By our very unscientific count, approximately a jillion movies came out this year. Many of them were good. Lots more were bad. One of them starred Kurt Russell as Santa Claus. And here at MEL, we ingested these movies and tried to put them into a broader cultural or societal context. No need to thank us: It was our pleasure. (Well, except for Super Troopers 2. God, that movie was painful.)
Below is my entirely arbitrary ranking of every film we discussed in 2018 — even if that particular movie didn’t come out this year. And by “movie,” I’m including theatrical releases, Netflix films and the occasional cable documentary. Most of these pieces were written by yours truly, but some of the very best were contributed by MEL’s excellent staff, who had insightful things to say about Black Panther, Groundhog Day, Night of the Living Dead and John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing.
I’m especially proud of the variety of interviews we did. Everyone from Chloé Zhao (The Rider) to Jennifer Fox (The Tale) to Bing Liu (Minding the Gap) were very open about their films’ emotional subject matter, shining a light on how these exceptional movies were created and the kinds of conversations that their work inspired. These pieces will help you see those movies with a fresh perspective.
And now, without further ado, here’s every film we wrote about in 2018. Sundance starts in less than a month: Good god, a new movie year is just around the corner.
86) Super Troopers 2: Seventeen years after the original came out, a Super Troopers sequel made its way to theaters on, heh, 4/20. Get it?!? That level of cleverness pervaded the atrocious Super Troopers 2, which inspired me to argue that if a stoner comedy isn’t funny when you’re sober, then the movie actually isn’t any good.
85) Vice: I liked The Big Short, Adam McKay’s funny, Oscar-winning takedown of the 2008 economic collapse. But, lord, did I loathe his follow-up, which tried to do the same thing for the Bush administration — and more specifically, Dick Cheney. Frankly, Vice is the sort of bad movie we liberals deserve.
84) The Hurricane Heist: Rob Cohen has spent his career directing B-movies, giving the world The Fast and the Furious, xXx and Dragonheart. This year, he released The Hurricane Heist, a typically Cohen-ish tongue-in-cheek thriller in which a heist takes place … in the middle of a hurricane. For the MEL Conversation, I talked with Cohen about his career, what he thinks of film critics and why surfing is as exhilarating as sex.
83) The Happytime Murders: Melissa McCarthy. Cursing puppets. The Happytime Murders had the potential to be a liberating, nasty R-rated comedy, but instead, it turned out to be one of the summer’s biggest bombs. I wrote about our fascination with turning childhood things naughty, but I also spent a little time giving a shout-out to Jim Henson’s experimental short films from his pre-Muppet Show days.
82) Weekend at Bernie’s: “I’m thrilled and shocked and confused that this little movie that we made 25 years ago has turned into a cult [hit]. When we made it, I was lucky just to have the job.” That’s what Jonathan Silverman had to say about Weekend at Bernie’s a few years ago. This summer, I looked back on the enduring appeal of this very stupid 1989 comedy, speaking to Terry Kiser (aka Bernie himself) and others about how the film came together. One of the more surreal moments of 2018 was telling Catherine Mary Stewart that the producer actually wanted to cast his wife in her role — a fact that Stewart was not aware of.
81) Welcome to Marwen: Robert Zemeckis tried to tell the remarkable true story of Mark Hogancamp, an artist who suffered brain damage after a brutal beating. Stick with the far-better 2010 documentary.
80) Night School: Kevin Hart’s year started off pretty well. His Jumanji film was one of the holiday’s biggest surprise smashes. Then, in September he starred in Night School, which was a solid hit. After that, he was selected to host the Academy Awards. So everything was looking good … until Hart’s history of homophobic humor resurfaced, forcing him to step down from the Oscar gig. Back when Night School came out, I wrote about why he’s a more effective standup than movie star. But now that his homophobic past has come to light, I’m wondering how much it’s going to impact both careers. (By the way, this means another guest of this season’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is now officially problematic.)
79) Life of the Party: This marginal Melissa McCarthy comedy got me wondering: What are the best and worst movies about going back to college? I did research for this list, people.
78) 12 Strong: Movies that are released in January are almost always terrible. That’s when Hollywood dumps its garbage. So no surprise that 12 Strong, a war film based on a true story, stunk. Still, I found myself not entirely minding it simply because Chris Hemsworth was in it. So I decided to write about why we root for certain actors, even when they’re in dreck.
77) Tag: Tag should have been a movie right up our alley: This comedy, based on an unbelievable true story, starred Jon Hamm, Ed Helms and Jake Johnson as lifelong friends who still play an immature game of tag in order to stay in each other’s lives. Male bonding, negotiating adulthood … these are themes that MEL grapples with on a daily basis. Unfortunately, Tag was really unfunny, which inspired me to wonder about Hamm’s dilemma as a comedic actor. Basically, he faces two obstacles: He’s too good-looking, and he’s still best known for drama thanks to Mad Men. Still, he keeps trying to prove his funnyman bona fides. So I broke down all his comedic roles to determine if they would be as funny if Jon Hamm didn’t play them.
76) The Christmas Chronicles: Nobody let Kurt Russell sing an Elvis Presley song ever again.
75) Blockers: Blockers starred Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz and John Cena as friends who are freaked out that their teenage children are planning to lose their virginity at prom. Hilarity does not ensue in this would-be raucous R-rated comedy, although it did give me an opportunity to riff on the history of the term “cock-block.”
74) The Girl in the Spider’s Web: At least it looked pretty.
73) Fifty Shades Freed: It’s very easy to mock the Fifty Shades films, but I think that derision (especially from straight guys) obscures what’s interesting about these movies, which is that they focus on female pleasure. That’s a too-rare commodity in Hollywood films, which inspired me to write a semi-defense of the trilogy: “Guys are free to laugh off these movies — and, yeah, the new film isn’t good — but being snide about what they communicate (or why so many women respond to it) would be a mistake. If anything, they’re instructive. The Fifty Shades movies create a world in which the rich, successful, handsome guy ends up having a lot to learn about the complexities of a smart, beautiful, horny woman he thinks he can dominate, intimidate and impress.”
72) Pacific Rim Uprising: Look, it shouldn’t be hard: Have a movie where big robots punch big monsters and then sit back and watch the money roll in. I wrote about the super-stupid Pacific Rim Uprising — and why grade-school me would have probably loved the hell out of it.
71) Green Book: When I saw this Peter Farrelly drama at its premiere in Toronto, I was convinced it was going to be a massive hit — and a serious Oscar contender. Commercially, the film struggled, much to my shock, which has now severely hurt its Best Picture chances. But forget all those concerns for a second: How’s the movie itself? To my mind, it’s the annoying puppy dog of awards-bait, trying so hard to earn your love that it’ll do anything. Honestly, that’s a pretty smart strategy: What kind of monster hates a puppy?
70) Sicario: Day of the Soldado: “Dude! Bro! There was a new Sicario movie out this year! Remember how the first one was, like, suspicious of the War on Drugs and treated violence with sensitivity? Well, forget all that wimpy shit, because the new one kicks ass!” Yeah, Day of the Soldado is that rare sequel that seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what made the original film good. I vented about that, and I also investigated if, like in the movie, a person could survive being shot in the face. (Answer: Yes, but don’t try it at home.)
69) The Equalizer 2: I was pleasantly surprised by The Equalizer, which was one of Denzel Washington’s most enjoyable thrillers in years. I knew not to get my hopes up for the sequel, which was like the original but uninspired and more violent. The Equalizer 2 plays into a popular action-movie trope, featuring a main character who walked away from his old life but has to kick ass one last time. Whether it’s Taken or Skyscraper, our action heroes don’t want to kill lots of people — that’s who they used to be, and they’re trying to change their ways. I wrote about this narrative conceit, and why it’s a convenient moral shortcut for filmmakers who want an excuse for a large body count.
68) Rampage: Dwayne Johnson starred in two films this year. Rampage is the worse of the two, albeit not by much. This dumb video-game adaptation prompted me to wonder if the Rock has ever made a good movie. (And don’t mention Moana. You know that doesn’t count.)
67) Venom: Sometimes, a bad movie is highlighted by a truly gutsy, go-for-broke performance. That doesn’t necessarily make the movie better, but you kinda admire the actor for his willingness to look ridiculous. Such was the case for Tom Hardy, who’s a raging, nutsy loon in Venom. (And hey, he’s the one with the last laugh: The movie was a massive hit, and a sequel is now in the works.)
66) Skyscraper: The Rock’s goofy Skyscraper is meant to defy physics, logic and good taste. But we couldn’t help but wonder: Could his character really survive that jump from the crane to the building? MEL’s Cooper Fleishman spoke to an assistant professor of mathematics to get some answers. Turns out, it’s “technically possible.” (And thanks, Dwayne Johnson, for being a good sport about the whole thing.)
65) Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: Okay, hear me out: I think Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom would have made as much money if I were the star. C’mon, be honest, you don’t see these films for Chris Pratt. It’s all about the dinosaurs.
64) The Meg: Summer movie season is one of Hollywood’s biggest moneymaking periods, but not all summer months are created equal. Take August, which tends to be when studios release their misfit projects. And sometimes, they hit, like this year’s The Meg.
63) How to Talk to Girls at Parties: John Cameron Mitchell has pursued his own muse for decades, crafting Hedwig and the Angry Inch for the stage (and later the big screen) and then boldly making Shortbus, which featured real sex scenes. This year, he released his first film in eight years, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, which seemed like the perfect opportunity to make him the subject of the MEL Conversation. We had a candid talk about censorship, not fitting in and how to forgive your parents.
62) Aquaman: Jason Momoa is a pretty fun Aquaman, but I dunno: I just think jokey superhero movies don’t work.
61) Tomb Raider: Alicia Vikander runs really well in this reboot. (And as a public service, I also explained why tombs are dumb.)
60) The Predator: Many 1980s kids have a fondness for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Predator, which has been rebooted and remade over the years, including September’s The Predator. But here’s my problem with every iteration: The Predator character isn’t very scary. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the character is lame. To prove my point, I did a survey of cinema’s lamest monsters, including Pinhead and the aliens in Signs. And don’t be ripping on Chucky — Chucky is awesome.
59) Love Actually: Confession: I’ve never seen this much-beloved 2003 holiday film. Neither has Miles Klee, who tried to deduce what Love Actually was about simply from the way the internet talks about it. I like his version better. (Again, I have not seen Love Actually.)
58) The Commuter: Liam Neeson makes great action-hero faces, but I still don’t think The Commuter was very good.
57) Death Wish: Hostel director Eli Roth teamed up with Bruce Willis to deliver a remake of Death Wish. The reviews were brutal, but I was more interested in researching how the 1974 film came together — and what inspired the book that was the movie’s source material. Basically, we can blame the Death Wish legacy on author Brian Garfield’s car getting vandalized.
56) The Polka King: Jack Black starred in this unbelievable true story of a Pennsylvania man (and polka singer) who tricked all those around him into getting involved in his nutsy Ponzi scheme. The Polka King prompted me to do a Misleading Men profile of Black, looking at how this movie star has two distinct sides: his crowd-pleasing persona and the serious actor who hungers for rich, complicated character pieces.
55) A Futile and Stupid Gesture: Netflix released A Futile and Stupid Gesture, which starred Will Forte as Doug Kenney, one of the masterminds behind National Lampoon. I took that opportunity to examine the magazine’s legacy — specifically, how their movies went from being anarchic and revolutionary to absolute garbage.
54) Fahrenheit 451: Oh, great: a remake of another sci-fi classic that tries to be a metaphor for the Trump years.
53) Red Sparrow: Even when a Jennifer Lawrence movie is bad, it has the advantage of starring Jennifer Lawrence, who is very fun on a promotional tour. I wrote about that in relation to Red Sparrow, plus I did some research about dyeing your hair (it’s not as easy as in the movies) and whether real-life spies bone as much as they do in films.
52) Creed II: I don’t like Rocky movies. I’m not going to feel bad about that.
51) Borg vs McEnroe: This tennis drama was advertised as Shia LaBeouf’s “comeback,” which is an odd thing to say about an actor who was 31 at the time. That’s far too young for a comeback, but it plays into a very familiar media narrative about “troubled” young male stars and the multiple chances they’re given to reinvent themselves. I like LaBeouf a lot and am rooting for him but, seriously, that narrative needs to die.
50) The Mule: The only movie of 2018 that features a Clint Eastwood threesome, The Mule continues a long tradition of his films that are about characters hoping to ride off into the sunset. It’s been a staple of his work since 1992’s Unforgiven, which felt like a fitting swan song to a sterling career. Instead, he’s kept making movies — and kept trying to find the perfect fade out.
49) Ocean’s 8: This spinoff from the Ocean’s films was part of a recent trend of female-driven movies that are, essentially, a gender swap from the previous installments. One of my favorite pieces this year involved me reaching out to female film critics, programmers and writers to get their thoughts about this trend. Do they find it empowering? Or patronizing? I thank them all for their great contributions. (Meanwhile, I tried to figure out why angry internet dudes laid off Ocean’s 8 when they want vitriolic about an all-female Ghostbusters.)
48) Love Means Zero: Nick Bollettieri was the renowned, controversial coach who guided the careers of tennis greats like Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. Basically, he was a tyrant — but, hey, he got results, which is all that matters, right? I spoke to Jason Kohn, the director of the documentary Love Means Zero, which profiles Bollettieri. Would Kohn let his own kids attend the coach’s academy? I really liked his answer.
47) The Truth About Killer Robots: When we imagine the future — you know, where robots rise up and enslave us — we think of something like The Terminator. But documentary filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin has some bad news for us: The revolution will be far more banal and insidious than some awesome action-movie shootout. I talked to the director about his new film, The Truth About Killer Robots, and we discussed everything from android girlfriends to why self-driving cars encourage us to be assholes.
46) The Final Year: Something I hate about watching political documentaries is that, invariably, I’m forced to relive the 2016 presidential election. One of the most painful in this regard was The Final Year, which chronicles the Obama administration’s foreign policy team over the course of that year. (Spoiler Alert: No matter how much good work they do, Trump’s victory is the looming unhappy ending.) I spoke with director Greg Barker, and our chat felt a bit like a therapy session. In early 2018, I still wasn’t over Trump’s election upset. And Barker didn’t have much encouraging to say: “I think the real problem [with the Trump administration] is that there are many people in the background — many of whom are career foreign-service officers, intelligence officers and military people within the State Department — and what has happened during the last couple of months is that a lot of those people who would normally stay on and serve Republican or Democrat [administrations] are becoming disillusioned and have left. You see a draining of the expertise that the principles [of government] depend on.”
45) I Am Evidence: A documentary that will enrage you, I Am Evidence reveals the large number of rape kits that remain unopened and untested, which is an insult to survivors who want justice. I spoke to filmmakers Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir to learn why America’s “tough on crime” policy apparently doesn’t extend to those who assault women.
44) Cam: Just a few years ago, writer Isa Mazzei was camming, wondering if there might be a film in this misunderstood world of sex work. She and longtime friend, director Daniel Goldhaber, decided to collaborate on a project, which became Cam, a nervy psychological thriller that stars Madeline Brewer as a cam girl who’s confronted with a horrifying reality after her online persona starts to take on a life of its own. I had a great time sitting down with Mazzei and Goldhaber this fall to talk about Cam, what horror movies get wrong about sex and why we shouldn’t confuse Instagram with reality.
43) Mid90s: Jonah Hill has long wanted to be a serious filmmaker, not just the funny stoned kid from Superbad. At the Toronto Film Festival, he saw that dream come true when he premiered his debut feature, a nostalgic teen drama called Mid90s. The movie’s just okay, but I was more interested in the actor’s experience at the festival — and also how festival audiences are quick to embrace new movies as a way of being a part of their launch.
42) Bumblebee: Bumblebee is the greatest Transformers movie ever. And by that I mean, it’s the first one not made by Michael Bay.
41) Beautiful Boy: Drug addiction is the grim subject matter of Beautiful Boy, based on the true story of a father grappling with his son’s demons. Me, I thought what was most fascinating about the film was its warning to dads not to base their self-worth on their kids’ achievements.
40) Deadpool 2: The original Deadpool thumbed its nose at Hollywood, delivering a snotty, irreverent, R-rated takedown of superhero-movie conventions. But that film became a mammoth success, so how could the sequel not sand down its rough edges? I wrote about that — and then later in the year, I checked out Once Upon a Deadpool to see what a PG-13 Deadpool was like.
39) Ready Player One: “For better or worse, Steven Spielberg is the 1980s. And so, Ready Player One can be read as both a celebration of the world he made and a dark reckoning with the side effects of our amused-to-death age.” I had some thoughts about this uneven but fascinating dystopian tale from Spielberg, who continues to be one of our nerviest filmmakers.
38) Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood: Scotty Bowers grew up in the Midwest, fought in World War II and then moved to L.A., where he quickly became a procurer of sexual partners for Hollywood stars — especially those who wanted to keep their homosexuality secret. Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is a documentary about Bowers that also examines the hypocrisy of an industry that promotes liberal causes but then punishes gay men and women, forcing them to live double lives so that they can remain bankable.
I interviewed director Matt Tyrnuer, who told me, “Gay history — queer history — has a way of covering itself up and even obliterating itself, because it was necessary to do so. In another time in Hollywood — and virtually everywhere else — what same-sex-oriented people had to do was, by necessity, a secret. They covered up their existences and hid them because they weren’t able to live openly. And this is a tragedy.”
37) A Quiet Place: One of the year’s surprise hits, A Quiet Place is the latest example of why post-apocalyptic thrillers are hellish for movie dads. I also did a deep dive into the cast and writers of both the American and U.K. versions of The Office to see which stars have had the best careers since those shows ended. (At this point, John Krasinski may be higher than No. 5 in the rankings.)
36) Ant-Man and the Wasp: Far too often, Hollywood blockbusters have crazy-intense stakes. The fate of the planet is on the line! The galaxy will explode if our heroes don’t succeed! Thank god for Ant-Man and the Wasp, which was relatively modest in its suspense. I wish more films would follow its example.
35) Game Night: This winning comedy inspired lots of thoughts, including whether stress affects your sperm (yup) and if rich people have their own fight clubs (doesn’t seem like it). Also, it’s a bummer that the movie’s Denzel Washington lookalike didn’t get back to me after the piece was published.
34) Solo: A Star Wars Story: This Han Solo origin story did relatively poorly at the box office. I don’t care: I’m an unabashed fan of the Star Wars spinoffs.
33) First Man: Early in awards season, First Man seemed, sight unseen, like a major Oscar contender. Then audiences rejected it, despite the good reviews. Maybe everybody was turned off by the stoic tone?
32) The Shape of Water: “The Oscars have spoken and one thing is clear: Get Out should’ve had some fish dick.” The Shape of Water’s Best Picture triumph at the Academy Awards prompted MEL’s Tracy Moore to ponder Hollywood’s insistence that women want to screw scary/gnarly monsters, like the fishman in Guillermo del Toro’s period romance. Most amusing is that Moore polled her friends about which monsters are the most fuckable: In order of preference, it’s vampires, werewolves and then centaurs.
31) Black Panther: The year’s biggest hit inspired plenty of MEL coverage. I celebrated the prospect of white kids learning about black culture thanks to Black Panther. Tarik Jackson did a quick survey of all the black superheroes that came before T’Challa. And Zaron Burnett III looked at the movie from a more personal perspective, examining the story’s portrait of a father who lies to his son. “Perhaps the reason this theme resonated so deeply with me is that I grew up knowing that my father’s uncle shot and killed his brother,” he writes. “And years later, the murderous brother died of a broken heart. This disfiguring truth, this family legacy, shaped me. It informed my understanding of violence. And it made me hyper-aware of how often men fail to deal with their emotions, which leads to tragic results.”
30) Halloween: In 2018, director David Gordon Green delivered the most effective Halloween film since the 1978 original. I was inspired to write about what Michael Myers represents — both for Laurie and for us. Deep down, we all need bogeymen in our lives.
29) The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling: I’m still not over the Larry Sanders comic’s death, so I wrote about it.
28) Sorry to Bother You: “I wanted to make a movie that was like a novel. … [T]he writers I like have some denseness to them, like Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie. You feel like there’s this alive world around you because of the details.” I had a great time talking to Sorry to Bother You filmmaker Boots Riley for the MEL Conversation. We discussed his breakthrough satire, his work with the seminal hip-hop group the Coup and what it’s like to finally be able to pay his bills on time.
27) A Star Is Born: Throughout his career, Bradley Cooper has resisted the temptation to play straightforward heroes. In the days before A Star Is Born was released, I looked back at his career, trying to figure out what draws him to nuanced, complicated figures. (That said, his best performance this year remains his celebratory freak-out at the Super Bowl when his beloved Philadelphia Eagles won.)
26) A Wrinkle in Time: Not a lot of people enjoyed Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle children’s book. But I sure did, especially because it reminded me of the freaky 1980s kids movies Hollywood used to make. I wrote about that, and also why you need to see DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere, her underrated 2012 feature debut.
25) Bohemian Rhapsody: Another film I liked better than most, Bohemian Rhapsody captured all that’s fun and ludicrous about musical biopics. (And I say that as someone who’s never liked “Bohemian Rhapsody.”)
24) Incredibles 2: This sequel to the 2004 original was a massive hit, even though most critics (including me) acknowledged that it wasn’t as great as The Incredibles. But, so what? Maybe it’s time that we cut modern-day Pixar a little slack — the company’s golden age is over, but its creative team can still produce miracles.
23) 22 July: Paul Greengrass has now made three films based on true stories about terrorism. First was United 93, then came Captain Phillips. In 2018, he returned with 22 July, a harrowing portrait of the 2011 Norway shootings. I argued that the films should be viewed as a linked trilogy, each of them representing a different look at living in a world of constant instability.
22) Gremlins 2: The New Batch: Is this 1990 sequel better than the original? The perfect person to ask is the unnamed academic who launched the Institute of Gremlins 2 Studies Twitter account. Miles Klee interviewed this individual, who explained where his/her obsession began: “I remember when I first encountered Gremlins 2: The New Batch. It was a bleak November day. At first I didn’t think much of the film, but slowly it began to devour my thoughts. I’d think about it every waking hour. I looked at the world and all I could see was a reflection of Gremlins 2. Its power frightened me, so one day I walked across town and donated my DVD to a thrift shop, thinking I could rid myself of this curse. But then it started to return to me in my dreams.”
21) The Rider: Chinese writer-director Chloé Zhao traveled to South Dakota to make a film about the local rodeo cowboys, incorporating their real stories into a narrative about a rider (Brady Jandreau) recovering from a nasty concussion. The resulting drama was one of the year’s most acclaimed films. I spoke with Zhao about the bruised masculinity of a fading way of life — and why we’re so enraptured by horses.
20) John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection: “John McEnroe has been famous for 40 years, which means that there’s a good chance that, for most of your life, he’s someone you’ve been accustomed to seeing. … With that in mind, it might seem weird to say that the new documentary John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection … made me feel like I was watching him for the first time.” I had a lot to say about this peculiar but fascinating essay-film on McEnroe.
19) Monrovia, Indiana: Frederick Wiseman is one of America’s great filmmakers. The 88-year-old documentarian has chronicled institutions and communities to offer an immersive sense of what makes them tick. His latest film, Monrovia, Indiana, is about a small Midwestern town, but to Wiseman’s mind, it doesn’t reveal “the real America.” “I think the ‘real America’ is a comic idea,” he told me during our interview. “America is a very complicated country, and I would only laugh at myself if I made any attempt to define the ‘real America.’ I’m not good at those vast cultural generalizations. I’m aware that people make them, but I try not to.”
18) Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: Was Fred Rogers a creep? Or secretly subversive? Oscar-winning documentarian Morgan Neville explores the man behind Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, and he spoke to me about why Rogers matters — as well as why nice men freak us out.
17) The Favourite: Yorgos Lanthimos makes movies that are described as “cold” and “heartless.” But The Favourite argues that’s not entirely accurate — really, he’s interested in characters who have learned to protect themselves so that they don’t get hurt. (I have a feeling we’ll be talking about this movie throughout awards season. As a longtime fan of Lanthimos, the man behind the prickly Dogtooth and The Lobster, it’s really weird to think that he’s made a legitimate crowd-pleaser.)
16) Suspiria: Forty years ago, Italian horror master Dario Argento crafted Suspiria, a trippy, campy, lurid tale about a dancer who becomes part of a bizarre troupe. In 2018, Call Me by Your Name filmmaker Luca Guadagnino reimagined Suspiria, giving the material his own twist. As a result, his remake became one of the year’s most divisive films — some loved it, others loathed it. These are always my favorite kinds of films. (Plus, that Thom Yorke score rules.)
15) Minding the Gap: “Broken young men populate Minding the Gap, a crushing documentary about skateboarders. But the injuries aren’t physical, the result of skaters crashing their boards into the pavement and putting their bodies in harm’s way while performing outrageous tricks. No, the wounds are all internal, psychic and often unspoken.” That’s how I introduced my interview with director Bing Liu, who spoke openly about his film, its examination of domestic violence, skateboard culture and how men can be good allies to women.
14) Hold the Dark: Jeremy Saulnier, who previously made Blue Ruin and Green Room, took a trip into the Alaskan wilderness for Hold the Dark, a freaky psychological thriller starring Jeffrey Wright as a man on the hunt for a wolf who may have stolen a young mother’s child. I spoke with Saulnier to discuss his obsession with documenting evil in his movies. “I love having the audience have to lean into a story and bring something to the experience,” he told me. “It makes it more intense for them. It’s more interactive for them. … A lot of studios in their approach to filmmaking, you have to spell things out — you have to hit certain points and check certain boxes. But to me, that becomes boring. Hold the Dark might not be for everybody, but it’s certainly for me and for likeminded audience members and filmgoers.”
13) Star Wars: The Last Jedi: It’s been nearly a year since Rian Johnson’s divisive Star Wars sequel hit theaters, and fans still aren’t done debating whether it honors George Lucas’ legacy or burns it to the ground. (Answer: The movie is great, knock it off.) Miles Klee made the argument that The Last Jedi worked precisely because it angered diehard fans. (Or, as he put it, “Among its greatest achievements … TLJ stunned and infuriated the people who purport to understand Star Wars best and love it the most.”) But Klee wasn’t done there: A few months later he wrote about a fascinating academic paper that argued that much of the online brouhaha over the film was actually a product of “bots, trolls/sock puppets or political activists using the debate to propagate political messages supporting extreme right-wing causes and the discrimination of gender, race or sexuality.” Talk about your evil empires.
12) Avengers: Infinity War: Avengers: Infinity War wasn’t the cultural force that Black Panther was — T’Challa’s film outperformed the Avengers sequel at the box office, at least in the U.S. — but its ending was more of a shock. (I went to the Infinity War premiere. People gasped loudly when characters started dissolving away.) This inspired me to talk about the pleasures of cliffhangers — and why it’s churlish to complain that all those superheroes aren’t really dead. (And we at MEL are already gearing up for Avengers: Endgame. Miles Klee wrote about the “Thanos did nothing wrong” meme, while I tackled our uneasiness with comic-book characters who cry. And I’m sure my mom has her own hot takes.)
11) Eastern Promises: It’s one of the great action sequences of this century: Viggo Mortensen battles some Russian goons in a bathhouse. They have knives; he’s naked. I spoke with those who worked behind the scenes on 2007’s Eastern Promises to hear how the sequence came together. As script supervisor Susanna Lenton told me, “The whole nudity thing, it was a bigger issue when the film came out than it was when we were shooting it. Although you do think, ‘Fuck, this is really borderline kind of graphic.’ But it was true to the nature of the scene. Me, personally, I didn’t even question it that much. It did, though, make it a tough and hard scene to watch.”
10) The Thing: In honor of Halloween, Tracy Moore revisited a horror classic, John Carpenter’s 1982 remake of The Thing. Her analysis sheds new light on an endlessly fascinating film: “The Thing is actually a brilliant, claustrophobic, paranoid meditation on masculine fear. It’s about what happens when men hole up away from civilization and women. It’s about the hierarchical, homophobic hair-trigger suspicion and folly that ensues when systems break down — and when men have the arrogance to think they can outsmart nature.” As if that movie weren’t scary enough already.
9) Groundhog Day: Moore used another holiday as an excuse to put on her film-critic hat: For Groundhog Day, she explored Groundhog Day to see what the Bill Murray comedy has to say about changing yourself in order to please the person you love. There are a lot of great thoughts here about romantic shape-shifters and the hard work involved in really getting to know someone — not just tricking them into liking you.
8) Mission: Impossible — Fallout: “Mission: Impossible — Fallout is an excellent film, and a lot of its pleasure comes from watching Tom Cruise do his own stunts, sprint with breakneck urgency and generally give 110 percent in every single scene. As Ethan Hunt, the seemingly ageless leader of the Impossible Missions Force, Cruise is compelling and inspiring. I love this franchise, I love this film and I hope it makes a trillion dollars. But in an era where we hold entertainers to a higher standard — refusing to overlook what might be troublesome about them — why have the media, in the buildup to Fallout, hardly mentioned the fact that Cruise is a Scientologist?” That’s the conundrum I wrestled with when I wrote about this terrific movie over the summer.
7) Widows: In a world stuffed with franchises and blockbusters, Widows was a rare standalone studio movie. (And because a lot of Americans haven’t seen the U.K. series the film was based on, it’s practically an original screenplay.) That’s just part of the reason why I love this heist thriller, which has more to say about death and endings than any sequel or reboot.
6) Die Hard: One of the all-time action classics, Die Hard still influences Hollywood blockbusters 30 years later. In fact, Skyscraper is what happens when studios learn all the wrong lessons from that Bruce Willis thriller.
5) Toy Story: If you were born the year Toy Story came out, you’re now 23. The franchise remains one of Pixar’s most enduring — a new sequel will be hitting theaters next year — and it continues to find ways to permeate pop culture. In October, MEL’s Tierney Finster spoke with Tucker Bonham (a.k.a. Toy Story Dad) to talk about his Instagram account, which chronicles his baby son Beckham entirely through Toy Story– and Disney-inspired photos. “We get a lot of positive responses about how we brighten people’s day,” Bonham told Finster. “That’s what keeps us going. We love to make people smile. Since our following has grown, we’ve been able to make people smile all around the world.”
4) Night of the Living Dead: Miles Klee paid homage to the George A. Romero horror film on its 50th anniversary, making a persuasive case for the movie’s continued relevance. “Romero’s great cynical prophecy was that this nation would not ‘come together’ in a time of crisis, as our elected officials exhort us to when they aren’t amplifying divisions,” he concludes. “Instead he has us betray and deny to the bitter end, abandoned by the institutions we always thought would save us, waiting to wake up screaming. Waiting, and waiting, and waiting.”
3) The Tale: Writer-director Jennifer Fox’s The Tale was the best film I saw at this year’s Sundance. This searing drama tells a lightly fictionalized version of Fox’s childhood, in which an adult man seduced her while she was underage. (Laura Dern plays Fox as an adult investigating exactly what happened.) Fox was just as candid during our interview, discussing while child sexual abuse remains a taboo subject even in the #MeToo era.
2) The Thin Red Line: When Terrence Malick released The Thin Red Line on Christmas Day 1998, it was the first film he’d completed in 20 years. Needless to say, that made it an event. It’s now been 20 years since The Thin Red Line redefined the World War II movie, and writer Oliver Whitney finds there’s still plenty to unearth in this mysterious, gorgeous film — specifically how Malick explores masculinity by focusing on spirituality and empathy.
1) Vertigo: In 2012, Vertigo for the first time topped the influential Sight & Sound critics’ poll of the greatest films ever made. Naturally, such praise inspires a backlash, and this year Keep It podcast co-host Louis Virtel tweeted that the movie was “unbearably boring and it’s only men who keep inflating its importance.” That reaction rubbed writer (and Vertigo fan) Jessica Ritchey the wrong way, prompting a very thoughtful essay about the foolishness of negating women’s opinions on culture.
“One of the most exhausting aspects of our current cultural moment are the ‘ugh, only straight white men like this’ takes that completely erase the voices of female critics, critics of color and fans who don’t fit neatly into binaries of who ‘should’ like/dislike something,” Ritchey wrote. “It’s part of a larger and much more pernicious problem — mistaking pop-culture consumption for moral worth as opposed to, you know, how we carry ourselves every day; how we treat other people; and how we support (or don’t) the causes that matter to us.” Vertigo came out in 1958 — and yet, 60 years later, it’s still starting arguments.