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The 2018 Academy Awards hadn’t even been handed out when what would be the biggest — and unquestionably one of the best — movies of the year hit theaters: Marvel’s sensational Black Panther, arguably the MCU‘s most superior entry yet. January had already given us the delightful Paddington 2, and the February superhero release, along with another major studio surprise (Annihilation) was a sign of more good things to come. April brought the buzzed-about premiere of A Quiet Place; May the critical darling First Reformed; June the poignant Mr. Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?; July the shockingly exhilarating sequel Mission: Impossible Fallout; August one of Spike Lee’s best joints yet, BlackKlansman.
In other words, we didn’t have to wait until awards season for the good stuff, though there have expectedly been plenty of gems from the likes of Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk), Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and Steve McQueen (Widows) in recent months, too.
So it was a very good year at the movies, from beginning to end, making our mission of narrowing it down to our 25 staff favorites all the tougher. But to paraphrase our old friend T’Challa, we never yielded. — By Ethan Alter, Marcus Errico, Adam Garcia, Jen Kucsak, Will Lerner, Kevin Polowy, John Santo and Gwynne Watkins
25. A Quiet Place
The concept is so strong it’s no wonder this John Krasinski-directed horror film became one of the biggest sleeper hits of the year: In a post-apocalyptic future, blind flesh-eating aliens feast on the scant few humans who remain (like Krasinski, his real-life wife, Emily Blunt, and kids), forcing them to live in utter silence. The execution is just as excellent: It’s a tense, creepy thriller that announces The Office alum Krasinski as a true triple threat (writer-director-actor). Watching it in a packed yet hushed theater made for an incredible moviegoing experience, but at least when revisiting at home you don’t have to worry so much about when you can crunch your popcorn. — Kevin Polowy
24. The Hate U Give
Don’t you dare write off George Tillman Jr.’s adaptation of Angie Thomas’s best-selling YA novel as kids’ stuff. This soulful coming-of-age story is aimed at all adults — young and old — and tackles hot-button topics like code-switching and police violence with a bracing directness that’s never preachy or simplistic. It’s the closest thing we have to a 21st-century To Kill a Mockingbird, complete with a modern-day Scout and Atticus Finch in the form of Starr and Maverick Carter, beautifully played by Amandla Stenberg and Russell Hornsby. — Ethan Alter
Japan’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s engrossing drama tells the story of a makeshift family who engage in petty crime to keep afloat in their poverty-stricken Tokyo neighborhood. As the legal system closes in, the characters begin to question their relationships, leaving the audience with haunting questions about what truly defines a family. — Gwynne Watkins
22. Creed II
Ryan Coogler’s Creed is a masterpiece of boxing cinema, and while Steven Caple Jr.’s Creed II doesn’t reach its predecessor’s heights, it is a worthy addition to the franchise (even if it’s more of a sequel to Rocky IV than to Creed). Returning stars Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone are as strong (literally and figuratively) as ever, as is the always amazing Tessa Thompson in a slightly larger role. But what surprised us most was the humanity the film gave to Dolph Lundgren’s older Ivan Drago. It almost made us Team Drago. Almost. — Adam Garcia
Being a Nicolas Cage fan often means having to wade through lumps of coal before you find a diamond. And in 2018 that diamond was Panos Cosmatos’s hallucinatory revenge picture, which finally answered the age-old question: Why hasn’t Nicolas Cage had a chainsaw fight yet? Besides Cage’s expertly manic performance, Mandy is also a stellar showcase for Andrea Riseborough as his doomed girlfriend, the soundscape of late composer Jóhann Jóhannsson and the color red, which makes the whole film look and feel like a fever dream. — E.A.
20. The Favourite
With this cutting costume drama about aides (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) vying for the attention of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), Greek provocateur Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) has finally made a movie we can take our mothers to see. Maybe. (Take your mother and report back to us.) Colman is mind-numbingly great, while Stone and Weisz deliver the goods with their feisty tête-à-tête. Expect all three to earn Oscar nominations for elevating a movie that is just nasty enough to make to you chuckle at the darkness, which is not easy to do. Pet rabbits for all! — John Santo
It’s drawn some comparisons to Get Out, but Boots Riley’s sublimely wackadoo class satire about a telemarketer (Lakeith Stanfield) who speeds his way up the corporate ladder after discovering how to tap into his “white voice” (David Cross), is a work of pure and utter originality. And while it has little touches of all these entities we love (also including Office Space, Idiocracy … and BoJack Horseman), it’s what allows the film to overcome some of its third-act snags, or the fact that its story veers completely off the rails at a certain point. You’ve never seen anything like this before. — K.P.
18. The Rider
Chloé Zhao’s sophomore feature established itself as an early contender for “Best of 2018” honors when it rode into theaters this spring. Filming beneath the big skies of South Dakota, the Beijing-born director captures the rhythms of daily life on the modern frontier, while spinning a classic yarn about a rodeo cowboy — played by real-life bull-rider, Brady Jandreau — facing the end of his way of life. —E.A.
17. First Man
It didn’t matter that you knew how the story of Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11 was going to end. Director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land) and writer Josh Singer (Spotlight, The Post) presented NASA’s Apollo missions as gripping drama. Claire Foy shined as the grieving and neglected Janet Armstrong, making the family home as compelling a setting as her husband’s lunar module. Ryan Gosling brought deep humanity to the famously taciturn Neil Armstrong, and La La Land arranger Justin Hurwitz created the year’s best original score. — Will Lerner
16. First Reformed
A pastor’s crisis of faith takes him down a frightening road in Paul Schrader’s breathtaking film, which confronts the challenges of being a believer when the world seems on the brink of catastrophe. Ethan Hawke gives a career-best performance as the redemption-seeking Reverend Toller, whose journey holds a mirror up to the isolation and bewilderment of a rapidly changing nation. — G.W.
15. Paddington 2
Meet The Godfather: Part II of Paddington films, a sublime follow-up to the 2014 original (itself a surprisingly tasty marmalade sandwich of a movie) that follows our favorite London bear to prison (gulp!). Every setup pays off, it has just enough whimsy (not too much whim, just enough -sy), and Paul King’s direction is flawless. No joke, it might also mark one of Hugh Grant’s finest performances to date, and the action-packed train sequence wins our Fury Road Moment of the Year award.* (*Not an actual award.) — J.S.
A scorching film about American racism, Spike Lee’s comedy-drama tells the near-unbelievable true story of an African-American detective (John David Washington) who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1970s by pretending to be white. Lee masterfully switches his tone throughout the film, which is uproariously funny one moment and gut-wrenchingly infuriating the next. One particular scene, which cuts between a Klan initiation and an elderly black activist describing a lynching, packs a punch like nothing else seen onscreen this year. — G.W.
13. Cold War
Spanning some 15 years in the history of Eastern Europe after World War II and the lives of two lovestruck musicians (Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig), Cold War marries the scope of a David Lean epic to the intimacy of a Richard Linklater relationship drama… all in a mere 90 minutes. Every shot in Pawel Pawlikowski’s achingly lovely movie could easily double as a found black-and-white photograph from the mid-20th century. Meanwhile, the soundtrack tells its own story of love and loss, making Cold War the year’s most unconventional — and arguably best — musical. — E.A.
Forget the sleek spaceships and reptilian aliens of other sci-fi films; Annihilation truly ventures into the unknown. Alex Garland’s uniquely chilling film follows an all-female team of military scientists (including Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson) as they explore a remote jungle territory where previous teams have vanished. There, they discover that a new kind of evolution has begun to take place, resulting in hybrids of plant, animal and human DNA that are alternately beautiful and terrifying. Rather than follow the beats of a typical genre film, Garland allows the movie’s mysteries to unfold in their own time, making its moments of horror all the more shocking and unsettling. Annihilation‘s surreal climax may be the biggest final leap in a sci-fi film since 2001, but Garland earns every moment. — G.W.
11. Eighth Grade
As painfully awkward, terrifying and hilarious as middle school itself, Bo Burnham’s dramedy about a girl (Elsie Fisher) trying to navigate her complicated contemporary teen life, from social media to socially challenged parents, is easily the year’s most relatable film. Fisher delivers a revelatory performance that perfectly channels all our early adolescent anxieties. You’ll cringe, you’ll cry and then you’ll want to watch it again. — Marcus Errico
Director Morgan Neville could have made the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? into hagiography. Instead, Fred Rogers is portrayed as a real person with fears and flaws, making his kindliness feel even more special. The most powerful moment of the movie pointed out that there are many Mister Rogers in this world and in our lives, they just aren’t famous television stars. It makes the magic of Mister Rogers feel all the more tangible. — W.L.
Some minor story problems and not-fully-baked social commentary have probably prevented this stunner of a heist film from being the awards contender it was predicted to become, but Oscars, schmoscars. It’s apparent we’re watching the work of a master the moment Steve McQueen’s rapturously shot thriller submerges you in the opening chase scene. The film’s beauty — and brutality — never lets up. Viola Davis continues to show utter command of her craft, and it’s a joy to see Michelle Rodriguez score a role worthy of her talents, but the movie’s worth seeing just for Daniel Kaluuya’s surprising, terrifying turn as a killer criminal cut from the same cloth as Javier Bardem’s rogue in No Country for Old Men, Anton Chigurh. You get nervous every time he shows up on screen. — K.P.
Eight short years ago, writer-director Debra Granik introduced the world to the young Jennifer Lawrence in her stark drama Winter’s Bone. At the risk of putting insurmountable expectations into the ether, expect very good things also to come from Thomasin McKenzie, the breakout star of this poignant, deeply felt drama about a war vet (Ben Foster) whose plans to raise his daughter deep in the public parks around Portland, Ore., are foiled when they’re forced back into civilization. Expect plenty of waterworks — especially if you’re a parent yourself — when grappling with both the hope and tragedy the film offers, aware that its two main characters have no other choice than to follow their tough-dealt fates. — K.P.
We weren’t totally sold on Into the Spider-verse when it was first announced. Stuffing multiple, alternate universe Spider-Men into a single animated film while we were just beginning to fall in love with Tom Holland’s live-action Peter Parker seemed like a big ask. But boy, were we wrong. Into the Spider-verse is easily one of the best Spider-Man films yet. In fact, it might be one of the best superhero films and animated films of all time as well. The film seamlessly blends humor and pathos, all the while telling a story that not only evokes the experience of reading a comic book, but also hammers home the message (that should be) at the core of every superhero story: Anyone can be a hero. — A.G.
Did Moonlight director Barry Jenkins just make a movie even better than his Best Picture-winning film from two years ago? Count this guy in the sizable camp that thinks so. Jenkins’s soul-piercing, heartbreaking, deeply faithful adaptation of James Baldwin’s seminal novel about star-crossed lovers (Kiki Layne and Stephan James) dealing with false rape accusations in 1970s New York is one of the most beautiful love stories to hit the big screen in years, emphasis on the word beautiful, thanks to the lush cinematography of James Laxton. As in Moonlight, Jenkins once again draws revelatory performances from his ensemble, most notably (future Oscar winner?) Regina King as a distressed mother desperate for justice. — K.P.
Mission Impossible: Fallout might go down as one of the best action movies ever made; not bad for a sixth installment. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s masterpiece careened from one spectacular sequence to another, leaving the audience more breathless than Ethan Hunt. Tom Cruise actually skydived, sped helmetless on a motorcycle through Paris and flew in a terrifying helicopter chase. Does the ageless star want to die on the set of a Mission Impossible movie? No. But he sure is willing to put his life on the line. — W.L.
Melissa McCarthy reveals the depth of her talents as a character actor in this true story of a literary hoax in 1990s New York City. Marielle Heller’s film stars McCarthy as down-and-out writer, Lee Israel, who stumbles into an illegal second career forging letters from famous authors and actors. The lonely, desperate alcoholics played by McCarthy and Richard E. Grant (as her eventual partner in crime) are not easy to love, but Heller’s compassionate film brings audiences into their world, allowing two people who would normally go unnoticed to be really and truly seen. — G.W.
It’s the age-old story of boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl rises to the top. Boy falls to the bottom. And while it might be the fourth stab at this specific take on that story, it makes for a modern-day masterpiece. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga not only strike up intense chemistry, they both disappear underneath the skin of their characters in delivering Oscar-caliber performances (and let’s not forget Sam Elliott, also liable to jerk a few tears from you in a supporting role). Oh, and that music. We might be far from the shallow now, but that’s fine. We’ll go wherever this movie is. — Jen Kucsak
With apologies to Avengers: Infinity War, which assembled and then obliterated some of our favorite screen heroes of the past decade (and narrowly missed the cut of our 25 best films), Black Panther captured the zeitgeist unlike any comic-powered film since The Dark Knight, cementing its place as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Shakespearean superhero saga. With a stellar cast led by Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, Ryan Coogler delivered an audacious film that tackled themes of social justice, political anxiety and personal responsibility without sacrificing its visceral thrills. Added bonus: We got to meet Disney’s greatest princess yet, Letitia Wright’s brash, brilliant Shuri. — M.E.
Alfonso Cuarón’s monumental eighth film represents both the culmination of his career and the beginning of an exciting new chapter. To tell the semi-autobiographical slice-of-life story of a Mexico City maid (Yalitza Aparicio) in the early 1970s, the director marshals the full force of the filmmaking techniques he’s honed in his Hollywood features from A Little Princess to Gravity. But the film’s heightened style never overwhelms its deeply emotional substance; the result is a movie that feels like a lived experience. You emerge from Roma newly enraptured with the transporting power of cinema. — E.A.
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