Marcus’s Top Ten Movies of 2018
2018 might have been the worst year of my life. Luckily, there was a steady stream of great movies throughout the year to help me through. Big blockbusters got me out to the theatre more than I have in previous years, and my last few months of catch-up at home have had me watching one heavy hitter after another. This has been my hardest top ten to put together since the start of my time at TFS (hence the extreme delay), simply because I saw more of the years’ greats in a somewhat timely manner than I ever have. Despite this, there’s still a ton that I missed, so please allow me to apologize to the following films that I feel extra bad about missing:
Blindspotting, If Beale Street Could Talk, Shirkers, Shoplifters, The Favourite, Burning, Aquaman, The Mule, Leave No Trace, Cold War, The Rider, Thunder Road, The Death of Stalin, Isle of Dogs, Skate Kitchen, Support the Girls, Vox Lux, and Can You Ever Forgive Me?...I hope so.
Now that that’s out of the way, time to talk about the best of what I did see.
10. The Kindergarten Teacher
The rest of my list fell into place quite nicely, but I had to wrestle with this number ten spot a lot. I could have given it to the latest excellent Mission: Impossible movie, the bold Mandy, the quirky, fun Eighth Grade, the wild Game Night, or the surreal Sorry to Bother You, but instead I went with the movie that surprised me the most. On paper, this movie is the exact opposite of what I usually find interesting to watch, but in execution, director Sara Colangelo’s second film is haunting and has stuck with me for far longer than I would have imagined. The Kindergarten Teacher toys with interesting ideas and then shockingly actually runs with them, and the great Maggie Gyllenhaal deserves all of the credit in the world for fully committing to the weird places this movie goes. Also, the final line is crushing.
9. Red Sparrow
Red Sparrow is wickedly cruel and artfully composed, but it would have easily fallen under the weight of its own dreariness if not for the commanding lead performance from Jennifer Lawrence. Just as she did with last year’s mother!, Lawrence completely owns the screen. And just like mother!, the film is practically daring you to look away from vile image after vile image, but it’s too well made to dismiss. Side note: This is the most noticeably uncomfortable audience I’ve ever been a part of, which might be part of why I loved this so much.
8. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
The most visually exhilarating 3D animated movie I’ve ever seen. Spider-Verse fills the screen with vivid colors and gorgeous animation, and moves with such aplomb that you’re never given a second to do anything but absorb all of it. Hilarious voiceover performances and sharp writing keep things light and fun, and an absolutely banging soundtrack has remained in regular rotation for me since I saw the movie, making sure that it’s never far from my mind. I’ve drifted away from animated films in recent years, but if they were all this imaginative, I never would have.
Spike Lee strikes a better balance than he ever has before by managing to provide perfect popcorn entertainment while dealing with weighty issues without ever allowing one to outweigh the other. John David Washington is a spitting image of his father with just as much charisma, and Adam Driver continues to impress. There’s a real masterful sense of tension that only builds and builds the longer the film goes, which makes the lighter comedy bits work all the more. Even the clunky addendum wasn’t enough to bring this down.
6. First Reformed
As I mentioned previously, 2018 was not good for me personally, and First Reformed managed to perfectly evoke many of the anxieties that I struggled with the most. Paul Schrader’s film captures an important snapshot of the modern world’s most pressing issue without being absurdly heavy handed and cheesy like last year’s Downsizing. Couple that with all-time great performances from the ever reliable Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried, in Schrader’s most focused filmmaking in decades, and I think there’s a serious case to be made that First Reformed is the most important film of the year.
5. A Star is Born
Matthew Libatique’s dreamy close-up cinematography, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s natural chemistry, a soundtrack to die for — there’s really nothing not to fall in love with in A Star Is Born. I’ve never seen a previous version of A Star is Born, but I’ve sure as hell seen a lot of rags-to-riches stories, and I felt that this film sidesteps many of the worst trappings that come with those films. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t afraid to go all out on a few melodrama moments, though, and those work beautifully. But really, Lady Gaga and her ferocious voice are the stars of this show.
4. Paddington 2
I can not accurately explain how much pure joy Paddington 2 provided me with, more joy than anything I watched all year. Ten minutes in I was tearing up because I was so overwhelmed by the happiness that the film filled me with, and that was only the tip of the iceberg. Hugh Grant’s gonzo villain provides a perfect foil for the lovable bear at the center (innocently voiced by Ben Whishaw). The prison scenes have a goofball charm that evokes the best of Wes Anderson’s work, and even the action scenes are fun. The movie even got through the annoying layers of detached irony in my personality to touch me with its message. We do not deserve something so life-affirming.
3. You Were Never Really Here
Director Lynne Ramsay’s latest masterpiece is a delirious and challenging look at a man destroyed by violence. The film totally refutes traditional narrative and refuses to do anything that you have come to expect from similar revenge films. Joaquin Phoenix leads the film with a thousand-yard-stare that makes him feel like he’s a million miles away even though he is physically present. The movie backs this up by never giving you more than a hint of his backstory, the most that you can tell is that it was tragic, leaving you constantly questioning. The bizarre, harrowing ending only left me feeling more empty and as lost as the lead character.
Ari Aster’s utterly inspired debut film hit me like a ton of bricks. A career-defining performance from Toni Collette and some of the most gorgeously-framed cinematography of the year propel this terrifying experience. Collette’s performance would have been enough, but somehow Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, and Gabriel Byrne manage to not only hold their own, but excel. The film never shies away from its own brutality. The shock that gets delivered a third of the way through had me shaking in my seat throughout the rest of the movie, and the batshit ending still has me theorizing. Hereditary is easily the most scared I’ve ever been in a theatre. Hail Paimon.
Up until two weeks ago, Hereditary was easily my favorite film of the year. For months I was certain that it couldn’t be topped. But then I finally got the gumption up to watch Roma and I was awestruck. Alfonso Cuarón’s master eye, accompanied with beautiful black and white photography, paints a vivid portrait of ‘70s Mexico City and a few of its inhabitants. This slice-of-life character study isn’t afraid to simply be, a characteristic that I think is severely undervalued in filmmaking. The whole film is handled with more care and compassion for its characters than any movie in recent memory, and that’s even with the heartbreaking images near the film’s end that touched me more than any this year.