Yeah, we’re a couple weeks late on this one. But, with the second half of 2018 still fresh, and seeing as it hasn’t yet offered something to crack the Top 10 for me, I’m here to count down my Top 10 Best Movies of 2018 So Far. Pretty self-explanitory, I should imagine, so let’s just dive right in.
10) Love Simon – Based on the 2015 young adult novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, the abbreviated Love Simon follows the trials and tribulations of Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), just your average, fun-loving, high school teen. Except he has one big-ass secret: he’s gay. As he works to keep his secret from everyone, friends and family included, he finds himself falling in love with his online pen-pal, allegedly a fellow student of his going under the alias of “Blue.” Though their virtual relationship deepens, their correspondence is accidentally leaked to another classmate of Simon’s, who though indifferent to Simon’s sexuality, is willing to use the information to blackmail him into assisting with his own quest for adolescent love. Though the closeted homosexuality angle – especially in a teen setting – might seem played out in 2018, what follows is actually a deeply moving tale about love, friendship, trust, understanding and acceptance. Not to mention it’s earnestly rendered by a fantastic young cast, chief among them Nick Robinson in the eponymous role, who follows up his more well-known turns in The Kings of Summer and Jurassic World with what will truly be his ultimate coming-out party – no pun intended – as an emerging talent. Not to mention his parents are portrayed by the pitch-perfect Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel; a scene involving the latter would’ve made me cry, if I cried in movies, that is. Yeah, go figure. Seriously, though, if you’re a fan of John Hughes films, seek out Love, Simon.
9) Avengers: Infinity War – Sometimes I wonder if I have a bit of a Marvel bias. I grew up on the comics, I wouldn’t even call one of its twenty films so low as subpar, and yet every time they have a new release, the confidence is so palpable with them, I can’t help but enjoy myself. And boy, did they have some serious cohones to even think that they could make it to Infinity War. But here we are. Plot-wise, the film is pretty straightforward. The Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) has finally taken it upon himself to begin his little Easter egg hunt of the Infinity Stones that control the universe. With his cohorts at hand, he makes moves to engage each Marvel hero that guards a stone, and rip it from them hands, lifeless or no. Should he possess all six stones, he proudly boasts that he plans to wipe out half of all existence, in a desperate attempt to restore balance to the universe. A noble cause, when put like that, but Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and company are going to have a little something to say about it, as the Avengers assemble once again from all corners of the globe – and the galaxy, that matter – to put a stop to Thanos’s conquest. Now, if you haven’t seen even a good portion of the MCU films, you might as well not even bother, as this was made specifically for fanboys who were used to seeing three dozen superheroes on a page at one time. With that approach being translated to the silver screen, I’ve gotta say, it does not disappoint. Sometimes you can feel the Marvel machine and its cogs turning, but never before has a superhero film felt so heavy when the world is at stake for the nth time. And for those who say Thanos has been teased too long to live up to the hype, you’re wrong. He’s the most compelling character, and the scariest villain in a superhero film since the Joker in The Dark Knight. I’m already shuddering in anticipation to think what Marvel has in store for us when the second part hits theaters in 2019.
8) First Reformed – And now for something different. From Paul Schrader, whom mainstream audiences won’t know as a director aside from the guy who remade the prequel to The Exorcist a year after the first one (long story), comes First Reformed, a seriously hard-to-swallow story about a priest Rev. Toller (Ethan Hawke) of a historical church in upstate New York, who counsels a man named Michael (Philip Ettinger) through some dire feelings of the pending ecological regression of the Earth and subsequent guilt of his first child being on the way. Soon thereafter, Michael’s wife Mary (Amanda Seyfried) uncovers a suicide vest in Michael’s shed, and turns to Toller to discreetly dispose of it, fearful Michael will hurt someone or be labeled a terrorist. Toller does so, but shortly after Michael commits suicide. Mortified he didn’t do more to save Michael, Toller attempts to further understand his headspace by delving into his work. Grappled with queries over the relationship between God and the Earth and humanity, Toller finds himself not only echoing Michael’s cause, but also his grief. As he simultaneously becomes a confidante to the newly widowed Mary, Toller must come to terms with whether or not Michael’s cause was just, before he finds himself swallowed up in his obsessions as well. Now, this film will test the viewer on essentially all fronts. It’s sedate and contemplative, and may not be wholly cathartic when all is said and done. Nevertheless, it’s a wholly visceral experience, one that’s masterfully anchored by a grounded and underrated Ethan Hawke, whose name should most certainly be mentioned come award season. And speaking of underrated, Amanda Seyfried has never been more convincing than she is here.
7) The Death of Stalin – Based on the French graphic novel of the same name, The Death of Stalin finds Armando Iannucci – whose perhaps most famous creation is that of British personality Alan Partridge – mining for comedic gold in this shrewd satire. The year is 1953. Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) is dead. The Soviet Union is in a state of flux. And in a multi-manned tug-of-war for power is the likes of Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell-Beale) and Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), among others. As they feign mourning for their fallen leader, they frantically suckle at the teat of power from wherever it now squirts as they counter one another’s suspicions and advances, all in the ultimate goal of sitting atop the totem pole while it remains vulnerable. This film is by no means striving for realism. After all, each and every actor, be they British or American, does nothing to mask their non-Russian-ness. It’s supposed to be absurdist. But in that absurdity also lies some biting criticism of the time. If that alone wasn’t enough to warrant the price of a ticket, the cast is absolutely hysterical as they each try to one up each other, featuring not only the talents of those named, but also those of Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, and Olga Kurylenko. Seriously, this is the funniest movie of the year so far, not to mention one of the smartest. Go see it.
6) Black Panther – Yup. Another Marvel movie. Except where Black Panther shines is that it really isn’t just another Marvel movie. It’s simultaneously a radical, scathing deconstruction of socioeconomic norms and a fabulous exercise in dynamic world-building, surrounding a fairly grounded protagonist with a terrific supporting cast. Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, where T’Challa / Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) assumed the role of King of Wakanda in light of his father’s assassination, he and his specialized group of female fighters the Dora Milaje leave the country’s borders to apprehend international terrorist and enemy of Wakanda Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). However, it is learned that Klaue is assisted by ostensible American Erik “Killmonger” (Michael B. Jordan), whose secret ties to the Wakandan throne threaten to topple their monarchy. With Wakanda’s pretense of not being the technologically advanced society that it is being threatened, T’Challa and company must choose to do everything to protect their way of life, or make the difficult decision to leave the past behind. Now, seeing as everyone and their moms went to go see this movie, I hardly find the need to sell it. But since it’s on my list, I’ll say nevertheless that it reinvents the superhero tropes without wholly alienating itself from its genre. There’s perhaps a bit of a reliance on CGI, especially toward the climax, but this surprisingly mature and philosophical outing shows that there’s plenty of room to experiment and explore for Marvel going forward.
5) American Animals – For those of you getting burned out by the bagilliion true-crime series Netflix keeps pumping out, I may have found your alternative. Set in 2004 in Lexington, Kentucky, American Animals follows Transylvania University students and best friends Warren (Evan Peters) and Spencer (Barry Keoghan), who though polar opposites, find themselves wondering if they’re missing out on the thing that’s going to define their entire lives. Enter The Birds of America, a book of paintings on display at the campus library, estimated to be valued at millions of dollars. The lightbulb in their heads goes off, and suddenly they’re concocting a plan to steal the book right underneath the librarians’ noses, before absconding to an international buyer and setting themselves up for life. Recruiting the likes of old friends Chas (Blake Jenner) and Eric (Jared Abrahamson), the four boys set out to do something no one would expect of them, and something they’d hardly expect of themselves. Juxtaposing the cinematic reenactments with interviews with the real-life thieves and the people closest to them – á la the 2012 Jack Black film Bernie – American Animals does a fantastic job of tempering the funnier aspects of the case with the much heavier implications the boys could have never anticipated. Indeed, the closer the big day nears for them, the more their own anxieties and morals makes the whole situation much more real and complicated than they initially imagined. Just the retrospective alone makes it fascinating storytelling, with someone remembering something this way, while another remembers it another way. It never ceases to engage the intellect as the tension ratchets up and up to the point of a thrilling climax. Easily the most underseen film of 2018 so far.
4) A Quiet Place – This has certainly turned out to be the big surprise of the year, huh? While hopes were high for the Jim from The Office-directed project, I don’t think anyone anticipated it to be the smash hit that it was. In an apocalyptic near-future, in which the human population has been all but exterminated by a monstrous species of creatures that are blind but possess incredible hearing, a family of four has found a system to survive whereby they make very minimal noise. Following the gruesome death of their youngest child, Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Lee (John Krasinski) Abbot do what they can to provide for their remaining two children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe), the former being deaf. Well, make that three children again, because Evelyn is expecting and expecting soon. With the creatures nearing the farm they’ve settled into, no one is safe, and no one can afford to make a sound. Now, the whole sound element in horror movies has been played before, in films like The Descent and Don’t Breathe. But damn if it isn’t still incredibly effective here. One could say that it’s simply a series of elaborate don’t-make-a-peep-but-we-also-have-to-deal-with-this scenarios, almost in the way that the Final Destination films love their Rube Goldberg mechanisms, but if A Quiet Place‘s intention was to create unbearably cringe-inducing suspense, mission accomplished. Not to mention it’s one of the most beautifully rendered post-apocalypse films in some time.
3) Ready Player One – Yeah, this is pretty much my hot-take entry on this list. If I have a bias for Marvel, I definitely have a bias for nostalgia. And boy, did Ready Player One hit me in the nostalgia in the best possible way. Yet, it’s not really the on-screen references that make this movie work. It’s the nostalgic feel of the film, one that evokes an ethos more than anything of decades past, making it feel like it was made with the same stuff of 80s sci-fi classics like E.T. and Back to the Future. And the fact that it’s directed by Steven Spielberg certainly doesn’t hurt. Set in the year 2045, where global population has nearly swelled to its tipping point, people have found themselves retreating into a computer program called the OASIS, a virtual wonderland of infinite possibilities and beauty. Since the death of its founder James Halliday (Mark Rylance) decades earlier, a scavenger hunt for his Easter eggs has been ongoing, with the final prize being sole ownership of the OASIS, and by proxy, the future. While Halliday made the hunt extremely difficult so that only a true nostalgic geek inherit his fortune, it turns out he made it too difficult, as most have given up even trying to solve its first riddle. Enter teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), who through his encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and all things Halliday, is first to find an egg. The hunt is back on, as Wade not only finds himself in a race against every other user, but also the megalomaniacal corporation IOI, that sees acquiring the OASIS as nothing more than a power play, and will step on anyone to obtain it. Transcending its novel counterpart of the same name, Ready Player One finds Steven Spielberg once again working at the center of his wheelhouse, presenting his best directorial effort since Saving Private Ryan. Astounding is just how easily the film is able to awe and excite, and use its points of inspiration as merely a launching pad for its own deft storytelling practices.
2) Paddington 2 – Technically speaking, Paddington 2 only qualifies as a 2018 film in America – where the charming bear has bafflingly yet to be embraced – but since this writer lives on this side of the pond, here we are. A worthy successor to an equally superb film, the sequel simply follows the recipe already established and manages to whip up another fresh family adventure, mixing heart and humor – not to mention marmalade – to satisfying effect. This time out, Paddington Bear (Ben Whishaw) seeks to raise the money to purchase a pop-up book as a birthday present for his Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton). However, he isn’t the only one with sights on the book, as actor-turned-thief Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) seeks to get his hands on it for its secret monetary value. After a mixup with Buchanan, Paddington is framed for the crime and sent off to prison. With the help of his family the Browns and any friends he’ll be sure to make along the way, Paddington must break out and clear his name, which will mean confronting Buchanan and rescuing the book from his nefarious clutches. It’s a simple film, as Paddington is a simple character. But simple in this case does not mean boring, as Paddington will do everything to win over not only the most despicable of inmates, but audiences of all ages. And following the first film’s genius of casting a likable A-lister as the nefarious villain with Nicole Kidman, the sequel outdoes itself this time with Grant, who hasn’t been this much fun to watch since his heyday in films like Notting Hill. Using the traditional family film framework to deliver a solid adventure, Paddington 2 proves that if we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.
1) Hereditary – Surprise, surprise; the movie buff’s favorite film of the year so far is something general audiences reviled. Still, when has giving an unpopular opinion ever kept a good critic down? Simultaneously working as a terrifying horror film and a riveting character drama, Hereditary is about as good a directorial debut as Ari Aster could have hoped for. Richly layered with emotion and human psychology but not at the expense of its sheer ability to unnerve, this is a film that will haunt your thoughts long after you’ve finished watching it. It is not for the faint of heart, and it is not to be seen alone. Following the death of her mother, Annie Graham (Toni Collette) finds herself both mournful and relieved, as she works to navigate the new dynamics of her family now that it’s without its oddest and most unsettling member. As strange occurrences begin to surround the household, particularly her children Peter (Alex Wolff) and Charlie (Milly Shapiro), Annie must confront her family history if she’s to uncover if the danger really is otherworldly, or if the danger is herself. And that’s about as much as I can tell you about the movie. It is unabashedly weird and shocking, and is so wonderfully written it’s a film that demands repeat viewings just so you can understand what’s really at work here. While there may be some recycled elements from horror movies on display here, they’re never more effective than in Hereditary, which manages to be both subtle and outright terrorizing. Seriously, horror hasn’t been this good since The Silence of the Lambs (assuming you count that, which I don’t know if I do, but the fact still remains). Not to mention Toni Collette gives the performance of a lifetime here, and deserves some serious hardware come awards season. Hereditary is certainly a film that has polarized audiences, which I can only take to be an indicator of that given enough time, it will become a classic in its own right living up to the all-time greats of its genre.