Yesterday, The A.V. Club revealed its favorites movies of 2018. Today, we’re wondering: What’s missing from our list?
I unabashedly love the Mission: Impossible movies. I love them for their glorious, nail-bitingly suspenseful action. I love them for their largely self-contained plots, a rarity in the age of the expanded universe. I love them as masochistic, narcissistic star vehicles for Tom Cruise, who pours every inch of himself into their death-defying practical stunt work, as though determined to actually sacrifice himself at the altar of our collective bloodlust. So while my rational critic brain laments the absence of Lucrecia Martel’s undervalued Zama (which I already got to write about on my personal ballot), there’s a pretty big part of me that really just wanted to see Mission: Impossible—Fallout, the breathlessly exciting sixth entry in Hollywood’s best blockbuster franchise, make the cut on our aggregate list. Is it too late for me to juke the stats and smuggle in Ethan Hunt’s epic battle against time, age, the odds, long falls, narrow ledges, rush-hour traffic, helicopter blades, and Henry Cavill’s biceps?
In the vein of Dowd’s critic brain saying Zama while his heart cries Fallout, I feel I ought to use this space to go to bat for Paul Dano’s Wildlife (and the remarkable Carey Mulligan performance therein). But the heart wants what it wants, and this heart wants the Spider-Verse. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman’s film would be a standout based on the animation alone—it’s gorgeously rendered, simultaneously capturing the feeling of reading a comic while adopting a style all its own. Yet the appeal of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse goes far beyond its rich texture and visual language. Phil Lord’s endlessly clever screenplay swings from discovery to discovery with the assurance of a seasoned Spider-Person, but its heart is all Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a young man still learning what he wants, who he is, and what he’d like his life to be. Throw in Spider-Ham, and you’ve got the makings for what’s arguably the year’s best superhero movie.
Maybe I’m still just basking in the afterglow of its delightful warmth, but I think The Old Man & The Gun is getting snubbed in some year-end conversations, including ours. Maybe it’s been perceived as too slight for serious recognition, or too much of a meta riff on Robert Redford’s career of handsome outlaws and charming golden-boy rogues, another movie about movies. But Redford’s possible acting swan song packs a lot of movie into its brisk 95-minute running time: the mechanics of lightly caper-y bank robberies perpetrated by a gang of old-timers including Redford, Tom Waits, and Danny Glover; the comedy of the gang’s oddball bantering and the low-key duel between Redford and puzzled lawman Casey Affleck; a lovely, bittersweet romance between Redford and fellow screen legend Sissy Spacek; and a better rumination on aging and regrets than the last decade-plus of Clint Eastwood movies. Between this and last year’s best-of fave A Ghost Story, writer-director David Lowery has fashioned one of the most affecting and eclectic one-two punches in recent American movies.
Some of the films on our list—Support the Girls, Buster Scruggs, The Favourite—have comedic elements, but we didn’t choose any flat-out, bust-a-gut comedies. (Even Isle of Dogs mostly leans on Wes Anderson’s signature dry melancholy.) Which is insane, since 2018 served up a superlative example in Game Night—one of precious few recent big-screen comedies that rivals first-rate sitcoms for choice zingers and deft character work while also functioning as, you know, a movie. I raved about the bullet-extraction bit in our roundup of the year’s best scenes, had initially suggested another scene entirely (Rachel McAdams in the bar, doing Pulp Fiction’s Yolanda and teaching criminals yoga and obliviously dancing to Third Eye Blind), and could easily have shortlisted half a dozen more. Game Night embeds all this tomfoolery into a bona fide plot involving a murder-mystery party supplanted by the real thing, featuring so many preposterous twists and turns that the whole thing eventually goes meta (including a magnificent end-credits sequence detailing how it was all engineered). Twenty years from now people will be looking back and wondering how an obvious classic wound up largely ignored.
Like its laconic protagonist, Sorry To Bother You spent a lot of its time in theaters this year trying to pass itself off as something that it’s not, which might help explain why it flew under so many people’s radar. The film’s initial premise—which sees Lakeith Stanfield’s down-on-his-luck call center operator fake a “white voice” (dubbed in the nasally-on-point tones of comedian David Cross) in order to get sales—is the sort of basic sketch comedy idea that’s hard to imagine sustaining a full feature-length film. And it doesn’t; first-time director Boots Riley runs a con on his audience, sticking his film’s most accessible element up front before revealing that he’s made one of the most demented, inventive, and socially conscious science fiction films in recent memory. Sorry To Bother You’s biggest twist is so good, so insane, and so deeply satisfying in its commitment to going there that I’d feel bad spoiling it here, months after the movie left theaters. But suffice it to say that Riley (who also wrote the film, inspired by ideas he’s been kicking around with his rap group The Coup for quite a while now) has way more ideas about capitalism, the co-opting of non-white bodies, and the ways the rich find to convince us to oppress ourselves on their behalf than that basic logline might initially make it seem. It doesn’t hurt that the movie’s funny as hell, too.
A great thing about best-of lists is they give you an opportunity to look back on the films you watched over the course of the year in a new, broader context. Sometimes, a favorite from March doesn’t hold up compared to the flurry of November and December awards contenders; other times, hindsight only boosts my esteem for a certain film. That’s what happened with Revenge, which I gave a good but not great “B” in my initial review but made it onto my 2018 ballot over films I initially gave higher grades. Coralie Fargeat’s provocative directorial debut looks better with every “women in horror” think piece that comes in its wake, a cooly ultraviolent and combatively stylized rejoinder to the idea that expanding the genre’s fandom beyond a insular group of white guys in black T-shirts would somehow dull its edge. Like another sharp, feminist debut that seemed to come out of nowhere this year—Daniel Goldhaber and Isa Mazzei’s Cam—Revenge reclaims the hypersexuality so frequently imposed on women in genre movies on its own powerful yet unapologetically feminine terms. Unlike that film, it’s got not just self-actualization on its mind, but also, well, revenge, in the form of a blood-soaked climax that savors turning predator into prey, seer into seen, and powerful into powerless. If you had asked me in the beginning of the year if the most cathartic post-#MeToo movie would be a rape-revenge film, I would have been skeptical. Hindsight disagrees.
There are many reasons for a person to not like The House That Jack Built: the stomach-turning, imaginative gore, the apparent misogyny, not wanting to encourage Lars von Trier. In all honesty, I’m not even sure I like it. But it’s been seven months and I cannot get this film out of my bones and the time has come for game to recognize game. 2018 will go down as the year that America officially lost its patience for art about morally deficient men consumed by self-loathing, but that’s only because it’s been done so poorly by so many people. Von Trier’s pain feels real, as does the addictive need to assuage that pain by any means necessary (in Nymphomaniac, through sex; here, through violence). The confession from Matt Dillon’s Jack that he only feels at ease when killing, and that even then his inner peace is short-lived, couches in metaphor the depressive tendency to do self-destructive things as long as they bring temporary pleasure. Yes, that much makes both Jack and von Trier himself decidedly bad people—and that the film refuses to give either of them a pass is its principal strength—but who among us, etc.
When the dust settles on popular culture’s grand and seemingly never-ending superhero phase, there will be three titans of the form to study: Christopher Nolan’s first two Batman movies, Sam Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies, and Brad Bird’s first two Incredibles movies. Maybe Bird will do a third, and maybe it’ll buck tradition—who knows—but no other filmmaker has better tapped into the sheer propulsive thrill enabled by the concept. Every action scene in Incredibles 2 pops with chaotic superpower, with walls of ice soaring through portals and sight gags crashing into white-knuckled force-fields. Youngest Incredible Jack-Jack transforms in this movie into... well, a lot of stuff, but also a sort of constant action scene, popping into triplets and quadruplets and raging pitbulls and inter-dimensional ghosts at the drop of a hat. And no one has pushed Pixar’s famously dynamic and efficient storyboarding harder than Elastigirl and Dash, stretching and screaming into action with just a few explosively full frames. The stakes can feel low in these movies—both appear to take place across the span of one extremely busy week—but that only lets Bird throw even more weight and drama where it counts.
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, the writer-director-producers of Resolution and Spring, have built a career on using supernatural and horror tropes to explore the ways the world can ever-so-slowly shift us off our planned courses and leave us wholly shocked by where our lives have ended up. But with their latest film, The Endless, the multi-hyphenated duo also turned their attention to the thorny question of family, and the ways we can let outside forces poison our connections to others. By having a pair of emotionally damaged brothers return to the UFO cult from which they escaped as kids, the movie asks difficult questions about the past and how we choose to remember it; this particular past just so happens to supposedly involve doomsday fanatics, strange happenings in a commune, and all manner of oddball characters that get under the skin. Benson and Moorhead have turned a Twilight Zone-ish premise into an affecting study of relationships and memory. Being adroit masters of throwing crazy shit into the mix, they’ve also made it fun as hell.
I can make about a half-dozen arguments in favor of Paddington 2: from the stellar cast of British acting greats (including Hugh Grant doing some of the best work of his formidable career as a vainglorious villain) to the way it so cheerily promotes the virtues of graciousness and cooperation. But honestly, it deserves inclusion on any list of the year’s best movies strictly for its filmmaking. Director Paul King’s long takes and bustling frames rival Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma for their elaborate Tati-esque choreography and sense of surprise. Is it pretentious to compare a kid-friendly franchise to one of the geniuses of French cinema? Maybe! But… even more than the sweetly silly content, the visual splendor in Paddington 2 (and its predecessor, for that matter) is the key to its high rewatch value.
It’s the only movie I’ve ever reviewed for the site, so maybe I’m biased, but Teen Titans Go! To The Movies is too much fun to be forgotten. It’s a loving tribute to the superhero genre, based around the team from Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans Go! trying to justify the existence of a Teen Titans movie. Also, they’re trying to fight a villain that wants to take over the world by controlling everyone’s minds with—get this—a superhero movie. That’s all a great setup for some self-aware gags about the movie industry and its obsession with superheroes, culminating in one brilliant sequence where the Titans try to prove that they deserve a movie by undoing and then redoing a bunch of classic superhero origins (which naturally means blowing up Krypton and leading Thomas and Martha Wayne to their doom in Crime Alley). It probably won’t restore anyone’s faith in superheroes if they’re already sick of capes, but it’s proof that you can still do new things with comic book movies.
I liked A Quiet Place well enough when I saw it back in April, but it’s a film that’s stuck with me far more than I expected it to—not because of its scares, but because of its heart. Writer-director-star John Krasinski crafted an unexpectedly warm family survival drama set in a brutal post-apocalyptic world, which is the same combo that drew me to the first couple of seasons of The Walking Dead. (I know that’s not exactly how most people watch that show, but what can I say?) A Quiet Place is a film about parents bravely, stoically, and, most importantly, silently shouldering burdens so that their kids don’t have to. And it’s equally a film about a prickly teenage girl learning to empathize with her parents’ flaws while owning her own strengths. The monsters are cool, as is the masterful sense of tension Krasinski creates throughout the film. But the moments I find myself thinking about the most are the ones about the lengths families will go to in order to protect each other. Throw in a great beard for Krasinski, a breakout turn from Millicent Simmonds, and Emily Blunt doing career-best work, and A Quiet Place is a 2018 film I’m happy to loudly champion.
Ethan Hawke has been racking up well-deserved acting nominations for his stellar work in Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, but it’s a shame that it has largely overshadowed his fourth directorial effort, Blaze, an unconventional biopic of country musician and beautiful loser Blaze Foley. Hawke neatly circumvents the Walk Hard template not just by choosing a relatively obscure musician as a subject, but also by imposing a fractured structure onto Foley’s life. Blaze moves between snapshots of Foley’s career across three different timelines, capturing the beauty of sharing art with the world while wrestling with the pain of internal demons. Blaze purposefully takes the scenic route to its inevitable tragic conclusion because Hawke’s interests lie with mundane creative brainstorming or romantic bliss, i.e. the moments in between the ones that everyone recounts. On top of all that, the film also sports one of the great ensemble casts of the year (Alia Shawkat, Josh Hamilton, Charlie Sexton, Wyatt Russell), which is led by newcomer Ben Dickey, who’d be in awards contention alongside his director, if there was any justice in this world.
Though it eventually spirals into an irritating round of “Never Have I Ever,” the Blumhouse horror production Unfriended is a far more formally adventurous experiment than it had any right to be. Even more impressive is its standalone sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web, which similarly keeps its “action” confined entirely to a desktop. Though the film starts out as a regular Skype-mediated game night between a group of twentysomethings, it soon trawls the depths of the “dark web,” bringing into play an underground market of snuff films and a shadowy, seemingly all-powerful group of hackers. The plot is undeniably preposterous and sadistic, but it also manages to capture the distinct, free-floating sense of horror regarding what is incontrovertibly out there in the digital void. I’ve only seen one of Dark Web’s two Clue-style alternate endings, but a film that manages to turn a round of Cards Against Humanity into a genuinely (and rightly) horrible experience is well worth recommending.