When it comes to movies, the best ones never really leave your mind for long. They may waver, but within a few seconds, come back in a hurry. The best films leave a mark. And for me, 2018 left me with several movies clinging to my brain.
Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born took the crown for 2018, but there were many films this year that bought up real estate in my soul.
Let’s talk about the best movies I saw this past year, ranked in order of greatness.
15) All About Nina
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the reason this unfiltered indie made the list. She turned my head in this film about a talented yet troubled comic on the rise who can’t stop getting in her own way. Nina is a basket case for a reason, and you slowly find out about her problems as the lean running time progresses. Eva Vives’ bold script appears to be a standard foray at first, but develops teeth by the time Nina’s whopper of a secret is revealed in the climax. Stick around for it.
14) Ready Player One
Imagine a movie that gave you full access to Steven Spielberg’s mind and you have this thrill ride. The legendary filmmaker with an emotional touch tapped into the dreaming child inside of us with this futuristic tale about a mastermind (Mark Rylance) leaving three clues locked inside the Oasis, a virtual reality world, for hardcore gamers to discover and gain ownership of the software. There are so many wild moments in this film, including a hilarious throwback to The Shining and an all-out war between the most memorable movie characters of all time. Think of it and Spielberg has it. The sheer audacity and technological achievement here is off the charts. Style and substance.
13) What They Had
Elizabeth Chomko’s film aimed for the heart and landed a big shot in this no holds barred look at the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease, with great work from Robert Forster, Michael Shannon (who refuses to give a bad performance), and Blythe Danner. Every note in this film hits its spot, and Chomko finds a way to inject humor into a heartbreaking situation. You won’t see the end coming and it will floor you.
12) You Were Never Really Here
Talk about making a movie for a reason. Writer/director Lynne Ramsay gives us a tale about Joe, (Joaquin Phoenix), a veteran suffering from PTSD rescuing kidnapped girls for rich people, but shows us so much more with the way she uses the camera and lets Phoenix go for broke. For such a sad tale, there are many beautiful movie moments here and the cinematography is top notch. You’ll feel sorry for, be afraid of, and root for Joe throughout the entire film. It’s an experience. Depressing with just the right amount of uplift.
11) Green Book
Here is an example of a cast taking a film to another level. You don’t hesitate for a second in believing Viggo Mortenson, Mahershala Ali, and Linda Cardellini are these people. A drama with comedic elements about racial barriers being broken down during one road trip could have worked with lesser acting, but the cast elevates Peter Farrelly’s film to another level. It makes you feel good and manages to be powerful without trying too hard.
10) Mission: Impossible-Fallout
Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise are a dream team, and quite frankly, they waited too long in hooking up for these rousing adventures. With each mission, the stakes get higher for Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, and that means the stunts and action climbs to another level. These movies are the Fast & Furious films with a brain: thinking man’s action rides with dedicated actors. Henry Cavill spices things up this time as the wrench in Hunt’s plot, but the film offers plenty of eye-opening moments and performers. The helicopter chase is as good as you think it could be.
9) Hearts Beat Loud
The second best movie about music of 2018 provided career funnyman Nick Offerman with one of his best roles and a rare dramatic turn. As Frank, the old school record store owner who doesn’t want his daughter (Kiersey Clemons) to grow up too fast, Offerman anchors this film about the father and daughter teaming up to start a band. Writer/director Brett Haley made one of my favorite 2017 films in The Hero, and offers a quiet yet sublime take on the power of music and family. The songs are catchy too.
8) The Guilty
Gustav Moller doesn’t waste a minute of your time with this Danish thriller about an emergency call dispatcher desperately working against time to help a woman who he believes has been kidnapped. Jakob Cedergren is an actor you won’t know going in, but will cherish as the credits roll. This movie is not what you think and has plenty of unexpected drama to even out the thrills. How we carry our sins on our shoulders and the bittersweet pull of assumption anchor this film about regret. The last 15 minutes, when everything comes to pass, is as powerful as it gets in film. Don’t let the subtitles scare you off.
On the surface, this thriller looks familiar. A burnt out detective (an unrecognizable Nicole Kidman) making one last attempt to right a wrong from her past while connecting with her disapproving daughter. What Karyn Kusama manages to do is take that setup and drape it in a noir-flavored charcoal color and soak it with darkly poetic overtones.
Like Ramsay in You Were Never Really Here, Kusama is a master with the camera, composing a decrepit world with unpredictable characters and precise action that isn’t frequent, yet marvels when it does occur. A bank robbery sequence burns through the screen, but the last ten minutes are some of the most assured and patient filmmaking you’ll see this year. Kidman’s performance isn’t defined by makeup and a look, but how she completely transforms herself into Erin Bell. This is a dark movie told beautifully.
6) Avengers: Infinity War
The Russo Brothers claimed our hearts this spring by serving up the biggest cliffhanger to ever grace the screen. Love or hate comic flicks, but please try and deny the virtuoso work here from an esteemed cast and geeky writers. All the actors are driven, but Josh Brolin’s work as Thanos, a villain with a mission and a soul, raised the bar once again for what actors can do with voice and motion-capture work. It’s beautifully portrayed, and makes the film what it is, which is a rollicking adventure that felt 30 minutes less than its running time suggested.
Imagine going into class for a history lesson, and finding out the teacher is drunk…and hilarious. That’s Adam McKay and Vice, the wild and untapped take on Dick Cheney’s devious rise in the world of politics. Don’t worry about how much of it is true. Just keep laughing and having fun, because this movie aims to please as much as construct a heart for its anti-hero. This isn’t a documentary, and as brilliant as Christian Bale is, that isn’t really Cheney on screen. It’s a satire and should be viewed as such. I laughed harder than I did at any other film in 2018, and that includes Deadpool 2.
4) If Beale Street Could Talk
Barry Jenkins took the idea of a sophomore slump and tossed it out the window with this pulverizing tale on racism in 1970’s Harlem. When her fiance, Alonzo (Stephan James), is a victim of racial profiling, Tish (Kiki Layne) and her family take matters in their own hands in trying to get him out of jail before the birth of their child. Jenkins’ masterful work here in adapting James Baldwin’s novel, is painting such a vivid picture without preaching to us or beating us over the head with the morals of Baldwin’s tale. The pain is present without effort in Jenkins’ film, and it’s impossible to take your eyes off of it or dull the anger it will bring out of you. The cinematography and music are brilliant.
3) A Quiet Place
John Krasinski ratchets up the tension in this unconventional family drama thriller. If you think it’s a standard survival horror tale, think again. Krasinski and co-star Emily Blunt give career-best performances as parents trying to keep their kids safe from monsters without making a sound. It’s not a gimmick, but an expertly crafted and executed plot device. There’s pulse-pounding moments, crowd-pleasing instances, and a final scene that wraps the film up perfectly. Krasinski can give us a sequel, but it won’t be as good as this one.
2) Three Identical Strangers
A rare documentary that felt more like a cinematic thriller, this bittersweet tale of three brothers finding each other at the age of 19 starts out as some earnest and heartfelt journey before diving headfirst into a thought-provoking, powerful, and ultimately heartbreaking tale that casts a web of deceit and sad misfortune. This is a movie that anyone could sit down and appreciate while crying your eyes out. I took a long walk after the conclusion, because it made me think about so many things in my own life. Tim Wardle’s work here blazes a trail, besting the great work done by Morgan Neville with Won’t You Be My Neighbor. We knew about Fred Rodgers. You had no idea about Eddy, David, and Bobby.
1) A Star Is Born
I already poured 2,000 words into my reasoning behind this top spot, but let me spin it for you quick here. Bradley Cooper took something old and made it new and original with a meticulously crafted drama about love, depression, addiction, and the powerful sway of fame. Every performance is a career best and every scene is constructed to make you feel what Cooper intended. You’ll marvel at the heart behind the undeniable music. I have watched this film four times in just under three months. I’d watch it four more times. It’s the best.
Honorable Mentions: Black Panther, Tully BlacKkKlansman, Searching, Solo, Leave No Trace, and Capernaum.