As a capstone to The 300, I’ve decided to look at the 317 movies I saw in theaters during 2018 and pick my favorites. So as a final wrap up to a long and rewarding year of moviegoing, here are lists of my Top 50 Movies of 2018 and my Top 40 First Watches of Older Films in 2018.
The Top 50 of 2018 list includes a few movies I saw before 2018 or through streaming services rather than movie theaters. I’ve included them since these films are worth recognition as some of the best movies of the year. I’ve also included links to all of my write-ups in The 300 or full-length reviews when applicable.
And so—one more time, with feeling—onward.
Top 50 Movies of 2018
On the whole, 2018 was a pretty great year for film. It included at least one movie that seems destined for Best of the Decade lists, as well as a number of memorable works both big and small. Maybe the volume of movies I saw affects that assessment, but I noticed that there were many other movies that were at the edge of making my Top 50 that didn’t make the cut in the end.
More than half of the movies I saw during The 300 were released in 2018 or were making rounds in the festival circuit during 2018. Here are 50 that have stuck with me.
50. Let the Sunshine In, dir. Claire Denis
49. Disobedience, dir. Sebastián Lelio
48. Paddington 2, dir. Paul King
47. Bumblebee, dir. Travis Knight
46. Avengers: Infinity War, dir. Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
45. Burning, dir. Chang-dong Lee
44. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, dir. Morgan Neville
43. A Fantastic Woman, dir. Sebastián Lelio
42. Can You Ever Forgive Me?, dir. Marielle Heller
41. Sweet Country, dir. Warwick Thornton
Looking at this tail end of the Top 50, one of the movies that immediately pops out at me is Burning, a thriller that’s been ranked much higher on many critics’ end-of-the-year lists. I want to eventually give it another watch to see if I connect with it more the second time around. I still like the craft of the film, though I go back and forth on its slowburn approach to the obsessive Hitchockian mystery.
But even then, 2018 was such a strong year that there’s a lot of good stuff from 41-50, like the John Hughes-esque Bumblebee, Sebastian Lelio’s two films, and the haunting Sweet Country. I even found a spot for Infinity War, a movie that perfectly recreates the experience of reading the first half of a major comic book crossover, complete with the dread that the conclusion might disappoint. But the MCU will be fine regardless.
40. BlackKklasnman, dir. Spike Lee
39. Cam, dir. Daniel Goldhaber
38. Black Panther, dir. Ryan Coogler
37. Border, dir. Ali Abbasi
36. The Hate U Give, dir. George Tillman Jr.
35. Lu Over the Wall, dir. Masaaki Yuasa
34. The Rider, dir. Chloé Zhao
33. First Reformed, dir. Paul Schrader
32. Mission: Impossible – Fallout, dir. Christopher McQuarrie
31. Blindspotting, dir. Carlos López Estrada
The 31-40 segment of this list contains some really great movies that I didn’t put a bit higher because of some personal qualms. First Reformed is a fine career capstone for Paul Schrader, though I think I wanted a meatier exploration of faith and crisis through Reverand Toller’s diary. Similarly, I felt the second half of BlackKklasnman doesn’t hold together as well as the first, but it’s still full of incredibly moving scenes and is Spike Lee’s most vital film since 25th Hour.
Two non-300 movies that enter the Top 50 at this point are Cam and The Rider. Cam is an excellent exploration of a cam girl’s loss of agency and privacy, putting her at the mercy of forces beyond her control. The shift in the narrative is a Kafkaesque nightmare that only becomes more existentially mortifying. Cam’s claustrophobia and avoidance of the male gaze are commendable, and ditto its refusal to become puritanical or judgmental about sex work. It’s a sex-positive sex worker movie that deals with the unsexy underlying fears of the workers.
The Rider is a movie I saw at the 2017 New York Film Festival. I admired it but didn’t love it, and yet it has lingered with me for more than a year. Chloe Zhao uses a documentary style to explore an injured rodeo star’s struggles to return to riding. Yet given the lack of pay and interest in the sport, he has ridden himself into a dying way of life. Occasionally Zhao will include an image of the plains framed with the sweeping grandeur of a Winslow Homer painting, alluding to the mythic appeal of the declining, disappearing cowboy.
30. Hereditary, dir. Ari Aster
29. Monrovia, Indiana, dir. Frederick Wiseman
28. Suspiria, dir. Luca Guadagnino
27. When Lambs Become Lions, dir. Jon Kasbe
26. Good Manners, dir. Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas
25. Private Life, dir. Tamara Jenkins
24. I Am Not a Witch, dir. Rungano Nyoni
23. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
22. Angels Wear White, dir. Vivian Qu
21. Tully, dir. Jason Reitman
Looking at entires 21-30, I’m glad I was allowed to do a Top 50. The movies that leap out at me here are Good Manners, a queer Brazilian multi-genre werewolf film that has the lurid appeal of soap operas and lycanthropy. (It also has musical numbers.) I similarly remember the joys of discovering I Am Not a Witch, which is all about superstition used as a form of patriarchal oppression. It could make a good double feature with Good Manners or the Suspiria remake.
In the Top 25 portion, we have two great movies about parental anxiety. Private Life is an urbane examination of the struggles of having children, and Tully is all about the anxieties of raising children. And yes, I even like Tully after the twist since I consider it an earnest expression of what overworked parents wish they could have and could hear. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse also sits here as my favorite superhero movie of the year, and is almost tied with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 as my favorite Spidey movie.
20. If Beale Street Could Talk, dir. Barry Jenkins
19. American Dharma, dir. Errol Morris
18. Shoplifters, dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
17. The Favourite, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
16. Shirkers, dir. Sandi Tan
15. The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl, dir. Masaaki Yuasa
14. You Were Never Really Here, dir. Lynne Ramsay
13. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, dir. Mouly Surya
12. Minding the Gap, dir. Bing Liu
11. Summer 1993, dir. Carla Simón
Just looking at movies 11-20, this could have made an interesting Top 10. If Beale Street Could Talk is one of the most sumptuous and heartbreaking movies of the year, while The Favourite is probably the bawdiest good time. Masaaki Yuasa shows up here again with his magical bender The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl, which is my favorite animated movie of 2018. There’s also Errol Morris’ controversial Steve Bannon documentary American Dharma, which I consider my favorite horror movie of 2018; a terrifying glimpse into the aggrieved and self-aggrandizing world of an alt-right ghoul.
Minding the Gap is the last non-300 movie to appear in my Top 50, and it’s my favorite documentary of 2018. What starts as a skate crew hangout doc becomes a painful, empathetic portrait of friendship, complicated relationships, a fallen city in further decline, and the lasting effects of abuse. Bing Liu’s film is so intimately observed; personal cinema of the most sincere kind. When not offering meditations on race, class, maturity, and violence, Minding the Gap provides some of the most beautiful skateboarding shots of the year; like flying away, like being weightless, like being young and without a care again.
10. Widows, dir. Steve McQueen
9. Support the Girls, dir. Andrew Bujalski
8. Sorry to Bother You, dir. Boots Riley
7. Eighth Grade, dir. Bo Burnham
6. Scary Mother, dir. Ana Urushadze
5. Cold War, dir. Pawel Pawlikowski
4. Leave No Trace, dir. Debra Granik
3. Madeline’s Madeline, dir. Josephine Decker
2. Zama, dir. Lucrecia Martel
1. Roma, dir. Alfonso Cuarón
What a boffo Top 10. It even includes a movie that I listed as my favorite movie of 2017 (Zama). Widows may be the most forgotten movie of 2018. While making little to no impact this awards season, I think it’s a politically minded prestige thriller that deserves more serious attention, both for its craft and its cast. Madeline’s Madeline similarly deserves more attention as one of the most formally daring and psychologically immersive movies of the year. I also want to just highlight Ana Urushadze’s Scary Mother, which is a remarkable and strange debut movie that pushed all my transcendental cinema buttons.
Roma is one of the great films of the year, and will probably be considered one of the great films of the decade. It is Alfonso Cuarón in full mastery of his skills; a gorgeous celebration of memory and life driven by Yalitza Aparicio’s softly assured performance just as much by Cuarón’s sound and vision. The larger class discussions that have arisen around Roma have been fascinating to follow, particularly how people more privileged often get to tell everyone else’s story, or how middle class Mexican families think about indigenous workers in their home. Rather than become defensive about notions of power and privilege, the makers of Roma acknowledge the importance of domestic workers and what can be done to improve their lives.
The discussion about seeing Roma in a theater or at home via streaming is also fascinating given the class implications of film venues. I think that seeing Roma in a theater is the optimal way to see it, but realize that not everyone can afford to go to the movies. There may not even be a theater nearby showing Roma. Watching Roma on Netflix can still communicate the heart and power of the film; it may not be the same experience, but it is not necessarily a lesser experience. (Maybe I am just trying to justify not seeing 300+ movies in theaters in 2019.)
Top 40 First-Time Watches of Older Films
For me, loving some type of art inevitably means always trying to catch up with it. The long year of moviegoing was a great excuse to finally see some movies I’ve always wanted to watch. This was the year I finally saw a Chantal Akerman movie, and now I want to do a deep dive into her entire filmography. The same goes for watching more Masaaki Yuasa and Nagisa Oshima. I also finally got to see all of Jean Vigo’s seminal films, and devoured the entire filmographies of Lucrecia Martel and Lynne Ramsay.
On the note of catching up with stuff I love, I am currently starting on a big stack of books I didn’t get to last year.
40. Summer Wars (2009), dir. Mamoru Hosoda
39. Black Sunday (1960), dir. Mario Bava
38. The Fourth Man (1983), dir. Paul Verhoeven
37. Daughters of the Dust (1991), dir. Julie Dash
36. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1959), dir. Jirí Trnka
35. Coming Home (1978), dir. Hal Ashby
34. The Devil Rides Out (1968), dir. Terence Fisher
33. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), dir. Nagisa Oshima
32. Witchfinder General (1968), dir. Michael Reeves
31. Detour (1945), dir. Edgar G. Ulmer
In the 31-40 position, some very good movies that encourage a deeper dive into certain filmographies. Coming Home made me realize I should catch up with more of Hal Ashby’s body of work, and also the recent documentary about him. Witchfinder General and Devil Rides Out made me want to watch more UK horror; I noticed the major gaps in my Hammer Studios knowledge. Detour, a classic low-budget noir, makes me want to explore the vast land of hard-boiled B-pictures.
Two films in this part of the list deserve a rewatch. Summer Wars was seen outdoors with hard-to-read subtitles. Its mix of Ozu family dynamics and The Matrix really requires a better viewing experience to take it all in. I also want to revisit A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I’d like to hunt down the CinemaScope version with the original Czech narration. The wider compositions and original voice track would change a lot about the film.
30. Leviathan (2014), dir. Andrey Zvyagintsev
29. L’Atalante (1934), dir. Jean Vigo
28. The Changeling (1980), dir. Peter Medak
27. White Material (2009), dir. Claire Denis
26. Mother of George (2013), dir. Andrew Dosunmu
25. Velvet Goldmine (1998), dir. Todd Haynes
24. Kuroneko (1968), dir. Kaneto Shindo
23. Mind Game (2004), dir. Masaaki Yuasa
22. Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (1978), dir. Chantal Akerman
21. Variety (1983), dir. Bette Gordon
In the 21-30 section of the list, some more great first encounters with movies, including Claire Denis’ colonial comeuppance in White Material and Chantal Akerman’s tale of lonesome travel, Les Rendez-vous d’Anna. I stumbled onto Mother of George by accident since it was the most interesting thing playing near me one night, and was struck by Andrew Dosunmu’s direction and Bradford Young’s incredible cinematography. What a pleasant surprise.
On the note of surprises, the biggest surprise among this set of movies was Variety. The film feels like an unsung feminist classic that doubles as a document of New York City’s old sleazy side. Set in a seedy Times Square porno theater, the film explores the presence of women in male-dominated spaces. Variety also provides a fascinating differentiation between male lust and female desire, and how the latter is often subsumed by the former.
20. All That Heaven Allows (1955), dir. Douglas Sirk
19. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), dir. F. W. Murnau
18. Wanda (1970), dir. Barbara Loden
17. Nashville (1975), dir. Robert Altman
16. Drunken Angel (1948), dir. Akira Kurosawa
15. Safe (1995), dir. Todd Haynes
14. Smithereens (1982), dir. Susan Seidelman
13. Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), dir. Werner Herzog
12. Sorcerer (1977), dir. William Friedkin
11. An Autumn Afternoon (1962), dir. Yasujirō Ozu
Like the Top 50 of 2018, the 11-20 section of this first-time watch list could work as its own Top 10. All That Heaven Allows is a wonderful Douglas Sirk melodrama. I want to read up more on Sirk’s work just to see how aware he was of the coding in his films and his allusions to Rock Hudson’s queerness. An Autumn Afternoon is a fine closing note on Ozu’s career, with a sad closing shot that functions as expertly arranged farewell. Was also glad to finally see Nashville, which lingers voluminously in my mind during our current American cacophony.
The best double-feature that could come out of this section of the list would probably be Wanda and Smithereens, two movies about lost women with uncertain futures. Wanda is a listless housewife who happens into a life of crime, while Wren from Smithereens is a punk rock grifter with a chip on her shoulder and a bigger hurt inside. I wondered what would happen to these lost souls after their movies ended, and am left haunted with the uncertainty, just like the characters.
10. Ratcatcher (1999), dir. Lynne Ramsay
9. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1975), dir. Robert Altman
8. Hiroshima (1953), dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara
7. The Devil’s Cleavage (1975), dir. George Kuchar
6. The Wages of Fear (1953), dir. Henri-Georges Clouzot
5. Andrei Rublev (1966), dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
4. Cameraperson (2016), dir. Kirsten Johnson
3. After Life (1998), dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
2. The Conformist (1970), dir. Bernardo Bertolucci
1. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975), dir. Chantal Akerman
The Top 10 first-watches include all-timers like Andrei Rublev and The Conformist. The newest film in the batch is Kirsten Johnson’s documentary essay Cameraperson, which is an expertly crafted piece about being an artist, a mother, a daughter, and a person who cares about justice in a cruel world. Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After Life is completely uncharacteristic of his other works, but it is just as humane and worthwhile. For something that’s both hard-boiled and oddball, look for The Devil’s Cleavage. It’s like John Waters doing noir, and it is bonkers.
At the top of the list is Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels, a quintessential work of transcendental cinema. The long takes, the muted performance, the penultimate punctuation mark that transforms the entire film. It’s a masterpiece of quiet desperation. I felt every minute of the movie, but I wouldn’t call it slow.
Jeanne Dielman made me reconsider how movies can alter my perception of time. I also noticed how Akerman slowly creates the space Jeanne occupies, giving it both a physical presence and a sense of emotional and psychological confinement. Here is this woman’s corner of the world; here is this woman’s domestic prison. Jeanne Dielman made me an Akerman fan in my 30s, and it makes me want to seek out more of her work and the works of anyone influenced by her. The biggest joy of The 300 is the knowledge that I’ve wound up with more works to explore; a vast, verdant field spreading out further than I can see.
And as one last send off to The 300, the gallery includes the dumb header images for all 52 weeks of the feature. Enjoy.