The Best Movies of 2018

Our list of the best movies of 2018 didn’t have to be 15 titles. It could have been 20, or 25, or 30, because all four of the core movie-watchers had plenty of choices for our individual lists from a year with no shortage of smart, entertaining, galvanizing, beautiful, traumatizing, exciting, and otherwise distinctive 2018 releases. But these choices for the 15 best movies of 2018 are the ones that found a kinda-sorta consensus among the four of us. They aren’t all on every list, but they’re still the 2018 movies that some portion of us, occasionally of us, bonded over in some way. So grab a friend and check out these particularly unifying pictures.

The Top 15 Best Movies of 2018

15. A Quiet Place

John Krasinski mastered the silent reaction face on The Office, so it makes a kind of sense that he’d master an entire silent reaction movie, but A Quiet Place still took me by surprise—a horror movie with such sustained tension that most of its second half plays like one long, riveting set piece. In his second feature as a director, monsters have invaded our world, attacking whatever they can hear, forcing a family (led by Krasinski and the invaluable Emily Blunt) to stick together, and also denying their ability to have it out at a proper volume. It boasts not only a great horror-movie hook, then, but a perfect way to turn familial closeness and dysfunction into a life-or-death proposition. And a great piece of genre entertainment. – Jesse

14. Cold War

Bradley Cooper isn’t the only director who bore a star this year. Luckily for those of us who found his film a bit too shiny and calculated, the miserablist wallow of the second half more contractual than emotional, there’s Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War, which funnels a similar trajectory of star rising and falling through an austere Eastern European sensibility. Running a comparatively brief 90 minutes, it drops in on its lovers at various tumultuous points in their lives, covering a huge swath of the titular time period in the process, all captured in exquisite black and white cinematography. This is not to necessarily elevate one type of storytelling above the other, but the personal touch that Pawlikowski gives to his leads (based, at least in part, on his own parents) resonates far longer than the Hollywood gloss, at least for me. Joanna Kulig’s ferociously raw performance as singer Zula certainly doesn’t hurt; while it’s hard to believe nobody noticed Lady Gaga before, Zula genuinely feels like musician Wiktor’s special find, for better or worse. While there’s a certain inevitability to their tangled affair’s final obstacle, its curtain drop is still a stunner, one I’ve been mulling over since I saw it. – Sara

13. Burning

For me, the entirety of this 148-minute South Korean film is wrapped up in a single, unforgettable gesture: entitled rich kid Ben’s feline yawn, as perfectly expressed by actor Steven Yeun. Our lower-class protagonist Jongsu catches him at it multiple times in the same social situation, and it’s one more clue to a mystery that will never be solved, an itch that won’t be scratched, an echo that will repeat but never return. As a physical manifestation of male ego and privilege, it’s a tough image to beat. Thus the rest of the film can take its time teasing out such big, relevant themes as class resentment, surveillance, and masculine rage, building to a climax both shocking and unavoidable. How did we get here, viewers might ask along with the addled Jongsu. Circle back, think again of that signal of boredom, and the little smile and wink that followed when he was caught. Does it tell us something new, or something we already think we know? Such are the ambiguities at Burning’s volatile core. – Sara

12. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Make the seventh Spider-Man movie in 16 years, with the seventh and eighth iterations of Peter Parker. Embrace parallel universes and sci-fi gobbledygook. Make sure to include lots of comics references that casual reviewers won’t catch. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse does so many things that sound like such dumb, ill-advised, Peak Superhero hubris. And yet, against any number of odds, this animated sideshow to the many live-action Marvel movies—the MCU, the fading Fox Marvel universe, whatever Sony does with its Spider-Man-free Venom-verse—turns out to be a main attraction, one of the best superhero movies in years. It’s also, crucially, a terrific piece of big-studio animation, using a slower frame rate, pop-art colors, and a fluid, energized style to better capture the pure kinetic energy of a comic book than so many of its bigger-budgeted peers. When two separate Spider-Man reboots failed to seize on the opportunity to pivot from Peter Parker to mixed-race young hero Miles Morales, I was disappointed. Now that Miles gets to be the hero of Spider-Verse, I’m elated. As I imagine plenty of kids everywhere will be, too, seeing a superhero that might more closely respect a different American experience. – Jesse

11. Shoplifters

Every time I tell people how much I loved, loved, loved Shoplifters, the Japanese film by Hirokazu Kore-eda, I get surprised looks. Not because it isn’t a good movie, but because the people I talk to know I’m usually not into movie where kids are in peril, and Shoplifters is about a makeshift family where basically everyone is in peril – they’re petty criminals, sex workers, pension cheats, runaways, and so on. But, as with all chosen families, there are privileges, and there are limitations. Of course, this motley collection of lost people can’t function like a real family, especially in the eyes of the law. But, for a while, they can almost pretend like they’re going to make it, giving the movie real beauty. There’s a beach scene, specifically, that puts the beach scene in Roma to shame. And then, in the lower moments, I think I found more hope than other people who’d seen the movie, and I’ll stand by that hope. – Marisa

10. The Death of Stalin

Fans of Armando Iannuci’s previous work like Veep or In the Loop certainly had reason to look forward to watching such a top-shelf cast of character actors trading his trademark caustic barbs. But there’s a subtle difference in the way Stalin approaches its life-and-death stakes. It’s a movie that approximates some of the queasy terror that accompanies both living under an authoritarian regime and living through perilous times of unrest before the history has been written. And it’s all the more effective for the way it gets you so acclimated to the sharp edge of its jokes that you have no defense left when the daggers of real dread slip between your ribs. – Nathaniel

9. Thoroughbreds

Cory Finley’s knockout debut trains an exacting eye on a pair of teenagers in the abstract: Amanda (Olivia Cooke) and Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) are high-schoolers who don’t go to high school, excused by their privilege to wander around their Connecticut mansions. Amanda’s mom pays Lily to “tutor” her emotionless former friend, and eventually they hatch a Strangers on a Train-y murder plot. Thoroughbreds is also darkly comic, but it never fails to take its characters seriously, and Finley’s exacting knack for framing belies the fact that this intimate thriller started its life as a play. – Jesse

8. Roma

How does one follow up a white-knuckle trip to the furthest reaches of outer space? For Alfonso Cuaron the answer was to go as close back to home as possible, in this case the titular Mexican neighborhood where he grew up in the 70’s. Recalling the more languid pace and loving detail of 2001’s Y Tu Mama Tambien, Roma paints a deeply empathetic portrait of female lives, both the privileged and those who serve them, told largely through the eyes of Cleo, a maid in a middle class family falling apart at the seams. Cuaron brings us close into her daily experiences through astonishingly constructed long takes, lavishing as much attention on the domestic realm as the countryside. While not without flashes of fire and melodrama, this is a contemplative film, one that asks us to take as much notice of the minutiae of Cleo’s work as she does, to pay attention to it, and to her. If something remains mysterious about her nature, that feels of a piece with Cuaron’s nostalgic lens. Anyone can look backward, but it takes a special observer to render what he sees with such care. – Sara

7. BlacKkKlansman

Spike Lee is always worth watching. As an artist who takes big swings, he can sometimes fail to connect completely with a piece of material (or miss spectacularly), but even those efforts are always fascinating. His trademark energy and style and his couldn’t-hide-it-if-he-tried point of view makes him essential viewing whether he’s remaking a horror obscurity, filming a play, or doing whatever he was doing with Chi-raq (Note: I kinda loved Chi-raq). But then there are the times where he connects just right with a film that lets him employ that inimitable style to truly crowd-pleasing effect AND has the sociopolitical heft to match his ambitions. That’s all to say, with BlacKkKlansman we got another opportunity to watch him knock one out of the park. Here, he’s in full command of the shifts between light, caper-y comedy, not so veiled commentary, and suspense. And it’s hard to picture anybody but Spike Lee so deftly landing the picture’s final move, a stunning real-world flashforward that shows just how far we haven’t come. – Nathaniel

6. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs

It’s no secret that we’re Coen Brothers fans ‘round these parts. We like them in comedy mode (both silly and sardonic), we like them in sly genre-riffing mode, and we like them in existential fatalism mode. So it’s little wonder we liked this anthology film where the brothers, working in a short-story form, indulge in all three. Veering expertly between delightful and devastating, sometimes in the same segment, this collection of six separate stories gathers a cumulative impact and shows that even when ostensibly noodling around for Netflix, the Coens are still at the peak of their powers. – Nathaniel

5. Widows

I know you shouldn’t necessarily factor the conditions under which you see a movie into your evaluation of it, but sometimes it’s hard to separate the two. Steve McQueen’s Widows was the most fun I had out at the movie theater this year—and I saw it alone. I was at one of the Times Square theaters, which are notorious for having vocal audiences, and people were actually screaming at all the twists and turns. It makes sense; the movie gives them a lot to scream about. It starts tense and gets tenser: A group of criminals are killed in the middle of the job, and it’s up to their wives to finish it off to pay off the bad guys. This heist movie stays admirably gritty; it’s built around powerhouse acting performances by Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, and Elizabeth Debicki. (You know that disgusting, heteronormative expression, “Men want her, women want to be her?” If I’m being honest, I’m both sides of that equation for Elizabeth Debicki: I want her and I want to be her.) McQueen doesn’t make it glamorous or soften the edges by making it really about the friendship that develops from planning the heist. There is no fellowship. Davis’ character is mean to the others, and stays mean until the end. (For more un-prettied female performances, see also: Nicole Kidman in this year’s Destroyer, who is basically playing a Nic Cage character.) There’s plenty of plot momentum that, carried about by those four ladies, is enough to make this a real corker of a movie. But the texture of election-season Chicago, and the depth that Colin Farell, Liam Neeson, and Brian Tyree Henry lend to this heist without stealing focus from the ladies, gives the movie that extra juice to make it one of the best crime movies I’ve seen in a long time. – Marisa

4. The Old Man and the Gun

Sometimes, you just want to see movie stars do movie-star things. In this movie, Robert Redford plays an aging bank robber whols still pulling off jobs, and in-between he strikes up an extremely casual and lovely romance with a woman played by Sissy Spacek. Everyone has the charm turned up to 100. It’s even cooked into Redford’s character: The robber’s signature is that he’s extremely polite to the bankers, to the point where they start to root for him. Sure, the law is after him, but everyone is so pleasant that this is easily the most relaxing crime thriller ever. Just like the bankers, it’s easy to be won over. – Marisa

3. The Favourite

Anyone who knows me knows I love a lavishly mounted period piece, almost as much as I love a film that takes the piss out of a lavishly mounted period piece. But The Favourite goes the extra mile of also taking the shit, vomit, and gross sores out of the period piece. So in my eyes it’s pretty much perfect. Still, I was surprised when I heard that this would be the next project from Yorgos Lanthimos, the filmmaker behind such gleefully nihilistic creations as Dogtooth and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. What interest could he possibly have in the backstage machinations of two noblewomen vying for the attention of Queen Anne? Turns out there’s quite a bit of anarchic fun to be had in this feverish environment, with Lanthimos employing sickly fisheye lenses and anachronistic ballroom choreography to wickedly witty results. But it wouldn’t work without the perfect synchronization of its three leading ladies. Rachel Weisz’s cool cockiness as the more seasoned social climber pings neatly against Emma Stone’s deviously naïve facade, with Olivia Colman giving a towering performance as the shrieking, gout-ridden royalty at the center of their maneuvers. It’s all good fun but nobody gets what they want in a Lanthimos joint without some serious suffering, and The Favourite is no exception. While none of his previous films could be said to take place in the real world as we recognize it, their high concept weirdness offered a reassuring distance from the proceedings. However outlandish the surroundings here, though, the motivations and yearnings of these three women never feel less than human, which makes the final moments of the film all the more unsettling. While perhaps his most outright comedy so far, it’s also his bleakest work yet. – Sara

2. Support the Girls

We talked about this in our Summer Indie Movie Podcast, but the greatest thing about Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls — a movie that unfolds over the course of a little more than a day, mostly in a Hooters-style sports bar called Double Whammies (which is not as good of a boob pun as the name “Support the Girls” itself) — is that it really leans into its setting. The “girls” aren’t going to get out of Double Whammies and find greater success in the wider world, at least not during the events of the film. And yet, even though it’s not the place that people really aspire to be, there are still moments of joy and camaraderie that make it bearable. Too often, movies push working life to the extremes: It’s either so torturous that it breaks you, or you strive until you find a greater success. There’s something kind of liberating in a movie honestly showing work as grind, but a grind you can survive. The second greatest pleasure in the movie is spending the day with Regina Hall. She gives such an amazing performance as the Double Whammies manager trying to keep it all running smoothly. As an audience member, you feel like one of the bar’s customers: Hall just puts you at ease, and lets you be entertained. – Marisa

1. Eighth Grade

Take it from someone who sees a lot of movies aimed at kids of all ages: Middle school is a rough one to capture in a film. There are plenty of great movies about kids and plenty of great movies about older teenagers, but pictures about middle-schoolers tend to either fall into Nickelodeon-ready tween-mongering (Down with homework! Kids rule!), or fantastical Amblin-esque adventuring. There’s Welcome to the Dollhouse, but I don’t know if I can show that to my daughter until she’s well past seventh grade. It’s not that Eighth Grade was sold to that audience—incredibly and ridiculously, it’s rated R!—but it’s so smart, empathetic, funny, and uncomfortable that it annihilates the line between teenage immediacy and adult distance. If it might mortify a real eighth-grader watching it with her or his parents, hey, so might it traumatize a single 25-year-old with a halfway decent memory of those turbulent early-teenage years. That’s how close writer-director Bo Burnham gets to Kayla (Elsie Fisher), an eighth-grader vlogging against the tide of indifference and unpopularity and loneliness. The movie simply follows her for about a week or so, as her time in middle school comes to an end, and she wonders about what triumphs or horrors might await her in the fall—or, more often, in the next hour or two. Eighth Grade has been repeatedly described, only half in jest, as a horror movie, but as vivid as those social horrors can be, it’s also very funny and, in the scenes with Kayla’s slightly bumbling but kind father (Josh Hamilton, owed a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nom, dammit), a lovely portrait of what parents can and cannot change. As a dad, I was moved to tears, but I think it speaks to the movie’s leap across generational lines that a mixed-gender quartet of thirtysomethings collectively voted it the best movie of 2018. – Jesse