Ben Pearson's Top 10 Movies Of 2018

2018 felt more like a warped decade than a normal 365 day span, but at least the movies that came out last year were pretty damn great. Over the next few days, Team /Film will be counting down our favorite films of the last twelve months. The fact that films like Free Solo, Destroyer, Paddington 2, Lizzie, and Black Panther ended up in my honorable mentions when they could form a respectable top 5 on their own speaks to the overall quality of the year at the movies. But enough preamble: let's get to my top 10 films of 2018.

Ben Pearson's Top 10 Films of 2018

10. A Quiet Place

A high-concept premise with practically flawless execution, A Quiet Place resonated with audiences early last year for good reason: in a time when the effort of going out to the movie theater can be more of a burden than a pleasure, this movie made that trip truly worthwhile. The way co-writer/director/star John Krasinski played with sound, weaponizing one of the medium's primary elements, was brilliant. And while the alien story can feel slightly clunky at times, I ultimately found it to be a moving family drama with a strong sense of world-building and some powerful performances from Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, and Noah Jupe (I normally can't stand child actors, but those two were on point here).

9. First Reformed

A small church standing against the winter wind. Bright pink Pepto Bismol swirling into a glass of brown liquor. Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried's characters going on a special trip together. These moments from writer/director Paul Schrader's First Reformed have stayed with me for months, but they pale in comparison to the long conversation between Hawke's Reverend Toller and Philip Etttinger's environmentalist character Michael, in which the two debate the idea of whether or not it's responsible to bring a child into this world when the effects of climate change will continue to get worse. It's a movie about belief and action, about careful consideration and the consequences of despair. Hawke has never been better, and he's been undervalued for so long that his performance alone should convince you to seek this one out if you haven't seen it yet.

8. Blindspotting

Even if Blindspotting weren't very good, it would be notable for providing the first starring role for Hamilton's Daveed Diggs, who is almost certainly going to go on to have a huge career in Hollywood. And actually, the movie isn't very good – it's great. It's an emotional, funny, and harrowing character study of a black Oakland resident (Diggs) whose white best friend (Rafael Casal, who wrote the script with Diggs) makes it incredibly difficult to stay on the right side of the law during the final days of his probation. The movie tackles serious topics like racial injustice and gentrification, and while some of those moments can get pretty heavy (Diggs' face as he grapples with the memory of seeing an unarmed black man shot in front of him seems to carry the weight of the whole damn world), the film is also unexpectedly laugh-out-loud funny. Several movies were "movie of the moment" contenders last year, but if I was handing out that crown, Blindspotting would have taken it home.

7. Sorry to Bother You

Sorry to Bother You may be the most exciting movie of 2018 because it reveals the potential of writer/director Boots Riley, a musician/activist-turned-filmmaker who instantly proved to be one of the most interesting new voices in his field. Riley's debut movie is full of big ideas, most of which are presented in a way we've never seen before. It's also jammed with excellent characters who give stellar actors the chance to shine...what's not to like? The film is admittedly a little shaggy at times, but its flaws are easily forgiven because Riley's passion, anger, and creativity are so clearly baked into every frame. In a sea of indie movies that can often feel similar to each other, Sorry to Bother You is defiantly, unapologetically unconventional.

6. Hereditary

Hereditary is profoundly unsettling, masterfully crafted, and scary as hell. I don't normally love horror movies, but I am absolutely here for this one. Ari Aster's debut movie is a meditation on grief that features a career-best performance from Toni Collette, who is unbelievably good as a mother whose family begins to fall apart after her own mom's death. There are some staggering reveals to be found here, and the way Aster builds to those moments with increasingly upsetting imagery is a perfect example of how to create tension. Some people will scoff at this movie or write it off entirely simply because it's a horror film or because it traffics in the supernatural. Do not make the mistake of being one of those people.

5. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Fallout is a miracle. It's one of the best action movies of the decade, with unforgettable stunts and top-tier set-pieces, and it's also the rare sixth installment in a long-running film series that is somehow better than its predecessor. I love the way this franchise continues to evolve and reckon with the events of previous movies without getting bogged down in labyrinthine mythology, how the relationship between Ethan Hunt and Ilsa Faust has taken its time to come to fruition, and how Henry Cavill stepped into this world as if he was born to play a hulking, backstabbing traitor who faces off against Tom Cruise. If you loved this movie, I'd highly recommend listening to the Empire Film podcast's epic series of interviews with writer/director Chris McQuarrie about how it was made, which will convince you that McQuarrie is simultaneously a legitimate genius and one of the craziest people to ever make a movie on this scale. This is the ideal version of blockbuster summer tentpole entertainment.

4. Searching

I've been singing this movie's praises at every opportunity since I saw it at last year's Sundance Film Festival, and my love for Searching has only increased since that first viewing. This is one of 2018's most innovative films, and aside from being a technical marvel, it's buoyed by a phenomenal script which gave John Cho the chance to prove that he's leading man material. The execution here is off the charts – there were so many opportunities to screw up a movie that takes place entirely on computer screens, but writer/director Aneesh Chaganty made it look easy. I can't wait to see what he does outside of these creative constraints.

3. If Beale Street Could Talk

Directors are presented with thousands of decisions to make every day they're on a film set, and it seems as if Barry Jenkins makes the right one every time. He has a special way of creating empathy for his characters through his camerawork (even Paul Thomas Anderson says he's jealous of Jenkins' close-ups), and he's in a rare group of American filmmakers who aren't shy about depicting sensuality on screen. If Beale Street Could Talk mixes that luscious imagery and sensuality with an unfortunately timely portrayal of the black experience in America (despite the fact that the film is a period piece). The cast, led by fresh faces Stephan James and Kiki Layne, is aces, we should all bow down to Regina King, and the movie's centerpiece scene – story time with Brian Tyree Henry – is one of the most haunting stretches of cinema this year. Bonus: Nicholas Britell's score is the best movie score of 2018, with its emotional love theme and triumphant trumpets painting even the most devastating experiences with a tinge of hope.

2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse may have been the biggest film-related surprise of 2018 for me. I was looking forward to seeing what this filmmaking team could do with an animated Spider-Man movie, but I couldn't have anticipated it being this good – not only the best Spider-Man movie ever made, but arguably the best superhero movie thus far. Yes, it's spectacular to look at, but it would just be an empty style exercise without its hilarious, creative, inspiring, and joyous script, one that offsets its expositional heavy lifting with characters we genuinely care about and jaw-dropping action scenes that never feel too unwieldy for them. It's a film about identity, about the types of myth-making stories we tell and how those stories no longer have to be about one specific type of person. More like this, please.

1. Annihilation

No other movie affected me last year as much as Annihilation, writer/director Alex Garland's mind-bending opus into self-destruction. While this film's narrative is fascinating – a group of women head into The Shimmer, a mysterious bubble that's slowly expanding and threatening to consume the world – Garland is much more concerned with how the movie makes you feel. There are disturbing moments (that bear screaming with a human voice remains just as unsettling long after my initial viewing) and quietly beautiful ones (Tessa Thompson's character giving herself up to The Shimmer) as it builds towards that unforgettable climax, a visually stunning chunk of storytelling that operates on a primal, metaphysical level. It's the type of bold, confident filmmaking that's all too rare in modern studio movies.