Originally published on Trevor Trove on January 8, 2019
Last week, I ran down my 20 favorite games of 2018. And since I also saw a crapton of movies last year I felt like I could do a similar list on the film side of things. My tastes lean very heavily into the big-budget popcorn stuff but Moviepass (before they fucked everything up) got me to see a lot of smaller fare as well so here are some of my favorite movies from 2018.
Honorable Mention: Lady Bird
An honorable mention because it was a 2017 movie that I didn’t actually see until the first week or so of 2018. But if I HAD seen it in 2017, it probably would have taken the top spot from Baby Driver. Despite the movie following a Catholic school girl in Sacramento, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more relatable slice-of-life portrayal of my own life. Lady Bird and I shared not only the same senior year of high school (2002-03) but the movie’s vignettes brought me back to that time of my life constantly throughout: first theatre romances that both turned out to be gay, complicated but clearly loving parental relationships, an overwhelming presence of Dave Matthews Band, etc. Easily one of my favorite movies from this year but putting it ahead of actual 2018 movies didn’t feel right to me.
20. Sorry to Bother You
If I were crafting a list of the best movies I saw from a more critical standpoint, this would be much higher. But this is not that list. Still, Sorry to Bother You is a very powerful and insightful commentary on a whole host of aspects of the modern American landscape. And kudos to the marketing for not giving away all of the wild and insane twists this movie took. I had no idea what was in store and it’s so rare that we see that in the modern marketing machine.
From critical indie darling to DC’s big 2018 blockbuster. While the bigger picture of DC’s movie slate is still largely up in the air, Aquaman felt refreshing because it decidedly wasn’t trying to tie into a larger cinematic universe (it barely even mentions what has come before it). Instead, they just focus on a grandiose underwater epic. I walked away drawing comparisons to The Two Towers, with the final underwater battle reminding me a lot of the Battle of Helm’s Deep: a big spectacle film showing off a lot of CG alongside so very fun fight choreography. And I always have fun watching Jason Momoa just have fun in the role.
18. A Simple Favor
I tend to avoid the “thriller” genre for the same reasons I avoid horror: I don’t like feeling tense as a form of entertainment. But friends said good things and I have enough of a celebrity crush of Anna Kendrick that I gave A Simple Favor a shot. And while I was definitely tense enough to watch a bit of the climax through my fingers, for the most part I really enjoyed the twists and turns at the heart of the movie’s murder mystery. And I was especially blown away by Blake Lively’s performance. If felt so enjoyably ruthless and unlike anything I’d seen from her prior.
17. Ralph Breaks the Internet
The original Wreck-It Ralph fell into that category of “video game movies that aren’t really video game movies done right” alongside Scott Pilgrim so I had high hopes for the sequel. And for the most part, I think this film delivered, even as it took a very different story approach. Rather than remain confined to the video game space, Ralph Breaks the Internet takes its characters out to the larger internet for a bit of meta-commentary. As a lifelong Disney fan, the scenes with all of the princesses together definitely steals the show, but the story of Ralph and Vanellope coming to terms with the idea that friendships can grow, even if that means growing apart, is something that I think can really resonate with all sorts of audiences.
The original animated Transformers series is just a little bit before my time so I never really got into it (or G.I. Joe) so when the first transformers came out, I wasn’t overly invested and the overly CGI explosion-fest kept me from getting invested. The marketing for this one really leaned into a more personal, heartfelt story though (and I’m a sucker for Hailee Steinfeld) so I decided to see it. It definitely still has the stock characters and formula of a Transformers movie (Transformer bonds with a down on their luck kid while a no-nonsense military figure plays the human antagonist opposite of the Decepticons) but it’s focus on a smaller scope helps it stand above the rest. It’s definitely the latest in the line of E.T., Short Circuit, Iron Giant-type movies and would be a great new direction to take the franchise (but I’m sure since it’s drastically underperforming compared to the normal Transformers box office take that they’ll probably leave this as a one and done and go back to the mindless explosion-fest of the rest of the series).
15. Mary Poppins Returns
Apart from a couple noticeable elements (leaning into Lin-Manuel Miranda’s fast-talking hip hop abilities and a BMX-infused dance sequence), Mary Poppins Returns feels like it could have been a sequel made 50 years ago. It doesn’t rely on an overabundance of direct callbacks to the original film but creates a continuation with the spirit of the original. Instead of Dick VanDyke’s chimney sweeps dancing atop the roofs of London to “Chim-Chiminey,” you have Miranda’s lamplighters “Trip[ping] a Little Light Fantastic.” The film often feels both darker and more sinister while at the same time Emily Blunt’s portrayal of Mary Poppins feels warmer to the children than Julie Andrews original stern, yet magical, nanny. It’s a delightful balancing act that has the potential to become just as memorable to the children of this and future generations as the original did for my generation and those before me.
14. Game Night
Game Night surprised me in a number of ways: I didn’t expect the movie to be as funny as it was, I didn’t expect it to be as tense as it was, and I didn’t expect it to look as good as it did. The marketing for this one leaned so heavily into the “couples game night that spirals out of control” that I was expecting a more run of the mill comedy; something I definitely wouldn’t have bothered seeing without the a movie subscription (or would have just waited and seen on Netflix eventually). But the tension of a fake kidnapping turning into a real kidnapping upped the dramatic stakes to the point where it heightened the comedy as well. Taking a detour to laugh about a little white dog turning pink when encountering blook was funnier as a cathartic release while waiting for the resolution of the tenser life-or-death story driving the main action. And the beautiful cinematography and establishing shots were just icing on the cake.
13. Eighth Grade
Much like Ladybird above, Bo Burnham’s directorial debut Eighth Grade did a wonderful job capturing the near-universal awkwardness of not only the age of its protagonist, but also the two lives we now juggle in our online and offline personas. Watching Eighth Grade only a couple months after concluding my year-long daily vlogging exercise really hit home as I could absolutely relate to this girl trying to put content out there to a small-to-non-existent audience because it’s just what you do in this digital age. Also, I apparently never outgrew being an awkward eighth grader, I’m just much better at internalizing it.
12. Crazy Rich Asians
God I absolutely hated the marketing on this one. It just felt like “here’s every romantic cliche you know but with an Asian cast.” So after six months of that, I fully intended to skip this one. But it came out and people were praising it so I used my movie subscription again and was impressed by how touching it was. Yes, it was still a lot of those rom-com cliches, but seeing the full picture showcased just how much it Asian cast and setting was a strength, not a weakness. I was invested in this relationship, even if in my head I knew how things would play out given the rom-com formula because it was still something I hadn’t seen before. And the mahjong scene at the end of the film is so effectively shot that I knew exactly what was going on and how it tied into the context and subtext of the scene, despite having never played the game myself. So much so that I wound up reading articles on that scene afterward just to better understand the intricacies of the power plays at hand.
11. Deadpool 2/Once Upon a Deadpool
I really enjoyed Deadpool 2 and it the ways it delivers on its joke notion of really being a “family film.” It definitely feels like a step up in production value after the original proved there was an audience for the character and that added production value helps filled the void left by the sequel not feeling as “original” as the first. But this was another movie that managed to milk a lot of humor out of setting up one kind of movie in the marketing and delivering something altogether different. The additional re-cut of the movie as “Once Upon a Deadpool” was a very interesting experiment. I loved the framing device of Deadpool telling Fred Savage a PG-13 version of the story a la The Princess Bride. I think the R-rated version is the superior cut but I expect “Once Upon a Deadpool” will get infinitely more TV airtime as tongue-in-cheek counter-programming to “holiday classics” in the years to come.
10. Incredibles 2
Just making the top ten, we have Incredibles 2, another long-overdue sequel to a beloved Disney classic. The original film is highly regard by many for telling a fun, family superhero film in a pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe so it was going to be very interesting to see how this iteration would feel different now that superhero movies are the hottest thing on the planet. And for the most part, it managed to feel largely the same by leaning into its family-focus and innocence. Putting Elastigirl front and center and making Mr. Incredible a stay-at-home dad struggling with being the homebody when he’d rather be the one in the spotlight was a nice way to make it feel like a more modern tale. A lot of the rest of the film follows a similar formula to the original but it’s a bit of a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kind of a movie. And the Jack Jack versus the racoon scene is easily the standout and what we’ll be talking about when we discuss this movie in the years to come.
9. Bohemian Rhapsody
As I’m writing this, Bohemian Rhapsody just won the Golden Globe for Best Drama and my Twitter feed is mad. I’m only mildly irked because I would easily categorize the film in Comedy/Musical over Drama but at the same time, it’s hard to begrudge the studio exploiting the Golden Globes stupid lack of oversight on their own categories and picking up the win. As for the movie itself, I thought Rami Malek’s performance as Freddie Mercury was fantastic, easily making a decent, by-the-numbers biopic better as a result. I would have preferred the film steer into some of the darker aspects of Mercury’s life rather than just gloss over them but I also really enjoyed just getting to listen to a couple hours of Queen music on the big screen.
8. Hearts Beat Loud
I remember thinking while watching Hearts Beat Loud, “man, I am so glad I’m getting to live in the same era as Nick Offerman.” He’s just such a delightful performer that I would gladly watch him read the phone book if given the chance. His efforts to connect with on-screen daughter Kiersey Clemons through their shared love of music before she heads off to medical school is a beautiful story. A wonderful coming of age story for her, mixed with a touching story about fatherhood for him, I absolutely adored this movie and have listened to its soundtrack a whole lot since.
7. A Quiet Place
The first time I saw a trailer for A Quiet Place I thought to myself, “what a great premise for a movie that I’ll probably never see.” But as with a couple movies already covered, I went outside of my comfort zone to see it. The movie does a great job setting up its threat early on and manages to tell a beautiful story about a family trying to survive together in a world where they know all too well, making too much noise can kill you. The sound design and lack thereof in the film is absolutely brilliant and makes every little creak and gasp that much more intense. It’s one of those kinds of movies I saw once and never need to see again (be it in the form of Bird Box or the sequel they’re unfortunately working on because it did so well and the studio can’t leave well enough alone).
6. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
On the other, I’ve probably watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (or had it on in the background) a couple dozen times so far. The only non-theatrical release on my list, this is just such a fun and sweet romantic comedy that I’m overwhelmed by its cuteness. In other hands, I could absolutely see myself getting up on the films cliches and issues, but Lana Condor and Noah Centineo are so charming as the central couple of Lara Jean Covey and Peter Kavinsky, that I just can’t help but smile.
5. Ready Player One
I absolutely get why people didn’t like this movie. It definitely has its issues and can easily come across as a cheap cash-in on nostalgia and its multitude of Easter eggs. But I remember walking out after the first time I watched it and all I could think about was all of the friends I’ve made in the last few years over the internet and the way many of those friendships have flourished and turned into real-life friendships and some of the closest ones I’ve got. Is that story told a lot more simply with a lot of cheesy dialogue and a “who’s who” of blink and you’ll miss it cameos in Ready Player One? Absolutely. But that core idea of online friends coming together to defeat an evil entity is what my time in the Kinda Funny community has been all about so this movie makes it all the way up to my top five. Also, all of the stuff with the second challenge was really cool and fun too, despite having never actually seen the film it is referencing.
4. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
I grew up with Mr. Rogers on PBS and even though I wouldn’t call it a particularly memorable part of my childhood, I was very eager to see this documentary. I have no doubt I watched a ton of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street but I don’t really remember the life lessons I was being introduced to at the time. I mostly just enjoyed the puppets. But watching this documentary showed me just how insane it was that he was tackling the difficult subjects he did and how effectively he used the show as a pulpit without ever bringing his religion into the spotlight. Fred Rogers was an incredible, gentle soul and the world could use a lot more of us living in his spirit.
3. Avengers: Infinity War
It’s been eight months and I’m still impressed by how effectively the Russo Brothers and Marvel managed to bring together 10 years of history and 18 other movies together to this super-packed film. Everyone involved has some great moments to shine and Avengers: Infinity War manages to wonderfully honor everything that came before it. Thanos immediately makes an impact as the MCU’s greatest film villain (some of the Netflix ones win out because they ultimately had more time to be fleshed out). I can’t wait to see how the story is resolved in this year’s Avengers: End Game.
2. Black Panther
An absolutely impactful testament to the power of representation in film and the superhero medium. For the first time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe powerhouse, we got to see a powerful African American-led superhero film and the audience showed up in droves (making it number one in the U.S. domestic box office for 2018 and only falling behind Infinity War globally). A lot of praise has been placed on Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of sympathetic villain Erik Killmonger and it’s certainly well-earned, but I think the praise he received came from a somewhat flashier character compared to Chadwick Boseman’s much more subtle and powerful portrayal of the titular character. T’Challa has to come to terms with the knowledge that his father’s crimes have come back to haunt him and his country’s entire way of life, staying hidden from the world, has been selfish and hurtful to millions upon millions of people. He’s the one with the dramatic character arc throughout the film. Killmonger starts and ends the film the defiant outsider coming for the throne, ready to use Wakanda’s technology to start revolutions throughout the rest of the world. T’Challa instead takes the advice of Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia and decides to finally reveal themselves to the world and share their advanced resources. The mid-credits message about building bridges, not walls is a clear indictment of the increasingly nationalistic sentiments in America and abroad and Wakanda’s revelation that it can no longer sit idly by when it could be helping the rest of the world is a lesson I hope we can return to sooner than later in our own political landscape.
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
I have seen this movie seven times in theaters so far, sometimes twice in the same day. I’ve been drawn to the movie’s art style from its earliest trailers so I was going in with great expectations and the film easily shot past them. Every frame is filled with such love and reverence for the source material that I have continued to find new little bits here and there in every screening, while still enjoying so many of the little moments and details I’ve loved since day one. The film is just a near-perfect blend of humor, style, beauty, drama, action, and heart and I can’t wait to continue engulfing behind-the-scenes content on it until the inevitable sequels and spin-offs. There were incredible performances, fantastic surprises, an amazing soundtrack, and pure, unadulterated joy. Not only was it my favorite movie in 2018 (among a lot of strong contenders), but it immediately shot up to one of my favorite movies of all time.