I didn’t wanna say till 2018 was out of the room but fuuuuuuck that guy
— Justin McElroy (@JustinMcElroy) January 1, 2019
Holy crap. Well that was exhausting. 20191 has finally arrived, just in time to put a bullet in the head of the malevolent monstrosity known as 2018. 2019 is the hero we need. It seems like the past year was pretty awful for a lot of people, myself included, but it had a few redeeming features. The movies, for instance! There were some great movies this year! Also there was…
Let’s stick to movies, shall we? Here are my ten favorite movies of 2018.
10. Anna and the Apocalypse
Anna and the Apocalypse is the Scottish-Christmas-zombie-high-school-musical-comedy you didn’t know you needed. I’m not a big fan of musicals and the premise sounded utterly insufferable, so I went into this film with a healthy amount of skepticism. I walked out in love. This movie is a blast. It’s funny, heartfelt and and filled with wonderfully catchy music. And carnage. Tons of zombie carnage. If we still live in a just universe, Anna and the Apocalypse will find its cult following.
9. The Death of Stalin
This year, Armando Iannucci, having honed his satirical voice by skewering contemporary politics in The Thick of It, In the Loop, and Veep, took aim at Soviet history. The Death of Stalin is hilarious; sharply written and packed to the gills with amazing comedic actors. It’s also incredibly dark in a way that Iannucci’s work normally isn’t, as his characters’ typical buffoonish backstabbing is set against a background of purges, murders and torture. It humanizes these horrible people, not in the sense of making them likable, but in the sense that the film reveals their motivations to be ambition, insecurity and fear. In other words, we are all only a few short steps from being history’s greatest monsters. The Death of Stalin is incredibly funny, and it has bite.
I hadn’t been interested in a new Halloween film in years, but the uncharacteristic enthusiasm displayed by John Carpenter for this direct sequel to his landmark slasher film gave me some hope. That hope was not misplaced. While not as good as Carpenter’s 1978 genre-defining masterpiece, it is a more than worthy followup that takes all of the right lessons from that film (unbearable suspense, deft direction, strong female characters) and none of the bad (the imagined sexual puritanism that subsequent slasher films latched on to). It’s scary, funny at times and, perhaps most remarkably, it actually makes you give a damn about the characters Michael Myers is hoping to get all stabby on. That’s an achievement by itself.
7. The First Purge
I was a late comer to the Purge franchise, having watched the entire series this year in anticipation of this latest installment, The First Purge. For whatever reason, the action/horror/science fiction series had been poorly received by a lot of film nerd buds, including those generally amenable to genre cinema, and I am honestly baffled. Perhaps it’s because the original film was mostly a straight up home invasion story, and people were weary of that subgenre? Whatever. They’re missing out. The Purge films have been consistently interesting, entertaining, and deeply political.
The First Purge is no exception. The rare prequel that actually brings something new to a franchise, it doubles down on the concept that the titular night of “cathartic” violence is, in reality, an attempt at economic and racial “purification.” A night where the actual intent, while obviously never publicly stated by the powers that be, is to kill off poor people and minorities. It’s a film that is simultaneously deeply cynical in its depiction of rich, white power structures, and optimistic about certain aspects of human nature. The targets of the Purge want nothing to do with this whole thing, electing for block parties instead, much to the villains’ frustration. The film also happens to be a wonderfully entertaining piece of low budget2 action cinema. The stairwell fight alone is worth the price of admission, and Y’lan Noel deserves a bigger career. Stat.
6. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
I’m a fan of this entire series,3 but with the last two installments under writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s belt, I’d say the Mission: Impossible franchise is doing better than ever. The latest film, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, is like a master class in improvisational blockbuster cinema. Improvisational? Listen to the Empire Podcast interview with McQuarrie. I’ve never heard of a movie consciously being made this way, but the man made it work somehow. The whole movie is stacked with astounding, wonderfully constructed action, humor, and character work. This is what a big “dumb” blockbuster should be. It has Henry Cavill reloading his fists. What else could you possibly want?
Albert Hughes’ Paleolithic coming of age tale Alpha was one of the most poorly marketed films of the year and, perhaps because of that, one of the its most unexpected pleasures. Its version of the domestication of dogs is incredibly simplistic, but that’s pretty much the point. For all of its surface-level “realism” (extending to an invented Cro-Magnon language), the film is a modern piece of myth-making. A beautifully made cinematic just-so story about our relationship with humanity’s “best friend.” And don’t worry about the title. This isn’t some Men’s Rights Activist nonsense. In fact, it subverts that.
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Hey! It turns out there’s an advantage to Marvel Studios not having a total monopoly on Marvel comic book characters! If they did, we wouldn’t get neat-o, out-of-left-field stuff like Sony’s wonderful animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse! Hilarious, exciting, visually innovative, and genuinely emotionally involving — it’s everything a Spider-Fan could want. And, to my surprise, I find myself becoming a Spider-Fan? I always enjoyed the Raimi films, but I enjoyed them as a Raimi fan. The superhero itself never appealed to me, but, between this and Spider-Man: Homecoming, I’ve become a total convert. Whoever’s under the mask, be they man, woman or pig, Spidey is a wonderful counterpoint to the billionaires and literal gods who dominate our superhero universes.
3. Black Panther
Speaking of super-rich dudes with god-like powers, Black Panther! As an SJW on the Disney payroll, there was no way Ryan Coogler’s contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn’t making my top ten, but it really did earn its spot. I have to say, I called it. People expected this film to do well at the box office, but I said it would be a monster hit, and it was.4 There were people who are not big superhero movie fans, or even fans of mainstream cinema in general, who were incredibly pumped about this movie, if only because of the opportunity to see themselves represented in a gigantic Hollywood blockbuster. But representation is not at all the only thing Black Panther has going for it. Coogler’s an immensely talented filmmaker, and his action debut is a nearly perfect blend of popcorn cinema and thematic depth. Heck, Black Panther would be an all-timer simply based on Michael B. Jordon’s Killmonger, one of the greatest cinematic villains in years.
Coming in a close second to Alpha as Worst Marketed Film of the Year, Annihilation is a minor miracle. An unnerving and cerebral mixture of H.P. Lovecraft and J.G. Ballard, Alex Garland’s follow up to Ex Machina (and apparently, stealthily, Dredd) is one of the best science fiction films in years. It’s smart and scary (that BEAR) and unapologetic about its genre roots. Despite its initial box office failure, I have no doubt this film will find its cult following.
1. Sorry to Bother You
I walked out of Boots Riley’s directorial debut strongly suspecting that it would be my favorite film of the year and (spoiler alert) it was. As someone who currently lives in and loves the city of Oakland, California, I might be slightly biased in favor of a movie so steeped in that city, but it’s also just that goddamn good. A hilarious and bizarre work of politically revolutionary art, Sorry to Bother You veers cannily through straight up comedy, Verhoeven-esque satire and even body horror. It’s an amazing debut, and I hope we get to see more from Riley. He is a necessary voice.
0. Tigers Are Not Afraid
Last year I included this film in my top ten list, despite it not yet having been released in the US. So I’m including it yet again. It’s just that good. Here’s my write up from 2017:
Do you like tears with your fears in horror movies? Well, have I got a movie for you. Issa Lopez’s film follows a young Mexican girl whose mother vanishes, presumably a victim of gang warfare. She ends up on the street and falls in with a small group of boys, also orphaned by the cartels. From there on, the only adult characters are either malicious or simply indifferent. It’s a heartbreaking, heartfelt and occasionally joyous movie, and you’d be forgiven if you didn’t recognize it as a genre film at first. Lopez slowly and subtly introduces the magical realist and supernatural aspects in such a way that, when we’re presented with actual ghosts, they seem of a piece with the more down-to-earth elements. It builds to climax that is at once devastating, horrifying and subtly hopeful. The deft way Lopez handles those elements gets the credit for just about everyone in my screening sniffling if not crying. Me? I just had a bit of dust in my eye. That’s all. I swear.
I hesitate to compare this movie to the work of another, better known filmmaker, as I worry it might minimize Lopez’s achievement, but Tigers Are Not Afraid reminds me in the best way possible of Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish language films. It’s hard to avoid the comparison, being the tragic, child-centered fairytale that it is, but Lopez is very much doing her own thing. It’s a beautiful piece of work, and you absolutely need to track it down.
R.I.P. 2018 (2018 – 2018)
— Megan Amram (@meganamram) December 31, 2018
- The year the original Blade Runner was set!
- The combined budget for all four movies is $35 million!
- Yes, including John Woo’s much-maligned second entry.
- I’m rarely right about this shit, so let me a brag a bit.