2. First Man
I finally got a chance to catch up with Damien Chazelle’s newest movie after it already left theaters, and man do I regret putting it off this long. Not only is First Man one of the most important depictions of space travel, and our race to the moon during the 1960’s, the craziest thing is that it’s not even about those things. The movie opens with a huge emotional whallop that caught me off guard (having not really known much about Armstrong’s personal life before watching the movie). From that point, we track the decade-long journey to the moon, filled with almost constant setbacks, loss and death. I said earlier that this movie feels incredibly important, and these are the reasons why: By showing us these people, these events, as they actually were, it’s truly one of the most honorable and respectful ‘biopics’ that I’ve ever seen. By actually grasping with the sacrifices that these men went through to reach their goal, and the effects on them (specifically Armstrong) it gives us a clearer picture of their position in history. Not only as American heroes, but normal men thrust into incredible circumstances.
3. Spider-man: Into the Multiverse
The year is 2008. I just got done taking one of my last finals for my Junior year of high school, and decided I’d go check out a movie. I landed on the Wachowski’s ‘Speed Racer’, not really expecting much, having been let down by the Matrix sequels. 2 hours later, I floated out of that movie on a cloud, having been through a damn-near transformative cinematic experience (that movie is massively underrated, go watch it if you haven’t!) That tangent aside, Spider-man: Into the Multiverse made me feel that way again. Fully understanding that animation is a virtually limitless sandbox to play in, the movie feels like a roller coaster of visual sensations I’ve never experienced in a theater before. That’d be all well and good if the writing wasn’t almost on the same level. Multiple memorable, well-written and hilarious characters with more depth than I expected are just cherries on top of this already incredible audio/visual achievement. I truly hope you see this one in theaters, as movies like this deserve all the money in the world.
Mandy is a movie I had been hearing about for awhile now, having premiered at Sundance way back in January. Nothing could prepare me for what writer/Director Panos Cosmatos had in store. Equal parts black metal music video, revenge thriller, and acid trip, Mandy is likely the most unique and surprising movie I’ve seen all year. Nicolas Cage gives his best performance since at least Bad Lieutenant in 2009, if not Adaptation in 2002. Cosmatos knows exactly how to utilize the unpredictable and often flamboyant flourishes of Nicolas Cage better than maybe any other director currently working. If I had my way, and if there was any justice in this world, he’d be up for an Oscar yet again. Aside from his performance, the movie is a face-melting guitar solo of visual inventiveness and often Lynchian experimentation. I can’t wait to see what Cosmatos does next.
5. Won’t you be my neighbor
This is the first of two documentaries that made it on my favorites this year. I typically don’t see many docs, or place them very high at year-end for whatever reason, but man did these two blow me away. The first is by Morgan Neville, about the life of Fred Rogers. From almost the very beginning, this movie had me in tears. Mr Rogers was like an antidote to everything negative in the world; a beacon of hope, shining bright as the world grew darker and darker. Maybe it was heavily influenced by my despair at the state of the world, but this movie felt like drinking a tall glass of ice water after crawling through a desert. As cynicism and cruelty become the primary methods in which we interact with others and the world, Mr Rogers is a reminder that there is always another way. Above every other movie on this list, I highly recommend checking this one out, and then telling everybody you love and care about to see it as well. Hell, even recommend it to people you dislike. Everybody could use a dose of this one.
6. Minding the Gap
The second documentary on my list is a movie that caught me completely by surprise. I hadn’t heard a thing about it when I checked it out on Hulu, just being intrigued by the premise. The doc follows three childhood friends who grew up in Rockford, Illinois and bonded over their shared love of skateboarding. The director, Bing Liu, is one of the three friends, and also had a strong passion for filmmaking (hence the vast amount of footage of the three boys coming of age in their hometown). The film delves into their different and varied upbringings (and eventually abuses) that each faced at the hands of father figures in their lives. Minding the Gap doesn’t shy away from facing these past traumas head on, as Bing Liu explores the commonalities and shared struggles each young man went through to become who they are today. It may sound heavy, and it can be, but the documentary is also incredibly warm and sincere, as you get to see these three friends find catharsis and some semblance of hope by the end of the movie. If you have Hulu, make this one a priority.
7. Mission Impossible: Fallout
If you told me at the beginning of the year that I’d be putting a Mission Impossible movie in my top 10 of 2018, I’d call BS. I’ve always enjoyed the series a ton, but since Brad Bird’s entry ‘Ghost Protocol’, This has been the most consistently entertaining action franchise in modern cinema. Director Chris Mcquarrie returns for Fallout, and with it, makes the best entry in the series, and the best action film since Mad Max Fury Road. From the insane dedication of Tom Cruise (who at this point definitely has a death wish, right?) to the adrenaline pumping, practical set pieces, Mission Impossible Fallout takes the series to greater heights than ever before. Beyond the action, the story wraps up a number of threads going all the way back to JJ Abrams Mission Impossible 3, in a satisfying and emotional conclusion. Fallout is easily the best action movie of the year, and my doubts of them ever topping it seem ludicrous at this point. Here’s hoping Paramount greenlights Mission Impossible 7 as soon as possible.
8. First Reformed
Out of all of the movies on my list this year, I don’t think one stayed with me quite like ‘First Reformed’ did. The story follows Reverand Toller (Ethan Hawke at his very best) as he’s in the middle of a crisis of faith, and filled with despair at the state of (and his role within) the world. Writer/director Paul Schrader (who also penned masterpieces such as Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) has made a movie that harkens back to those films in it’s singular focus on one mans obsession, and in some regards, unraveling. First Reformed follows a trend I’ve seen pop up a lot in 2018 in movies like Spike Lee’s ‘Blackkklansman’ and Carlos López Estrada’s ‘Blindspotting’ in it’s frustration, and outright anger at the current state of the world. Where those two examples are great (and absolutely honorable mentions for the year) First Reformed takes a slower, more internalized approach to how external forces can slowly break us down over time. The movie also has one of the most audacious, memorable, and beautiful endings of a movie this year, turning subtext into text and leaving you on a hopeful (or not) high, depending on how you read it. In my opinion, First reformed is right up there with the very best of Schrader’s work.
9. The Rider
If we’re being honest, Chloe Zhao’s ‘The Rider’ wasn’t a movie I thought would end up on this list. It has a number of factors that (for me) don’t typically add up to much. It’s a modern-day western, without much of a plot, and with basically no ‘real’ actors. Yet despite what it appears to be on paper, ‘The Rider’ was one of the most affecting, emotional movies I’ve seen this year. It reminded me of the movies of Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) in how quiet and nuanced it is, yet speaks volumes about the protagonist and his state of mind in the process. The story follows an up-and-coming rodeo star soon after he’s received a traumatic head injury, and struggles to re-adapt to the world he previously knew. Like I said before, there are hardly any real ‘actors’ as the protagonist ‘Brady’ is basically playing himself (having received the same injury years prior). It took me a little while to adjust to the lack of traditional theatricality in the movie, but once you’re on it’s wavelength, ‘The Rider’ grips you close and doesn’t let go. It’s an amazing dive into modern American masculinity, and in many ways feels like the obituary being read at the funeral for the western genre.
Alfonso Cuarón is one of the most talented artists working today, in any medium. The writer/Director always has lengthy gaps in between his movies, and it’s always worth the wait for a new one. Roma is likely his most personal yet, following an upperclass Mexican families housekeeper ‘Cleo’, and reading up on the inspiration, the movie acts as a sort of letter of appreciation/apology towards Cuarón’s own housekeeper that helped raise him as a boy. Every frame of the movie feels like a glimpse into Cleo’s world, with shots and cinematography that put everything else this year to shame. The sound design also immerses you in the mood and time period like nothing else. It’s hard to fully describe how impressive and touching this movie is, which is a testament to just how damn good Cuarón is at speaking the language of cinema above all else. On one hand, I’d implore everyone to see this in theaters to get the full experience, but it’s also a gift to have such a touching, emotional, handcrafted movie available to watch anytime on Netflix, so do it if you haven’t (and be prepared to shed some tears!)
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
THE ZEN DIARIES OF GARY SHANDLING
THE NIGHT COMES FOR US