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When I reflect back to the films of 2018, I can't help but think there were two years worth of films crushed into one calendar year. The choices were plentiful, the results were interesting, and the field of candidates to possibly make it to the top 10 was pretty well stocked. Yet when it came time to lock in the best of the best for 2018, it somehow seemed kind of easy.
If anything, finding the pecking order of this year's films was the true challenge, and there were almost some big shake-ups at the tail end of the list. But when I talk to people about the films of this past year, the following 10 moies are the ones that hit me the hardest. These are the films that made my movie-going year in 2018, and 2019 better take notice, as it looks to be an even bigger year in the name of film. Dim the lights, grab your popcorn, and join me for my top 10 films of 2018.
10. Creed II
In a world where Rocky sequels are not a rare occurance whatsoever, Creed came along in 2015 and brought new life to the series. With Michael B. Jordan's Adonis Creed taking the franchise lead, there was a new, yet familiar, story to be told in the rise of this aspiring fighter. By time that first film had ended, it felt like a worthy successor to Rocky Balboa had taken the stage. So naturally, everyone was a little apprehensive about the prospect of a Creed II.
After all, the Rocky franchise produced six sequels before it closed up shop, including one of the most infamous sequels of all. And yet, even in the shadow of Rocky V, the continuing adventures of Adonis's career managed to break the mold yet again. Director Steven Caple Jr. followed in Ryan Coogler's footsteps like a natural, turning his directorial debut into a triumphant follow up.
While Creed was all about claiming your place in the world, Creed II dug deeper and asked what Adonis had to fight for after becoming a champion. It worked perfectly, as Adonis's match up with Viktor Drago lead to a film so inspirational, I wanted to cheer in the theater while watching it.
Horror continued to be a genre in focus during the entirety of 2018, as there were some pretty spectacular offerings sprinkled through the year's box office take. It also continues to be a classification of film that has an intense spirit of debate around it, as it has always been one of the most subjective sects of film content. After all, what scares you might not scare someone else. When it came to the big horror films of 2018, Hereditary definitely scared me.
Writer/director Ari Aster's big screen debut plays around with the story of a family in crisis. After a pretty monumental passing among the familial unit in question, life slowly starts to unravel for our main characters. Toni Collette's Annie, having suffered her own mother's passing, seems to take it the hardest; but her mania over the event cracks the glass that holds together her family, and Hereditary is all about watching the fracture web and spread into an even bigger mess as time goes on.
While Hereditary is definitely a horror film, it slowly builds up to the sort of horrific nature you're expecting out of its cryptic trailer. Rather than spread the dread evenly throughout the movie, Aster ramps the tension up so slowly, you're given time to piece together exactly what's going on. Ultimately, this film thrives on the audience's foreknowledge, inspiring them to want to scream at the characters to change their fates, and letting them soak in the fear of knowing there's not a chance in Hell that they will. Throw in some well earned shocks, and an equally important family drama plot line throughout, and you've got a horror masterpiece we'll probably be talking about for some time.
8. Won't You Be My Neighbor?
Fred Rogers was, indeed, a one of a kind human being. His kind nature and spirit of educating children on how to be better people has inspired a continuing legacy, and left behind some of the most enriching kid's television to have ever graced the screen. So in times when the world feels like it could use his guidance the most, we couldn't have been given a better gift than Morgan Neville's documentary, Won't You Be My Neighbor?
Delving into the creation of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, as well as the life of Fred Rogers himself, moviegoers are given a pretty intimate portrait of a man that many felt the'd known at one point in our lives. Were the film to stop there, it'd still be a pretty fantastic product that tries to make the world a little kinder, just as Mister Rogers himself would have if he were still with us today.
But where Won't You Be My Neighbor really shines is in its inclusion of the stories of those who worked with Fred Rogers, and how he touched their lives as well. Showing the man's deeds and effect on pop culture is one thing, but Neville isn't satisfied with merely recalling his efforts. We're given a window into just how much Rogers' teachings effected those he surrounded himself with, and it's because of that, the world can say with a little more confidence that Fred Rogers truly was their neighbor. It is the definition of a feel good movie.
7. Cold War
Love can be a cure for what ails you, while also being the strongest poison known to man. Pawel Pawlikowski's Cold War knows that better than any movie you'll see from this year, or most years in the modern lexicon of film. Strangely enough, it feels like a product that was sealed in a vault for 50 or 60 years, and released into the world on a whim of surprise. And we're all the better for that whim.
Cold War is a love story between Joanna Kulig's Zula and Tomasz Kot's Wiktor, a student and teacher at a cultural think tank intended to strengthen Poland's national identity after World War II. But leaving its description at such a basic level is insulting to the film, as it shows both the positive and negative effects of a romance so toxic it shouldn't exist, yet so magnetic that it can't ever be totally broken.
Pawlikowski tells this story effortlessly, with a verve and approach that harkens back to the New Wave of French cinema. Things get pretty existential pretty quickly, as national politics, the essence of music, and the devastation that Zula and Wiktor's romance leaves in its wake all mix together in a short, but rich final product.
One of the richest black and white film experiences of the past couple of years, Cold War is so atypical a romance that it'll most definitely push away folks looking for the traditional. It's not easy to root for these characters to be together, but it's also difficult to think of them belonging to anyone else. No matter which side you land on, Cold War will reward your patience with artistic beauty, as well as the gorgeous chemistry between Kulig and Kot's damned lovers.
6. The Front Runner
Every awards season, there are casualties that once felt like sure fire hits. For one reason or another, these films fall off the radar fast and hard, falling behind in the shuffle of trends and time. The Front Runner was one such victim of the 2018 crush, and it deserved so much better, as it took a normally stuffy sort of picture and turned it into a visceral, historical experience.
Based on Matt Bai's book All the Truth Is Out, director/co-writer Jason Reitman crafted an account of the last three weeks of Senator Gary Hart's ultimately abortive run to become the Democratic presidential candidate in 1988. In his usual fashion, Reitman surrounds his story with a cast of stalwarts and new additions, and he tells a story that really fleshes out the pivotal moment where tabloid stories about personal affairs started becoming fair game.
Most impressive is the fact that through Hugh Jackman's nuanced performance as Hart, as well as the even handed attack on the material, we're given a political film that doesn't hammer its audience over the head with a message. The Front Runner revels in allowing its audience to judge the subject on their own scale of righteousness, while at the same time encouraging some empathy for its central character. You can truly feel the world shifting gradually throughout this movie, and while we the audience are left to pass judgement, it's undeniable that this film is voracious when it comes to paying history its due.
5. Incredibles 2
It is so damned hard to stick the landing on a sequel, especially when it's a follow up that folks have been waiting to see for almost two decades. Incredibles 2 could have easily buckled under the pressure, and probably happened ten times over in the 13 year period that spans between the original film and its successor. But director Brad Bird swore it'd never happen until the story was absolutely right. Well folks, he certainly made good on his word.
Incredibles 2 took the world that myself, and much of the animation world, fell in love with in 2004, and it expanded it in such a natural way that it felt like no time had passed. Returning to the thrilling world of the Parr family and their superpowered antics was like putting a familiar mask, and getting back to work. And as familiar as the world of Incredibles 2 turned out to be, it was fresh enough in the places where it could be most helpful.
Shifting the heroic focus to Holly Hunter's Elastigirl wasn't just a statement for our times, it was a refreshing change to the dynamics in the family that we all knew and loved for so long. In turn, giving Craig T. Nelson's Mr. Incredible a chance to mine some fantastic laughs out of catching up on the modern ways of parenting helps keep the comedy fast and fresh as well. Overall, the total package that is Incredibles 2 managed to be both a throwback to what a fan like me would expect, with some surprises thrown in to keep things moving, making for one hell of a sequel.
4. Paddington 2
While sequels are indeed hard work, it might be an even greater feat to write a follow-up that is so recent that the original is still fresh in the minds of those who loved it. Paddington 2, by the numbers, shouldn't be as good as it was-- as it felt so close to the first that it was practically a cash-in. Leave it to the people in charge of his fate to defy the odds, and deliver a sequel that felt so cared for it felt like it achieved the impossible.
Much like Won't You Be My Neighbor, Paddington 2 was a reminded of an institution that valued kindness and patience over everything else in this world. And while blockbuster sequences have to top their previous efforts in spectacle, director Paul King's follow up to Paddington had an even greater challenge: it had to keep up with the spectacle, while extolling its virtues in a new and exciting way.
This is where the addition of Hugh Grant's Phoenix Buchanan made the most sense, as his mastery of disguise helped add more to the visual excitement, and his greed and framing of poor Paddington lead to a story of how communities are only as good as their most caring member. Paddington was a rare bear of a film, pushing emotion over set-pieces, but not forgetting to engage in exciting adventure in the process. Paddington 2 not only topped its predecessor in both fields, it reminded the world of the true purpose of a sequel: to give us more time in a world with characters we truly want to see progress.
3. Eighth Grade
In the earlier phases of his carer, Bo Burnham was a breakout YouTube sensation, thanks to his unique brand of comedy hitting at the dawn of the medium's cultural importance. So he's pretty suited to dissect such a phenomenon in a film like Eighth Grade. But rather than make an entire film centered around that sort of story, Burnham uses YouTube stardom as a catalyst for his film's protagonist to deal with the greatest trial of them all: adolescence.
Through her fledgling attempts at becoming a YouTube star, Eighth Grade's Kayla deals with the pressures and perils of middle school through trying to project a personality that's steeped in confidence. In Elsie Fisher's performance as Kayla, we see both the facade and the reality presented in equal measure, but gradually Kayla become less of a concept and more of a real person. It's because of Bo Burnham's attention to Kayla as a living breathing character, rather than just an empty vessel for the audience to latch onto, that Eighth Grade manages to succeed in every facet of its storytelling.
Instead of merely identifying with our own experiences, we're challenged to care and root for this young girl in a world that is definitely modern, but still very much accessible to audiences of all ages. Knowing Kayla as well as we do through Eighth Grade, we can identify to her surroundings, as opposed to reverse engineering the experience through our own personal lenses. Fisher and Burnham, as a team, show us how hard it is to be a teen in the modern world, making Eighth Grade a mind-blowing success at capturing a moment in time for what it is, while allowing anyone who sees it to truly understand its context. Eighth Grade is an emotional zeitgeist incarnate.
2. A Star Is Born
There are two subjects that come up in the criticism of the modern film market: sequels and remakes. While sequels are pretty well represented in my top ten, there's also a remake that managed to rise above its lot in life, turning itself into a one hell of an emotional roller coaster. It's also another debut of a directorial voice that will be one to watch out for in the near future. I am, of course, talking about director Bradley Cooper's fourth iteration of A Star Is Born.
Right out of the gate, Bradley Cooper's eye for storytelling, both in the film's script and visuals, distances him from the pack of directors working today. His ability to take this oft told story, and turn it into something modern and unique is as impressive as his Clint Eastwood-inspired eye, which delivered a film that thrived in both prairies and cityscapes. It also delivered a version of A Star Is Born that was told in a voice so quiet, and yet so powerful, the film was able to land its punches with just the right amount of bombast.
But let's face it, without Lady Gaga as Ally, the star being born, it would have been hard to make this film into the model of perfection it currently exudes. Gaga's role is far from being her big screen debut, and yet it feels like it's the first time we've really seen her acting gifts used to their fullest potential. Her chemistry with Cooper, as a co-star and as a colleague, is off the charts. And if these two were to never work together again, it'd be one of the greatest shames of the film universe. Bradley Cooper may have crafted A Star Is Born, but without the assistance of Lady Gaga, and a murderer's row of supporting actors that includes Sam Elliot, Andrew Dice Clay, and Dave Chapelle, it just wouldn't be the heartbreaking masterpiece it eventually turned out to be.
1. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
We're entering a phase in the lifespan of the comic book movie where things are starting to feel a little static. Innovation is going to be hard to come by, and fatigue is only going to grow with a genre that offers so much product on such a constant basis that there's barely a break in the monotony. That being said, if Sony Pictures Animation was to announce that they were going to give us a film like Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse on a yearly basis, I'd buy all of my tickets right now, and wait patiently for each of them to arrive.
Taking the subjects of comic book universes, as well as origin stories, to heart, the creative team that delivered Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse have knocked their respective film out of the park. Indulging in the tropes of both, and parodying them to a certain degree, the story of Miles Morales's ascension into spider-hood operates as both a heartfelt entry that plays it straight, as well as a dissection of the market we observe on a daily basis. To perform one of these tasks properly is a miracle in and of itself, but to master both simultaneously is an Olympian gold medal from where I'm standing.
It leaves moviegoers with a Spider-Man movie that recounts all of the usual bullet points that Peter Parker has built his story off of, while giving us a fresh protagonist to focus on with Miles. While we're shown multiple Spider-people being fully developed and allowed to have their moments in the sun, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse never forgets who it's truly about, building a solid franchise to explore through Miles, while also branching the entire Spider-Verse into its own viable cinematic universe. At times emotional, thrilling, and hysterical, this is the movie that reminds us just how important representation in film really is, as well as bringing back the thrill and wonder of those very first comic book movies that made the genre so popular to begin with.