10 – Game Night
2018 was the best year in recent memory for comedies, and Game Night is probably the funniest of them all. It doesn’t contain the complexity of some of the other films on this list, but it’s well-written and acted, and surprisingly well crafted for a studio comedy. The camera often treats our players as pawns on a giant game board, and it’s consistently sidesplitting witnessing how the filmmakers move them around.
9 – Eighth Grade
In the tradition of John Hughes and Amy Heckerling, Bo Burnham has created a modern teenage classic that mines humour from brutal honesty. Themes that Burnham has woven into his works since the days of Vine – isolation, anxiety, and the facades we show to the outside world – are sharpened here to a mortifying degree. Painful, hilarious, and ultimately hopeful, this is a film every teenager should see.
8 – BlacKkKlansman
The lense of the past is used to magnify the ugliness of the present in Spike Lee’s masterful return to the mainstream. The film uses buddy-cop tropes as a mechanism to guide us deep into the heart of whiteness, personified by Topher Grace’s putridly affable David Duke, Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. John David Washington is perfectly cast as our hero, giving a performance that is effortlessly commanding and laugh-out-loud funny. As ever, Lee offers few easy answers, opting to simply show the world the way it is, and asking us what we’re going to do about it.
7 – The Death of Stalin
The absurdity of fascism provides laughs and revulsion in equal measure in Armando Iannucci’s brilliant follow-up to In the Loop. Like BlacKkKlansman the past and present are blended together to create a terrifying look at a world gone wrong. Most farces fall short when it comes to an ending, wrapping up all their loose ends in minutes and hoping we don’t think too hard about it all. Iannucci solves this problem by drastically changing the tone in the final act, draining the film, and us, of mirth, and demonstrating definitively that certain things can only be funny up to a point.
6 – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
If there was ever any doubt that firing Phil Lord and Chris Miller from Solo was a terrible idea, their next outing (as producers, with Lord co-writing) should assuage it. Into the Spider-Verse is a technicolor marvel. This is superhero filmmaking at its best – vital, astounding, and inspiring. Unlike a certain other movie this year featuring a plethora of heroes in spandex, Spider-Verse never loses sight of its lead character, the lovable Miles Morales. At its heart a celebration of comic books, the film captures the joy of movement the way few comic book movies do. This is a joyous experience that I can’t wait to experience again.
5 – The Favourite
Once again history is used as a backdrop for brilliant satire, this time taking us to 18th century Britain. Here the upper classes race ducks, play with rabbits, and binge on cake, while the country around them rapidly goes bankrupt – sound familiar? The men in the film are secondary to the trifecta of Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, and Olivia Coleman, who portray their unlikable characters with total sincerity and sympathy. Fisheye lenses are used to give the opulence of the Crown a vastness bordering on obscenity, and the editing is the source of some of the film’s biggest laughs. This is a much more accessible piece than Yorgos Lanthimos’s previous films, but no less nasty and nihilistic. It’s a singular vision of humanity at its worst, and one I will be revisiting again and again.
4 – Mission: Impossible – Fallout
2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road threw down the gauntlet, challenging action filmmakers to do better. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is as close as anyone’s yet come, delivering a delirious series of escalating set pieces, all culminating in a final sequence that can stand proudly with cinema’s greatest action scenes. Tom Cruise plays/is Ethan Hunt, a loner who insists on repeatedly risking his life, much to the horror and amazement of everyone around him. Whether he’s HALO jumping from 25,000 feet, snapping his ankle jumping from one building to another, or corkscrewing a helicopter through a goddamn canyon, it is unquestionably him doing it, which adds a level of excitement that would be impossible to achieve otherwise. Luckily all of this is shot with the same kind of propulsive clarity that powered Fury Road, putting us right in the middle of the action, without ever feeling disorienting.
3 – First Reformed
Paul Schrader’s dreamy and difficult examination of modern religion is a film as hard to pin down as it is to forget. Defying almost every rule of conventional storytelling, Schrader asks a great deal from the audience, and rewards them mightily for it. First Reformed is a challenging journey, anchored by Ethan Hawke’s astounding lead performance as a priest whose eyes are gradually opened to the horrors of climate change. Like last year’s mother!, First Reformed ask us if we use things like religion to give ourselves a pass on our role in the destruction of the natural world. “Will God forgive us for destroying his creation?” is the question at the heart of the film, and it’s one that has haunted this staunch atheist long after the credits rolled.
2 – Paddington 2
Back in February I said that Paddington 2 could very well be my favourite film of 2018. This was a great year for movies, and though it didn’t quite make number one, Paddington 2 still came pretty damn close. On every conceivable metric this is a perfect film, but its underlying message of human decency and acceptance is what’s kept it in my mind. We are approaching dangerous levels of cynicism, and movies like this are an essential reminder that a kind word, a selfless act, or a marmalade sandwich never made anything worse.
1 – Nanette
With the exception of two films, my top ten of 2018 are all comedies, or at least dramedies. What better way to top it off than with a movie (stand-up special? One-person show?) that questions the very nature of the form. As Nanette begins, Hannah Gadsby lulls us into a false sense of security before gradually deconstructing everything I thought I knew about stand-up, trauma, homophobia, gender, hero worship, and art itself. If you’re only going to watch one movie this year, Nanette should be it. This is a film for our time, a knife-blade in the ribs of the patriarchy, and a plea for compassion in a world that isn’t quite beyond saving.
I Also Loved:
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Sorry to Bother You
You Were Never Really Here
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
I Still Really Want to See:
Anna and the Apocalypse
If Beale Street Could Talk
Leave No Trace
Minding the Gap
The Other Side of the Wind