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Five Years Later: 2018 Movies

Every year, I take on the exercise to take a look back at the movies from five years prior to see what held up, what movies have grown on me, what has gone stale and what slipped through the cracks over the years. Some of the movies that were nominated and did pretty well in Oscar voting had already fallen out of favor within days of the award show in 2019. Green Book was the Best Picture nominee and the writing of that was found to be pretty problematic by the time the awards came home. Bohemian Rhapsody already had problems with its credited director Bryan Singer being outed as an abuser and being fired mid-production. Dexter Fletcher replaced Singer with about a third of the movie left to be shot and did not get credit for his work. Fletcher did direct Rocket Man the next year, which was a very similar rock biopic and a little more imaginative than Rhapsody, this time with his with sole credit as director. Regardless, this was a pretty good year for movies with a few of the nominees that were quite good on their own and a whole lot of great movies that went under the radar. I have made my own awards for the movies of five years ago, my Hindsight Awards, with standard awards, plus stunts and special effects, two outstanding actors and two outstanding actresses as well as a best ensemble cast. Here is a list of my top 25 movies, and over on Letterboxd I have every movie from 2018 that I have logged in a master ranking.

  1. The Death of Stalin (My ranking in 2018: 1)

  • Best Picture, Best Ensemble

This satire about the death of Stalin, brings western voices and incredible jokes to a very Soviet clusterfuck. It’s amazing how good this is purely as a comedy, and yet provides a bit of a history lesson as well. Not the biggest ticket sales and nearly forgotten by physical distribution, this seems to have a second life in streaming.

  • Tubi

  • Hulu

2. Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse (3)

  • Best Animated Film

There was a period of time that Arthur was old enough to be a crazy Spider-Man fanatic but also wasn’t scared of any of the more ominous scenes, and this became one of the most rewatched movies I have ever seen. The film is great on every one of those viewings because the animation, jokes and layers upon layers of references. The dozens of viewings are almost necessary to soak it all in.

  • FXNow

3. Avengers: Infinity War (4)

It’s amazing how this actually lived up to the scale of the hype, had a storyline for almost every character in Marvel, and had the guts to have a bone-rattling shock of an ending. It ends in defeat with no hope for the future, which makes the ride leading up to it feel worth the effort, rather than going through the motions on the way to inevitable victory for the good guys.

  • Disney+

4. Blackkklansman (7)

  • Best Direction: Spike Lee, Best Writing: Spike Lee

I am a huge fan of Spike Lee and this instantly shot up the list of his best movies, and it is about a five-way tie for his best. An interesting story of a black police officer who infiltrates the local chapter of the Klan while also frequently corresponding with David Duke over the phone, told with loads of humor. Great direction from Lee and splashes of a signature bold score. 

  • Only available to rent or buy

5. Vice (8)

  • Best Actor: Christian Bale

I’m not sure this is the best Adam McKay movie, but it is one that is very interesting to revisit when I learn new tidbits from the Bush years. It was a fucked up time in American history and the story had gone fairly untold in film. When a Trump presidency movie finally comes out in upcoming years, it seems likely that it will be in this style of inflecting a little humor into the scary.

  • Peacock Premium

  • Starz

6. In The Realm of Perfection (NR)

  • Best Documentary, Best Music

This documentary of a John McEnroe French Open tournament in his prime has one of the greatest opening to any movie that I have ever seen. Opening with very technical instructional videos with quirky music before exploding into McEnroe repeatedly tossing the ball for serves, cutting before making contact with the racket to the soundtrack of a Sonic Youth song. One of my favorite documentaries ever. 

  • Tubi

  • Kanopy

7. First Reformed (9)

  • Best Actor: Ethan Hawke

I think this was the first time I was made aware of the direction of Paul Schrader and it led me into a deep dive of all of his movies and I have enjoyed the beautifully shot weirdness. This is the best of the bunch and Ethan Hawke puts in a haunting performance. 

  • Cinemax

  • Kanopy

8. Roma (20)

  • Best Actres: Yalitza Aparicio, Best Cinematography: Alfonso Cuaron, Best Foreign Film

When this came out, I found it interesting, well shot, oddly compelling, but I felt lost when it came to the message of the film. I’m not sure I still fully understand what this movie is really about, but the visuals are so incredible and it is incredibly rewatchable, I think watching it more than once certainly helps to bring out some of the themes of class, gender and isolation and it is so well made to be inviting for many rewatches.

  • Netflix

9. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (6)

  • Best Stunts or Special Effects

The episodic nature of this film seemed like a curious choice from the Coen Brothers, although Wes Anderson has gone on to put out a serialized film and a collection of short films that plays very similarly. Buster Scruggs is a film that really has me cursing streaming involvement with prestige directors because this is one of many great films of the last few years that doesn’t appear like it will ever get a physical release. I think this has one of the most memorable stories in recent years, the traveling entertainers, and also a couple of my absolute favorite western stories in a while, the bank robber and the wagon train. 

  • Netflix

10. Unsane (12)

Steven Soderbergh has been on a bit of a tear the last ten years or so, putting out at least one movie a year during that time, sometimes two, all after he claimed he was retiring. Not every film is a big production and a lot of them have been lost in the mix, but the majority of them have been absolute gems with undercurrents of his odd personality. Here, a psychological thriller about a woman who is unsure of her own sanity in a mental health institution as she is subjected to medications and skepticism of her claims of a past tormentor working in the institution.

  • Kanopy

11. Night is Short, Walk on Girl (NR)

I found this odd animated Japanese film through the podcast Popcorn and Pixels, an absolutely bonkers story of unrequited love and superhuman alcohol consumption… no, not just that they drink a lot, that the main character becomes superhuman from her alcohol consumption. Lots of fun and oddly touching. I cannot stress enough how strange this movie is, yet still manages to not be off putting.

  • Max

12. Ocean’s 8 (18)

While this is the only of the modern Ocean’s movies (which could also include Logan Lucky) to not be directed by Steven Soderbergh, this is wildly fun, different enough from the other oceans movies to feel fresh and sports a murders row of a great cast. I’m guessing there’s only eight of them because they make 73% of what the boys make. Going into 2020, this was a nice comfort movie for me.

  • Max

  • Freevee

13. Black Panther (13)

  • Best Music

I think this was just okay as a superhero movie, although that still goes a long way for me, but as a piece of cultural art, this is sneaky good and the soundtrack is exceptional, one of the best from the last several years.

  • Disney+

14. You Were Never Really Here (16)

Joker may have been the movie that Joaquin Phoenix won his Oscar, but this human trafficking vigilante film was such a drastic transformation of him as an actor that it was the roadmap for the super villain role. This is also so dark that it makes Joker appear lighthearted in contrast.

  • Prime Video

15. Cold War (21)

An absolutely beauty out of Poland about a couple embarking on a romance under the back drop of the Cold War in the 1950’s. Paweł Pawlikowski is a great director who surely would have won the Foreign Language Oscar had it been any other year that he was not up against Roma.

  • Prime Video

  • Freevee

16. Tully (NR)

  • Best Actress: Charlize Theron

Truly a great movie about coming of age into middle age and the incredible stresses of being a parent both to a newborn but also a special needs kid. Very funny, great writing, Charlize Theron is amazing.

  • Netflix

17. They Shall Not Grow Old (25)

I am quite interested in World War I history and this technological feat from Peter Jackson brings history to life. This is a bit of a trial run for his Beatles documentary, but overcomes some very specific technological challenges.

  • Only available to rent or buy

18. Bad Times at the El Royale (NR)

This is a certain kind of crazy movie that throws everything at the wall and let's it all try to kill each other. While it's a recipe for possibly overdoing things, this commits to having as much fun as possible while sporting a fantastic cast. 

  • Only available to rent or buy

19. The House That Jack Built (NR)

You could expect a serial killer movie from Lars von Trier to be emotionally scarring, and it is. It firmly places us in the passenger seat with a murderer as he brutally kills in ways that very much doesn’t try to romanticize anything. And yet, the film ends in a magical realism that puts the film onto another plane of filmmaking. 

  • Tubi

  • Hulu

  • Kanopy

20. Isle of Dogs (22)

After Fantastic Mr Fox, Wes Anderson took another shot at stop motion animation, but this time with an original story and a PG-13 rating. Some of the more recent Wes Anderson movies have taking a few viewings for me to warm up to, a change from some of his earlier films that were love at first sight for me. But this has aged pretty damn well for me. It’s an island, with dogs. And the dogs talk. 

  • Disney+

21. Incredibles 2 (NR)

This feels like it delivers on the promise of the first Incredibles movie of having the family all involved in the action. Jack-Jack finally gets to shine as a super baby. The score is peak ‘60’s James Bond, the animation is especially great, and the villains give very subtle fakeouts in the story, flying against current superhero storytelling conventions.

  • Disney+

22. 3 Faces (NR)

Iranian Jafar Panahi is one of my favorite directors in the world, face very real prison and a ban on filmmaking in his own country. And yet he still makes movies, starring himself as the lead actor and the lead character, where he solves mysteries or experiences oddities in the world, perhaps parallel and maybe even less perilous than his real life. 

  • Kanopy

23. Support the Girls (NR)

A movie about a Hooters style restaurant and the women who work there, through the course of  a day. As good of a workplace movie as any, and an interesting group of actors. This portrays an incident of road rage that doesn’t go quite as intended by the aggressor, a sequence that I think about the time. 

  • Hulu

  • Kanopy

  • Paramount+

  • Showtime

24. Game Night (NR)

I think the last five years has revealed this to be a new comedy classic. A group of friends hold a game night while they attempt to fend off unwanted participants who find outlandish ways to raise the stakes of the competition.

  • Fubo

  • USA Network

25. An Elephant Sitting Still (NR)

A fascinating addition to the “Slow Cinema” genre of films. Nearly four hours long, intertwining stories sending a group of people out to rural China searching for a storied elephant. This is incredibly well shot with a very good score. Sadly, first time director Hu Bo, committed suicide after the end of production and before release. The film was introduced to an international audience by the master of slow cinema, Bela Tarr. 

  • Fandor

Honorable Mentions

There were a good number of movies just out of my top 25 that are worth mentioning: Widows, Free Solo, Ted Williams: The Greatest Hitter That Ever Lived, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Mission Impossible Fallout (probably best stunts and special effects), oddballs Vox Lux and Diamantino and The Fabric, biopics The Catcher was a Spy, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, The Eyes of Orson Welles, The Other Side of the Wind, adventure or sci-fi movies Annihilation, Tomb Raider, Red Sparrow, the weirdness of Robin Hood and disappointment of Ready Player One. These are all good movies, some with flaws, but even those flaws are pretty entertaining.

Worst Movie

Aquaman. This might have been the real nail in the coffin for the Snyderverse. The physics of swimming is a mess and the acting is painful. He would have been better off riding a giant seahorse around.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this was a really good year for movies, but I really can’t wait to get to the 2019 movies. That’s an especially great year for movies, with several from the top of my decade’s best list. 2018 was a good year for social commentary movies that happened to also be great, and it was a year where really great movies weren’t afraid to be funny. My enduring feeling from 2018 at the movies was the incredible rush seeing the end of Infinity War and not wanting to move from my seat regardless of there being an end credit sequence or not and listening to some pretty thoughtful chatter around me about comic book characters and the greater themes of the movie. It was a pretty exciting shared experience of cinema.



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