Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Rob's Favorite Movies of 2018

by Rob DiCristino
This is a list of my favorite movies of the year. It is similar to yours, but also different!

My favorite movies of 2018 are about pain, loss, insecurity, obsession, insanity, fragility, mortality, and — more than anything else — humanity. There are plenty of social parallels I could draw between an influx in movies concerning these topics and the first full production cycle since the establishment of our new political landscape. All media is reactionary, and those reactions help us cope with and contextualize the real-world brutality around us. Really, though, assigning some kind of grander purpose to these picks is self-obsessive nonsense. I picked these movies because I connected with them! Maybe you did, too.

Honorable Mentions: These fiveWon’t You Be My Neighbor?, Mandy, The Night Comes for Us, First Man, Wildlife, Unsane

10. Revenge (Dir. Coralie Fargeat)
There’s no complex deconstruction in Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge; no distractions, no pretense, no attempts to bury pulpy genre elements under trappings more palatable for a mainstream audience. It is simply a brutal, bloody, and exploitative revenge story executed with precision and imagination by an energetic first-timer with an axe to grind. Sometimes, simpler is better. I’ll never understand why lead Matilda Lutz wasn’t in the awards conversation this year, but hopefully Revenge’s presence in the Shudder lineup will keep new audiences discovering her incredible performance for years to come.

9. Hereditary (Dir. Ari Aster)
Did you hear that 2018 was a bad year for horror? I did. It was a good year for whatever Ari Aster’s (another newcomer) Hereditary is, though. It’s been compared to recent offerings like The Witch and The Babadook, but its stark and uncompromising portrayal of grief and insanity reminded me more of The Shining or even my beloved Silence of the Lambs. It’s about the way resentments solidify over generations and cloud our ability to empathize and connect with those we love. It’s weird and risky and absurd. It’s also really, really scary. The images and tonal movements Aster creates are on par with the very best of the genre. You know, the horror genre. The genre this movie belongs to.

8. You Were Never Really Here (Dir. Lynne Ramsay)
My vote for best director of 2018 went to Lynne Ramsay for her work on You Were Never Really Here. I’ve only watched it once, so far — I don’t know when I’ll be ready to watch it again — but nearly every frame is seared into my memory. It’s the kind of movie that comes along and confirms something terrible you already believed about yourself, something that you never expected to hear out loud. It makes you stew in it. It doesn't forgive you for it. It doesn’t let you off the hook. I don’t know if I’m a better or worse person for having lived through You Were Never Really Here, but I know that it shined light into dark places I was afraid to confront on my own.

7. Annihilation (Dir. Alex Garland)
Alex Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina was unceremoniously dumped by its studio earlier this year and left to those of us willing to champion its complex and vulnerable ambition to anyone who would listen. I can only hope its cult status will build and (like 2001: A Space Odyssey) we’ll collectively catch up to its brilliance over time. While its shifty structure and haunting images invite a variety of interpretations, I settled on mine after only one viewing. I felt it in my bones right away. There’s something very comforting about that, I think, to feel a movie like Annihilation without having to think about it. It’s about our human instinct toward self-destruction, a physical and emotional process from which we never entirely recover. When we cross key thresholds, we come back changed at a cellular level. We can rebuild, but we’re never truly the same again.

6. A Star is Born (Dir. Bradley Cooper)
The third debut feature on my list is both maddeningly familiar and refreshingly new. Framed by a killer soundtrack and infectious lead performances from Cooper, Lady Gaga, and Sam Elliott, A Star is Born was the only truly old-fashioned event movie of 2018 (that wasn’t made by Marvel, anyway). You saw it. I saw it. Your boss saw it. Your grandma saw it. That lady on the bus saw it. We all cried. You may have ethical and creative quibbles when it comes to remakes, but it would be difficult to deny this one’s power, which is, of course, all in the chemistry between the leads. Movie chemistry is alchemical; it’s an undefinable X factor that cannot be faked. It cannot be mass-produced or artificially synthesized. It’s there or it isn’t, and it’s there between Cooper and Gaga. It’s something beyond movie chemistry. It’s movie magic.

5. Mission: Impossible: Fallout (Dir. Christopher McQuarrie)
Speaking of magic: The best action movie since Mad Max: Fury Road was released in 2018. Does it really feel like that, though? Box office success aside, have we really seen the level of conversation in the film community that Fallout deserves? Maybe the Mission: Impossible series is just a victim of its own success. Rather than dissecting and admiring the gears and pulleys that make this piece of mad genius tick, rather than celebrating the ways in which it humanizes an unkillable action hero, rather than analyzing its masterful composition of completely preposterous spectacles, it feels as though we as a popular culture have offered Fallout little more than a polite golf clap. “Good work,” we seem to say. “Keep it up.” It’s unfair, isn’t it? Maybe it’s just me.

4. Paddington 2 (Dir. Paul King)
Adam Riske texted me earlier this year and said that Paddington 2 was going to be one of his favorites of 2018. I giggled and thought about what a big heart my friend has and how I wish I could get over my cynicism long enough to engage emotionally with a talking bear movie. I hadn’t seen the first Paddington (I still haven’t), but I do see a lot of kids movies. A lot of them are bad. They talk down to kids and treat them like budding consumers whose taste must be shaped in order to serve our Glorious Economy. Paddington 2 does not do that. Paddington 2 loves you. It sees your cynicism. It knows you had a shitty day. It knows you’re probably putting it on to distract your kids long enough to finish some thankless chores. That’s not going to stop it. Paddington 2 sees you for exactly who you are, and it loves you anyway.

3. First Reformed (Dir. Paul Schrader)
Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is one of the loneliest movies I’ve ever seen. Even Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle — a violent malcontent stalking the streets of New York — has more connectivity to the world around him than Ethan Hawke’s Ernst Toller, a Reformed church reverend whose military past and grief over his lost son have stripped him of his faith. As he struggles to attract sufficient attendance to keep his small church afloat, Toller is drawn into the complicated lives of environmental activists, megachurch CEOs, and a terrified (and unexpectedly pregnant) young woman played with grace and beauty by Amanda Seyfried. First Reformed has been referred to as “Grown-Up Taxi Driver,” which I can get behind. Paul Schrader is still angry, still existentially terrified, but now he’s trying to save our souls.

2. Eighth Grade (Dir. Bo Burnham)
Coming-of-age movies are tough. No matter how hard a professional (presumably adult) screenwriter may try, replicating an adolescent worldview is next to impossible. Even the best efforts are stifled by narrative convention: they’re forced to cast parents and bullies as cardboard antagonists to retain traditional story shapes. They fumble helplessly with slang and social media, hoping that cultural signifiers will function as appropriate stand-ins for character and theme. Worst of all, they inject overblown, unrealistic, often life-and-death stakes in order to confirm to adult audiences that, indeed, these kids today don’t know the half of it. Eighth Grade, however, speaks teenager with unmatched fluency. It respects their struggles and legitimizes their fears. It wants us all to understand, to remember, and to empathize. That it succeeds on all counts is one of 2018’s true miracles.

1. Suspiria (Dir. Luca Guadagnino)
Though I have seen it twice now, I have to admit that I have not yet fully digested Luca Guadagnino’s reimagining of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. I don’t have anything profound to say about it at the moment, nor do I know if my affection for it will stand up to a third viewing. All I know right now is that I have not been able to stop thinking about it. Its images have crept under my skin. Its soundtrack has haunted even my most innocuous daytime car rides. Its pulsating rhythms have seduced me in ways I’m not ready to talk about. It’s both sexy and disturbing, elegant and sloppy. It’s way too much and somehow not enough. It wore me out and kept me waiting. It exists in a space beyond my capacity for rational, critical analysis. That makes it mighty. That makes it terrifying. That makes it dangerous.


  1. Truly amazed at how your paragraph review of SUSPIRIA here is better than any of the countless 2,000 + word reviews I’ve read on it. Still jealous you’ve seen it more times than me. Great list!

    1. Yeah, but I didn't get to see it in a theater. You've got me beat.

  2. I think other than Lady Gaga, Dakota Johnson gave the best performance of the year. Such a talent.

    Good list!

  3. I think I'm going to watch Revenge and Assassination Nation tonight. Nice list!

    1. You, too! I meant to put AN on my honorable mentions (along with Buster Scruggs). Hope you enjoy!

  4. I'm honored to have been there when you saw your #2 movie of the year.

  5. I noticed Eighth Grade was rated R in the US. Is this a movie I should be watching with my son who is nearly in 8th grade? Or is it more a move for adults?

    1. Obviously it depends on what you allow your son to watch, but in therms of content I don't think there's much to worry about. There's a moderate amount of language, but really that's what got it the R rating. It's more about the situations the characters are in. For example, there's a very intense scene about peer pressure related to sex, and while there's nothing explicit, it is very uncomfortable to watch. Really it's a shame it got the R rating because I think it's a film kids that age could get just as much out of as their parents.

    2. Agreed with Patrick. Aside from a few conversations about sex, some suggestive internet searches, and the aforementioned uncomfortable (but not explicit) scene, I think you're okay. Obviously it's up to you. The film absolutely does not deserve an R rating, though.

    3. Thanks guys! I was not worried about language. More about explicit sexual or drug stuff.

      Also, very nice list and reviews, Rob! These lists always leave me simultaneously sorry I watched so little of what the year had to offer, and happy I have so much good stuff left to watch.

      Although I just realized Suspira (2018) is finally going to play, one night only, here next week! Looking forward to it.

    4. If you're with your kid explaining little things here and there it's a pretty tame 'R' rating. There's only one scene with heavy rape implications (but no actual rape) that might scare both of you, but it's mostly thematic and/or mild language issues. Great flick, but I honestly doubt your kid will enjoy seeing it.

  6. So many movies in 2018, so many different lists. Great list, even though we only have two in common ("Annihilation" and "A Star Is Born") and I'm at a loss for "Suspiria's" appeal. :-(