Best Movies of 2018, part 1 - #30-10


It's time to rap about the best films of 2018! This list was a long time coming so I've split it in two. In the course of whipping up this list I saw (at least part of) basically ever single film I was interested in. I even fell asleep during Roma! We made it to a hard 30 for this list, with a few pretty damn good films just missing (Upgrade, Three Identical Strangers for starters). So lets say at least 30 good films come out a year while the industry is cooking, and lets go ahead and bring that up to an even 50 for the things I missed/great indies I never heard about. Thats damn near 1 good movie a week. FUCK! Well now you know why these lists take so long. Enjoy part 1 of the Cyano Crit's Best Movies of 2018! We'll clip through the first 20 with some brevity.

30. Tully

The final in the “Surburban life has its own interior life” trilogy from Jason Reitman, Tully does not hit as hard as Juno or Young Adult, but does head into the mind of an often overlooked character - good ole mom. Theron plays a much beset upon mother living the dream, a dream which might involve cracking up a little. Luckily for her, a free spirited night nurse with a youth that powerfully reminders her of yesterday appears to give her a little relief. Effective in making you feel empathy for mom’s everywhere. 

29. Deadpool 2

Tragically misuses Cable, but otherwise a Deadpool movie is rated on the strength of its jokes, and without the lethargy an origin story necessitates, I think Deadpool 2 might be funnier than the first one. Several killer jokes and set pieces make this quite watchable even if the story is nonsense and I can’t remember who the villain even was. 

28. Can You Ever Forgive Me
Remarkable for Melissa McCarthy’s transformation into full dramaturg, this film is one of those fuzzy almost non-fiction stories about Lee Israel, a bitter writer past her glory days who finds a way to use her skills extra-legally to make ends meet. It feels like a movie, and is mostly centered on the drama of the act and the justifications around it, but McCarthy’s transformation into this lady is impressive to watch.

27. Western

This impossible to search for movie is not a genre picture at all. A German construction worker is out of his element in a VERY small settlement in Bulgaria. Alone but unattached, he tries to get used to the small town rhythms of the Bulgarian town, which includes figuring out the hangouts and drama that make up the rhythm of daily life. Shades of Sam Niel’s quiet cowboys perhaps are reflected in the German’s quiet but brusque manner, while the Bulgarian town is quietly rural like (actual) old Western settlements. Perhaps that is why the name evokes the genre. At any rate, this is a nice little film about the stakes and pleasures of small town life, a fading ember in the modern world.

26. Ralph Breaks the Internet

Ralph breaks the internet is a perhaps unnecessary extension on the Wreck It Ralph nostalgia trip from six years prior. That film pretty much sewed itself up as tight as a button with its winning mix of retro memes and 8-bit mayhem. The new film is smart enough to not retread that territory, instead going with a fish out of water approach by wiring the first film's arcade right into the Internet and letting Ralph and Penelope experience the nascent interwebs in general and modern games such as through an extended GTA parody. The internet and modern gaming is a pretty ripe field for parody, though Ralph 2 missing the specificity that made the first movie so charming. The jokes are still good though and it's a big stunning animated feature so you’re never sure what you’re going to see next.

25. Black Panther

MCU movies are always hard to parse as individual units, but Black Panther makes a good case for itself as a stand alone thing. The superhero Black Panther never really fit in that well with the Avenger in the comics, he was always up to his own kingly business or trying to help out his part of town. This movie similarly divorces the hero from most of the MCU context, with a succession story about Black Panther’s hidden ninja village Wakanda that begins and ends at the local palace steps. There’s some incongruent elements (carried over faithfully from the comics I might add), like the tribal low tech fusion with mind blisteringly advanced technology on a level with Star Wars which does not paint a convincing picture. However, Michael B Jordan’s Killmonger, a radically philosophized mercenary, is an excellent counterpoint to Chadwick Boseman’s goody two shoes and the movie largely succeeds on their attempts to reckon with each other. Killmonger even uses TChala’s attempts at appeasement against him, stressing the false equivalence in their positions.

24. You Were Never Really Here

Joaquin Phoenix test runs his dysmorphic weirdo from the Joker in this grim thriller, where a PTSD suffering vet works stateside as part of a shadowy operation to find missing girls. Despite Joaquin and his character’s likely aversion to violence, the film gives him a central affectation of enjoying to murder pedophiles with a hammer. I’m not actually sure what to do with this, which certainly gives the film a gritty tone but also writes Joaqui's hyper competent and lucky Hammer man away from relatable and into the air shared with various Liam Neeson and Jason Statham types who always seem to be unimpeachable good guys who just happen to know and do the most brutal things. It’s certainly crowd pleasing to see pedos get killed with a hammer though and what the film does attempt to do with PTSD gives it an interesting texture.

23. Mandy

Nick Cage is in full Cage-mode here, playing something that is not entirely human but does exactly resemble the Nick Cage that people enjoy from the internet. Is that something that interests you? That will exactly determine your affinity for this trippy, languid backwoods revenge flick. LSD tinged with a hint of unknown worlds, Cage is eventually tasked to put a few miscreants to the sword after a dreamy hour of set dressing, but you already know how this is going to go by the time you hear the first music cues ten minutes in and see the nastiness of the villainous hippy cult. In stark contrast to the obvious direction, we surprisingly see Cage and someone named Mandy’s intense vulnerability during the lead up. In my mind, this was a camp arms race already won by Hobo With A Shotgun years ago, but acid trip camp is something pretty unique so that’s definitely in Mandy’s favor.

22. First Man

First Man attempts to convey what it might be like to be Neil Armstrong, one the few men who have ever lived in all of history than have accomplished a feat as impressive as leaving this rock called Earth to stand on another one. It was forty years ago since our last trip and we still haven’t been back, despite how incredible it is that we got there. However, the movie isn’t quite as accomplished, portraying Neil as a quietly grieving sad sack which doesn’t quite fit with the bravado of what these crazy former test pilots were trying to accomplish. One place where noted audio wizard Damein Chazelle does succeed though is the tactile feelings of the preparation for and the final flight itself, with pitch perfect camera angles and sound simulating what it must have been like. Ignoring the humans, First Man is a big budget simulation of being there yourself.

21. Cold War

Palikowski’s Ida is one of the great films about the ambiguity and chaos of Europe healing after World War 2, so he’s a natural fit for a story about two Polish lovers trying to make due in Cold War Eastern Europe under the boot of the Russians. Our central couple are artists, so of course they chafe under the regime and end up trying to flee west. But their hearts and commitments to East and West are not synchronized and their timing is all off trying to find each other again. The film, Cold War, demonstrates both how escaping to the paradise of the West is full of false promise, but also how the dichotomy of the East and West tore any lives apart that got caught in its conflict maelstrom. A much less controlled effort than Ida, striking in flashes.

20. BlacKkKlansman
Spike Lee’s always specialized in provocations about the sorry state of race in America, but none of his films have dealt so directly with the blind stupidity that black people are up against as BlackKKlansman, the based on a true story yarn about a black detective tricking white racists over the phone into believing they could confide in him by pretending to be white, which actually happened in the 70’s. The heart of our detective’s story is that he is really doing everything he can to pass with both the racists and his fellow cops, he’s not a black power radical or even particularly outspoken. He’s so plainly normal that there’s no reason to believe he isn’t white over the phone, without him having to do some kind of acting. But even for a man who is doing his best to just fit in and not rock the boat, violent racists are just a few doors down plotting to hurt him and anyone around him. Ultimately the film suggests that the idea that pacifism and good behavior will mollify our hate filled enemies is a myth, and the powerful montage that ends the film confirms it.   

19. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Tom Cruise is an impressive hit generator. You can’t help but admire a series that's gone on so long they’ve dispensed with numerals and any real reasoning for sequels. At this point, MI has definitely become our American Bond franchise, with running instead of Bond Girls but the same colorful villains who liven up the party. After a few sort of boring entries, this one sees Henry Cavill returning things to exciting form alongside Cruise, armed with a mustache that sunk a comic empire. I don’t remember anything about the plot at all, but the set pieces have stuck around long after the fact, including a dynamite bathroom fight. 

18. The Sisters Brothers
This thoughtful western has a lot of star power, but it turns entirely on the soulful looks of John C Reilly, self professed clown but here a hired gun in the old west trying to see a little further than tomorrow. There’s some grim rootin, tootin, and shooting, but the film is at its best in the quiet moment where Reilly tries to figure out toothpaste from Jake Gylenhall’s traveling intellectual. The film knows that too, and will even cut gun fights short since unlike typical westerns, that’s not the point of this film.

It's official! Part way through the list, this is where I would say the real contenders start. See these movies!

17. Suspiria

This remake digs up some talented people like Swinton and Thom Yorke and adds some more subtext to the weird original gallo slasher. Was there a point to reanimating this corpse? Argento claims to dislike it which right away is pretty good proof they hit on something. The original mostly just a coven finding ways to be nasty to their charges, but in Suspiria 2019 we are instead treated to people coming together through layers of trauma to try to find meaning in some professional role. It’s a little slow, and I’m still not sure how I feel about the stunt casting of Swinton as both the matriarch and also as the only male of note in the film (I was completely tricked), but by the time all of the events coalesce into a climax that paints the town red, I was left with some pretty indelible images. Suspiria was a worthy remake, expanding the dimensions of the original to create its own beast. 

16. If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkin’s followup to Moonlight is another issue piece, like Jonze’s above, but this one gets a little more directly at the heart of the issue. It follows the young artist Alonzo and his wife over a few days in Harlem, over which he is about to be falsely accused of raping a girl when he was plainly with friends. Race ensures that Alonzo will be railroaded, this is a 70s film and Jenkin’s paints a more realistic picture than the hopeful paeans of film’s like Greenbook that try to rewrite history a bit and make it not so evil. No one is here to help Alonzo because no one cares, down to the woman who is told to finger him in a lineup and does so to be done with it. But Beale Street isn’t so much about the minutia and the following dominos. Instead it’s about the mood of living in these kinds of circumstances, and Jenkins nails it. In the film’s best scene, Brian Tyree Henry’s ex-convict just talks about what it feels like to be out of prison with time served, and you can feel the walls closing in on you too. 

15. Blindspotting

Most of the this year's films about racial justice use period pieces to take us back to the most heinous obvious version of hate, but you don’t really need to look too far to find examples of people being shitty to each other in modern times. Daveed Diggs (who is probably better known for Hamilton now) wrote and acts in this small scale drama about a young black man trying to fit into his environment and make it through his last three days of parole, but constantly running into issues just keeping his head down, including having to figure out what to do when he witnesses a policeman gun down a fleeing man. An interesting twist is Digg’s friend, a gangbanger styled white guy who clearly is Oakland on the inside but doesn’t fit in anywhere either because of that conflict. It’s weird to say this about a small scale drama but it ends on a killer freestyle rap set piece that brings all of Digg’s powers to bear. 

14. The Favorite

A Lanthimos film is a shoe-in to make the list but what the hell is it doing all the way up here at number 14? One of my favorite directors finally drops the stilted dialogue that marked his other films and makes a straightforwardish period drama about a young upstart using her wiles to horn in on a place adjacent to power to better her station with the Queen of England. At first Emma Stone’s Abigail gives of herself freely to beat out Rachel Weisz, her competition, for Queen Olivia Coleman’s affection, but before she knows it she’s given of herself utterly and made a new baseline. That’s pretty much the long and short of it. It’s a funny film that drags the monarchy and its hanger-ons pretty thoroughly, but it’s also a bit insular and just not nearly weird or varied enough, despite some eyepatches and fish eyed lens. Still, it’s pretty good star-studded entertainment and Lanthimos is avoiding the slump that usually plagues directors on their transition into Hollywood proper. Overall though, The Favorite? Not my favorite.

13. Eighth Grade

Bo Burnham’s first feature is an interesting look at a very vulnerable time that is pretty much ignored by most stories, that transition into teenage years when you’re just starting to feel the weight of your own needs. Burnham is an interesting person to approach this, as his stand up comedy specializes in a sort of meta commentary artifice that makes him not feel approachable. Nonetheless, somewhere in his mid-twenties he was able to reach back to that time and put together this very genuine movie, which carefully documents the triumphs and insecurities of being a teenager trapped in a child’s body still. Worse yet she’s growing up in the information age, which is well observed by Burnham’s writing. Credit goes to Elsie Fisher, who is perfectly cast as the awkward inbetweener who dutifully rolls out daily updates for her youtube page with 3 subscribers but doesn’t know what to say at all to the kids in class. 

12. Shoplifters
You would be very busy trying to keep up with Kore-eda, who has pushed out a film a year for decades. Shoplifters won the Cannes grand prize and has pretty much catapulted him onto the world stage, but even long before this film he had a successful groove working in a strong Ozu tradition, with small mostly drama free stories concerned with the nature of family. Shoplifters features his most unlikely family that I’ve seen, a group of squatters all unrelated to each other who keep their heads above water with petty crime. The dynamic is revealed by an abused girl who they randomly come across and spirit away to join their surprisingly touching collective. It’s an interesting story and a bit of a mystery is in place trying to unlock why all these people are hanging together and what connects them, but Kore-eda unravels it with no great hurry. I tend to think of this director as a sentimentalist, but some of the revelations were actually surprising to me this time, not everyone was just trying their best. On the question of “what is family”, Shoplifters will take you right to the line.  

11. Sorry To Bother You

Sometimes an extended metaphor is just the kick in the pants a discussion needs. Another film about Oakland and racial relations, but this time more zany, like a pot smoking Get Out without the horror. Lakeith Stanfield’s Cassius figures out a way to really thrive at his new job at a call center, principally by finding a way to convince the people he is calling that he is actually white. It sort of takes off from there, investigating the problems with assimilating into the gentrification engine that is actively trying to replace you. Everyone is excited about the money but no one is excited about the problems. Sorry To Bother You’s metaphor gets even more blown out as you go, with a climax that is pretty much indescribable. You gotta see it to believe it. 

Part 1 is finito, please check back in soon for part 2 where I'll tell you about the ten best movies of 2018!