Peter Sciretta’s Top 15 Movies of 2018

top 15 movies of 2018

2018 has come to a close and I have finally been willing to commit to a list of this year’s best movies. Unlike the rest of the /Film staff, I decided to post a top 15 instead of a top 10, and I’ll explain why. I don’t think this was a great year for movies, but it was a very good one. Many of the films in this list are on nearly equal footing. I recently went back and rated and ranked films through the last decade and a half, and that gives me some perspective. If you were to look at my ratings for these movies on my Letterboxd account, you would see a lot of four star films and only one 5 star movie – a rating that for me indicates near perfect film, something I will rewatch for years to come, worthy of a place in my favorites of all time.

While 2018 didn’t offer a lot of movies for that group, it does provide a lot of good ones, including some big films that you might have written off and some small films you might have never heard of. I hope this list provides you something to discover, and if not that, a small push to watch some of the titles that you had put off or overlooked.

mid90s

15. mid90s

2018 was somehow the year of skateboard movies, with mid90s, Skate Kitchen and Minding The Gap. All three of the films are very good, and if you haven’t seen them, I would recommend carving out a day to watch a triple feature in that exact order. mid90s is an impressive directorial debut from Jonah Hill and it is unlike anything you might expect from the comedy star. It’s a very small story, with mostly unknown actors. If you had told me this was a long lost Richard Linklater film from the ’90s, I might have believed you. That is the best compliment I can give it, as I love Linklater’s work.

The film follows a 13-year-old in ’90s Los Angeles, a summer where Stevie discovers a group of new friends in a skateboarding shop. I had a skateboard but never found the balance necessary to properly ride it. So while I was never a skater, I somehow found this film insanely relatable. While a lot of coming of age films are set against first love, I think they often miss the moment when someone finally finds his clan, his friends, an exterior family to call his own. mid90s is a bit gritty and grungy (it feels like an independent film from the Sundance boom) and its mixture of atmosphere and story and might lack the fast-paced structure that modern audiences are used to, but stick with it. I once directed a feature film called Escaping Reality which was about four friends on a road trip. It wasn’t a good movie, but watching Jonah Hill’s debut, I was amazed that while his film is so different from the one I tried to create, that his story and characters accomplished and said everything I attempted to with my film, but in a much better way.

The Director and The Jedi

14. The Director and the Jedi

This feature-length documentary was released on the home video of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but it made its premiere at SXSW. Sure, the film is about the making of a Star Wars film, but it’s not your typical studio-produced EPK making-of featurette. Filmmaker Anthony Wonke is a multiple BAFTA and Emmy award-winning director and was given unprecedented access to the production of a Star Wars movie. At the center of this story is Mark Hamill, an actor who is at odds with how writer/director Rian Johnson has decided to take the direction of the character he has been playing for decades. This is probably the most honest film we’ll get about the process of making a big budget blockbuster in modern times, and it’s filled with so many fun and interesting moments. If you’re a fan of the filmmaking process or Star Wars, this is a must watch.

Halloween 2018 Theme

13. Halloween

I grew up as a fan of Freddy Krueger and the Nightmare on Elm Street films, but I’ve never been a huge fan of the Halloween franchise. Don’t get me wrong, the original John Carpenter film is great, features some amazing horror iconography and has a fantastic score, but I was probably the least excited person on the /Film staff for this latest film…and somehow it has made it into my top 15 films of the year. It’s a Halloween film made by Halloween fans for Halloween fans, wisely choosing to wipe the slate clean and do a Legacyequel to the original classic. I like how this film subverts some of the expectations laid out by the slasher genre, that it’s at times a silly slasher film but it still attempts to say something deeper about the lasting effects of traumatic events. It may get a bit too silly for me, like the ridiculous set of circumstances to allow Michael to get back his entire classic outfit and the later turns involving the doctor. But at the end of the year, it’s one of the most fun times I had at the cinema.

the hate u give trailer

12. The Hate U Give

Based on the Angie Thomas novel of the same name, The Hate U Give is the story of Starr, a smart high school student who travels from her poor mostly black neighborhood to a rich, mostly white, prep school. She’s living two very different lives until the wrongful death of a longtime friend at the hands of a local police officer puts her in a compromising position. Sure, George Tillman Jr.’s film is a bit heavy handed with its message, but the story is filled with heart and packs a gripping emotional punch. For me the centerpiece of this film is the career-making performance from Amandla Stenberg – she will be an actress to watch in the years to come.

11. Game Night

I often remark that “I’m not a comedy guy,” which is a shorthand to say that I have a low tolerance for sitcoms and movies where the laughs are prioritized over the story and characters. But when an exceptional comedy comes around I’m the first to champion it. That said, it’s rare that a comedy makes my best of the year so when it does its something to take notice of. And this comedy, in particular, had an uphill battle for me. As a tabletop gamer with his own board game nights, this looked like it was created only to take advantage of the big board game boom we are in, but without any of the games people actually play at board game nights.

I was wrong. Game Night‘s script is so sharply written, filled with absurd but fun twists and turns. I absolutely love the back and forth between McAdams and Bateman in this film, and Jesse Plemons as the one guy no one wants to invite to game night yet somehow gets wrangled into the insane turn of events. I had so much fun in this movie, and it’s one of the few films on this list that I think I’ll be rewatching in the years to come. I was also very taken at the stylistic filmmaking that you typically don’t see in big studio comedies, in particular, a fun “one-shot” sequence that takes full advantage of this all-star cast in a very hilarious situation.

bumblebee trailer

10. Bumblebee

Some people have criticized Bumblebee for being too much like E.T. and The Iron Giant without adding much of its own to the mix, and that’s a valid criticism. But that didn’t bother me much because it emulates those classics so well. This is without a doubt the best Transformers film, and this is coming from a Michael Bay defender/apologist who enjoyed the first film a lot and found a lot to enjoy in the third installment. I was worried that Travis Knight wouldn’t have the action directing chops to live up to the Bayhem that was established in this franchise, and while this is a much smaller film with a lot less action, I have to say I really enjoyed Knight’s more steady-eyed take on the action.

The Cybertron sequence at the opening of this film, complete with the Generation One designs, is something I’ve been waiting since my childhood to see fully realized on screen. Hailee Steinfeld makes me care about a human character for the first time since Shia in the original Transformers film. She’s excellent and elevates this blockbuster beyond its means. I also enjoy that this film doesn’t take itself too seriously. It knows it’s a movie based on children’s toys and John Cena’s third-wall-breaking Decepticon line is a great example of this. Unfortunately, this was a Summer movie that was released in the Holiday season against heavy competition and didn’t fair too well at the box office. I hope the studio doesn’t take this poor box office as a reason to not make a sequel or more Transformers films like this one.

9. Love Simon

Here is another film I really wasn’t expecting to love. First of all, it’s directed by Greg Berlanti, who wrote the Green Lantern movie and is the producer behind of a ton of CW shows, both good and bad. Secondly, almost no one I know has seen this movie. But I heard it was good and am a sucker for coming of age movies, so I decided to give it a try. Love Simon follows the story of an in-the-closet 17-year-old named Simon Spier (played by Nick Robinson) who develops an online relationship/crush with an anonymous classmate. The film is partially a heartfelt coming of age story focusing on first love in the trying times of high school and a mystery that examines everyone in his school life as he looks to uncover the person at the other end of his correspondences.

One thing that really surprised me about this film is how matter of factly it treated Simon. This is probably the first studio produced gay love story to hit screens nationwide, and the film doesn’t flaunt this milestone or use this POV to go in the areas you might expect. Like the films of John Hughes, this story feels so universal even though most people probably never experienced anything like the mystery conceit at the core. It’s a sweet story that will make you laugh, cry, and even though it doesn’t vere far from the tried and true traditional structure, it feels fresh and like something special.

roma

8. Roma

I’m a massive fan of Alfonso Cuaron and Roma feels like his most personal film despite choosing to tell this story from the point of view of from the perspective of his childhood maid and not the children. And maybe because of that, the lead character’s story, while filled with drama, feels almost too passive – and perhaps that’s the point.

This film has the most beautiful cinematography of the year and Cuaron, who also acts as his own cinematographer, lets the scenes play out in breathtaking wide shots, with long, moody pans and dollies. Expertly composed in black and white, every shot is just gorgeous. The film begins more like a slow poem, and in the second half really picks up and becomes a haunting, heartbreaking, devastating, and ultimately life-affirming. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a movie that could only be crafted by a master like Cuaron. But this is the type of film I admire at more of an arm’s length more than love. I plan to revisit Roma in future years, and my love for this film will grow.

annihilation

7. Annihilation

Annihilation feels like it came out years ago at this point, mainly because 2018 feels like it lasted a century. But this is probably the movie from 2018 that I think the most about. In 10 years, I think we’ll look back at this film as a science fiction masterpiece. It’s easy to make comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially coming away from this film’s third act. It’s a visual sci-fi feast filled with bizarre creatures, fantastical earthly environments, thrilling moments and complex themes to chew on. Mark Digby’s production design and Rob Hardy’s cinematography deserve some credit. Chris Evangelista has written about this movie more than anyone on this site, and his pieces have way more eloquently summed up my complex feelings on the themes of this film.

6. Minding The Gap

Compiling 12 years of footage, director Bing Liu‘s film chronicles the struggles him and his friends as they try to move on from their pasts into adulthood. It starts with Bing filming his friends for skate videos as teenagers and evolves into a much deeper movie that gives a perspective of modern manhood. What I think makes this documentary so great is that Bing was filming his friends for years and because of that, had incredibly intimate access to them that would be hard for a typical documentary filmmaker to get. Through these portraits, we get a glimpse into their fractured home lives and how that resonates with them as they try to make the rough transition into adulthood. Bing even turns the camera on himself and his mother, which is extremely compelling. The film can be heartbreaking to watch, but it’s ultimately uplifting.

Thanos Infinity War

5. Avengers: Infinity War

10 years and one and a half dozen movies have led up to this epic event. I’m not sure we’ll ever get anything like this again on the big screen. Hollywood keeps on trying to emulate the Marvel cinematic universe formula with very little luck. Seeing the Avengers interact with the Guardians of the Galaxy on the big screen for the first time was a blast. And to think Disney had the guts to end their huge cinematic event with a snap that killed half of the known people in the universe. I know, I know, a second part is coming to fix that. In that way, this is the closest thing to an Empire Strikes Back that we have had since the release of that classic Star Wars film.

Fallout HALO Jump

4. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Mission: Impossible – Fallout isn’t my favorite entry of this franchise, but it might be the best movie overall. I still think I prefer Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol, specifically the insane Burj Khalifa IMAX sequence, and JJ Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III, which is tremendous fun. But Fallout is a great film, and the insane action is probably the most unrelenting and exhilarating of the franchise. And because of that high spectacle, I expect the rewatchability of this film will be high. I also loved how Fallout leaves its James Bond-inspired roots and becomes the first real sequel in this franchise, and it’s not just a sequel to the film before it, but a sequel to almost every loose thread in the entire franchise.

searching clip

3. Searching

The concept is simple and sweet: “After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her.” Honestly, I had no interest in watching a movie filmed entirely on a computer screen. But then /Film’s  Ben Pearson came home from Sundance ranting and raving about this little film.

The thing that almost prevented me from watching it is the thing I love so much about this movie – the constraints of that computer screen and the clever and exciting ways that the filmmakers navigate their story using this framing device. The opening of this film plays like the beginning of Pixar’s Up if it was told on a computer screen by the guys who made those heartfelt Google commercials. The film itself is inspired by the true crime genre that our society has become obsessed with, and offers some unexpected fun twists and turns that totally averted my expectations. I’m honestly surprised it’s taken actor  John Cho this long to get the spotlight and acclaim he deserves. I hope that with this he gets more opportunities on the big screen.

2. Eighth Grade

I don’t think I’ve squirmed more in my seat any time this year than I did watching Bo Burnham’s directorial debut. Eighth Grade is a dramedy about an introverted teenage girl (played wonderfully by breakout star Elsie Fisher) as she attempts to “survive the last week of her disastrous eighth-grade year before leaving to start high school.” Burnham is able to capture an experience so universal and horrifying that some people have called this a horror movie. And almost like the best slasher films, you are left at the edge of your seat, wanting to shout advice to the character on screen. If only Kayla could hear us, learn from our experience, but just like us she’s going to have to learn for herself. I’m a huge fan of coming of age stories and this is an exceptional entry into the subgenre.

Cobra Kai Teaser Trailer

Honorable Mention: Cobra Kai

My managing editor Jacob Hall wouldn’t let me list this as my top film of the year, but… Cobra Kai was honestly the best piece of visual storytelling I consumed this year. I wanted to put this YouTube Premium series on the top of my list, but I acknowledge that it isn’t a movie, despite its origins as a true Karate Kid sequel. But if this was released this as a five-hour long movie in theaters, this might very well be my favorite film of the year.

I know many of you reading this list have still not seen this series, and I hope this is the crane kick in the butt to encourage you to do so. Trust me; if you make it to the end of episode three, you’ll fall in love with this series. This isn’t my nostalgia for Karate Kid speaking; this is a really great piece of entertainment worthy of your time.

sony china releases

The Real # 1. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

I wasn’t even excited to see Spider-Verse. My faith in Sony and thier Spider-Man universe following the Amazing Spider-Man movies and Venom was at an all-time low. Even Lord and Miller’s involvement didn’t have me that excited. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse blew me away. Not only is it the best animated movie of the year, a year in which we got long-awaited sequels to some of my favorite animated films Incredibles and Wreck-It Ralph, but honestly I think it’s the best movie to come out this year, period. It’s not just the best Spider-Man film, which is a hard achievement with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, but it may very well be the best comic book movie ever produced.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse feels more like a comic book brought to life than any movie I’ve ever seen before. The animation style is bold and striking, an innovation to the medium. It feels like a story that couldn’t be told in live-action, taking full advantage of the animation canvas.

I love all the characters in this film and would buy a ticket to solo movies for all of them. Please, Sony make them! The biggest compliment I can give this film is that when the lights went up, and I went home, I didn’t want my time with these characters to end. I couldn’t wait a couple of years for a possible sequel. I immediately downloaded and subscribed to the Marvel Unlimited app and binged my way through a dozen comics in the Brian Bendis run of Miles Morales’ Ultimate Spider-Man.

This is the one movie on this list I’m sure I’ll revisit on a yearly basis. I’ve already seen it three times on the big screen and am already considering a fourth. This is the only film in 2018 that got a 5 out of 5 stars rating. To me, it’s perfect in every way.

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