Welcome to 2019 everybody and welcome to the newly redesigned Cinema Spotlight!
The year 2018 was a fun one for the world of film offering up some of the biggest hits of the last tens years and even beyond. Over that time I reviewed and graded nearly 120 movies and exactly 40 of them earned a perfect score of five stars. In the past few weeks I have explored the best of film in 2018 through numerous different genres: science fiction, animation, fantasy, action, drama, comedy, horror and biopics. Now it’s time to see which movies were the best of the best overall. With 2019 looking to be another strong year for cinema, it’s only fair that I start off the new calendar year honoring what are, in my opinion, the very best films of the last twelve months. So without further ado, here they are. These are my picks for the Top 20 Films of 2018.
For this list the qualifications were simple. Films have to have scored a five-star rating on Cinema Spotlight…that’s it. With 40 five-star movies on this blog in 2018 half of them will be left off my end of the year roundup. When putting these films in order I considered numerous factors including their overall quality, lasting appeal on me as a viewer and how well these movies lived up to the expectations set upon them among other factors.
These are the films that, for me at least, encapsulate 2018 and everything it had to offer from any genre, any studio and any time of the year.
I loved putting together this list as it kicks off the third year for Cinema Spotlight. I want to thank you all for helping this be a huge year for the blog. I know it’s still young and I have a lot of work to do to perfect it, but I enjoy this and put a lot of my own time and effort into making this a reality as a cinema lover with no return other than feeling like I’m doing something I love to do. From the bottom of my heart, thank you ALL for your continued dedication and readership and I look forward to another great year in 2019.
I know you all have your own opinions about what film were truly great in 2018, so please feel free to tell me your favorite movie of the year in the comments below. Now it’s time for the big reveal! Here are my picks for the 20 best movies of the year! Enjoy!
20. “Incredibles 2”
The long-awaited sequel to “The Incredibles” was another home run for Pixar as it brought its titular superhero family back to the big screen after 14 years to take on a new supervillain, the Screen Slaver, who threatens to further damage the already rocky relationship humans have with supers while a billionaire brother and sister attempt to use their finances to bring superheroes back into the limelight. “Incredibles 2” provides some great superhero-themed fun with more unique characters added to its world and a story that does justice to the expectations of viewers after such a long hiatus. “Incredibles 2” is a rare movie that proves to be near perfect by being simply what it has to be while the few new elements that are added flawlessly enhance what we already loved about this growing potential franchise in the first place.
“Blindspotting” takes its name from the idea that a situation can be seen in two different ways, but someone only chooses to see half of the scenario. The story follows a black man who witnesses a white cop shoot an unarmed black man which causes him to realize the state of the world and strains his relationship with his white friend who is trying to be “gangster”. Of all the films that attempted to tackle race relations in 2018 this one is one of the best and includes an amazing finale sequence that allows actor Daveed Diggs to sell the film’s message point blank. “Blindspotting” is a brutally honest dramady that is not afraid to force viewers to think about cultural appropriation and their own ignorance. While we also got a similar teen-focused drama “The Hate U Give” in 2018, “Blindspotting” is more mature and deserves much more credit than it actually got.
“Widows” is one of the best action thrillers of the decade in my opinion. The story focuses on a group of widows whose husbands died in their most recent heist. When the man they were stealing from approaches the wives to get his money back the widows must team up to pull off their husbands’ final job. This could have easily been a phoned in token gender swap kind of film and it’s actually one of two female led heist movies from 2018 after “Oceans 8”. While I enjoyed “Ocean’s 8” I LOVED “Widows” which packs plenty of thrills and action supported by layered characters, great direction and sharp writing making it solidly one of the most engaging and fun thrillers of 2018.
17. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”
The sixth cinematic feature based on the classic television show, “Mission Impossible – Fallout” dominated the box office in the late summer of 2018. “Fallout” sees Ethan Hunt and his team take on The Apostles, a group of Syndicate sympathizers, who are trying to obtain plutonium for a potentially destructive terror attack. Not only does “Fallout” contain everything we’ve come to love from this franchise, it enhances these elements and brings the idea of what an action film can be to a whole new level. Scenes like the HALO jump and the helicopter chase promise to live on as some of the most iconic genre moments from the entire decade. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is not just a solid sequel, it sets a whole new bar for future action epics to come.
16. “Ralph Breaks the Internet”
“Ralph Breaks the Internet”, the sequel to “Wreck it Ralph”, has a lot to love from the animation to the familiar but welcome charm carried over from the original, to its depiction of the internet in physical form and especially its lack of a true villain and how that plays into a climax filled with deep and honest lessons that the characters have to learn. On one hand “Ralph Breaks the Internet” is a fine examination of internet culture and the ups and downs of the digital world while on the other hand it’s a sincere and sometimes dark look at how the best of intentions can cause things to go completely wrong. This is Disney at its very best and proof that not every great story needs a great villain. Sometimes the hero himself can be his own worst enemy and it’s THAT battle that can make for a great central conflict.
15. “First Man”
It’s kind of surprising that it took this long for a film about Neil Armstrong to become a thing. “First Man” follows Armstrong’s rise to become the first astronaut to set foot on the moon exploring his training and family life as well as the actual mission. One of my favorite directors Damien Chazelle led this film which is powered by a tremendous career highlight performance by Ryan Gosling as one of America’s most iconic space explorers. “First Man” is a truly mesmerizing look into the complicated life of a man who did something miraculous and saw it as nothing more than getting the job done. It’s a cinematic achievement in its own right in more ways than one from the acting to the visuals, direction and its ability to combine subtlety with spectacle to present a truly inspiring classic American story.
“BlacKkKlansman” was one of the most talked about movies late 2018 and could earn director Spike Lee his long overdue Best Director Oscar if all goes well. Telling the story of Ron Stallworth, a black detective who infiltrated the KKK, “BlacKkKlansman” tackles a truly unique tale from American history, but the struggles Stallworth endured to bring down an organization against his own race are handled with respect. A surprising aspect of the film is that it doesn’t shy away from shining negative and positive light on both the KKK and the Civil Rights Movements showing how the KKK managed to be so likable while the Civil Rights Movement suffered from a certain level of hypocrisy. It’s a fascinating picture marred only by its attempts to pander to the discord of today’s world to drive home its finale.
“Vice” gives a comedic take on the vice presidency of Dick Cheney, arguably the most powerful VP in American history, sporting great acting, awesome direction and a well written script even if the narrative can be a bit one sided in how it depicts the infamous politician. The story provides a fascinating take on a controversial figure whose actions and thirst for power may have changed the course of American history, even going so far as to humanize him to some extent and capture how charming he really was while in power. No matter what you think about the criticisms and biased depiction of Cheney there’s no denying “Vice” is an entertaining comedy masterpiece led by stellar performances putting the spotlight on a man whose legacy deserved the cinematic treatment.
12. “Eighth Grade”
The directorial debut of one of my personal favorite comedians Bo Burnham, “Eighth Grade” could be the defining coming-of-age film for the current generation of youth, known as Generation Z. Elsie Fisher stars as an eighth grader preparing to enter high school. This is a time in life very few if any films have tackled with conviction, but “Eighth Grade” takes its examination of a traditionally difficult transition in a young person’s life to a new level by exploring this shift in the digital age. “Eighth Grade” balances out its serious nature and tone with some humorous insight into America’s up and coming generation and thus became a very deserving must-see for teen and pre-teen young women in 2018 and should be required viewing for anyone in that age bracket for years to come.
11. “A Quiet Place”
“A Quiet Place” is one of the most original films to come out of 2018 giving us a creatively developed post-apocalyptic reality where humans have fallen victim to a beings with incredible hearing abilities forcing people to avoid speaking or making any noise at all to survive. Written, directed by and starring John Krasinski, “A Quiet Place” has become the subject of slight scrutiny for plot holes related to its premise and the minor details hidden in the film since its debut, but for those who just want to enjoy what the movie has to offer without delving too deep into the specifics of the world it presents “A Quiet Place” provides more than enough to be one of the best horror movies of not just 2018, but of the entire decade. It’s a breath of fresh air that we will be seeing more of in the future as a sequel is reportedly on the horizon.
“Mandy” is, to put it bluntly, an experience. It’s stylish, it’s unique, it’s completely over the top and it’s an all-around horror masterpiece. This film finally takes Nicholas Cage’s trademark overacting ability and puts it to good use as he portrays a man who loses his mind when a cult kills his wife. His quest for revenge takes him and us on a psychedelic, blood filled thrill ride like nothing we’ve seen in years. Director Panos Cosmatos fully embraces his insane vision bringing to life one of the most mind-bending genre pieces I personally have ever experienced. It’s one of those films that begs you to dig deeper into what it’s trying to say, but even if you only want to enjoy what’s on the surface there’s more than enough to satisfy. While horror gave us many mainstream quality in 2018 it’s the one that flew under the radar, “Mandy”, that stuck with me the most.
9. “Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse”
The world of animation certainly saved the best for last in 2018 with Sony Animations “Spider-Man: Into the SpiderVerse”. It’s one of the most uniquely animated movies I’ve ever seen with a great cast of characters, including some inventive redesigns, and probably one of the most likable Spider-Man leads to date in Miles Morales. We’ve seen Spider-Man on the big screen so many times in the past, but we’ve never seen the webslinger, or any animated picture, quite like this before. In my opinion “Into the SpiderVerse” is not only one of the year’s best animated movies and films overall, but quite possibly the greatest Spider-Man film to date. I loved it and I can’t wait to see it again. Considering the movie’s exploration of different Spider-Man universes I do hope we get to see even more of what Sony Animation has in store for this franchise.
8. “Green Book”
“Green Book” is a hilarious look at the real life friendship of African American pianist Don Shirley and his white Italian-American chauffeur and bodyguard Tony Vallelonga. Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortenson give career highlight performances as the duo who learn from each other and bond over the course of their journey in a tour through the south. Sharp direction and writing give “Green Book” an effective comedic edge that never overshadows the subtext in the narrative. At the same time “Green Book” never feels too preachy but it’s very willing to tackle prejudices that still stain American society today. Despite some significant historical inaccuracies plaguing its reputation “Green Book” has earned five Golden Globe nominations and truly deserves each and every one as one of the year’s best biopics and best comedies.
7. “Black Panther”
“Black Panther” was THE runaway success story of 2018 giving the Marvel Cinematic Universe its first African American-led superhero film in a year loaded with movies embracing social commentary about race relations. The story follows the titular hero in the wake of “Captain America: Civil War” as he takes his father’s thrown, but not without a challenge from one the best MCU villains to date, Killmonger. “Black Panther” gives us one of Marvel’s most complete origin stories and a memorable cast, rising above the genre clichés it embraces all too shamelessly in the process. Its themes are timely and uncompromising, its hero and villain are fun to watch and well acted, the sets, costumes and story are incredible, and the action is top notch making it possibly the greatest standalone film in the entire MCU and one of the best superhero movies ever made.
This is about as real as a scripted film can get. A film by Oscar winning director Alfonso Cuarón, “Roma” is inspired by his upbringing in Mexico City and follows a housekeeper to a middle-class family in 1970 who deals with an unplanned pregnancy while the world around her goes on in a fantastic showcase of reality. It almost feels like the perfect documentary, a window into a life we shouldn’t be able to see. “Roma” is intimate and raw making it one of the most immersive and beautiful films of the year by far. Already a Golden Globe nominee, many are hoping this will be the film to break the Netflix curse at the Academy Awards as “Roma” is definitive proof that not all great movies find their home on the big screen.
5. “Sorry to Bother You”
The only film from my Best Comedy Films of 2018 list to make the Top 20, “Sorry to Bother You” is an absurdist dark comedy that examines how social media and influence from smartly operated corporations can shape society and opinion. Writer and director Boots Riley gives us a powerhouse of a movie that takes major risks and isn’t afraid to be brutally honest despite existing in an alternate reality. With a story that involves a black man who works his way up the ranks in a telemarketing company eventually discovering the dark secrets hidden behind closed doors, “Sorry to Bother You” sports an appropriate name as it’s not only references the livelihood of the lead, but also serves as a warning to viewers that this film aims to make you think. “Sorry to Bother You” still resonates months after its release and is solidly one of the best comedies and overall films of 2018.
4. “The Favourite”
“The Favourite” is a side-splittingly funny take on the real life rivalry between cousins Abigail Hill and Sarah Churchill who sought to become the favourite of Queen Anne in the 1700s. Impressive performances by Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz as well as an immaculately written and fun script that packs some of the most effective humor from any comedy picture in years, “The Favourite” lives up to the hype that has helped it earn five Golden Globe nominations and become a critical darling. It’s the whole package. It’s well written, perfectly acted, and take enough creative liberty to add to its story without losing touch with its historic roots. “The Favourite” is a near perfect picture and I’m proud to actually have found a comedy film deserving of being considered one of the best of 2018.
Occasionally a movie will leave a mark on me as a viewer that lasts for weeks and months after its release. “Annihilation” was one of those films in 2018 and I’ve known for a long time that it would be among my favorites for the year. This has to be one of the year’s most criminally underappreciated movies. Melding classic science fiction elements with new age arthouse style, “Annihilation” provides a stellar journey into the depth of an altered section of Earth leading to a stunning finale that forces the viewer to interpret the work for themselves. Maybe this film was too sophisticated for some or maybe others found it pretentious, but they don’t know what they’re missing. “Annihilation” packs some of the most eye-catching visuals of any movie from the past year or even the last few years. In my opinion it’s not only the best science fiction movie of 2018 but one of the best movies of the year overall.
2. “Avengers: Infinity War”
Alright, so this was not the most artistic, sophisticated, or even best written film of 2018 but “Avengers: Infinity War” had probably the most pressure of any movie of the year and it delivered in almost every way. This is the epic showdown the Marvel has built up to for ten years. After 18 previous films, the tenth anniversary of the MCU brought us the biggest cinematic spectacle of a generation. Bringing together most of the previous heroes from past MCU movies “Infinity War” sees two factions of Avengers take on warlord Thanos and his “children” to prevent their crusade to collect the Infinity Stones and wipe out half of the universe. With high stakes, a great conflict and a villain that has sparked debate among fans concerning the potential righteousness of his goal “Infinity War” is the perfect culmination of everything this extended universe has built up to and proves that a superhero movie can be deep, fun, inspired, imaginative and epic all at the same time. It’s more than just an experience, it’s one of the most impressive cinematic achievement of 2018.
1. “A Star is Born”
Who really thought this movie was going to be as good as it is? “A Star is Born” is the fourth interpretations of what has become a classic Hollywood tale of two musicians who fall in love but are challenged by their individual career paths and/or vices. Now a five-time Golden Globe nominated picture “A Star is Born” packs a soundtrack and a story that are both emotionally driven and incredibly effective. Led by freshman director Bradley Cooper, this musical drama left a big mark on me and others as a viewer in 2018 having one of the longest lasting and most consistent runs of any movie over the last year. It’s gripping, inspiring, tear-jerking, mesmerizing, entertaining, literally the whole package and everything a movie of this type should be. It hits all the right notes in more ways than one and is a near perfect Hollywood film experience. “A Star is Born” is not only possibly one of the best remakes ever made, it sets a new standard for future love stories to live up to and has earned my respect as my pick for the best movie of 2018.