This year, I watched 61 out of the hundreds of movies released in the United States. Instead of listing all of them, I decided to round up a list of my favorites, alongside others that I loved and hated. Heads up–this post is definitely longer than I intended it to be, but there were so many movies this year that were worth mentioning. Without further ado, please enjoy my 2018 Annual Roundup. Asterisks denote reviews with spoilers.
First Reformed. I went into Paul Schrader’s latest not even having watched a full trailer (I’d recommend people do the same) and with moderate expectations. I left the theater feeling more excited than I had about most films in recent history. First Reformed takes on heavy subject matters (existential dread, climate change, martyrdom) with the grace and careful hand of an experienced filmmaker. Ethan Hawke’s performance transformed me into a die-hard fan, and Schrader’s transcendental style had me reading analysis of the film for hours afterward. Complete with stunning cinematography, First Reformed is a film I will be thinking about for a long time.
Sorry to Bother You. If Hereditary and First Reformed deserve praise for being original, Boots Riley’s debut Sorry to Bother You deserves an Oscar. Riley’s unapologetic and fearless approach to filmmaking completely paid off, in part due to the excellence of his cast and the potency of his criticism of capitalism. I was able to attend a Q&A with Riley after the second time I saw Sorry to Bother You, which served to remind me of the difficulty artists have in securing financing and distribution for groundbreaking films. Notably, Riley wrote and released the film’s music ahead of time in order to create momentum for the project, resulting in a perfectly tailored, unique score. The film’s plethora of diversity was the cherry on top!
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Spider-Verse is by far my favorite superhero flick of all time, and it’s not even because it’s the first Marvel release to feature an Afro-Latinx protagonist (though that certainly didn’t hurt). Its striking animation and excellent screenplay combined with its dynamic score and potent message make for an exciting, original film. Spider-Verse offers viewers a fresh, self-aware perspective in a genre that has long-struggled to avoid repeating the same stories with marginally different characters. The only cues it takes from its predecessors are the ones that work well, resulting in a fun moviegoing experience for both longtime fans of superhero movies and newcomers.
The Favourite. Given that I already reviewed this film, I won’t increase the length of this already-long blog post writing more about it. What I will say is that The Favourite has all of the originality and wit fans of Yorgos Lanthimos have come to expect, though this time around the film focuses three complex women, with the male cast members taking a back seat. The Favourite features Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone–need I say more to convince you?
Eighth Grade. Though the film received a ton of praise ahead of time, I did not go into the theater expecting Eighth Grade to be one of my favorite movies of the year. What convinced me about Bo Burnham’s directorial debut was its sensitive and nuanced exploration of life as a teenage girl (surprising, given the lack of women involved in its production). Elsie Fisher performance did indeed make me fall in love, and it was nice to see a non-stick-thin, acne-prone teen girl represented on screen. The film’s climax brought tears to my eyes and made me angry at the world, which, I suppose, was Burnham’s intention all along. Though some jokes felt played out and like they were pandering to an older audience, Eighth Grade captured the magic and angst of being a teenager.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? By far my favorite documentary of the year, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was an emotional tribute to our favorite childhood television minister, Mr. Rodgers. Though my nonstop crying might have had more to do with the retirement of Justice Kennedy (ensuring another Trump judge on the U.S. Supreme Court) than it did with the film, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? succeeds in making you long for Mr. Rodgers’ soothing voice and messages of kindness, love, and acceptance. The documentary does an excellent job chronicling his impact and influence, while also prompting self-reflection and nostalgia among viewers. This will definitely be my go-to documentary rec for a long time!
Hereditary. I regrettably watched Hereditary on a flight instead of in a theater, a testament to my aversion to seeing horror movies alone and my commitment to Toni Collette. Though my viewing circumstances were less than optimal, they didn’t lessen my enjoyment of Ari Aster’s debut feature film. Collette’s performance deserved the critical laud it it received, as did Aster’s script, which was one of the most original of any horror movies I’ve seen. I loved the film’s portrayal of a mother plagued by grief and unable to exhibit the undying patience of most movie moms. The twist ending played out beautifully, and the film was disturbing enough to live up to the hype it created in its trailers. Unless you’re typically unaffected by horror movies, I wouldn’t recommend watching Hereditary alone.
Roma. Alfonso Cuarón’s latest felt like a love letter to Mexico, though the complex social dynamics it explores apply universally. Newcomer Yalitza Aparicio shines in this women-centric film, The attention to detail in the sets and props captured the unrest and timelessness of 1970s Mexico, and Roma will delight anyone who, like myself, grew up surrounded by Mexican culture. One scene filmed on the beach which required the crew to build out a dock for the camera shows exactly why critics frequently praise Cuarón’s artistry. Full of emotional ups and downs and complete with light touches of humor, Roma illustrates the necessity of diverse storytelling.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Everything Boy Erased (also 2018) wanted to be, The Miseducation of Cameron Post goes down for me as one of the most underrated films of the year (and that’s not just because its cast includes Sasha Lane). An emotional condemnation of conversion therapy set in the 90s, Cameron Post artfully explores a young woman’s journey towards self-acceptance. The film is packed with both explosive and tender moments, a surefire recipe for tears on my end. The fact that it has an excellent score and a woman director made Cameron Post an even sweeter watch that I will definitely come back to again and again.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I went into Fallen Kingdom fully expecting to enjoy the follow-up to 2015’s Jurassic World. I actually saw the latter film twice in theaters, and although it wasn’t without its faults, I found it to be an entertaining addition to the Jurassic Park franchise. Fallen Kingdom was unable to continue the momentum of its predecessor, as it felt like writers were struggling to figure out a cohesive plot that built on the themes of previous movies. The movie itself felt never-ending, and the ending especially felt like a cop-out intended to spawn even more Jurassic Park movies. Fallen World represents the worst of the remake/reboot phenomenon.
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.* Similarly to Fallen World, Grindelwald served to remind me exactly why a film industry hesitant to finance original ideas produces a lot of crappy movies. It felt like the “Fantastic Beasts” were thrown in sloppily in an attempt to live up to the franchise’s name, and Jude Law’s dapperly dressed Dumbledore begs the question of what caused his transformation into a long-bearded, robe-wearing headmaster. Beyond the inclusion of known abuser Johnny Depp in its cast, Grindelwald was a confusing mess of plot lines that answered a number of questions no one ever asked. Was Voldemort’s snake Nagini originally a woman? Does Dumbledore have a long-lost brother? If you had these questions, look no further than Grindelwald for the answers.Otherwise, expect a poorly written sequel with none of the magic of the original Harry Potter franchise.
Slender Man. Based on internet folklore, Slender Man is the only movie in this category that wasn’t a sequel or part of an existing franchise. The character rose to mainstream prominence after a stabbing was committed by two twelve year old girls in his name. Slender Man attempted to capitalize on this infamous incident as well as the character’s popularity in Internet forums and video games. Instead, what resulted was a disjointed, laughably bad film with few scares and little to say. It was only after I walked out of the theater that I learned that controversy led to several scenes being cut out of the film, including two that were teased in its trailer. Thus the mangled version released for theaters made little sense, though it did make the film feel pretty trippy. On second thought, I Slender Man might be fun if you’re on drugs.