It’s 2019, and there are loads of great movies hitting theaters and streaming services in the coming months, from Avengers: Endgame and Captain Marvel to Star Wars Episode IX, Jordan Peele’s Us and more. But before we look ahead, fellow GeekDad film writer Rob Huddleston and I are first looking back to 2018, a great year for original, independent cinema and big-budget spectacle, to compile our individual lists of the 10 best films of the year. Keep in mind that many of our picks are NOT kid friendly, so be sure to do your research before watching any of these films around little ones.
Here are our respective lists of the top 10 films of 2018…
It’s Time to Pick the Best Movies of 2018
We’re going to break down our best movies of 2018 separately. One list for Tony, one list for Rob.
Feel free to add your picks in the comments!
Tony’s Best Movies of 2018
As you’ll see from not one, but three of my picks, this is the year Netflix truly made a name for itself as one of cinema’s most important producers. From whimsical, nostalgic musicals and genre-defying superheroes to dynamic westerns and a Cheddar Goblin, here are my picks for the top films of 2018…
10) Tie: Apostle and Mary Poppins Returns
These two movies couldn’t be more different. I hate ties like this, but I had a hard time choosing which should make my list, so here we are. In 2011, Gareth Evans created The Raid, my favorite action film since Die Hard. Since then, he’s a filmmaker I’ve kept on my radar. Apostle was a surprise to me when it hit Netflix in October. A brutal film about a Welsh religious cult in the early twentieth century. Apostle provides a relentless, increasingly tense trip to the horrors of religious persecutions. Mary Poppins Returns on the other hand provides a fantastic, whimsical and optimistic trip of the imagination. Truly a magical relic of a film – refreshing to see in 2018. In case you haven’t seen it, skip the next sentence. The two greatest moments in this film, and two of my favorite moments from any film in 2018, were unexpected appearances by the legendary Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury.
9) Sorry to Bother You
What a weird film Boots Riley has created. What a weird and perfect take on the hypocrisy and idiocy of corporate capitalism and the idea of rising through the ranks by sticking to the scripts you are given. Sorry to Bother You was one of the most fun and absurdly poignant films of 2018, and one that sticks with you in the most seriocomic of ways. Topping off the greatness of Riley’s vision is a stellar cast led by the consistently excellent Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson.
8) The Death of Stalin
On the surface, The Death of Stalin is a satirical take on the death of Soviet leader and Communist revolutionary Joseph Stalin in 1953. But it’s hard not to see parallels between the at times incompetent, always pandering and contradictory political struggle at the center of the film and today’s uneven and divisive political climate. The result is both hilarious and alarming at the same time. Political satirist Armando Iannucci (Veep) has created a brilliant comedy woven together by top-of-their-game performances from Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor and others.
7) The Rider
The Rider was my biggest surprise of 2018. Going into the film without any background or expectations, I came out of the viewing with a strong, unexpected sense of connection to director Chloé Zhao’s vision. The Rider is a unique hybrid starring Brady Jandreau and his actual family and friends in a part fictional, part documentary narrative. The stunning badlands vistas captured by cinematographer Joshua James Richards set a modern western backdrop to accentuate a true story challenging the ideas of masculinity, growing up, and managing ones dreams and expectations.
As weird as Sorry to Bother You might be, Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy is 2018’s strangest, most crazy film of all. Nicolas Cage, in perhaps his best performance since Leaving Las Vegas, guides the audience along this surreal horror revenge thriller with layered lunacy. Mandy is a film that should be experienced, and fits perfectly into the midnight movie, cult cinema canon alongside the works of Jodorowsky and Lynch. Bonus points for the bizarre introduction to the Cheddar Goblin!
5) Black Panther
Finally! In what is perhaps the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film to date, Black Panther changes the superhero game, and challenges the status quo of Hollywood blockbusters by making race a critical part of its identity. On top of that, the film was wildly successful at the box-office. As socially relevant and great a story as that might be, Black Panther excels beyond the headlines as an A+ superhero story featuring one of Marvel’s most dynamic villains – Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger. Bonus points for scene stealing performances from Danai Gurira as Okoye and Letitia Wright as Shuri.
4) Mission: Impossible – Fallout
I’m going to say it. The Mission: Impossible film series is greater than the Bond series. Yes, the Bond series is iconic, but they don’t age as well as other icons. The Mission: Impossible series seems to get stronger with each new film. Fallout is no exception. With unrelenting action, mystifying set-pieces, and surprisingly logical plot points, it is the best action movie of 2018 and the strongest in the entire Mission: Impossible series. Greatest of all is the fact that Tom Cruise does his own stunt work for these films, ensuring a sense of risk and realism absent from most blockbuster spectacles these days.
Alfonso Cuarón is a master of visual storytelling. Only Cuarón could take a simple family story about a devoted maid working for a wealthy family in Mexico City and turn it into something epic, awe inspiring, and unlike any film I’ve ever seen. Roma is cinema pure and simple. Each and every frame of the film is so full and rich with energy and life. Everything is in perfect focus, and at the center of it all is a performance from Yalitza Aparicio that is perhaps the year’s best. Bravo to Netflix for supporting this film!
2) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Another major Netflix production, the Coen Brothers’ Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the most emotionally pillar-to-post film of 2018. And I mean that in the best possible way. A six-part western anthology, each story throughout the film is a completely different, unconnected take on the lines between comically and tragically dying. This is a film that only the Coen’s could make. Only they can so perfectly capture the absurd contradictions between ego and survival in the west. One of the best parts of this film are the discussions you’ll have afterwards. Seeing who likes which tale the best and why is an interesting litmus test for just how dark someone’s sense of humor might go.
1) Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Morgan Neville’s documentary about Mr. (Fred) Rogers is the kindest, most positive and uplifting film of 2018. In a year full of division and growing rifts between humanity, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? provides a much-needed reminder of the traits that matter most – all seen through the lens, wisdom, and imagination of everyone’s favorite television neighbor. This is a fascinating look at Mr. Rogers’ unrelenting dedication to and understanding of our greatest treasure; our children.
Honorable Mention: Minding the Gap, Game Night, and First Reformed
Rob’s Best Movies of 2018
Due to changes in my work schedule, I haven’t seen nearly as many movies this year as in years past, and in particular I missed a bunch of early-autumn films that I suspect might have made the list, such as BlacKkKlansman. And as always at this time of year, there are more potentially great films I just haven’t had a chance to see yet, such as Mary, Queen of Scots, The Favourite, and The Mule. But with that said, here is my list of the 10 best films I have seen…
10) Black Panther
Yes, it’s likely to end up on most top movie lists this year, but it’s well deserved. It has all of the elements of the other films in the MCU, but with a lot more heart, and more secondary characters you might actually care about than most of the others. Add to that the important, timely social commentary, and you have the strongest entry in the MCU to date.
9) Ralph Breaks the Internet
The first movie was so good, it’s hard to imagine they could have come up with a sequel that would be as good, and yet they did. Yes, the movie is loaded with easter eggs about the internet and it contains probably the best scenes of the Disney princesses to date, but more important, the movie is one of the most honest and open looks at how friendships change as you get older ever to appear on film.
One of the stranger, and yet most visually stunning films of the year had Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh traveling into an area being transformed by an alien force to try to uncover its secrets. Writer/director Alex Garland once again excelled at using sci-fi to do what it does best: comment on the human condition.
First, a disclaimer: GeekDad contributor Will James was one of the prop makers on this sci-fi film, but given it’s incredibly small release–it only played here in Sacramento in a single theater for one week–his involvement was why I went out of my way to see the movie. And I’m very glad I did. The movie is a “space western” in the truest sense of the term, as the movie could have as easily taken place in Yuma in 1890 as on a distant planet in the future. But like all great sci-fi, Prospect is really about people, and here, young star Sophie Thatcher shows that she has a very bright career in front of her. Oh, and the props are pretty darn great as well.
6) A Quiet Place
Oscar-worthy performances by IRL husband and wife John Krasinski and Emily Blunt are the center of this movie. Krasinski, who also directed and co-wrote the movie, plays the patriarch in a family trying to survive after an alien force that hunts entirely by sound has wiped out most of the population. Given that setup, there’s very little dialog, forcing the actors to tell the story through body language and their faces more than their words. It’s a setup that could have as easily gone very wrong, but instead, pretty much everything about this movie is just about perfect.
5) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
I’m not a comic book person, and my exposure to comic book characters is entirely via TV and movies. So I’ll admit that when I saw the first preview for this animated take on Spidey and the multiverse, it looked pretty dumb. But thanks to glowing reviews from basically everyone I know, I saw it (mere hours before writing this list, in fact), and I wasn’t disappointed. For starters, the movie does a great job of explaining itself, so even those of us who never knew there was such as thing as Spider-Pig aren’t left in the dark. And as superhero origin stories go, this one is great, seeing as how it does assume that basically everyone knows the broad outlines of the Spider-man story, so rather than belabor the point, it takes a very nice, fresh approach to explaining how Miles Morales becomes the new Spider-man. Or at least, a new Spider-man.
4) Operation Finale
The story of hunting down Nazis who escaped the end of the World War II has been told many times in the past, but none have dared to do what Operation Finale does and come close to making Adolph Eichmann sympathetic. That trick is pulled off mostly due to the phenomenal performance by Sir Ben Kingsley, and the movie is worth watching for that alone. But everyone else in the movie shines as well, and the movie, which is part spy thriller, part heist movie, and part psychological study, maintains a brisk pace throughout. And lest you worry, the filmmakers, and Kingsley in particular, knew just when to pull back to make sure we don’t actually root for the architect of the holocaust.
3) Welcome to Marwen
Equally touching and disturbing, Marwen examines PTSD better than just about any film in recent memory. Steve Carell is absolutely incredible in dual roles as real-life Mark Hogancamp and as his imaginary alter-ego, the heroic ladies man Cap’n Hogie. Mark is helped through his journey towards recovery thanks to a kind and understanding neighbor played by Leslie Mann, while Hogie, a 12″ doll, fights Nazis with the help of a team of beautiful dolls voiced by the likes of Gwendoline Christie and Janelle Monáe. The movie also deserves recognition for its effects, effortlessly bringing the dolls to life while still making sure the audience never gets the real world and the doll world confused.
2) Three Identical Strangers
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when I went into this movie. Honestly, I did so little research on it before going to the theater that I didn’t even know it was a documentary. But the story it tells, of how a psychologist took identical twins and triplets and, thanks to help from a hugely respected adoption agency, placed the kids is radically different households. He gave some kids to rich parents and others to poor. Some kids got put in houses with siblings, others without. The purpose was to try to empirically test the nature vs nurture debate. But no one outside his lab and the agency knew that these kids were identical sets until, by dumb luck, two brothers discovered each other in college. As the movie unfolds, we learn not only of the scope of the experiment, but also see the devastation it wrought on these families.
1) Juliet, Naked
Imagine being so obsessed with a decades-old rock star who had vanished into obscurity and then mysteriously receiving a studio album of his final recording. But then imagine that your girlfriend, who at best tolerated your obsession, posted to your fan website a scathing review of the album, which causes her to get in touch with and begin a relationship with the rock star. That’s the setup of the wonderfully touching Juliet, Naked. Chris O’Dowd is great as the slightly unhinged fan, Ethan Hawke plays the reclusive star to perfection, but the perennially under-appreciated Rose Byrne is the one who really sets the movie apart, first as the oh-so-understanding girlfriend of O’Dowd’s character, and then the bemused, curious woman stumbling into something she’s not quite sure about with Hawke. Maybe it’s the idea of obsessive fandom taken too far (which I may or may not relate to), or just the collection of very touching human moments, but this is the movie that touched me more than any other this year, making it easily deserving of the top spot.