It’s that time of year again when critics release their top ten movies of the year. No list is really the same, but each is a glimpse of a critic’s tastes in movies. Some have a mix of blockbusters and indie films, others lean heavily towards the former or the latter. Whatever the case may be, we can all come to the conclusion that films are a means of an escape or to be entertained by. They help us grieve or express joy and love. Each year gives us such a variety of films that allows us to express those emotions.
But what makes this year extraordinary special is that it took a giant step forward for representation. Some of the best films showed us that anyone can wear the mask. Another celebrates a culture that has gone under-represented for far too long by using a familiar yet effective rom-com formula. Other films spoke out to send a clear message about injustice. Then there are the sequels that thoroughly entertained us after 10 years of franchise storytelling.
So while the best films of the year are a matter of opinion, below are my top ten favorite films of the year. Some of these films won’t appear on anybody’s list. Some won’t even be ranked the same. But these are the films that meant the most to me, and if you haven’t seen them, I hope my choices encourage you to do so. See below for my top 10 movies of 2018.
Before we get to my Top 10, here are my honorable mentions, in no particular order:
A Quiet Place – A bone-chilling film that can only be experienced the best way in a theater.
The Incredibles 2 – A beautifully animated long-awaited sequel that brings back literally everything – the cast, director Brad Bird, and composer Michael Giacchino – we loved about the original.
Suspira – Though a bit overstuffed, Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 film of the same name is visually hypnotic and elegantly suspenseful.
A Star is Born – Bradley Cooper’s stunning directorial debut backed by a powerful performance from Lady Gaga needs to be heard at highest possible volume.
Widows – An under-seen female ensemble that infuses politics and feminism in one well-balanced heist thriller.
Eighth Grade – Bo Burnham’s directorial debut starring Elsie Fisher is a coming of age film that is honest, funny, and at times, brutal reminder of what it was like to be an eighth grader.
Hereditary – An unconventional slow-burning sinister horror that will shock you to your core.
The Favourite – Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest features Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz in one strange film that bounces from period piece to twisted comedy that explores themes of friendship and jealousy in the most wickedly delicious of ways.
Game Night – A perfect example of why Rachel McAdams needs to be in more comedies.
BlackKklansman – Spike Lee‘s BlackKklansman is anything but subtle. Based on the strange but true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a black police officer who successfully infiltrated the KKK, Lee’s latest blends history, humor, and a visceral truth altogether for a thoroughly engaging and thought-provoking film.
And now my top 10 of the year…
10 (Tied) – Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Infinity War may have a lot of moving parts to it, but all of it moves cohesively to tell one outstanding story. A culmination 10 years worth of storytelling, the ensemble superhero epic, the likes of which no one has ever seen before, earns every single minute it is given. In turn, fans are treated to an action-packed spectacle where the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy have come together to defeat Thanos (Josh Brolin). Rather than use the same old the Avengers formula, the film mixes things up by making the Mad Titan a sympathetic antagonist with a misguided goal. With the stakes raised and the sense of urgency tantamount, patient MCU fans are given the crossover they were all waiting for and are also left speechless with an undeniably emotional cliffhanger.
10 (Tied) – Mission: Impossible – Fallout
It’s almost impossible to believe that a Mission: Impossible sequel could be any more exciting than its predecessor. Yet the franchise continues to impress with each and every new installment. Christopher McQuarrie‘s hard-hitting and fast-paced actioner is relentless and proves there is still plenty left in the tank by giving its audience more Tom Cruise performing his own death-defying stunts that will make any person’s heart race. Though some of the spy stuff and plot may slow the Fallout down, it is used as a means to give everyone some time to breathe before jumping into the next brilliant action sequence. Plus some additional twists are still there to keep us guessing.
9 – Searching
On the surface, Aneesh Chaganty‘s Searching looks like a gimmick. The film shot through the point of view of characters on Facetime and internet video chats makes it this year’s Blair Witch Project. However, it’s the little details in storytelling and the cast that turn a gimmick into an enthralling Hitchcockian thriller for the modern age. John Cho‘s performance may be confined to the itty bitty little space of a computer and phone screen, but it is within that frame that we begin to see a fascinating and tight mystery thriller unfold. The film shows us the duality of what it is like to live in the digital age by showing us the beauty of which it holds wonderful memories and the darker side the lurks with strangers and other faceless fears.
8 – Paddington 2
While this world may be full of cynicism and fear, the wonderfully sweet and heartwarming Paddington 2 is that shining beacon of hope that there is still plenty of good left in this world. It’s just funny how it took an adorable bear like Paddington (Ben Whishaw) to remind all of us that “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” As far as sequels go, bigger isn’t always better. So director Paul King kept things rather simple by giving the sequel low stakes. But it ups the ante in other departments because there is no shortage of fun and adventure in this. And when the stellar performances from the supporting cast is coupled with silly slapstick humor, subtle adult jokes, cheery music, terrific animation, and the joyfully over-the-top production design, we get something sequel that we need in times like these but certainly do not deserve.
7 – A Simple Favor
Paul Feig‘s A Simple Favor deliciously wicked and twisted neo-noir is simply captivating. With its Saul Bass title opening, accompanied by French pop music, Feig utilizes the strength of his female leads: Anna Kendrick, who plays Stephanie, a quirky mommy blogger; and Blake Lively, who plays Emily, an enigmatic high-powered working mom with an equally strong sense of fashion. It’s difficult to divert one’s eyes from Emily with that strong female presence and alluring beauty. While it may look like this pairing would not work, the chemistry between the two is undeniably electric. That only adds to this dizzying fun mystery that keeps finding new twists and turns to keep its audiences under its sleek and sexy trance until the very end.
6 – Black Panther
Ryan Coogler redefines the superhero genre with Black Panther by introducing themes of representation, feminism, identity, and culture in Marvel Studios’ jaw-dropping stunner. While it is confined to the rules and structures of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film wants to tell its own story and develops its characters and world with those aforementioned themes. The aesthetics of it, from the costume and set design to the Wakandan language and ceremonies, give the film more personality than any of the other Marvel superhero standalone films that came before it. Additionally, Michael B. Jordan‘s fiery performance as Erik Killmonger, whose tragic backstory fuels his motivation to achieve his goals, makes him one of the best superhero villains we have seen on the big screen. And the strong supporting cast of women (Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, and Angela Bassett) elevates the film even higher.
5 – The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give is a timeless coming of age film that uses contemporary social themes to tell a riveting and relevant story. There isn’t a more accessible film delivering a strong message about the social injustices and racial division that occur than George Tillman‘s The Hate U Give. Using a script penned by Audrey Wells based on the Angie Thomas story of the same name, the film never condescends the audience or dumbs down the material. Instead, it has the courage to tell the story as it was meant to be told. Amandla Stenberg gives an outstanding and fearless performance that’s raw and powerful. Like her character’s name, Stenberg shines throughout the entire film and it reminds us to be aware and be the voice to speak up for those who may be too afraid to speak.
4 – Roma
Roma may not be as boisterous or as loud as some of the other picks on this list, but the true beauty of Alfonso Cuaron‘s film is found in its simplicity and its monochromatic presentation. Designed as a love letter to the women who impacted his childhood, the film is told through the perspective of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), a young housemaid of a middle-class family in 1971 Colonia Roma, a neighboring city to Mexico City. This semi-autobiographical film finds the emotion in the smaller moments of our lives. It’s a film that does not take too much effort to move due to its tediously slow pacing. But it is everything that goes around Cleo that captures our attention. The events that unfold, whether it is an exploration of the social class dichotomy, the disgusting sexism she will overcome, or the political instability that robs a life, give us a sense of who Cleo is and a better understand of her undying devotion to the children she cares for. And even with all of that is going on, Cuaron’s retrains and allows the smaller things in life to speak for itself in ways that we could never imagine.
3 – If Beale Street Could Talk
If Beale Street Could Talk is true poetry in motion that speaks with the language of love with nuance and complexity. Barry Jenkins‘ film adaptation of James Baldwin‘s novel of the same name is composed of indescribable shots of longing looks of love captured by James Laxton‘s cinematography. It visualizes that love in a way no other film has ever has done before. At the same time, it delivers a harsh truth about racial inequality and religious hardliners. But it also reminds us about the power of women and how the strength of love can overcome any obstacle. Powered by solid supporting performances from Regina King as the strong and kind-hearted mother, and Colman Domingo as the quiet and very supportive father to Clementine Rivers (Kiki Rivers), Jenkins finds a way to blend the visual and narrative together for one soulful adaptation.
2 – Crazy Rich Asians
Jon M. Chu‘s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name could not have come at a more perfect time. Crazy Rich Asians may look like just another romantic comedy, but it is so much more than that. It’s a film that takes a step forward in the right direction for Asian representation. The film tells a contemporary love story while also subverting tired-old Asian stereotypes while also addressing themes of identity of being Asian vs. Asian-American and traditions vs. modernity. Additionally, the film honors and celebrates a people that have played background characters for far too long. Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh, with scene-stealing performances from Awkwafina and Gemma Chan, show us how a modern love story can be compelling when adding those aforementioned themes and culture into the mix.
1 – Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse takes a very bold and daring approach to telling a very different kind of story of the Webslinger. Rather than retell an origins story of Peter Parker, producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller embrace all of the rich Spider-Man history, including some of the more silly and questionable choices in other films and pop culture merchandising, put together a wonderful Spider-Man film unlike any that came before it. This animated feature is a comic book come to life as it bursts off the pages of comic books that it is inspired by with vibrant colors and action blurbs. But it also happens to be a love letter to Spider-Man that breaks away from the Parker story giving Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), an Afro-Latino teenager, a chance to shine as we see him learn about the power and responsibility that comes with being Spider-Man.
By having Miles at the heart of this story, he can be the character to deliver the film’s inspiring message that “anyone can wear the mask.” It’s something that is emphasized with the help of a diverse group of Spider-powered heroes from Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), and Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn). And it also shows that this hero’s story doesn’t have to be about one person. And it’s that kind of message that should embolden anyone to become heroes themselves and that there is no one right way to do it. So while it has been an incredible year for superhero movies, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is the one film that sets a new standard for both animation and the superhero genre.
That’s all for the top ten of 2018. After seeing over 100 films this year, figuring out the selected ten favorite was nearly impossible. I found it even harder to rank. However, I do feel confident in the films that I have selected. And if you haven’t seen any one of them, I suggest you do. I look forward to seeing you again next year for another top 10.
Follow me on Twitter: IamMichaelJLee