Movies 2018

The Best Movies of 2018

Nostalgia is great and all, but it's a new year! When you're done here, check out our constantly updating list of the best movies of 2019.

The past year in movies was endlessly tumultuous. For users of MoviePass, the controversial subscription service that for a brief period allowed its users to gorge on new releases with reckless abandon, 2018 was about excess and disappointment. For Netflix loyalists, the last 12 months have seen the company attempt to squash out the competition with a scorched-earth approach to film distribution. For superhero fans, this was a year of excitement and despair. (Plus, you know, Aquaman!) If you like movies, the sheer range of available titles and ways to watch them could be intoxicating -- and maddening.

The scale of new releases means a conventional top ten list can't really grapple with the full landscape and watching the Oscars only clues you into part of the larger narrative. You need a bigger list, one that makes room for blockbusters and smaller movies that might've fallen through the cracks. (We also have genre-specific lists for horror, action, comedy, and science-fiction if the offerings below don't quite scratch the movie itch you have.) In a hectic year, these were the movies we escaped into.

58. Den of Thieves

Released: January 19
Cast: Gerard Butler, Pablo Schreiber, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson
Director: Christian Gudegast
Why it’s great: If there's one thing you've probably heard about this often ridiculous bank robbery epic, it's that it steals shamelessly from Michael Mann's crime saga Heat. The broad plot elements are similar: There's a team of highly-efficient criminals led by a former Marine (Schreiber) and they must contend with a obsessive, possibly unhinged cop (Butler) over the movie's lengthy 140 minute runtime. What makes Den of Thieves oddly fascinating is that it feels like a bootleg t-shirt you'd buy for a band outside the venue before a show, all garish and unconcerned with matters of good taste. A screenwriter helming a feature for the first time, Gudegast is not in the same league as Mann as a filmmaker and Butler, sporting unflattering tattoos and a barrel-like gut, is hardly Al Pacino. But everyone is really going for it here, attempting to squeeze every ounce of Muscle Milk from the bottle. You might respect the hustle.
Where to see it right now: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

57. Roxanne Roxanne

Released: March 23
Cast: Chanté Adams, Mahershala Ali, Nia Long, Elvis Nolasco
Director: Michael Larnell (Cronies)
Why it’s great: The traditional musician biopic, with its rags-to-riches beginning and its fall-from-grace conclusion, is a genre that's always in need of a remix. Roxanne Roxanne, a stylish chronicle of Queensbridge rapper Roxanne Shante's rise to fame in the 1980s, isn't the most formally adventurous take on hip-hop's early days -- the "life on tour" scenes and a corny appearance from a soon-to-be-famous young rapper named Nasir feel like standard showbiz fodder -- but director Michael Larnell has an eye for period detail, an ear for needle drops, and enough patience to let his performers shine on (and off) the mic. With humor and wit, Adams keeps you invested in every aspect of Shante's journey, from her early battles with her disapproving mother (Long) to her harrowing fights with an abusive boyfriend Cross, played with tenderness and menace by Moonlight breakout Ali. Like Shante's best rhymes, it's a tale told with dazzling craft and unwavering confidence.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

56. Braven

Released: February 2
Cast: Jason Momoa, Garret Dillahunt, Zahn McClarnon, Stephen Lang
Director: Lin Oeding
Why it’s great: The main character in this movie is named "Joe Braven" and he's played by Jason Momoa. That simple fact alone should convince you to watch this scrappy, low-budget action movie about a logger tasked with fighting off a heavily armed gang of drug dealers who stash some primo shit in his log cabin. If the protagonist had a less goofy name, the movie would still be effective -- the director is a former stunt coordinator and he knows how to properly stage all the gunfights, bow-and-arrow deaths, and snowmobile chases -- but the stupid grin that you get on your face every time someone says "Joe Braven" really elevates this throwback outdoors thriller. Momoa has the sturdy, low-key charisma of the best '80s action heroes, and it's a shame that the the laws of modern blockbuster-dom mean he'll likely spend more time starring in CG monster throw-downs like Justice League when he could be snapping necks in gruff B-movies like Braven. In a just world, the Braven-verse would be rapidly expanding every year.
Where to see it right now: Stream it on Amazon Prime; rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

55. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Released: December 14
Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali
Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman
Why It's Great: In this shrewd twist on the superhero genre, the audience's familiarity with the origin story of your friendly neighborhood web-slinger -- the character has already starred in three different blockbuster franchises, in addition to countless comics and cartoon TV adaptations -- is used as an asset instead of a liability. The relatively straight-forward coming-of-age tale of Miles Morales, a Brooklyn teenager who takes on the powers and responsibilities of Spider-Man following the death of Peter Parker, gets a remix built around an increasingly absurd parallel dimension plotline that introduces a cast of other Spider-Heroes like Spider-Woman (Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glen), and, most ridiculously, Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), a talking pig in a Spider-Suit. The convoluted set-up is mostly an excuse to cram the movie with rapid-fire jokes, comic book allusions, and dream-like imagery that puts the rubbery CG imagery of most contemporary animated films to shame. It can be exhausting, particularly in some of the drawn-out action beats, but the unchecked imagination on display is enough to keep the spider-senses tingling.
Where to see it right now: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

54. The Night Comes for Us

Released: October 19
Cast: Joe Taslim, Iko Uwais, Asha Kenyeri, Sunny Pang
Director: Timo Tjahjanto (Headshot)
Why it’s great: There are images in The Night Comes for Us, a wild Indonesian action thriller starring two veterans of the celebrated The Raid franchise, that resemble what a child might think an action movie would be after simply looking at lurid VHS cover art and hyper-stylized movie posters. It flirts with parody at points and gleefully crosses over into absurdity in others. Towards the end of the movie, the two main characters -- an ex-mercenary for the Triads named Ito (Taslim) and his old friend turned rival Arian (Uwais) -- basically slash at each other's flesh like Itchy and Scratchy, their bodies carrying on long past the point of what conventional medicine would deem possible. Similarly, a brawl in a butcher shop just goes on and on, like the fight choreographer version of an extended one-liner run in a Judd Apatow movie. Is it overwhelming? Yes. But the dedication to mayhem makes this essential viewing for action fans with strong stomachs.
Where to see it right now: Stream it on Netflix (watch the trailer)

53. Ant-Man and the Wasp

Released: July 6
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Michael Douglas
Director: Peyton Reed (Ant-Man)
Why it’s great: The first Ant-Man was a rambunctious and clever take on the familiar Marvel origin story, introducing audiences to shrinking superhero dad Scott Lang (Rudd) and his extended family of friends and reluctant crime-fighters. The sequel is an even funnier and sillier refinement of the first chapter, ditching some of the heavier elements and going all-in on the gags. Though other entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been filled with sitcom-ish banter -- and Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok was happy to deflate its own self-important genre trappings -- this is the first one that really plays like a proper comedy. (It recalls Ghostbusters in the way it combines special effects and irreverence.) Rudd has a way of putting an absurd spin on even the most mundane lines, Peña again steals every scene he's in, and Reed approaches the pint-sized action beats with the goal of upending viewer expectations. Luckily, it's the rare blockbuster with charming human moments that doesn't feel the need to overcompensate with scenes of mass destruction or constantly apologize for its modest scale. It's content with being small. 
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

52. The Ritual

Released: February 9
Cast: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton
Director: David Bruckner (V/H/S)
Why it’s great: In the increasingly digitized world, the woods are often presented as a place to escape to and the prospect of "getting lost" is seen as a chance for self-discovery. The Ritual, a horror film where a group of middle-aged men embark on a hiking trip in honor of a dead friend, understands the tension between natural beauty of the outdoors and the unsettling panic of the unknown. The group's de facto leader Luke (an understated Spall) attempts to keep the adventure from spiralling out of control, but the forest has other plans. (Maybe brush up on your Scandinavian mythology before viewing.) Like a backpacking variation on Neil Marshall's 2005 cave spelunking classic The Descent, The Ritual deftly explores inter-personal dynamics while delivering jolts of other-worldly terror. It'll have you rethinking that weekend getaway on your calendar.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

51. The Endless

Released: April 6
Cast: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (Spring)
Why it’s great:The Endless, a time-loop drama with mysterious flashes of Lovecraftian horror and confounding spurts of observational comedy, is a movie that tests and, more importantly, rewards your patience. The story follows brothers Justin and Aaron Smith -- played by the (unrelated) directors -- who grew up in a Southern California cult with connections to UFOs, but when we meet them in the movie's awkwardly paced opening stretch they've escaped, living directionless, dull lives on the outskirts of society. A video cassette the pair receives in the mail leads them back to the compound and the community they left behind, where they begin to question the group's intentions and eventually the laws of time and space. Circles pop up throughout the movie as a visual motif, centered in wide shots and tossed in the margins of the frame, and the plot itself can resemble a blob of slinkies tied together in knots. Like with Primer or Looper, theory-prone viewers will be tempted to untangle the temporal mess, but Benson and Moorhead are more concerned with creating a mood and delivering an emotional payoff than providing logical answers. Rewinding the loop only reveals so much.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix; rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

50. Skate Kitchen

Released: August 10
Cast: Rachelle Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, Nina Moran, Jaden Smith
Director: Crystal Moselle (The Wolfpack)
Why it’s great: The secret world of a group of teenage skateboarders cruising down the streets of lower Manhattan gets a careful, poignant examination in the narrative feature debut of documentary filmmaker Moselle. Long Island 18-year-old Camille (Vinberg) has a disapproving mother and a yearning to escape the rhythms of her day-to-day existence, so she joins up with an Instagram famous clique of young women posting skate trick videos, memes, and photos. Like Bo Burnham's Eighth Grade, Skate Kitchen is curious about how social media complicates IRL social dynamics, but Moselle isn't looking to condemn behavior or harshly judge her characters. That laid-back, observational approach can lead to some inert dramatic beats, especially as Camille argues with her mom and pursues a relationship with Jaden Smith's stockroom buddy Devon. Still, the camaraderie between the performers, which appears to be very real, and the skating footage makes this a hang-out movie that more than makes up for the occasional botched trick.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

49. Cam

Released: November 16
Cast: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters, Devin Druid
Director: Daniel Goldhaber
Why It's Great: Unlike the Unfriended films or last summer's indie hit Searching, this web thriller from director Daniel Goldhaber and screenwriter Isa Mazzei isn't locked into the visual confines of a computer screen. Though there's plenty of online screen time, allowing for subtle bits of sharp commentary and mischievous moments of biting satire, the looser style allows the filmmakers to really explore the life and work conditions of their protagonist, rising cam girl Alice (Brewer). We meet her constantly online friends, her aloof but concerned family, and her loyal customers. (As you'd imagine, some of those patrons are unnerving, untrustworthy obsessives straight out of a DePalma movie.) That type of immersion in the seemingly accurate, hyper-granular details makes the scarier flourishes -- like a terrifying confrontation in the finale between Alice and her evil doppelganger -- pop even more.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

48. The Mule

Released: December 14
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña
Director: Clint Eastwood (American Sniper)
Why it’s great: No matter how one-dimensional they may appear, Clint Eastwood's heroes are always cloaked in ambiguities and contradictions. In the ripped-from-the-headlines crime melodrama The Mule, the 88-year-old filmmaker plays Earl Stone, an elderly horticulturist who falls on hard times and becomes a drug runner for a Mexican drug cartel, but this isn't a geriatric take on Breaking Bad or an ultra-violent shoot-em-up in the style of this year's loathsome drug war action movies Sicario: Day of the Soldado or Peppermint. The procedural scenes between Cooper and Peña's pair of DEA agents are nimble yet dutiful,and there's not much tension in the hunt for Earl. Instead, Eastwood's patient camera floats across barren American landscapes; his gruff protagonist pauses to enjoy pulled pork sandwiches in local restaurants and beloved oldies on the car stereo along the way. (Just don't ask Earl to send you a text message.) There are frustrating and galling elements of this genuinely peculiar movie, particularly some of the edgelord-ey humor surrounding race, but Eastwood saves his sharpest critiques for the larger system and his most forceful jabs for the weary old-timer at the story's center. No one gets away clean.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

47. Uncle Drew

Released: June 29
Cast: Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Shaquille O'Neal, Nick Kroll
Director: Charles Stone III (Mr. 3000)
Why it’s great: It's wise to be wary of a movie that has its roots in a soft drink ad campaign -- NBA star Irving, donning layers of Bad Grandpa-like old age makeup, played the title character in TV spots for Pepsi Max -- but this raucous, surprisingly tender sports comedy is more than a bloated, cynical exercise in sponsored content. There's a camaraderie and playfulness to the whole admittedly paper-thin enterprise. The story, which follows down-on-his-luck Footlocker employee Dax (Howery) as he helps Uncle Drew reassemble his now geriatric former streetball teammates for New York's Rucker Classic tournament, is a creaky road-movie set-up that director Charles Stone III, who helmed the '00s basic cable classic Drumline, tricks out with crowd-pleasing basketball sequences, "kids these days" comedy, and poignant interactions between the old-timers. Drew's teammates are played by a generation of athletes older than Irving, including Chris Weber as "Preacher" and WNBA star Lisa Leslie as his wife Betty Lou, and the dynamics between them are tricky. Even Uncle Drew, paradigm of the old school, can still learn a thing or two; similarly, most film comedies could pick up some lessons from this movie's easy, kind-hearted touch.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

46. Blockers

Released: April 6
Cast: Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena, Kathryn Newton
Director: Kay Cannon
Why it’s great: The teenage sex farce gets a canny update in this sweet comedy about high-schoolers planning to lose their virginities on prom night. The twist here is that the story is mostly told from the adults' perspective: Single mother Lucy (Mann) discovers her daughter has made a quasi-jokey "sex pact" with her two best friends and quickly recruits the friends' parents, the initially reluctant slacker Hunter (Barinholtz) and the more gung-ho goofball Mitchell (Cena), to spoil the evening. Like American Pie and Superbad before it, the script mixes sentimental emotional beats with the requisite gross-out set-pieces, like a scene where Cena drops his pants and butt-chugs beer as a crowd hollers in encouragement. These movies often live or die depending on the casting; luckily, Blockers features three endearing lead performances, gifted comedic actors playing the teens, and friendly faces like Hannibal Buress and Gary Cole in key small roles. You forgive the occasional groan-worthy line because you're always rooting for the actors -- even when their characters are doing things you probably shouldn't cheer on and definitely shouldn't try at home.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

45. Unfriended: Dark Web

Released: July 20
Cast: Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees
Director: Stephen Susco
Why it’s great: The first Unfriended, a twist on the found footage thriller that played out on a computer screen, rendered the forces of evil as ghosts in the machine. That movie's cast of feckless teens were brutally and systematically picked off by the spirit of a girl they bullied, and the script found dark humor and cheesy tension in watching them die. The bleaker sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web, suggests that our digital lives are not under threat from supernatural forces. Instead, the movie's protagonist, a driftless twenty-something dude named Matias (Woodell) who likes to Skype with his friends online, is pursued by a secret society of hackers and trolls that should feel stomach-churning-ly familiar. Many of the scares are ridiculous and the story takes some wildly implausible twists, but, as with the first Unfriended, the hyper-detailed approach to re-creating your average desktop experience makes this a revealing, fascinating snapshot of our current technological moment. Or should I say screenshot?
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

44. Crazy Rich Asians

Released: August 15
Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina
Director: Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2)
Why it’s great: The shiny opulence and broad comedy of Crazy Rich Asians can blind viewers to some of the movie's more granular, less flashy pleasures. This adaptation of Kevin Kwan's bestselling novel of the same name is built around a central romance between NYU professor Rachel Chu (Wu) and mega-wealthy heir Nick Young (Golding), but the movie's most potent material concerns the intergenerational struggles between Rachel and Nick's skeptical mother, played with nerve by Yeoh. Each verbal slight stings; each withering glance leaves a mark. When the two face off over a game of mahjong at the film's conclusion, it's as gripping as any white-knuckle gambling movie showdown. Even in this rarified rom-com world, the stakes are high and the actresses are unquestionably playing for keeps.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

43. Clara's Ghost

Released: December 6
Cast: Paula Niedert Elliott, Chris Elliott, Abby Elliott, Bridey Elliott
Director: Bridey Elliott
Why It's Great: Casting your own famous family as thinly veiled stand-ins for themselves and shooting a movie at your parents beautiful Connecticut home is the type of indulgent indie movie cliche that might send movie-goers running for the exits. Luckily, Bridey Elliott has a secret weapon: her family is blazingly, riotously funny. (Her father, Chris, was a staple on Late Night With David Letterman in the '80s and the star of the cult comedy Cabin Boy, her sister Abby was a cast member on SNL for four seasons, and her late grandfather, Bob Elliott, whose paintings appear in the film, was half of the legendary comedy duo Bob and Ray.) So, it's no surprise that Chris Elliott and Abby Elliott excel at playing gleefully obnoxious versions of themselves, with Chris telling crude jokes while drinking his life away and Abby unleashing brutal one-liners while stressing out about her upcoming wedding. But Bridey's smartest move in concocting this familial ghost story was pushing those two scene-stealers to the margins, taking a supporting role herself, and focusing on her mother, Paula Niedert Elliott, who plays the titular Clara. More than a little unhinged, Clara finds herself neglected by her show-biz-obsessed offspring and dismissed by her bitter husband, but Bridey's roving camera sees her with poignant and hilarious clarity. Whether she's watching a dog video on her phone, searching for a missing shoe, or leaving a heartbreakingly sweet voicemail for a wine company, Clara is a star, the type of complex woman Hollywood too often ignores. As the night spirals out into a ritualized bender right out of a Eugene O'Neill play -- but with way more stoned Haley Joel Osment -- the movie takes flight.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

42. The Old Man & the Gun

Released: September 28
Cast: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover
Director: David Lowery (A Ghost Story)
Why it’s great: Pitched somewhere between fan letter and true crime, this loving tribute to '70s cinema transforms a real life tale of bank robberies and prison escapes, written about in the pages of The New Yorker by journalist David Grann, into a sly showcase for its aging star, Robert Redford. As geriatric felon Forrest Tucker, the former Sundance Kid gets to lay on the charm in his signature low-key manner, flirting with bank tellers and building a relationship with his no-nonsense love interest Jewel (Spacek), and Lowery shoots it all in a grainy, nostalgic style that stops just short of coming off as too precious. Towards the end, Lowery even incorporates footage of Redford from old movies for a moving, clever montage. There's very little grit or tension to this story -- Tucker doesn't like using his titular gun and the grizzled cop chasing him, played by a typically drowsy Affleck, isn't exactly obsessed with catching him -- but that ephemeral quality works to Lowery's advantage as a filmmaker. Even when the movie feels like it might float away, you want to float with it.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

41. Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Released: October 19
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Dolly Wells, Jane Curtin
Director: Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl)
Why It's Great: The dark interiors of early '90s Manhattan bars, a terrain free of smartphones and conversations about whatever happened on Twitter that day, are the lovely, comforting backdrop of this literary con artist story. A biographer fallen on hard times, Lee Israel (McCarthy) discovers she has a gift for forging witty, highly readable correspondence from famous writers like Noël Coward and Dorothy Parker; soon enough, she's selling her counterfeits at used bookstores all over the city and using the money she acquires to fund her long hours of drinking and chatting with her rakish new friend, Jack Hock (the immensely delightful Grant). Like a more landlocked take on Catch Me If You Can, Heller's endlessly perceptive true crime comedy understands the care and affection that goes into meticulously creating the perfect fake. Israel has a gift, one that the larger publishing apparatus fails to recognize, and so does McCarthy: She draws the viewer into thrill and desperation of each transaction. 
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

40. Revenge

Released: May 11
Cast: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède
Director: Coralie Fargeat
Why it’s great: This French thriller might have one of the most gruesome, unsettling scenes of self-surgery ever filmed, but it always feels like the director is in control of her scalpel. Shot with the bright colors of a 90s music video and the roving camera movements of a Michael Bay blockbuster, Coralie Fargeat's ultra-slick reinvention of the rape-revenge sub-genre follows Jen (Lutz) as her romantic getaway with a married man (Janssens) is interrupted by his two loathsome hunting buddies. One of the friends assaults Jen, violating her in the morning after a night of partying, and later the three men push her off a cliff, leaving her to die in the sweltering desert heat. She springs back to life. Her violent retribution is often simultaneously stomach-churning and ridiculous -- the hallways of the chic rented house get turned into a bloody slip-and-slide by the ending -- but the performers and the filmmakers are zeroed in on a shared sensibility that does more than simply shock and provoke. 
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

39. Game Night

Released: February 23
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen
Directors: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Vacation)
Why it’s great: Game Night is a movie that's easy to underestimate. The trailers and marketing made it look like yet another studio comedy in the post-Apatow mold, filled with improv-juiced banter, zingy pop culture references, and predictable emotional beats about battling middle-age ennui. It many ways, it is that movie, especially in its first 30 minutes, but as the high-concept premise kicks in -- basically, a group of charades-loving yuppies led by Bateman and McAdams's hyper-competitive couple find themselves in a violent ARG similar the one that terrified Michael Douglas in 1997's The Game -- the directors, who previously helmed  2015's Vacation remake and co-wrote the less amusing Bateman vehicle Horrible Bosses, reveal that they've put more work into designing the thriller elements of the story then you may have assumed. The slapstick sequences have the visual wit and spatial playfulness of an Edgar Wright movie, especially as the movie speeds into its twist-filled conclusion. McAdams in particular sells each joke with a studied earnestness. Like the movie surrounding her, she attacks even the dumbest task with surprising rigor.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

38. Gemini

Released: March 30
Cast: Lola Kirke, Zoë Kravitz, John Cho, Greta Lee
Director: Aaron Katz (Land Ho!)
Why it’s great: In last year's Personal Shopper, Kristen Stewart played a young woman tasked with acquiring outfits, jewelry, and accessories for a celebrity, and eventually she found herself in the midst of a ghost story. Gemini, which stars Kirke as a personal assistant to Kravitz's famous actress, is set in the same wealthy universe of fame-adjacent underlings, but instead of taking a supernatural route it stumbles down the path of a low-key stoner noir. (Like a less dude-centric take on Inherent Vice or The Big Lebowski.) Katz's version of a murder mystery in Los Angeles isn't sweaty or sunny. He envisions the city as a chilly, neon-drenched world of small transactions, petty squabbles, and the occasional violent outburst. It's the perfect backdrop for this sly comedy of careful negotiation.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

37. A Quiet Place

Released: April 6
Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
Director: John Krasinski (The Hollars)
Why it’s great: It's reasonable to be skeptical of John Krasinski's tastefully composed, PG-13 rated, Michael Bay-produced horror contraption. There was little in his previous two directorial efforts, the indies Brief Interviews With Hideous Men or The Hollars, that suggested Jim from The Office was a budding genre filmmaker. And yet: A Quiet Place is a top-notch roller coaster in the Spielberg-ian mold. After sound-hating monsters take over the planet, a husband (Krasinski) and wife (Blunt) live a life of extreme caution with their two children, protecting them in a carefully maintained world of hushed whispers and relative silence. As you'd guess, the monsters have other plans. The political allegory component of the story isn't particularly compelling -- it's been interpreted as a commentary on the hysteria of Trump era -- but as a movie about parental anxieties, it's steely and effective.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

36. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Released: November 16
Cast: Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen (Hail Caesar!)
Why it’s great: Even for old hands like the Coen Brothers, the anthology format, where a series of shorts are presented as a feature, is a tough beast to tame. This Netflix-funded set of old West stories gets off to an odd start -- the chapter starring the title character played by Tim Blake Nelson is a little ridiculous and the Franco-led bank robbery tale is too brisk -- but soon the movie finds its footing. In addition to finding death, cruelty, and despair in the West, the Coen's also find romance in the people and beauty in the landscape. What's the best chapter? Probably "The Gal Who Got Rattled," an achingly moving epic in miniature starring Zoe Kazan as wayward traveler Abigail and Bill Heck as soft-spoken cowboy Billy. In a movie that's not afraid to make you laugh or make you ponder some deep existential questions, the moments that leave you misty-eyed are what make it rocky terrain worth exploring.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

35. Eighth Grade

Released: July 13
Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Catherine Oliviere
Director: Bo Burnham
Why it's great: If you know comedian Bo Burnham from viral songs like "My Whole Family Thinks I'm Gay" or his short-lived MTV series Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous, you might be taken off guard by the 27-year-old stand-up's debut feature, which takes a much less acidic approach to familiar material about loneliness. Kayla (Fisher) is in many ways a typical teenage outcast: She endlessly scrolls through her carefully maintained social media feeds, desperately wants to be liked by her peers, and physically recoils at every remark from her well-meaning father (played with an almost supernatural tenderness by Hamilton). While some critics have been quick to compare this chronicle of adolescence to Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird, which was also produced by hit-making indie distributor A24, Burnham has a more clinical, anthropological eye. That can lead to some beautiful places -- a social media binge scored to Enya's "Orinoco Flow" will be recognizable to many -- but it can also lead to some clumsy, obvious symbolism. When Kayla breaks her phone's glass screen and then pricks her finger while trying to scroll, it's hard not to roll your eyes. (You see, technology can deliver pleasure and pain!) But once the tears start flowing in the film's moving final third, you'll likely overlook those flaws. What's a movie about puberty without some growing pains?
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

34. The Favourite

Released: November 23
Cast: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster)
Why it’s great: The pomp of political theater is often used to disguise the mindless cruelty and arbitrary decision making going on behind the scenes. The Favourite, which follows Queen Anne of Great Britain and Ireland (Colman, who won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance) and the two women (Weisz and Stone) vying for her attention and affection, is aware of that tension and appropriately plays it for brutal laughs. Stone's newly arrived Abigail manipulates and humiliates herself to acquire power; Weisz's more experienced Lady Sarah schemes and triangulates to preserve her status; Colman's easily irritated Queen Anne simply lets her whims dictate her actions. Watching the three of them clash is a vulgar pleasure. As was the case with his previous arthouse hit The Lobster, Lanthimos's gift for finding the absurd in human cruelty is at its most potent when it remains in a deadpan, almost affect-less comic register. Despite the endlessly game performances from the three leads, the movie wobbles in its second half as the story builds to an obtuse conclusion. The claustrophobia of the court -- and the general disinterest in looking too far beyond the castle walls -- becomes a liability as the movie attempts to arrive at larger truths.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

33. Let the Sunshine In

Released: April 27
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Xavier Beauvois, Philippe Katerine, Josiane Balasko
Director: Claire Denis (White Material)
Why it’s great: Opening with a deeply unpleasant sex scene for the ages, Let the Sunshine In announces itself quickly as a movie that's most passionate about portraying the moments of courtship that fall outside the bounds of the conventional romantic comedy. And yet, the story of Isabelle, a middle-aged French artist (Binoche) struggling through a series of frustrating and alienating romantic encounters, is unapologetically, swooningly romantic. Many of the scenes between the endlessly charming Binoche and her often odious suitors, like a petty lout who demands "gluten-free olives" at a bar, are poignantly, wickedly funny. Denis's simultaneously sensual and heady film, which is loosely based on a philosophical work by the writer Roland Barthes, is about being stuck in behavioral patterns. Many of the conversations in the movie are circular, with flirtation and blame getting passed around in a verbal dance, and Isabelle always appears on the verge of a major emotional or psychological breakthrough. She remains open to life's possibilities, a mindset that also helps one enjoy this calming and loopy movie. 
Where to see it right now: Stream on Hulu; rent on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

32. The Commuter

Released: January 12
Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows)
Why it’s great: The last thriller from the team of Neeson and Collet-Serra was Non-Stop, a bracing and clever whodunit on an airplane. The pair are back in high-octane Agatha Christie mode with The Commuter, a mystery that begins with Farmiga's chatty passenger Joanna presenting Neeson's haggard ex-cop (and loyal transit-enthusiast of the title) Michael MacCauley with a bizarre hypothetical: If you could perform a seemingly insignificant task that would have disastrous consequences for another commuter in exchange for a generous financial reward, would you do it? It's a convoluted twist on Richard Matheson's "Button, Button" short story, which was adapted into a classic Twilight Zone episode and the bonkers Richard Kelley movie The Box, but Collet-Serra is less interested in the moral dilemma. Instead, he simply wants to strip the giant locomotive -- and his star's lumbering frame -- for parts, finding Hitchcockian tension in each padded seat, empty corridor, and nervy patron. It's action filmmaking as controlled demolition -- and the best train potboiler since Steven Seagal's Under Siege 2: Dark Territory.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

31. Hereditary

Released: June 8
Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro
Director: Ari Aster
Why it's great: I consider myself a relatively seasoned horror moviegoer who doesn't get scared easily -- the "it's only a movie" mantra tends to work -- but Hereditary got under my skin in a big way. What makes this movie tick? It's all in the performances: The incredibly versatile Toni Collette, who first stunned horror audiences as the mother in The Sixth Sense, plays Annie, an artist who works from home constructing intricately designed miniatures of her own life. When her elderly mother dies, Annie's family, which includes Byrne as her distant husband, Wolff as her aloof son, and Shapiro as her troubled daughter, is thrown into a crisis. For its first 40 minutes or so, the film plays like a strange psychodrama in the vein of Michael Haneke, but then an unspeakable event occurs about halfway through and the tension skyrockets. Annie visits a friendly medium (Ann Dowd of The Leftovers) and begins to communicate with the dead. She sleepwalks and has terrifying nightmares; a supernatural force has descended upon the house. Aster directs the hell out of the movie's harrowing final stretch, which will likely leave some viewers scratching their heads, but Collette is the real MVP, throwing herself into a demanding role with unwavering commitment. 
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

30. Minding the Gap

Released: August 17
Director: Bing Liu
Why it's great: Skateboarding has always existed in a nebulous space between athletic activity, creative expression, and mode of transportation. It's also a form of socializing, with the long gaps between tricks serving as a time to crack jokes, kill time, and make friends. Minding the Gap is a documentary that understands the sport on a granular level, examining how skating brought three young men in the economically struggling town of Rockford, Illinois together. One member of the trio is actually the filmmaker Bing Liu, and his level of involvement in the narrative changes as the film progresses and the years pass. What starts as a movie about slackers lighting off fireworks and drinking beers on rooftops becomes a nuanced, carefully modulated study of domestic abuse, particularly the way violence cycles through generations of family members. It's a thoughtful film about race and class, too. Liu doesn't announce his ambitions or telegraph his themes right from the jump; he doesn't abandon his curiosity about skateboarding to chase these bigger ideas, either. Instead, he allows our knowledge of the lives and histories of the skaters to inform the often beautiful footage of their movements. By the end, both skating and filmmaking are revealed as forms of therapy.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Hulu (watch the trailer)

29. Unsane

Released: March 23
Cast: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple
Director: Steven Soderbergh (Logan Lucky)
Why it’s great: Following the easy-going camaraderie of his hillbilly heist comeback Logan Lucky, the newly un-retired Soderbergh is back to subverting genre expectations again with this mental health thriller. Reportedly shot through the lens of an iPhone, which gives the film a discombobulating and flat look, Unsane follows Sawyer Valentine (Foy) as she gets checked into a hospital's psych ward against her will and battles with an insurance system that wants to drain her bank account with little regard for her wellbeing. (You could call it a quasi-sequel to Soderbergh's pharma-thriller Side Effects.) The reveals that come in the third act will leave some viewers shaking their heads in disbelief -- the story sets up narrative turns it doesn't follow through on -- but this isn't a movie looking to be reduced to a single twist or slogan. It's a story as layered, inscrutable, and prickly as Foy's commanding lead performance. You can't look away.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

28. Bisbee '17

Released: September 5
Director:Robert Greene (Kate Plays Christine)
Why it's great: Deep into Arizona along the Mexican border, the mining town of Bisbee exists as a ghost of its former self. Or, perhaps more accurately, it's a re-creation of its former self, which makes it fertile ground for director Robert Greene, who specializes in projects that blur the line between reality and fiction. In examining the Bisbee deportation of 1917 -- a shameful chapter in America's labor history, when 1,300 striking miners were forced out of the town under threat of violence -- he's found a subject that perfectly matches his larger philosophical concerns and aesthetic tendencies. More importantly, it also allows him to expand his scope; this is a big, wildly ambitious movie. It builds toward a dramatic re-staging of the deportation, with the present day citizens of the town playing the roles of workers and deputized anti-union police force. Bisbee '17 is timely in the ways it interrogates notions of freedom, identity, and justice. In Greene's vision of the world, those who don't learn from history are bound to not just repeat it -- they reenact it, too.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes (watch the trailer)

27. BlacKkKlansman

Released: August 10
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace
Director: Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing)
Why it’s great:BlacKkKlansman is a police procedural about rhetoric. The story of Ron Stallworth, the first black detective hired at a Colorado Springs precinct in the early 1970s, is relatively straightforward on the surface -- the cop, skillfully played by Washington, infiltrates the local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan by phone and attempts to gather intel on the organization -- but Lee's approach is complicated. Often, the film plays like the pilot episode of a TV show given an essayistic overhaul. In addition to drawing connections to cinematic history, from Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation to Super Fly and Cleopatra Jones, he makes more than a handful of knowing nods to the political present, having characters mimic the catchphrases of President Donald Trump and ending the film with actual footage from last year's Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Lee's message is proudly, defiantly blunt; his stylistic approach is multi-layered and tonally ambitious. The most powerful, absorbing stretches of the movie are literally speeches: Civil Rights leader Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins from Straight Outta Compton) addresses a crowd of student radicals; later, an old man (Harry Belafonte) describes a horrific lynching. Lee lets these and other moments linger, allowing the viewer to sit with the language and consider the broader implications. 
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

26. Happy as Lazzaro

Released: November 30
Cast: Adriano Tardiolo, Nicoletta Braschi, Sergi López, Alba Rohrwacher
Director: Alice Rohrwacher (The Wonders)
Why it’s great: I'm not always the biggest fan of magical realism, particularly the way its preciousness can be used to over-simplify or erase the complexities of politics and history. But Happy as Lazzaro, a winsome and beautiful fable concerning the residents of a hilly town in the Italian countryside, uses the tools of the genre to poke and prod at provocative (and contemporary) conversations about exploitation, labor, and class. Like an enchanting mix of Being There and The Village, the movie tells the story of Lazzaro (newcomer Tardiolo), a happy-go-lucky fool with a great work ethic and a tendency to go blank and stare off into the distance. He's being taken advantage, particularly by the obnoxious son of the village's secretive owner, but he doesn't seem to mind. His face remains placid, a surface for the locals (and the audience) to project their feelings onto. Even when the movie's big twist arrives and the circumstances become bleaker, Lazzaro's jolly demeanor never breaks. In the same way, director Alice Rohrwacher's control of the movie's tricky tone doesn't falter.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

25. A Star Is Born

Released: October 5
Cast: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle
Director: Bradley Cooper
Why it’s great: This is a movie of competing voices: On one end of the spectrum you have the guttural croak of Jackson Maine, the hard-living, cowboy-rock troubadour played by the film's director, producer, and co-writer Bradley Cooper; on the other end is the soulful roar of Ally, the waitress harboring dreams of pop stardom played by IRL pop icon Lady Gaga. The contrast between the two vocal deliveries is part of what makes the film's Oscar-winning power ballad "Shallow" so immediately alluring, the sonic equivalent of your goosebumps getting goosebumps, and that same tension drives the film's most compelling scenes. (Yes, that includes the meme-able moments.) A claustrophobic movie about fame, A Star Is Born works best in its tightly focused and completely captivating first hour, which explores the creative and romantic spark of Jackson and Ally's relationship. Cooper makes you believe in the fantasy of a black SUV providing a portal to another life of jam-packed festival stages, booze-soaked backstage parties, and tightly choreographed SNL performances. The second half doesn't exactly burn out -- the lead performers are too locked in -- but the flame flickers as the story hits the requisite notes dictated by the past. Even with these new voices, the song remains the same.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

24. Roma

Released: November 21
Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero
Director: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
Why it’s great: Whether experienced in the hushed reverence of a theater, watched on the glowing screen of a laptop, or, as Netflix executive Ted Sarandos has suggested, binged on the perilous surface of a phone, Alfonso Cuarón's black-and-white passion project Roma seeks to stun. A technical craftsman of the highest order, the Children of Men and Gravity director, who picked up his second Best Director Oscar for the film, has an aesthetic that aims to overwhelm -- with the amount of extras, the sense of despair, and the constant whir of exhilaration -- and this autobiographical portrait of kind-hearted maid Cleo (Aparicio) caring for a family in the early 1970s has been staged on a staggering, mind-boggling scale. Cuarón's artful pans aren't just layered for the sake of complexity: he's often placing different emotions, historical concepts, and class distinctions in conversation with each other. What are these different components in the painstakingly composed shots actually saying to each other? That remains harder to parse. Still, there's an image of Cleo and the family eating icecream together after a devastating dinner in the foreground while a wedding takes place in the background that I haven't been able to shake since I saw it. The movie is filled with compositions like that, tinged with careful ambiguity and unresolvable tensions. 
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

23. Angels Wear White

Released: May 4
Cast: Vicky Chen, Zhou Meijun, Shi Ke, Liu Weiwei
Director: Vivian Qu (Trap Street)
Why it's great: A moment of inadvertent electronic surveillance, witnessed by a motel cleaner filling in for the receptionist at the front desk, drives the plot of this tense, incisive drama about sexual abuse and power dynamics in China. Writer and director Vivian Qu shifts between the lives of two young women -- the older teenager who witnesses the crime, Mia (Wen Qi), and one of the 12-year-old victims, Wen (Zhou Meijun) -- in telling this challenging story that refuses to provide the conventional crime narrative catharsis of a Law & Order episode. Though pushy cops, shady businessmen, and low-rent criminals populate the film, Qu's curious camera remains focussed on her vulnerable, searching protagonists. It's thoughtful, unflashy filmmaking executed on a high level.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Amazon Prime; rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

22. The Death of Stalin

Released: March 9
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin
Director:Armando Iannucci (In the Loop)
Why it’s great: The verbose, scatological insult comedy of Iannucci, the creator of HBO's long-running political satire Veep, somehow fits the backroom dealing of 1950s Soviet Union like a snug fur hat. When Stalin dies in the middle of the night, his middling underlings -- including Nikita Khrushchev (Buscemi) Georgy Malenkov (Tambor), and Vyacheslav Molotov (Palin) -- are left with organizing his state funeral and scurrying to consolidate power. The put-down's are as riotously funny as you'd expect -- "You smell like rendered horse, you burning asshole!" deserves a ceremonial medal --  but the silly physical comedy, particularly in the early scenes where the men discover Stalin's corpse, is even better. Iannucci remains a master of finding humor in the bleakest scenarios imaginable, exposing the petty human foibles behind history's greatest horrors.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

21. Shoplifters

Released: November 23
Cast: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Mayu Matsuoka, Sosuke Ikematsu
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda (After the Storm)
Why it’s great: The bonds that tie together makeshift families are the subject of Shoplifters, a moving and lyrical tale of economic struggle on the margins in Tokyo. We meet the rouge-like patriarch Osamu Shibata (Franky) in an opening scene where a young child, wide-eyed and curious, serves as the accomplice in a small-scale act of thievery at a grocery store. The two communicate through subtle nonverbal cues, almost like dancers performing a choreographed routine. From there, director Hirokazu Kore-eda expands the scope of the story, introducing the viewer to other family members and sketching out the broader social order of the community, one where money, safety, and dignity are secured through constantly shifting legal and illegal means. We spend time with them at their jobs and in their moments of private joy, sharing meals and intimate exchanges. Eventually, the obscured dynamics and tangled histories between the characters begin to unfurl and the movie becomes a mystery of sorts, one where the clues are buried in the small details of domestic life.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

20. Sollers Point

Released: May 18
Cast: McCaul Lombardi, Jim Belushi, Zazie Beetz, Tom Guiry
Director: Matthew Porterfield (Putty Hill)
Why it’s great: There's a great deal of tension in Sollers Point, an unassuming drama about a quiet young man name Keith (American Honey's Lombardi) returning to his life in Baltimore following a stint in prison, but the sense of unease comes entirely from the characters. That's a rare quality in stories about ex-cons, which often rely on plot contrivances and explosive situations to generate suspense. Keith's hardly stable foundation, which he rebuilt with the help of his distant father (Belushi), could collapse at any moment and his relationship to the larger community around him, which Porterfield captures with such sensitivity and specificity, oscillates between comfort and anxiety. Keith moves from welcoming backyards to cavernous strip-clubs to the back of a coffin-like van, pulled by a combination of impulse, obligation, and pure curiosity. Similarly, the movie holds your attention by staying focussed on Lombardi's piercing eyes. Where they go, you follow.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Amazon Prime; rent on iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

19. Shirkers

Released: October 26
Director: Sandi Tan
Why it’s great:Shirkers is the type of vibrant, invigorating documentary that offers up different ways to think about it as you watch it. In carefully dissecting her own past as a teenage filmmaking rebel in Singapore during the early '90s, director and star Sandi Tan constructs a movie that works as an intimate memoir of adolescent ambition, a mini cultural history of a highly specific strand of indiedom, a cunning meditation on female friendship, and an unnerving mystery of artistic theft. Which part is most interesting? The question of why an older male collaborator helped her make a feature film -- also named Shirkers -- and then stole the footage they shot gives the story a true-crime-podcast-ey hook, but the best part is that Tan doesn't make you choose one idea. She blends her themes, her characters, and her insights with the skills of a clearly brilliant filmmaker, which only makes the creative betrayal at the center all the more devastating.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

18. First Man

Released: October 5
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Corey Stoll, Kyle Chandler
Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Why it’s great: In his last two movies, the pummelling drumming character study Whiplash and the archly romantic musical La La Land, director Damien Chazelle explored the emotional sacrifices artists must make for their work. His latest, a flame-kissed Neil Armstrong biopic starring a tightly coiled Gosling as the mythical moonwalker, is similarly a film about emotional repression and simmering male anger, but this time the canvas is bigger. (Literally: The movie switches to IMAX mode when Armstrong and crew hit the surface of the big rock.) Chazelle's cold approach to examining individuals with an unhealthy work-life balance has often felt overwrought to me, but here, with Gosling stoically burying his feelings in pursuit of celestial glory, he's launched himself into a different artistic stratosphere. The flight sequences are visceral; the domestic scenes are no less tense. Rejecting the "science the shit out of it" triumphalism of The Martian, this is a movie that doesn't attempt to explain away the terror, confusion, or loneliness of space travel. Instead it places the viewer in the maelstrom.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

17. Private Life

Released: October 5
Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Kayli Carter, Molly Shannon
Director: Tamara Jenkins (The Savages)
Why it's great: Over a decade since the release of her last dark comedy, The Savages, writer and director Tamara Jenkins is back with a sprawling movie in the same vein: more hyper-verbal jerks you can't help but love. (In one of the movie's many perfect throwaway lines, a character describes a quiet breakfast as "like an ad for assholes.") Richard (Giamatti) and Rachel (Hahn) are a Manhattan-dwelling couple who have spent the last few years attempting to have a baby with little success. When we meet them, they're already in the grips of fertility mania, willing to try almost anything to secure the offspring they think they desire. With all the details about injections, side effects, and pricey medical procedures, the movie functions as a taxonomy of modern pregnancy anxieties, and Hahn brings each part of the process to glorious life. If you've only seen her as a comedic force in the Bad Moms movies, prepare to be blown away by her here. Eventually, the pair recruits 25-year-old college dropout Sadie (Carter), the step-daughter of Richard's brother, to serve as an egg donor. Soon, they form their own unconventional family united by feelings of inadequacy and hope for the future. While it's easy to praise the writing of such a self-consciously literary work -- this is probably the only movie you'll ever see that uses a Karl Ove Knausgård cover as a sight gag -- Private Life stands out because of the images Jenkins so carefully renders. The final shot, which features a moment of silence after over two hours of near constant chatter, is one you won't forget.  
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

16. Support the Girls

Released: August 24
Cast: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, James Le Gros
Director: Andrew Bujalski (Results)
Why it’s great: The tacky world of the "breastaurant" might sound like an odd fit for former "mumblecore" auteur Bujalski, one of the premiere chroniclers of mid '00s social alienation, but the movie's family-friendly establishment Double Whammies ends up being the perfect staging ground for a funny, whip-smart comedy about labor and friendship. Put-upon manger Lisa (a brilliant Hall) has a watchful, caring eye as she looks after the younger women who work for her, serving as the negotiator between them and a large roster of rowdy customers, crappy boyfriends, and boorish authority figures. Hall embodies that kindness and generosity -- you'll wish she was your boss -- but she also shows you the emotional toll the work takes on her in the moments when her impressionable mentees aren't around. Simply put, the rat race is wearing her down. As a writer, Bujalski can satirize corporate jargon like Mike Judge, but he has a more humanistic, less misanthropic approach as a director, framing shots in a way that gives the actors room to interact and develop a natural intimacy in the workplace. Similarly, Hall gives a more complex, nuanced performance than you'll see on your average workplace sitcom. 
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

15. Zama

Released: April 13
Cast: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Lola Dueñas, Matheus Nachtergaele, Juan Minujín
Director: Lucrecia Martel (The Headless Woman)
Why it’s great: Based on a 1956 novel by Argentinian writer Antonio di Benedetto, this poetically-rendered 18th century historical drama displays a wry understanding of how colonial power functions. Don Diego de Zama (Cacho) is an administrator for Spain's imperial interests, stationed in Paraguay, but he's always looking for a way out. To where? He's not entirely sure, and Martel wrings many bone-dry laughs out of his bumbling misadventures, which she frames with a surreal touch. (A shot late in the movie of a boat moving through green water looks like an image from a science-fiction film.) Like Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, Zama uses irony to achieve mysterious (and occasionally maddening) moments of profundity. You don't always have a strong sense of where the story is going; instead, confusion becomes an essential part of the narrative's oddly enchanting, dream-like rhythm.  
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

14. Black Panther

Released: February 16
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira
Director: Ryan Coogler (Creed)
Why it’s great: Coogler's deft balancing of a high-tech spy gadgetry, ceremonial palace intrigue, fantasy action mayhem, and subversive political critique is unparalleled in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe that Black Panther springs from. In the same way Creed, his propulsive and knowing reboot of the Rocky franchise, paid tribute to and upended boxing iconography, Coogler's take on superhero-dom is both pleasing and probing. Basically, he's got Soundcloud jokes, rhino battles, and takes on imperialism. The larger ideological conflict between the new king T'Challa (Boseman) and the American revolutionary Killmonger (Jordan) has been seen before in the pages of history books and comics, but it's never been given this type of eye-popping, brain-scrambling, heart-pounding blockbuster treatment.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix; rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

13. Madeline's Madeline

Released: August 10
Cast: Helena Howard, Miranda July, Molly Parker, Curtiss Cook
Director: Josephine Decker (Butter on the Latch)
Why it’s great: A movie as formally audacious as Madeline's Madeline makes you notice how safe most indie films are. From a plot and theme perspective, the tension-filled parental dynamic between Madeline (Howard) and her mother (July) isn't that different from other strained family dramas, but the way Decker dives into the story is completely, utterly unique. The roving camera and frenzied sound design bring you into Madeline's troubled mental state, while the presence of a gifted theater director (Parker) who becomes obsessed with Madeline as a performer further complicates the material, turning the movie into a meta-criticism of itself. Who has the right to tell whose story? Can art ever truly capture interior life? What's the difference between sense and nonsense? These are urgent, difficult questions that the movie doesn't claim to have answers to. It sounds dense and demanding -- and, honestly, it is at times -- but the poetic approach is also exhilarating. You get caught up in the whirlwind of sights and sounds. It occasionally recalls Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, but Decker is even more willing to chase the unknown. Don't be afraid to follow her.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Amazon Prime; rent on iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

12. Annihilation

Released: February 23
Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson
Director:Alex Garland (Ex Machina)
Why it’s great: Writer Jeff VanderMeer's hallucinogenic, Kafka-like science-fiction novel proves to be fertile ground for filmmaker Alex Garland in this unsettling and surreal adaptation. Garland doesn't stick to the book's plot but he keeps the core concept: A team of women, including Portman's grief-stricken biology professor, venture into a quarantined territory of Florida known only as "Area X" to investigate a series of unexplained phenomena and disappearances. The journey quickly turns perilous and it becomes clear that group won't make it out alive. Working in the same white-knuckle register as John Carpenter's The Thing, the movie unnerves and stuns in equal measure. Refusing to provide the type of puzzle-box solutions viewers have been trained to look for, Garland leaves us with psychedelic images: grotesque animal hybrids stalking their prey, quizzical humans transforming into flowers, and shiny doubles performing interpretative dance moves. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it dares to dream in a language we can't quite comprehend. 
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

11. Mission: Impossible -- Fallout

Released: July 27
Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson
Director: Christopher McQuarrie (The Way of the Gun)
Why it’s great: As Tom Cruise's stardom has plateaued in recent years, with recent movies like The Mummy and American Made failing to connect on a broader cultural level, the celebration of the Mission: Impossible franchise has only intensified. It feels like audiences have collectively decided this is how they want their TC: jumping out a plane, running across the roof of a building, or hanging off the side of a cliff. Honestly, fair enough! While Mission: Impossible -- Fallout isn't the best entry in the super-spy series -- my vote goes to Brad Bird's dazzling Ghost Protocol or Brian de Palma's thrilling 1996 original -- it has a keen sense of history, a wry sense of humor, and a handful of breath-taking set-pieces. (The bathroom fight and the helicopter chase share top honors.) McQuarrie, the first director to return for a second M:I adventure after handling 2015's Rogue Nation, is a skilled action craftsman, and, despite a 147 minute runtime, Fallout never loses momentum. It sends you hurtling out of the theater in search of similar highs. Too bad so few modern blockbusters can even breathe at the same altitude.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

10. Leave No Trace

Released: June 29
Cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie
Director: Debra Granik (Winter's Bone)
Why it's great: Anyone who read Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain in elementary school probably once dreamed of living off the land. The survivalist impulse, a desire to ditch one's worldly possessions and live a simpler life in the wilderness, is a deeply ingrained American ideal, one that's still taught to children despite the fundamental role technology plays in modern life. Debra Granik's Leave No Trace, her first fictional feature since Winter's Bone, digs deep into the darker side of that fantasy by telling the story of Will (Foster) and Thom (McKenzie), a father-daughter duo who live in the mountains near Portland, Oregon. Though the backstories are kept to a minimum, certain details emerge: Will is a veteran and Thom's mother died a long time ago. They only have each other -- and the forest around them. But they can't keep society at bay forever, and eventually Will is arrested for living on public land and the pair are sent to live in a house on a Christmas-tree farm, where Thom grows to like having a roof over her head and befriends a bunny named Chainsaw. Will can't adjust. Soon the pair are on the road again, hitching rides and marching through the cold woods. A process oriented filmmaker, Granik shoots their perilous journey with a combination of awe and skepticism, capturing the beauty of the natural world and the danger of life on the margins. Even if you can't imagine living without wi-fi, you'll understand the bond between Will and Thom. "Where do you live? Where's your home?" a stranger asks Thom late in the movie. Her brief response captures this film's profound emotional appeal: "My dad."
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer) 

9. Monrovia, Indiana

Released: October 26
Director: Frederick Wiseman (Ex Libris)
Why it’s great: At the age of 88, Frederick Wiseman knows how to make a Frederick Wiseman documentary. He chooses a subject, typically a specific location or a larger social system, and he observes the people there; once he's collected enough footage, he edits it into a series of scenes that play off each other in poetic and thematically resonant ways. They often have a hypnotic quality, playing more like a piece of ambient music than the explainer-ey documentaries that populate your Netflix homepage or Facebook feed. Still, no Wiseman is the same: Compared to the almost utopian sense of hope emanating off his previous film Ex Libris, which examined the New York Public Library, Monrovia, Indiana is bleak. It begins with a Bible study conversation about life's "tribulations" and ends with a body being lowered into the ground; in between, you learn more about this small town through its tattoo parlor, restaurants, and its local bureaucracy. (Wiseman loves a good planning meeting.) Yes, the movie demands concentration, but it also invites your mind to wander and encourages curiosity. Instead of insisting that this Midwestern town is a microcosm for a larger political or social idea, he arrives at larger truths by burrowing into the smallness of life.
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

8. Sorry to Bother You

Released: July 6
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Armie Hammer
Director: Boots Riley
Why it’s great: In the music he made as a member of the Oakland hip-hop group The Coup, Boots Riley displayed a gift for tackling big, provocative ideas about politics, labor, inequality, and race with wit and nerve. It's unsurprising that Sorry to Bother You, the bracing comedy he wrote and directed about telemarketer Cassius Green (Stanfield) using his "white voice" to climb the corporate ladder, would pack a similar punch. What's perhaps surprising -- and, on a deeper level, inspiring -- is that audiences are responding to the film's anti-capitalistic message and its Putney Swope-like jabs with nods of recognition and cheers of encouragement. While the surreal visual sensibility of the film recalls a string of indie hits of the 00s, particularly the freewheeling work of Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, those movies were often content to wallow in emotional solipsism. Eternal Sunshine was about climbing in your own brain; Sorry to Bother You is about reaching out into the world around you and shaking it up. Riley's wickedly funny, tonally adventurous story is prescriptive. It's a brilliant satire, but it's also a blueprint.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

7. Burning

Released: October 26
Cast: Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jeon Jong-seo
Director: Lee Chang-dong (Poetry)
Why it’s great: Some mysteries simmer; this one smolders. In his adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story, writer and director Lee Chang-dong includes many elements of the acclaimed author's slyly mischievous style -- cats, jazz, cooking, and an alienated male writer protagonist all pop up -- but he also invests the material with his own dark humor, stray references to contemporary news, and an unyielding sense of curiosity. We follow aimless aspiring novelist Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) as he reconnects with Shin Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), a young woman he grew up with, but the movie never lets you get too comfortable in one scene or setting. When Yeun's Ben, a handsome rich guy with a beautiful apartment and a passion for burning down greenhouses, appears, the film shifts to an even more tremulous register. Can Ben be trusted? Yeun's performance is perfectly calibrated to entice and confuse, like he's a suave, pyromaniac version of Tyler Durden. Each frame keeps you guessing.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

6. Mandy

Released: September 14
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke
Director: Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow)
Why it's great:Mandy features Nicolas Cage doing the following things: guzzling booze straight from the bottle, snorting coke off a shard of broken glass, and lighting a cigarette with a flaming severed head. Each act of chemical-assisted self-destruction serves as an apt metaphor for what watching this mesmerizing, psychedelic freak-out of a movie feels like. For his follow-up to 2010's sci-fi retro-pastiche Beyond the Black Rainbow, Cosmatos casts Cage as Red, a lumberjack living in the Pacific Northwest circa 1983. When his beloved wife Mandy (Riseborough) is murdered by a Manson-like cult and some mutant bikers, Red sets off on a path to revenge. What sounds like stock post-Tarantino premise -- the movie's plot isn't dissimilar from Kill Bill, John Wick, or Mad Max -- ends up being a trapdoor into something far funnier, stranger, and haunting than it appears. How bizarre does it get? At one point, everything pauses for a goblin-themed macaroni commercial, and you won't even blink. Structured like an LP, with side A lulling you into an ethereal dream-state and side B launching into a series of violent nightmares, the film is destined to be picked over by blood-thirsty action devotees and theory-equipped academic eggheads. (The inherent tension between hippies and heavy metal fans has never been more artfully explored.) But it's not all cult cinema references, '80s kitsch, and vintage band t-shirts. Cage's unhinged performance, which takes on an operatic quality in the bonkers final third, gives the story a much needed emotional depth. You leave completely drained. Baptized in fire. Ready to ride the lightning again.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

5. Widows

Released: November 16
Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo
Director: Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
Why it’s great: Theft powers the moral universe of daily Chicago life we see in Widows: innocent lives are snuffed out by gunfire; public resources are funnelled through nefarious means; land rites and business arrangements are finessed by ruthless violence and political favor-trading; and, to top it off, there's a carefully planned heist at the center of the story. Some characters, like Colin Farrell's oily alderman candidate, are motivated by pride; others, like Cynthia Erivo's babysitter-turned-getaway-driver, by economic scarcity. Occasionally, it feels like McQueen, an exacting stylist capable of turning scenes of rote exposition into clever examinations of race and class, is more interested in exploring the larger moral questions than the relationships or the genre details. To put it lightly, he has a heavy touch. But the makeshift gang formed by former teachers union rep Veronica Rawlings (Davis) after her master thief husband (Liam Neeson) is killed in a robbery-gone-wrong is a joy to root for and the script, which McQueen adapted from an '80s British television series with novelist Gillian Flynn, is tricked out with pulpy flourishes, genuinely surprising plot twists, and caustic wit to spare. In an era of over-praised TV series that could afford to lose an episode (or eight), this sprawling and tough-minded crime saga knows just how to get out when the heat is around the corner.  
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

4. First Reformed

Released: May 18
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles, Victoria Hill
Director: Paul Schrader (Dog Eat Dog)
Why it’s great: With this austere story of a pastor suffering a crisis of faith, writer and director Paul Schrader is back in familiar territory: His most acclaimed work as a screenwriter, 1976's Taxi Driver, was a violent, disturbing portrait of a man consumed with guilt, rage, and indignation at the state of the world. First Reformed, which finds Hawke's troubled man of the cloth Toller advising a young environmental activist and eventually becoming obsessed with his righteous cause, examines ideas Schrader has returned to over and over, but it's shot and edited in a more controlled, restrained stylistic register than his previous movies. He's using the toolkit he first studied as a critic in his book, Transcendental Style in Film, applying the approach of masters like Robert Bresson and Theodor Dreyer to contemporary anxieties, obsessions, and debates. It's a movie that seeks to, in Schrader's own words, "maximize the mystery of existence" and it accomplishes its mission with rigor and, in its final moments, shocking power.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Amazon Prime; rent on iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

3. The Rider

Released: April 13
Cast: Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Cat Clifford
Director: Chloé Zhao (Songs That My Brothers Taught Me)
Why it’s great: The gritty authenticity of The Rider, which casts real-life horse wrangler Brady Jandreau as an injured rodeo star trying to find his second act, is perfectly balanced by a yearning poetic quality that never feels cloying or manipulative. Zhao's camera captures Jandreau, his family, and his friends in moments of pain, contemplation, and relaxation, treating a trip to a treatment center or a shared joint with the same degree of curiosity. Everything matters and has weight in this study of masculinity and ego. It's a naturalistic vision of the West that's grounded in specific details, like the slow-and-steady work of breaking a horse. At the same time, Zhao gives the movie an almost old-fashioned sports movie narrative: Will Brady, a gifted and young athlete, ever ride again? If he doesn't follow his dreams, what remains? Why keep going? These are questions that gather existential power with each seemingly low-stakes scene.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

2. If Beale Street Could Talk

Released: December 14
Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Teyonah Parris
Director: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
Why it’s great: The close-ups of faces in If Beale Street Could Talk, director Barry Jenkins's adaptation of the James Baldwin novel of the same name, feel like they have the power to stop time. The eyes stare back at you, the music swells, and the world drops away. That makes sense since the couple in the film's story, Tish (Layne) and Fonny (James), are so in love, so connected on a deep level, that their relationship serves as a bulwark against institutional racism and familial forces that attempt to keep them apart. But the empathy of the movie's gaze doesn't just extend to the two stars at its center: In thrilling, tantalizing detours we spend time with Tish's watchful mother (King, who won Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars for her role) and Fonny's old friend (Atlanta's Brian Tyree Henry). These wounded, wise characters build out the larger world of early 1970s Harlem, one filled with wonder and cruelty, that Jenkins is evoking. It's a rigorously enveloping, surprisingly funny film that rivals recent period dramas like Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread and Todd Haynes's Carol in its resplendent beauty and insight into the psychological turmoil of desire. 
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

1. You Were Never Really Here

Released: April 6
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman
Director: Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin)
Why it’s great:


The Ten Best Films of 2018


The Editors

As one of our greatest poets once sang, the times they are a-changin'. While certain film institutions seem intent on defying the incurrence of streaming cinema, Netflix had their best year to date, releasing three of what we consider the greatest movies of 2018, and landing the top two spots. How this will impact moviemaking going forward isn’t clear yet, but it almost certainly will. Once again, our list is a wonderful blend of new voices like those of Boots Riley and Sandi Tan, alongside that of established veterans like Spike Lee and Alfonso Cuarón. We chose films from around the world this year, including entries from Korea, Poland, Mexico, and an anthology about the Old West. From documentary to comedy, drama to Western, Paul Schrader to James Baldwin—this may be our most diverse list to date, indicating the breadth of great art we saw in 2018. 

About the rankings: We asked our regular film critics and assistant editors to submit top ten lists from this great year, and then consolidated them with a traditional points system—10 points for #1, 9 points for #2, etc.—resulting in the list below, with a new entry for each awarded film. We’ll publish each critic’s individual list as the week goes on. Come back for more.

10. “Cold War”

Inside the Iron Curtain of the 1950s, a rising composer named Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and his producer, Irena (Agata Kulesza), scour the Polish countrysides and mountaintops for folk songs to bring back to Soviet bloc cities. While auditioning peasant singers to perform these folk numbers on tour, Wiktor’s eyes meet those of a confident and mysterious blond, Zula (Joanna Kulig). He’s quickly taken with her bold presence, and she soon follows his lead into a tempestuous relationship that will stretch years, borders and other partners. 

There may only be a handful of times in life you lock eyes with someone like Wiktor and Zula do in Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War.” You remember where you two met in that moment, what that person wore, who else was there and how you hung on their every word as you tried to hide how intensely you both looked at each other. Some details of the day fade, others grow sharper as you replay the scene over and over—even if that person is no longer in your life. 

Beyond its lovestruck appeal, the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography of “Cold War” enchants viewers with dazzling compositions, bringing intimate moments to an epic scale. Almost every note of the movie’s eclectic soundtrack—which ranges from forlorn Polish folk tunes to sultry French jazz—aches as much as the lovers’ wistful stares. They are echoes of the way Humphrey Bogart looked at Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca,” how Omar Sharif looked at Julie Christie in “Doctor Zhivago” and the glances Maggie Cheung gave Tony Leung during “In the Mood for Love.” 

Under the lens of an unromantic reality, it’s possible to view these two lovers as mere hopeless mismatches. But in Pawlikowski’s film, there is a tragic beauty in Wiktor and Zula’s doomed-to-fail love. "Cold War" sympathizes with those who know it is a blessing and a curse to have feelings outlive an affair. (Monica Castillo)

9. “Burning”

Cats. Wells. Borders. Victims. Killers. There is a lot that’s indistinct and even invisible in the discomforting thriller “Burning” from South Korean director Lee Chang-dong. Loosely based on Barn Burning, a short story by Haruki Murakami, “Burning” rises from the ashes of unspoken battles and deeply held grudges between friends, genders and those that dwell on the opposite sides of the socio-economic tracks so casually that you wonder for a while where this devious suspense, co-written by Lee and Jungmi Oh, might take you. Trust me when I say, it will neither escort you somewhere commonplace nor answer your burning questions like an ordinary movie would—this elegantly calibrated chiller led by a pitch-perfect ensemble is more about the search amid blurring boundaries than reaching an orderly conclusion.

It all begins by a chance encounter that unfolds as uneventfully as any pivotal occurrence that would follow it. Working as a promo rep handing out raffle tickets, the young, bouncy Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jeon) spots and greets the aspiring writer Jong-su (Ah-In Yoo), a guy she knew from childhood. He doesn’t remember her, so she randomly mentions she’s had plastic surgery for beauty. Boyish to an extreme, awkward and clearly taken by Hae-mi, Jong-su follows her into her tiny rental room where the two have sex after Hae-mi (again, abruptly) reminds him he once called her ugly. Taking care of his burdened father’s farm close to the North Korea border, Jong-su finds his bliss cut short when Hae-mi leaves for an overseas trip, asks him to feed her cat Boil in her absence and comes back with the handsome, wealthy and enigmatic Ben (Steven Yeun) who seems to be everything Jong-su is not. Ben lives in an expensive apartment, drives a Porsche and (to Jong-su’s intense distaste) listens to music while cooking pasta.

A virtuoso of slow-burns (“Secret Sunshine” and “Poetry” among them), Lee Chang-dong patiently folds in mysteries as well as themes around gender and social class into “Burning,” while occasionally playing up a comedic tone that strengthens the unclassifiable nature of the film. Is the arsonist womanizer Ben a version of Patrick Bateman driven to insanity by capitalism? Does Hae-mi really have a cat or is she settling scores with the boy who was once cruel to her? Does Jong-su suffer from an overambitious writer’s imagination or is Ben’s uncanny smile really as condescending as it looks? When Jong-su acts upon his justified instincts on a bitterly cold, snow-covered day, you will inhale the frosty air with shivers down your spine, feeling only certain that “Burning” is one of those all-timers that begs to be re-watched repeatedly; a true one-of-a-kind with a lot on its mind. And Steven Yeun? His dismissive yawning is the stuff of (alleged) villains for the ages. (Tomris Laffly)

8. “BlacKkKlansman”

Every scene in “BlacKkKlansman” is practically watermarked with “A Spike Lee Joint” in the bottom right corner. This true story is the perfect vehicle for Lee's penchant for hilariously pitch black humor and it also allows him to settle an old score. Taking Godard’s advice about using a new movie to criticize another movie, Lee aims squarely at D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” ridiculing it relentlessly wherever appropriate. Not only does the film appear as a snarky punchline during a Klan rally, Lee also uses Griffith’s own devices against him by structuring Ron Stallworth’s last reel race against time as a thrilling, Klan-centric montage that serves as a corrective to Griffith’s racist imagery. This sequence deviates from the real-life story Lee is telling, so it was deemed controversial. Surely Lee relished the thought of this perception. Because when Griffith dabbled in propaganda, it was “history written with lightning.” When Lee mocked that dabbling, it was heresy written with politics. And it was just as effective!

John David Washington and Adam Driver give stellar performances, though the latter is surprisingly the film’s biggest proponent of identity introspection. While Washington hides his identity behind a telephone and a voice, Driver hides his in plain sight, thereby incurring more collateral damage. And though the plot comments on racism and anti-Semitism, Lee builds a reality-based trap door into his cinematic contraption, one that opens as soon as he invokes his trademark people mover shot. Suddenly, we’re thrust into the terrifying, present day fate that befell Heather Heyer, whose appearance at the Charlottesville protest ended with her death. This real-life footage is a provocation, but it’s one bursting with truth about the state of racism in America and is therefore not exploitative. Lee dedicated “BlacKkKlansman” to Heyer, and the film’s rise in the award season coincides with the recent guilty verdict delivered to the man who killed her. This is one of Lee's most urgent and timely films. It's also one of his best. (Odie Henderson)

7. “Annihilation”

In 2018, Stanley Kubrick’s landmark science fiction film “2001: A Space Odyssey” turned 50. That same year, writer-director Alex Garland released “Annihilation,” a rare film that lives up to the totality of what made “2001” so revered and valuable, rather than merely imitating certain aspects of its design, structure, or tone. It’s one of the great science fiction films of recent years, easily the equal of “Ex Machina,” “Arrival,” “Under the Skin” and “Blade Runner 2049,” and superior to all of them (except “Under the Skin”) in one respect: it encourages multiple interpretations and deeply personal responses, while waving off any attempt to simplistically “explain” what the audience has seen. Adapted from the first of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach novels, the movie is structured as a series of discrete set pieces, complete with Kubrickian chapter titles (a la “The Shining” as well as “2001”). If you watch it more than once—as you should; it deepens with every viewing—you start to see it as a set of thought prompts rather than a traditional narrative, though one that’s anchored to strong, simple characterizations and full performances.

The heroine is Army soldier turned biologist Lena (Natalie Portman), whose husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) went missing for a year during a top secret mission, then briefly, miraculously returned to her shortly before puking up blood and being rushed to the intensive care unit at a top secret research facility in a swamp near the Florida coastline. The area was impacted by a meteor that created a “Shimmer”—a demarcated zone where the rules of evolution seem to have gone haywire, integrating the DNA of plants, mammals and reptiles that were thought incompatible, and killing off all the members of expeditions sent to explore the place (Kane is the only survivor, though we immediately sense that the person returned from the Shimmer isn’t actually Kane). Lena joins up with four other women—Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), Radek (Tessa Thompson), and Sheppard (Tuva Novotny)—to journey into the Shimmer and attempt to understand it.

But there are limits to understanding, and the key to the excellence of Garland’s film is its determination to pose questions without supplying answers. I hosted a screening of the film back in March—my third viewing—and discussed it with the audience afterward, and together we came up with at least nine different answers to the question, “What is this movie about?”

It’s possible to piece together what happened, event-wise, to everyone in the expedition, and how one event might’ve led to another, culminating in the finale, an audacious two-character confrontation that feels like a cross between a modern dance performance and a spectral assault. But once you’ve done that, you’re still left with the question of what it all meant, and you’re on your own. Which is as it should be, because in life, you’re on your own, too. (Matt Zoller Seitz)

6. “Shirkers”

One indication of why this is a near-great film: although it is a relatively straightforward and coherent narrative account—albeit one so surprising as to be, weirdly, equally exhilarating as it is upsetting—almost everyone who watches it has a different idea of its theme. Is it about toxic males holding women down? The challenges facing a female artist? The difficulty of making art in Singapore?

Sandi Tan’s documentary memoir/detective story cannily maintains a core pose of modesty while insinuatingly exploring a series of big ideas. Serving as her own narrator, Tan tells of her 1990s time as an artistically ambitious teen in Singapore, under the spell of maverick filmmakers like David Lynch and believing she had found a cinematic partner in crime with an older man from the States, a teacher and self-styled would-be auteur named Georges Cardona. Sandi forges alliances with the smaller-than-a-handful number of like-minded conspirators on her not-yet-economically-booming island to make her film. A film that Cardona absconds with, leaving behind no explanation or apology.

The rediscovery of the footage in 2010 made this movie possible. But it didn’t determine this movie’s power. Even if it took Tan several decades to realize it, “Shirkers” proves her a born moviemaker. (Glenn Kenny)

5. “If Beale Street Could Talk”

When I interviewed writer/director Barry Jenkins about “Moonlight,” we talked about the movie’s haunting score, composed by Nicholas Britell. “Many directors would use songs of the era to place the audience in the film’s three time periods,” I said. “Two things,” he replied. “First, we could not afford the rights to those songs. But more important, I believe these characters deserve a full orchestral score.”

I thought of those words as I watched Jenkins’ latest film, “If Beale Street Could Talk,” based on the 1974 novel by James Baldwin. Or, I should say, it did not feel like I was watching the film. It was more like I was immersed in it. The entire theme of the movie could be, “These characters deserve a full orchestral score” along with the highest level of every other creative and aesthetic element available to a filmmaker, from Baldwin’s lyrical words to the luscious cinematography of “Moonlight’s” James Laxton, another gorgeous score by Britell, and performances of infinite sensitivity and humanity.

“If Beale Street Could Talk” succeeds brilliantly at one of cinema’s most central functions: a love story with sizzling chemistry between two impossibly beautiful people. Stephan James (“Race”) and newcomer KiKi Layne are 2018’s most compelling romantic couple. Their relationship is in every way the heart of this story, the reason we feel so sharply about the injustice that befalls James' Fonny, the film's most undeniable signifier of generations of institutional racism. We see that most powerfully when Regina King, as the girl’s mother, looks in the mirror as she prepares like a matador entering the bullring for a meeting that could make all the difference for the couple. She cannot expect much, but she has to try. Throughout the movie, there is resignation and there are diminished hopes but there is also resilience. And “Beale Street” reminds us that there is also undiminished and imperishable love: romantic love, the love of parents and siblings, even an unexpected encounter with a warmhearted landlord. There is the love Baldwin and Jenkins have for these characters. And, most of all, it reminds us that this is a story that deserves to be told with the best that movies have to offer, including a full orchestral score. (Nell Minow)

4. “First Reformed”

Ethan Hawke just gets better with age, as he casts aside the boyish good looks and swaggering sense of rebellion that made him both a superstar and an indie darling in the 1990s for more mature, fascinatingly flawed characters. He's well into his 40s now and letting the passage of time show on his face, in his demeanor and in the complicated men he's choosing to play on screen. In Paul Schrader, Hawke is ideally matched with a filmmaker whose own work has only grown deeper and more resonant over the past several decades. "First Reformed" feels like a culmination of sorts for both the writer/director and his star. It has echoes of past efforts from both while it also wrestles with bracingly contemporary themes of personal responsibility, stewardship and activism. 

Hawke stars as Reverend Ernst Toller, a country priest in upstate New York whose involvement in the lives of a married couple in his congregation steadily causes him to lose his grip. With heavy shades of the iconic character he created in Travis Bickle, Schrader vividly presents a man who's grappling with reality and his perceived role within it. He says so much within the film's quiet stillness and precise austerity as well as with masterful narration that offers a glaring contrast between Toller's journals and the truth. "First Reformed" represents the best work of Hawke's lengthy and eclectic career, and it's a welcome return to form for the veteran Schrader. But it also allows Amanda Seyfried to show a dramatic depth we haven't seen from her before as the woman who could be Toller's salvation or his undoing. That sense of ambiguity only becomes more gripping as the film progresses, leading to an ending that's boldly open for interpretation but is undeniably daring and haunting. (Christy Lemire)

3. “Sorry to Bother You”

Like many good dark comedies (ex: "Office Space," "Bamboozled") the hysterically caustic "Sorry to Bother You" feels like a full-blown panic attack. The film's class conscious anxiety (and mordant sense of optimism) is also contagious, as it is in movies like "Starship Troopers" and "Putney Swope." 

With "Sorry to Bother You," writer/director Boots Riley takes credible, if pointedly exaggerated sources of social, racial, and economic tension and exaggerates them beyond the realm of our known experiences. At the same time: Riley's thrillingly inventive conception of the rise-fall-rise-fall-and-rise-again character arc of call center worker drone Cassius "Cash" Green (an incredible Lakeith Stanfield) always feels real enough, even when it takes a hard turn into (what is currently) the realm of science-fiction.

In that sense: "Sorry to Bother You" is also a great American social critique (ex: "A Face in the Crowd," "Idiocracy") since it teaches viewers how to watch it. Riley handily realizes Francois Truffaut's goal of introducing four ideas per minute—and they're each fully-realized and easily understood. That's a major talent when your film essentially weaponizes audience surrogate Cash's relatability. We grow more and more aware of the unbearable heaviness of Cash's existence as a young, black, and talented man. First he stops thinking of himself as a barnacle on an unfathomable ship of industry and starts to see himself as a major player. Then he stops letting himself be seduced by the trappings of his newfound financial success and starts to focus on the application of his talents. Finally, Cash stops fooling himself into thinking that he's just a messenger of utilitarian progress and becomes a victim of his own self-deluded progress. But by then it's too late. Or not. It's late, but it ain't never. (Simon Abrams)

2. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

Like so much of the best work of Joel & Ethan Coen, their latest film is a tough one to describe. On the surface, it’s an old-fashioned anthology piece, a reworking of what was once an iddea for a TV series into a collection of Old West vignettes, playing out like a storybook. But that sells it short. It sells short how each narrative feels like it flows into the next. It sells short the mastery of tone both within each individual story and tying together the overall piece. It sells short the way the Coens intertwine their vision of the Old West with a dissection on the very practice of storytelling and their roles as beloved storytellers themselves. And it sells short the incredible individual pleasures within each of the six short films, all of them bursting with gorgeous cinematography, memorable performances, and fascinating subtext. It’s the best western in years because it’s both completely knowledgeable about the tropes of the genre and able to subvert them at the same time.

Take the opening short, the one that gives the film its name. A singing cowboy plods through the desert, warbling a tune to the rhythm of his horse’s footsteps. He speaks directly to the camera, showing us that he’s been labeled a misanthrope—a title that has been incorrectly applied to the Coens’ dark sense of humor on more than one occasion. This leads one to presume that what follows is designed to defy or subvert that label. But that’s not really what happens. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is constantly going left when you expect it to go right—and then making you feel dumb for thinking it would ever go right.

It’s also a fascinating dissection of death—from enemies, former friends, and even by one’s own hand. Death comes for everyone. It’s a theme woven through all six vignettes, and it’s telling that the final piece is about a pair of men who distract their targets with stories. If filmmakers have ever put themselves on screen more bluntly, I can’t think of when. While the story is unfolding, there’s something else happening underneath or off to the side. Joel and Ethan Coen are two of our most impressive cinematic magicians. You’re so carefully enjoying what one hand does that you don’t realize how much they’re doing with the other one until it's over. And then you just want to watch it all over again. (Brian Tallerico)

1. “Roma”

Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma" takes place in the Mexico City neighborhood where he grew up in the 1970s. Filmed in vivid black-and-white (Cuarón shot it himself), "Roma" features long long takes, the camera moving horizontally through a house, across fields, into the sea, down city streets, creating a sense of reality so intense it almost tips over into dream. The film's central figure is Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a Mixtec woman working for an upper-class family as a nanny and a maid (she is based on the woman who raised Cuarón). Surrounding Cleo is a world of political upheaval, seething student protests, marital strife, economic stresses, and cops in riot gear. In another film, these events would be center stage, but in "Roma," they drift in the background, seen through windows, heard through open doors, as Cleo strolls by, or around, trying to manage her own life, enduring stress and doing her best. "Roma" is pierced with issues of class, privilege, ethnicity, and resurrects a time and place, a whole era, with details that sometimes overwhelm, like a wave roaring into shore. Swarms of extras live out their lives in complicated vignettes unfurling behind the action, seen briefly as the camera moves by, gone in a flash. The city, the house, the village, all bristle with life. This is a very personal film for Cuarón, and "Roma" is both a determined act of memory and a work of powerful tribute. (Sheila O’Malley)

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2018 Movies

April 2018 Movies

April 2018's best movies were Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, Avengers: Infinity War, The Miracle Season and Disobedience.



Universal Pictures




Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures




Warner Bros. Pictures


Sun Dogs


Netflix Originals




Bleecker Street



Based on Game

Warner Bros. Pictures




Prankster Entertainment


The Rider


Sony Pictures Classics




Strand Releasing








Archstone Distribution




1091 (formerly The Orchard)




GVN Releasing


May 2018 Movies

May 2018's best movies were The 12th Man, Pope Francis - A Man of His Word, Book Club and The Son of Bigfoot.



Focus Features




Magnolia Pictures




Gravitas Ventures

Los Angeles

My Son


Cohen Media Group




RLJ Entertainment




Roadside Attractions


Book Club


Paramount Pictures


Show Dogs


Global Road Entertainment




Netflix Originals


June 2018 Movies

June 2018's best movies were Intersection, Zoo, The Incredibles 2 and Superfly.



OTL Releasing








Samuel Goldwyn Films




Samuel Goldwyn Films




Bleecker Street




Warner Bros. Pictures




Vertical Entertainment


Set It Up

Romantic Comedy

Netflix Originals




Syfy Films




Kino Lorber


July 2018 Movies

July 2018's best movies were Teen Titans GO To the Movies, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!, The Equalizer 2 and Mission: Impossible - Fallout.



Miramax Films




Saban Films




Amazon Studios

VOD / Digital



Sony Pictures Classics


August 2018 Movies

August 2018's best movies were Death of a Nation, Papillon, Disney's Christopher Robin and The Darkest Minds.

The Wife


Sony Pictures Classics


Dog Days

Romantic Comedy

LD Entertainment


The Meg


Warner Bros. Pictures




Sony Pictures




IFC Films




Gravitas Ventures




Warner Bros. Pictures




Global Road Entertainment




RLJ Entertainment



Cinephilia is a year-round condition, and it peaks, as always, with our final tally for the year’s finest movies. Over the past twelve months, a wide range of stellar offerings have illustrated that, no matter the genre, potential greatness abounds at both the multiplex and the art house. It’s been a packed year marked by superb dramas, comedies, thrillers, and documentaries from established auteurs and promising newcomers. Their works suggest that, be it on the big screen or via streaming services, the medium’s future is in excellent hands. Nonetheless, what matters now is the present, and to that end, these are our picks for the best films of 2018.

25The Mule

In his first performance in six years, Clint Eastwood brings an elegiac gracefulness and good humor—not to mention defiant toughness—to the role of a 90-year-old flower aficionado named Earl who opts to work as a drug runner in The Mule. Eastwood’s lined visage and creaky comportment can’t dull his fiery spirit in this based-on-real-events drama, which finds the Hollywood icon amusingly raging against modernity’s Internet-and-smartphone addictions, even as his down-on-his-luck character grapples with the familial cost of putting personal obsessions above all else. Pursued by Bradley Cooper’s ambitious DEA agent, who’s similarly striving to meet the requirements of a demanding boss (Laurence Fishburne), Eastwood’s protagonist proves another one of his broken-down big-screen warriors. Full of ladies’ man charm and self-deprecating wit, his turn is as assured as his typically efficient direction, which balances suspense and poignancy with aplomb. It’s further confirmation that the legendary filmmaker hasn’t lost his nimble, self-referential touch.

24I Am Not a Witch


In Zambia, women are still accused of being witches—and then sent to live in camps, forced to perform manual labor, and (most stunning of all) compelled to preside over criminal trials, where they’re supposed to use their supernatural powers to make judgments. This insane real-life scenario is brought to bleakly satiric life by I Am Not a Witch, Rungano Nyoni’s directorial debut about a young girl dubbed Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) whose world is turned upside-down after authorities determine she’s a witch. Under the guidance of government official Mr. Banda (Henry B.J. Phiri), Shula embarks on an odyssey that’s littered with indignities and absurdities, including appearing on a TV talk show where she’s asked to hawk magic “Shula eggs” to the audience like an infomercial huckster. Set to an eclectic score (sharp strings, harsh noise) that’s sometimes at odds with the action, Nyoni’s drama—playing like a droll, horrifying 21st century riff on The Crucible—is a startlingly inventive story about modern institutionalized misogyny.

23The Favourite


Yorgos Lanthimos’s fascination with hermetically sealed social units is again explored in The Favourite, albeit this time in an unlikely setting—the 18th century court of England’s Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). In her luxurious abode, the ill health-plagued monarch is aided in her duties by doting best friend/lover Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), whose adoration is designed for maximum manipulation. Their bond is shaken by the arrival of Sarah’s cousin Abigail Masham (Emma Stone), whose attempts to rise from her lowly position and usurp Anne’s affections leads to a backstabbing battle with Sarah that’s intertwined with the country’s dilemma over whether to continue pursuing war with France or, per conniving opposition leader Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), settle for peace. Lanthimos’s fisheye-lensed cinematography presents this opulent milieu as warped and deranged, and his comic characterization of his players—who entertain themselves by racing ducks and throwing fruit at naked men—augments the action’s eccentric satire. His three female leads, meanwhile, are equally tremendous: pitiful and bitter Colman, cunning and ruthless Weisz, and clever and amoral Stone.

22Mission: Impossible – Fallout


Tom Cruise risks life and limb—literally, in many instances—for his sixth go-round as Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the finest action film since 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. In writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s adrenalized espionage thriller, Hunt is tasked with recovering a trio of plutonium cores while juggling his relationships with colleagues (Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin), alluring spy Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), and former wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan)—not to mention CIA-assigned assassin August Walker (Henry Cavill), who has orders to kill Hunt should he stray from his assignment. That intertwining of the personal and professional provides a sturdy backbone for a series of set pieces that, especially in IMAX, are nothing short of astonishing. McQuarrie begins with a slam-bang bathroom brawl and then continually ups the eye-opening ante, culminating with an aerial showdown between Hunt and Walker aboard helicopters that establishes Cruise, and the series, as the reigning kings of Hollywood spectacle.

21Bisbee ’17

In 1917, the sheriff of Bisbee, Arizona—a remote mountain-nestled enclave then known for its wealth of copper—rounded up the town’s striking German and Mexican miners and, with the aid of a 2,000-man posse, took them out to the desert and left them there, never to be seen or thought about again. Robert Greene’s daring and dexterous Bisbee ’17 refuses to consign those unjustly persecuted victims to the forgotten realms of history, instead using traditional documentary footage and dramatic reenactments—often taking the surprising form of musical numbers—to revisit that calamitous event. As in his prior Actress and Kate Plays Christine, Greene’s blending of fiction and non-fiction techniques is accomplished, and results in an insightful investigation into race relations, class conflicts, and the nature of memory. A mournful ghost story that doubles as an act of resurrection and reclamation, it’s a saga about past crimes with undeniable present relevance.


The angry disaffection of South Korean youth, and the sinister trouble it can breed, is the focus of Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, which melds suspense and social commentary to eerie effect. Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo) is a delivery boy whose heart is enflamed after a run-in with beautiful Haemi (Jong-seo Jun), a former classmate he can’t remember. After having Jong-su catsit for her while she visits Africa, Haemi returns with a new friend in tow—wealthy, suave Ben (Steven Yuen), whose intrusion into their budding romance frustrates the jealous Jong-su. While that set-up suggests a love triangle drama, what ensues is something far more beguiling, as Haemi goes missing and Ben expounds on his fondness for setting rural greenhouses on fire. Thrust into the role of detective, Jong-su searches for Haemi but, as with her cat (which is never seen), he finds few answers to his questions about anyone or anything. Led by terrific turns from Yoo and Yuen, Lee’s latest is an ambiguous examination of class, envy, and the unknowable mysteries of the world.

19Leave No Trace


Eight years after her last fictional feature (2010’s Winter’s Bone) introduced the world to Jennifer Lawrence, writer-director Debra Granik returns with Leave No Trace, a pensive, prickly character study about a father (Ben Foster) and daughter (newcomer Thomasin McKenzie) living off the grid, illegally, in Pacific Northwest national forests. Once again teaming with co-screenwriter Anne Rosellini and cinematographer Michael McDonough (this time on an adaptation of Peter Rock’s novel My Abandonment), Granik details the ins and outs of her characters’ isolated circumstances while plumbing the trauma that’s driven Foster’s dad to retreat from society—and the tension that develops between him and his daughter, who finds it difficult to assume her father’s grievances (and, thus, lifestyle). There’s no judgment here, just empathetic curiosity about unique lives situated on society’s fringe—as well as some wonderful acting from a silently tormented Foster and a confused and brave McKenzie in a sterling debut performance.

18A Prayer Before Dawn


Thai prisons are best avoided at all costs, and Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s adaptation of Billy Moore’s autobiography is disturbing proof of that fact. After a life of selling (and abusing) drugs lands him in the notorious “Bangkok Hilton,” boxer Moore (Joe Cole) struggles to survive a new world for which he’s not prepared. Acts of rape and violence are omnipresent in this ramshackle environment, which Sauvaire dramatizes through blistering handheld cinematography and jarring sound design, replete with Thai dialogue that’s left un-subtitled for maximum disorientation. Tracing Moore’s rocky path from wanton self-destruction to uneasy transcendence, the film is as unsentimental as it is brutal, especially in its pugilistic sequences, which the director shoots with an astounding measure of up-close-and-personal viciousness and an apparent lack of choreography, as combatants wail on each other with reckless abandon. Cole’s go-for-broke performance as this out-of-control man—all crazy-eyed desolation and battering-ram physicality—is the stuff that turns actors into stars.

17The Endless


Indie directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s first two features, 2012’s Resolution and 2014’s Spring, were an idiosyncratic blend of indie character drama and supernatural menace and madness. That mix is even more apparent in their excellent third feature, which charts the odyssey of two brothers (played by Benson and Moorhead) as they make a return visit to the remote California UFO sex cult that they first fled—under controversial, and headline-making, circumstances—years earlier. Existing in the same fictional cine-verse as their low-budget debut, The Endless generates unease, and then dawning terror, from its raft of beguiling mysteries, which, from a simple starting point, spiral outward in an increasingly all-consuming manner. Yet no matter its gradual descent into unreal terrain, its primary focus remains the fraught relationship between its sibling protagonists, whose push-pull rapport is central to the film’s overarching and affecting examination of conformity, rebellion, and the insidious cycles (of thought, and behavior) that threaten to trap us where we stand.

16Paddington 2


A superior slice of children’s entertainment, Paul King’s sequel to 2015’s Paddington is a sheer joy, infused with comic inspiration and irresistible sweetness. In this second series installment based on the stories of author Michael Bond, the perpetually hatted Paddington (voiced by Ben Wishaw) winds up in prison after he’s framed for the theft of an elaborate pop-up book that he planned to purchase for his dear Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton)—a crime that’s actually been perpetrated by a faded local actor (and master of disguise) played, to cartoonish perfection, by Hugh Grant. The set pieces are uniformly inventive, the hybrid live-action/CGI aesthetics are superb, and the supporting cast—including Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, and Peter Capaldi—is across-the-board fantastic. Only the hardest of hearts could resist its good-natured charm, epitomized by its sincere belief (advocated by Paddington himself) that the key to improving the world (and ourselves) is compassion, affection, politeness, and positivity



Leon Vitali delivered a star-making turn as Lord Bullingdon in Stanley Kubrick’s 1975 period-piece Barry Lyndon. After that performance, however, the actor opted to become his director’s right-hand man—a position he would hold until Kubrick’s death in 1999. Filmworker, Tony Zierra’s outstanding documentary about Vitali, is a portrait of a man who subsumed his own priorities and personality in order to be whatever his employer required, which in this case included operating as an acting coach, a script supervisor, an exacting technician, and an advertising manager. A study of obsessive devotion and self-destruction, Zierra’s film conveys the round-the-clock arduousness of assisting a perfectionist like Kubrick, and the toll such employment took on Vitali’s health and relationship with his family. Now an apprentice without a master, Vitali proves a complex figure of commitment taken to a crazy extreme—as well as an intriguing artist in his own right, whose recognition for the work he did alongside the 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining auteur remains long overdue.

14The Ballad of Buster Scruggs


A bountiful anthology of Western tales from Joel and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs lavishes the classical genre with love while nonetheless dissecting it with a sharp analytical eye. Laced with a fatalism that’s emblematic of their finest work, the Coens’ six tales progress from jaunty to gloomy, although there’s plenty of humor and pessimism to be found in each of these captivating installments. From James Franco’s desperado trying to rob a remote prairie bank and Tom Waits’s prospector searching for gold, to Liam Neeson’s showman endeavoring to make a living with an armless-and-legless performer, and Zoe Kazan’s single woman struggling to survive during a wagon-train trip across the plains, the absurd and the mournful constantly converge in unanticipated and striking ways. That’s most true of the dazzling opening salvo, in which Tim Blake Nelson’s crooning gunslinger Buster Scruggs proves a simultaneous homage to, and critique of, the Roy Rogers archetype—and, by extension, the myths of the West it helped beget.

1324 Frames

Before passing away in 2016 at the age of 76, Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami completed work on this, his final film, an experimental documentary that serves as a melancholy meditation on mortality and the moving image. As original as it is striking, 24 Frames features twenty-four scenes, each containing a still photograph taken by Kiarostami (save for the opening shot of Pieter Bruegel’s 1565 painting The Hunters in the Snow) that then slowly comes to animated life courtesy of sly digital effects that cause animals to run, clouds to roll by, and smoke to billow from chimneys. By lingering on each of these sights as they spring into action, the director situates viewers in a trancelike realm. While no overt commentary is offered, the repetition of objects, figures, and rhythms soon convey the project’s underlying fascination with issues of loneliness, compassion, romance, and the inexorable forward march of time—a subject that, in the end, reveals Kiarostami’s swan song as a moving treatise on his, and mankind’s, fundamental impermanence.



Life on the margins is imagined in multifaceted terms by Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda in Shoplifters, an achingly empathetic story about a makeshift Japanese household that steals to survive. Living in the home of their granny, a couple decides to add to their brood by taking in a young girl being neglected by her own parents. The precise reality of this clan’s circumstances—and composition—is, for a long stretch, shrouded in mystery. Nevertheless, hints provided along the way suggest that their bond has been forged less by biology than by their shared suffering and love for each other. The director so expertly evokes the intricacies of his central relationships that, when revelations ultimately do arrive, they resound with seismic force, especially given that they’re wholly in tune with his larger inquiry into the nature of family. At the same time, his depiction of these people’s daily turmoil, bliss, and sorrow (as during a shattering close-up single-take toward film’s end) is steeped in overwhelming compassion for their complicated plight.

11A Private War


Rosamund Pike gives the performance of the year in A Private War, exuding a thorny mixture of fierce determination and PTSD-fueled torment as real-life war correspondent Marie Colvin, who perished during Syria’s Siege of Homs in 2012. Directed by Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land, City of Ghosts), this jagged, riveting drama details the acclaimed career of Colvin, whose fearless expeditions to global hot-spots to capture the human face of war took an immense toll on her psyche. Donning the reporter’s signature eye patch and speaking in her gravelly voice, Pike brilliantly evokes the messy contradictions of Colvin’s life—her bravery, her instability, and her dogged desire to make people care about the world’s horrors as much as she did. Her performance is matched by the direction of Heineman, who employs a fractured editorial structure and tragic up-close-and-personal warfare imagery in order to carry on Colvin’s mission of making the political deeply personal. In an age in which the media is under increasing attack, it’s a bracing and timely portrait of journalistic courage and sacrifice.

10Thunder Road


Thunder Road begins with a ten-minute single-take scene of such cringe-worthy humor and wrenching pathos that it’s a borderline miracle the film manages to live up to it. That it certainly does, as writer-director-star Jim Cummings’s first feature deftly navigates the uneasy tragicomic territory inhabited by its main character, Texas police officer Jim Arnaud. Reeling from the death of his mother (whose funeral is the setting for the aforementioned opener), and coping with an impending divorce from his ex (Jocelyn DeBoer) and the cold-shoulder treatment from his fourth-grader daughter (Kendal Farr), Jim begins to lose it at home and at work, this despite the best efforts of his kindhearted partner (Nican Robinson). Cummings’s expertly calibrated turn moves between heartbreaking and absurd at a moment’s notice, providing an unvarnished snapshot of one angry, unstable but good-natured man’s grief-stricken disintegration. It’s a film that knows what it’s like to feel as if your world is falling apart, and the difficulty of making it—and yourself, and your family—whole again.

9Eighth Grade


Teenagerdom is tough, and Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade captures the difficult ups and downs of that universal experience with amusing and moving realism. Elsie Fisher is a revelation as thirteen-year-old Kayla, whose day-to-day existence on the cusp of middle school graduation is defined by social media, squabbles with her single dad (Josh Hamilton), and social anxiety and ostracism. Burnham’s plot is littered with specific bits that anyone who is (or is living with someone) this age will recognize as spot-on (“LeBron James!”). More compelling still is his depiction of social media’s role in kids’ process of self-definition, of girls’ awkward and often unpleasant first forays into romantic and sexual territory, and of the peer pressure-created insecurities that complicate one’s maturation (and relationship with parents). Unvarnished to the point of sometimes being outright discomfiting, it recognizes how tough it is to figure out who you are—and locates hope in the knowledge that that process continues long after you’ve moved on to high school.



Ten years after The Headless Woman, Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel returns with another mesmeric reverie: Zama, an adaptation of Antonio di Benedetto’s 1956 novel about an 18th century Spanish official, Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho), stuck in a Paraguay River outpost from which he cannot escape. Awash in existential doubt and despair, Zama tends to mundane magisterial tasks, flirts with a noblewoman (Lola Dueñas), and vainly requests transfer back home to see his wife and kids—the last of which is pointedly, and hilariously, dramatized during a scene in which a llama wanders into the frame behind Zama, accentuating his absurdity. Cinematographer Rui Poças’s elegantly framed imagery, and Guido Berenblum’s arresting natural-noises sound design, lend unreal beauty to the first half’s series of go-nowhere bureaucratic and personal encounters, which underline the protagonist’s purgatorial condition as well as the prejudiced power dynamics that serve as this new society’s foundation. A finale in which Zama takes action then transforms the film into a nightmare of confusion, alienation and futility.

7First Reformed


It’s been forty-two years since Taxi Driver first verified Paul Schrader’s greatness, and with First Reformed, the writer-director provides a magnificent companion piece to that earlier triumph. Also indebted to Robert Bresson, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Ingmar Bergman, Schrader’s religious drama (shot in a boxy 1.37:1 aspect ratio) fixates on Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke), an upstate New York man of the cloth whose ongoing crisis-of-faith is accelerated by an encounter with an environmental activist beset by hopelessness and anger. Toller’s ensuing relationship with that man’s wife (Amanda Seyfried), as well as the leader of a local mega-church (Cedric the Entertainer), forms the basis of Schrader’s rigorously ascetic—and occasionally expressionistic—film, which is guided by Toller’s journal-entry narration about his fears and doubts. Formally exquisite and led by a tremendous performance from Hawke as a Travis Bickle-like country priest who can’t quell the darkness within, it’s a spiritual inquiry made harrowing by both its mounting misery and its climactic ambiguity.

6You Were Never Really Here


Joaquin Phoenix reconfirms his status as his generation’s finest leading man with You Were Never Really Here, a startling drama that cares less for straightforward thrills than for penetrating psychological intensity. Barreling forward with urgent momentum and fragmented lyricism (thanks to oblique edits and jarring flashbacks), the latest from Scottish auteur Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, We Need to Talk About Kevin) tracks a mentally scarred war vet (Phoenix) as he tries to rescue a senator’s young daughter from a child prostitution ring. There’s plenty of bloodshed throughout that underworld quest, yet Ramsay’s treatment of violence is anything but exploitative; rather, her film resounds as a lament for the trauma of childhood abuse, which lingers on after adolescence has given way to adulthood. Reminiscent of Taxi Driver, and energized by Phoenix’s magnetic embodiment of masculine suffering and sorrow, it’s a gut-wrenching portrait of a volatile man’s attempts to achieve some measure of solace from his inner demons—sometimes via the use of a ball-peen hammer.

5Cold War

An ethnomusicologist and an aspiring young singer are gripped by l’amour fou in Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, whose rapturous black-and-white cinematography and lyrically oblique style are reminiscent of the director’s prior, Academy Award-winning Ida. Repeatedly thrust together and torn apart by their ardent passion, Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Zula (Joanna Kulig) meet in Poland in the late 1940s when he hires her to be a member of his folk music troupe. Over the ensuing decade, the pair realize that they can’t stand to be apart, even if being together is also unsustainable—a push-pull dynamic in which the personal is, given their communism-defined circumstances, also deeply political. Wiktor’s subsequent flight to Paris to be a jazz musician does nothing to dull their love for each other, and Pawlikowski dramatizes their unique bond through painterly imagery and an editorial structure that suggests much through unexpected cuts. Theirs is an affair of complex volatility, with Kot and Kulig exhibiting an old-school charisma that enhances the proceedings’ swoon-worthy allure.

4The Rider


The West is wild to its core in Chloé Zhao’s The Rider, a stunning verité drama about a young rodeo star facing an uncertain future after a catastrophic accident. Zhao amalgamates fact and fiction for her sophomore behind-the-camera effort, as her story is based, in part, on the life of actor Brady Jandreau (here cast alongside his own relatives and acquaintances in his native South Dakota). That life-art marriage lends potency to this ode to frontier existence, as does the quiet magnetism of its twenty-something lead. Nonetheless, the material is truly enlivened by the director’s artful aesthetics, which balance intimate close-ups and at-a-remove panoramas of solitary figures set against expansive rural landscapes—never more so than in a late oncoming-storm shot that could double as an Old West painting. Meanwhile, multiple sequences in which Jandreau trains stallions impart a tactile sense of communion between man and beast, and in doing so, silently evoke the warring emotions battling for supremacy in the young bronco rider’s soul

3Love After Love


The type of mature adult drama that mainstream American cinema rarely produces anymore, writer-director Russell Harbaugh’s exceptional debut mires itself in a thicket of barbed emotions. In the wake of her husband’s death, Suzanne (Andie MacDowell) strives to start anew, as does her son Nicholas (Chris O’Dowd)—albeit, in the latter’s case, in ways that are as clumsy as they are ugly. Their concurrent efforts to find a way forward (romantically and otherwise) unfold with fractured grace and beauty, as Harbaugh plumbs profound depths via evocative compositional framing and a seductive editorial design. Complications soon pile on top of each other until practically no one is capable of breathing (save for during release-valve outbursts), with a piercing MacDowell and raw O’Dowd digging deeply, and touchingly, into their characters’ interior messes. What they discover, ultimately, are alternately unpleasant and inspiring truths about what we do, and what it takes, to survive in the aftermath of tragedy.



Annihilation is the best sci-fi film in years, a mind-blowing trip into an inscrutable heart of darkness that marks writer-director Alex Garland as one of the genre’s true greats. Desperate to understand what happened to her soldier husband (Oscar Issac) on his last mission, a biologist (Natalie Portman) ventures alongside four comrades (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny) into a mysterious, and rapidly growing, hot zone known as the “Shimmer.” What follows is an unsettling and hallucinatory tale of destruction and transformation, division and replication—dynamics that Garland posits as the fundamental building blocks of every aspect of existence, and which fully come to the fore during a climax of such surreal birth-death insanity that it has to be seen to be believed. Apropos for a story about nature’s endless cycles of synthesis and mutation, it combines elements of numerous predecessors (Apocalypse Now, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stalker, The Thing) to create something wholly and frighteningly unique.



The psychosexual hallucinatory heavy-metal grindhouse revenge saga of your cinematic dreams, Mandy is a midnight movie of mythic madness. Director Panos Cosmatos’s wickedly deviant and humorous follow-up to 2011’s Beyond the Black Rainbow concerns a woodsman named Red (Nicolas Cage) whose wife, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), is taken hostage at their secluded forest home by cultists led by crazed guru Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache). After that situation ends in cataclysm, Red embarks on a rampage as trippy as it is brutal, as Cosmatos creates a pulpy atmosphere of pulsating LSD-fueled doom and gloom that envelops his protagonist as he descends into ever-more-depraved territory. Torture, mayhem, and shadowy supernatural fiends factor into this orgiastic pulp, which features—among its many euphorically insane sights—its hero lighting a cigarette from a flaming decapitated head, a boozy bathroom freak-out and the greatest big-screen chainsaw fight since 1986’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Hovering over the action like a wide-eyed goth specter, Riseborough proves an enchanting object of black-magic desire. A maniacal Cage is equally transfixing in a turn of fantastical, often silent ferocity that culminates in a triumphant smile designed—like the gonzo film itself—to haunt your nightmares.

Honorable Mention:Dead Souls, The Sisters Brothers, Hold the Dark, November, Revenge, Terrified, BlacKkKlansman, Sweet Country, Let the Sunshine In, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Nick SchagerNick Schager is a NYC-area film critic and culture writer with twenty years of professional experience writing about all the movies you love, and countless others that you don’t. 

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2018 movies

2018 in film

MonthDateNameAgeNationalityProfessionFilms January1Jon Paul Steuer33AmericanActor5Jerry Van Dyke86AmericanActor8Donnelly Rhodes80CanadianActor9Terence Marsh86EnglishProduction Designer13Jean Porter95AmericanActress14Hugh Wilson74AmericanDirector, Screenwriter14Yosuke Natsuki81JapaneseActor16Bradford Dillman87AmericanActor19Anna Campori100ItalianActress19Olivia Cole75AmericanActress19Dorothy Malone93AmericanActress19Allison Shearmur54AmericanProducer21Connie Sawyer105AmericanActress23Ezra Swerdlow64AmericanProducer23Lari White52AmericanSinger, Actress25John Morris91AmericanComposer30Louis Zorich93AmericanActor31Ann Gillis90AmericanActress31Alf Humphreys64CanadianActorFebruary3Ilse Petri99GermanActress3Rolf Zacher76GermanActor4Kenneth Haigh86EnglishActor4John Mahoney77English-AmericanActor7Mickey Jones76AmericanActor, Musician7Jill Messick50AmericanProducer9Reg E. Cathey59AmericanActor9John Gavin86AmericanActor9Jóhann Jóhannsson48IcelandicComposer11Vic Damone89AmericanSinger, Entertainer, Actor12Louise Latham95AmericanActress13Edward M. Abroms82AmericanFilm Editor15Pier Paolo Capponi79ItalianActor18Idrissa Ouedraogo64BurkinabéDirector, Screenwriter21Ren Osugi66JapaneseActor22Nanette Fabray97AmericanActress23James Colby56AmericanActor23Lewis Gilbert97EnglishDirector, Screenwriter24Bud Luckey83AmericanAnimator, Voice Actor24Sridevi54IndianActress26Benjamin Melniker104AmericanProducerMarch3David Ogden Stiers75AmericanActor, Voice Actor, Conductor5André S. Labarthe86FrenchActor6Donna Butterworth62AmericanActress11Siegfried Rauch85GermanActor12Oleg Tabakov82RussianActor17Geneviève Fontanel81FrenchActress17Mike MacDonald63CanadianActor, Comedian20Katie Boyle91Italian-EnglishActress22Morgana King87AmericanActress, Singer23DuShon Monique Brown49AmericanActress23Delores Taylor85AmericanActress, Screenwriter, Producer24Debbie Lee Carrington58AmericanActress27Stéphane Audran85FrenchActress30Bill Maynard89EnglishActor31Luigi De Filippo87ItalianActorApril2Susan Anspach75AmericanActress4Soon-Tek Oh85Korean-AmericanActor5Isao Takahata82JapaneseDirector, Screenwriter8Chuck McCann83AmericanActor, Voice Actor13Miloš Forman86CzechDirector14Isabella Biagini74ItalianActress15Philip D'Antoni89AmericanProducer, Director15R. Lee Ermey74AmericanActor15Vittorio Taviani88ItalianDirector, Screenwriter16Harry Anderson65AmericanActor16Pamela Gidley52AmericanActress20John Stride81EnglishActor21Verne Troyer49AmericanActor23Arthur B. Rubinstein80AmericanComposer25Michael Anderson98EnglishDirector26Gianfranco Parolini93ItalianDirector27Paul Junger Witt77AmericanProducer29Robert Mandan86AmericanActorMay5Ermanno Olmi86ItalianDirector, Screenwriter8Anne V. Coates92EnglishFilm Editor13Margot Kidder69Canadian-AmericanActress16Joseph Campanella93AmericanActor16Hugh Dane75AmericanActor16Lucian Pintilie84RomanianDirector, Screenwriter19Vincent McEveety88AmericanDirector20Bill Gold97AmericanGraphic Designer20Patricia Morison103AmericanActress, Singer21Anna Maria Ferrero84ItalianActress21Allyn Ann McLerie91AmericanActress21Clint Walker90AmericanActor24Jerry Maren98AmericanActor25Sergio Graziani87ItalianActor28Cornelia Frances77English-AustralianActress31Michael D. Ford90EnglishProduction DesignerJune1William Edward Phipps96AmericanActor6Kira Muratova83UkrainianDirector, Screenwriter6Alan O'Neill47IrishActor8Eunice Gayson90EnglishActress9Françoise Bonnot78FrenchFilm Editor9Zhang Junzhao65ChineseDirector, Screenwriter11Roman Kłosowski89PolishActor16Martin Bregman92AmericanProducer18Maria Rohm72AustrianActress22Deanna Lund81AmericanActress26Daniel Pilon77CanadianActor27Steven Hilliard Stern80CanadianDirector, Screenwriter29Liliane Montevecchi85French-ItalianActress, Singer29Derrick O'Connor77IrishActorJuly1Gillian Lynne92EnglishChoreographer, Musical Stager4Robby Müller78DutchCinematographer5Claude Lanzmann92FrenchDocumentarian8Tab Hunter86AmericanActor, Singer8Alan Johnson81AmericanDirector, Choreographer8Carlo Vanzina67ItalianDirector, Screenwriter12Roger Perry85AmericanActor12Robert Wolders81DutchActor17Gary Beach70AmericanActor17Yvonne Blake78English-SpanishCostume Designer17David Stevens77AustralianScreenwriter18Hugh Whitemore82EnglishScreenwriter19Shinobu Hashimoto100JapaneseScreenwriter21Elmarie Wendel89AmericanActress, Singer23Harry Gulkin90CanadianProducer, Director, Project Manager25Patrick Williams79AmericanComposer27Bernard Hepton92EnglishActor, DirectorAugust1Mary Carlisle104AmericanActress2Winston Ntshona76South AfricanActor3Moshé Mizrahi86IsraeliDirector3Ronnie Taylor93EnglishCinematographer5Charlotte Rae92AmericanActress5Piotr Szulkin68PolishDirector7Étienne Chicot69FrenchActor, Composer7Richard H. Kline91AmericanCinematographer13Salvatore Cantalupo59ItalianActor13John Carter95AmericanFilm Editor13Unshō Ishizuka67JapaneseVoice Actor15Albert Millaire83CanadianActor16Aretha Franklin76AmericanSinger, Actress20Craig Zadan69AmericanProducer20Brian Murray80South AfricanActor, Director21Barbara Harris83AmericanActress24Lindsay Kemp80EnglishActor, Choreographer24Antonio Pennarella58ItalianActor26Neil Simon91AmericanScreenwriter27Fredd Wayne93AmericanActor30Vanessa Marquez49AmericanActress31Gloria Jean92AmericanActress, Singer31Carole Shelley79EnglishActressSeptember3Lydia Clarke95AmericanActress3Jacqueline Pearce74EnglishActress4Thomas Rickman78AmericanScreenwriter5Christopher Lawford63AmericanActor6Liz Fraser88EnglishActress6Burt Reynolds82AmericanActor10Peter Donat90AmericanActor11Fenella Fielding90EnglishActress13Zienia Merton72EnglishActress15Kirin Kiki75JapaneseActress15Dudley Sutton85EnglishActor15Zhu Xu88ChineseActor18Marceline Loridan-Ivens90FrenchDirector, Actress, Screenwriter19Denis Norden96EnglishScreenwriter19Gamil Ratib91Egyptian-FrenchActor23Gary Kurtz78AmericanProducer23Al Matthews75AmericanActor26Roger Robinson78AmericanActorOctober1Charles Aznavour94Armenian-FrenchActor, Singer1Stelvio Cipriani81ItalianComposer4Will Vinton70AmericanAnimator, Director4Audrey Wells58AmericanScreenwriter, Director6Scott Wilson76AmericanActor7Peggy McCay90AmericanActress7Celeste Yarnall74AmericanActress8Arnold Kopelson83AmericanProducer8Venantino Venantini88ItalianActor10Raymond Danon88FrenchProducer14Milena Dravić78SerbianActress18Danny Leiner57AmericanDirector19Diana Sowle88AmericanActress23James Karen94AmericanActorNovember1Carlo Giuffrè89ItalianActor1Ken Swofford85AmericanActor3Sondra Locke74AmericanActress, Director7Francis Lai86FrenchComposer11Douglas Rain90CanadianActor, Voice Actor12Stan Lee95AmericanActor, Producer, Comic Book Creator16William Goldman87AmericanScreenwriter19Dominique Blanchar91FrenchActress19Witold Sobociński89PolishCinematographer23Nicolas Roeg90EnglishDirector, Cinematographer24Ricky Jay72AmericanActor25Giuliana Calandra82ItalianActress25Gloria Katz76AmericanScreenwriter, Producer26Bernardo Bertolucci77ItalianDirector, Screenwriter26Stephen Hillenburg57AmericanAnimatorDecember1Ken Berry85AmericanActor, Singer1Ennio Fantastichini63ItalianActor3Philip Bosco88AmericanActor3Geoff Murphy80New ZealandDirector, Screenwriter6Tim Rossovich72AmericanActor12Ferenc Kósa81HungarianDirector, Screenwriter14Matti Kassila94FinnishDirector, Screenwriter17Galt MacDermot89CanadianComposer17Penny Marshall75AmericanDirector, Actress19Norman Gimbel91AmericanLyricist19Peter Masterson84AmericanActor, Director20Donald Moffat87English-AmericanActor26Jorge Grau88SpanishDirector, Screenwriter27Børge Ring97DanishAnimator28Iaia Fiastri84ItalianScreenwriter28June Whitfield93EnglishActress29Agneta Eckemyr68SwedishActress29Ringo Lam63Hong KongDirector29Rosenda Monteros83MexicanActress30Don Lusk105AmericanAnimator

The 17 Best Films of 2018

Editor’s Note: Find all of The Atlantic’s “Best of 2018” coverage here.

While 2018 was not a big year for big films, it was a big year for smaller ones. Yes, A Star Is Born was a major hit, and deservedly so. But the bulk of the movies on our two critics’ lists were not Hollywood Oscar bait but intimate fables meticulously told: a septuagenarian bank robber who just can’t quit or a pastor losing his faith in the world; a Japanese family that relies on shoplifting to make ends meet or a Mexican family coping with the absence of its men; a daughter and father hiding out in the woods or a pair of lovers torn apart by the Cold War. Each of our critics, David Sims and Christopher Orr, chose 10 films, and their lists overlapped only three times (hence, “The 17 Best Films of 2018”). After the rankings, our critics hand out some idiosyncratic awards.

David Sims’s picks

1. Widows

A municipal masterpiece that owes equal debts to Michael Mann and Lynda La Plante, Steve McQueen’s vibrant thriller Widows was a cinematic experience like no other for me this year, one that left me buzzing for weeks on end. Many films in 2018 tried to mix topicality and entertainment, but Widows takes on the horror of various patriarchal systems in America and has a blast upending them all. Viola Davis anchors an incredible ensemble that includes Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Kaluuya, and Colin Farrell all delivering exceptional work. The last 30 minutes of the film in particular are best experienced in a packed theater, with a crowd gasping at every twist.

2. Shoplifters

Hirokazu Kore-eda has plenty of affecting, subtly told Japanese domestic dramas to his name, but this Palme d’Or winner pierces especially deep. The film centers on the Shibatas, a semi-homeless family trying to survive by any means necessary. When they take in a young runaway girl, the viewers’ connection to her grows just as quickly as the Shibatas’ does. Through warmly observed moments of intimacy and empathy, Kore-eda sets things up for a crushing fall. Seeing this downturn coming doesn’t make the finale any less heartbreaking, and every bit of hope the movie allows feels entirely earned.

3. First Reformed

Paul Schrader’s big comeback is a soothing acid wash of a movie, a penitent piece of horror that wonders whether humanity deserves to survive after what it’s done to the Earth. It’s a tough question for Reverend Toller (played by Ethan Hawke, giving the performance of the year and of his career), a man who has long taken comfort in his unshakable faith. But the question poses an even tougher quandary for the viewer, who watches as Schrader dramatizes the nightmare of a man’s resolute beliefs crumbling into chaos. There’s perhaps no better paean to our wounded planet—even if Schrader allows one bleak note of redemption at the end.

4. A Star Is Born

A Star Is Born may be the easiest movie of the year to fall in love with, whether from the first twang of Jackson Maine’s (Bradley Cooper) guitar onstage, or the lush red font of the movie’s Old Hollywood opening title, or the moment when the ingenue Ally (Lady Gaga) screams “Fucking men!” in a bathroom. A Star Is Born is the kind of actor-driven blockbuster that rarely gets made anymore, one that lets its stars sing, kiss, cry, and rend their garments all in the name of art and passion. Yes, the movie takes the downward slide demanded of its predecessors in its final act, but Cooper—surprisingly—sticks the landing, and Gaga—expectedly—nails the final song.

5. Leave No Trace

Debra Granik might be the most underrated director working in America today; she’s certainly among the most consistent. Her long-awaited fiction follow-up to Winter’s Bone follows two survivalists, a father and a daughter, who struggle to adapt after being plucked from their isolated lives in the woods and forced to reenter society. But the film is also a tale about how difficult it can be to live by one’s principles and about how choosing an ascetic path can blur the line between love and neglect. Ben Foster gives his career-best performance here; the largely unknown Thomasin McKenzie is his equal as his daughter.

6. Support the Girls

Andrew Bujalski’s tiny-scale dramedy follows one crazy day in the life of a middle manager at a Hooters-style restaurant, and its ambitions far outstrip its budget. The film is a slyly trenchant look at the slights, indignities, and myriad sources of stress that besiege many American service workers (particularly women), and the story is grounded by a patient, wonderfully human performance from Regina Hall. Bujalski, who emerged as a mumblecore director in the 2000s, once used realism as a cudgel. Now he deploys it to make quiet, incisive points about how we live today while getting some big laughs along the way.

7. Mission: Impossible—Fallout

In Hollywood’s age of franchises, the best series America has to offer is still Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible juggernaut, which has produced six entries in 22 years and has miraculously only gotten better with age. Christopher McQuarrie’s Fallout, the director’s second go-around with Cruise’s tenacious Ethan Hunt, is a giddy thriller that understands how to match incomparable spectacle with naked sentimentality. From diving out of a plane at 30,000 feet to swooping around the mountains of Kashmir with a helicopter in pursuit of justice, Hunt somehow manages to deliver action sequences you’ve never seen before.

8. If Beale Street Could Talk

Making a follow-up to Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight was a virtually impossible task, and adapting James Baldwin for the big screen was arguably even more daunting. Yet Jenkins accomplished both with his new film If Beale Street Could Talk—an intelligent, thoughtfully made love story that depicts society’s grave injustices without letting go of its protagonists’ fierce bond. In re-creating 1970s Harlem, Jenkins paints the frame with luxurious and surprising color, and Nicholas Britell’s astonishing score sets the mood perfectly. But none of it would come off without the work of Beale Street’s magnificent ensemble: the luminous KiKi Layne, the simmering Stephan James, the indefatigable Regina King, and Brian Tyree Henry in a spellbinding cameo.

9. Burning

If Jenkins’s film is an ode to the power of love, then Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is a tone poem about just how curdling and destructive a force love can be. A Korean-language adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning” set in and around Seoul, Burning follows a romantic triangle involving two men (one poor but passionate, the other successful and frighteningly cool) and one bewitching woman, whom they don’t understand. As a frosty, mysterious millionaire, Steven Yeun is a revelation, but it’s the film’s shocking climax that deserves to be discussed and pored over for years to come.

10. Let the Sunshine In

The director Claire Denis is as adept at horror as she is at romance, and this ostensible comedy (starring Juliette Binoche) is a brilliant mix of both, following one woman’s toil and trouble in the Parisian dating scene. Let the Sunshine In delights in staying with a scene longer than feels comfortable, so that a barbed joke can be followed by a tearful monologue. In short, the film is perfectly French—witty, surgically mean, intensely heartfelt—and it’s helmed by a typically impressive Binoche. Denis is in one of the most creatively fertile periods of her career, and Let the Sunshine In fittingly bubbles with a sense of swooning possibility.

Runners-up: Suspiria, Black Panther, First Man, Paddington 2,The Favourite, The Rider, You Were Never Really Here, Annihilation

Christopher Orr’s picks

1. Roma

Over the years, Alfonso Cuarón has demonstrated that he is good at, essentially, everything, whether it’s a sexual coming-of-age film or a Harry Potter movie, a dystopian thriller or a breathless adventure in space. Roma, which is set in the 1970s Mexico City of Cuarón’s youth, is the director’s most personal movie to date and easily his best. From its opening frames to its closing ones, it is a masterpiece of cinematic technique, the story of a well-off family told through the eyes of its indigenous maid (Yalitza Aparicio). For a while, the film seems like it will be principally an exercise in visual storytelling. (Cuarón handled the utterly stunning black-and-white cinematography himself.) But before it runs its course, Roma will nail you to your seat. It will shock you. It will break your heart and then put it back together again. You will not see a better picture this year.

2. Cold War

The director Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War is another film that, like Roma, tells a vast story through a narrow lens. It plays almost as the shadow twin of Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg: two lovers, separated by geopolitical events, against a backdrop of music. In this case, though, the lovers are Polish members of a musical troupe (played by Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot), buffeted by the upheavals of the Soviet empire in the 1950s and early 1960s. The movie packs more raw emotion into its slender 85-minute running time than many good and far lengthier films do. And its black-and-white evocations of Warsaw, Berlin, and especially Paris will take your breath away. “Time doesn’t matter when you’re in love,” one character tells another. Cold War simultaneously proves and refutes this maxim.

3. A Star Is Born

After two foreign-language films (in black-and-white, no less), it’s time to give Hollywood its due. I was not a particular fan of either the Judy Garland or the Barbra Streisand version of A Star Is Born, and yet another remake of the story—the fifth overall—initially seemed to me a poor idea. But in his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper continues to prove that he can do more, so much more, than almost anyone imagined back when he was pigeonholed in cocky, ladies’-man roles. As an actor, he has a range that has been expanding with every passing year: In the familiar leading roles of this film, he and Lady Gaga are both fresh and both fantastic. And as a director, Cooper gets so many little things right that it’s hard to believe he hasn’t been doing this for 20 years. A star is born, indeed.

4. First Reformed

This was a year in which the best films I saw were generally triumphs of execution rather than of conception. The writer-director Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is an exception. Schrader is best known for the scripts he worked on for Martin Scorsese, including Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ. The screenplay for First Reformed is the equal of any of them—and Schrader’s execution is likewise superb. Ethan Hawke gives the best performance of his career as the reverend in charge of a 250-year-old church in upstate New York, forced by its dwindling congregation to rely on a local megachurch for support. Like Schrader’s best work before, First Reformed is a tale of spiritual crisis, of a man who is gradually unraveling before our eyes. It’s a marvel.

5. Black Panther

From a marvel to Marvel. Who ever imagined that a superhero movie could be so politically sophisticated? Yes, yes, I know, The Dark Knight. But Christopher Nolan’s film was an achievement as much of mood as of ideology. Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther largely maintains the aesthetics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—though the Africa-influenced production (and costume) design is exceptional—while offering multiple layers of political introspection. Twinning a fictional rich and high-tech African state of Wakanda with Coogler’s native Oakland is a tremendous first step. Using the pair to begin a tripartite argument about race is nothing short of brilliant. A film that begins with Wakanda enjoying its wealth in isolation and secrecy asks: What if the nation instead chose to help those of African ancestry worldwide? And then, a step further: What if it engaged in global conquest and an inversion of the colonialist order? A terrific movie with a terrific cast, Black Panther raises the bar for the entire superhero genre.

6. The Old Man & the Gun

At 93 minutes, The Old Man & the Gun is a relatively small and unassuming film. It is also a reminder that both of these characteristics can be signal virtues. Based on David Grann’s eponymous 2003 piece in TheNew Yorker, the film by David Lowery sands down some of the rough edges of its protagonist, 70-something lifelong bank robber Forrest Tucker. But that’s okay, because Tucker is played, with peerless wit and charm, by Robert Redford, in what the actor has said will be the final film role of his almost-60-year career. Whether or not the role proves to be final, it is one of his very best. (Sissy Spacek is wonderful, too.) In a perfect world—and there is very little sign that we are living in anything approaching one—Redford would be taking a Best Actor Oscar statue with him into a much-earned retirement.

7. Widows

Widows, directed and co-written (with Gillian Flynn, of Gone Girl fame) by Steve McQueen, is that most delightful of cinematic delicacies: a genre film that transcends its genre. It’s a heist movie, but also a film about female empowerment. (The premise is that after an all-male criminal gang gets blown up, the men’s widows take on what was to be their husbands’ final job.) But Widows is also a deep dig into the sociology of Chicago, with a major subplot about an alderman’s race between the scion of a corrupt Irish political dynasty and a black gangster trying to go more or less straight. The cast, headed by Viola Davis, is excellent, and while the script has an occasional head-scratching moment, it is for the most part taut and clever. It all adds up to an immensely satisfying movie-night movie.

8. The Death of Stalin

What do you do when the political black comedies on which you’ve based your career can’t keep up with political reality? If you’re Armando Iannucci (who, before making HBO’s Veep, was the creator of The Thick of It and In the Loop, neither of which I can possibly recommend highly enough), you delve into one of the blackest political moments in modern history: Stalin’s Great Purge and the power struggle that followed the dictator’s death in 1953. There are oddities on display here, notably that the multinational cast members all speak in their native accents. (It takes a moment to get used to Stalin’s cockney drawl.) But Iannucci takes an enormous gamble here, and it mostly pays off—at least if you’re open to a comedy that’s premised on mass murder.

9. The Rider

Another film that is exquisite in its smallness. It’s hard to imagine a more improbable project: The Chinese writer-director Chloé Zhao met Brady Jandreau, a Lakota Sioux rodeo rider, while making her first feature, 2015’s Songs My Brothers Taught Me. He subsequently suffered a severe head injury when he was thrown from a horse, and was then prohibited from further riding. The Rider is a lightly fictionalized version of this story featuring Jandreau himself (his surname is changed to Blackburn), his family members, and the partially paralyzed former rodeo star Lane Scott (who also plays a version of his real-life self). Rarely have nonprofessional actors managed to bridge the gap between reality and mimesis as beautifully as they do under Zhao’s direction.

10. A Simple Favor

Is this genuinely one of the 10 best films of 2018? Of course not. But different moods call for different movies, and A Simple Favor is custom designed—and wonderfully engineered by the director Paul Feig—for those times when you want a movie that is highly entertaining and in no way challenging. Anna Kendrick is at her Anna Kendrick–iest as a food-vlogging single mom whose best friend has disappeared. And, as said best friend, Blake Lively is a true revelation—a contender for the most effortlessly charismatic femme fatale since Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Runners-up: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Eighth Grade, The Favourite, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, Isle of Dogs, Leave No Trace,Mary Poppins Returns, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

And a Few Idiosyncratic Awards

Nicest Bank Robber: Robert Redford, The Old Man & the Gun
Meanest: Liam Neeson, Widows

Coziest Living Accommodations: The shrinkable lab in Ant-Man and the Wasp
Most Depressing: The dorms in Suspiria
Most Crushingly Metaphorical: The mansion in The Little Stranger
Quietest: The family compound in A Quiet Place
Most Wolf-Ridden: The Alaskan town in Hold the Dark

Most Existentially Affirming Cartoon Bear: Paddington
Runner-Up: Winnie the Pooh

Best Use of Dog Shit as a Narrative Device:Roma

Most Gruesome Bone Surgery:Red Sparrow
Most Whimsical Kidney Transplant:Isle of Dogs

Grumpiest Boss: Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War
Worst Father: Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War
Most in Need of New Hobbies: Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War

Best Performance as Sam Elliott: Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Runner-Up: Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born

Most Likable Dad: Josh Hamilton, Eighth Grade
Most Formidable Mom: Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Cleverest Sister: Letitia Wright, Black Panther

Achievement in PowerPoint Skills: Kyle Chandler writing “MOON” in capital letters on a blackboard, First Man

Best Representation of the Internet as an Endless Hellscape:Ralph Breaks the Internet
Worst: Ready Player One

Most Archimedean Gunfight:The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Most Pythagorean Chicken:The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Best Use of the Song “9 to 5”:Deadpool 2
Best Use of the Song “I’ve Never Been to Me”:You Were Never Really Here
Worst Rendition of the Song “Maybe I’m Amazed”: Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades Freed

Best Lullaby: Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns
Runner-Up: Yalitza Aparicio, Roma

Pleasant Surprise of the Year: Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Runners-Up: Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Blake Lively (A Simple Favor)

Best Impromptu Cocktail: Pepto-Bismol and Whiskey, First Reformed

The Ace Hardware Award for Lifetime Purchases of Duct Tape: You Were Never Really Here
The Ace Hardware Award for Lifetime Purchases of Ball-Peen Hammers: You Were Never Really Here

Best Rabbit Party: The Favourite
Best Duck Race: The Favourite
Best War Rhinos: Black Panther

Most Surprising Use of “The Macarena” in a Blockbuster That Came Out in 2018: Hotel Transylvania 3

Best Invocation of the Malthusian Trap: Avengers: Infinity War
Runner-Up:How to Talk to Girls at Parties

Most Stressful Boyfriend: Alex Honnold, Free Solo
Runner-Up: Venom, Venom

Most Thrilling Action Sequence on a Maglev:Black Panther
Runner-Up:Incredibles 2

Best Quasi-Feminist Heist Movie: Widows
Runner-Up:Ocean’s 8

Worst Sex:Fifty Shades Freed
Runner-Up:Red Sparrow

Most Egregious Removal From a Script of the Meaning of the Movie’s Title:Annihilation


Now discussing:

C After the incident with Miss Jones, Kara was afraid to use her new power. The spirit did not understand why the girl was so reserved. There were many times when they could have fun, but Kara didnt want to turn into an insane creature obsessed with sex.

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