2018 was an unusual year for movies. It started off strong, leveled off in the middle, and then came back strong again at the end. That left movie lovers with a good number of films that stood up to challengers over the course of the year, making their way onto my top 10 list against the odds. This year's list tends toward studio fare, but smaller movies made their mark, as well.
10) The Oath
The Oath, which made less than $500,000 total, is a film that virtually no one saw. And that's a damn shame, as it's an atom bomb of a comedy that speaks to the current level of discourse in the United States as well as, or better than, any other recent movie. The fact that it's unrelentingly hilarious is just icing on the top. Writer/director/star Ike Barinholtz, who has stood out in movies like Neighbors and Blockers, is the next big thing in comedy; I can't wait to see what he does next.
9) Love, Simon
Movies with gay characters leading the way are still few and far between, which is what made Love, Simon feel so significant. It’s one of the most freeing and romantic stories about a gay person yet, and one that has just as much universal appeal as the high school movies of John Hughes. Winning performances from each of the main four characters, especially Nick Robinson as Simon, should give it lasting appeal for years to come.
Another high school-set movie with a completely different feel, The Hate U Give takes a controversial topic - the shooting of unarmed African Americans by police officers - and gives it a real urgency. The film is complex and at times shattering, driving home its points in both subtle and unsubtle ways, almost all of which are memorable. It also gives a nuanced look at an African American family, something that has been in short supply in movies.
Making a sequel of a movie 54 years after the original came out really shouldn't work, but Mary Poppins Returns did thanks to pitch-perfect performances from Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and others. A handful of songs that instantly compare to the classics, a story that pays homage to the first film in all the right ways, and a visual style that combines the old and the new seamlessly all make for another magical experience.
6) Eighth Grade
Few movies felt as real and of-the-moment as Eighth Grade did this year. Led by a fantastic performance by Elsie Fisher and great writing and direction by Bo Burnham, the film gets right to the universal truths of what it’s like to be that age in both excruciating and illuminating ways. It deserves to go into the pantheon of coming-of-age movies thanks to its unique focus and clear and heartfelt emotions.
In A Quiet Place, there's nothing quite as terrifying as the lack of sound or, to be more accurate, the few moments of sound it contains. A film that could be enjoyed by deaf people equally as well as those who can hear, writer/director/star John Krasinski and star Emily Blunt ratchet up the fear to an almost unbearable degree. It's also a film where parental sacrifice takes on a new meaning, upping the emotional stakes immeasurably.
Just as the story of the original team of Avengers is coming to a close, Marvel changed the game of comic book movies with a film that hit on all levels. Not only did it have emotional stakes that for once were grounded in real life, but it gave both African Americans and women heroes they could look to for inspiration thanks to fantastic performances across the board. Black Panther feels altogether different from anything Marvel has ever made, and that's a great thing.
3) Ben is Back
A film about a young man struggling with addiction and how that affects his family and others can sound like a grind, but Ben is Back is spectacular in its precision storytelling. Both Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts give superlative performances, playing off each other in devastatingly real ways. Writer/director Peter Hedges (Lucas' father) never sensationalizes any moment, and all of the pieces connect seamlessly as a result.
Most people will watch Alfonso Cuarón's personal masterpiece on a relatively small screen at home via Netflix, but it's one of those films that deserves to be seen in the theater. The level of detail that Cuarón and his team put in both the story and the black-and-white visuals is astonishing, resulting in a mesmerizing film. The film is sweeping yet intimate, making the case that you don't need to fill movies with "moments" - just tell a great story and the rest will follow.
Writer/director Adam McKay, who made The Big Short in 2015, once again tackles serious material in a satirical manner in Vice. Led by a terrifingly great performance by Christian Bale as former Vice President Dick Cheney, the film utilizes a number of fun tricks to tell a story that would be supremely depressing if it weren't told in such an entertaining manner. Politics can feel like a drag these days, but films like Vice at least make the bitter taste a bit more sweet.