Best of lists are tough for me. First I always feel like I haven’t seen enough movies. This year I watched 207 films to date. Now in fairness, many were older movies, and many I have watched before. Of that total, 55 were released in 2018. Not bad, but that means I have yet to see fare such as Minding the Gap, Shoplifters, Paddington 2, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Rider, Private Life, Searching and Hereditary. So many movies, so little time.
A short defense of my use of time: With all of this movie watching, people often wonder how I have time for anything else at all! The truth is I watch very little TV. I find the serialized style of most prestige shows today to be mind-numbingly long and boring. Good stories often turn into ten, fifteen or more hours per season, loaded with fluff and filler, and since I am a pathological completionist, I have a tough time bailing on something once I have started (the reason I am still watching The Walking Dead nine years in!) But with movies, I get a beginning, middle and end, and if it is bad I am done in a few hours. If you do the math, it means I watch about half a movie a day. So there.
Before I get going in earnest, I think it is worth noting some of my honorable mentions. The Favourite, The Old Man & The Gun, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, A Quiet Place, Upgrade, Tully, A Simple Favor, A Star is Born, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Leave No Trace all entertained, enlightened and added to my love of film this year.
Now, on to my unnumbered list. On any given day, any of these could be at the very top.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Simply the best superhero movie of all time. Fun, emotional, filled with great believable characters (Yes, even Spider-Ham feels true.) Please go to the theater and support this film. You will not regret it and this is among the best entertainment uses of your cold hard cash.
First Reformed: I wish I had written a full review of this film. Perhaps the most affecting movie of the year. It made me think about the plight of the planet and its inhabitants more than any scientist, news commentator or activist. And perhaps a career-best performance from Ethan Hawke. Paul Schrader still has it 42 years after Taxi Driver.
Annihilation: Honestly I didn’t care for this film much on a first viewing. But it just wouldn’t leave me alone. I have rewatched it several times, and likely will do so again soon. It is a visually sumptuous movie, and the story is all about ideas, and memory and why we need to understand the world around us, and how it drives us mad if we cannot find that understanding. Any movie that forces me to re-watch it over and over again, and gets better with each viewing, deserves my vote.
Three Identical Strangers: I don’t watch a lot of documentaires, and didn’t plan to watch this one. But it kept popping up on list after list, so I downloaded it, and then put it on for the first 15 minutes as something to watch while I was eating lunch. Ninety minutes later I sat on my couch, mind blown. At its heart, the film tries to answer the age-old question: Nurture or Nature? The story was particularly affecting to me because right now my extended family is going through a series of struggles, and sometimes people ask the questions: What did I do wrong? Could I have done something differently? This movie forces us to really dig deep and contemplate what we can change, what we have control over. Perhaps more importantly, what is set by genetics, society and outside forces? And of what do we need to let go?
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: Six short films by the Coen Brothers, connected by death, the old west and stunning beauty. And a fair bit of Nihilism. What more must I say?
Widows: Steve McQueen’s phenomenally awesome follow-up to Twelve Years a Slave. I am not being hyperbolic — this is one great film. A genre-bending heist/political thriller that turns out to be an insightful character study with a point of view unlike anything else on the screen today. Other movies should aspire to be this good.
Roma: Alfonso Cuarón’s takes us beautifully through his memory of growing up in 1970’s Mexico, but from his indigenous housekeepers point of view. Amazingly photographed, using long takes, and embracing the mundane, this is the kind of movie that shapes perspective and allows us to understand what life may be like for someone not at all like us.
Free Solo: While I said above that I don’t watch many docs, this is the second one on this list. Chronicling Alex Honnold’s quest to free solo (climbing without ropes or aid of any kind) El Capitan, this epically visual treat brings us into the mind of a man without fear, illustrating his use of raw will and drive to achieve the impossible and cheat death while he does it.
You Were Never Really Here: On the surface, Lynne Ramsay’s film follows much the same plot as as the 2008 thriller Taken. But instead of Taken’s near-comic absurdity, Ramsay takes us on a gritty, hyper-real odyssey.
Thoroughbreds: I really have no idea how to describe this film about two former childhood friends forced to reconnect. The convention is a murder plot, but the story has more to do with how we feel, and how we translate those feelings to our behaviour and express them to the world. Simple, elegantly shot, and completely accessible from a filmmaking standpoint,
Mission Impossible: Fallout: Tom Cruise risking his life, performing supernatural stunts for our amusement, brings the sixth installment in this franchise to a fever pitch of thrills and excitement. Leaping from building to building? Yes! Skydiving from space onto the top of The Grand Palais? Cruise did it. Stunt helicopter flying? He literally learned how to fly a helicopter and did all the stunt flying himself. Spy’s, plots, intrigue, betrayal … all in there as well!
And before we move on into 2019, I have to mention these films from recent years that I watched for the first time in 2018. I absolutely loved them all. Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words, Columbus, A Ghost Story, Ingrid Goes West, 13th, Lovesong, Tangerine, Poverty, Inc. This group runs the gamut from hollywood documentary, to super-weird ghost story, cautionary tale about social media, gripping doco taking a tough look at the U.S. policies towards the incarceration of black men, mumblecore love story, naturalistic day-in-the-life of two LA trans women shot on an iPhone and take-down of the global aid industry. I have really loved going back to see things that I missed in years past. I doubt any of these will become “classics,” but all are worth your time, and your soul will thank you for watching.
And finally, my worst of 2018. Under no circumstances should you waste any of your precious life-force watching Aquaman, Fantastic Beasts and the Crimes of Grindelwald, The Meg, Destination Wedding, Uncle Drew, Wrinkle in Time, and finally, Solo: A Star Wars Story. Ugh.
Look forward to seeing you around the blog in 2019. Thanks for reading!