Now that everyone’s had a chance to peruse The A.V. Club’s best movies of 2018, it’s time to address a timeless question, lobbed our way every December: How could we include that film and not this other film? Some kind of answer lies in the deconstruction of our list. Ten critics, each with their own sensibilities and priorities and tastes, provided a ranked rundown of their personal favorites of 2018, which we then combined into a single hierarchical vision of the year in cinema. Below, we’ve included each contributor’s ballot, featuring their top 15 of the year and a few superlatives, including an “Outlier” choice: a movie one of us loved that the rest of us didn’t. Want to know who to blame for that glaring oversight or boneheaded inclusion? Keep reading.


Photo: Burning (Well Go USA

Top 15

1. Burning
2. Cold War
3. Lean On Pete
4. Hereditary
5. First Man
6. Minding The Gap
7. You Were Never Really Here
8. Zama
9. Thoroughbreds
10. Shoplifters
11. If Beale Street Could Talk
12. Roma 
13. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
14. Isle Of Dogs
15. Mission: Impossible—Fallout

Outlier: Zama

I’m not shocked, exactly, that Lucrecia Martel’s long-in-the-works literary adaptation about a Spanish bureaucrat stranded in colonial South America didn’t really do it for my fellow list-makers, as it’s a film that repeatedly risks provoking the same itchy impatience that it’s depicting. But one critic’s snoozefest is another’s droll triumph, and there’s a lot of inspired comedy (llama photobomb!) in the Kafkaesque ordeal of Zama’s protagonist, to say nothing of Martel’s typically masterful framing, editing, and management of subjective point of view.

Most Overrated: Paddington 2

Only in a culture this starved for basic decency could an amiable comedy about a friendly CGI bear be heralded as the second coming. You can, of course, heartily endorse Paddington 2’s values—its celebration of kindness in an unkind age—without seeing some humanistic masterpiece in its unremarkable, family-friendly imitation of a Wes Anderson whimsy contraption. It’s a sincerely nice movie, which is not the same thing as a great one, no matter how ugly the world around it gets.

Most Underrated: The Little Stranger

Focus Features basically buried this stately supernatural drama from Room director Lenny Abrahamson, possibly because they had no idea how to advertise a haunted-house movie without any funhouse jolts. But if The Little Stranger isn’t particularly scary, that’s because it’s aiming more for Edith Wharton and the Brontës than James Wan; such a smart, elegant portrait of English class envy deserved better than getting shuffled off to the attic like Bertha Mason, to gather dust and cobwebs.

Advertisement

Biggest Disappointment: Hold The Dark

When you’ve made two of the most ferociously intense thrillers in recent memory, anything less than a gauntlet of heart-attack-inducing suspense is going to feel like a comedown. Which is to say, my expectations may have been a little too high for Jeremy Saulnier’s new movie, which finds him breaking not just from the naming convention of his color-coded genre masterclasses, Blue Ruin and Green Room, but also from their efficiency and expert pacing. The violence was as ruthless as ever, but Hold The Dark didn’t grab me by the throat, possibly because it was too busy pontificating, in the laborious style of the HBO cop show Saulnier is doing next, on the essential savagery of man or whatever.

Most Welcome Surprise: A Star Is Born

It sounded like the epitome of a vanity project: Bradley Cooper directing, co-writing, and headlining another remake of this ancient Hollywood fable. But if his smash-hit version of A Star Is Born didn’t entirely disprove such suspicions (his Jackson Maine is as much the star as the pop chanteuse he’s ushering into the spotlight), it still turned out to be a pretty soulful and stirring Hollywood entertainment, with great music, some instantly iconic imagery, and a breakout performance from Cooper’s multiplatinum costar, Lady Gaga. The superb first hour, especially, justifies whatever ego boost the newly minted multi-hyphenate got out of it.

Photo: The Other Side Of The Wind (Netflix

Top 15

1. The Other Side Of The Wind
2. First Man
3. First Reformed
4. A Bread Factory
5. Support The Girls
6. The Night Comes For Us
7. Burning
8. Mission: Impossible—Fallout
9. Happy As Lazzaro
10. The Favourite
11. You Were Never Really Here
12. Leave No Trace
13. If Beale Street Could Talk
14. Bisbee ’17
15. The Isle Of Dogs

Outlier: The Night Comes For Us

Fusing the themes of a classic Hong Kong action movie with the mayhem of a modern Indonesian martial-arts flick and enough gore to satisfy fans of extreme, midnight-circuit horror, Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes For Us takes “heroic bloodshed” to a new level of indescribable, gut-splattered ickiness. As is often the case, the symbol of innocence takes the form of a little girl: Joe Taslim is the dangerous killer who’ll stop at nothing to protect her; his The Raid co-star Iko Uwais is the former gangland partner sent to take him down. But the real central conflict in this panorama of death and dismemberment is between the archetypal, coded characters and the heaps of bloodied, chopped-up bodies they leave in their wake.

Advertisement

Most Overrated: RBG

I haven’t yet seen Mimi Leder’s On The Basis Of Sex, but I doubt that it’s possible to make a less interesting movie about the 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg than RBG, a fawning school presentation that’s become the second highest-grossing documentary of 2018. In a year with no shortage of creative non-fiction films and movies with something to say about democracy (not to mention depressing real-life shenanigans related to the nation’s highest court), this grab bag of second-rate doc tropes and appeals to the lowest common denominators of American center-liberalism came across as especially lame.

Most Underrated: The Strangers: Prey At Night

Many of my colleagues didn’t take too kindly to Prey At Night, Johannes Roberts’ quasi-sequel to the low-budget 2008 home-invasion thriller The Strangers. But one would hard-pressed to find a film that indulges so shamelessly in all of the guilty-pleasure trends of contemporary horror—the Reagan-era aesthetics, the ironic pop needle drops, the brazen visual quotations of classics like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Christine—while never to resorting to the cheap tricks of viewer identification. The “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” sequence is about as close as contemporary slasher movies get to the sublime.

Biggest Disappointment: Let The Sunshine In

Claire Denis’ atypically un-sinuous gabfest Let The Sunshine In has gotten a warm reception from a lot of our fellow critics (and ended up on some enviable best-of lists), but it struck me as the weakest, stiffest, and least engaging feature of the great French director’s career. Denis’ other films murmur in mysterious, sensual, and sometimes violent dialogue with themselves; even their literary and filmic references (Billy Budd and Le Petit Soldat in Beau Travail, Yasujiro Ozu in 35 Shots Of Rum) are poetic. Let The Sunshine In (loosely “inspired” by Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse) makes the dialogue literal, but ends up feeling draggy and disorganized in comparison to her best work.

Most Welcome Surprise: Den Of Thieves

My years as a film reviewer have more or less conditioned me to expect nothing but crapola from movies that put Gerard Butler’s scowling mug on the poster. But then along came Christian Gudegast’s surprisingly enjoyable heist film Den Of Thieves—a mid-January release, no less. Sure, it’s a cheap knock-off of Heat (with a little bit of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s movies thrown in for good measure), but the petty pissing-contest machismo and locker-room posturing mostly works; the key ingredient, it seems, is Butler’s casting as the obnoxious slob-cop antagonist chasing a crew of professional thieves.

Photo: Hereditary (A24

Advertisement

Top 15

1. Hereditary
2. Eighth Grade
3. Cold War
4. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
5. You Were Never Really Here
6. Support The Girls
7. Burning
8. BlacKkKlansman
9. The Favourite
10. Border
11. If Beale Street Could Talk
12. Roma
13. Widows
14. Revenge
15. Leave No Trace

Outlier: Border

Like the eccentrically gifted border-patrol agent at its center, Border is a rare and special thing. It’s a highbrow surrealist cringe comedy with a grim police-procedural subplot, a tragic tale of star-crossed love between fairytale creatures, and a challenging philosophical thought exercise with unforgettably bizarre sex scenes. The less you know about the specifics of its plot going in, the better, but suffice to say that the screenplay from Ali Abbasi, Isabella Eklöf, and Let The Right One In’s John Ajvide Lindqvist won’t be replicated any time soon.

Most Overrated: Mandy 

Listen, Mandy is a pretty good movie. It’s got great visuals, and one of the year’s best soundtracks. But fans who revere it as the second coming of the midnight movie aren’t really talking about the film; they’re talking about the legend of Nicolas Cage, Crazy Actor Man, a mythos that became a cult with director Panos Cosmatos’ latest. Sure, Cosmatos knows all the right stimuli to activate his audience’s psychotronic pleasure centers. But if the T-shirt shrinks in the wash as badly as Mandy does, does it matter if it has a skull on it?

Most Underrated: A Simple Favor

Gallons of ink have been spilled on Paul Feig’s female-focused approach to comedy, so why isn’t one of the year’s best vehicles for women getting more press? Starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively in a twisted tale of suburban intrigue, A Simple Favor pioneers the subgenre of mommy-blog noir. But while it lives in the mundane realm of play dates and PTA meetings, the film also recognizes that, while they might spend a lot of time with kids, its characters (and target audience!) are still intelligent adults with sophisticated tastes, from dry gin martinis to designer menswear.

Biggest Disappointment: Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich

On paper, Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich sounded like a game changer: a prestige reboot of a second-tier horror franchise, written by a celebrated director of hardboiled pulp, scored by a bona fide Italian horror legend, and starring some of the biggest names to ever appear in a Charles Band movie. But whatever potential there was in the concept is wasted on the boneheaded result, a haphazardly assembled, lazily acted, mean-spirited pander to the type of audiences who think it’s edgy to blurt out racial slurs while playing video games.

Most Welcome Surprise: First Reformed

Before First Reformed came along, I was frankly worried that Paul Schrader was starting to go the way of Dario Argento, a once-great master who lost his way. His post-2000 output has been spotty, but First Reformed is such a wise, weighty, urgent return to form, such a powerful cry of spiritual dissent in the vein of Schrader’s iconic ’70s work, that I propose we collectively agree to never mention The Canyons again.

Advertisement

Photo: First Reformed (A24

Top 15

1. First Reformed
2. Mandy
3. Cam
4. Madeline’s Madeline
5. Let The Corpses Tan
6. Support The Girls
7. Vox Lux
8. BlackKklansman
9. Roma
10. Isle Of Dogs
11. If Beale Street Could Talk
12. Cold War
13. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
14. Suspiria
15. Shoplifters

Outlier: Cam

For years now, I’ve found it strange that there were only two or three good movies about the internet, the most important thing in the world. My wish for a film truthfully capturing all the connection, gratification, desperation, and despair of living online came true with this sophisticated thriller, in which a cam girl (Madeline Brewer, making a convincing argument for herself as a bona fide star) discovers that an automated doppelgänger has taken over her channel. There’s a lot to love here, from the low-key sex-positivity to the cringe comedy to the delectable supporting turn from former love witch Samantha Robinson. But I like Cam best as our most ruthlessly honest film about the nightmares of full-time freelancing.

Most Overrated: The Rider

I respect anyone willing to expend the time and effort to work with nonprofessional actors to tell their story, but what a story that Marvel’s new golden girl Chloé Zhao has chosen to tell! I saw nothing—about masculinity, about emotional repression, about the American death wish—that I hadn’t already seen in any other Western, a genre that generally has the benefit of panoramic natural photography in place of the drab miserablism on display here.

Most Underrated: Let The Corpses Tan

Those esteemed critical peers that actually bothered to see the latest from Belgian husband-and-wife duo Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, a ravishing sensory assault of sound and color, seemed lukewarm on it. Something about style over substance, as if style is not a substance of its own. But I found more rapture in their time-bending account of one nasty shootout between crooks and cops under the Mediterranean sun than in any of the 2018 genre efforts tethered to Earth and its puny rules of aesthetic coherence.

Advertisement

Biggest Disappointment: First Man

I was on the front lines of the La La Land wars, insisting that Damien Chazelle was the real deal and that all player-haters would be sorry once the next one proved his genius beyond a shadow of a doubt. Then he made me look like a real ding-dong up at Toronto this year, as all my big talk fell apart in the face of a movie that is very large but not very good. Why would anyone force living charm factory Ryan Gosling to make his best serious-face for two interminable hours? Why would a filmmaker so attuned to the exuberance and passion of artistry decide to make a movie about emotionally withdrawn scientists? Why is Claire Foy’s hair like that?

Most Welcome Surprise: Support The Girls

The trailer makes it look as simple-minded as the patrons of Texan “breastaurant” Double Whammies believe their servers to be. But Andrew Bujalski carefully reveals how much more there is to see, both in the staff—a loving ensemble led by the unstoppable Regina Hall as perma-harried manager Lisa—and the film itself, an unassuming (and generously funny) broadside against the indignities of American capitalism. At one point or another, have we not all been Lisa, impotently throwing our middle finger up at the free-flying bird of life?

Photo: Burning (Well Go USA

Top 15

1. Burning
2. Support The Girls
3. The Last Race
4. Private Life
5. Game Night
6. Thoroughbreds
7. Sorry To Bother You
8. Cold War
9. Lean On Pete
10. 24 Frames
11. Blaze
12. PROTOTYPE
13. Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?
14. Leave No Trace
15. Let The Corpses Tan

Outlier: The Last Race

There were plenty of celebrated documentaries this year, but my favorite by far (which few of my colleagues even saw) was noted photographer Michael Dweck’s formally dazzling portrait of Long Island’s last surviving stock-car racetrack. This isn’t a subculture in which I have any inherent interest—quite the contrary, in fact—but The Last Race enthralled me by making it strange and beautiful.

Advertisement

Most Overrated: You Were Never Really Here

Lynne Ramsay is a brilliant filmmaker, but here she’s expending her talent on dreck. Jonathan Ames’ novella, at least judging from what’s onscreen, amounts to a version of Taxi Driver that asks us to sympathize with Travis Bickle due to his crippling PTSD. The more the movie tries to generate pathos, the emptier it feels, and sub-Tarantino musical irony—”Angel Baby” playing over one gunfight; a cutesy duet to “I’ve Never Been To Me” following another—doesn’t help.

Most Underrated: Night Comes On

This Sundance selection got lost amid higher-profile releases, but boasts some of the year’s loveliest grace notes. Ignore the logline—a young woman (Dominique Fishback), upon release from juvie, seeks to avenge her mother’s death—and focus instead on the beautifully naturalistic relationship between the protagonist and her younger sister (Tatum Marilyn Hall), who’s languishing in foster care with a family who sees her primarily as a paycheck.

Biggest Disappointment: Hereditary

Maybe I just encountered too much “scariest movie ever” hype. Hereditary’s attempt to braid an Autumn Sonata-style psychological meltdown with a Rosemary’s Baby-style Satanic conspiracy felt fundamentally incoherent to me, leaning too heavily on shock tactics (e.g., that one unspeakably grotesque cut) and Toni Collette’s sheer intensity. Not a bad film, by any means, but I was braced for terror that never arrived.

Most Welcome Surprise: Blaze

Maybe Ethan Hawke will be a first-rate director after all. His prismatic approach to this biopic, featuring a superb Ben Dickey as country musician Blaze Foley, recalls the equally inventive Get On Up (about James Brown), and Foley’s comparative obscurity gives Hawke even more freedom to ignore the genre’s staid conventions. Give this one a chance. It’ll disarm you.

Photo: Western (The Cinema Guild

Advertisement

Top 15

1. Western
2. The House That Jack Built
3. Burning
4. PROTOTYPE
5. The Other Side Of The Wind
6. Support The Girls
7. Unfriended Dark Web
8. Isle Of Dogs
9. Golden Exits
10. Maison Du Bonheur
11. Mrs. Hyde
12. Scarred Hearts
13. 24 Frames
14. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs 
15. Notes On An Appearance

Outlier: Western

From its gauntlet-throw of a title card, Western boldly asserts its claim on that most well-worn of American genres. Although the film contains no gun-draws or shootouts, it’s gripping and suspenseful all the same, its tension informed by the cultural clash of the setting (near the Bulgarian-German border) and sustained by German filmmaker Valeska Grisebach’s exacting direction. Audaciously built around barriers of misunderstanding, it renders ostensibly familiar territory that’s alien and new.

Most Overrated: Widows

Whereas many found Steve McQueen’s heist thriller to be a seamless blend of socio-political commentary and genre pleasure, I saw a ham-fisted attempt at injecting Hollywood product with capital-I importance. Hardly a single character or narrative detail doesn’t feed into some sort of larger message, and the less said about its tragic backstory flashback the better. Watching Widows, I got the sense that McQueen was so concerned with using his visual prowess to elevate the pulpy script that he never thought to really engage with the material in the first place.

Most Underrated: Mrs. Hyde

Starring Isabelle Huppert, this gender-swapped riff on The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde clearly isn’t for everyone. Playing on the French suburban classroom drama by eschewing the expected social realism, Mrs. Hyde vibrates on a rarefied frequency. But for those who manage to get on its wavelength, it’ll resonate as a great (and very funny) film about intuition—fitting, because it offers one of those experiences that always feels right, even if it’s not always apparent why.

Biggest Disappointment: Caniba

After making the fishing documentary Leviathan, a film that feels more like a landmark achievement with each passing year, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel trained their camera on the real-life cannibal Issei Sagawa. While the directing duo remain true to their Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab leanings, the formal rigor they employ here just feels neglectful. Caniba stares, for 90 long minutes, at an abyss that stares back, yielding no insight whatsoever—only a reminder that every aesthetic project has its limits.

Most Welcome Surprise:  Mid90s

On the surface, Jonah Hill’s semi-autobiographical nostalgia trip looked to me like a lame grab-bag of contemporary indie affectations. But Mid90s has a sense of excitement (and tragedy) that’s honest and occasionally quite thrilling, bolstered by some fluid camerawork, vigorous editing, and rousing music cues. It’s too uneven to be one of the year’s best, but it makes me optimistic about whatever Jonah Hill might direct next—which is not something I thought I’d ever say.

Advertisement

Photo: Thoroughbreds (Focus Features

Top 15

1. Thoroughbreds
2. Support The Girls
3. Eighth Grade
4. Tully
5. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
6. First Man
7. The Old Man & The Gun
8. Widows
9. A Quiet Place
10. First Reformed
11. BlackKklansman
12. Lean On Pete
13. Black Panther
14. Gemini
15. The Sisters Brothers

Outlier: Tully

I’ve gone to bat for Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s portrait of motherhood on this site before, and I wonder if general indifference to Reitman’s other 2018 release will mean this baby gets tossed out with the bathwater, or maybe if a particular plot turn didn’t work for many viewers. But I still think Cody’s acid wit and Reitman’s snappy brevity are a great match, especially when they’re giving Charlize Theron room to deliver another shaded, perfectly judged performance, this time as a woman struggling with her newly reconfigured identity as a mom.

Most Overrated: Suspiria

Sure, give Luca Guadagnino credit for not so much remaking Dario Argento’s witchy Suspiria as riffing on it. But shouldn’t he also earn that credit by riffing coherently? If Argento’s movie is more a symphony of shapes and colors than a gripping narrative, Guadagnino’s is all subtext and allusion and muted grays, his scattershot tendencies returning with a vengeance after the relatively disciplined Call Me By Your Name. Suspiria ’18 has some great sequences, but I can’t help but wonder if that credit due to Guadagnino isn’t accompanied by an enormous benefit of the doubt.

Most Underrated: Tomb Raider

Technically speaking, Tomb Raider is one of the best-reviewed video game movies of all time on Rotten Tomatoes, but that still means only about half of critics gave it a begrudging thumbs-up and audiences largely ignored it. They missed a straight-shooting, well-made, unpretentious little action-adventure time-killer, with a charismatic action-hero turn from Alicia Vikander. I would have been happy to watch a sequel; instead, I look forward to rewatching this one in bits and pieces on HBO for the next six months.

Advertisement

Biggest Disappointment: Avengers: Infinity War

Marvel Studios followed three of their best movies ever—Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther—with a glorified unboxing video. Infinity War expects the audience’s love of an impressive character roster to fill in gaps where the character development should be; to their credit, they were right, and hardly anyone complained about what a flat series of dead-end roads this movie is. The actors are still charming and some of the character pairings are inspired, but capping a 160-minute half-movie with an Empire Strikes Back knock-off (disguised as a badass mic drop) reveals a superheroic level of self-regard.

Most Welcome Surprise: The Week Of

Even (maybe especially) for a practiced Sanderologist, a new Happy Madison picture getting uploaded to Netflix does not inspire much genuine hope for a good time. Imagine my surprise, then, that Adam Sandler enlisted his old pal Robert Smigel to make his best broad comedy in at least a decade—a funny and sweetly grounded story about a couple of dads hitting assorted bumps in the lead-up to their kids’ wedding. Smigel ditches most of the usual Sandler hangers-on, keeps the best ones (Rock, Dratch, Buscemi), and makes a movie rooted in the specifics of suburban Long Island, rather than the latest Happy Madison-favored resort.

Photo: Roma (Netflix

Top 15

1. Roma
2. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
3. Burning
4. Cold War
5. You Were Never Really Here
6. Eighth Grade
7. Leave No Trace
8. BlacKkKlansman
9. A Star Is Born
10. First Reformed
11. First Man
12. Support The Girls
13. Widows
14. The Old Man & The Gun
15. Mandy

Advertisement

Outlier: The Death Of Stalin

This is actually an outlier on my own list as well, just missing the cut at No 16. Though still grimly hilarious, Armando Iannucci’s historical farce The Death Of Stalin adopts a more serious tone than his TV series Veep and The Thick Of It. For this satirical recreation of bloody power grabs in the early 1950s Soviet Union, Iannucci sacrifices some punchlines in order to underscore the ferocity of Nikita Khrushchev (sharply played by Steve Buscemi), Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), and others. As with his television work, Iannucci is depicting high-stakes politics as the clumsy work of petty boobs, more interested in frat-boy pranks and cruel machinations than in good governance.

Most Overrated: Puzzle

Well-received at Sundance and kindly reviewed during its brief arthouse run, Puzzle is machine-tooled to be liked, with its uplifting story of a neglected housewife who discovers a knack for competitive jigsaw-solving. But while Kelly Macdonald brings her usual quiet confidence to the lead, her character—like nearly everyone else’s here—is a frustratingly broad and stereotypical indie film version of the “simple small towner.” Nothing in Puzzle has any connection to any reality beyond what’s required to nudge a predictable underdog plot to its conclusion.

Most Underrated: Double Lover

The prolific, eclectic director François Ozon followed up his austere period romance Frantz with this surreal erotic thriller about an emotionally fragile museum guard (played by Marine Vacth) who spends her days dwarfed by mammoth art exhibits and tries to calm her nerves by having acrobatic sex with a mysterious therapist. The plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, but Double Lover is still a pleasure to look at and to think about, combining the precise and artful compositions of Pedro Almódovar with the sneaky perversity of Brian De Palma.

Biggest Disappointment: Ant-Man And The Wasp

The first Ant-Man movie is a rarity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: a relatively low-stakes superhero adventure, with genuinely inventive special effects and a playful sensibility. The sequel isn’t bad, but on the whole it’s way more bombastic and melodramatic, all the way through to the closing credits’ bummer Infinity War tie-in. Even the eye-popping shrinking-and-growing scenes lose a lot of their kick thanks to overuse.

Most Welcome Surprise: At Eternity’s Gate

Vincente Minnelli’s Lust For Life and Robert Altman’s Vincent & Theo have already done an excellent job of digging into the shabby life and vivid art of Vincent van Gogh. But director Julian Schnabel and star Willem Dafoe still make the painter’s story their own with At Eternity’s Gate, turning it into something at once hazy, intense, and deeply spiritual, showing the Dutch post-impressionist meditating on his craft while chasing the perfect light.

Advertisement

Photo: First Reformed (A24

Top 15

1. First Reformed
2. Support The Girls
3. The Other Side Of The Wind
4. Burning
5. Private Life
6. Shirkers
7. Amazing Grace
8. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
9. Cold War
10. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
11. Isle Of Dogs
12. Minding The Gap
13. Thoroughbreds
14. Blaze
15. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Outlier: Amazing Grace

It takes about 10 minutes for Amazing Grace, Sydney Pollack’s recording of the best-selling Aretha Franklin gospel album, to enter the concert film pantheon. Shelved by Warner Bros. in 1972 and not seen by the public until a month ago, Amazing Grace functions as a tribute to one of the greatest singers who ever lived, performing the music of her childhood at the peak of her talents. Keep a lookout for this unbelievable film as it enters a wider release next year.

Most Overrated: Eighth Grade

Bo Burnham’s earnest-to-a-fault portrayal of an anxious middle schooler was more than content to coast on sentimentality even when it was leaning into cringeworthy territory. Elsie Fisher embodies her character well, but everything that surrounds her performance telegraphs undercooked themes with the tact of a giant billboard. Plus, the unbelievably supportive father, one who’s perfectly fine with his daughter listening to music and being on her phone at the dinner table, feels like he arrived from outer space.

Most Underrated: Dim The Fluorescents

A micro-budget indie that came and went without much fanfare, Dim The Fluorescents follows two best friends, a wannabe playwright and a wannabe actress, who channel their creativity through the only paying work available to them: corporate training seminars. Director Daniel Warth uses tons of casual formal proficiency, aided by a script that’s alternatively funny and melancholic. It’s a little too long, maybe, but such out-of-left-field talent is worth championing.

Biggest Disappointment: Sorry To Bother You

Boots Riley’s fantastic work with The Coup led me to believe that his obvious talent and righteous ideology could extend to feature films, but Sorry To Bother You mostly amounts to Capitalism Sucks: The Movie. Rest assured, it does, but that worldview alone isn’t enough to make a Charlie Kaufman-lite script, complete with dumb, unsubtle metaphorical twists, compelling on its own merits. Good performances aside, Sorry To Bother You feels like it wants to be part of “the discourse” more than it wants to be an actual film.

Advertisement

Most Welcome Surprise: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

If you had told me at the beginning of 2018 that a new superhero movie, let alone one featuring multiple Spider-Men, would be one of the best films of the year, I wouldn’t have believed it. All it took was a confident, funny script and comic-book-style animation to prove me wrong. If we’re going to keep churning these things out until the end of time, please keep them animated and make them as powerful as this one.

Photo: Eighth Grade (A24

Top 15

1. Eighth Grade
2. The Favourite
3. Roma
4. Annihilation
5. Shoplifters
6. If Beale Street Could Talk
7. Leave No Trace
8. Madeline’s Madeline
9. Paddington 2
10. Shirkers
11. Wildlife
12. Cold War
13. Burning
14. A Bread Factory
15. Support The Girls

Outlier: Annihilation

Alex Garland’s bewitching follow-up to Ex Machina is the answer to a question unasked: What if a chilling piece of science fiction were also a tone poem? Exploring the notions of love, betrayal, hopelessness, fear, rage, and identity through flower-people, screaming bears, and a gorgeous atrocity in a lighthouse, Annihilation proves itself to be every bit as alluring and upsetting as the anomaly on which it centers.

Most Overrated: A Star Is Born

A movie can be good, even great at times, and a disappointment all at once. That’s what happens to A Star Is Born in its final act, when Bradley Cooper’s otherwise thoughtful adaptation fails to explore the interior life of the only half of its romantic pairing left standing. It’s a frustrating decision, leading to a finale that looks and sounds beautiful, but otherwise isn’t, ahem, all that far from the shallow.

Advertisement

Most Underrated: Disobedience

Disobedience, Sebastian Lélio’s intimate English-language debut, asserts itself in its earliest moments as a film deeply invested in the interiority of even the characters likely to drop dead within moments. While a sense of mortality necessarily looms over all that follows, the performances of Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz, and Alessandro Nivola inject every scene with something urgent, vital, and desperate that speaks to the terrible pain and undeniable beauty of loving while you’re alive.

Biggest Disappointment: Vox Lux

Brady Corbet’s acidic exploration of celebrity and art noodles around in the messy tangle of arteries and veins that link the two, missing the mark often enough that the moments that do work only serve to heighten the inconsistency and hollowness of all that surrounds them. So yeah, Vox Lux is a failure, but at least it’s an interesting one.

Most Welcome Surprise: Game Night

That a studio comedy can be this sharp is in and of itself a bit of a surprise—lately, such beasts are few and far between. The biggest shock of Game Night, however, is that it also makes for a damned good thriller, telling its story as though Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman, and company somehow fell out of their movie and landed in one where the stakes are much higher. Bonus points for some seriously sexy editing and liberal use of 2018’s cutest movie dog.