The sad truth is, even when writing as often as I do here, I simply can’t review every single movie I watch. Sometimes there are just too many other things happening in the entertainment world to worry about (Roma). Sometimes I miss when it first comes out and I have to wait to rent it (Leave No Trace). Sometimes movies simply take a while to get to the backwater berg I live in, if they even some at all (Suspiria).
But now it’s the end of the year: the time when every cinephile worth their salt is scrambling madly to catch up with the year’s releases before the Oscars announce their Best Picture winner come February. I’ve had a prolific year, and have reviewed a considerable number of the movies I saw (or at least talked them up when I could), but I haven’t gotten to everything, even everything I’ve seen. So here, as of this writing, are the ten best movies that I saw in 2018 that I haven’t quite gotten around to reviewing (although, for the most recent of these, said reviews are most assuredly coming).
At the time that I’m writing this, I’ve just come back from my opening night screening of Aquaman and I will happily eat whatever crow people see to serve up. The movie was an absolute blast, recombinating many of the best elements of Thor (2011), Tron: Legacy (2010) and even, surprisingly, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001). While hardly perfect at even the things it gets right, it stands as a powerful course correction for the otherwise floundering DCEU and gives me faith that the franchise might yet be saved without the need for a line-wide reboot (ala Flashpoint or Crisis on Infinite Earths).
Writer cum director Alexander Garland has quietly proven himself one of the film industry’s creative juggernauts for decades, particularly in the so-called “low genres” of horror and science fiction. 28 Days Later (2002) was one of the first masterpieces of the young millennium. Sunshine (2007) was an underrated and thoughtful reflection on our collective mortality. Ex Machina (2015) was a stellar directorial debut and one of the most engaging films the year it was release. And Annihilation is, warts and all, one of the most imaginative and mesmeric experiences to come out of 2018.
8. The Hate U Give
Month after month and week after week, this year has proven to be a parade of high quality films not made by the usual cabal of crusty old white men that Hollywood sometimes seems to be exclusively peopled by. From Black Panther (2018) to BlacKkKlansman (2018), from Searching (2018) to Crazy Rich Asians (2018), and from Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) to You Were Never Really Here (2018)… along with many, many more films besides… we have been repeatedly treated to refreshing and exciting new perspectives on the human experience. The Hate U Give is another prominent example of exactly that, giving us fresh insight into the rise of police shootings of young, innocent Black people from the perspective of the victims of these crimes. A powerful piece of timely cinema, it creates its own teachable moment in the present zeitgeist.
7. The Night Comes for Us
Despite what the Mission: Impossible cult would have you believe, America is not, and in fact, has not been the home of hard-edged action films for sometime now. Sure, sometimes you get a stylish thriller like Drive (2011) or Widows (2018), but brutal, bloody, no-holds barred action flicks have largely been exported to East Asia for the better part of the last decade. Building off of the groundwork laid by John Woo in 1980s Hong Kong, Indonesia has emerged as the obvious go-to for action junkies’ much-needed fix. And coming from much of the same creative team behind The Raid: Redemption (2012) and The Raid 2 (2014), you could hardly do better than this stylish, extra-gory gangster flick.
6. Madeline’s Madeline
Days after seeing it, I’m still at something of a loss for how to describe exactly what happens over the course of Madeline’s Madeline. An experimental coming of age story that plays out like Jean Luc Godard’s take on Lady Bird (2017), it’s a bizarre story of a mentally unstable teenager working through family, sex and life in general. At times seeming too long to sustain its unorthodox style, it never-the-less adds up to a one-of-a-kind experience that moviegoers aren’t treated to often enough these days.
5. You Were Never Really Here
Few filmmakers come off as fundamentally masculine as Nicholas Winding Refn, just as few films can compare with his magnum opus, Drive (2011), in the same fashion. It is fascinating, then, that We Need to Talk About Kevin’s (2011) Lynne Ramsay tackled just that: remaking Drive in her own image. Featuring a transformative performance by a haggard-looking Joaquin Phoenix — playing an avenging hitman with a headful of glass — You Were Never Really Here plays out as an arthouse action flick that’s a shade more experimental than even it is willing to admit to, leaving just enough on the table for the reward the attentive viewer.
4. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
In the increasingly crowded streaming landscape of the late 2010s, Netflix has been working double time to ensure that it remains the one to beat amongst all the competition. Their primary strategy for this has been to dump money into original and first-run programming, in many cases from popular auteur filmmakers. In the case of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, their target is the Coen brothers, who deliver this offbeat anthology Western that feels like it would have been an odd fit and a hard seell for a more traditional studio. Not so for Netflix, however, who have welcomed the opportunity to work with such luminary filmmakers by funding this miniscule passion project, laying the groundwork for future works to come.
3. First Man
It might take First Man a while to finally kick into gear — spending most of its first two acts as set-up for the long-promised moon-landing sequences — but when it does, everything clicks together with artful precision. Everything to do with the space launch, lunar landing and return journey is a masterclass in filmmaking that puts young director Damien Chazelle in league with the living legends of the New Hollywood movement. It’s so singularly spectacular that it’s a shame that the rest of the movie wasn’t as emotionally investing or narratively engaging, as it would otherwise stand to be the very best movie of the entire year.
It’s been five long years since director Steve McQueen exploded onto the Hollywood scene with his Best Picture winning 12 Years a Slave (2013). The crazy thing is, though, that Widows, an arthouse heist film set it a destitute ward of Chicago, is entirely worth the wait. Overstuffed with subplots, character beats, narrative through lines and social consciousness, Widows digs deep into the social ills that would cause a group of financially pressed women to turn to a life of crime and mines it for everything its worth: fitting an entire television series worth of material into a lean, mean action thriller that not nearly enough people saw in theaters.
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
I’ve got a confession to make: I love Spider-Man. I mean really love Spider-Man. And since its publication, the Spider-Verse storyline from the comics has been my favorite of any superhero franchise. I guess I’m just a sucker for the paninfinite possibilities of a multiverse of spiders to play with, and Into the Spider-Verse, from the minds behind the surprise mega-hit The Lego Movie (2014), plays with every last one of them with this bite-sized foray into parallel realities. Gorgeously animated, brilliantly written and peopled with a diverse and engaging cast of colorful characters, Into the Spider-Verse is the rare superhero movie that will convince even genre nonbelievers that there are depths left to plumb from the four-colored pages of pulp comics and costumes vigilantes.