2018's Best Movies: From Sisters Brothers to Spider-Verse – Collider

If you only see 10 movies from 2018, Matt recommends these ten.
Well, here we are again. The year has come to a close, and I’m here with my annual Top 10 movies list. According to my Letterboxd, I saw 135 new releases in 2018, so I feel like I’ve done my due diligence in trying to whittle that down to my favorite ten movies. As always, the point of this list is for recommendations. If it’s not your job to see over 100 new releases every year, then you might need some guidance on what’s worth seeing. That’s where a list like this comes in. This is my way of saying, “If you only see ten movies from 2018, make sure it’s these ten,” although this year has a special 11th entry, and I will explain why when I get there.
So thanks for taking the time to read this as well as all the other stuff I crank out over the course of the year, and I hope you have a wonderful 2019 filled with plenty of great movies.
As always, there will be honorable mentions at the bottom of this list, but I felt special attention needed to be paid to The Tale. For this list, I set the parameters that a movie needs to have a theatrical release. I’m a big believer in the theatrical experience, and as streaming services grow and expand, that theatrical experience becomes even more important. The Tale, which I saw at Sundance and was then picked up by HBO, did not receive a theatrical release, and yet if it had, it would have easily made my Top 5 of the year.
Writer-director Jennifer Fox did a remarkable thing in investigating her own memories of sexual abuse and putting them up on screen. Anchored by a phenomenal performance by Laura Dern, The Tale is a gut-wrenching, painfully honest, and powerful look at how we deceive ourselves in order to make sense of trauma, and how that deception can shape our lives. It’s one of the best movies of the year, and if you have HBO, you should seek it out immediately.
One of the best action movies of the decade was an obvious choice for the Top 10 list. I remember back when Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol came out and we all thought, “Well, there’s no way they’re going to top climbing the Burj Khalifa!” and then Christopher McQuarrie spent two movies proving us wrong. But what makes Mission: Impossible – Fallout more than just the amazing stunts is that he took the time to finally explore who Ethan Hunt is as a character. For most of the series, he’s largely been a cipher, a way for Tom Cruise to let us all know that Tom Cruise is doing these stunts, but we can’t call the character “Tom Cruise”.
Even though Hunt is surrounded by incredible set pieces, Fallout works to the core of the character and discovers someone who will do whatever it takes to save the day, but also can’t stand the loss of innocent lives. He’s the guy that makes his life a billion times harder because ruthlessness isn’t in his DNA. While we’re all astounded by the helicopter chase and the HALO jump, the personality of Ethan Hunt is what really shines through in Fallout.
I’m still kind of in awe of this movie. For his directorial debut, Bradley Cooper took on the fourth iteration of A Star Is Born and made the best one. While the other versions have their strengths and weaknesses, Cooper took the best aspects of each and then remixed them into something that felt new and vibrant. Then he went even further by giving one of the best performances of his career opposite Lady Gaga giving a breakthrough acting performance, all anchored by outstanding music.
The emotional weight this movie carries, and does so without hesitation, is truly remarkable. Cooper knows this is just his variation on those “twelve notes”, but he sings a tune that’s entirely his own, and it makes me ecstatic to see what he’ll do as his directing follow up. This was clearly a labor of love for everyone involved, and their passion comes through in every frame.
Look at Alex Garland out here making unabashedly, unapologetically weird science fiction. I hadn’t read the source material, so I went into Annihilation with no preconceived notions. What I got was a trippy, mind-bending trip that explore the nature of self-destruction through the lens of “What if the Earth got cancer?” Annihilation offers no easy answers, and that’s part of the reason I love it. While the trailers tried to sell it as an action sci-fi movie, the film is far more 2001 than Independence Day.
Annihilation isn’t a movie for everyone, and that’s okay. But it’s a movie that challenges its audience and forces them to think about symbolism and metaphors in a way that films usually don’t present. For Garland, when his heroine (Natalie Portman) is having a dance off with her mirror self, the origin of the alien isn’t as important as what the dance says about his lead character and what the symbolism of the dance means for the film. Annihilation may not have been a massive hit, but I have a feeling it’s going to be a touchstone for a lot of film geeks in the years to come.
The western is one of the oldest genres in cinema, and it would lead one to believe that not much more can be done with it. The best one could hope would be to use the tropes to convey some themes (a la The Ballad of Buster Scruggs). But leave it to Jacques Audiard to make the genre feel completely new and vibrant again. There’s really no pinning down The Sisters Brothers, but it’s a film that feels surprising at every turn. The story moves effortlessly between melancholy, humor, confusion, and pathos. It’s a difficult, uneasy narrative that carries itself with utmost confidence.
I also have to give special credit to John C. Reilly’s remarkable performance. Reilly has always been one of our most underrated actors despite being excellent in just about everything he does, but his performance in The Sisters Brothers makes the most of his considerable talent. While his surrounding cast is impressive, Reilly’s turn as Eli Sisters is what holds the movie together as he shows a man trying to find a better life on the frontier even if the reality of his life is ruthless bloodshed.
I was absolutely floored by George Tillman Jr.’s adaptation of Angie Thomas’ novel. In lesser hands, this would have reeked of an after-school special or a ripped-from-the-headlines TV movie. Instead, Tillman, working from a script by the late Audrey Wells, did a masterful job of telling an immediate and vital story that’s both a coming-of-age narrative and weaving it together with the Black Lives Matter movement. Everything in The Hate U Give feels real and viewed from the ground level rather than someone who had simply watched the news and tried to synthesize it into an easily digestible movie.
Praise also goes to Amandla Stenberg, who gave a breakout performance in the lead role of Starr. Playing someone who has to wrestle with the death of her friend and then stand at the center of a national controversy while just trying to live her life as a teenager is a heavy burden for any actor, and Stenberg makes it look effortless. The Hate U Give is a serious juggling act, but everyone brings their A-game to create an unforgettable picture and an essential film of the 2010s.
Leave it to Alfonso Cuaron to open up his head and let us stroll into his memories. Despite being heavily autobiographical, Roma never feels indulgent or navel-gazing. Instead, Cuaron takes us back in time to show us the unlikely relationships that form between families and who is part of our world, who is outside of it, and how those delineations easily start to blur.
The juxtaposition between the personal and the historical is astounding in Roma, and for Cuaron, you easily get the sense of our loneliness and fragility with the only thing holding us together is our love for each other. He brings that sense to a perfect crescendo at the climax of the movie, but everything leading up to that moment is still powerful, still affecting, and still overwhelming. Roma is an artist at the top of his game, taking us inside his mind, and yet managing to show us something of ourselves.
We’ve had Spider-Man movies since 2002, but they’ve never felt as fresh or as alive as this year’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. What directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman, with the help of co-writer Phil Lord and producer Chris Miller, did here was nothing short of amazing. They took a character who already had three different film iterations, and said, “We can work with that,” and not only reinvented him all over, but got to the core of why Spider-Man is a great American myth.
By putting Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) at the front of the story, Spider-Verse shows why Spider-Man is such a special character and why he connects to so many people. For so many superhero movies, the heroes are basically like gods who stand above us and we require their protection. For Into the Spider-Verse, heroes live among us, and anyone who has a desire to help others can be just as great as Spider-Man. Paired with eye-popping animation and terrific humor, Into the Spider-Verse shows how far Spidey has swung in his cinematic adventures.
First Reformed is not an easy movie by any stretch. It’s a film that looks despair in the eyes for about two hours and then ruminates about the shortcomings of faith in a consumer-driven, climate-ravaged world. Although it’s easy to describe First Reformed as Taxi Driver meets Christianity, writer-director Paul Schrader is doing something far more intricate and compelling than just retreading his classic 1976 script.
Led by Ethan Hawke giving a career-best performance, First Reformed is not a movie with answers or a balm for the audience. Instead, it suggests that we have largely failed, and that rather than doing the work of faith—work that requires us to think about the weight of prayer, the cost of our actions, and the repercussions for our community—we’ve commoditized it and made it something so easy and light that people can’t help but miss the point even if they’re sitting right in front of a reverend. And yet for all of its weight, First Reformed never feels like a slog or a constant bummer. It’s a film that’s constantly challenging its audience even as it takes them to some dark and disturbing places.
I run hot and cold on Yorgos Lanthimos movies, but he absolutely floored me with his spin on the period drama. The Favourite is bitingly funny, unrepentantly savage, and surprisingly sad. For a film that at first glance seems like it’s just going to be Veep but in 18th century England with vicious people jockeying for position around a dopey ruler, The Favourite has a lot more on its mind than just politicking and ruthless people.
The soul of The Favourite is about how love should have limits. While Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) believes that it should not, her loyal advisor Sarah (Rachel Weisz) believes love is marked by brutal honesty, and that without willing to speak truth to the people we love, we just have flattery. Enter Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) whose lust for power is only matched by her willingness to flatter Queen Anne. The tragedy of The Favourite is that Queen Anne, pampered by everyone around her, cannot tell love from flattery, and that way lies sadness. Thankfully, the road there is painfully funny and marked by some sharp comedy.
It was very close between The Favourite and Paddington 2, but I felt that in the end, I had to put the film that celebrates kindness and generosity above the meaner film. The world needs what Paddington 2 is preaching right now, and it’s remarkable that a sequel featuring a talking CGI bear would be as good as it is. But director Paul King understands the soul of this good-hearted character without ever veering into mawkishness of empty sentiment.
What makes Paddington 2 work so well is that it’s unafraid to be kind and good. There’s no winking at the audience or attempts to be edgy. It has total confidence in its own personality, and then just goes from there with funny gags and a big heart. It’s not a movie that’s ever preaching at the audience, but instead uses some cheeky humor and goofball antics to prove its point about the value of kindness.
Perhaps if the world was different right now, Paddington 2 would be lower of the list. Maybe in years to come, I’ll find other movies on my Top 10 more essential. But for where we stand right now, I can’t think of a more important or more valuable movie than Paddington 2 in terms of entertaining its audience and sharing worthwhile values. It’s a challenge to make a good movie about the importance of being good, but Paddington 2 made it look easy.
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): Blockers, Crazy Rich Asians, Mandy, Minding the GapThe RiderSupport the Girls, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, Wildlife, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, You Were Never Really Here

For more of our Best of 2018 coverage, click here or on the links below:
Matt Goldberg has been an editor with Collider since 2007. As the site’s Chief Film Critic, he has authored hundreds of reviews and covered major film festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival. He resides in Atlanta with his wife and their dog Jack.
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