In the past, I’ve just thrown up lists of every movie I saw for the first time in a year, but this year I decided to be more selective and really think about which films have left an impression on me in the long term or had a viewing experience that is quintessentially 2018. With that in mind, I’ve narrowed it down to fifteen films and come up with some rules:
- The film must have been watched in 2018, but need not be released in this year.
- I’ll write a short statement about why this made my favorite list.
- If a film is missing that you think should be on the list, please remember maybe I saw it and chose not to put it on the list, or haven’t seen it yet. These are my personal choices.
Let’s get started!
- The Wicker Man (1973). I love this bizarre and wonderful horror film that shouldn’t work but does in so many ways. Not only is it a musical, but it’s also an intense slow burn mystery, a well-known staple of the folk horror subgenre, and one of Christopher Lee’s best performances. The music is great and the weird elements are so appropriate for the tone the film is going for. The final plot twist—even if you know it’s coming—is so intense and earned and amazing.
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). I’m a fan of the 1956 Don Siegel version as well, but this remake brings its own updates to the classic pod people story. There are a lot of great performances—notably from Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, and Jeff Goldblum—and it takes the small town horror of the original to the big city. I think the use of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes in a later scene in the film is really what sold me. The ending is so iconic and I love how it kept me guessing till the end.
- Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). Breakups and vampires suck, and somehow the two meld together in this dramatic comedy from Jason Segal that hits so many of the right notes. You’ve got the moping in the apartment while listening to Sinead O’Connor and the binge drinking, but eventually things getting better and life goes on. There are great performances from the entire familiar cast, and it’s a relatable story at its heart even if a lot of the elements are blown up for comedic effect.
- The Devil’s Candy (2015). At first, I only watched this film to make sure it wasn’t too similar to a short story I was writing—good news it’s not—and I found a hard-rocking, heart-racing film about parenthood, painting, and possession. The performances from Ethan Embry and Kiara Glasco are the center of the film, and it’s their tight-knit relationship as father and daughter united by metal music and a bit of outsider status that make me fear and root for things to work when things begin to go wrong. This is also a film that can be interpreted in a variety of ways which I love. It’s colorful and gorgeous and the climax involves some violence with a Flying V.
- Don’t Breathe (2016). I’m a big mad that I waited so long to watch this one. The long pan shot at the beginning stole my soul and then slowly gave it back through various pay-offs. I love the ways this film subverts expectations and digs new lows and makes you question exactly who you should root for (if anyone?). The cinematography does a lot of nice work at building tension and there are some decent character moments. I actually did find myself holding my breath at several moments so the title is true.
- The Ritual (2017). I’ve low-key had my eye on this film since it debuted in the UK so when it premiered on Netflix here I was on it. And I found a nuanced film about grief and trauma, and one of the best creature designs of the past few years. While it did take a while to build up in a Blair Witch Project way to a mind-bending climax, I thought it ended up being earned. In the end, I find this film to be a nice addition to folk horror and I’m all for creepy things in the woods.
- Coco (2017). My reasons for missing this film were stupid and I’ve now watched it multiple times and it’s one of my favorite Pixar films period. I love the music, the animation, the story and characters, and watching it this year with everything that’s happened makes that final “Remember Me” and the ending bittersweet every single time.
- Black Panther (2018). I was excited when all the hype for this film paid off in every way imaginable. The writing was incredible, the plot was great, the action scenes were slick, and—oh my god—the costumes were gorgeous. I immediately went out and bought the soundtrack and listened to it on repeat. Then I got to watch the movie again for class in the fall and talk about it so what’s not to love?
- Annihilation (2018). If you’re still sleeping on this film, why? It’s a fantastical, horrific, scientific journey into mystery that will bend and break your mind in the best ways. I also think it’s one of the few novel adaptations I’ve seen that goes in a different direction than the source material, but keeps the soul of the original in a way that elevates what it’s trying to do without losing anything. The cinematography and images are gorgeous, the horror is either low key terrifying or unbearably scary, and there are amazing performances from the mainly female cast.
- Avengers: Infinity War (2018). I contemplated not putting this on my list because I do have many bones to pick with this not-quite-a-movie, but…I will never forget the experiences Infinity War gave me this year. All the hype leading up to the movie, all the memes and theories ever since, the feeling of my heart racing with all the non-stop action, the trauma of watching everyone I’ve cared about disappear before my eyes…Nothing in cinemas quite compared this year.
- Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018). After the trauma of Infinity War, this film was like a breath of fresh, laughing air. Paul Rudd is a treasure. It’s one of the few films I saw more than once in theaters this year and I was still amused each time by the familiar antics. The heists were larger and I liked that it had a relatable female villain rather than a larger than life male villain like Thanos. Plus, it was nice to see some women kicking ass.
- Mama Mia! Here We Go Again (2018). I was a moody teenager when I saw Mama Mia and pretended that I didn’t like it. Now, I’m an adult with little shame and I can freely admit that this movie was pure fun. That’s it. It’s junk food, too much wine, pure pandering to vodka aunts and the gays but that’s what we need and there is no shame in that! Give us ABBA songs and fun choreography and beautiful Lily James sleeping her way through Europe. And the ending just has me tearing up every time. And Cher is a delight. Just let me have my fun.
- Crazy Rich Asians (2018). There is so much to love about this film: the acting, the music, the costumes, the set, etc. Sure, the overall story is a bit traditional rom-com, but we rarely get to see Asian approaches to romance and that’s what makes it refreshing and unique. Every scene lends itself toward the overall story; I feel like there’s rarely a wasted moment. And there are so many scenes that make me tear up. Do I understand why the pure excess of the wedding makes me cry every time? No, but I love it.
- Apostle (2018). Dan Stevens is a man of few words in this folk horror. That’s fine, because the cinematography and suspense do plenty of talking in this taut film that touches on religion, cults, and addiction in the early 20th century. There’s a lot of mystery going on and director Gareth Evans unspools the answers slowly with an eye toward small details. When the film does decide to go crazy it just lets go and you’ve got murder, brain splatter, and fire everywhere.
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018). This is such a sweet film that makes its clichés work for it. Like, it’s a warm blanket and you’re just going to wrap up in its fabric and enjoy how it feels rather than go outside. The scenario of Lara Jean’s crushes accidentally receiving her love letters is like every teen girl’s nightmare, and then from there it follows many of our familiar hopes and trope-y paths. John Corbett does a good job of playing the dad, and I think there’s this nice balance between growing up, grieving, and learning to let people in that a lot of teen films don’t really deal with.
I’ve seen some great movies this year; hopefully 2019 will be another cinematic success.