In 2017 my Top 15 list was a little lackluster because WordPress ate it. Gone were the colorful commentaries and pictures I like to include with my rankings. Instead, I left a boring straight list and a recording on soundcloud of me saying the things I had written.

More or less.

This year, no such issues. Knock on wood. But I am writing this in 2019 so let’s call it the first test to see if this year will be way less shitty off the hop. I wrote and published last year’s list on January 2nd and the incredible frustration of losing my work should have been an augury written in the guts of an indifferent internet. For much of 2018, I wasn’t really going to the theater or seeing movies as they came out. I was broke, a bit listless, and focusing a lot on other hobbies and interests (for example, I wrote half a dozen short stories last year). But I did miss writing this stuff and I wound up becoming a regular contributor at sirrwaka.com a couple of months ago on the strength of the reviews I have been writing for over ten years. My new stuff is available over there, where I contribute one review per week. It’s a different style so I encourage you to check them out especially if you’re not big on spoilers or don’t have the time to read thousands of words of analysis about superhero movies or whatever. That said, I will also keep writing longer form reviews on this blog, though I won’t be reviewing the same movie twice. If you find me on twitter @evantoddmccoy, you can see links to new entries here and links to reviews and other articles on sirrwaka.com.

Oh, and there’s also the podcast! Sirr’s Movies is a new podcast where I’m the co-host with Sterling Woods, owner and editor of sirrwaka.com. We’re still figuring out our flow and format, but there are a few episodes out including an end of the year wrap up. That episode has my usual lists cut down to 5 Worst and a Top 10 instead of the usual 15. You can listen to it here. The podcast is available on itunes, spotify, and many other platforms so please follow that if you’re interested in more in-depth discussion of movies I’m seeing.

Without further ado, let me offer the usual disclaimer: I acknowledge that this is a subjective list. Trying to objectively compare the quality of any of these movies, one to the next, is impossible. It’s apples and oranges. You can like one movie more than another easily enough, but it’s far more difficult to make a case for why one is better whether you like it more or not. For me, writing film criticism has most often been about trying to get at those qualitative things that exist in spite of personal preferences, it’s about trying to be objective in an arena that is usually assumed to be subjective. It’s about not conflating what I like with what is good, to the fullest extent possible. My Top 15 lists are not about these things. They are about ranking my favorite movies, about summarizing the year, and about taking stock.


 

15. Aquaman

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No Review but you can listen to a discussion on Sirr’s Movies starting at 51 minutes in.

Look, I know this movie is dumb and has an incredibly messy script. But it’s so entertaining anyway, with more charm and heart than most superhero movies. The kid who grew up dreaming of fantastical places, beasts, and adventures couldn’t help but wake up from the prison within which I keep him when this movie got rolling. Every time you think it is done showing you something strange and cool, it throws three more things at you. In spite of some janky scenes and uneven writing, Aquaman is a blast of a movie and is easily the most fun I had in theaters in 2018. Both times I saw it.

14. You Were Never Really Here

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No Review

I saw this one fairly early in the year and fully believe that it’ll rise higher in my estimation with repeat viewings. You Were Never Really Here surprised me both with its approach to violence and its approach to storytelling in film. So much of the details we normally consider important are fractured and brief here, pulling the focus to an intimacy with oneself that is hard to pull off in a narrative film. In many ways, this is the anti-John Wick, the kind of film you enjoy when you’re in the mood for something heavier but still cool. You Were Never Really Here sold itself on bone-crunching violence and a stripped down sense of style, but what it wound up being is a lot more arthouse and a lot less preoccupied with how humans break apart physically. The true violence is invisible, worn like a cloak on the inside.

13. First Reformed

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No Review

2018 was a year for angry political films, and few are as angry and insistent as First Reformed. One of the ways it transmits this is through a subtle and slow awakening to the reality of a world that is always mitigated by images, screens, and talk. How people are manipulated by the webs of simulacra that are around us all of the time. That urgent feeling to do something even if we don’t know what it is or whether it will help or harm is at the heart of the film. I think First Reformed offers a pretty compelling psychological exploration of radicalization and its various motives and consequences. It’s difficult for us to see the humanity in that when the result is hate or violence, but it can be far more seductive and powerful when the result is a moral or righteous cause. But who gets to decide which is which? I think First Reformed has a position, but it also leaves a few clues that the process is always one that begins with manipulation. Is that a necessary component or one that undermines the action (if not its cause)? Like You Were Never Really Here, this is a film about a lot of things, all wrapped up in a gut-wrenching character study.

12. Creed 2

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Review

I didn’t know what to expect with Creed 2, especially since I loved the first one and had a hard time imagining that anyone, even Ryan Coogler, would be able to recapture the magic. I’d say that this sequel falls a bit short of that lofty goal, but it was probably an unrealistic one to begin with. The real test here is whether this story can be taken somewhere interesting to follow-up from the surprising success of the first one. Creed 2 is a great sequel and gets there partly by relying even more on in-depth synthesis of the Rocky mythos and the new legacy of Adonis Creed. Even the baggage of Rocky is tackled here, with one of the most maligned Rocky sequels being the bedrock on which this movie is built. The way the Creed films recontextualize everything great and not so great about the Rocky franchise is refreshing and a master class in revitalizing the old stuff without playing Weekend at Bernie’s with it.

11. Eighth Grade

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No Review

I famously hated Ladybird so it’s good that 2018 brought us a film that is everything that one was trying to be and more. As a parent to a kid who’s eighth grade was only a year ago, this one really hits home. Of course, it’s got even more to offer to girls and women of all ages for whom the story resonates without effort and without artifice. That’s why it isn’t only the dads putting it on their end of year lists. Driven as much by the performances as the incredibly stripped down filmmaking of Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade feels true and vital in a way that most suburban coming of age stories never manage.

10. A Prayer Before Dawn

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Review

Exciting more for its approach to cinematic storytelling than for the actual story its telling, A Prayer Before Dawn manages to dodge cliches and take an approach to its subject matter that feels intimate and dangerous. Subtle in its explorations of masculinity and vicious in its portrayal of masculine bodies, the film sometimes feels more like a tone poem about being a man than it does a conventional redemption story. But it’s that too, or I should say an unconventional one. It also includes an elegant and transgressive love story that blurs gender and sexual lines to get at the raw, unfettered and unadorned. That’s something you could really say about the whole film.

9. Mandy

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No Review

I have little doubt that this one would be in my top 5 if I’d had the chance to see it twice. I love Panos Cosmatos’s previous film, Beyond the Black Rainbow and I was very ready for whatever Mandy was going to dish up. Like most, I believed from the marketing that it was going to be a non-stop psychedelic action-adventure but it wound up doing way more than that. It’s a full on mythological epic that also runs straight to the core of our inner selves and the connections that might be the most important things in our lives. A lot of media this year seemed to revolve around cults, but I think Mandy is the first time that a messianic cult-leader inadvertently creates the very godhead he believes himself to be. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not in the textures and visuals of this film, but the only real stuff that matters is the same real stuff that always matters.

8. Upgrade

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No Review

Upgrade is everything Venom should have been and often feels like the better version of just about every trope that movie relied on. I didn’t hate Venom, but it’s too full of junk to be half the movie that Upgrade is. Not only is it a cyberpunk movie of the type that stretches a budget impressively in its world-building, but it also flirts with being a full on Cronenbergian body horror film… pretty well up until the moment where it fully becomes one. I was expecting to have a good time with Upgrade but I didn’t expect it to be as fun, inventive, fresh, and dark as it wound up being. Like Mandy, I’m super excited to see it again.

7. Blindspotting

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No Review

I expected Blindspotting to be a gut-punch along the lines of Fruitvale Station. Instead, it’s a charming and insightful comedy that merges a slam poetry take on Shakespeare with a fresh-eyed perspective on the reality of racial tension where the stakes are highest. Every time you think you know where this movie is going, it pivots even slightly into something that feels fresher and more immediate than expected. It feels stylish while also feeling real as fuck, knowing just when to go for a broad artistic flourish or dial it back in to streetwise comedy.  I hope people don’t sleep on it for fear that it’ll be too depressing. It seems wrong in some way to call a movie with the subject matter and themes of Blindspotting “fun”, but fun is exactly what it is.

6. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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No Review but you can listen to a discussion on Sirr’s Movies at about 27 mins in.

Did I say that Aquaman was the most fun I had in theaters this year? Well, that’s only if I leave aside what a total blast Spider-Verse was. This is the best animated film in 2018 bar none, and probably one of the better in the last five years or more. It’s been a great decade for smart, innovative, and good-for-all-ages animated films but 2018 was a bit of a slow year in that respect. Then along came a spider. Well, a pile of them. Somehow, Phil Lord (this time without PiC Chris Miller) was able to help midwife the same magic he brought to The Lego Movie here. There’s tons of meat to the movie while also being driven by a funny, self-referential, and heart-felt script that offers just as much to newcomers as it does to diehard Spider-fans. There’s that same irreverence merged with respect for the source material that inundated the best Batman film ever, Lego Batman. Maybe there’s a pattern here. I have high hopes for an extended animated Spider-Verse cinematic universe and I think Marvel does to if the post-credits teaser is any indicator.

5. Widows

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Review

I love me some crime fiction. I particular love crime fiction that pulls back and shows us the systemic factors, the vertical slice of contemporary life that creates an environment where crime is a choice that makes sense. In the case of Widows, it’s the attention to detail and that broader view that helps the movie transcend the breathless glorification of crimes that drives fluff like Ocean’s 8 or your average gangster movie. As a big fan of The Wire, I dug into every bit of the tapestry offered here. It’s reasonable to think that Widows occasionally stumbles under the weight of its ambitions, but I don’t really agree with that take and find that very ambition and its weightiness to be merits that more than make up for the difficulties of turning a whole television show into a two hour movie.

4. Black Panther

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Review

Black Panther is the best solo MCU movie and one of the best superhero movies of all time. It accomplishes this by being richly textured, layered, and ambitious. By mixing social and political commentary with detailed and exceptionally imaginative world-building. Most of all, it does it by embracing complexity and nuance even when it takes time to smash some action figures together. Though I don’t think it’s a perfect movie, it more than overcomes its flaws and provides a centerpiece for a cultural moment that really defines 2018. In many ways, last year was a year for marginalized voices to push back against a cultural landscape that rallied to silence them. No film pushed back harder or with more style than Black Panther.

3. Avengers: Infinity War

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Review

Honestly, my 3 and 4 spots this year could be interchangeable. Infinity War only gets a slight edge because it’s a culmination of ten years of films. It’s a movie with more anticipation and baggage behind it than probably any other movie in history (outside of Star Wars I guess?). It manages to juggle innumerable characters, surprise the audience with a series of well-crafted subversions and reversals, and offer a philosophical exploration of morality that (while complicated by the unfolding of the plot) is improbably nuanced. Infinity War is all about what sacrifice is and how it plays into our myths of heroism. Most of the characters in the film get to play a part in the subtext, offering points, counter-points, and complexity by their comments and actions. They all think they’re talking about saving the world from Thanos, but it’s the “how” that matters here. All that and it’s a ton of fun with the trademark balance of strong characterization and action spectacle that we’ve come to expect from the MCU. Just like… a lot more of it than can usually be baked into one movie. All of it works on the back of that balance, making sequences that should not work at all (Nidavellir, for instance) work in spite of themselves. When I first saw it, I didn’t think that Infinity War had much to say politically but I realize now that it does. Thanos is the center of a death cult and you only need to look at the weird hero-worship of him (which, like all terrible things, probably started as a joke) to see how relevant this story is.

2. Annihilation

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No Review

This is a great, great adaptation of a pretty un-adaptable book. Whether people like the book or not, I think it’s difficult to argue that a straightforward adaptation would have been impossible to finance and market. Annihilation weaves together the bizarre “weird fiction” elements of its source novel with the kind of alienating, visually awesome forays into the unknown that evoke other, classic films of the genre. There’s quite a lot of Tarkovsky here, with Solaris and Stalker being obvious influences on both the novel and film. But there’s also a lot of Alex Garland, the insight and willingness to engage with the feminine perspective inasmuch as it differs from the masculine. The sense of contemporary cinema he brought to Ex Machina and brings here is a refreshing mix of indie sensibilities and slick, contemporary aesthetics. Others have different takes but I thought that making this a more tactile horror film (in some ways) was the kind of characteristically clever artistic choice Garland seems to have a knack for. I loved everything about Annihilation and it really seemed like it was going to be unstoppable this year until…

1. Suspiria

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Review

I’ve seen and enjoyed the Dario Argento original but even that could not prepare me for the whirlwind that is Suspiria 2018. This movie should not have been made. It can’t have been made. It’s a two and a half hour arthouse horror epic that feels like it came from a different universe. Is that the Fifty Shades girl? How many roles did you say Tilda Swinton plays? There’s a scene where they do what now? Right from the beginning, with its intricate sense of time and place, Suspiria feels like an impossible movie. Taking a tight, 90-minute experiment in aesthetic and atmosphere then adding a full hour’s worth of history, lore, and expansively on-the-sleeve horror just seems like something no one could do. No one would even want to. Who’d fund the fucking thing? Almost like a product of witchcraft in itself, this film exists and it is simply and indelibly one of the greatest horror films ever made.

 


 

Usual huge stack of Honorable Mentions:

Sorry to Bother You (a bitter cut that belongs on the list, but needs a second viewing)
Destination Wedding (big surprise, totally mismarketed)
Isle of Dogs
Tully
The Ritual
Assassination Nation (one of the fiercest movies of the year, just crazy awesome)
Thoroughbreds
Support the Girls
How to Talk to Girls at Parties
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Revenge
Searching
Sicario 2 (underrated)
Papillon
Apostle
Hold the Dark (another really bitter cut)
Red Sparrow (like Destination Wedding, much better than advertised)
Mission Impossible: Fallout (best old-school action movie of the year)
The Night Comes for Us
We the Animals
Border
The Kindergarten Teacher
BlackKklansman (best Spike Lee movie since 25th Hour)
Game Night
The Death of Stalin


Special mention to Vice which I saw on January 2nd and would probably would’ve made the cut for the Top 15 list. Glad I don’t have to think about how that would have reshuffled the full list.


 

Movies I didn’t See:

The Oath
Bodied
Blockers
The Favorite
A Star is Born
Leave No Trace
Let the Corpses Tan
If Beale Street Could Talk
Roma
Overlord
Anna and the Apocalypse
Burning
Shoplifters
Paddington 2
Christopher Robin
Sweet Country
Loveless
Love, Simon
The Hate U Give
Unsane
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Juliet, Naked
The Sisters Brothers
Mid90s
Boy Erased
Beautiful Boy
Bohemian Rhapsody
Welcome to Marwen
Destroyer
Damsel
The Rider


 

Another yeareth hath endeth. The longest year. The looooooongest year. I don’t have the energy for a video or a meme. Let’s just move on now.

 

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