I saw a lot of great movies in 2018, and even then I missed plenty that could have knocked something off of this particular list. I’ll probably remember film in 2018 for two things: excellent genre films and powerful work from black creators.
Horror movies killed it this year. Good dark sci-fi films are so rare that even one good one in a year is a treat. Meanwhile, the comic book/superhero genre offered up at least three noteworthy films that rose above the relentless marketing machine.
As you’ll see below, some key films from black creators are on my top ten list, while a couple of big ones — namely, BlacKkKlansman and Sorry to Bother You — didn’t make the cut. I feel like I may regret that one day, but ultimately I found both films to be messy in their own ways.
BlacKkKlansman I already wrote about previously, and Sorry to Bother You was just…well, if you saw the ending I think you may understand where I’m coming from. Either way, if it weren’t obvious from my paragraph-long apology, they’re both still great films and highly recommended. They’re just not top 10 material for me. Speaking of which…
10 – The House That Jack Built
As much as I wouldn’t blame anyone for walking out of the theater in revulsion or dismissing this as an exercise in excessive allegory, The House That Jack Built worked for me. Maybe I haven’t quite grown up yet, but I still like watching a movie with a reputation for offending people. Few of these kinds of movies have anything to offer outside of seeing how much depravity you’re willing to subject yourself to — often they are borderline unwatchable. But The House That Jack Built is actually trying to get at something deeper about creation, artistic vision, and other assorted bits and bobs lodged in Lars Von Triers’ mind. It does this with incredibly dark humor, a relentless goal to provoke, and an undeniable level of craft.
9 – Black Panther
“Wakanda Forever!” The quote simply and succinctly embodies the best qualities of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film. This is the black power fantasy that an underrepresented audience so rightfully deserves, and I hope they got at least as much joy from it as I did. The plot of Black Panther has layers of depth below the Marvel sheen. And yeah, there’s still a lot of the “MCU formula” here, but the great cast, world, and themes outshine all that. Back-to-back with Avengers: Infinity War, it felt like these films started to forge a meaningful identity in 2018. I can only hope they don’t squander it with the next onslaught of 2019 films.
8 – Suspiria
This is me, very much on my bullshit here. I love Silent Hill, body horror, and any story that starts grounded and slowly delves into madness. Bonus points if it never relents, never pulling back to show that things are back to normal. Suspiria goes for this in a wonderful way, only faltering in that some of the finale is so absurd it becomes a bit silly. Not everything about Suspiria works, but its heart (or lack thereof) is in the right place. Aesthetically, it is a masterpiece.
7 – Searching
A found footage film for the “My Favorite Murder” generation, Searching gets incredible mileage out of its format. The entire film takes place on computer screens, with every live-streaming and communication app imaginable layered over an array of web pages and chat windows. The attention to detail and internet-savvy easter eggs ensure that Searching gets points for authenticity. But what really makes the film special is the way it weaves a dark and twisting narrative with a thread of earnestness throughout. Searching could have easily been a gimmick mixed with schlock (see: every horror movie that uses a similar format), but because it aspires to be more it easily earns a spot on this list.
6 – The Hate U Give
Sure, there are more complex explorations of police violence on black people, social injustice, and simply living as a black person in America (including Angie Thomas’s original book, from what I’ve heard), but for a film aimed at a PG-13 audience and a roughly 2-hour runtime, The Hate U Give is a feat. At first, protagonist Starr Carter charms with her internal monologue, explaining the necessity of code-switching as she bounces between a black neighborhood and a white school. Then, something terrible happens that re-frames the entire film. I was off-balance for the remaining 100 or so minutes, fighting back tears more than I’d like to admit. I only hope The Hate U Give is as effective for others that need it as it was for me.
5 – Hereditary
This slow-burn tour through a family’s self-inflicted trauma is as often raw and real as it is unspeakably messed up. It captures so much of the awkwardness, strained love, and pain that can be a reality of family. Then, it puts all of that through a meat-grinder of effective psychological horror. Hereditary is a film I expect to return to and get some new value out of it every time.
4 – Mandy
I’d like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to my past self, forced again and again to watch bad horror movies with friends and wondering why so many of them are terrible. Yes, the vast majority of horror movies are still terrible, but the last few years have offered so many incredible exceptions. Mandy is no different. This slow-burn metal-album-cover-of-a-film is visually beautiful, emotionally raw, fun, fucked-up, and profound, all at once. Bonus points for funneling Nicolas Cage’s energy in the right direction — so few directors know what to do with him, and Panos Cosmatos can now count himself among greats like Werner Herzog for this feat.
3 – Annihilation
Alex Garland is the writer and now director of some of my favorite sci-fi films. He has a knack for going wild in the third act of his films in a way he is often criticized for, and yet these are the moments that solidify his films as favorites of mine (see: Sunshine…also see Sunshine, that movie rules). Annihilation is no different, with a third act that throws the audience into a rainbow kaleidoscope of change, death, and potential rebirth. I was hyped for this movie due to that story about how the studio was scared off by a sci-fi movie that was too intellectual. The reality didn’t quite match the hype, as I could have enjoyed an even weirder version of Annihilation, but this film was still an excellent example of dark, weird, thoughtful sci-fi led by a mostly female (and excellent) cast.
2 – Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Mission: Impossible – Fallout does something entirely new with action cinematography. Tom Cruise has always been praised for his maniacal adherence to doing his own stunts, but the camera never made a point to bank on that fact. Here, because Cruise is really, really doing these crazy stunts, the camera moves in closer than ever. The effect is profound — I nearly started panicking watching Cruise dangle from a helicopter. Fallout is fun and twisty in all the right ways, only falling short of Ghost Protocol in terms of the writing, but those stunts sure are something…
1 – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is praised for its incredible mediocrity. Even the worst of their films are far better than most costumed hero entries of the past or anything coming out of the DCEU. The best ones bank on singular artistic vision (Black Panther) or pull off seemingly impossible storytelling challenges (Avengers: Infinity War). Yet, not a single one comes off as effortless and genuine as Into the Spider-verse. This visual masterpiece had me swooning over every character and scene. Miles Morales gets his origin story, and from top-to-bottom it’s his arc that steals the film. And yet, each of the Spider-people and the characters around them get their moment. I want to watch these characters forever. I want to see this take on Miles Morales in a hundred new adventures. I can’t wait for the reunion of Nick Cage’s Spider-Man Noir and John Mulaney’s Spider-Ham. The MCU is often great, but it’s also an exhausting corporate marketing machine that can be hard to get excited about. Spider-verse reinvigorated me.