Ezra’s Top Ten Favorite Movies Of 2018

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Posted 16 Feb 2019 in Film Reviews, Movies I Got

By Ezra Stead

Here we go again! I know I say this every year, but it’s an absolutely absurd and impossible task to try to see even half of the 700+ feature films released each year, and then to attempt a ranking of the best [insert arbitrary number] of them, so that’s not what I do. Instead, I managed to see a paltry 101 movies released in 2018, and I’m going to attempt to rank my ten favorite movies out of that number. It’s still absurd and very difficult, but at least I don’t have to convince anyone these are the “best” movies of the year. They’re just the ones I personally dug the most, and your mileage will most likely vary wildly. As always, I’ve made some effort to highlight movies you’re not hearing about on other year-end lists or awards ceremonies, while not stubbornly ignoring any of those that you are hearing more about, as I did in 2016.

Since it is so difficult to narrow down a list of just my ten favorites, and because I really loved a lot of movies last year (not to mention how many I regret not seeing in time for this list; let’s talk about what I missed in the comments!), I’m just going to shout out a few quick honorable mentions before we get to the main list. First, if this list were expanded even slightly, Can You Ever Forgive Me? would likely be number 11. Though I didn’t intentionally exclude either category from the main list, I also think it’s worth mentioning that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is my favorite animated movie of the year, and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is my favorite documentary. And since life is too short not to watch bad movies, I think the worst one I saw all year was James Franco’s awful Mad Max pastiche Future World.

Oh, and of all the movies that didn’t quite make my top ten, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs had my single favorite moment. If you’ve seen the movie, you shouldn’t even have to click that link to guess which one, but you should do it anyway because that moment is awesome every single time. On to the list!

1. AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR – No one was more surprised than me at how quickly and deeply I fell in love with this movie. I had been more than a casual fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe before it was released, having seen all the movies leading up to it over the past ten years, but I was honestly not that excited to see this one because I thought Marvel fatigue had kicked in for me. Within the opening scene, though, I started to realize I was in for something special. A lot of it comes down to Thanos (Josh Brolin), who is undoubtedly the greatest villain in any Marvel movie yet, but even more than that, it’s the way the movie is structured to make this villain the actual traditional protagonist of the story. His search for the Infinity Stones, which will allow him to rule every aspect of time and space, is his Hero’s Journey, and the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and all else who oppose his will come off as the evil henchman who stand in his way. It’s a stroke of genius on the part of directors Anthony & Joe Russo, and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, but it only scratches the surface of what makes Infinity War so great. There is also the incredibly high stakes of the conflict, which rivets the viewer for a full 150 minutes and generates not only excitement but genuine pathos as well. I’ve cried a little each of the four times I’ve seen it (which is nothing compared to some people), and at various different moments each time. I’ve also laughed heartily each time; even when you already know the jokes, they’re still hilarious, especially the ones involving Drax (Dave Bautista) and/or Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Above all, though, there is Thanos, the hero we both deserve and need right now (yes, nerds, I know that’s a DC reference). Some people balk at the idea of Thanos as the protagonist of the movie, let alone the hero. Why, these milquetoasts say, if Thanos has unlimited power, does he not just create twice as many resources, rather than killing half the universe? To that I say: Where does that end, hippies? #ThanosWasRight

2. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE – Now that I’ve gotten my adolescent geekery out of the way (for now), let’s get into my favorite art film of the year. Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Jonathan Ames’s excellent novella manages to maintain a ruthless efficiency comfortably married to a quietly reflective tone throughout the lean and occasionally very mean 90 minutes it takes to immerse us in the troubled world of Joe (Joaquin Phoenix in the absolute best performance of the year and possibly his entire career), a desperately suicidal war veteran whose clandestine job exfiltrating young girls from sex trafficking operations may be the last and only thing tying him to this world, of which he feels he was never really a part. Ramsay illustrates this idea of Joe as a vengeful living ghost beautifully through cinematography and editing (in collaboration with Tom Townend and Joe Bini, respectively), and Johnny Greenwood’s propulsive score anchors the whole thing to the gritty neo-noir pavement. As great as the screenplay, production, and supporting players all around him are, though, Phoenix is nothing short of revelatory as Joe, a soulful but savage beast of a man covered in scars inside and out. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever seen a greater, more convincing performance from any actor in all the years I’ve been watching movies.

3. ROMA – We open on a tiled floor, still, silent, reflecting nothing. Suddenly a wave of soapy water washes over it, revealing a whole other world above, an expanse of sky with a water tower reflected in the work of the humble housekeeper, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), at the center of the story. An airplane soars through the sky, reflected in the repeating waves of cleansing water, creating a third layer of reality, far above the troubles of life down on the ground. It’s a perfect way to begin such an incredible work of cinematic artistry, a movie in which every frame, every sound, every wonderfully understated performance is impeccably crafted and superbly resonant with emotion and symbolism. Writer-director Alfonso Cuaron removes any lingering doubt that he is one of the greatest filmmakers alive (not that there ever should have been any after Children of Men) with a movie that feels like his most personal work yet. It is an instant classic that made me want to watch it again the minute it was over.

4. THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT – If you know the work of Lars von Trier and you hear he’s turned his sights for his latest movie on the reminiscences of a prolific serial killer, and that the concept for the movie is inspired in part by real-life killers like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, you probably already know if this movie’s going to be for you or not. In structure and tone, this one feels very much like a companion piece to von Trier’s previous epic, Nymph()maniac (though certainly not as overtly as Manderlay was a companion to Dogville), exploring violence in place of that film’s exploration of sexuality. Another clear inspiration is Dante’s Inferno, with Bruno Ganz’s Virgil explicitly playing the role of that legendary poet to Matt Dillon’s Jack, the murderous Dante surrogate here. Though it almost certainly was not intended this way, House also feels like a perverse take on the classic It’s a Wonderful Life storyline (itself inspired by Dickens’s A Christmas Carol), with Jack looking back over his blood-soaked career as he is guided to his destiny by a mysterious cosmic figure. It’s a fascinating, troubling, frequently surprisingly funny movie that lives up to Von Trier’s famous credo that “a film should be like a stone in your shoe.” I was kicking this one around in my head for weeks after seeing it.

5. BLINDSPOTTING – 2018 was a good year for movies about Oakland, California. BlacKkKlansman, Sorry to Bother You, and even Black Panther had something to say about the city, its history, and issues of race and class within it. It was also a good year for Hip-Hop movies, with The After Party and Bodied both providing solid entertainment for those of us likely to recognize cameos from the likes of Jadakiss and DMX (The After Party), or Loaded Lux and Dizaster (Bodied). Blindspotting is my favorite movie in both categories. Real-life best friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, who co-wrote the movie together, play fictional best friends Collin and Miles, one black, one white, who both grew up in the same neighborhood and socioeconomic class together. However, because of the difference in their race, each is perceived differently by those outside their social circle, whether it’s the hipster Oakland transplants gentrifying the city, or the police who hold Collin to a higher level of scrutiny than the far more volatile Miles. Blindspotting explores these issues and many others with a great sense of humor that never lapses into parody or silliness. Even when it seems like it shouldn’t work, Diggs and Casal’s thoughtful, nuanced screenplay deftly walks the tightrope of authenticity without falling into the pitfalls of preachiness.

6. GOOD MANNERS – This wonderful Brazilian film is gorgeous, mysterious, alluring, and almost impossible to categorize. It’s really almost like two great movies in one, the first a subtle and fascinating exploration of the uneasy but ultimately lasting bond that develops between wealthy Ana (Marjorie Estiano) and her new nanny, Clara (Isabel Zuaa). Ana’s baby has yet to be born, but she hires Clara to help her with the housework while she’s pregnant, and Clara gradually begins to observe strange nocturnal behavior on Ana’s part, which leads to the film’s second half, a wild and unpredictable amalgamation of fairy tale, horror, and even musical elements that never loses sight of its central character and what makes her relationship with Ana and her growing child so interesting. It’s an abrupt but very satisfying shift similar to something like Full Metal Jacket or the more recent and thematically similar Proxy, but I’ve never seen a movie quite like this one.

7. THE FAVOURITE – I have an acquaintance who once told me he doesn’t like movies with guns or people being mean to each other. I’m not even sure how he manages to avoid the latter, assuming he watches any movies at all. Anyway, this one has both, but is especially heavy on that latter part. In fact, in terms of purely verbal violence, I think this just might be the meanest movie I saw last year, and also one of the most purely entertaining and delightful. I had mixed feelings about visionary director Yorgos Lanthimos’s last feature, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (after loving his previous works Dogtooth and The Lobster), in part because the intentionally mannered acting style and perversely matter-of-fact line deliveries felt out of place in a way they hadn’t in The Lobster, his first English-language feature. The 18th-century England in which this one is set, however, seems to suit his style perfectly, and with the help of an excellent cast including Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, and Emma Stone (in what I’m comfortable naming her best performance yet), and swooping, disorienting cinematography by Robbie Ryan, Lanthimos has crafted a dazzling, surreal, hilariously vicious period piece that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as classics like Barry Lyndon, Amadeus, and Dangerous Liaisons.

8. UPGRADE – This one of my biggest pleasant surprises of the year. You might expect ruthlessly efficient plotting and stunningly rendered violence from someone like Leigh Whannell, the writer of the first three Saw movies, but what you might not expect (you bunch of haters) is the intelligence behind all the brutal action in this one. At times, this movie had me thinking back 20 years to when The Matrix first blindsided us all with its awesomeness, and I can scarcely think of higher praise for any sci-fi/action thriller. If star Logan Marshall-Green hadn’t already proven himself to be more than just a poor man’s Tom Hardy in The Invitation two years ago, he certainly does it here with a story that is somewhat similar but vastly superior to last year’s Hardy-starring Venom. Everything about this movie is electrifying, from the production design to the cinematography, performances, editing and, last but not least, some of the year’s very best fight scenes.

9. BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE – Let’s talk about Drew Goddard for a minute. The guy started out writing for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, went on to write arguably the best giant monster movie of the 21st century so far (Cloverfield), then made his directorial debut with The Cabin in the Woods, one of the best horror movies of the past ten years at least, before adapting The Martian for Ridley Scott and developing Daredevil for Netflix in 2015. He’s kind of awesome, is what I’m saying, and if it wasn’t for my love of Cabin I’d have no trouble proclaiming this his masterpiece. Impeccably plotted and gorgeously shot, Bad Times is simply overflowing with ideas and clever reveals, and it features a murderer’s row of acting talent, any one of whom feel like they could be brutally dispatched at any second. Relative newcomer Cynthia Erivo leads a cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Nick Offerman, and Shea Wigham, among others, and there is a very real (and welcome) feeling that any one of them could be killed in the very next scene, or with shocking abruptness right in the middle of the one we’re currently watching. With its supremely witty dialogue and chronology-jumping narrative structure, Tarantino comparisons are inevitable (The Hateful Eight and Jackie Brown come most readily to mind), but even if you’d seek to dismiss it as a mere QT knockoff, it’s easily the best one I’ve seen in the 25 years since Pulp Fiction came along and blew everyone’s mind.

10. TERRIFIER – I saved this one for last mainly because it’s really, really not for everyone. If you’ve never heard of it, which is likely, it’s an insanely violent killer clown movie available on Netflix. David Howard Thornton gives an incredibly menacing, darkly humorous, completely silent performance as Art the Clown, a nightmarish, possibly supernatural presence that brutally murders pretty much everyone in his path on Halloween night. As in Bad Times at the El Royale, no one is safe in this movie, and there is a purity to its relentless brutality and utter lack of redeeming social value that I find refreshing and totally admirable. Writer-director Damien Leone also edited the movie and created the horrific practical effects around which the story was clearly built. There’s one grisly setpiece in particular that may be the single most horrendous thing I’ve ever seen onscreen (I actually bit my fist and muttered “Jesus” while watching it alone), but most viewers will likely never make it that far. Much as I loved A Quiet Place and, to a lesser extent, Hereditary, this is my favorite pure horror movie of the year. I can’t warn the faint of heart or stomach away from this one enough, but if the phrase “insanely violent killer clown movie” didn’t immediately deter you, this one just might actually be for you. You sick bastard.

Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’tGet.com. Ezra is also a writer, rapper, and occasional painter who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in New York City, where he is working on his second novel (the first has yet to be published).

For more information, please contact EzraStead@MoviesIDidntGet.com

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