If I had to sum up 2018 in one word, it would be “surprising.”
Oh yes, 2018 was very much a surprise. How else would you describe the year? From the growing threat of climate change to the escalating mass shootings to the ongoing debate over the treatment of immigrants, many of the issues that plagued previous years seemed to carry over well into 2018. The death of notable icons such as Burt Reynolds and Stan Lee really seemed to pour salt on the wound on an otherwise bittersweet year.
But 2018 wasn’t all bad. In fact, I would argue that it’s a definite step up from the previous two years. For one thing, more women and people of color were elected into Congress than any year prior, making 2018 one of the most diverse House of Representatives ever. Guillermo Del Toro finally won an Academy Award for directing The Shape of Water, making him the third Mexican-American to win the Oscar for Best Director. And this year saw significant diversity breakthroughs in film as well, with Black Panther and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse sweeping at the box office, Love, Simon bringing enlightenment to the life of gay youth, and Crazy Rich Asians bringing some much-needed Asian exposure to a heavily whitewashed Hollywood.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that while 2018 was bad, it had some bright spots in it that gave me hope for the future. I hope progress continues in the years to come and we learn to look past the differences that divide us as a people.
Either way, the end of 2018 calls for a recap – and I’m actually excited to look back at my Top 10 Films of the year for a change.
A few things to go over before we hop into my Top 10. As a general disclaimer, only movies I have seen this year are eligible for consideration on my Top 10 list. Contrary to popular belief, I have not seen every film that was released this year, and it is very possible that I have missed one or two movies that may deserve to be on this list. For instance, I have heard nothing but praise for Alfonso Cuaron’s Spanish family drama Roma, and it even made Del Toro’s top five movies of all time. But since it was a limited release, I have not had the opportunity to watch Roma yet (and from the looks of it, many others haven’t as well considering that it’s grossed less than $2 million). For that reason, Roma and many others will not be on this list solely because I have not seen them.
Also keep in mind that this is not the end-all, be-all best movies of the year. This is my personal Top 10 favorite movies of the year. Because of this, many popular titles from the year won’t be on this list, and indeed many releases will be on this list that you will probably disagree with. For instance, Avengers: Infinity War was the highest-grossing movie of the year at $2 billion, a world-breaking record for cinema and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I enjoyed Infinity War and gave it praise for reaching into bold new directions for the superhero genre, I felt the ending made it way too obvious that the movie’s repercussions are not permanent and will be undone by the time Avengers: Endgame rolls around later this year. But if you’re bothered by that exclusion, don’t worry – two other Marvel movies came out this year that I enjoyed more than Infinity War, and they’re both at the top of my list.
Either way, 2018 is over, and there’s a lot to go through before the new year. Let’s hop into my Top 10 films of the year, starting with…
A heartfelt and hilarious look into Asian culture that gives some desperately needed representation in the movie industry. When Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) gets invited by her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to travel to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding, she quickly learns how affluent his family is and how high of expectations they have for her and Nick’s relationship. Now caught up in the whirlwind of family drama, Rachel needs to prove her worth to Nick’s family – a bunch of Crazy Rich Asians. The cast in this movie is exceptional, with Michelle Yeoh being straight-up chilling as Nick’s mother while hip-hop artist Awkwafina is responsible for a barrel of much-needed laughs to break up the drama. But the heart of this story lies with the intrigue and sensationalism of Chinese culture, and director Jon Chu knocks it out of the park with the style and pizzaz of Singapore while also demonstrating the high-strung personalities that can come with an insanely wealthy lifestyle. Yeah, the notes are a little too similar to the rest of the rom-com genre, but the chemistry of its leads is so infectious that its familiarities are easily forgivable. I added Singapore to my “travel destinations” list after watching this movie. Three and a half stars.
A dramatic powerhouse experience that doesn’t fail to rock you in theaters. Following the early days of singer Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) before he joined the British rock band Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody follows the highs and lows of Mercury’s career, from the release of Queen’s first album all the way to their iconic performance at 1985’s Live Aid benefit. For a movie that has had several production problems (including the absence and firing of its director Bryan Singer), not only does Bohemian Rhapsody persevere through its troubles; it actually makes it out as one of the most enthralling and enthusiastic pictures of the year. Director Dexter Fletcher brings a contagious and passionate vibrancy behind Bohemian Rhapsody, with each chapter in Queen’s story ratcheting up the energy and the excitement. Rami Malek is absolutely stunning in his portrayal as Freddie Mercury, with his smallest quirks mimicking Mercury so well that you couldn’t tell the difference between them if you had them side-by-side. A handful of historical inaccuracies hold this picture back from its full potential, but aside from its deviations from the real story, Bohemian Rhapsody embodies everything that is Queen – and Freddie Mercury. Three and a half stars.
A masterful and creative exercise in horror cinema. John Krasinski directs and stars in this original take on the thriller genre where aliens have taken over the Earth and track their prey through the use of sound. Now on the run with his family, one father has to protect everything he loves and find a way to fend off these monsters for good. The sound editing and engineering are immaculate and detailed, with the smallest noises and most precise sounds subtly lending towards the film’s subversion. The cast is brilliant in its small scale, with one performance in particular by deaf child actress Millicent Simmonds being incredibly personal and vulnerable. Krasinski is equally outstanding in his directing debut as well, pulling the most significant reactions out of you from the most minuscule implications. An expert example of subverting the genre and proving that things don’t have to be constantly blowing up to be exciting. Three and a half stars.
A high-octane cyberpunk action-thriller that’s surprisingly relevant to the modern world. After witnessing his wife’s murder at the hands of four cybernetically-enhanced gangsters, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall-Green) is left crippled and paralyzed from the neck down. But when his spine bonds to an AI chip called STEM (Simon Maiden), not only are his motor functions restored, but he also regains several new abilities, such as super speed and strength. Now fully bonded to STEM, Trace is ready to track down the men who killed his wife and make them pay for what they did. This movie is one part “Twilight Zone” episode, and another part Death Wish revenge tale, with its twists and turns so dizzying that it makes your head spin. Logan Marshall-Green is a powerhouse in the lead, and he does a great job controlling both the exasperated expressions of Trace and the automated, robotic responses of STEM. And the action is so fast-paced, bloody, and stylish that it outdoes many of the big-budget box office releases this year. A unique spin on the sci-fi and action genres that future franchises should take notes from. Four stars.
A beautifully poignant movie that flips through Christopher Robin’s life like the pages in a children’s book. After growing up and experiencing the harsh realities that life has to offer, Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) reunites with Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings) and the rest of his friends from the Hundred Acre Wood to learn that even though you grow old, you never have to stop being young at heart. Marc Forster directs this sweet childhood drama and brings the Hundred Acre Wood to life through the buoyancy and personality of its characters. The stuffed animals are realized through stunning computer animation that made them look so believable that they felt like a kid was playing with them in their bedroom. It’s a joy to have Jim Cummings reprise his role as Pooh Bear and Tigger, and their bumbling personalities meld well with McGregor’s stark seriousness. A magical movie that finds happiness in simple, everyday things; as if the things that bring us the most joy are not extraordinary, but rather quite ordinary albeit special to ourselves. Four stars.
Not only is this sixth installment superior to the original – it’s also the best entry in its franchise. Mission Impossible: Fallout follows Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) on the pursuit of an evil organization called “The Apostles,” trying to stop them from stealing plutonium and starting a nuclear war (what else would Ethan be doing?). While the plot is relatively straightforward and similar to its predecessors, the stunts and spectacles are pulled off with a conviction that makes them feel urgent and enthralling. From the opening firefight to the last spectacular struggle on a cliff edge, Fallout is a movie that racks up the tension with every passing minute: like a time bomb clicking downward. Tom Cruise himself seems incapable of slowing down for even a second in both the movies and real life, and the stunts he pulls off are so insane that you wonder how he has the motivation to keep eclipsing his last feat film after film? Fallout is the sixth movie in the Mission Impossible franchise, but it’s so hot-blooded and exciting that it feels like it’s the first in a breakthrough. Four stars.
An emotional musical drama that doesn’t sanitize or exaggerate the celebrity experience, but is merely honest and upfront about it. In this fourth remake to a long line of predecessors, A Star Is Born features Lady Gaga as Ally, an up-and-coming singer who works as a waitress simply to make ends meet. After a fateful encounter with a famous country artist named Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), Ally learns to break out of her comfort zone and become the star she was always destined to be. Lady Gaga is absolutely breathtaking in her starring performance as Ally, spellbinding in her singing and incredibly affectionate in her acting. Her co-star and director Bradley Cooper is just as impeccable, not only portraying Jackson with passion and penance, but also guiding Gaga through the emotional range she needs in order to make her arc feel believable. And the music is completely sensational, immersing you like you just woke up right in the middle of a concert experience. An incredibly deep and profound movie that shows that these celebrities are not larger-than-life egomaniacs: they’re people, and their problems are just as real as yours and mine are. Four stars.
A story so absurd and outlandish that it could only be true. In the 1970’s, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American police detective to join the Colorado Springs Police Department. When he finds a recruitment ad in the newspaper for the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, he calls the phone number and successfully poses as a white man who claims to hate blacks, Jews, Mexicans, and Asians. Now having successfully infiltrated the group, Stallworth is on a mission to expose the Klan for the evil, hateful organization that they are. Spike Lee returns to form in this picture that is one part biographical drama and another part in-cheek social commentary. Stallworth’s real-life story is translated to the screen in impressionable detail here, never failing to be politically challenging and even darkly humorous. The cast is equally exceptional, with Topher Grace giving a stunning portrayal of former Grand Wizard David Duke. In a time where racism and white supremacy continue to be normalized day after day, BlacKkKlansman could not be made in a more relevant age. Four stars.
Not only is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse one of the stronger Spider-Man films out there – it is also one of the best Marvel films to date and one of the best films of the year, period. In Into the Spider-Verse, Miles Morales’ (Shameik Moore) dimension is splintered into five separate realities, dropping Peter Parker (Jake Johnson), Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) into his dimension. Now he has to help get them home before all of their realities are lost forever. The animation is breathtakingly gorgeous, with the style mimicking the old-pop-art design of 1990’s comic books. The voice talent is impeccable, with Moore in particular outshining everyone as Miles Morales. And the screenplay is arguably the film’s strongest asset, bringing a maturity and poignancy to Miles’ story that you wouldn’t expect in a movie like this. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is one of those movies that very well could have been live-action, but the style and aesthetic of its animation is so beautiful that I wouldn’t have it made any other way. Four stars.
Black Panther represents a watershed moment for African-American superheroes and Hollywood: a chance to really redefine what an action hero means to people and how they’re represented in mass media. In this follow-up to Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) becomes the King of Wakanda, a hidden African nation housing the Earth’s largest deposit of a rare metal called Vibranium. From there, he is called to defend his home from the likes of several villains, including the vicious Jabari chieftain M’Baku (Winston Duke), the conniving weapons smuggler Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and the ruthless assassin Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
Writer-director Ryan Coogler creates a technically immaculate world in Wakanda, a highly-advanced society that feels removed from the rest of the world but also possesses its own breath and heartbeat in the same sentence. The costumes and makeup mimic the feel and tribalism of the ancient Congo tribes, while the production design evokes an Afro-futuristic setting that feels like its evolved years beyond any Western civilization. But the most profound thing about Black Panther is its themes of institutional racism and prejudice. In making its point humbly, it allows the message to be seen at its most transparently, while simultaneously not distracting from all of the superhero spectacle going on.
Black Panther is a surprising masterpiece. It’s a stylish action movie, an important social commentary, and a theatrical character drama that hits all of the right notes that it needs to all at once. It seems destined to become the most significant superhero movie from a long line of predecessors – and rightfully so. Four stars.
And lastly, this year’s special prize. Every year, I recognize one limited release film that did not get as much attention as many wide releases did, yet achieved more thematically despite their smaller viewership. This year, I felt the special prize deserved to go to a movie that people needed to see most. A movie that would change their outlook on life. A movie that would make you put a smile on your face, stick out your hand, and ask someone close to you…
In a year full of spite, division, hatred, animosity, and cruelty, we desperately needed to be reminded that there is still good in humanity that just wants the best for the next generation. Enter Mister Rogers’ Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a fun, sweet, and heartwarming movie that welcomes its viewers with open arms and a big hug. Fred Rogers’ life story is represented faithfully here, as is his love for children, their parents, America, the world, people, and the body of Christ. The psychology and motivations for Mister Rogers is explored into incredible detail here, and you understand why Mister Rogers wanted so badly to reach as many families as possible through his iconic television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” In an age where everyone has every reason to hate one another, Mister Rogers offers an alternative – tolerance and love. It’s a message we need to hear and understand more often, and I’m glad Mister Rogers was here to teach it to us. Four stars.
And that concludes this year’s Top 10 list for me, folks. I hope you had a great New Year, and 2019 brings you even more blessings that 2018 did.
– David Dunn