You don’t need another end-of-the-year list. Come December, we’re all inundated with “Best This,” “Worst That,” “The 12 Craziest Things That Happened” and on and on. We’re a society obsessed with ranking things and cataloging the past into tidy SEO-friendly packages. As a rule, lists are stupid … unless, of course, it’s yours. Then, the rules change completely. It’s not just a list, then — it’s an indication of something very important and sacred. It’s an expression of what your year was like.
As I write this, I’m about ready to move on to one of my favorite tasks all year, which is putting together my annual Top 10 films list. I have a whole ritual behind it. First, I print out my Word doc that contains every movie I saw this year, including the grade I gave each film. Then, I go through and mark every film that got an A– or A: These are the films in the running. After that, I start to weigh one movie against another, trying to decide which one is better. This can take up to an hour or longer. Finally, I’ll rank every single one of these top-tier movies, and then look back at the list to see if the order “feels” right. If it doesn’t, I’ll move a certain film up a notch or two, or down a couple spots. I keep doing this until I find the right ranking. How do I know what’s “right”? It’s entirely intuition. It’s a gut feeling.
That may all sound deeply nerdy. I couldn’t care less. I love this ritual for two reasons. First, I love being surprised at my own reactions to these movies. What makes Movie A better than Movie B? A better ending? A bolder execution? A more moving storyline? It’s entirely subjective, which is entirely the point. Therein lies the fun. And then second, I love doing this ranking because it brings back memories of first watching these great films. Was I at a festival? On a date with my wife? Where was I, emotionally, at the moment when I saw it? The same way that people used to keep photo albums, my list is a snapshot of memories and good times. Revisiting them all in one fell swoop is an endless pleasure.
None of this will matter to you, just as my Top 10 list probably won’t mean as much as the one you make yourself. It’s your collection of memories and preferences. It’s interesting to learn about what makes us love the movies we love. And that shifts over time. It’s never concrete. That’s exciting: It means that you aren’t the same person now as you were years ago, or the person you’ll be in five years. We’re all growing and changing. And so is our evaluation of what makes a great movie.
But before I make that list, I wanted right now to share some enjoyable ephemera, highlighting the memorable moments and weird cinematic trends that tend not to find their way onto conventional Top 10 lists. Also, I wanted to champion the kinds of performances that Academy voters always overlook — which never stops being annoying. (Comedies and horror can be transcendent, too, y’know.) And I simply had to enjoy the year’s best joke one more time. There are many lists out there. But this one is mine.
Most Upsetting Movie Death, Human Division
Lots of characters croaked this year at the movies, but none of them haunted us the way Spider-Man’s death in Avengers: Infinity War did. Playing the impressionable Peter Parker, who’s mentored by Robert Downey Jr.’s tough-love Tony Stark, Tom Holland wrings his character’s dissolve-into-dust demise for every bit of pathos. “I don’t want to go… I don’t want to go…” Yes, our beloved Marvel superheroes probably aren’t really dead, but Spider-Man’s possible end felt like losing a close friend.
Most Upsetting Movie Death, Dinosaur Division
Oh man, that sad, lonely dinosaur in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Sure, Fallen Kingdom is dumb, but the scene where everybody tries to escape the island as it’s exploding is unexpectedly heartbreaking. It’s even worse because we don’t see the stranded dinosaur die — we’re left to imagine his horrible fate as everybody else gets away safely. And if that sequence didn’t make your teary-eyed enough, Fallen Kingdom director J.A. Bayona confirmed later that the abandoned dinosaur was the same one we see near the start of the first Jurassic Park. Sorry, your childhood has now been ruined.
Sequels That Were Better Than Expected
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Avengers: Infinity War
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Sequels That Were Worse Than Feared
Best Movie About Toxic Masculinity
At this point, it’s pretty easy to sound woke by describing a film as being “about toxic masculinity.” (Basically, any movie that involves a male character being terrible to a female character can be tagged this way. And, honestly, that happens in every movie.) But a handful of films actually incisively examined what that term means — and the best of the bunch was Burning, a terrific South Korean drama concerning a twisty romantic triangle.
Jong-su (Ah-in Yoo) is a shy, sensitive young man who falls for the pretty, outgoing Haemi (Jong-seo Yun). But after they hook up, she goes away on a vacation — only to return with the far more charismatic and rich Ben (The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun), who appears to be her new beau. What happened? And does Ben have insidious plans for Haemi? At its core, this nervy thriller is a power struggle between two men who want control of the same woman — although neither understands her at all. Ben is the suave jerk, while Jong-su is the nice-guy pushover who, ironically, is just as self-absorbed and cruel in his own way. When Haemi goes missing, the stakes rise — but Burning argues that, really, these guys had erased her long before she vanished.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Movies, Ranked
- On the Basis of Sex
Long-Lost 1970s Movies That Finally Got Released in 2018, Ranked
1. Amazing Grace. Behind-the-scenes snapshot of the recording of Aretha Franklin’s 1972 gospel album Amazing Grace in an L.A. church. Her voice is magnificent, and the songs are electric. Mick Jagger’s stunned face speaks for all of us. When Franklin was alive, she blocked the film’s release. It now stands as her last will and testament.
2. The Other Side of the Wind. Orson Welles’ early 1970s portrait of an aging, bitter filmmaker (John Huston) was a project most assumed we’d never see released. (The Oscar-winner has been dead for 30-plus years.) But with Netflix’s backing, The Other Side of the Wind finally arrived. It’s an uneven, sometimes amazing vision from an artist with plenty of axes to grind and things to say. (Also, check out They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, an entertaining new documentary about the film’s tortured history.)
Best Actor (Who Nobody’s Talking About)
The Oscars usually turn their nose up at comedies, superhero movies and performances from actors in animated films. So pity poor Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s Shameik Moore, who was terrific in a very funny animated superhero movie. He’s Miles Morales, a Brooklyn teenager caught between two opposing father figures — his cop dad and his free-spirited uncle — who finds himself transformed once he’s bit by a radioactive spider. Into the Spider-Verse features all the in-jokes and comic-book fun you’d expect — the guys behind 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie produced it — but Moore gives the film an unexpected emotional core. Becoming Spider-Man would be stressful for any kid — just ask Tom Holland’s Peter Parker — but Moore articulates the anxiety and self-doubt of being young — and he does it entirely with his voice. I’ve rarely connected with an animated character so much on screen.
Best Actress (Who Nobody’s Talking About)
Horror never gets enough love when it comes to recognizing stellar performances. But Toni Collette in Hereditary was as good as any actor in any genre — in fact, the terrific, mournful thriller doesn’t work without her. She plays Annie, a mother and wife who’s recently buried her own mother — with whom she always had a complicated relationship. But when strange things start to happen in Annie’s house, is it her imagination? Or is it something from the beyond trying to resolve old grievances? A portrait of mourning and motherhood that also happens to be incredibly unsettling, Hereditary is guided by Collette’s grounded performance. You feel Annie’s every moment of anguish — as well as the sense that she’s desperately trying to not lose her grip on sanity. Ironically, Collette’s only Oscar nomination was for another horror movie, The Sixth Sense. She’s just as great here.
Movies We Liked Better Than You Did
Movies We Liked Less Than You Did
Crazy Rich Asians
Ralph Breaks the Internet
A Simple Favor
A Star Is Born
Movies That Didn’t Work but We Still Think About a Lot
A quick explanation about this category. Lots of movies are misfires, for all kinds of reasons. And, normally, I never give them a second thought afterward. But here’s a salute to two thumbs-down movies that have stuck with me. They’re not actually good films, but there’s something about them that’s made me curious to revisit them somewhere down the road…
1. The House That Jack Built. Lars von Trier’s latest grisly provocation, about a serial killer, played by Matt Dillon. Mostly feels like it’s von Trier spinning his wheels, but there are some unforgettable images and ideas buried in there.
2. The 15:17 to Paris. Clint Eastwood had the gutsy idea to cast the real-life heroes, who aren’t actors, to play themselves in this drama about an aborted 2015 terrorist attack. The strategy doesn’t work, but it’s an interesting experiment that examines how movies re-create and repurpose actual events, and how they’re inherently compromised in the process.
The Year’s Best Claire Foy Movie
Going into the fall, it looked like Claire Foy was going to be one of the season’s hottest commodities. Fresh off her acclaimed turn in The Crown, she was set to play Ryan Gosling’s wife in First Man, the follow-up film from La La Land director Damien Chazelle, as well as star in the Lisbeth Salander reboot The Girl in the Spider’s Web. As her profile rose in anticipation of those films’ release, she was given glossy movie-star treatment in publications like The Hollywood Reporter. She was about to be the Next Big Thing…
…except, it didn’t happen. First Man’s Oscar chances fizzled, and audiences largely skipped Spider’s Web.
But Foy actually did give a great performance this year — just not in either of those movies. In early 2018, she was the star of Unsane, Steven Soderbergh’s latest low-budget experimental genre piece. In this thriller, which he shot on an iPhone, Foy plays Sawyer, a seemingly ordinary young woman who finds herself admitted to a psychiatric hospital by mistake. But the more she swears she’s sane, the more everyone in the facility doubts her. And then her true nightmare begins: She discovers that her former stalker (Joshua Leonard) is an orderly at the facility and plans to keep her there permanently.
A fun midnight-movie vibe pervades this psychological character study, but Foy keeps it urgent and real. Sawyer is a smart, resourceful character determined to free herself of this hell, and it’s fun to watch her try to outmaneuver everybody around her. Unsane tanked at the box office, but it’s worth seeking out — especially for Foy fans who want to see her step away from playing royalty, astronaut wives and Salander.
Movies Whose Titles Are Questions, Ranked
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
- Can You Ever Forgive Me?
The 2018 Movie Joke We Laughed At the Hardest
It’s hard to know what exactly will strike you as hilarious, but in 2018 nothing killed me as much as one pretty dark joke in the underrated Game Night. In this comedy-thriller, bored married couple Annie and Max (Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman) slowly realize that their usual game night has been hijacked, and now they’re trying to stay alive as bad guys pursue them. During the film’s big final action sequence, Annie squares off with one of those criminals and, well, here’s what happened…
Explaining jokes always make them 175 percent less funny, but McAdams’ character is such a goody-goody suburban wife that her quick switch from exhalation to shock is genius. (It’s even better on a loop.)
Best 2018 Recap
Did you not have a lot of time for movies this year? Wanna catch up in 13-and-a-half minutes? Then check out IndieWire film critic David Ehrlich’s always-terrific video countdown, where he offers a ton of indelible movie clips and his ranking of the year’s 25 best films. As always, his song choices are inspired, and the editing deftly connects themes from seemingly disparate films into a gorgeous, coherent whole. If you saw a bunch of films this year, Ehrlich’s video is like a fond trip down memory lane. If you didn’t, it’s an indispensable guide on what you need to see ASAP.