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Guys, this got a bit out of hand. . .

What in the world am I doing writing an article about my favorite films of 2018 in late April of 2019? I expect a few of you will ask that question. I wondered if I should still even write this article at this late a date. Almost all critics and reviewers who do these sorts of lists complete them in December or January (well, except Adam of YourMovieSucks, who always seems to do his best-of-the-year lists two or three years late). That puts me way behind the curve! Even my wife, when she found out I was still working on this article and watching further films for it, said, “You’ve got to get that article out! You’re pretty much living in the past at this point!” And she is right. I think at this point, I just have to publish this article for my mental health!

So I reevaluated my methods and have adjusted accordingly. Future favorites of the year articles will be shorter, and I probably won’t continue doing “underrated/overlooked” articles, as I will feature fitting films in my favorites articles.

Anyway, I write here on “The ED Blog” at my own schedule, and the beginning of 2019 has been crazy busy for me, for positive reasons. Besides, for 2018, I viewed my “favorites of the year” articles as pieces of writing I would prepare all year, as projects to put time and effort into, not as thrown-together posts to capitalize on year-end, awards-season trends (not that there’s anything wrong with writing an article for those reasons, especially when people expect it). Personally, I like to let the films sit with me, to see how I truly feel about them. I don’t have to rush anything.

The way I try to run this site, throughout the year, I write about whatever music and film that I can or wish to write about. I don’t try to keep up with any particular number of new releases in my writing. However, I do keep a list of all the albums and movies I want to hear or see from the year, gathering the entries from media and people I follow. As I make my way through that list, I put together my favorites. This is partially so I can display that list on various social media but primarily so I can write these “favorites of the year” articles. I will be scaling this back in the future, but that is more or less how I treated things in the first two years of this site.

Doing these sorts of articles in this fashion has also helped me trim away the pressures of hype, blowback, and expectations, and to make the article truly retrospective. Plus, I get to have more fun and miss fewer releases. For film, the latter is the reason this article is so late. I did not want to write this article until I had seen all the entries on my “want to see” list.

For my movie favorites of the year lists, I go by the movies’ wide release dates, not their limited release dates, to determine in what years the films belongs. Yes, I know most people don’t do that, but I don’t live in or near a city where I can see limited releases. In addition, the movies in competition for this list are only feature films I added to my “want to see” notes in 2018 or January of 2019, or feature films not on that list but still watched by me in the same time period. There is no limit on number of releases that I may feature, but I do have a top ten, with all the other entries being categorized as “honorable mentions.”

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Many of the critics and reviewers I follow declared 2018 a “great year for movies,” because of the number of films released they thought good or great. I don’t necessarily agree with that sentiment, especially if you look at other “great years for cinema,” years critics might call (and I would agree) a great year for movies in the traditional sense: 1939, 1940, 1941, 1946, 1955, 1957, 1960, 1962, 1967, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1982, 1985, 1994, 1999, 2007. I find it difficult to imagine 2018 will go down in history alongside those eighteen years.

2018 was a year filled with a large number of “decent, fine, just OK” movies. Many of the films people are calling great from 2018 are works I would probably give a 3 out of 5 stars on Letterboxd. I found some of those films good, but most of them I found just above average, if not mediocre with some above average ideas. I must wonder, with many of these highly regarded flicks, will the people who currently call them great return to them again and again in years to come and find in them the same greatness? I doubt it. Dramas, comedies, and traditional type Hollywood fare, 2018 was not a good year for these. There were also too many tent-pole flicks, big budget studio pictures, that just weren’t good. However, none of that really matters.

If you are interested in all kinds of genres, independent films, foreign films, etc., every year is going to contain plenty of movies for you to enjoy. So I don’t think it matters much whether a year is good overall for Hollywood movies or not, and if you aren’t the kind of person who tries to see every movie released, it doesn’t matter either, because there are going to be a couple movies a month worth your time in the theater. In that case, whether it’s a good year for movies in general doesn’t matter to you anyway.

Look, when you read my list, you are going to see Hollywood movies, it’s true. Yet, honestly, the best things happening in film these days are in movies being made outside the normal Hollywood system. And there is more access to those kinds of movies these days than ever before. I have been pleased lately to hear many of my friends who are not cinephiles talking about strange, little, indie flicks (like AnnihilationApostleHereditary, and Hold the Dark) they’ve seen on Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, and that’s a good development in my eyes. Much of the populace has become uninterested in typical Hollywood fare, and they have reason to be.

When the high class, prestige, Hollywood pictures fail to comment upon and investigate our society and culture and the problems within them in an honest manner, it is, as it has often been, up to the genre flicks and the (actually) independent films to do so, as is happening now.

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Without further ado . . .

 

My Top Ten Favorite Films of 2018

 

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10. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an exhilarating experience and an achievement for the medium, the genre, and film in general. Without a doubt in my mind, it is now the best Spider-Man movie – though my personal favorite is still Spider-Man 2 – for the way it illustrates the ideas at the heart of the Spider-Man comics of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko: Spider-Man could be anyone and inspires everyone to be their best, to do what’s right, to take responsibility.

Into the Spider-Verse brings comics to life on the big screen in a way never before imaginable. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller assembled a fantastic team of writers and animators here to create a truly collaborative piece of work that combines a wide range of animation styles and storytelling techniques into a cohesive film that is both entertaining and artful. Spider-Verse proves once again that Lord and Miller are two of the most exciting storytellers at work today.

Perhaps animation is the best place for comic book film to reside. Other than UnbreakableThe Dark Knight, and Logan, what live-action comic book movies could not have been done just as well, if not better, in animation? The number of things storytellers can show in animation is nigh limitless, and many excellent comic book movies are already animated ones: Batman: The Dark Knight ReturnsBatman: Mask of the PhantasmBatman: Under the Red HoodBig Hero 6The IncrediblesJustice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, and now Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

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9. Vox Lux

Vox Lux is a punk movie about a pop star. Movies about musicians usually follow specific tropes, yet Vox Lux rids itself of those restraints, eschewing sentimentality and cliché, and it serves as a refreshing antithesis to 2018’s two popular movies about musical celebrities: the factory-line-produced and unperceptive Bohemian Rhapsody and the haphazard and mawkish A Star is Born.

Where Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star is Born celebrate the shallowness of celebrity worship, Vox Lux is a critique on our narcissistic culture. Vox Lux peers into the depths of our world, where pop stars are held with the same regard as world leaders and where tabloid gossip, world events, and tragedies are all reported with the same weight. How do we break through the noise of the world around us when we are inundated with such extremes in the news?

It’s a film of juxtapositions that won’t sit well with everyone. The juxtaposition of violence and grace, tragedy and celebrity, tragedy and comedy, a steady mind and a steady mind wrecked by excess and addiction. This plays out in the storytelling and filmmaking too. The first half is minimalistic and impressionistic, the second half maximalistic and expressionistic. Scott Walker’s classical music score is juxtaposed with Sia’s synth-heavy pop songs. Young Celeste is duelly casted as Adult Celeste’s daughter. And it’s a disturbing story narrated by Willem Dafoe as if it’s a fable. Vox Lux is not a neorealistic statement. It’s a pop opera about the cyclical nature of things.

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8. Blindspotting

Blindspotting is an unfortunately overlooked film that balances humor and weighty themes. Of the movies about racial issues, etc., of the last several years, Blindspotting is definitely one of the best. It has a nuanced understanding of something that few films of this ilk do: these are multi-layered issues at hand involving multifaceted people.

I love the original way rapping is integrated into the movie, in an almost musical film sort of way. And, though I have not and probably  never will experience racial prejudice the way the black community in America has throughout our history, I related to this film’s themes in many ways, having grown up in a poor, fringe of society, “hillbilly” community, where gentrification is also happening, where there is always that pull back, where my people there were looked down upon by the more “proper” members of society, and where I too have been accused of being a hipster for simply trying to better myself.

Blindspotting does not exist to allow progressive liberals to congratulate themselves on how progressive they are when they watch it, neither does it exist as a progressive lecture on how to magically solve our society’s issues. Rather, Blindspotting is a story about the commonalities in the “less cultured” parts of the country, about friendship, and about personal ways of attempting to overcome societal roadblocks. Blindspotting is not a call for some sort of governmental help. It’s just a statement of existence in a story.

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7. Hold the Dark

Why do so many people dislike Hold the Dark? 63 on Metacritic, 5.6/10 on IMDB. I think it deserves far more love. The script by Macon Blair (I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore) and the direction by Jeremy Saulnier (Green Room), for me, only strengthen the reputation these two guys have been building for themselves, both separately and together.

If I were to guess at reasons for Hold the Dark‘s poor reception, I would say it is probably a mixture of different expectations and nontraditional themes and storytelling. Some viewers have complained that Hold the Dark does not have a point. It does indeed have a point. If you read the novel of the same name, it’s a bit clearer, but all the pieces needed to understand the film are in the movie. I am against the idea of saying, “You have to read the book,” although, interestingly, the movie is actually a pretty close adaptation of the novel. Hold the Dark explores the thinness of the line between humanism and animalism, what sets us apart from animals, what makes us human, and how no matter how bad things get there are still lights to guide us.

No one ever truly loses their humanity, but leaving it behind is far easier than we might think. Usually, movies show nature as pure except when corrupted by humans. Hold the Dark shows us the dark side of nature and the good of humanity in contrast to that darkness.

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6. Hereditary

Hereditary has vividly stuck with me ever since I first saw it. It crawled under my skin and stayed there. It’s too soon to say, but I think Hereditary will go down in history as one of the most revered horror films, a master work alongside such films as The ExorcismThe Omen, and The Shining. I know the film community is still debating Hereditary‘s merits, but the debating is over in my mind.

Of all the reasons Hereditary works well for me, the chief of these is its themes. Hereditary is a tragedy about a mother and wife who turns a blind eye to the extent and horrible implications of her hereditary demons, and she suffers greatly for her desire to overlook her family’s problems. I have found it exceedingly necessary in my own life to admit to myself the realities of what exactly the people around me are. Everyone has flaws. Just because your family is flawed doesn’t mean you can’t hold for them familial love. Yet you must take them for what they are, or else they will continually let you down, and you might even let slip opportunities to prevent certain consequences. Yes, we may be fated to deal with hereditary issues, but we often receive opportunities to control the outgrowths of those issues.

Hereditary communicates its themes with horror metaphors, some subtle, some not so subtle. Its execution may either turn you away or draw you in. It drew me in.

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5. Annihilation

Annihilation is a trippy, creepy, beautiful, frightening film about being confronted with change, the human tendency for self-destruction, the clash of self-destructive impulses with desires to create and improve, the unreliability and impressibility of memory, and survival. If you enjoy thoughtful, idea-heavy science-fiction, Annihilation is a must-see. It entranced me from scene one until the end credits rolled.

As with Hereditary, I love Annihilation most for its themes. I also love the thought-provoking parts of Annihilation‘s story; its open-ended but not indecipherable ending; amazing visuals that establish and add to the film’s tone; performances that help maintain the tone; and a superb, eerie, off-putting score that kept me in the correct mood with orchestral pieces, synths, and an occasional acoustic guitar riff juxtaposed on top, carrying an important theme. The cinematography, editing, and sound design are also superb.

If you have enjoyed other recent science-fiction with similarly lofty themes, such as Garland’s last film, his directorial debut, Ex Machina, or Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, I think you will appreciate Annihilation. If, on the other hand, you haven’t enjoyed those kinds of movies, I will have to say Annihilation may not be for you, because it isn’t even as straightforward as those three flicks, though I still think you should check it out, because with it Garland made his most unique and original film.

Read my full review.

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4. First Man

Some of the smallest things inspire some of the greatest achievements.

Just as Vox Lux threw off the restraints of musical celebrity film tropes, First Man ignores “real-life hero” biopic tropes and forgoes celebrating the grandiosity of Neil Armstrong’s and NASA’s achievements (though those achievements are certainly featured) in favor of asking a simple question: Was Neil Armstrong motivated by the death of his young daughter to find redemption and a new hope, a new opportunity, by being one of the first men on the moon? We know that many historically important things have been done for close, personal reasons. Maybe this was true of Armstrong.

In First Man, director Damien Chazelle, writer Josh Singer, and actor Ryan Gosling, basing their efforts largely on James R. Hansen’s in-depth biography, contextualize Armstrong, bringing him down to Earth so to speak, showing us a broken man, stoic and sharp and determined as he is, stricken with grief at the death of his young daughter and the deaths of his friends partaking in the space race. The movie shows us a man looking to the stars, as so many of us do, for a different point of view. Even so, First Man still puts on fine display many of the events that took place, and Chazelle illustrated these amazing, terrifying happenings with technical skill, placing the audience inside crafts that constituted little more than tin cans, held together by bolts and rivets and screws.

Read my full review.

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3. First Reformed

Fear is contagious, despair is infectious, God is creative. Jesus suffered on the cross so mankind would not have to suffer to become righteous, since men are too corrupt to make themselves righteous anyway, no matter the suffering they undergo. This is the message of First Reformed, in which a confused pastor undergoes a “dark night of the soul.”

First Reformed is one of the most insightful looks into, and meditations on, a crisis of faith and spiritual struggles with faith that I have ever seen in a film. It is also one that resonates closely with me. It’s not that Ethan Hawke’s character, Reverend Toller, is doubting God’s existence, love, or power, but rather he is doubting God’s guidance and presence, seen in that Toller cannot seem to truly pray, and he wrestles with what prayer even is.

It is a shame many audience members have been blinded to the film’s message by the film’s content. The main sticking point: Toller’s struggle with environmentalist radicalization. Those who believe in the terror of global warming have responded so positively to Toller’s radicalization that they have often missed the point of First Reformed‘s themes. Those who do not believe in global warming have been so repulsed by what they perceive as liberal messaging that they have also missed the point. Whether you agree with global warming science or not, Paul Schrader’s point here is not that Toller becomes an environmentalist radical but rather that he is seduced by radicalization itself.

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2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a movie made for me. Everything I love about the Western genre in both cinema and prose, it’s pretty much all here. Cow pokes, singing cowboys, gunfighters, barroom brawls, bank robberies, Native American tribes, Western law enforcement, bizarre pop-up towns, travelling entertainers, prospectors, survival, man vs. the elements, men vs. men, wagon trains, themes that relate to all of humanity, Western short story compilation books. . . so many of the Western genre elements I enjoy are all in one place in this one, anthology film.

Many great Westerns from the ’60s and ’70s are basically already compilations of tied-together vignettes. Jeremiah Johnson and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid jump immediately to my mind. It seems only right that the short story compilation format, which many Western books are, would come to the screen in The Ballad of Buster ScruggsBuster Scruggs also serves as an explanation of the Coen brothers as storytellers and explores storytelling itself.

When you get to the end of Buster Scruggs, you will realize this isn’t just a random number of stories brought together in one place. All of the stories serve to illustrate a central theme: We all ride to our deaths, that much is certain. We can beg the coach driver to stop as long and as loud as we wish, but he never will. It’s company policy.

Read my full review.

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1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

These divisive times have me ever searching for a film with a message of unity without falseness. In 2016, it was Arrival. In 2017, Three Billboards. In 2018, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a wonderful documentary about one of the kindest men who ever lived, Mr. Fred Rogers. An ordained, Presbyterian minister who deeply understood spirituality and philosophy, he also understood children and the legitimacy of their emotions. He never talked down to them, and, to all of us who watched his quaint show at one time or another, he inspired us all to be better, kinder people.

Mr. Rogers did not teach a fake kindness either. He addressed the realities of life. Yet in the face of darkness, he believed kindness would pull us through. Mr. Rogers once told his audience, “When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed. So in all that you do in all of your life, I wish you the strength and the grace which will allow you and your neighbor to become the best of whoever you are” (The World According to Mr. Rogers).

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a documentary that excellently communicates both the ideals and the life of this great man.

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Honorable Mentions

 

My honorable mentions are all films that I was seriously considering for a spot on my Top Ten list, and they are all of the films I considered worthy of calling my favorites of 2018. They are as follows, listed alphabetically:

 

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Avengers: Infinity War

Ten years and eighteen films of unprecedented movie world-building come together fantastically in Avengers: Infinity War. No, Infinity War doesn’t work as a single piece, but neither does Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers or any single episode of Game of ThronesAvengers: Infinity War is serialized goodness deftly bringing together multiple, varied threads. Marvel made solid decisions with Infinity War, including actual risks, that pay off big time. Risks like splitting everyone into small groups Empire Strikes Back-style, placing Thanos as essentially the film’s main character whose motives we understand, and subverting expectations in ways that are actually entertaining and interesting. In an era where franchise films either seem to subvert too much or pay too much fan service, producer Kevin Feige, directors the Russo brothers, and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely teamed up to find a good balance of fan service and subversion of expectations.

 

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Bad Times at the El Royale

Bad Times at the El Royale will be one of those movies in a few years that many people have discovered on streaming and love. Why wasn’t it more popular when it released in theaters? Maybe it was expectations, a general disinterest in mystery flicks, or that the trailers made Bad Times look like Pulp Fiction-lite. It’s not. It’s actually more like Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, except, I dare say, better. Drew Goddard, of Cabin in the Woods fame, wrote, directed, and produced this movie brilliantly. The mystery thriller story moves well, with genuinely surprising twists and turns, and it’s much deeper than you might at first imagine, with themes of the past coming back to bite us, our heroes aren’t really heroes, and the good ole’ days were never truly good. Bad Times also takes genre and period conventions, tropes, and stereotypes and turns them on their heads.

 

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Chappaquiddick and Gosnell

I thought the presidency of Trump would fire up progressive liberal artists to dig deep and give us a lot of interesting art, like the Reagan era did, but instead, so far, with only a few exceptions, liberal artists have largely given us a lot of reactionary whining. I am looking for art that exemplifies that old saying of “speaking truth to power.” Well, that phrase has become aggressively clichéd at this point, and most of the folks claiming they are “speaking truth to power” are actually just whining to power, or whining to a power that is not as great as they think or claim it to be.

So, in my search to find art that speaks actual truth to real power, I have found, in the age of Trump, it is many conservatives, libertarians, and less progressive liberals who have dug deep to give us thoughtful politically-minded art. Two of the best examples from 2018 are Chappaquiddick and Gosnell.

No, the Kennedys no longer have the presence they once had, but their legacy is still solid, intact, and powerful, and most of the Democrats of today, and even many Republicans, consider themselves part of what the Kennedys started. Chappaquiddick dares to show the Kennedys were bad at the root, and it does so without being melodramatic. Gosnell, on the other handgoes after a news story the mainstream media almost completely ignored, despite its horror and implications, because it did not fit into their narratives.

Read David Malone’s full review of Gosnell.

 

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Creed II

While Creed II did not get the chance to benefit from the masterful direction of Ryan Coogler, who directed Creed, that’s OK, because Coogler is one of the best directors working, and the one-take fight he filmed for Creed is probably the best boxing match ever portrayed on screen. What Creed II does do well is, in a screenplay by Juel Taylor and Sylvester Stallone (back in form as a writer), present a story that makes old, reliable tropes new again; ties up every important story line in the Rocky saga perfectly; and explores themes of masculinity and family, the relationships between fathers and sons, and the responsibilities and duties a person owes themselves and those around them. I honestly did not expect Creed II to be good, and though it has many familiar beats, something happens at the end I didn’t expect that elevated the whole movie for me.

 

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The Favourite

The Favourite is exactly the kind of political satire I’ve been looking for these last few years. Trump’s election in 2016 revealed America’s political elite for what they are: petty and vengeful, just as any political elite have been throughout all of history, an aristocracy lording themselves above the peasants over whom they rule. The Favourite mocks this sort of aristocracy, in early 18th century England, yet unlike some satires, it takes its characters seriously, and though it injects anachronistic elements and deals in dark comedy, the entire film is set in a recognizable world. These artistic decisions by Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos – here at his most restrained yet also, I feel, his best – enable me to get invested in a story that simultaneously mocks the political elite and sympathizes with some of them.

 

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Free Solo

Free Solo is a breathtaking documentary about Alex Honnold, the first man to scale the infamous El Capitan free solo, an athletic achievement, and it’s one of the best documentaries of this style I’ve seen on this sort of subject. Interesting, inspiring, exhilarating, anxiety-producing. . . My hands literally got sweaty watching Alex’s El Capitan, free solo climb. See it on the biggest, highest quality screen possible.‬ Some people have found it difficult to relate to Alex in this documentary, but I found him, and his history, intriguing, and sad in places. Plus, he reminded me of a couple people I know, and I felt this documentary gave me insight into their character as well.

 

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Heavy Trip

Attention, all heavy metal friends! Watch this Finnish comedy! Not only is it a good comedy flick from 2018, the best and most original one I saw from 2018, but also it portrays the world of extreme metal artists and fans lovingly. Like this movie, we are quirky, weird, and goofy, and we love “the metal”! Extreme heavy metal fans and artists often have a sort of dorky obsession with their music that is far removed from the “E-VILL” some people outside that scene see, looking at it all from quite a distance. If you get to know any non-mainstream heavy metal artists, you will find them largely nice folks. They let their anger and frustration out in their music, not in their lives. Heavy Trip illustrates that.

 

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Hostiles

I recommend Hostiles as an alternative to films like Dances with Wolves, which far too often contain oversimplified perspectives on the relationships between the Anglo-Saxon settlers of America and the Native Americans. These sorts of movies almost always feature a protagonist who either has or learns to have a current-to-our-time-correct view of the American Indians, and they often feature narratives that help modern liberals congratulate themselves on how wonderful and progressive they are. Instead, Hostiles shows us just how complicated these matters were, especially for the people caught in the midst of the issues, and it shows us that there was no easy solution. No change of heart would save the day. The protagonist here starts out in the story hating Native Americans and ends it respecting them, though still not loving them as a whole. Hostiles is harsh and bleak but also realistic.

Read David Malone’s full review of Hostiles.

 

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Incredibles 2

The only Pixar film I ever really wanted to see a sequel to was The Incredibles, and I finally got it. Incredibles 2 mostly lives up to the standard set by the first, especially philosophically in the story. The most interesting parts of this animated flick are characters just talking to each other. The action set pieces are thrilling, every aspect of the animation is well-designed and vibrant, and the family dynamics still resonate with me. I also found parts of it to be a sort of debate of various conflicting libertarian ideas. To have realistic family dynamics and a few philosophical ideas in a children’s superhero film is frankly kind of amazing. That it happened twice for one franchise is even more amazing.

 

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Isle of Dogs

If there has ever been a stop-motion animated feature film as beautiful, ambitious, and epic as Isle of Dogs, I know it not. Isle of Dogs is a movie meticulously crafted by the one and only Wes Anderson, and though I don’t like it quite as much as The Fantastic Mr. Fox – the other Wes Anderson, stop-motion animated, fantasy film, and one of my favorite movies – its technical and artistic achievements simply demand appreciation. Isle of Dogs’ tactile and precise film-making approach very well may alienate some viewers, but I found it immensely satisfying. Especially if you are a dog lover and/or a fan of stop-motion, I highly recommend this to you.

 

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I, Tonya

The title of this movie refers to a 1934 novel by Robert Graves, I, Claudius, which presents the real, historical figure Tiberius Claudius Drusus as a poorly considered, socially impaired royal, kept hidden from the public eye, even though he was in line to be Emperor of Rome, because he didn’t represent the pinnacle of perfection like a mighty Roman Emperor should. Yet when Claudius did eventually become Emperor, after much turmoil in Rome, he became one of the most adept, efficient rulers in Roman history. I don’t know just how much of Claudius the filmmakers intended us to see in Tonya Harding, but I found many parallels in I, Tonya. However, I, Tonya also asks us to think about this story at a more complex level, even beyond the tragedy, and even if that tragedy was previously unknown to us. It plays with the telling of the story.

Read my full review of I, Tonya.

 

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Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is a  low-key film that affected me deeply with two heartbreakingly human characters facing real-life, American, human problems. Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie are absolutely effective as Will – a vet struggling with crippling PTSD who takes to living in the national parks of Oregon like a modern-day Jeremiah Johnson – and Thom – Will’s 13-year-old daughter whom he has taken with him, although she also follows him out of love. The movie is filmed with a quite, understated, deliberate grace. It’s Debra Granik’s third home run in a row, her last picture being Winter’s Bone, an all-time favorite of mine. This is restrained filmmaking without sensationalism.

 

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Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation has the best motorcycle chase I’ve ever seen. Mission: Impossible – Fallout has the best helicopter chase I’ve ever seen. . . And there are at least two other scenes as crazy and as thrilling in this movie! That’s how great Mission: Impossible 6 (that’s right, 6!) is as an action flick! Chris McQuarrie and Tom Cruise (who is more or less American Jackie Chan at this point and the closest thing we have to Cruise’s beloved Buster Keaton), man, they really did it again! Fallout‘s sheer ambition as an action flick is undeniable and matched by only a few films. Plus, it is excellent as a wrap-up to the Mission: Impossible movies thus far. In fact, if it turns out to be the last M:I movie, it will rise in my estimation. Oh, and I spotted very few uses of CGI. For the incredible practical stunts, 10/10.

 

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Outlaw King

I must admit a huge bias toward the material covered in Outlaw King. I have been fascinated with the story of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and the Scottish Rebellion ever since I first read about it in the historical novel In Freedom’s Cause: A Story of Wallace and Bruce by G.A. Henty. That novel had such an impact on me that I can still feel the emotions I felt when I first read it. Coming from Scotch-Irish heritage myself, it feels as if the story has been injected into my veins. Braveheart is my favorite movie of all time, something I’ve made no bones about, too. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated Outlaw King. It shows us another side, in movie form, of a conflict we’ve all seen in Braveheart. Braveheart is a film about myth. Outlaw King is a film about the realities behind that myth.

 

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A Quiet Place

John Krasinski did a good job directing A Quiet Place. I can’t wait to see what he does next! In a similar style to Shyamalan when he is good, Krasinski elevated a schlocky, fun premise into being a simple movie about the family unit. A Quiet Place contains solid acting too, including the kids, surprisingly enough, even when they feature heavily. Most of all, though, the thing that draws me to A Quiet Place the most, the thing that brings me back to it, is its emphasis on uplifting the family unit in the Judeo-Christian sense. That is not to say anything against non-Judeo-Christian families and views, but that is what resonates most with me and, therefore, causes the film to work so well for me.

 

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The Rider

Chloe Zao, the Chinese director and writer of The Rider, told an interviewer, “What I love about America is not necessarily the American dream, it’s the fact that there’s so much spirit of fighting to continue to dream once the dreams are broken.” This spirit of fighting to dream and to wrest one’s destiny from the hands of fate is integral to the American pioneer spirit. Zao has created in The Rider an insightful representation of this spirit, using non-actors from the Native American reservations of South Dakota to essentially portray their own lives. The cowboy is the epitome of the ideal American man, and Brady Jandreau is the stand-in for this figure, as he is in real life. It’s a story told with beauty and grace by Zao. Sometimes it takes outsiders to reveal the truths at the center of America’s good, and Zao is one of those outsiders.

 

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Three Identical Strangers

I definitely recommend Tim Wardle’s documentary Three Identical Strangers. It is an at first simple but fascinating story that goes on to explore themes of familial relationships, psychology, psychoanalysis, nature vs. nurture, fate vs. free will, genetics, ethics, and scientific responsibility. It may sound like a jumbled mess for a single documentary to cover that many ideas in the span of ninety-six minutes, but these themes spring organically from this eventually-bizarre tale of three, regular, young guys who suddenly found themselves in the midst of a whirlwind, when they discovered they were three identical twins who had been adopted by three different families who had no idea their adopted sons had any siblings at all.

☆☆☆☆

I don’t include shorts in my favorite films of the year lists, just as I don’t include EPs in my favorite albums of the year lists. However, if I did, this year I would have included Pixar’s short “Bao,” which played theatrically in front of Incredibles 2. Yes, “Bao” is just a Pixar short in front of a potentially cash-grabbing Pixar sequel, and some have criticized its Oscar win as another example of Disney patting themselves on the back (Disney owns the network on which The Academy Awards airs), but this little film captured for me the emotion of a particular aspect of parent-children relationships better than any other recent Disney film has.

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For other films I’d like to mention but not in the official list, I always love finding guilty pleasure movies. Whether they’re just schlock (like Commando) or so-bad-it’s-good (like The Room), guilty pleasure movies are always a ton of fun. Here are the flicks I enjoyed on that level in 2018:

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Aquaman (this jumbled mess might give you a headache, but it is epic!), Cloverfield Paradox (one of the most exasperatingly bad recent sci-fi flicks), Deadpool 2 (Deadpool 1 with way more stuff!), Jurassic World 2 (one of the most unintentionally hilarious big-budget, major studio movies I’ve ever seen), The Meg (Jason Statham vs. a giant, prehistoric shark), Mom and Dad (Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair succumb to a [disease?] that makes them want to murder their kids, which they proceed to try), Overlord (during WWII, Allied soldiers fight Nazi zombies), Upgrade (Venom if it were Australian and better in almost every way), and Venom (it’s a pleasure just to see this thing go down!). I recommend all nine of those movies, but not for the reasons I traditionally recommend films, and I only recommend them if you’re ready to laugh both with and at a movie.

☆☆☆☆

And there you have it! My 2018 favorite films list. I’m glad I got to do it, and I look forward to it every year, but I’m finally sighing a breath of relief. I just needed to get this out! However, one good thing about me doing this article late is that if you discover something new here you want to see, most if not all of these films are streaming in one location or another, so you can go find them now.

It was important to me to write and release this article, as I watched seventy-seven 2018-released films in 2018 and 2019 essentially in research for this piece. Should that be the way I go about watching films? Maybe not, and it certainly doesn’t work well for me and my schedules, but I am glad I worked like this for one year on this article as a project.

I won’t have any top ten worst lists because we have enough negativity in the film community these days as it is.

If you want to read my “favorite movies of 2017” article, check it out! If you look at that article, you will see the same limitations I applied to this year’s list applied to that one as well, even in the “update” at the bottom of the article.

What are your favorite films of 2018? What did you think of 2018 for film in general?

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