Thursday, January 10, 2019

Jan's 2018 Top (Sort Of) Ten (Eleven) Movies

by Jan Bottiglieri
Who am I to have opinions?

A new year always prompts us to look back at the old year and reflect. Did we reach our goals? Did we change, learn, and grow? Did we weather the storms with grace and courage, and did we celebrate the small victories of each glorious new day with humility and gratitude?

And each year, these deeply personal thoughts compel us to boil down our precious five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes into manageable chunks of ten things… and not just any ten things—the ten TOP things. Because “TOP” can obviously have only one definition, and that definition applies to ALL THE THINGS.

In that spirit, I offer you this list of Eleven Highly-Favored Movies I Saw in 2018, arranged here in chronological order of when I saw them, with a few notes on why I loved them.
Annihilation - A movie I can’t wait to see again, but have waited to see again because what if I don’t think it’s as cool as I did when I saw it the first time? (This is a problem that particularly affects me with movies in my favorite genre: “science fiction” concerned less with the pew-pew-pew! stuff than with the “what is a human?” stuff.) I loved that the lead characters were not presented as some kind of Fox Force Five—but that their gender was still critical to, not incidental to, character and plot. I loved the film’s mysteries and ideas, its lush cinematography, and its complicated ending.
A Quiet Place - Why are there so many movies about surviving the end of the world? Some might say it’s because of how good we feel when the movie is over and we’re not dead. I think it’s because the only way to improve at chess is to play opponents better than you, even if you lose. (This metaphor makes perfect sense to ME.) I found this film tense and compelling, and I loved the way it relied on image, expression, and direction to create a sense of dread—we’re used to films falling back on aural clues, and A Quiet Place leans into their absence to make us feel as stricken by loss as the family at this film’s center.
Tully - This turned out to be not quite about what I expected it to be about, but in the best way. As Marlo, Charlize Theron gives a nuanced and empathetic performance that anyone who is or knows a mom should see. The relationship that develops between Marlo and Tully, the younger woman she engages as a night nurse, is fun and deep and revealing. It sounds so dumb and cliché to say that I love movies that can be both funny and terribly sad, like life is, but I do and it is.
Hereditary - I found this film genuinely unsettling and scary on so many levels. Those ants on Charlie’s face! All that “King Paimon” shit! Yet some of the most horrifying moments are revealed through the dynamics of this very weird family, which is being haunted (both actually and metaphorically) in very weird ways. This movie finds new ways to make us afraid of ourselves and each other.
BlacKkKlansman - I’d like to be the kind of #woke #ally that says something trenchant about the vital social issues at the heart of this movie, but the truth is I loved it for having my favorite things in any movie: fantastic performances, compelling characters, and dynamic relationships. Stars Adam Driver and John David Washington are both amazing (at this point I’ll see anything with Adam Driver in it, because he’s always interesting), but there’s a great supporting cast too—especially Ashlie Atkinson as Klanwife Connie and Topher Grace as David Duke.
Eighth Grade - We were at our son’s “Welcome to Middle School” open house when I leaned over to JB and said, “Hey, remember what a HELL junior high is?” Then an anxious voice behind us said, “Wait—WHAT?” I’d forgotten Jake was there. This movie made me feel again both what it was like to be the kid, and what it was like to be the parent trying to convince the kid they’d make it through. Eighth Grade’s Kayla makes good and bad choices, and we’re on her side for all of them. The ending’s careful arrangement of Every Chicken Nugget Sauce is the rainbow after the flood.
A Star is Born - Music, love, tears, music, sacrifice, love, tears. See above re: performances, characters, and relationships. Lady Gaga is luminous in this film.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - I think anthologies are really hard to do well; if they’re uneven or disjointed, the whole film suffers. Buster Scruggs does it extremely well. The framing device of the book works to keep it all tonally aligned. I loved how each “chapter” offered its own perspective on the Western—here it’s more than a genre, it’s a worldview. My favorite chapters were probably “Meal Ticket” and “The Gal Who Got Rattled,” I guess because I love to have my heart broken.
Mandy - No one who reads or writes for this website needs to be convinced that horror is a genre of possibility—and Mandy is the blacklight-poster-come-to-life proof. I don’t mean the Tolkien-y kind of black light poster with flowers and fairy maidens on it. I mean the kind that looks like the cover of a Nordic death metal album—the kind that would be hanging in the bedroom of your best friend’s older brother Kevin, and you’d sneak in just to gaze at its thrilling terror until Kevin came home and yelled “BEAT IT, TWERPS” while he hurled a wadded-up denim jacket at you. Mandy is also a thriller, a revenge film, a super-romantic love story, and maybe a space movie? There’s a lot of blood. It’s the Nic Cage of Nic Cage films.
The Favorite - Who says costume dramas need to be stuffy and dull and totally non-lesbian? I love this one for its historically accurate portrayal of duck racing. I also love how The Favorite pushes our expectations about the three women at its center—who they are, what they want, and what they are/are not willing to do to get it. It’s a movie about shifting alliances that subtly leads the viewer’s alliances to shift as well—very effective.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - This one blew me away for sheer style and moxie. Adam Riske and I were talking about it recently and discovered we both had the same thought while watching this film—something that can best be summed up by asking “how did people even DO this movie?” It’s creative, energetic, and loads of fun, with animation that is appealing and kinetic. It’s got just enough “message” without being preachy, and I can see Miles Morales as one of those movie characters who comes to mean a lot personally to a lot of people. A cool concept that’s well executed, with none of the heavy sturm und drang that weighs down some other “comic book” movies.

If I missed one of your favorites of 2018, it may be that I just didn’t see it (I am only one Jan with access to a single Jan-verse.) Tell me about it in the comments!


  1. I'm happy to see Into the Spider-Verse getting love, it might be my favorite movie of 2018. There have been countless "comic book movies" (movies based on comics) before. But Spider-Verse is the first actual comic book movie, i.e. a movie that feels like reading a comic book. I love it!

  2. I kept putting off "Spider-verse" because of catching up on other things, but all the positive noise around it is pushing it up on my list to get to.

    The buttons on the denim jacket really sting.

  3. "blacklight-poster-come-to-life proof" - LOVE THIS Jan! Love it all, of course. <3

  4. It warms my heart that "Annihilation" is appearing in a lot of FTM contributors' Top 10 lists. I was beating the drum for this one loudly since it came out early this year, and in the end it was neck-and-neck with "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Black Panther" as my favorite movie of 2018 (great company to rub elbows against at the podium).

    Now if only Jan could appear on the podcast alongside JB (or without him... who needs men anyway? :-D) more often than just once every few months, 2019 would be a great FTM year.