It will shock you to learn how long this year has been. Remember Black Panther? That came out all the way back in February. Feels like eons, right? That’s been the pervasive feeling of 2018: a relentless, soul-crushing hellscape that feels way lifetimes longer than it actually was.
Back in 2017, a lot of the movies were escapist, or offered a sense of catharsis to them. Who will forget the feeling of Chris overcoming his captors in Get Out, or the languid pleasures of Call Me By Your Name? Some of this year’s films have some of that same hard-earned positivity, but the overwhelming mood is much darker. Things are getting worse, and the only light (literally and metaphorically) is the collective acknowledgment that we need to act sooner rather than later.
Grimness notwithstanding, this year has been terrific for film buffs: there were vivid family dramas, feminist genre films, and even Nicolas Cage without pants. The breadth and quality of the year’s movies is, well, overwhelming. It is difficult to pick a conclusive list of the best films, so the BYT film team got scientific. All our movie writers – Vesper Arnett, Max Benotvim, Ross Bonaime, Trisha Brown, Kaylee Dugan, Benjamin Freed, Svetlana Legetic, Beatrice Loayza, Diana Metzger, Jeff Spross, and Alan Zilberman – submitted their top movies of 2018, which were then tallied and ranked. So, without further ado, here are our top eleven movies of 2018, complete with a silly superlative and concluding thoughts.
11. Beast: Best worst first-date movie
Beast starts with a pretty-but-sad girl escaping her dreary family at her own birthday party. While out dancing, she meets a boy, who tries to go too far. Another boy, this one with bright blue eyes, matted blonde hair and some non-threatening-but-thrilling hygiene issues saves her. They fall in love. Their love is messy in a way that upsets EVERYONE in the girl’s life. The boy has no one else but her. The girl doesn’t WANT anyone else but him. It is ALL very romantic, very thrilling, and very young.
Then a twist comes. A deadly, life questioning twist. Then there are more, all the way until the end when you will most likely be left breathless. These all come AT YOU subtly, unexpectedly, with the devastation of inevitability. Director Michael Pearce knows when to hold back and when to go for the gut punch. Actors Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn (both of whom are about to cast in something boring and American any day now) are raw, smart, and intuitive with these messy roles, in the way that suggests natural born talent.
In the end, you are left not necessarily satisfied but with some real questions: What is love? What is danger? What makes it all worth it? It may be a little too-much-too-soon to be left lingering in the air at the end of a date night, but, hey, you deserve someone that you can talk to about this movie. Don’t settle for less. –Svetlana Legetic
10. Widows: Best heist crew
The Sandra Bullock-led Ocean’s 8 was a romp, but their caper – set at the Met Costume Gala – was a little too tidy and fantastical. Not so for Widows’s quartet of Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, and Elizabeth Debicki, who attempt to pull off a truly dangerous robbery without ever really liking each other. Brought together by grief, desperation, and the threat of more violence, the Widows crew is inexperienced, sloppy, and uncertain they’ll pull it off without getting killed. The job could break apart at any moment during the film’s first two acts, with director Steve McQueen never letting up on the suspense in scenes that range from a car auction to a home invasion, and the cast (including the as-good-as-ever Davis and underappreciated Debicki) fill their performances with a permeating dread. No matter how many times their plan nearly collapses, it’s not from a lack of chemistry between these four actors, who crackle in every scene that’s a combination of any of them. –Benjamin Freed
9. Mandy: Best battle axe forged out of Holy Fire by a man with nothing to lose for the sole purpose of wreaking Sacred Vengeance on a cult and their infernal allies from the netherworld
After that lead-in, you’re either sold or you aren’t. But for those of you who weren’t, did we mention this movie has Nic Cage in the performance of his career? Still not sold? OK, fine: Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy is a perfectly-realized vision, balanced on the blade’s edge of the timelessness of all great art and the dark and warped glass of our present’s memory of the past. Anchored not just by Cage, but by a deeply-resonant Andrea Riseborough in the title role and a bravissimo leave-it-all-on-the-table villain performance from Linus Roache, Mandy is a descent into hell. Ironically, it is most shocking for how it lingers so long in cinematic heaven. It’s the rare film that garners attention for deliriously-knowing, exquisitely-uninhibitedly chainsaw battles, ATV-riding demons, and, yes, that crazy, gorgeous axe. This crazy-ass shit still deserves a rewatch first and foremost to see a lonely scarred woman, bathed in otherworldly light, reading strange fiction to her sole, silent companion. Coupled with the infamous Cheddar Goblin, if this ain’t why we go to the movies, why even bother? –Max Bentovim
8. A Star Is Born: Best use of a formerly washed-up standup comedian
Now I know what you’re thinking. I’m not talking about Dave Chappelle. Not only is Chappelle not washed-up, but also his cameo in A Star is Born was basically just an opportunity for Chappelle to show off his muscles in a tank top, while magically appearing out of nowhere to give wise advice and easily advance the plot. No, I’m talking about Andrew Dice Clay’s turn as Ally’s limo driving, starstruck father Lorenzo. He finally shook off his dyed black greaser hair and shtick he exhausted in the 90s to play a totally age appropriate character. He’s grey haired and sporting a paunch. Lorenzo is so obsessed with Sinatra, as well as other famous people he’s driven around, that he doesn’t realize his daughter is a star waiting to be born. The best part is when he’s totally won over by the fact that Jackson Maine offers him his pick of a vinyl collection. That is SUCH a dad thing to be impressed by. –Diana Metzger
7. You Were Never Really Here: Best blunt instrument to the head
You Were Never Really Here is not a difficult because Joaquin Phoenix’s Joe rescues child prostitutes, or because he does so brandishing a hammer. Writer/director Lynne Ramsay rarely even shows Joe’s ball-peen beatings, or the damage done to the horrific people he encounters. What makes You Were Never Really Here so brutal is the blunt, unpredictable, and tremendous performance of Phoenix, an actor who even after four decades in the industry can still shock and impress. Joe shows the after-effects of what violence can do to the human psyche. The violence of Joe’s past has defined him, and even in his quiet moments alone, he comes close to self-harm or fantasizes about his own suicide. Because Joe is so closed off, and Ramsay’s filmmaking is so tense, it almost makes sense that any of Joe’s whims could become a reality at any moment. Joe can go from sweet and caring to blood-covered and furious in a matter of seconds. You Were Never Really Here could’ve just been a superior and realistic version of Taken or John Wick, but in the hands of Ramsay and with a depressed, superb performance that might be one of Phoenix’s best in a career full of great performances, this here movie ends up hitting remarkably hard. –Ross Bonaime
6. Roma: Strongest counter-narrative against everything Trump stands for
Rarely are the big bucks put towards movies about people at the margins of society, much less practically plot-less ones about female, indigenous domestic workers in Mexico. What better time for a Netflix miracle than midway through our sexist and racist administration’s asthmatic four year stint? Shot in smooth black and white film, Alfonso Cuaron’s epic memory movie is guided by nearly revisionist impulses, seeking to spotlight once and for all the women who raised him with the sort of careful attention to detail normally reserved for flashy historical dramas about powerful people. Breathtaking in scope, while simultaneously limited to the personal experience of Cleo, a character inspired by Cuaron’s childhood nanny and played by first-time actress Yalitzia Aparicio, Roma is an exercise in empathy and a cinematic experience quite unlike anything in recent years. Did I mention you will cry? Yes, crying is part of the bundle. –Beatrice Loayza
5. Burning: Most likely to make you question everything you know about greenhouses
It’s probably better to go into Burning knowing almost nothing about it; by going in blind, it will be all the more satisfying when you come out still uncertain about what kind of film it is. The three central characters, young adults in South Korea brought together under odd but not unbelievable circumstances, are sometimes a friend group and sometimes a love triangle. Despite their ages, each is remarkably consistent, and it’s the way their circumstances change or are revealed that drives a captivating mystery. Some films twist and turn within their genres, but Burning bounces around all over the storytelling landscape, morphing from the story of a lonely young man struggling with underemployment, to a relationship drama, to a haunting thriller. That movement never feels chaotic, though – Burning simmers for two and a half hours, unwinding slowly but hypnotically. Even at its most intense, the film still feels eerily low-key, and intentionally so. You get the sense director Chang-dong Lee and Haruki Murakami, who wrote the short story on which Burning is based, have mapped out exactly the journey on which they’re taking audiences. –Trisha Brown
4. Sorry to Bother You: Best representation of the crushing hopelessness (and mind altering highs) felt by call center workers
Thousands of words have been written about Boots Riley’s triumphant transition from musician to director. Sorry to Bother You, his surreal take on race, class and politics is one of the most invigorating films to come out this year and one of the only films where I felt like I never knew what was going to happen next. It’s more of a roller coaster ride than a movie: just when you think it’s winding down, you’ve hit a corkscrew and are flying at the speed of light. The only time I didn’t feel that way, the only time when I wanted to hide my face behind my hands and cover my ears is when protagonist Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) gets a job as a telemarketer. I worked at my university’s call center for three years, sometimes pulling double Sunday shifts to make money to afford living in this goddamn city. The windowless room, the sad water cooler, the cramped cubicle desks, I know them all like the back of my hand. I can’t count the number of times I was hung up on, but when you hit that jack pot, when you got someone to donate $5 to the library, hot damn did you feel like a star. –Kaylee Dugan
3. Annihilation: Second-best use of Tessa Thompson in a 2018 feature
Tessa’s here to stay and her career is blooming. This year she hit us hard right out of the gate with Annihilation, a sci-fi film that blends suspense and biological horror by the director of Ex Machina. It’s set in The Southern Reach, aka Florida, and it’s here that we find Tessa and her squadmates (all women) lurking among the beautiful people-flowers in an abandoned swamp. She’s in the middle of an expedition to uncover what the is going on, and things start getting weird fast: waking up with no idea of where they went to sleep, terrifying groans in the night, and a host of mutated organisms. Everything is slightly off, yet Tessa’s calm character stands out in an increasingly unknown and hostile environment. Contrast that with her electric performance in Sorry to Bother You and in Janelle Monáe’s “emotion picture” Dirty Computer – not mention her ice cold role in Westworld – then you can truly appreciate how she is embracing the weird and wild. Annihilation isn’t about destruction. It is about change, and even within the conventions and constraints of genre films, its unwavering push into the unknown is downright brave. –Vesper Arnett
2. Black Panther: Best villain who was an inch away from being a hero
It’s a truism that the most compelling villains have good reasons for what they do. But never was it more true than with Erik Killmonger, Black Panther’s antagonist, and the creation of filmmaker Ryan Coogler with actor Michael B. Jordan. Yes, Killmonger is a murderer and an imperialist, and there are moments where he inspires the same apocalyptic dread as The Dark Knight’s Joker. But Killmonger is no nihilist: Both he and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) are sons of the hidden African nation of Wakanda. But Killmonger has lived his life amongst the incalculable human damage wreaked by the western world’s legacy of slavery and segregation. He means to use Wakanda’s wildly advanced technology to finally balance the global scales. The result is a remarkable, profoundly human debate that occurs entirely among black perspectives – over history, rage, vengeance, radicalism, and the place of violence in liberation – and all played out within the superhero genre. At no point does the film feel the need to consider white perspectives, or ask their opinion. It makes Killmonger the best villain, hands down, of the Marvel franchise, and Black Panther the franchise’s most moving offering to date. –Jeff Spross
1. First Reformed: Best highball that serves as a potent metaphor for our trash planet
Ethan Hawke plays Reverend Toller in First Reformed, Paul Schrader’s masterpiece, and throughout the film he is having a bad time. He is lonely, sick, and emasculated. His parishioners have abandoned him, a reality that only exacerbates a brewing, lonely crisis of faith. There are two saving graces in Toller’s life: a devout young woman who helps reawaken his desire to do Good, and a steady diet of brown liquor. Toller drinks a lot in First Reformed, polishing off a bottle of whiskey every couple days or so, and chronic stomach pain does nothing to stop him. In a film loaded with potent metaphors, one of the strongest happens toward the end, when Toller decides to cut his booze with some Pepto Bismol. This image – a pristine golden caramel sullied by an encroaching wave of thick, unnatural pink – represents everything from Toller to the planet’s inevitable fate. The characters in First Reformed discuss the irrevocable damage from climate change, but they do not despair over it. They treat it as a certainty, so there is a nobility in how they find solace, whether it’s in a glass of the good stuff, newfound radicalism, or each other. –Alan Zilberman