Michael Lane’s Top 10 Films of 2018

Banner credited to Michael Lane

2018 certainly was a year, wasn’t it? I graduated from college, even landed a job just a handful of months after, and in between dreading school, work, and the awful act of applying for work, I still found an unreasonable amount of time to go to the movies. There was originally a sizable list of contenders vowing for inclusion on this list, and while I’d love to talk about each and every one of them, I unfortunately had to slice this thing down to the resulting 15 you see below. There are so many movies I enjoyed this year, and even more that I missed out on seeing completely (perhaps your personal favorites belong in those categories!). And while I enjoyed a large swath of movies this year, it wasn’t until the very end of the year when I found that one particularly standout entry that I instantly knew would top my list. What film is that? Read on, friend, and find out for yourself.

Honorable mentions:

Really some great films on that list there, but 10 others managed to be just that much better in 2018. So, with that out of the way, we can finally get to what you’ve all been waiting for: My Certified Top 10 Films of 2018. I think you’ll like the list, and I especially hope you may find some new movies to watch. Happy viewing, everyone!

#10 Film: Incredibles 2 – Dir. Brad Bird

Nearly 15 years after its excellent predecessor defined my childhood interest in superheroes, Pixar’s Incredibles 2 actually delivers on the inflated anticipation that my generation has collectively built up for it over the past decade. It not only seemed like there was no way it could live up to the expectations, but for years it seemed as though the sequel would just never get made. But much like the “death” of any superhero in a major comic, this franchise wouldn’t stay down forever. And thankfully it didn’t, as Incredibles 2 is perhaps every bit as exceptional as the first iteration was. Incredibles 2 offers a unique take on the superhero sequel, with Mr. Incredible acting as a stay-at-home dad trying to care for his kids as his wife fulfills the job of governmental superhero. It’s at all times funny, exciting, and a marvel to look at, featuring some of my favorite moments of any film this year (specifically that raccoon vs. baby scene). I pray we one day get to visit this superhero family once again…just hopefully in a more timely manner next time around.

#9 Film: Mission Impossible: Fallout – Dir. Christopher McQuarrie

It’s been half a year since I saw Mission Impossible: Fallout, and I’m still dazed by its unmatched, explosive set pieces. There is undoubtedly no better action film that came out this year. My god, I’m still reeling even thinking about it. Tom Cruise is in peak form here, surrounded by his usual cast of wonderful characters, and suitably matched by an electrifying, hunky performance from Henry Cavill. You’d think that after six entries — and more than 20 years since its inception — that any new MI would obviously come out relentlessly tired and trite. Somehow, though, Christopher McQuarrie’s rendition of this familiar dance is endlessly reinvigorating, being complete with ridiculously fun spy intrigue and truly innovative moments of action. Just writing about it makes me want to immediately watch it again.

#8 Film: Widows – Dir. Steve McQueen

Brilliantly directed by Steven McQueen (12 Years A Slave), and featuring a sharp screenplay written by Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl), this big-budget feature adaptation of the 80s British serial bearing the same name is a marvelous vintage thriller. Viola Davis is excellent as the lead here, although she’s hardly the only A-lister featured — Liam Neeson, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Colin Farrell, and Daniel Kaluuya, among others, round out the impressive ensemble cast. Davis plays Veronica, one of four titular widows, whose husbands were recently killed in a shootout with the police following a botched robbery attempt. Because of their late husbands’ deaths, the four women are left with some complications, one of which includes a $2 million debt to a local crime boss. In order to pay him off, the four women have to finish what their husbands started, and pull off a multi-million dollar heist of their own. Widows is a rousing success in countless ways, bearing an extraordinary script, top-tier performances across the board (Kaluuya is especially menacing in a standout antagonist role), and numerous unforeseen plot-twists, all of which make it one of the year’s most compelling watches.

#7 Film: The Favourite – Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

Having experience with both of Yorgos Lanthimos’ previous two films, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, I kind of knew exactly what was in store for me walking into The Favourite. I expected a film with an incredibly eccentric story featuring off-the-wall characters in peculiar situations — and that’s exactly what I got! However, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it like I did his quirky work with The Lobster, or if I would largely dislike it as I did his difficult-to-grasp Sacred Deer. I’m so thankful that The Favourite landed in the prior category for me, appropriately becoming my personal favorite of his works in the process.

The Favourite adapts the real life story of Britain’s Queen Anne as it was in 1708. Going into the film I wasn’t only unaware of the woman and her story, but I wasn’t even certain throughout my viewing that this work was actually based in reality. I wondered about whether it was a fact-based account the entire time, but I continued having doubts due to the fact that the story as it is presented here is truly so bizarre. The Favourite is an unorthodox period picture, being darkly comical and wildly entertaining despite its historical limitations, all the while highlighting stellar work from Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Colman.

#6 Film: Sorry To Bother You – Dir. Boots Riley

By far the most polarizing film included in my list this year, Sorry To Bother You is a scathing satire of American capitalism wrapped up in a largely hilarious and especially hallucinatory narrative. Written and directed by rapper-turned-filmmaker Boots Riley, Sorry To Bother You is quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Riley’s first feature is both impressive and exciting, as he showcases an invigorating, unusual style with his direction and writing. His script is often side-splittingly funny, although Sorry To Bother You certainly reaches into bleaker territory in its surprising and wildly inventive third act. The cast here is also wonderful, featuring talented actors and actresses who inhabit their characters perfectly, and yet somehow still feel out of place in the over-the-top, bizarro-alternate universe Riley has presented us with. Sorry To Bother You certainly isn’t a film I would recommend to just anyone, but it completely resonated with me and instantly became one of the year’s standout films.

#5 Film: Suspiria – Dir. Luca Guadagnino

Being directed by Call Me By Your Name’s Luca Guadagnino, and based on Dario Argento’s 1977 Italian giallo classic, Suspiria was unquestionably one of my most anticipated films of the year. Still, I was ready to be disappointed, namely for two reasons: 1) Horror remakes are historically underwhelming, and 2) The film’s reception leading up to its wide release was largely mixed, with many loving the film and many others despising it. I was honestly anticipating that I would fall on the latter side of that spectrum, previously having had a similar a experience with Nicholas Winding Refn’s Neon Demon just a couple years prior (I draw connections between both films as they are similar in terms of tone and aesthetic). However, and maybe this could be a bit due to my halted expectations immediately before seeing it, but I absolutely adored Suspiria.

Guadagnino’s Suspiria is admittedly a slow, slow, slow burn, but it especially works due to its immense mysteries and satisfying payoff. It’s just over two-and-a-half hours long, far outreaching the length of most horror films, and it takes its sweet time answering a lot of the questions it immediately sets up. But while the pacing is an issue, Suspiria is also visually and aurally arresting throughout. Whereas Argento’s version is widely remembered as being splashed in bright colors and high contrast, Guadagnino purposefully drains the color from his film, instead utilizing bleak settings that work to add to the film’s poignant allusions to the Cold War. Guadagnino, alongside cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (who also worked on CMBYN), makes impressive use of many camera effects that add to the film’s throwback feel, and the score by Thom Yorke (of Radiohead) is appropriately creepy and memorable. Pacing issues aside, Suspiria is wholly unforgettable, prominently spotlighting many of the year’s most unusual and special scenes of horror, as well as numerous immaculate dance sequences that fit alongside the year’s absolute best moments in film.

#4 Film: Blindspotting – Dir. Carlos López Estrada

Blindspotting is a film that unfortunately couldn’t seem to capture much of the public consciousness in 2018, although it’s better than almost every film that came out this past year. Blindspotting’s first-rate screenplay is among its strongest aspects, seamlessly melding instances of incredible tension and tragedy with biting social commentary, and doing so with a cast of endearing characters that feel real. The writing is credited to Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, a pair that also co-stars in the film as two best friends living in Oakland that, over the course of three days, get caught up in an increasingly disquieting sequence of events.

Diggs plays Collin, who at the outset is serving the final hours of his probation sentence. He’s typically reserved and of stable mind, and he’s simply trying to put the last three days of his sentence behind him, although the narrative’s proceedings will really test his ability to do so. Opposite Collin is Miles (Casal), whose persona is better defined by reckless, hotheaded emotion. Diggs and Casal, who have been real-life friends since they were children, wrote and refined the script over a decade’s time, and their remarkable chemistry together makes for an irresistible pairing. Blindspotting is a captivating film that ultimately becomes a fascinating meditation on police brutality, gentrification, and racism — heady themes that are conveyed with the utmost care and respect.

#3 Film: Minding the Gap – Dir. Bing Liu

Hulu’s Minding the Gap is an immensely compelling, poignant, and devastating documentary, which makes it a damn shame that it is likely to be the most overlooked film featured on my list this year. On the surface, Minding the Gap appears to do no more than simply capture the dwindling but ever-present skate scene in Rockford, Illinois, one of the worst cities to live in in the entire US. But first-time director Bing Liu pinpoints his focused lens on the lives of three young men (including himself), and their shared passion for skateboarding acts only as a front for what Liu is truly interested in exposing.

Over the course of the film, Liu capably unveils the childhood traumas the three friends faced separately, in each case suffering from domestic abuse. Liu’s talents become increasingly clear as the film goes on, with the portraits of these men becoming remarkably detailed and well-realized along the way. As I said at the top, Minding the Gap will devastate you, but it’s also an extremely important observation of the effects child abuse has on someone, specifically in regards to young men. This is certainly a tough watch — and one you can expect to need a tissue or two in time for the final act — but also one that’s unquestionably worth your time, and thankfully concludes with more optimism than you may come to expect.

#2 Film: Hereditary – Dir. Ari Aster

First-time director Ari Aster and beloved indie film distributor A24 (Moonlight, Ex Machina) present Hereditary, which I can definitively describe as a film I found to be disturbing, shocking, and a profound horror masterpiece. Hereditary isn’t so much unlike classic horrors of decades past in terms of aesthetic and atmosphere, and it is nearly comparable in quality to some of the genre’s all-time greats — The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Exorcist all act as reminders and apparent inspirations for the new film’s proceedings. Yet, while Hereditary certainly shares DNA with the previously mentioned films, it remains distinctive, wholly original, and substantial, even when placed against its massively influential predecessors. The film ultimately demonstrates its own handful of striking achievements — like the much-touted (and rightfully so) lead performances, as well as its impactful, eerie soundtrack and chilling cinematography — all aspects of which culminate in an unforgettable moviegoing experience.

One of the greatest strengths of Hereditary is that it is fully capable of subverting all of your expectations leading into it. It’s truly hard to predict what will happen, and even when you think you know where it’s all heading, Aster deploys another unforseen twist. This helps to create tension and unease in the viewer, ultimately adding to the film’s general terror and creepiness. The film also successfully rides a fine line between being a family drama and supernatural thriller, and for much of its run-time, is solely interested in the captivating familial drama. A particular dinner scene is easily one of Hereditary‘s standout sequences, when Aster truly captures the glorious acting abilities of everyone involved. Still, when the film decides to lean into aspects of horror, it is glorious. This is by far the year’s scariest film, and it becomes increasingly bizarre and unsettling as it goes on. Jesus, that final shot? It’s not only unsettling, but it’s unforgettable.

I’m not certain that I have solved all of Hereditary’s secrets in my two viewings of the film. Perhaps this is by Aster’s design, but numerous rewatches are a guarantee for myself at this point. I look forward to the opportunity to revisit this film’s disturbed home and the troubled family that resides inside, partly in hopes that I can fully grasp exactly what I think the answer is, but to also merely inhabit the strange, uninviting world that it so deliciously establishes.

#1 Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Dirs. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, & Rodney Rothman

I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been so impressed by a comic book-based film — let alone a full-length animated feature — in my entire life. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is my favorite Spider-Man film, and well, it’s also the best Marvel movie I’ve ever seen.

As much as I was looking forward to and ultimately loved Spider-Verse, I completely understand how, to the layman, it may appear to simply be a skippable offshoot of one of the most celebrated comic book characters of all time. Spider-Verse isn’t placed within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that could be seen as a detriment in a world where the live-action MCU films dominate the hearts and minds of the filmgoing population. Just the fact that it’s an animated feature doesn’t necessarily help its stature, either. Plus, the film doesn’t even star household name Peter Parker as its lead Spider-Man, instead focusing its sights on a lesser-known version of the titular hero, Miles Morales.

But please, I beg you; DO NOT OVERLOOK THIS FILM. Rather, see it on the biggest screen you can, and do it immediately. You would be remiss not to do so, especially if you’re a fan of Spider-Man, comic book movies, or just good films in general. I am honestly hard-pressed to unearth a single flaw I found with Spider-Verse, so I won’t even try. Instead, I’ll keep things positive and just tell you why I think it’s such a glorious film.

To start, it is without a doubt among the prettiest and most impressive showcases of animation I’ve ever seen. I would genuinely place it up alongside the likes of Akira and the charming output of Studio Ghibli as being the best animation ever produced. The stylized 3D CGI animation is immediately striking, but it’s the film’s seamless insertion of hand-drawn cartoons that provides the film’s distinct, astonishing aesthetic. Spider-Verse is intensely colorful, flawlessly rendered, and brimming with gorgeous art, culminating in one of the the best looking films I can think of — animated or otherwise.

Perhaps the most laudable aspect of Spider-Verse, though, is that it takes legitimate risks in its portrayal of these well-worn characters. Nearly all of the output from the MCU and DCEU over the past decade has felt safe, calculated, and often sanitized, as if ultimately being crafted by megacorporations instead of passionate filmmakers. This isn’t at all the case with Spider-Verse, which is a film so obviously informed by the 50+ years of Spider-Man’s history (both its most important aspects and tiniest details), and in the end truly gives the impression that it’s a comic brought to life — more so than any previous comic-based movie has before.

And don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed almost every MCU film I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, but outside of a couple rare cases, they’ve rarely made sizable impacts on me. For me, those are popcorn movies through and through, being enjoyable in the moment but often forgettable directly after. I can’t imagine I will forget the amazing time I had watching Spider-Verse anytime soon, and unlike any other Marvel or DC movie, I have been aching to watch it again as soon as possible.

Spider-Verse really took me by surprise; I just simply couldn’t have expected it to be so substantially better than its peers and predecessors. This is a film whose content is at all times riveting and emotionally appealing, as well as often humorous thanks to its vibrant cast of other Spider-Men and Women. It is largely without flaw, and with everything it does so well, it’s no surprise that Spider-Man: Enter The Spider-Verse is the best film of 2018.

— Michael Lane, Film Blogger

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