When determining the merits of a year in film, whether or not the year was “good”, I’m looking for one of two things: true greatness or depth. (I’d like both, but I’ll settle for one.) Looking back over 2018 and the hundred-and-ten-or-so films I saw this year, I’m not sure I can pinpoint true greatness; I’m talking, like, iconic, masterpiece-level movies. But depth? Yeah, 2018 had some real depth to it. I gave out A’s (A+ to A- on my very scientific, official rating scale) to 45 movies (and I’m sure I’ll add some more to that total as I finish out the rest of my list), a fairly high number compared to years past, and there are plenty of movies I quite enjoyed, that I’ll watch many times over in the future, which ultimately didn’t sniff my top 25 (Game Night, Ready Player One, and Solo to name a few). On the podcast this week, we’ll each go over our top ten and worst ten of the year but as a precursor, here’s a look at the best of 2018 that was under consideration or just missed a top-ten finish.
25. Creed II
This movie had so much to live up to in my eyes as Creed is a bona fide perfect movie and one that I watch constantly, always through a storm of tears. II put up a noble effort, became a worthy follow-up, and fully passed the torch from Rocky Balboa to Adonis Creed. Will be interesting to see where this franchise goes moving forward.
24. American Animals
A very inventive, fun movie with a sobering sense of morality as its backbone. I had no knowledge of this story going in and spent the bulk of the film’s runtime trying to figure out if the interviews with the supposed real-life criminals were actually real interviews or if this was all a figment of director Bart Layton’s imagination. Layton has a great sense of the audience’s intrigue, I think, and pulls the strings beautifully throughout. Animals also features a couple of great performances, that of Evan Peters in particular.
23. First Man
This was one of my most anticipated films of the year and yet, for all its beauty and technical brilliance, it left me a bit cold. In this, I think Damien Chazelle succeeded in making an outstanding film but perhaps came up short in connecting with the audience, something he did so well in both Whiplash and La La Land. Gosling is a marvel, though, and the moon landing sequence is truly breathtaking.
22. Ralph Breaks the Internet
Like Creed II, this movie pales a bit in comparison to its predecessor but overall, I found Ralph to be a blast to watch and expertly crafted. Its conceit and the meta-ness of its story work, I think, quite well and Disney has come quite a long way in creating a thriving franchise with what could have been a one-off character.
21. Bad Times at the El Royale
As the president of the “Cabin in the Woods Is Fine But Not Nearly As Good As Y’all Make It Out To Be” coalition for reason, I am of the opinion that Drew Goddard will one day make a perfect film. Bad Times isn’t quite that, straying just a tad here and there from the path of perfection, but it is darn good and features some of the best performances of the year (Cynthia Erivo and Jeff Bridges in particular). Plus, the Chris Hemsworth dance scene still haunts me but sort of in a good way?
20. Paddington 2
The first movie I saw in 2018, it was all too easy to overlook Paddington 2 as the year wound down. But, upon rewatch, I was reminded of its sheer delightfulness and how unbelievably enjoyable these movies are. I didn’t know I needed a grumpy Brendan Gleeson teaming up with Paddington in order for my dreams to come true but now I do and they have and I am very happy.
19. The Rider
The winner of the Gotham Independent Spirit award for Best Picture, The Rider came out of nowhere for me and left me a teary-eyed mess. Chloe Zaho’s film is basically a documentary with a script in place, seemingly, only to give her novice actors a shove in the right direction. It is equal parts touching and gut-wrenching and you’re not sure until the final frames which side of that equation will win out.
18. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Buster Scruggs is equal parts hilarious, dark, weird, triumphant, and sobering. So, what I’m saying is, “This is a Coen Brothers’ movie.” Of the six Western-themed vignettes within Scruggs, five are outstanding with the closing chapter serving as the only outlier, but frankly, I could’ve gone for another half-dozen or so chapters without any trouble and hope the Coens return to this type of filmmaking again in the future.
17. Isle of Dogs
I had Isle in my top ten for the bulk of the year but confess I enjoyed it more the first time around than the second, the opposite of my experience with most Wes Anderson films. Still, I love the style and find this to be one of the funniest movies of the year, maybe THE funniest. Better still are the well-defined, relatable characters, quite a feat considering most of them are stop-motion dogs.
16. Leave No Trace
A small, quiet, brilliant film featuring two outstanding performances in the form of Ben Foster and newcomer Thomasin McKenzie. Debra Granik has a remarkable eye for talent (Winter’s Bone was Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout film right before her Hunger Games casting) but even more, an eye for story. Leave No Trace is an ode to a simpler form of life and the people who would choose it if only society would let them and Granik brings that home with aplomb.
15. Ant-Man and the Wasp
2018 was one of the better years for superhero movies (even as we approach the brink of superhero fatigue) and this movie was a big part of that overarching success. I think this was a HUGE step in turning this branch of the MCU into its own, self-sustaining limb, and provided some of the biggest laughs and purely enjoyable sequences of the year. Because I live with a five-year-old who wants to be Black Panther when he grows up, I have seen that movie many more times but if it were up to me, I might put this film at the very top of the MCU in terms of rewatchability.
14. The Old Man & the Gun
I’ll have more on Robert Redford himself in my favorite performances piece later this week so, without stealing too much from my future self, I’ll just say that Old Man is quite literally written specifically for Redford and it shows. David Lowery has rapidly became one of my very, VERY favorite filmmakers and Old Man did nothing but reaffirm his versatile brilliance in my mind. Perhaps the most charming movie of the year, if nothing else.
13. Deadpool 2
The combination of 2016’s Deadpool and 2017’s Logan have completely upended the world of superhero movies and Deadpool 2 builds upon that (in some cases quite literally) very well. Deadpool was excellent in its own right and I know I, along with other fans of the movie, worried what the sequel might look like, especially after original director Tim Miller parted ways with the franchise. As it turns out, it is NEVER a bad idea to add Josh Brolin to your movie (unless your movie is Jonah Hex *ziiiinnnngggg*) and this sequel actually turned out better than its predecessor in my mind.
12. Mary Poppins Returns
I went all over the place in anticipation for this one, back and forth between expected greatness and expected corporate blandness. Ultimately, the former won out and I couldn’t have been happier with this finished product. This wasn’t one of my favorite movies as a child or one that I’ve revisited numerous times as an adult but within ten minutes of the opening the credits, I was overwhelmed by how much I wanted/needed Mary Poppins in my life; I genuinely had no idea that connection existed within my soul. Returns is an utter delight and a beautiful reminder of the classic Disney magic that is often overlooked in a swath of lightsabers and Vibranium (both things that I also love, by the way). And did I mention that Emily Blunt is perfect and delightful and I love her? Well, I will in my next piece.
I S-T-R-U-G-G-L-E-D with leaving Blindspotting out of my top ten and I still don’t feel good about it. This movie came and went with little-to-no fanfare (I’m not sure I ever even saw a trailer) which is a real travesty given how outstanding the performances are and the significance of its message and themes. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal proved to be one of the truly great on-screen pairings of the year and I’m still thinking about the film over a month after my viewing. I expect we will hear much, much more from writer-director Carlos Lopez Estrada in the near future.