TOP 10 OF 2018

As opposed to last year, 2018 has made it difficult for me to narrow things down to a finite ten films that I thought worthy of making my list. These kinds of lists, no matter how superfluous, would always fare better were they put together in a couple years time rather than in a rush in the last few days of the year as one is attempting to cram in all the end-of-year awards contenders being released simultaneously as well as catching up on everything that might have been missed throughout the year, but that is supposed to be really good and you don't know why you didn't watch some of these sooner. Alas, some will slip through the cracks and while I made as valiant an effort as I possibly could (I even saw Holmes & Watson yesterday-more out of an undying loyalty to Ferrell than the potential of it making my list, of course) I still managed to miss more than I would have liked to. Furthermore, there have been films with exceptional moments that might feel like glaring omissions from my favorites list given you've likely heard a lot about them over the course of the last few months that will make many others; examples include films such as Green Book, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and The Favourite. I couldn't agree more that each of those films possess inspired moments that transcend the art form, but as a whole were they films that made an impression on me that will last, if not forever, but at least a few weeks after seeing them? Not at this point, no, though I'm suspect this might change with at least two of these.

On the other hand, there are a handful of narrative features competing for spots on my list that, on any given day, might have been in one of those top ten spots; HBO's The Tale, the Joaquin Phoenix-starrer You Were Never Really Here, Steve McQueen's Widows, what could possibly be Robert Redford's swan song in The Old Man and the Gun, as well we Bo Burnham's feature debut in Eighth Grade would round out my top fifteen at this point, but if I included documentaries on this list it would be a completely different story. The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, Three Identical Strangers, Whitney, Free Solo, not to mention Won't You Be My Neighbor? were all fantastic documentaries released this year where at least three of those would have made my top ten, but given the differences in the approach to filmmaking it only seems fair to highlight them outside of a traditional top ten list. Of course, going back over the year there are many regrets around films like Blindspotting, The Hate U Give, Searching, Bad Times at the El Royale, Halloween, Instant Family, Vice, Shoplifters, Love, Simon, and Hearts Beat Loud that I wish there were space for as I enjoyed each and every one of them to the extent I would genuinely label them as "great". All things considered though, please know I go into every film truly hoping to see one of the best movies of the year and the ones that follow are the ones that surprised me with their quality or surpassed every expectation I held for them. Enjoy!

10. Vox Lux - Never have I felt more bewildered by a movie after watching it. Part of me was fascinated by what I saw unfold as the life of this young woman played out in two halves and three complete acts while the other half of me wanted to completely reject-in a sense-what this woman became or rather, what the world turned her into. It has to mean something for a film to be so internally divisive so as to not even be sure of where one ultimately lands in overall opinion of the film days after seeing it. I still don't know if I liked Vox Lux or not, but I kind of loved it and I know I'm still thinking about it and I know "Wrapped Up" continues to give me chills every time I listen to it-which has been damn near constantly since I walked out of the theater. I need to see this again. Immediately.

9. A Quiet Place - The third directorial effort from John Krasinski (The Office) starring real-life wife Emily Blunt in their first on-screen collaboration (and as a married couple no less) is a movie that encapsulates the equal amount of unexpected fear as compared to the expected amount of joy that comes along with becoming a parent. This is something society doesn't often prepare one for and that expectant parents don't hear much about when embarking on this particular chapter in their life. People talk about how having children will change your life, certainly, and how it will do so for the better as well as how tough things will be at different times for different reasons, but no one ever seems to warn expectant parents just how much fear will encompass their lives and in what are otherwise seemingly normal of situations. This isn't what A Quiet Place is about outright, but as the father to a now four-year-old daughter it is what A Quiet Place is most explicitly about to me and is therefore, the scariest and one of the most affecting films of the year.

8. If Beale Street Could Talk - If Beale Street Could Talk is simultaneously simple yet contains mountains of emotions and social commentary aching to be unpacked; ideas, inclinations, and images that will continue to resonate in my mind for months. A meditation session of a movie and a complete experience. There is story if not sporadic plot points that guide the viewer through the series of themes director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) is keen on communicating, but Beale Street features what are really only three complete scenes while the rest of it is more montage or anecdotes that swirl around the three major moments to create a deeper context for the more full, finite scenes that pinpoint the beginning, middle, and end of the film. Working with what is more of a loose, jazz-inspired structure the viewer is fed little bits of information from different stages in the characters' lives, but it is through the power of how Jenkins and his editors weave the layers of the story of Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) together that not only do we become convinced of their love for one another, but of their friendship and, as a result, that they are meant to be. Also, that score.

7. Paddington 2 - Paddington 2 is one of those films I would have most likely labeled simply as "great" and included in the opening paragraphs were it not for the fact I have the aforementioned four-year-old daughter. As anyone who's ever been around little children ever knows-they tend to latch onto a movie and stick with it repeatedly for a couple months time. While the daughter had various favorites throughout the year the one I always found myself suggesting was Paddington 2. She and I saw it in the theater over MLK weekend at the beginning of the year and both of us found it endearingly charming (or at least I did and I'm pretty sure she felt the same way). I couldn't wait to purchase the blu-ray and show it to my wife, and then we would throw it on again, and again, and before I knew it I couldn't help but to admit that I completely adored Paddington 2. If you'd told me in January that I was seeing what would eventually be one of my favorite films of the year I 1) might not have seen as many movies in the subsequent months and 2) probably wouldn't have believed you. That said, Paul King's sequel is infinitely charming and endlessly humble. "If we are kind and polite, the world will be right."

6. First Reformed - Paul Schrader has made a career of analyzing the psyches of tortured male souls and their having to grapple with the varied struggles and conflicts their environment and/or time in history dictates they deal with. In First Reformed, the writer/director is very much speaking to the time in which the film has been made as this is a story of a man full of anxieties and uncertainties despite his outward facade of peace and a certain serenity that only such measured priests can uphold. First Reformed doesn't care to follow a repeated quandary such as a crisis of faith, but instead takes on the story of a man who was beaten down by life long before he decided to make the church his one and only true love. Ethan Hawke portrays Reverend Toller in one of his best performances to date in a career filled with memorable performances as Schrader analyzes the mentality of suffering to earn salvation, but as Toller at one point poses, "Who can know the mind of God?" At another point though, Toller derives what is necessary to please God in his own, twisted way, thus painting the broad themes of contradiction that often informs the religious as well as First Reformed. In short, it's a thinker, but it's a stunner.

5. Mission: Impossible - FALLOUT - The older Tom Cruise gets, the less time there is between his Mission: Impossible sequels. Mission: Impossible - FALLOUT is the pinnacle of what it seems this entire series, knowing or unknowingly, has been leading to. It is writer/director Christopher McQuarrie's The Dark Knight, it is Cruise's commitment to celluloid that will define the middle act of his career, and it is by far one of the best action movies ever made. Yes, FALLOUT is everything a fan of the previous films could want in that it revolves around a convoluted plot of double crossings and inconspicuous baddies throwing obstacles at our beloved team of core heroes, but what elevated this latest entry above many of the others is the way in which it caps off this trilogy of sorts that began with Ghost Protocol where these movies weren't just using Cruise's Hunt as a conduit for action or trying to humanize him, but more discover the person Hunt actually is while detailing his journey to figure out who he truly wants to be.

4. BlacKkKlansman - A history lesson and galvanizing procedural all in one, Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman is one for the ages. An incredibly heavy, effectively powerful film that drenches you in the world in which it operates, pulls absolutely no punches, and delivers a film from a focused filmmaker who is not only presenting a timely conversation that needs to happen, but conveying his side of the conversation with style, eloquence, and immense profundity. Many of Lee’s films are pointedly about what they’re about, but when Lee actually has a story to work his themes through he is able to create more fulfilling and impactful experiences. This is what makes BlacKkKlansman the perfect story for Lee to tell. The true life events the film is based on provide an entertaining template to discuss the politics Lee desires to discuss while the true story is also entrenched in the racially charged dilemmas of the late seventies (and unfortunately, of today as well). In essence, it’s a perfect melding of artist and material.

3. Ready Player One - Director Steven Spielberg has a way with not only bringing the viewer into the spectacle, but making them appreciate the aura of the spectacle he has concocted on screen. We're not just in awe of what we're seeing on screen, but we're in awe of how it makes us feel. Spielberg is a master of this kind of spellbinding visual storytelling, but as the filmmaker has grown older his filmography has naturally become more serious. That is to say, it's been a decade since that fourth Indiana Jones movie, but with his latest, Ready Player One, Spielberg returns to that era he helped define as Ready Player One mines the kind of wonder each of those films elicited as they were all, in some fashion, told from the point of view of a child who was allowed to run wild with and fully indulge in their imagination. Ready Player One doesn't just utilize the same tone and a barrage of references to trick audiences who might have an affection for any one of the many cameos this thing trots out in order to make them feel an affinity for this new product, but rather it takes the real world into account, advances it into a hyper, but probable reality, and then comments on how it's nice to indulge in our imaginations and appreciate what others have given us with theirs, but that-as with everything-balance is key and it requires real-world interactions, relationships, and experiences to allow those imaginations to grow.

2. A Star is Born - Often in movies about individuals who strive to make a living telling stories the process of capturing the true essence of such lives strays from the actual topic of why the way these particular people tell stories is so special. What it actually takes to get from a lyric to a melody to an arrangement or in whatever order inspiration decides to strike is completely glossed over. With A Star is Born, Bradley Cooper goes from movie star to film director, screenwriter, musician, and songwriter. In taking on these new roles and applying them to what is the fourth incarnation of A Star is Born Cooper has found a way to work through his creative process by exploring the creative process. Cooper and Lady Gaga's performances define the film, their chemistry enrapturing, and the music is pretty damn great too. While this is the fourth incarnation of the film, 2018's A Star is Born is more than capable of standing on its own and nails the ending in a way that is so devastatingly heart-wrenching it's impossible to not feel everything that has come before it.

1. Avengers: Infinity War - Infinity War is as sprawling as you could imagine, as epic as you would hope, and as devastating as it needed to be, but hoped it wouldn't be. That this works as well as it does and that it was pulled off at all is a miracle and earns the movie points upon points, but that-by the time the credits come to a close-the film has shaken you to the core and chilled your skin off is a sign of something more than satisfying, popcorn entertainment, but more it signifies the arrival of a game-changer and if Infinity War is anything at all it is groundbreaking. It's understandable how this choice for my number one film of the year might be baffling to those who haven't been following Robert Downey Jr. and the rest of Marvel Studios for the past decade, but what Infinity War signifies (and furthermore delivers upon) is something that has never before been accomplished successfully in the film industry or in movie-making and should be applauded for that reason alone, but that the directing team of the Russo Brothers were actually able to pull this off in a fashion that barely registers as two and a half hours due to the relentless pacing and amount of stuff happening is incredible. The fact we, as an audience, feel all of this stuff though, is what is most incredible and if you have any investment in these worlds or these characters at all it's not difficult to see why Infinity War is the triumph it is.