Jacob's Top 15 Favorite Films of 2018
It’s been a while.
Since I moved to Austin, I actually got a full-time job (writing!), so this site hasn’t been super active to say the least. But I’ve seen plenty of films since my last review (Halloween), but like every one of these lists, let’s start off with the movies I meant to get around to seeing this year and didn’t:
A Star is Born
Anna and the Apocalypse
The Favourite (I am specifically not happy about having not seen this yet, Yorgos Lanthimos’ last two films both placed highly on my last two end of the year lists)
Five Fingers for Marseilles
The House That Jack Built
If Beale Street Could Talk
So yeah, if you don’t see those movies on my list, that’s why. This happens every year and I’m bummed about it, and it will happen again (like how I saw The Shape of Water after I made my 2017 list and realized it would have placed in the top three if I’d seen it in time).
And yes, I’m rolling with a Top 15 instead of a Top 10 this year. Again. It feels like a nice middleground between how limiting I find a Top 10 versus the bloat of a Top 20.
And finally, I have to emphasize something up front: The top three on this list are essentially tied. They are not only some of my favorite movies of the year, but each of three has a monstrous potential to become some of my favorite films of all time. Ranking these three movies against each other killed me inside, and I want to stress that more than anything.
Without further ado…
15. Avengers: Infinity War
This is sort of an obligatory entry. I enjoyed Infinity War a lot, but taken out of its context, it’s a sprawling superhero epic that does lose sight of its own scope from time to time. It’s bolstered by one of the best villains the Marvel movies in the form of Josh Brolin’s Thanos, who’s not only well-performed, but is arguably the protagonist of the movie itself. It’s a ballsy approach before you even get to that “HOLY SHIT” ending.
But the real reason it’s on here is because it is the culmination of ten years of recent film history. We’ve been building cinematic universes for a long time now and I couldn’t help but wonder why we’ve put this much work into the concept. This is why. This is the power of legacy being built into narrative, and it’s amazing how powerful that tool can be when wielded correctly (there’s not a single DC movie on this list for a reason).
14. Black Panther
I’m honestly pretty lukewarm on Black Panther. Not the movie, but more the character himself. T’Challa was one of the most imposing characters in Captain America: Civil War, and I couldn’t help but feel like he was a passenger in his own movie. He wasn’t the least interesting character in his own film, but it almost felt that way.
Which is why the film makes the cut on this list. The other characters are simply incredible, but we all know that Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Killmonger is the reason to watch this movie. Not only is the performance pitch-perfect, he’s easily the best-written superhero villain in many years, a character that directly confronts the philosophy of our hero and makes him realize the most painful of truths:
The villain has a point, and it’s not a bad one.
13. Mission: Impossible - Fallout
I was initially going to place this movie higher on the list, but the reason it got bumped down was due to two factors: One doesn’t have to do with the movie but more that I really love horror movies and this year turned out to be a fun year for the genre (which threw this list into disarray). The other factor is that Fallout does get lost in its own conspiracy narrative to the point that when I sat down to write out this list, I could barely remember the story (and there’s a lot of it crammed into the edges of this movie).
But this was guaranteed a spot for the technical prowess of its several SEVERAL breathtaking action sequences. These are some of the best action scenes in the business this year in terms of complexity (in terms of violence though, it loses out to something else on this list).
And I will concede that a couple parts of the story really stick with me and keep this from being a purely technical exercise. In a less competitive year, this would have placed much higher.
12. You Were Never Really Here
I suspect the more I watch this movie, the more I’ll like it. Or maybe not, the second time I watched this film parts of it improved and other parts felt even more glaringly off. This is one of the messiest movies I can remember sitting through, but don’t take messy as an insult. It takes an unbelievable amount of effort to make something this fractured on purpose, and to make it fractured in service of trapping the audience in a violent Hell that consumes everyone that dares to enter.
This movie haunts me, and I have a feeling that if I really picked this movie apart more and more, it might have climbed up the list, but right now, I’m still not sure how I entirely feel about this movie. The two things I can definitively say is that Joaquin Phoenix deserves to be nominated for Best Actor in whatever awards show will have him, and Johnny Greenwood’s original score is one of the finest this year (not the best though, we’ll get to that later…).
Damn, this one really came out of nowhere. Olivia Cooke dominates this film as a true sociopathic teenager in one of the strongest directorial debuts I can remember in a long time, but Anya Taylor-Joy continues to be one of the most underrated actresses in her generation, playing the “good” girl in this story.
Gorgeously shot, scored with almost only percussion, and featuring one of the most visceral endings I can think of in a long time, don’t let Thoroughbreds slide under your radar. Just like the other movies outside of the ten this year, in a less competitive year, Thoroughbreds would have killed.
10. Halloween (2018)
Holy shit did this turn out to be a banner year for studio horror films. Last year we got Get Out from the studio system, a true modern masterpiece of horror filmmaking that will be one of the most talked about films of the decade. Instead of trying to top that, it feels like the studio system went, “Screw it, we’re going to just release a bunch of super solid horror films instead of one masterpiece this time.”
And Halloween (2018) is super SUPER solid. It’s not that remarkable from a pure inventiveness standpoint, seeming to remix the myriad terrible sequels to the 1978 original to create a whole new sequel that tosses all of that garbage. It brings one truly bad idea along for the ride this time (literally), but it’s not even close to enough to wreck this movie, especially with Jamie Lee Curtis giving this movie everything she has.
That’s the most impressive part about this sequel: How much time and care is put into not only Laurie Strode, but the generations of women that followed her and how the pain she endured forty years ago creeps into every part of their lives. You know, until the cause of that pain is wandering through the streets committing horrendous acts of violence. It could never top the original, but it’s finally an “actually good” sequel, something the series has never really had.
Oh, and John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies nailed the score on this one.
I’ll freely admit that I wasn’t as in love with Hereditary as other horror fans, but there’s no denying that this is one of the most tightly shot horror films I’ve ever seen. Ari Aster is a real deal talent that we’ll be dealing with for a long time, and Hereditary is damn memorable. I can’t quite put my finger on what I wanted from this movie and why it didn’t affect me as deeply, but it did still scare the shit out of me. And Toni Collette gives an Oscar worthy performance that’s one of the best in the genre.
Not going to say much more about it though because if you don’t know what’s going on in Hereditary, keep it that way. Even if you get ahead of where this movie is going (I think many horror fans will), you won’t see how far it goes coming.
8. They Shall Not Grow Old
The last minute entry for this list, They Shall Not Grow Old is one of the most astonishing documentaries I can remember watching. The story it tells isn’t exactly new: A slice of life montage of the lives of British soldiers on the Western Front during World War I. But how it opts to tell the story is a bit unique. Director Peter Jackson has opted to tell his story by using only real archive footage from the Imperial War Museum and archive audio recordings of the veterans that survived it.
But what lands They Shall Not Grow Old this high on the list is what Jackson and his special effects pros have done to the footage: They restored it not only into color, but re-timed the frame-rates and added in sound design. It’s a perfect example of how the public perception of digital effects being cold and lifeless is a fallacy we need to conquer as moviegoers. Technology is as good as the artist who uses it, and Jackson’s obsession with technology has led him down a revelatory path.
This is literally footage from over a hundred years ago and what this documentary does to breath life back into the half-captured past is truly awe-inspiring. What holds this documentary back is its slightly limited scope (a flaw that Peter Jackson has actually publicly acknowledged), but as a technical achievement that pushes forward the possibilities of what honoring the past can mean, They Shall Not Grow Old is simply incredible.
Good luck seeing it though, because its release strategy is so hyper-limited that it only played twice in the U.S. in a number of theaters. Those dates have passed and there’s no word on when you can see it again. Sorry about that.
7. A Quiet Place
I’m really stunned by how much this movie stuck with me as the year trudged on. Not just because it’s a great “one bad night” creature feature, but because it’s one with an actual beating heart underneath it. I love the family in A Quiet Place, flaws and all. They feel like a real family unit struggling to maintain something like a childhood for their children while scrounging in a world where you can’t make a sound.
And that last part could have been just a gimmick, but gets built into every piece of the film’s DNA to the point that seeing this was the most stressful experience I’ve had in a theater in ages. Seeing this movie twice in an actual theater was so damn satisfying, especially because both audiences I saw it with started a bit rowdy but quickly fell into tense silence through each of the killer set-pieces.
Anchored by great sound design, fantastic performances (especially from Emily Blunt), A Quiet Place is one of my favorite studio horror films in a while. It’s not thematically ambitious, but when you make a creature feature this scary while almost completely removing an “essential” part of filmmaking (spoken dialogue), and you’re somehow Jim from The Office… Yeah. You get a spot on my list.
6. Sorry to Bother You
Dammit, this was so SO close to being Top Five (if not Top Three), but that third act’s (almost literal) Hail Mary to resolve plot points really does bother me (pun not intended, seriously). With a slightly tighter structure, this could have been one of the all-time great satires, a titan among titans like Dr. Strangelove and Network.
It falls short, but those two films I just listed should give you an idea of just how good Sorry to Bother You is. Yeah, it fell short of two of the greatest satire films ever created. Instead, Sorry to Bother You is “just” one of the best satire films of the decade instead. It’s also one of the boldest movies on this list, unafraid of what anyone thinks the movie is going to be and where it’s going to go. To say anything else feels like giving up the game of Sorry to Bother You, but it’s ruthless examination of modern world business has to be seen to be believed.
5. The Night Comes For Us
Sorry y’all. I love hyper-violent movies, especially when they’re as unhinged as The Night Comes For Us. I’m a forever champion of The Raid movies, movies that The Night Comes For Us owes a slight debt to (seeing that they share a number of cast members). But where The Raid tried (and sort of succeeded) at building an interesting mythology with compelling characters, The Night Comes For Us trades in broad tropes as characters without really explaining what all of the characters are doing there.
That’s definitely a criticism, but The Night Comes For Us makes the gamble that the imagery of a guy’s head getting smashed by a pool ball while a couple dozen people die around the main character is going to make up the difference.
The final fight is one of the craziest balls-out displays of violence I’ve ever seen in a movie, turning the main characters into sentient blood sacks with only the will to fight. And that fight is preceded by two other fights, one a warehouse brawl for the ages, and the other a three-way fight between the most badass women in the business. The Night Comes For Us is gonzo action at its peak, and I sincerely hope that the film’s director, Timo Tjahjanto, gets to make this into the trilogy he wants it to be.
4. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Good lord did I cry watching this movie.
I don’t know what I can even say to re-cap how I felt watching this movie this year. A soulful cry for empathy and understanding, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is one of the best documentaries I can remember watching in ages. The emotional resonance is unreal and its appeals to the inherent good that lives inside of all of us. In a year filled with true horrors in the news, this was the closest I came to an antidote from all of it.
Of course it’s not enough on its own, but the way the film directly challenges its audience during the finale is one of the most memorable moments in a movie this year. What an experience it was.
Your reminder that these next three films come at the highest possible recommendation and that ranking these three against each other is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done building one of these lists. Let’s continue.
3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Yeah, no offense to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Cinematic Universe, the X-Men movies , but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is far and away the best superhero film of 2018. Not only is it the best of 2018, it’s definitely in the highest possible tier of superhero films. Put it up there with The Dark Knight. Put it up there with Logan. Put it up there with Superman. Hell, put it up there with the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man. This is and out and out masterpiece that’s going to permanently change the way I view the entire genre.
Weirdly enough, I’d compare Spider-Verse to Logan the most. They couldn’t be farther apart in tone, but both are some of the best comic book movies in recent memory that owe some of their power to the films and adaptations that precede them. And while Logan uses that legacy to reflect on a broken life of a hero, Spider-Verse chooses the opposite approach and uses what we know about the Spider-Man legacy to affirm that any one of us are not only worthy of being Spider-Man ourselves, but that we should try to be the best we can be no matter what while understanding just how hard that can be.
Thematically, the movie is rich as hell, which is why it’s unbelievable how funny and full of life this movie is at the same time. That’s owed to the animation style that feels truly unlike anything I’ve seen. In terms of inventiveness, it reminded me of the anime film Mind Game, and I do NOT use that comparison lightly.
Honestly, nothing really went wrong here. The villain motivations are a bit thin, but they do more than enough to keep everything in play here. I’m head over heels for this movie, and the fact it got third place should give you an idea about how I feel about the next two movies.
This is the movie I watched the most in theaters this year. In fact, besides The Room, this is the movie I’ve watched the most in theaters period. I saw it five times (one of those times was literally less than a week ago) and it has already become one of my new favorite films. Mandy is a tone poem wrapped in a metal concept album, pretending to be a regular ol’ revenge tale. And while it’s definitely a revenge film, it doesn’t play it easy. Instead of focusing completely in on the catharsis of utterly destroying your enemies, it always loops back around to the anger and regret of not being able save the people we love.
I’m still in awe of the movie’s decision to dedicate over half of its length to quiet moments, some purposely (and almost annoyingly) drawn out. Luckily, the film is beyond gorgeous, using every lighting trick in the book to alter every single frame into a memorable tableau of psychedelic colors and reflection.
But what escalates the film into “all-timer” status for me is a combination of two specific parts: The actors and the music.
The music by Jóhann Jóhannsson is straight up the work of a master. It is my favorite film score in years and adds crushing atmosphere to a movie that almost exclusively trades in crushing atmosphere to begin with. Then the actors fill in the remaining cracks left by the film’s obtuse design, with Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, and Linus Roache all utterly destroying in their main roles.
I could truly go on about this movie for much longer, but I want to get to my number one for the year (which, coincidentally, also has Andrea Riseborough in it).
1. The Death of Stalin
This movie has haunted me all year.
The Death of Stalin starts as a pitch-black dark comedy and ends as a pitch-black dark drama in its last five minutes. Because to put it simply, when politics are involved, there’s no distinction between those two things. In the 1950s Soviet Union, dumb comedic behavior translates to thousands of people dying for no real reason.
But before it fully reaches its horrific destination, this is a very funny movie. The cast is full of comedic performers from Jeffrey Tambor to Michael Palin absolutely dominating at the peak of their comedic powers, but the one who walks away from this movie with the most is Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev (which is still a weird sentence to type no matter how many times I see this movie). Buscemi is hilarious. Until he really REALLY isn’t and reminds you why he’s been in some truly horrific roles over the years.
The political satire is straight up brutal and unyielding in a way that very few movies ever really go for (and succeed, need to throw that qualifier in there), but what made this film stay at number one for me was how it seemed to evolve every time I watched it.
Not because I suddenly noticed a new detail, but in the ways that this film manages to painfully mirror the times we still live in. The casual nature in which these characters discuss thousands of people dying in a single night (and treat the situation the way you’d treat the pizza delivery guy for being a half-hour late to your doorstep) is utterly impossible to separate from the politics of 2018. I watched this in March originally, and when I bought it on DVD and showed it to people much later in the year, I was horrified by how parts of the movie I glossed over suddenly stood out as parallels to where we are at this exact moment in time.
I didn’t need The Death of Stalin to point out those modern horrors for me, but the way it has amplified them literally haunts my dreams. I can’t stop thinking about The Death of Stalin, and I almost begrudgingly call it my favorite movie of 2018. Not because it’s just great, but because of its raw psychological impact. The existential dread it fills me with isn’t quite on par with Dr. Strangelove, but it’s close. Way too close, and that’s why it ranks ahead of two movies that fill me with raw joy to watch. The Death of Stalin gives me joy until it doesn’t. It has other things on its mind, and I can only sit here and applaud its power over me. In a hard fought year for favorite films, it comes out on top. Barely.