For the last few years, I've been contemplating doing away with a Ten Best list. This year, I'm trying that idea out. Every time I sit down to make one of these lists, I end up having a few more than ten movies worthy of inclusion. This sets off the painful process of eliminating a few of the titles. It's ridiculous. If the goal is to spotlight excellence in cinema, why set a limit on it?
2018 was an outstanding year for movies. There were fourteen of them vying for that theoretical top ten. No matter how I tried to configure a Ten Best list, leaving something off felt wrong. So instead, I will present all my choices, in alphabetical order. (No ranking!) My sole concession to the format will be the selection of one title as the best film of the year. It was an easy choice, because my #1 was in a class by itself.
Let's get started. Here are my picks for the Best Films of 2018:
Annihilation -- Science-fiction is always at its best when using a genre format to tackle deep issues. Alex Garland's chilling movie addresses life and death, hope and hopelessness, reality and surreality. You could probably watch it a dozen times and see something new with each viewing.
Beautiful Boy -- Timothee Chalamet does remarkably effective work as a teen strung-out on drugs, and Steve Carell is equally good as the father who mistakenly believes he can save him. Based on the memoirs of David Sheff and his son Nic, Beautiful Boy is one of the most accurate depictions of addiction and codependency you will ever see.
Eighth Grade -- Writer/director Bo Burnham remembers how awkward early adolescence is, and he channels it all into this story of a young girl (the marvelous Elsie Fisher) struggling to fit in with a social circle -- any social circle. The movie makes you laugh, cringe, and remember your own awkwardness simultaneously.
First Man -- Damien Chazelle's biopic of Neil Armstrong is a space exploration movie unlike any other. Rather than a rah-rah adventure, he gives us a meditation on death. Ryan Gosling is superb as Armstrong, indicating how the astronaut persevered in his mission as a means of dealing with the loss of his young daughter and several colleagues. A profound, immensely patriotic film.
Hereditary -- In my original review, I called Ari Aster's Hereditary “one of the most f***ed-up horror movies I've ever seen.” There is no better way to describe it. Toni Collette gives a first-rate performance in a picture that seriously messes with your head – as good horror should.
If Beale Street Could Talk -- Barry Jenkins follows up his Oscar-winning Moonlight with an even better film. Adapting James Baldwin's 1974 novel, he expertly weaves together a moving love story and a social commentary about the over-incarceration of young black men in a way so that they compliment each other. This is a lovely, meaningful work.
Incredibles 2 -- Add this one to the relatively short list of sequels that are just as good as the originals. The superhero family is back, engaging in battle against a timely screen-controlling villain and, on the side, addressing the responsibilities of parenting. Another fine reminder that animated movies aren't just kids' stuff.
Paddington 2 -- Let's be honest -- the world's a tough place right now. There's a lot of animosity and hatred out there. Paddington 2 is the perfect antidote to that. The movie is relentlessly positive, sending a message that being kind to other people is a virtue we should never lose. If you don't feel good after watching this film, I feel sorry for you.
A Quiet Place -- Who ever would have guessed that John Krasinski, despite being immensely talented, had it in him to direct one of the creepiest, most suspenseful horror movies of recent times? A Quiet Place's use of silence to suggest menace is nerve-rattling. I was on edge for the duration of its running time.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse -- The groundbreaking animation would have been enough to secure a spot on this list. A solidly-constructed story that incorporates several different iterations of Spider-Man and says something about the importance of teamwork just seals the deal. Spider-Verse is one of the best superhero movies ever made.
A Star Is Born -- Funny thing here. I saw and loved A Star Is Born, giving it four stars. I didn't necessarily think it would end up on my “best” list, though, because competition is tough. But you know what? I became obsessed with this movie. I saw it back in October and have literally thought about it every day since. The emotional power of Bradley Cooper's music drama stuck with me.
Vice -- Adam McKay's satiric Dick Cheney biopic is understandably divisive. Its take-no-prisoners approach and intermittent comic asides give it real punch, though. Christian Bale does far more than impersonate Cheney; he helps us understand the inner motivations of a man who purposefully kept his feelings close to the vest.
Widows -- After Shame and 12 Years a Slave, you wouldn't expect director Steve McQueen to make a heist thriller. Then again, Widows isn't just any old heist thriller. Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki star in this twisting, turning tale that encompasses themes of political corruption, marital honesty, and racial tension. It's absolutely riveting from start to finish.
And my choice for the Best Film of 2018 is:
BlacKkKlansman -- I said back in August that I wouldn't see a better film this year than Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman. I was right. Based on the true story of a black cop (John David Washington) who infiltrated the KKK, it stands next to Lee's Do the Right Thing as one of the best movies ever made about racial intolerance in the United States. The director doesn't hold back his anger, whether making a point about the insidious of racism by inter-cutting KKK members cheering a screening of Birth of a Nation with Harry Belafonte relating a horrifying real-life incident of racial violence, or ending the film with a flash-forward to the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville that left Heather Heyer dead. Lee's point is vital: racism has been around a long time, it's still here, and society would be remiss to convince itself otherwise. Spike Lee is always at his best when tackling issues of race. He delivers another masterpiece here.