disgusting, grotesque even in a baroque way. At this point Lorgos Lanthimos could make a film about cow waiting to get milked and it would be an absurd revisionist masterpiece and sweep the Critics Choice Awards. Definitely his most accessible work, I loved the details in the film, Nick Hoult’s changing cheek décor or what happens to Coleman’s body when her other half leaves. I won’t spoil the final shot, but I spent the day analyzing it weeks ago and the Shakespearean tragedy of it all still lingers.
7) FIRST MANCan anyone explain to me what happened to First Man this year? It had everything going for it, Damian Chazelle’s follow-up to La La Land and the much in-demand Claire Foy, and it bombed hard. Some blamed Goslings distant performance (which was character accurate) but that’s what I latched onto most in the film. Its called First Man, not First Nation, and this focus on Armstrong and his personal demons I found to be inspired and actually quite bold. I can absolutely believe that the death of one’s child could create an internal void that he chose to fill with the lunar mission. The sound design rattles and groans, these early rockets portrayed as death boxes just seconds away from incineration at all times. Finally I haven’t seen another reviewer mention this but pay attention to a reflection at the final shot, it offers closure in a way I thought beautiful.
6) A STAR IS BORNI’m sure the Star Is Born backlash is already underway, but I couldn’t care less, this movie gave me what I call a full “moving picture experience”. I’ve listened to the soundtrack more times than I’d like to share, and both my sister and I were equally moved by it, there’s a go-for-broke quality to it, especially with the performances. As good as Gaga was it was Coopers spot on depiction of a drunk that floored me, I’ve known many a drunk and Hollywood rarely gets it right. I love how the film ends with a Celine Dion-esque performance that would have been appropriate 15 years ago, and just the whole sweeping nature of it. A Star Is Born is a true Old School meets New School operation and I love every sloppy minute of it.
5) THE RIDERI went into this majestic film not knowing its secrets, and it wasn’t until I saw its titular character Brady breaking a horse in real time that I realized something was up. In a format I’ve never experienced, director Chloe Zhao met with ex-rodeo cowboy Brady Jandreau and found his story and passion so compelling that she decided to direct a narrative feature using him and all his real life family and friends. This could have been cringey but instead the film explores themes of masculinity and purpose with an unflinching eye, the camera holding onto every look of disappointment and bottled frustration. Since the film is inhabited by non-actors some of the performances are wooden, but even they give the film a dusty realism and repression that works in its favor. Brady’s journey of personal acceptance is a universal struggle that can appear in different forms in different people, but like Brady we find the strength in those who stuck around and accept the love with eyes closed.
4) MANDYI saw Mandy on VOD and knew I had to get the full theater experience, so I saw it 2 more times on the big screen. Mandy is a film you sink into, Panos Cosmatos using wide bold brushstrokes to elicit an emotional response that isn’t rationally understood but felt like an extraterrestrial overdose. There is a psychedelic purpose to it all that becomes clear the more you watch it, colors and sounds and planets become more and more significant like a death metal album when analyzed by a metalhead. Cosmatos describes his previous film Beyond the Black Rainbow as an inhale and Mandy as an exhale, and I can’t think of a more perfect description. Also i’m going to write in Cheddar Goblin on the 2020 ballet, and you should too.
3) ANNIHILATIONThere is a scene in Annihilation where Alex Garland uses the haunting song Helplessly Hoping by Crosby, Stills Nash where they sing “They are one person, they are two alone, they are three together, they are four for each other.” This poetically sums up Annihilation’s core, an elliptical exploration of identity and tragedy. They say self destruction is the primary theme of the film and while that’s definitely present, the film is more concerned with how we change against and with eachother, how after destruction occurs we begin to split like a cancer, our former selves ghost-like as they haunt our new becoming. A crumbing marriage, the loss of a child, cancer, suicidal thoughts, life continually and violently refracts our self-made image until we become strangers to ourselves. Through this lens Annihilation is endlessly rewatchable, every viewing revealing a new layer and it’s a masterpiece.
2) WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBORWon’t You be My Neighbor is like taking a step out of 2018 and into a bath. It’s one of those films that remind you that there are selfless individuals who truly want to live in a better world. Fred Rogers would have fit in great as a 1st century martyr but instead he chose children’s television. He’s a testament to finding one’s specific role in bringing love and compassion to the world, not everyone can be a human rights lawyer or doctor without borders but wherever life has placed us, there is work to be done there.
1) HEREDITARYOver a week after I saw Hereditary and thought I had shaken it I swear to God a child walked by my apartment door around 2:30 unattended, STOPPED and made a clicking noise… yeah not going to think about that too much. When reading the screenplay I couldn’t believe the level of minute detail Ari Aster had specified on the page, microscopic eye movements and barely perceived audio cues were all there, as if this horrific Greek tragedy already resided in him fully and he just needed a camera to share it. The response to the film has actually been somewhat divisive, which confused me because walking out I was certain that it was the most terrifying film I had ever seen. Effective horror is not about imagery per se, its about technique. Sure the film has some of the most shocking scenes in years, but its the feeling that as the viewer all my knowledge of horror cliches won’t save me, that Ari Aster is 5 steps ahead of me. I’m also a sucker for cinematic breadcrumbs and you could make a meatloaf with how packed Hereditary is, every camera movement and background detail all lead to its shocking climax. I’ve spent months slowly dissecting the film and I’m still making connections.
The classic literary question is raised in the film if it is more tragic for characters to have agency and still fail or have all their actions mean nothing like puppets for the gods. This looming question seems to hang over Toni Collette as she struggles with the death of her grandmother, unable to find the answers she needs for closure. I love how Ari embraced how almost silly it looks when someone simply screams and ugly cries in the face of actual evil, unable to process what is unfolding just feet away. The film works as pure horror, as a chamber play and as an exploration of grief and parenthood. Between Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, Mike Flanagan and Robert Eggers horror is about to enter a whole new renascence and Hereditary is just the beginning. (Also the scene where audience members begin noticing something in the shadows is an all time favorite theater experience and can Toni Colette please get a nomination? I’ll even be ok with Black Panther getting nominated for best picture if my girl Toni can get some love.)
OVERRATED FILMS- Boy Erased, Deadpool 2, Green Book (mixed feelings)
UNDERRATED FILMS- Game Night, Outlaw King, Hold the Dark, Strangers 2, Upgrade, Unfriended Dark Web, Summer of 84, What keeps you Alive
FILMS I DESPISED- The Open House, Bird Box, The Titan, Patient Zero, Truth or Dare, The Happytime Murders
DELIGHTFUL ODDITIES- November, Marrowbone, Ghost Stories, Beast, The Domestics
SNOOZE FESTS- Red Sparrow, Wrinkle in Time, Corbin Nash
GUILTY PLEASURES- Dumplin, Hotel Artemis, Winchester, Skyscraper, Overlord, Rampage, Puppet Master The Littlest Reich
DISAPPOINTING FILMS- Apostle, Incredibles 2, Tomb Raider, Pacific Rim Uprising, Oceans 8, The Meg, Our House, Cold Skin
ALMOST MADE THE LIST- The Ritual, A Quiet Place, Halloween, MI Fallout, Infinity War, A Simple Favor
LOVE/HATE FILMS- Vox Lux, The Nun, Venom
FILMS I RESPECT RATHER THAN LOVE- Isle of dogs
FORGOT IT EVEN CAME OUT- Solo
PROBABLY WOULD HAVE MADE THE LIST- Spiderverse, Sorry to bother you, Don’t Worry He won’t get far on Foot, Blindspotting, Bad Times at the El Royale, Wildlife, Blackkklansman, The Little Stranger