With 2018 officially at a close, it’s time to share my personal ranking of the best films of the year. Perhaps more so than past years, 2018 saw the release of many films with diverse representation, inclusive stories, record-breaking blockbusters and a general movement towards improvement within the classical Hollywood system. These films, whether shown on screen or released on streaming platforms, were a joy to watch and a pleasure to review. Of course, I have not seen every film released (no matter how hard I tried!), but here is my list for the top films of 2018:
Honorable Mentions (alphabetical): BlacKkKlansman, Bumblebee, First Reformed, Hearts Beat Loud, Paddington 2, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Unsane
10. Eighth Grade
Stand-up comic Bo Burnham is known for his provocative style, so it came as quite the surprise that he was able to craft a film which speaks so sensitively to the realities of teenage life today — a reality which often becomes conflated with one’s online personas on social media. Eighth Grade, written and directed by Burnham, follows Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher, delivering a star-making performance), a teenager who creates YouTube videos about confidence and positivity as a way to reconcile the fact that she fails to convey these qualities in real-life situations. Many scenes in this film made me cringe — in the best possible way — because I saw shades of myself within Kayla’s struggles. Burnham hits a crucial nerve in contemporary society, making Eighth Grade more than deserving of my tenth spot.
9. A Simple Favor
It’s Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick. Need I say more?
Director Paul Feig showcases his more dramatic chops with this twisty dark comedy, which follows Stephanie (Kendrick) a mommy-vlogger who befriends Emily (Lively) a fashion-forward, working mother with a sharp edge. When Emily goes missing, dark secrets from both characters’ pasts bubble to the surface. It is unreal how good Blake Lively is in this film; she leans into her own superficial stereotypes only to subvert them with a performance that is brash and sardonic, and the fact that her name isn’t in the discussion for Best Supporting Actress is a complete travesty. Kendrick also gets to play against type a bit, playing up Stephanie’s high-strung nature and including unexpected layers of depth. While certain aspects of the story’s resolution do leave something to be desired, stellar performances combined with the neo-noir, Gone Girl-esk sensibility makes the film a stand-out from this year.
Upon first seeing Alex Garland’s mind-bending sci-fi thriller, I genuinely didn’t know what to make of it. However, no other film I’ve seen this year has rooted itself in the back of my mind the way Annihilation has. The film, which follows a group of scientists (led by Natalie Portman’s Lena) who traverse into a mysterious landscape known as “The Shimmer” pushes the boundaries of space and time as the narrative conveys themes of human nature, mutation and self-destruction. Annihilation’s ambiguous ending invites multiple interpretations, a prospect that continues to feed my curiosity about this story and its subject matter — so much so that I decided to read the novel of the same name that it was adapted from. I didn’t expect Annihilation to make this list initially, but much like the film wormed its way into my brain, it wormed its way here, as well.
Full Review Here.
7. Set It Up
Sometimes, all you need in life is a good rom-com, and Netflix’s Set It Up, directed by Claire Scanlon, delivers just that. Harper (Zoey Deutch) and Charlie (Glen Powell) are two overworked assistants at the beck and call of their bosses (Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs). When the pair try to set their bosses up to give themselves more free time, the assistants start to fall for one another in the process. Set It Up is a delightful watch from start to finish, complete with snappy dialogue and charming performances from Deutch and Powell (seriously, put those two in every single movie together). It might fall into some familiar storytelling tropes, but if I’m being honest, I don’t watch rom-coms to experience some surprise twist-ending; I came for the laughs and the love stories, which made Set It Up one of my most enjoyable movie-watching experiences this year.
Full Review Here.
6. Creed II
No other boxing story is as iconic as that of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) — but Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) continues to make a strong case against that notion with Creed II, directed by Steven Caple, Jr. Creed is back in the ring to face Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of the man who killed Creed’s father. What I love so much about this film is that it takes the most interesting aspect of Rocky 4 — Apollo Creed’s death — and explores it with nuance and emotions that run deep for both boxers. The story develops Creed’s relationship with his partner Bianca (Tessa Thompson) and his coach, Rocky, but it also humanizes the Dragos as well, which gives this film higher stakes than previous installments in this franchise. With stand-out performances from Jordan, Stallone and Thompson, Creed II delivers a narrative and emotional KO.
This film, directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada, earns the title of most underrated film of the year. Blindspotting nearly flew under my radar, too, but once I saw it, it instantly became one of my favorites and remained there all year. Protagonist Collin (Daveed Diggs) is three days away from completing his probation when he witnesses a policeman shoot a black man. This event, combined with Collin’s tumultuous relationship with his childhood best friend Miles (Rafael Casal), will force Collin to confront some increasingly difficult truths. The film deftly weaves between comedy and drama, between levity and tragedy without missing a beat. In doing so, it explores resonant themes of gentrification, race relations and police brutality — with Oakland as its setting. Spoken word performed by Diggs and Casal throughout the film provides a propulsive undercurrent that builds to one of the most striking scenes of any film this year.
4. A Star is Born
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, in playing to one another’s strengths, created what might be your future Best Picture winner at the Oscars. This remake of a well-trodden story presents the relationship between Jackson Maine (Cooper), a prolific singer-songwriter, and Ally (Gaga) an up-and-coming singer. Their tragic love story becomes a cautionary tale of the consequences of fame — specifically, the internal turmoil and self-destruction that can arise as a result. Cooper proves himself adept behind the camera as a director, while Gaga utilizes elements of her own life story to portray Ally with authenticity. A Star is Born will be remembered less for its story and more for its ability to showcase the unexpected versatility of its two leads.
Full Review Here.
3. First Man
Damien Chazelle remains one of the most meticulous directors of our time, branching out from his musically inclined films to present a biopic about Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), the first man on the moon. Like Chazelle’s previous works, human ambition remains at the center of First Man, only this time, it is less about Neil’s personal desire to reach the moon than it is his wish to fill the void created by the death of his daughter, Karen. She is Neil’s guiding motivation, the beating heart of the film, which brings out a level of deep humanity within such an idealized, prolific American figure. In the titular role, Gosling’s stoicism brings out this tragic undercurrent which works in tandem with the continuous losses of life in pursuit of this seemingly impossible feat. In many ways, Claire Foy’s Janet Armstrong acts as Neil’s foil, expressing what Neil tries so hard to suppress. Beyond First Man’s large-scale objectives — which make for stunning visual sequences and gorgeous camera-work — it is the personal stakes that define this installment in Chazelle’s filmography and inform its placement on this list.
2. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
The release of this film prompted my decision to finally watch the Mission: Impossible films. Although each installment in the series has its merits (barring M:I 2, perhaps), director Christopher McQuarrie’s Fallout blows all of them out of the water. Tom Cruise returns yet again as protagonist Ethan Hunt, who must deal with the aftermath following the events of Rogue Nation. What sets this film apart is the combination of daring action sequences with effective dramatic beats. From the breathtaking HALO dive sequence to bathroom fight-scenes to a literal helicopter chase, Fallout proves beyond question that no other franchise is as adept at boundary-pushing action than Mission: Impossible (or, at least, no living human is as crazy as Tom Cruise). At the same time, however, the film makes sure to keep the stakes at a personal level for Ethan through his supporting cast of characters, including Michelle Monaghan’s Julia Meade and Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust. Fallout is a stunning filmmaking achievement and a franchise-best.
Full Review Here.
1. A Quiet Place
For the longest time, horror was one of my least favorite genres — largely because I tried to avoid these films at all costs. It’s a good thing my tastes have changed over the years, because if they hadn’t, I would have missed out on my favorite film of 2018. A Quiet Place depicts a family living in a world ravaged by alien creatures who hunt via sound, forcing those who remain to live in silence. This is a novel concept that leads to plenty of thrills and heart-pounding sequences, but what I find particularly compelling about A Quiet Place is its self-contained nature. Rather than make the story about the global impact of these creatures, the film instead focuses on how one family lives in such a world. John Krasinski directed, co-wrote and stars alongside real-life wife Emily Blunt, which makes their relationship on screen that much more affecting. Arguably the most emotional strand of this story, however, is the dynamic between Krasinski’s Lee Abbott and his daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) who is deaf. An event early on in the film causes tension between the two, but it is their love for one another that amounts to a powerful payoff. A Quiet Place rose to the top of my list after seeing it, and no film since for me has delivered something as narratively satisfying or as emotionally resonant this year.
Full Review Here.