Top 20 Films of 2018

Ken Jones

  • Chief Film Critic

2018 has been a unique year. Typically, when I get to the end of the year, there are a handful of limited releases that haven’t expanded to where I live, and I don’t get to see them until mid-January. This year, there is only one that I want to see that I haven’t managed to get to yet: If Beale Street Could Talk. Because of that, I feel comfortable crafting my year-end list of the best films of 2018 now rather than waiting. I’m going to list twenty, but I’m only going to devote a sentence each to 11-20. Let’s just get right into it!

Honorable Mentions:
First Man, I Am Not a Witch, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, They Shall Not Grow Old, Zama

20. Game Night – The bullet removal scene was funniest scene of the year.
19. Leave No Trace – An outstanding follow-up to director Debra Granik’s 2009 film, Winter’s Bone.
18. A Star Is Born – And maybe a director is born too.
17. BlacKkKlansman – Spike’s best work since Do the Right Thing?
16. Mandy – What a trip. Cage’s freak out in the bathroom is an all-timer.
15. Roma – Sometimes family is more than blood. An emotionally heavy last 30 minutes.
14. Eighth Grade
– The film most likely to trigger PTSD in teens.
13. Tully – The film most likely to trigger PTSD in moms.
12. Annihilation – A fascinating follow-up to Ex Machina by Alex Garland.
11. A Quiet Place – Krasinski made the headlines for pulling double duty, but Blunt cemented herself as one of the most genre-versatile actresses on the planet.

10. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I was not on board with the introduction of Miles Morales when that happened. After this movie, though, I am more than happy to eat crow. Into the Spider-Verse is teeming with creativity, humor, and a love for the Spider-Man character. It’s just as easy to mock and scoff at “inclusion” and “representation” in movies. It’s also just as easy to celebrate it in a cliched manner that only pays lip service to it. This movie opened my eyes to the idea that there it’s a great big world out there for comic books and that there can be a Spider-Man for everyone, even if it’s Spider-Ham. This movie showed that there is still life in the comic book superhero genre.

9. Good Manners

Easily the lowest box office earner to make my year-end list (It only grossed $31K in 4 theaters). But I saw this at the Maine International Film Festival in July and loved every minute of it. It’s a Brazilian horror film that is also part comedy, musical, lesbian romantic drama, fantasy, and art house. Seeing 30+ films over a 10-day span is its own kind of tiring, but this film energized me, I left the screening delighted, and it was hands down the most fun I had with a movie in 2018. The less you know about it going in the better.

8. Widows

Director Steve McQueen doing genre filmmaking. This is ostensibly a heist movie, but it’s less about the heist than it is the planning for the heist by these four women. McQueen weaves a rich tapestry about Chicago crime and politics around this narrative about female empowerment, showing the seedy underbelly of the ruthless political system. Everyone gets a moment to shine in this terrific thriller. Plus, it’s got the dog of the year, Olivia, who was also in Game Night.

7. First Reformed

Paul Schrader’s film has stuck with just about everyone who has seen it. Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Toller has a crisis of faith on the eve of his church’s 250th anniversary. His despair stems from his personal past and his recent involvement with a couple in his congregation, of which the husband is a radical environmentalist worried about bringing a child into this world. The question of what kind of world we are leaving behind hangs over everything, as does the question “Will God forgive us?” Definite shades of Travis Bickle and Taxi Driver.

6. Hereditary

All due respect to A Quiet Place, but the best horror movie of the year is Ari Aster’s Hereditary, in which a grieving family slowly deteriorates as malevolent forces around them, physical and supernatural chip away at them. It’s an unnerving and unsettling experience. Toni Colette deserves an Oscar nod for his performance. Also, the creepiest scene of the year was poor Alex Wolff’s character waking up from a nap, which caused me to go, “Wait, is that… oh, God.” An expertly crafted film, just like the miniatures that Collette’s Annie builds. 

5. Isle of Dogs

You heard the rumor, right? A simple story of a boy and his dog made not-so-simple by the fact that the mayor of the city has outlawed dogs to an island of trash. The boy goes to rescue the dog, crash-landing on the island and enlisting the help of a pack of dogs, led by Chief. Anderson’s second stop-motion animation film is a notable step up from Fantastic Mr. Fox. A genuinely fun and enjoyable film. The sushi prep scene is the highlight of the movie.

4. Black Panther

The biggest movie of the year, grossing over $700 million, and totally deserving. Black Panther builds off the strong but brief introduction to the character in Captain America: Civil War, and director Ryan Coogler took the ball and ran with it, creating a fully realized culture and society in Wakanda, the country of hidden wealth and technology in Africa. Not only does it give us a fully fleshed out world that is immersed in African culture and history, it also gives us an outstanding and compelling villain in Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger (“Hey, Auntie.”).

3. Sorry to Bother You

This debut film from director Boots Riley is rooted in making a subversive political statement, but it’s also interested in getting more than a little weird. There is a lot of social commentary through satire in this film: a black telemarketer finding his (literal) inner white voice, the division of labor, the prison industrial complex, reality television, and even art. Then the film introduces the word “equisapien” and it made me thing everything might go off the rails, but it never does. Lakeith Stanfield is going to be a star.

2. The Favourite

The Favourite was so good I saw it twice; first at Telluride by the Sea in September, and then again when it was released in December. I loved it and laughed heartily both times. Lanthimos is a director who relishes the darker humor and something is always going to be a little askew and twisted in his films. The three women in this film (Olivia Coleman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone) all give Oscar-worthy performances, but especially Coleman. Did you look at me? Look at me. HOW DARE YOU! CLOSE YOUR EYES!

1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

If The Favourite was the most 2018 movie of 2018, then this documentary about Fred Rogers might be the healing balm we need in 2018. This doc shows that the Mister Rogers on TV was the exact same Mr. Rogers in real life, in other words, he was the genuine article of a kind and decent human being. His show was nothing short of a ministry, and had a simple message of trying to see the inherent good in every human being and showing kindness and love to everyone. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when I saw it in the theater. It’s the film that left the biggest impression on me in 2018. The world could use a Fred Rogers right about now, and if we all tried to be a bit more like Fred Rogers then that could do a world of good.