Sam & Chris’ Picks: Best Films of 2018

Samuel Russell: When compiling my list this year I thought a lot about the criteria of what goes on a top 10 list. There’s a subtle but significant distinction between a “top 10 best” and “top 10 favorite” list. I decided to go with favorite. I’m not trying to judge these films on the merits of what’s supposed to make a great movie, or what was most significant to our broader culture. I’d rather do something a little more realistic- speak to what affected me personally. I started from the basis of- what elicited the most joy while I was watching it? I had to roll that back. Joy is not the end game for all films, so it’s an unfair metric. Also, the feelings you get while watching the movie is not the whole of the cinematic experience. So I amended my criteria: what films occupied my brain the most, in a positive way? What movies did my mind keep coming back to? What sparked the most new ideas, the most excitement and inspiration? Here is my list of movies from 2018 that have dug out their own little corner of my brain, and seem to have every intention of staying there indefinitely. Chris, what metrics do you use when deciding on a list such as this?

Christopher Maher: Your criteria seems good to me. As we recently discussed, it’s impossible to predict what legacy a film will have – some will doubtlessly grow on me, some will fade. But there were certain films I was absolutely thrilled to see in theaters this year, and afterward I simply couldn’t get them out of my head, which is a mark of a good movie in my opinion. To put my own spin on what you’re saying, because you’re right that “joy” isn’t quite right: what films were most effective and most affecting. Or maybe joy is right – movies that stick with me, even when they’re dark dramas, give me a frisson of joy when I think back on them. Most of my favorite films I ended up seeing twice in theaters (one of them I saw three times!), and I’m happy for it, even if I saw slightly fewer films because of it.

SR: There are a few movies I haven’t seen yet, such as You Were Never Really Here, The Rider, The Old Man with the Gun, First Man, Mid90s, Holmes and Watson, Roma, If Beale Street Could Talk, Vice, and 5 Fingers of Marseilles. I expect some of these movies could disrupt my list, and I’m really looking forward to eventually seeing them.

Some movies I really loved but didn’t quite make my top ten are First Reformed and Mandy. Both perplexing experiences I’ve been sitting with since viewing.

Here are my top 10.

10. The Commuter

9. Shrek Retold

8. Sorry to Bother You

7. The Favourite

6. Mission Impossible Fallout

5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

2018 was the year I got slightly obsessed with Spider-Man, mainly because I found this podcast, Screw It! We’re Just Gonna Talk About Spider-Man. It had me reading the original the original Steve Ditko and Stan Lee issues of Spider-Man. Well it was a great year to be obsessed with Spider-Man. There was Infinity War, the PS4 game, Venom, and the best of them Into the Spider-Verse. I hope this movie has a deep impact on superhero movies and animation aesthetics forever.

4. The Green Fog

This movie was magical. It’s Guy Maddin’s remake of the Hitchcock classic Vertigo. Maddin pieces together the film using only clips from movies and media that was shot on location in San Francisco- the setting of Vertigo. It is a surreal and enveloping experience. Because it uses lots and lots of copyrighted material I’m not sure it’s ever going to be distributed. So it’s also strange that it’s a movie I saw once and may never see again.

3. Eighth Grade

I don’t think I’ve ever had such a visceral connection to a movie depicting middle school. Middle school and high school have so many tropes associated with them, it’s cool to see an honest and authentic feeling depiction. It’s an empathetic depiction of anxiety, and integrates social media in an organic and immersive way. Social media is a massive part of our life, so filmmakers are going to need to figure out a way to make it cinematic. Bo Burnham is making some early leaps in Eight Grade.

2. Widows

Despite the small scope of the plot, Widows is a cinematic epic. It is cutting, thought-provoking, and truly intersectional in every meaning of the word. It gracefully tackled subjects like race, class, gender, and how those elements interact with one another. It was the rare effective story about systems. It’s thorough, measured, gorgeous, not to mention an amazing thriller.

1. Annihilation

Annihilation came out last February and I still think about it all the dang time. It’s gorgeous, pulpy and haunting. It’s iridescent pastel haze sets the perfect dreamlike atmosphere for the melancholy questioning of human self destructiveness. Alex Garland is 2 for 2 (his first feature Ex Machina is also incredible) and I look forward whatever he does next.

CM: Before I give my list I do have one other film I’d like to mention. You Were Never Really Here confounded me when I watched it. I think I was expecting something radically different and it caught me off guard? That being said I absolutely can’t stop thinking about it. I’m not sure I liked it, so didn’t include it as a favorite, but I want to rewatch it and when I do for all I know it’ll catapult to the top spot!

The list that’s more a reminder for me than for the readers… I have yet to (but want to) see: Into the Spider-verse, Eighth Grade, The Green Fog, Prospect, Sisters Brothers, Burning, Shoplifters, Crazy Rich Asians, Old Man and the Gun, Kindergarten Teacher, A Quiet Place, and Hereditary (once I’m brave enough).

Finally, here are my top ten:

10. Paddington 2

9. Death of Stalin

8. Shrek Retold

7. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

6. Avengers: Infinity War

5. Mission Impossible: Fallout

Okay, this is the one I watched three times in theaters. The challenge with action is to give it pizazz while remaining comprehensible. Every year one movie seems to pull it off. Logan from 2017. Mad Max: Fury Road is 2015. Fallout has less pathos than either of those movies, but it does everything else well. It is thrilling. The action is slick and inventive and heart stopping. The plot is goofy and byzantine, which is the direction I think movies should always move in if they’re about essentially nothing. I can’t wait to watch it again.

4. Roma

I have yet to rewatch Roma on Netflix, and I’m curious how it’ll feel. As I said in my initial review, I’m so incredibly happy I got a chance to watch it originally in theaters. The film is, if nothing else, transporting, to a time and a place and a feeling. In the New Yorker review of the film Anthony Lane writes: “The movie is founded on Cuarón’s own childhood, and, as he goes in search of that time, any stray Proustians in the audience will be struck by two aspects of his quest. First, the more microscopic the memory the more readily we believe it.” As I said in my initial review, the film feels like your own forgotten memories. Everything in the film has both the mystique of something half forgotten, and the weight of something that must have once been real.

3. Widows

This movie is the only one that appears in both mine and Sam’s top five, and it’s clear why – it’s a genre flick (which we both love) while being extremely well constructed. There’s nothing wrong with a schlocky genre movie, but it’s nice to see a director elevate what is frequently considered entertainment but not art while keeping all the bizarre bits that make genre movies sing. McQueen’s career has focused on the little guy against an unjust system (okay, I’ve only seen Hunger, but I think his other movies are about the same thing) and that message carries on here: sometimes you need to pull a hunger strike to highlight an unjust system, and sometimes you need to pull off a heist to survive.

2. Thoroughbreds

I’ve sort of waffled about including Thoroughbreds on this list, but I shouldn’t. As I said when I initially saw it, it might be about nothing. It feels divorced from the larger social framework that movies like The Favourite and Widows operate in. It’s only about one specific friendship. Maybe that’s enough? At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. I absolutely loved the movie. It is crisp verging on cold in both its stellar performances and brilliant editing. I saw it twice in twenty-four hours, and I didn’t feel like a fool for doing that.

1. The Favourite

As seems to always be the case, this movie might have a little edge as I’ve seen it most recently (twice!). It was tight, it was dark, and it was my favorite type of tragedy: the easily avoidable type. As I’ve said countless times tragedies based on miserable people being shoved down a road with no exit isn’t a tragedy, it’s an author manipulating characters. The Favorite is full of genuine desire, gumption, even some real love, which makes it all the sadder when the house comes crashing down. Add in some truly funny performances and writing, a wonderful score, some weird-ass wide lens… what’s not to love?

So, that’s it! 2018. Should we throw out other suggestions? Someone (anyone! everyone!) go read Transcription. Black Leopard, Red Wolf. My Year of Rest in Relaxation blew me away. Watch Hilda. I saw some older movies too: Right Now, Wrong Then (by the same director as one of my favs last year: On The Beach At Night Alone). Sunless Skies is officially coming out in a month, but I’ve been playing the pre-release. Tig Notaro: Happy To Be Here was a great stand up.

SR: I’d like to highly recommend Aquaman. It is a bizarre relic of our culture. Eons from now an alien race will discover Aquaman amongst our ruins and they will be permanently confused. Also if you’re into comics you should read X-Men: Grand Design by Ed Piskor, and if you like podcasts you should listen to Whiting Wongs. The NBC live performance of Jesus Christ Superstar starring John Legend is both super weird and super good.

CR: Anyway, Sam, see you for an “Under the Sea” themed party tonight!

SR: Chris I’m writing this after the party, but thanks for coming and I hope you had a good time. Happy 2019 everybody!

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