Arts/Music/Film

Best films of 2018 – longer read

The past year in movies was endlessly tumultuous. For users of MoviePass, the controversial subscription service that for a brief period allowed its users to gorge on new releases with reckless abandon, 2018 was about excess and disappointment.

By Dan Jackson

From thrilllist.com

For Netflix loyalists, the last 12 months have seen the company attempt to squash out the competition with a scorched-earth approach to film distribution. For superhero fans, this was a year of excitement and despair. (Plus, you know, Aquaman!) If you like movies, the sheer range of available titles and ways to watch them could be intoxicating — and maddening.

The scale of new releases means a conventional top ten list can’t really grapple with the full landscape. You need a bigger list, one that makes room for blockbusters and smaller movies that might’ve fallen through the cracks. (We also have genre-specific lists for horror, action, comedy, and science-fiction if the offerings below don’t quite scratch the movie itch you have.) In a hectic year, these were the movies we escaped into. Recommended Video Entertainment

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roxanne roxanne on netflix
Netflix

50. Roxanne Roxanne

Released: March 23
Cast: Chanté Adams, Mahershala Ali, Nia Long, Elvis Nolasco
Director: Michael Larnell (Cronies)
Why it’s great: The traditional musician biopic, with its rags-to-riches beginning and its fall-from-grace conclusion, is a genre that’s always in need of a remix. Roxanne Roxanne, a stylish chronicle of Queensbridge rapper Roxanne Shante’s rise to fame in the 1980s, isn’t the most formally adventurous take on hip-hop’s early days — the “life on tour” scenes and a corny appearance from a soon-to-be-famous young rapper named Nasir feel like standard showbiz fodder — but director Michael Larnell has an eye for period detail, an ear for needle drops, and enough patience to let his performers shine on (and off) the mic. With humor and wit, Adams keeps you invested in every aspect of Shante’s journey, from her early battles with her disapproving mother (Long) to her harrowing fights with an abusive boyfriend Cross, played with tenderness and menace by Moonlight breakout Ali. Like Shante’s best rhymes, it’s a tale told with dazzling craft and unwavering confidence.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

the endless
Well Go USA Entertainment

49. The Endless

Released: April 6
Cast: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Callie Hernandez, Tate Ellington
Director: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (Spring)
Why it’s great: The Endless, a time-loop drama with mysterious flashes of Lovecraftian horror and confounding spurts of observational comedy, is a movie that tests and, more importantly, rewards your patience. The story follows brothers Justin and Aaron Smith — played by the (unrelated) directors — who grew up in a Southern California cult with connections to UFOs, but when we meet them in the movie’s awkwardly paced opening stretch they’ve escaped, living directionless, dull lives on the outskirts of society. A video cassette the pair receives in the mail leads them back to the compound and the community they left behind, where they begin to question the group’s intentions and eventually the laws of time and space. Circles pop up throughout the movie as a visual motif, centered in wide shots and tossed in the margins of the frame, and the plot itself can resemble a blob of slinkies tied together in knots. Like with Primer or Looper, theory-prone viewers will be tempted to untangle the temporal mess, but Benson and Moorhead are more concerned with creating a mood and delivering an emotional payoff than providing logical answers. Rewinding the loop only reveals so much.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix; rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

skate kitchen
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

48. Skate Kitchen

Released: August 10
Cast: Rachelle Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, Nina Moran, Jaden Smith
Director: Crystal Moselle (The Wolfpack)
Why it’s great: The secret world of a group of teenage skateboarders cruising down the streets of lower Manhattan gets a careful, poignant examination in the narrative feature debut of documentary filmmaker Moselle. Long Island 18-year-old Camille (Vinberg) has a disapproving mother and a yearning to escape the rhythms of her day-to-day existence, so she joins up with an Instagram famous clique of young women posting skate trick videos, memes, and photos. Like Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, Skate Kitchen is curious about how social media complicates IRL social dynamics, but Moselle isn’t looking to condemn behavior or harshly judge her characters. That laid-back, observational approach can lead to some inert dramatic beats, especially as Camille argues with her mom and pursues a relationship with Jaden Smith’s stockroom buddy Devon. Still, the camaraderie between the performers, which appears to be very real, and the skating footage makes this a hang-out movie that more than makes up for the occasional botched trick.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

the mule
Warner Bros.

47. The Mule

Released: December 14
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña
Director: Clint Eastwood (American Sniper)
Why it’s great: No matter how one-dimensional they may appear, Clint Eastwood’s heroes are always cloaked in ambiguities and contradictions. In the ripped-from-the-headlines crime melodrama The Mule, the 88-year-old filmmaker plays Earl Stone, an elderly horticulturist who falls on hard times and becomes a drug runner for a Mexican drug cartel, but this isn’t a geriatric take on Breaking Bad or an ultra-violent shoot-em-up in the style of this year’s loathsome drug war action movies Sicario: Day of the Soldado or Peppermint. The procedural scenes between Cooper and Peña’s pair of DEA agents are nimble yet dutiful,and there’s not much tension in the hunt for Earl. Instead, Eastwood’s patient camera floats across barren American landscapes; his gruff protagonist pauses to enjoy pulled pork sandwiches in local restaurants and beloved oldies on the car stereo along the way. (Just don’t ask Earl to send you a text message.) There are frustrating and galling elements of this genuinely peculiar movie, particularly some of the edgelord-ey humor surrounding race, but Eastwood saves his sharpest critiques for the larger system and his most forceful jabs for the weary old-timer at the story’s center. No one gets away clean.
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

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uncle drew
Lionsgate

46. Uncle Drew

Released: June 29
Cast: Kyrie Irving, Lil Rel Howery, Shaquille O’Neal, Nick Kroll
Director: Charles Stone III (Mr. 3000)
Why it’s great: It’s wise to be wary of a movie that has its roots in a soft drink ad campaign — NBA star Irving, donning layers of Bad Grandpa-like old age makeup, played the title character in TV spots for Pepsi Max — but this raucous, surprisingly tender sports comedy is more than a bloated, cynical exercise in sponsored content. There’s a camaraderie and playfulness to the whole admittedly paper-thin enterprise. The story, which follows down-on-his-luck Footlocker employee Dax (Howery) as he helps Uncle Drew reassemble his now geriatric former streetball teammates for New York’s Rucker Classic tournament, is a creaky road-movie set-up that director Charles Stone III, who helmed the ’00s basic cable classic Drumline, tricks out with crowd-pleasing basketball sequences, “kids these days” comedy, and poignant interactions between the old-timers. Drew’s teammates are played by a generation of athletes older than Irving, including Chris Weber as “Preacher” and WNBA star Lisa Leslie as his wife Betty Lou, and the dynamics between them are tricky. Even Uncle Drew, paradigm of the old school, can still learn a thing or two; similarly, most film comedies could pick up some lessons from this movie’s easy, kind-hearted touch.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

blockers movie
Universal Pictures

45. Blockers

Released: April 6
Cast: Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, John Cena, Kathryn Newton
Director: Kay Cannon
Why it’s great: The teenage sex farce gets a canny update in this sweet comedy about high-schoolers planning to lose their virginities on prom night. The twist here is that the story is mostly told from the adults’ perspective: Single mother Lucy (Mann) discovers her daughter has made a quasi-jokey “sex pact” with her two best friends and quickly recruits the friends’ parents, the initially reluctant slacker Hunter (Barinholtz) and the more gung-ho goofball Mitchell (Cena), to spoil the evening. Like American Pie and Superbad before it, the script mixes sentimental emotional beats with the requisite gross-out set-pieces, like a scene where Cena drops his pants and butt-chugs beer as a crowd hollers in encouragement. These movies often live or die depending on the casting; luckily, Blockers features three endearing lead performances, gifted comedic actors playing the teens, and friendly faces like Hannibal Buress and Gary Cole in key small roles. You forgive the occasional groan-worthy line because you’re always rooting for the actors — even when their characters are doing things you probably shouldn’t cheer on and definitely shouldn’t try at home.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

unfriended dark web
OTL Releasing/BH Tilt

44. Unfriended: Dark Web

Released: July 20
Cast: Colin Woodell, Betty Gabriel, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Andrew Lees
Director: Stephen Susco
Why it’s great: The first Unfriended, a twist on the found footage thriller that played out on a computer screen, rendered the forces of evil as ghosts in the machine. That movie’s cast of feckless teens were brutally and systematically picked off by the spirit of a girl they bullied, and the script found dark humor and cheesy tension in watching them die. The bleaker sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web, suggests that our digital lives are not under threat from supernatural forces. Instead, the movie’s protagonist, a driftless twenty-something dude named Matias (Woodell) who likes to Skype with his friends online, is pursued by a secret society of hackers and trolls that should feel stomach-churning-ly familiar. Many of the scares are ridiculous and the story takes some wildly implausible twists, but, as with the first Unfriended, the hyper-detailed approach to re-creating your average desktop experience makes this a revealing, fascinating snapshot of our current technological moment. Or should I say screenshot?
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

crazy rich asians
Warner Bros.

43. Crazy Rich Asians

Released: August 15
Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina
Director: Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2)
Why it’s great: The shiny opulence and broad comedy of Crazy Rich Asians can blind viewers to some of the movie’s more granular, less flashy pleasures. This adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel of the same name is built around a central romance between NYU professor Rachel Chu (Wu) and mega-wealthy heir Nick Young (Golding), but the movie’s most potent material concerns the intergenerational struggles between Rachel and Nick’s skeptical mother, played with nerve by Yeoh. Each verbal slight stings; each withering glance leaves a mark. When the two face off over a game of mahjong at the film’s conclusion, it’s as gripping as any white-knuckle gambling movie showdown. Even in this rarified rom-com world, the stakes are high and the actresses are unquestionably playing for keeps.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

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clara's ghost
Orion Classics

42. Clara’s Ghost

Released: December 6
Cast: Paula Niedert Elliott, Chris Elliott, Abby Elliott, Bridey Elliott
Director: Bridey Elliott
Why It’s Great: Casting your own famous family as thinly veiled stand-ins for themselves and shooting a movie at your parents beautiful Connecticut home is the type of indulgent indie movie cliche that might send movie-goers running for the exits. Luckily, Bridey Elliott has a secret weapon: her family is blazingly, riotously funny. (Her father, Chris, was a staple on Late Night With David Letterman in the ’80s and the star of the cult comedy Cabin Boy, her sister Abby was a cast member on SNL for four seasons, and her late grandfather, Bob Elliott, whose paintings appear in the film, was half of the legendary comedy duo Bob and Ray.) So, it’s no surprise that Chris Elliott and Abby Elliott excel at playing gleefully obnoxious versions of themselves, with Chris telling crude jokes while drinking his life away and Abby unleashing brutal one-liners while stressing out about her upcoming wedding. But Bridey’s smartest move in concocting this familial ghost story was pushing those two scene-stealers to the margins, taking a supporting role herself, and focusing on her mother, Paula Niedert Elliott, who plays the titular Clara. More than a little unhinged, Clara finds herself neglected by her show-biz-obsessed offspring and dismissed by her bitter husband, but Bridey’s roving camera sees her with poignant and hilarious clarity. Whether she’s watching a dog video on her phone, searching for a missing shoe, or leaving a heartbreakingly sweet voicemail for a wine company, Clara is a star, the type of complex woman Hollywood too often ignores. As the night spirals out into a ritualized bender right out of a Eugene O’Neill play — but with way more stoned Haley Joel Osment — the movie takes flight.
Where to see it right now: In select theaters; rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

old man and the gun
Fox Searchlight

41. The Old Man & the Gun

Released: September 28
Cast: Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover
Director: David Lowery (A Ghost Story)
Why it’s great: Pitched somewhere between fan letter and true crime, this loving tribute to ’70s cinema transforms a real life tale of bank robberies and prison escapes, written about in the pages of The New Yorker by journalist David Grann, into a sly showcase for its aging star, Robert Redford. As geriatric felon Forrest Tucker, the former Sundance Kid gets to lay on the charm in his signature low-key manner, flirting with bank tellers and building a relationship with his no-nonsense love interest Jewel (Spacek), and Lowery shoots it all in a grainy, nostalgic style that stops just short of coming off as too precious. Towards the end, Lowery even incorporates footage of Redford from old movies for a moving, clever montage. There’s very little grit or tension to this story — Tucker doesn’t like using his titular gun and the grizzled cop chasing him, played by a typically drowsy Affleck, isn’t exactly obsessed with catching him — but that ephemeral quality works to Lowery’s advantage as a filmmaker. Even when the movie feels like it might float away, you want to float with it.
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

revenge movie
Neon

40. Revenge

Released: May 11
Cast: Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe, Guillaume Bouchède
Director: Coralie Fargeat
Why it’s great: This French thriller might have one of the most gruesome, unsettling scenes of self-surgery ever filmed, but it always feels like the director is in control of her scalpel. Shot with the bright colors of a 90s music video and the roving camera movements of a Michael Bay blockbuster, Coralie Fargeat’s ultra-slick reinvention of the rape-revenge sub-genre follows Jen (Lutz) as her romantic getaway with a married man (Janssens) is interrupted by his two loathsome hunting buddies. One of the friends assaults Jen, violating her in the morning after a night of partying, and later the three men push her off a cliff, leaving her to die in the sweltering desert heat. She springs back to life. Her violent retribution is often simultaneously stomach-churning and ridiculous — the hallways of the chic rented house get turned into a bloody slip-and-slide by the ending — but the performers and the filmmakers are zeroed in on a shared sensibility that does more than simply shock and provoke. 
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

Game Night
New Line Cinema

39. Game Night

Released: February 23
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen
Directors: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein (Vacation)
Why it’s great: Game Night is a movie that’s easy to underestimate. The trailers and marketing made it look like yet another studio comedy in the post-Apatow mold, filled with improv-juiced banter, zingy pop culture references, and predictable emotional beats about battling middle-age ennui. It many ways, it is that movie, especially in its first 30 minutes, but as the high-concept premise kicks in — basically, a group of charades-loving yuppies led by Bateman and McAdams’s hyper-competitive couple find themselves in a violent ARG similar the one that terrified Michael Douglas in 1997’s The Game — the directors, who previously helmed  2015’s Vacation remake and co-wrote the less amusing Bateman vehicle Horrible Bosses, reveal that they’ve put more work into designing the thriller elements of the story then you may have assumed. The slapstick sequences have the visual wit and spatial playfulness of an Edgar Wright movie, especially as the movie speeds into its twist-filled conclusion. McAdams in particular sells each joke with a studied earnestness. Like the movie surrounding her, she attacks even the dumbest task with surprising rigor.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)
 

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gemini movie 2018
NEON

38. Gemini

Released: March 30
Cast: Lola Kirke, Zoë Kravitz, John Cho, Greta Lee
Director: Aaron Katz (Land Ho!)
Why it’s great: In last year’s Personal Shopper, Kristen Stewart played a young woman tasked with acquiring outfits, jewelry, and accessories for a celebrity, and eventually she found herself in the midst of a ghost story. Gemini, which stars Kirke as a personal assistant to Kravitz’s famous actress, is set in the same wealthy universe of fame-adjacent underlings, but instead of taking a supernatural route it stumbles down the path of a low-key stoner noir. (Like a less dude-centric take on Inherent Vice or The Big Lebowski.) Katz’s version of a murder mystery in Los Angeles isn’t sweaty or sunny. He envisions the city as a chilly, neon-drenched world of small transactions, petty squabbles, and the occasional violent outburst. It’s the perfect backdrop for this sly comedy of careful negotiation.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

a quiet place 2018
Paramount Pictures

37. A Quiet Place

Released: April 6
Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
Director: John Krasinski (The Hollars)
Why it’s great: It’s reasonable to be skeptical of John Krasinski’s tastefully composed, PG-13 rated, Michael Bay-produced horror contraption. There was little in his previous two directorial efforts, the indies Brief Interviews With Hideous Men or The Hollars, that suggested Jim from The Office was a budding genre filmmaker. And yet: A Quiet Place is a top-notch roller coaster in the Spielberg-ian mold. After sound-hating monsters take over the planet, a husband (Krasinski) and wife (Blunt) live a life of extreme caution with their two children, protecting them in a carefully maintained world of hushed whispers and relative silence. As you’d guess, the monsters have other plans. The political allegory component of the story isn’t particularly compelling — it’s been interpreted as a commentary on the hysteria of Trump era — but as a movie about parental anxieties, it’s steely and effective.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

the ballad of buster scruggs
Netflix

36. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Released: November 16
Cast: Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen (Hail Caesar!)
Why it’s great: Even for old hands like the Coen Brothers, the anthology format, where a series of shorts are presented as a feature, is a tough beast to tame. This Netflix-funded set of old West stories gets off to an odd start — the chapter starring the title character played by Tim Blake Nelson is a little ridiculous and the Franco-led bank robbery tale is too brisk — but soon the movie finds its footing. In addition to finding death, cruelty, and despair in the West, the Coen’s also find romance in the people and beauty in the landscape. What’s the best chapter? Probably “The Gal Who Got Rattled,” an achingly moving epic in miniature starring Zoe Kazan as wayward traveler Abigail and Bill Heck as soft-spoken cowboy Billy. In a movie that’s not afraid to make you laugh or make you ponder some deep existential questions, the moments that leave you misty-eyed are what make it rocky terrain worth exploring.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

eighth grade
A24

35. Eighth Grade

Released: July 13
Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Catherine Oliviere
Director: Bo Burnham
Why it’s great: If you know comedian Bo Burnham from viral songs like “My Whole Family Thinks I’m Gay” or his short-lived MTV series Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous, you might be taken off guard by the 27-year-old stand-up’s debut feature, which takes a much less acidic approach to familiar material about loneliness. Kayla (Fisher) is in many ways a typical teenage outcast: She endlessly scrolls through her carefully maintained social media feeds, desperately wants to be liked by her peers, and physically recoils at every remark from her well-meaning father (played with an almost supernatural tenderness by Hamilton). While some critics have been quick to compare this chronicle of adolescence to Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, which was also produced by hit-making indie distributor A24, Burnham has a more clinical, anthropological eye. That can lead to some beautiful places — a social media binge scored to Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” will be recognizable to many — but it can also lead to some clumsy, obvious symbolism. When Kayla breaks her phone’s glass screen and then pricks her finger while trying to scroll, it’s hard not to roll your eyes. (You see, technology can deliver pleasure and pain!) But once the tears start flowing in the film’s moving final third, you’ll likely overlook those flaws. What’s a movie about puberty without some growing pains?
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

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the favourite
Fox Searchlight

34. The Favourite

Released: November 23
Cast: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster)
Why it’s great: The pomp of political theater is often used to disguise the mindless cruelty and arbitrary decision making going on behind the scenes. The Favourite, which follows Queen Anne of Great Britain and Ireland (Colman) and the two women (Weisz and Stone) vying for her attention and affection, is aware of that tension and appropriately plays it for brutal laughs. Stone’s newly arrived Abigail manipulates and humiliates herself to acquire power; Weisz’s more experienced Lady Sarah schemes and triangulates to preserve her status; Colman’s easily irritated Queen Anne simply lets her whims dictate her actions. Watching the three of them clash is a vulgar pleasure. As was the case with his previous arthouse hit The Lobster, Lanthimos’s gift for finding the absurd in human cruelty is at its most potent when it remains in a deadpan, almost affect-less comic register. Despite the endlessly game performances from the three leads, the movie wobbles in its second half as the story builds to an obtuse conclusion. The claustrophobia of the court — and the general disinterest in looking too far beyond the castle walls — becomes a liability as the movie attempts to arrive at larger truths.
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

let the sunshine in
Curiosa Films

33. Let the Sunshine In

Released: April 27
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Xavier Beauvois, Philippe Katerine, Josiane Balasko
Director: Claire Denis (White Material)
Why it’s great: Opening with a deeply unpleasant sex scene for the ages, Let the Sunshine In announces itself quickly as a movie that’s most passionate about portraying the moments of courtship that fall outside the bounds of the conventional romantic comedy. And yet, the story of Isabelle, a middle-aged French artist (Binoche) struggling through a series of frustrating and alienating romantic encounters, is unapologetically, swooningly romantic. Many of the scenes between the endlessly charming Binoche and her often odious suitors, like a petty lout who demands “gluten-free olives” at a bar, are poignantly, wickedly funny. Denis’s simultaneously sensual and heady film, which is loosely based on a philosophical work by the writer Roland Barthes, is about being stuck in behavioral patterns. Many of the conversations in the movie are circular, with flirtation and blame getting passed around in a verbal dance, and Isabelle always appears on the verge of a major emotional or psychological breakthrough. She remains open to life’s possibilities, a mindset that also helps one enjoy this calming and loopy movie. 
Where to see it right now: Stream on Hulu; rent on iTunes, Amazon, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

The Commuter movie 2018
Lionsgate

32. The Commuter

Released: January 12
Cast: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Jonathan Banks
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows)
Why it’s great: The last thriller from the team of Neeson and Collet-Serra was Non-Stop, a bracing and clever whodunit on an airplane. The pair are back in high-octane Agatha Christie mode with The Commuter, a mystery that begins with Farmiga’s chatty passenger Joanna presenting Neeson’s haggard ex-cop (and loyal transit-enthusiast of the title) Michael MacCauley with a bizarre hypothetical: If you could perform a seemingly insignificant task that would have disastrous consequences for another commuter in exchange for a generous financial reward, would you do it? It’s a convoluted twist on Richard Matheson’s “Button, Button” short story, which was adapted into a classic Twilight Zone episode and the bonkers Richard Kelley movie The Box, but Collet-Serra is less interested in the moral dilemma. Instead, he simply wants to strip the giant locomotive — and his star’s lumbering frame — for parts, finding Hitchcockian tension in each padded seat, empty corridor, and nervy patron. It’s action filmmaking as controlled demolition — and the best train potboiler since Steven Seagal’s Under Siege 2: Dark Territory.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

Hereditary movie
A24

31. Hereditary

Released: June 8
Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro
Director: Ari Aster
Why it’s great: I consider myself a relatively seasoned horror moviegoer who doesn’t get scared easily — the “it’s only a movie” mantra tends to work — but Hereditary got under my skin in a big way. What makes this movie tick? It’s all in the performances: The incredibly versatile Toni Collette, who first stunned horror audiences as the mother in The Sixth Sense, plays Annie, an artist who works from home constructing intricately designed miniatures of her own life. When her elderly mother dies, Annie’s family, which includes Byrne as her distant husband, Wolff as her aloof son, and Shapiro as her troubled daughter, is thrown into a crisis. For its first 40 minutes or so, the film plays like a strange psychodrama in the vein of Michael Haneke, but then an unspeakable event occurs about halfway through and the tension skyrockets. Annie visits a friendly medium (Ann Dowd of The Leftovers) and begins to communicate with the dead. She sleepwalks and has terrifying nightmares; a supernatural force has descended upon the house. Aster directs the hell out of the movie’s harrowing final stretch, which will likely leave some viewers scratching their heads, but Collette is the real MVP, throwing herself into a demanding role with unwavering commitment. 
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

minding the gap
Hulu

30. Minding the Gap

Released: August 17
Director: Bing Liu
Why it’s great: Skateboarding has always existed in a nebulous space between athletic activity, creative expression, and mode of transportation. It’s also a form of socializing, with the long gaps between tricks serving as a time to crack jokes, kill time, and make friends. Minding the Gap is a documentary that understands the sport on a granular level, examining how skating brought three young men in the economically struggling town of Rockford, Illinois together. One member of the trio is actually the filmmaker Bing Liu, and his level of involvement in the narrative changes as the film progresses and the years pass. What starts as a movie about slackers lighting off fireworks and drinking beers on rooftops becomes a nuanced, carefully modulated study of domestic abuse, particularly the way violence cycles through generations of family members. It’s a thoughtful film about race and class, too. Liu doesn’t announce his ambitions or telegraph his themes right from the jump; he doesn’t abandon his curiosity about skateboarding to chase these bigger ideas, either. Instead, he allows our knowledge of the lives and histories of the skaters to inform the often beautiful footage of their movements. By the end, both skating and filmmaking are revealed as forms of therapy.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Hulu (watch the trailer)

Unsane movie 2018
Bleecker Street

29. Unsane

Released: March 23
Cast: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple
Director: Steven Soderbergh (Logan Lucky)
Why it’s great: Following the easy-going camaraderie of his hillbilly heist comeback Logan Lucky, the newly un-retired Soderbergh is back to subverting genre expectations again with this mental health thriller. Reportedly shot through the lens of an iPhone, which gives the film a discombobulating and flat look, Unsane follows Sawyer Valentine (Foy) as she gets checked into a hospital’s psych ward against her will and battles with an insurance system that wants to drain her bank account with little regard for her wellbeing. (You could call it a quasi-sequel to Soderbergh’s pharma-thriller Side Effects.) The reveals that come in the third act will leave some viewers shaking their heads in disbelief — the story sets up narrative turns it doesn’t follow through on — but this isn’t a movie looking to be reduced to a single twist or slogan. It’s a story as layered, inscrutable, and prickly as Foy’s commanding lead performance. You can’t look away.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

bisbee '17
4th Row Films

28. Bisbee ’17

Released: September 5
Director: Robert Greene (Kate Plays Christine)
Why it’s great: Deep into Arizona along the Mexican border, the mining town of Bisbee exists as a ghost of its former self. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s a re-creation of its former self, which makes it fertile ground for director Robert Greene, who specializes in projects that blur the line between reality and fiction. In examining the Bisbee deportation of 1917 — a shameful chapter in America’s labor history, when 1,300 striking miners were forced out of the town under threat of violence — he’s found a subject that perfectly matches his larger philosophical concerns and aesthetic tendencies. More importantly, it also allows him to expand his scope; this is a big, wildly ambitious movie. It builds toward a dramatic re-staging of the deportation, with the present day citizens of the town playing the roles of workers and deputized anti-union police force. Bisbee ’17 is timely in the ways it interrogates notions of freedom, identity, and justice. In Greene’s vision of the world, those who don’t learn from history are bound to not just repeat it — they reenact it, too.
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

Blackkklansman movie
David Lee / Focus Features

27. BlacKkKlansman

Released: August 10
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace
Director: Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing)
Why it’s great: BlacKkKlansman is a police procedural about rhetoric. The story of Ron Stallworth, the first black detective hired at a Colorado Springs precinct in the early 1970s, is relatively straightforward on the surface — the cop, skillfully played by Washington, infiltrates the local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan by phone and attempts to gather intel on the organization — but Lee’s approach is complicated. Often, the film plays like the pilot episode of a TV show given an essayistic overhaul. In addition to drawing connections to cinematic history, from Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation to Super Fly and Cleopatra Jones, he makes more than a handful of knowing nods to the political present, having characters mimic the catchphrases of President Donald Trump and ending the film with actual footage from last year’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Lee’s message is proudly, defiantly blunt; his stylistic approach is multi-layered and tonally ambitious. The most powerful, absorbing stretches of the movie are literally speeches: Civil Rights leader Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins from Straight Outta Compton) addresses a crowd of student radicals; later, an old man (Harry Belafonte) describes a horrific lynching. Lee lets these and other moments linger, allowing the viewer to sit with the language and consider the broader implications. 
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

happy as lazzaro
Netflix

26. Happy as Lazzaro

Released: November 30
Cast: Adriano Tardiolo, Nicoletta Braschi, Sergi López, Alba Rohrwacher
Director: Alice Rohrwacher (The Wonders)
Why it’s great: I’m not always the biggest fan of magical realism, particularly the way its preciousness can be used to over-simplify or erase the complexities of politics and history. But Happy as Lazzaro, a winsome and beautiful fable concerning the residents of a hilly town in the Italian countryside, uses the tools of the genre to poke and prod at provocative (and contemporary) conversations about exploitation, labor, and class. Like an enchanting mix of Being There and The Village, the movie tells the story of Lazzaro (newcomer Tardiolo), a happy-go-lucky fool with a great work ethic and a tendency to go blank and stare off into the distance. He’s being taken advantage, particularly by the obnoxious son of the village’s secretive owner, but he doesn’t seem to mind. His face remains placid, a surface for the locals (and the audience) to project their feelings onto. Even when the movie’s big twist arrives and the circumstances become bleaker, Lazzaro’s jolly demeanor never breaks. In the same way, director Alice Rohrwacher’s control of the movie’s tricky tone doesn’t falter.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

a star is born
Neal Preston/Warner Brothers

25. A Star Is Born

Released: October 5
Cast: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle
Director: Bradley Cooper
Why it’s great: This is a movie of competing voices: On one end of the spectrum you have the guttural croak of Jackson Maine, the hard-living, cowboy-rock troubadour played by the film’s director, producer, and co-writer Bradley Cooper; on the other end is the soulful roar of Ally, the waitress harboring dreams of pop stardom played by IRL pop icon Lady Gaga. The contrast between the two vocal deliveries is part of what makes the film’s syrupy power ballad “Shallow” so immediately alluring, the sonic equivalent of your goosebumps getting goosebumps, and that same tension drives the film’s most compelling scenes. (Yes, that includes the meme-able moments.) A claustrophobic movie about fame, A Star Is Born works best in its tightly focused and completely captivating first hour, which explores the creative and romantic spark of Jackson and Ally’s relationship. Cooper makes you believe in the fantasy of a black SUV providing a portal to another life of jam-packed festival stages, booze-soaked backstage parties, and tightly choreographed SNL performances. The second half doesn’t exactly burn out — the lead performers are too locked in — but the flame flickers as the story hits the requisite notes dictated by the rules of an Oscar-seeking Hollywood remake. Even with these new voices, the song remains the same.
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

roma movie
Netflix

24. Roma

Released: November 21
Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero
Director: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity)
Why it’s great: Whether experienced in the hushed reverence of a theater, watched on the glowing screen of a laptop, or, as Netflix executive Ted Sarandos has suggested, binged on the perilous surface of a phone, Alfonso Cuarón’s black-and-white passion project Roma seeks to stun. A technical craftsman of the highest order, the Children of Men and Gravity director has an aesthetic that aims to overwhelm — with the amount of extras, the sense of despair, and the constant whir of exhilaration — and this autobiographical portrait of kind-hearted maid Cleo (Aparicio) caring for a family in the early 1970s has been staged on a staggering, mind-boggling scale. Cuarón’s artful pans aren’t just layered for the sake of complexity: he’s often placing different emotions, historical concepts, and class distinctions in conversation with each other. What are these different components in the painstakingly composed shots actually saying to each other? That remains harder to parse. Still, there’s an image of Cleo and the family eating icecream together after a devastating dinner in the foreground while a wedding takes place in the background that I haven’t been able to shake since I saw it. The movie is filled with compositions like that, tinged with careful ambiguity and unresolvable tensions. 
Where to see it right now: In select theaters; stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

angels wear white
Kimstim Films

23. Angels Wear White

Released: May 4
Cast: Vicky Chen, Zhou Meijun, Shi Ke, Liu Weiwei
Director: Vivian Qu (Trap Street)
Why it’s great: A moment of inadvertent electronic surveillance, witnessed by a motel cleaner filling in for the receptionist at the front desk, drives the plot of this tense, incisive drama about sexual abuse and power dynamics in China. Writer and director Vivian Qu shifts between the lives of two young women — the older teenager who witnesses the crime, Mia (Wen Qi), and one of the 12-year-old victims, Wen (Zhou Meijun) — in telling this challenging story that refuses to provide the conventional crime narrative catharsis of a Law & Order episode. Though pushy cops, shady businessmen, and low-rent criminals populate the film, Qu’s curious camera remains focussed on her vulnerable, searching protagonists. It’s thoughtful, unflashy filmmaking executed on a high level.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Amazon Prime; rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

the death of stalin
IFC Films

22. The Death of Stalin

Released: March 9
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin
Director: Armando Iannucci (In the Loop)
Why it’s great: The verbose, scatological insult comedy of Iannucci, the creator of HBO’s long-running political satire Veep, somehow fits the backroom dealing of 1950s Soviet Union like a snug fur hat. When Stalin dies in the middle of the night, his middling underlings — including Nikita Khrushchev (Buscemi) Georgy Malenkov (Tambor), and Vyacheslav Molotov (Palin) — are left with organizing his state funeral and scurrying to consolidate power. The put-down’s are as riotously funny as you’d expect — “You smell like rendered horse, you burning asshole!” deserves a ceremonial medal —  but the silly physical comedy, particularly in the early scenes where the men discover Stalin’s corpse, is even better. Iannucci remains a master of finding humor in the bleakest scenarios imaginable, exposing the petty human foibles behind history’s greatest horrors.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

shoplifters movie
GAGA Pictures

21. Shoplifters

Released: November 23
Cast: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Mayu Matsuoka, Sosuke Ikematsu
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda (After the Storm)
Why it’s great: The bonds that tie together makeshift families are the subject of Shoplifters, a moving and lyrical tale of economic struggle on the margins in Tokyo. We meet the rouge-like patriarch Osamu Shibata (Franky) in an opening scene where a young child, wide-eyed and curious, serves as the accomplice in a small-scale act of thievery at a grocery store. The two communicate through subtle nonverbal cues, almost like dancers performing a choreographed routine. From there, director Hirokazu Kore-eda expands the scope of the story, introducing the viewer to other family members and sketching out the broader social order of the community, one where money, safety, and dignity are secured through constantly shifting legal and illegal means. We spend time with them at their jobs and in their moments of private joy, sharing meals and intimate exchanges. Eventually, the obscured dynamics and tangled histories between the characters begin to unfurl and the movie becomes a mystery of sorts, one where the clues are buried in the small details of domestic life.
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

sollers point movie
Oscilloscope Laboratories

20. Sollers Point

Released: May 18
Cast: McCaul Lombardi, Jim Belushi, Zazie Beetz, Tom Guiry
Director: Matthew Porterfield (Putty Hill)
Why it’s great: There’s a great deal of tension in Sollers Point, an unassuming drama about a quiet young man name Keith (American Honey’s Lombardi) returning to his life in Baltimore following a stint in prison, but the sense of unease comes entirely from the characters. That’s a rare quality in stories about ex-cons, which often rely on plot contrivances and explosive situations to generate suspense. Keith’s hardly stable foundation, which he rebuilt with the help of his distant father (Belushi), could collapse at any moment and his relationship to the larger community around him, which Porterfield captures with such sensitivity and specificity, oscillates between comfort and anxiety. Keith moves from welcoming backyards to cavernous strip-clubs to the back of a coffin-like van, pulled by a combination of impulse, obligation, and pure curiosity. Similarly, the movie holds your attention by staying focussed on Lombardi’s piercing eyes. Where they go, you follow.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Amazon Prime; rent on iTunes, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

shirkers movie
Netflix

19. Shirkers

Released: October 26
Director: Sandi Tan
Why it’s great: Shirkers is the type of vibrant, invigorating documentary that offers up different ways to think about it as you watch it. In carefully dissecting her own past as a teenage filmmaking rebel in Singapore during the early ’90s, director and star Sandi Tan constructs a movie that works as an intimate memoir of adolescent ambition, a mini cultural history of a highly specific strand of indiedom, a cunning meditation on female friendship, and an unnerving mystery of artistic theft. Which part is most interesting? The question of why an older male collaborator helped her make a feature film — also named Shirkers — and then stole the footage they shot gives the story a true-crime-podcast-ey hook, but the best part is that Tan doesn’t make you choose one idea. She blends her themes, her characters, and her insights with the skills of a clearly brilliant filmmaker, which only makes the creative betrayal at the center all the more devastating.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

first man movie
Universal Pictures

18. First Man

Released: October 5
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Corey Stoll, Kyle Chandler
Director: Damien Chazelle (La La Land)
Why it’s great: In his last two movies, the pummelling drumming character study Whiplash and the archly romantic musical La La Land, director Damien Chazelle explored the emotional sacrifices artists must make for their work. His latest, a flame-kissed Neil Armstrong biopic starring a tightly coiled Gosling as the mythical moonwalker, is similarly a film about emotional repression and simmering male anger, but this time the canvas is bigger. (Literally: The movie switches to IMAX mode when Armstrong and crew hit the surface of the big rock.) Chazelle’s cold approach to examining individuals with an unhealthy work-life balance has often felt overwrought to me, but here, with Gosling stoically burying his feelings in pursuit of celestial glory, he’s launched himself into a different artistic stratosphere. The flight sequences are visceral; the domestic scenes are no less tense. Rejecting the “science the shit out of it” triumphalism of The Martian, this is a movie that doesn’t attempt to explain away the terror, confusion, or loneliness of space travel. Instead it places the viewer in the maelstrom.
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

private life movie
Netflix

17. Private Life

Released: October 5
Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Paul Giamatti, Kayli Carter, Molly Shannon
Director: Tamara Jenkins (The Savages)
Why it’s great: Over a decade since the release of her last dark comedy, The Savages, writer and director Tamara Jenkins is back with a sprawling movie in the same vein: more hyper-verbal jerks you can’t help but love. (In one of the movie’s many perfect throwaway lines, a character describes a quiet breakfast as “like an ad for assholes.”) Richard (Giamatti) and Rachel (Hahn) are a Manhattan-dwelling couple who have spent the last few years attempting to have a baby with little success. When we meet them, they’re already in the grips of fertility mania, willing to try almost anything to secure the offspring they think they desire. With all the details about injections, side effects, and pricey medical procedures, the movie functions as a taxonomy of modern pregnancy anxieties, and Hahn brings each part of the process to glorious life. If you’ve only seen her as a comedic force in the Bad Moms movies, prepare to be blown away by her here. Eventually, the pair recruits 25-year-old college dropout Sadie (Carter), the step-daughter of Richard’s brother, to serve as an egg donor. Soon, they form their own unconventional family united by feelings of inadequacy and hope for the future. While it’s easy to praise the writing of such a self-consciously literary work — this is probably the only movie you’ll ever see that uses a Karl Ove Knausgård cover as a sight gag — Private Life stands out because of the images Jenkins so carefully renders. The final shot, which features a moment of silence after over two hours of near constant chatter, is one you won’t forget.  
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix (watch the trailer)

support the girls
Magnolia Pictures

16. Support the Girls

Released: August 24
Cast: Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson, Shayna McHayle, James Le Gros
Director: Andrew Bujalski (Results)
Why it’s great: The tacky world of the “breastaurant” might sound like an odd fit for former “mumblecore” auteur Bujalski, one of the premiere chroniclers of mid ’00s social alienation, but the movie’s family-friendly establishment Double Whammies ends up being the perfect staging ground for a funny, whip-smart comedy about labor and friendship. Put-upon manger Lisa (a brilliant Hall) has a watchful, caring eye as she looks after the younger women who work for her, serving as the negotiator between them and a large roster of rowdy customers, crappy boyfriends, and boorish authority figures. Hall embodies that kindness and generosity — you’ll wish she was your boss — but she also shows you the emotional toll the work takes on her in the moments when her impressionable mentees aren’t around. Simply put, the rat race is wearing her down. As a writer, Bujalski can satirize corporate jargon like Mike Judge, but he has a more humanistic, less misanthropic approach as a director, framing shots in a way that gives the actors room to interact and develop a natural intimacy in the workplace. Similarly, Hall gives a more complex, nuanced performance than you’ll see on your average workplace sitcom. 
Where to see it right now: In select theaters; rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

Zama movie
Strand Releasing

15. Zama

Released: April 13
Cast: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Lola Dueñas, Matheus Nachtergaele, Juan Minujín
Director: Lucrecia Martel (The Headless Woman)
Why it’s great: Based on a 1956 novel by Argentinian writer Antonio di Benedetto, this poetically-rendered 18th century historical drama displays a wry understanding of how colonial power functions. Don Diego de Zama (Cacho) is an administrator for Spain’s imperial interests, stationed in Paraguay, but he’s always looking for a way out. To where? He’s not entirely sure, and Martel wrings many bone-dry laughs out of his bumbling misadventures, which she frames with a surreal touch. (A shot late in the movie of a boat moving through green water looks like an image from a science-fiction film.) Like Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, Zama uses irony to achieve mysterious (and occasionally maddening) moments of profundity. You don’t always have a strong sense of where the story is going; instead, confusion becomes an essential part of the narrative’s oddly enchanting, dream-like rhythm.  
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

black panther 2018
Marvel Studios

14. Black Panther

Released: February 16
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira
Director: Ryan Coogler (Creed)
Why it’s great: Coogler’s deft balancing of a high-tech spy gadgetry, ceremonial palace intrigue, fantasy action mayhem, and subversive political critique is unparalleled in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe that Black Panther springs from. In the same way Creed, his propulsive and knowing reboot of the Rocky franchise, paid tribute to and upended boxing iconography, Coogler’s take on superhero-dom is both pleasing and probing. Basically, he’s got Soundcloud jokes, rhino battles, and takes on imperialism. The larger ideological conflict between the new king T’Challa (Boseman) and the American revolutionary Killmonger (Jordan) has been seen before in the pages of history books and comics, but it’s never been given this type of eye-popping, brain-scrambling, heart-pounding blockbuster treatment.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Netflix; rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube(watch the trailer)

Madeline's Madeline
Oscilloscope Laboratories

13. Madeline’s Madeline

Released: August 10
Cast: Helena Howard, Miranda July, Molly Parker, Curtiss Cook
Director: Josephine Decker (Butter on the Latch)
Why it’s great: A movie as formally audacious as Madeline’s Madeline makes you notice how safe most indie films are. From a plot and theme perspective, the tension-filled parental dynamic between Madeline (Howard) and her mother (July) isn’t that different from other strained family dramas, but the way Decker dives into the story is completely, utterly unique. The roving camera and frenzied sound design bring you into Madeline’s troubled mental state, while the presence of a gifted theater director (Parker) who becomes obsessed with Madeline as a performer further complicates the material, turning the movie into a meta-criticism of itself. Who has the right to tell whose story? Can art ever truly capture interior life? What’s the difference between sense and nonsense? These are urgent, difficult questions that the movie doesn’t claim to have answers to. It sounds dense and demanding — and, honestly, it is at times — but the poetic approach is also exhilarating. You get caught up in the whirlwind of sights and sounds. It occasionally recalls Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life, but Decker is even more willing to chase the unknown. Don’t be afraid to follow her.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Amazon Prime; rent on iTunes, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

annihilation movie 2018
Paramount Pictures

12. Annihilation

Released: February 23
Cast: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson
Director: Alex Garland (Ex Machina)
Why it’s great: Writer Jeff VanderMeer’s hallucinogenic, Kafka-like science-fiction novel proves to be fertile ground for filmmaker Alex Garland in this unsettling and surreal adaptation. Garland doesn’t stick to the book’s plot but he keeps the core concept: A team of women, including Portman’s grief-stricken biology professor, venture into a quarantined territory of Florida known only as “Area X” to investigate a series of unexplained phenomena and disappearances. The journey quickly turns perilous and it becomes clear that group won’t make it out alive. Working in the same white-knuckle register as John Carpenter’s The Thing, the movie unnerves and stuns in equal measure. Refusing to provide the type of puzzle-box solutions viewers have been trained to look for, Garland leaves us with psychedelic images: grotesque animal hybrids stalking their prey, quizzical humans transforming into flowers, and shiny doubles performing interpretative dance moves. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it dares to dream in a language we can’t quite comprehend. 
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

mission impossible fallout
Paramount Pictures

11. Mission: Impossible — Fallout

Released: July 27
Cast: Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson
Director: Christopher McQuarrie (The Way of the Gun)
Why it’s great: As Tom Cruise’s stardom has plateaued in recent years, with recent movies like The Mummy and American Made failing to connect on a broader cultural level, the celebration of the Mission: Impossible franchise has only intensified. It feels like audiences have collectively decided this is how they want their TC: jumping out a plane, running across the roof of a building, or hanging off the side of a cliff. Honestly, fair enough! While Mission: Impossible — Fallout isn’t the best entry in the super-spy series — my vote goes to Brad Bird’s dazzling Ghost Protocol or Brian de Palma’s thrilling 1996 original — it has a keen sense of history, a wry sense of humor, and a handful of breath-taking set-pieces. (The bathroom fight and the helicopter chase share top honors.) McQuarrie, the first director to return for a second M:I adventure after handling 2015’s Rogue Nation, is a skilled action craftsman, and, despite a 147 minute runtime, Fallout never loses momentum. It sends you hurtling out of the theater in search of similar highs. Too bad so few modern blockbusters can even breathe at the same altitude.
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

leave no trace movie
Bleecker Street

10. Leave No Trace

Released: June 29
Cast: Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie
Director: Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone)
Why it’s great: Anyone who read Hatchet or My Side of the Mountain in elementary school probably once dreamed of living off the land. The survivalist impulse, a desire to ditch one’s worldly possessions and live a simpler life in the wilderness, is a deeply ingrained American ideal, one that’s still taught to children despite the fundamental role technology plays in modern life. Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace, her first fictional feature since Winter’s Bone, digs deep into the darker side of that fantasy by telling the story of Will (Foster) and Thom (McKenzie), a father-daughter duo who live in the mountains near Portland, Oregon. Though the backstories are kept to a minimum, certain details emerge: Will is a veteran and Thom’s mother died a long time ago. They only have each other — and the forest around them. But they can’t keep society at bay forever, and eventually Will is arrested for living on public land and the pair are sent to live in a house on a Christmas-tree farm, where Thom grows to like having a roof over her head and befriends a bunny named Chainsaw. Will can’t adjust. Soon the pair are on the road again, hitching rides and marching through the cold woods. A process oriented filmmaker, Granik shoots their perilous journey with a combination of awe and skepticism, capturing the beauty of the natural world and the danger of life on the margins. Even if you can’t imagine living without wi-fi, you’ll understand the bond between Will and Thom. “Where do you live? Where’s your home?” a stranger asks Thom late in the movie. Her brief response captures this film’s profound emotional appeal: “My dad.”
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer

Monrovia Indiana
Zipporah Films

9. Monrovia, Indiana

Released: October 26
Director: Frederick Wiseman (Ex Libris)
Why it’s great: At the age of 88, Frederick Wiseman knows how to make a Frederick Wiseman documentary. He chooses a subject, typically a specific location or a larger social system, and he observes the people there; once he’s collected enough footage, he edits it into a series of scenes that play off each other in poetic and thematically resonant ways. They often have a hypnotic quality, playing more like a piece of ambient music than the explainer-ey documentaries that populate your Netflix homepage or Facebook feed. Still, no Wiseman is the same: Compared to the almost utopian sense of hope emanating off his previous film Ex Libris, which examined the New York Public Library, Monrovia, Indiana is bleak. It begins with a Bible study conversation about life’s “tribulations” and ends with a body being lowered into the ground; in between, you learn more about this small town through its tattoo parlor, restaurants, and its local bureaucracy. (Wiseman loves a good planning meeting.) Yes, the movie demands concentration, but it also invites your mind to wander and encourages curiosity. Instead of insisting that this Midwestern town is a microcosm for a larger political or social idea, he arrives at larger truths by burrowing into the smallness of life.
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

Sorry to Bother You movie
PETER PRATO / ANNAPURNA PICTURES

8. Sorry to Bother You

Released: July 6
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Jermaine Fowler, Armie Hammer
Director: Boots Riley
Why it’s great: In the music he made as a member of the Oakland hip-hop group The Coup, Boots Riley displayed a gift for tackling big, provocative ideas about politics, labor, inequality, and race with wit and nerve. It’s unsurprising that Sorry to Bother You, the bracing comedy he wrote and directed about telemarketer Cassius Green (Stanfield) using his “white voice” to climb the corporate ladder, would pack a similar punch. What’s perhaps surprising — and, on a deeper level, inspiring — is that audiences are responding to the film’s anti-capitalistic message and its Putney Swope-like jabs with nods of recognition and cheers of encouragement. While the surreal visual sensibility of the film recalls a string of indie hits of the 00s, particularly the freewheeling work of Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, those movies were often content to wallow in emotional solipsism. Eternal Sunshine was about climbing in your own brain; Sorry to Bother You is about reaching out into the world around you and shaking it up. Riley’s wickedly funny, tonally adventurous story is prescriptive. It’s a brilliant satire, but it’s also a blueprint.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

burning
CGV Arthouse

7. Burning

Released: October 26
Cast: Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun, Jeon Jong-seo
Director: Lee Chang-dong (Poetry)
Why it’s great: Some mysteries simmer; this one smolders. In his adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story, writer and director Lee Chang-dong includes many elements of the acclaimed author’s slyly mischievous style — cats, jazz, cooking, and an alienated male writer protagonist all pop up — but he also invests the material with his own dark humor, stray references to contemporary news, and an unyielding sense of curiosity. We follow aimless aspiring novelist Lee Jong-su (Yoo Ah-in) as he reconnects with Shin Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo), a young woman he grew up with, but the movie never lets you get too comfortable in one scene or setting. When Yeun’s Ben, a handsome rich guy with a beautiful apartment and a passion for burning down greenhouses, appears, the film shifts to an even more tremulous register. Can Ben be trusted? Yeun’s performance is perfectly calibrated to entice and confuse, like he’s a suave, pyromaniac version of Tyler Durden. Each frame keeps you guessing.
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

mandy movie
RLJE Films

6. Mandy

Released: September 14
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Bill Duke
Director: Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow)
Why it’s great: Mandy features Nicolas Cage doing the following things: guzzling booze straight from the bottle, snorting coke off a shard of broken glass, and lighting a cigarette with a flaming severed head. Each act of chemical-assisted self-destruction serves as an apt metaphor for what watching this mesmerizing, psychedelic freak-out of a movie feels like. For his follow-up to 2010’s sci-fi retro-pastiche Beyond the Black Rainbow, Cosmatos casts Cage as Red, a lumberjack living in the Pacific Northwest circa 1983. When his beloved wife Mandy (Riseborough) is murdered by a Manson-like cult and some mutant bikers, Red sets off on a path to revenge. What sounds like stock post-Tarantino premise — the movie’s plot isn’t dissimilar from Kill Bill, John Wick, or Mad Max — ends up being a trapdoor into something far funnier, stranger, and haunting than it appears. How bizarre does it get? At one point, everything pauses for a goblin-themed macaroni commercial, and you won’t even blink. Structured like an LP, with side A lulling you into an ethereal dream-state and side B launching into a series of violent nightmares, the film is destined to be picked over by blood-thirsty action devotees and theory-equipped academic eggheads. (The inherent tension between hippies and heavy metal fans has never been more artfully explored.) But it’s not all cult cinema references, ’80s kitsch, and vintage band t-shirts. Cage’s unhinged performance, which takes on an operatic quality in the bonkers final third, gives the story a much needed emotional depth. You leave completely drained. Baptized in fire. Ready to ride the lightning again.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

widows
20th Century Fox

5. Widows

Released: November 16
Cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo
Director: Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
Why it’s great: Theft powers the moral universe of daily Chicago life we see in Widows: innocent lives are snuffed out by gunfire; public resources are funnelled through nefarious means; land rites and business arrangements are finessed by ruthless violence and political favor-trading; and, to top it off, there’s a carefully planned heist at the center of the story. Some characters, like Colin Farrell’s oily alderman candidate, are motivated by pride; others, like Cynthia Erivo’s babysitter-turned-getaway-driver, by economic scarcity. Occasionally, it feels like McQueen, an exacting stylist capable of turning scenes of rote exposition into clever examinations of race and class, is more interested in exploring the larger moral questions than the relationships or the genre details. To put it lightly, he has a heavy touch. But the makeshift gang formed by former teachers union rep Veronica Rawlings (Davis) after her master thief husband (Liam Neeson) is killed in a robbery-gone-wrong is a joy to root for and the script, which McQueen adapted from an ’80s British television series with novelist Gillian Flynn, is tricked out with pulpy flourishes, genuinely surprising plot twists, and caustic wit to spare. In an era of over-praised TV series that could afford to lose an episode (or eight), this sprawling and tough-minded crime saga knows just how to get out when the heat is around the corner.  
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

First reformed
A24

4. First Reformed

Released: May 18
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles, Victoria Hill
Director: Paul Schrader (Dog Eat Dog)
Why it’s great: With this austere story of a pastor suffering a crisis of faith, writer and director Paul Schrader is back in familiar territory: His most acclaimed work as a screenwriter, 1976’s Taxi Driver, was a violent, disturbing portrait of a man consumed with guilt, rage, and indignation at the state of the world. First Reformed, which finds Hawke’s troubled man of the cloth Toller advising a young environmental activist and eventually becoming obsessed with his righteous cause, examines ideas Schrader has returned to over and over, but it’s shot and edited in a more controlled, restrained stylistic register than his previous movies. He’s using the toolkit he first studied as a critic in his book, Transcendental Style in Film, applying the approach of masters like Robert Bresson and Theodor Dreyer to contemporary anxieties, obsessions, and debates. It’s a movie that seeks to, in Schrader’s own words, “maximize the mystery of existence” and it accomplishes its mission with rigor and, in its final moments, shocking power.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Amazon Prime; rent on iTunes, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

the rider movie 2018
Sony Pictures Classics

3. The Rider

Released: April 13
Cast: Brady Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Cat Clifford
Director: Chloé Zhao (Songs That My Brothers Taught Me)
Why it’s great: The gritty authenticity of The Rider, which casts real-life horse wrangler Brady Jandreau as an injured rodeo star trying to find his second act, is perfectly balanced by a yearning poetic quality that never feels cloying or manipulative. Zhao’s camera captures Jandreau, his family, and his friends in moments of pain, contemplation, and relaxation, treating a trip to a treatment center or a shared joint with the same degree of curiosity. Everything matters and has weight in this study of masculinity and ego. It’s a naturalistic vision of the West that’s grounded in specific details, like the slow-and-steady work of breaking a horse. At the same time, Zhao gives the movie an almost old-fashioned sports movie narrative: Will Brady, a gifted and young athlete, ever ride again? If he doesn’t follow his dreams, what remains? Why keep going? These are questions that gather existential power with each seemingly low-stakes scene.
Where to see it right now: Rent on iTunes, Amazon Video, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

if beale street could talk
Annapurna Pictures

2. If Beale Street Could Talk

Released: December 14
Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Teyonah Parris
Director: Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)
Why it’s great: The close-ups of faces in If Beale Street Could Talk, director Barry Jenkins’s adaptation of the James Baldwin novel of the same name, feel like they have the power to stop time. The eyes stare back at you, the music swells, and the world drops away. That makes sense since the couple in the film’s story, Tish (Layne) and Fonny (James), are so in love, so connected on a deep level, that their relationship serves as a bulwark against institutional racism and familial forces that attempt to keep them apart. But the empathy of the movie’s gaze doesn’t just extend to the two stars at its center: In thrilling, tantalizing detours we spend time with Tish’s watchful mother (King) and Fonny’s old friend (Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry). These wounded, wise characters build out the larger world of early 1970s Harlem, one filled with wonder and cruelty, that Jenkins is evoking. It’s a rigorously enveloping, surprisingly funny film that rivals recent period dramas like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread and Todd Haynes’s Carol in its resplendent beauty and insight into the psychological turmoil of desire. 
Where to see it right now: In theaters (watch the trailer)

You Were Never Really Here movie 2018
Amazon Studios

1. You Were Never Really Here

Released: April 6
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alex Manette, John Doman
Director: Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin)
Why it’s great: You’ve seen hitman movies, but you’ve never seen Lynne Ramsay’s hitman movie. The Scottish director, who many first discovered with 2002’s elliptical nightlife odyssey Morvern Callar, can take a John Wick-ian premise and invest it with new meaning by reframing it from an askew angle. This crime story, adapted from a novella by Bored to Death writer Jonathan Ames, is about an ex-soldier named Joe (Phoenix) who finds himself tasked with recovering a kidnapped girl amidst a sinister political conspiracy involving human trafficking. The tone of creeping dread and fixation on violent revenge recalls Taxi Driver, last year’s X-Men shoot-em-up Logan, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive or Only God Forgives; there should be nothing new to see here. What makes it so special? Between Phoenix’s muted performance, Jonny Greenwood’s string-drenched score, and Ramsay’s expressive jump-cuts, every image crackles with energy, style, and possibility. It’s a death-obsessed movie vibrating with life.
Where to see it right now: Stream on Amazon Prime; rent on iTunes, VUDU, and YouTube (watch the trailer)

First published at thrilllist.com 13 December 2018

See: https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/best-movies-of-2018

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment.

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