Top 10 lists are never easy, especially for me. I am not pure enough of mind to accurately separate out “best” from “favorite”. As a result, my lists — including this one — are frequently an imperfect mismatch of the two. As a result, a few that would qualify as best got knocked off by favorites. Similarly, I know I left off a couple of favorites because even I could recognize they were not the best.

If you are the type who, say, hate when people refer to the winner of March Madness as “the best,” when the team in question was objectively not but just got hot at the right moment, I’m sorry in advance. This list will probably infuriate you. On the other hand, if you are the kind of viewer who hated that I made a designation between VENOM being good vs. it being fun, well, this might bother you too. However, if you are anything like me, it will likely spark a mix of “oh, he’s right,” “huh, gotta catch that one,” and “wow, I could not disagree more”. And that, I think, is the best thing a year-end Top 10 list can do.

Top 10: Support the Girls
Haley Lu Richardson and Regina Hall almost can’t believe their top 10 ranking. (Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

#10. SUPPORT THE GIRLS

I missed SUPPORT THE GIRLS in theatres but thanks to the guidance of Dana Stevens — no relation — I managed to catch it last minute and thank goodness I did.

For me, there was perhaps no other movie this year that better lived up to Roger Ebert’s assertion that one of the powers of cinema lay in its ability to be an “empathy machine”. It focuses on a Hooters-style “breastaraunt” in Texas and the women who work there. That is about as far from my lived-in experience as late 30’s East Coast born and raised man as you can get. Yet, the movie welcomes you into each moment depicted with a sense of universalism, especially those endured by Regina Hall as the eatery’s general manager.

I should stress that this is no dour slice of life piece though. While it never goes for the easy laugh over being honest, it is nonetheless very funny. If you are expecting a covert sequel to WAITING, you might end up disappointed. If you seek a smart comedy with recognizable human beings as characters though? Then GIRLS is worth every bit of hype — and more — it has accumulated this year.

Top 10: Black Panther
Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman stare each other down to determine who gets to hoist BLACK PANTHER’s top 10 trophy first. (Courtesy of Marvel Films)

#9. BLACK PANTHER

While certainly not the first “black superhero movie” — despite that oft-repeated chestnut — and not even the first superhero film to foreground race in its narrative, BLACK PANTHER has proven easily the most successful “African-American superhero movie” of all-time. And I do not just mean monetarily.

From a narrative standpoint, the Ryan Coogler-directed film is head and shoulders above its predecessors. It proved surefooted and thrilling. It introduced some of the most interesting supporting characters into the Marvel Universe with a kind of matter-of-fact ease. Moreover, its villain Killmonger — both in performance and writing — proved incredibly well-realized. So much so, plenty found themselves sympathetic to him. Many, in fact, sympathetic to the point of ignoring his plans were sure to lead to widespread horror and bloodshed.

Top 10: Blindspotting
Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs, and Jon Chaffin prepare a 21 gun salute in honor of BLINDSPOTTING’s top 10 honor. (Courtesy of Lionsgate)

#8. BLINDSPOTTING

2018, unexpectedly, ended up kind of being Oakland’s year at the cinema. Two top 10 and 3 top 20 films unfolded partially or fully in California’s less spoken-of Bay city. Of the three, BLINDSPOTTING boasted both the least science fiction elements, the smallest box office, and the least attention. Nonetheless, you’ll note it placed highest amongst them. Focusing on the last three days on probation of an Oakland native trying to go straight, BLINDSPOTTING manages to be about; police brutality, inter-racial politics, intra-racial politics, gentrification, love, toxic masculinity, America’s obsession with the gun, the revolving door of crime, friendship, parenthood, the still being felt effects of the housing market bubble bursting, and the dangers of trying to improve one’s station in 21st century America.

It is not as shocking or as in your face as SORRY TO BOTHER YOU. It is not as high flying or spectacular as BLACK PANTHER. Nonetheless, I found BLINDSPOTTING every bit as riveting.

Top 10: Leave No Trace
Thomasin McKenzie and Ben Foster, stars of LEAVE NO TRACE, took in the film’s presence in the top 10 in their usual subdued way. (Courtesy of Bleecker Street Media)

#7. LEAVE NO TRACE

A haunting elegy on parenting and pain outside the lines, LEAVE NO TRACE still lingers with me months after its release. TRACE proves an acting showcase for Ben Foster — as a PTSD suffering veteran who has retreated from society to save his own life — and teen breakout Thomasin McKenzie — as his dutiful daughter who starts to see the world differently. It places the duo in the small spaces and forgotten areas of society. We witness the homeless in a national park, people both supported and chained by a fraying social safety net, the workers of the dwindling farmlands of the Northwest, and a campground trailer park year-round neighborhood.

It’s beautiful, heartbreaking, life-affirming, harrowing, frustrating, and incredible, often all at once. In its outsized way, it wonderfully brings to life the ways families work. Moreover, it shows how they don’t work, break apart, and sometimes find a way back to some kind of new connectedness.

Top 10: Game Night
Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman (front), Lamorne Morris, Billy Magnussen, and Kylie Bunbury (back) show up to collect GAME NIGHT’s top 10 list honors. (Courtesy of Warner Bros)

#6. GAME NIGHT

2018 was a strong year for the adult mid-budget comedy and GAME NIGHT was by the far the best of them. Boasting a stellar cast elevating a good script to great, it exceeded all of my expectations on the first watch. Subsequent revisits have proven it a consistent pleasure.

If GAME NIGHT marks the next step in comedies, I am all for it. It left behind the shaggy dog excesses of the Judd Apatow era without forgetting its successes. NIGHT gives room for good improvisation, letting scenes breathe enough to give us real characters. It also adds a layer of higher than typical directing style. As a result, NIGHT moved with speed and verve, made us care about the characters, and gave us punchlines that snapped rather than lingered.

Top 10: Fallout
In the spy game, you have to be cautious. That’s why MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT stars Henry Cavill, Tom Cruise, and Rebecca Ferguson are approaching their top 10 honor with such trepidation. (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

#5. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT

Look, I’ll be brief here. I am a sucker for the M:I franchise and have been from the jump — excepting #2, of course. FALLOUT is not the best installment of the series, in my opinion, but that does not stop it from being an incredible ride. No movie delivered spectacle better or more consistently for its running time. May we get one of these every two to three years until, finally, Tom Cruise’s status as the Earth’s first immortal is revealed.

Top 10: You Were Never Really Here
Don’t let the look on Joaquin Phoenix’s face fool you. He’s honored to see YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE make it to the top 10 of the year in film. (Courtesy of Amazon Studios)

#4. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

If Ben Foster in LEAVE NO TRACE is the isolationist example of what happens to the veterans we fail, Joaquin Phoenix in YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE is the terrifyingly violent version. Scattered, disconnected from his own emotions, and hulking, Phoenix’s vigilante for hire is pitiable and frightening. Think a cornered wounded lion. By every measure, that lion seems in peril. And yet experience has shown us there may be no more dangerous creature on Earth.

With its discordant score, assured a mix of beauty and ugliness in the frame, and subtly relentless pace, HERE left me tied in knots. It ended up being a covert white-knuckler. I had no idea how ready I was to fight or flee until the lights come up. Then I saw how hard I had been gripping the theatre armrests.

Top 10: Into the Spider-Verse
Top 10 sense tingling! (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

#3. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

As you have seen all over this site, I — and all of us honestly — adore this movie. A triumph on a visual, sound, music, and storytelling level. It might just be the closest we have ever come to a perfect comic book adaptation on the big screen.

John David Washington lets Topher Grace know the good news. BLACKkKLANSMAN made the top 10! (Courtesy of Focus Features)

#2. BLACKkKLANSMAN

Loving Spike Lee has not always been easy as a film fan. In the past decade, I can only think of one movie I truly would call worthy of his reputation, 2015’s divisive CHI-RAQ. In BLACKkKLANSMAN though, he comes rushing back with his style and substance fully on display.

Much has been made of the film’s post-script, a bit of righteous fury that demands you sit with discomfort. And rightfully so. However, if the rest of the movie was not worth watching that ending would be a sideshow, not a culmination of what we have already seen. It is more powerful for the two hours that precede it, the two hours that show us the promise of reconciliation, that make the reminder of how little we truly have advanced since hit that much harder.

Top 10: Annihilation
Natalie Portman and a new friend are overwhelmed with ANNIHILATION’s top 10 honors. (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

#1. ANNiHILATION

No film this year burrowed deeper into my consciousness this year than ANNIHILATION. No film demanded more thought, more theorizing, more exploration. Top that truly mindbender of a plot with excellent acting, beautiful visuals, and an awesome score and you have film at the height of its power. A great year at the movies never pushed this one, released back in February, from my mind. It has held my attention, demanded my thoughts, ever since I saw it.

Other Top 10 Notables

Films That Came Close to the Top 10 (in no particular order): DISOBEDIENCE, A SIMPLE FAVOR, WILDLIFE, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, EIGHTH GRADE, HEARTS BEAT LOUD, A QUIET PLACE

Movies That Did Not Deserve A Top Spot But I Really Think You Should Still See: THOROUGHBREDS, IN DARKNESS, BEAST

Movies I Wish I Saw but I Still Need to Sleep Sometimes: IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, ROMA

Movie/s I Wish to Forget the Moment 2018 Ends, if Not Sooner: TRAFFIK

A Random Selection of Movies I Can Hardly Wait for in 2019: IT: CHAPTER 2, CAPTAIN MARVEL, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, AVENGERS: ENDGAME, US, GLASS

2 Comments

  1. Joe Marino

    January 9, 2019 at 11:02 am

    No mention of UPGRADE? Psshaw!

    Reply

  2. luo.la

    December 30, 2018 at 10:34 pm

    Ye ! This Is A Good Blog!

    Reply

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