We hope this list inspires you to choose something else at the multiplex.
Recently, just a few assholes shelled out $61 million to see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. As we recall the wonderful movies we’ve screened so far in 2018, it is hard to believe that people are still spending their hard-earned cash to see dinosaurs chew up a bunch of morons. We hope this list inspires you to choose something else at the multiplex. Thank you for reading.
Profound trauma conjures an atmosphere of nearly unbearable dread in writer-director Ari Aster’s debut feature. Using a dusky color palette, compelling cinematography, clever edits and a brutally ominous film score by Colin Stetson, Aster crafts a slow-burning horror experience that relies heavily on impeccably sinister mood and tone and a devastating tour de force by Toni Collette as a grieving woman who wrestles with her family history of mental illness even as the occult begins to manifest all around her. Aster takes familiar horror tropes established by such iconic films as The Exorcist, The Shining and most notably Rosemary’s Baby and breathes new life into them. The film’s incremental build toward abject terror and its dearth of jump scares—the film’s only true jump scare occurs via something as simple as a clucked tongue—polarized audiences, but the film’s high-wire act of balancing between subtlety and garishness is one of the more impressive cinematic feats of the year. That Aster was able to ground a bonkers supernatural premise in such ghoulish real-world traumas makes Hereditary a visceral and unforgettable experience. – Josh Goller
Alex Garland’s adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel is a great example of the small but necessary progress the film industry has made in 2018. An intelligent, female-led, special effects heavy, sci-fi actioner, Annihilation embraces certain elements of its genre while turning others on their heads, making for a satisfying, surprising experience. At first glance, the film’s story is same as the novel’s, following an all-female team of scientists who embark on an expedition into an environmental disaster zone called “The Shimmer” (so named because of its ever-expanding, iridescent border) in order to find out what is causing this humanity-threatening phenomenon as well as figure out what happened to the members of the many expeditions that gone in before them. However, Garland bravely ditches a number of the book’s key plot points, choosing to instead assemble his own portrait from VanderMeer’s puzzle pieces. The finished product is thought-provoking in both its strangeness and its femininity. Its women are wild, weird and fiercely intelligent, which leads to devastating moments and an effective, ambiguous ending that refuses to pander to expectations. – Mike McClelland
This spring blockbuster marks the moment when the culture of reading superhero comics and watching superhero movies became one. This gaudy, gigantic crossover event is as frustrating and satisfying as its newsprint predecessors, the miniseries and oversized summer annuals that would match up groups of heroes around a common cause. In this case, that common cause is also the movie’s best feature: Thanos. Josh Brolin and a team of special effects artists made a giant, purple alien not only believable, but the emotional center of the story. Thanos’ arc drives the movie, and he is onscreen as much as any character. Yes, the movie has its deficiencies, but it was able to surprise audiences and provoke the right kind of gasps with its devastating ending. The first 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have closed, and audiences are as invested with the characters onscreen as they have been for decades on the page. This is no small feat, and a pop culture milestone that deserves to be recognized. – Don Kelly
A cutesy, homophonic pun is imbedded in the title of Wes Anderson’s latest cinematic diorama. I love dogs, indeed. This is Anderson’s second entry into visually stunning, emotionally potent stop-motion animation, a natural medium for a filmmaker so obsessed with painstaking perfection, at best, and overwrought fussiness, at worst. Fantastic Mr. Fox was his trial run, and what a proof of concept it was, transforming a thorny Roald Dahl novel into a joyful and quirky puff of smoke; the puff, sure enough, was rendered onscreen as upward-traveling cotton balls. Isle of Dogs is even more tactile and dazzling to the eye, and its thematic heft sinks deeper. This is the director at his most Andersonian and his most overtly political. As a follow-up to The Grand Budapest Hotel, his first investigation into fascism, Isle of Dogs uses stereotypical Japanese culture to turn American, WWII internment camps upside-down. Here, English-speaking pooches are shunted to a trash island by a Japanese overlord. Scruffy canines stand-in for grander themes. Isle of Dogs may be problematic, when you pick it apart. But it’s transporting when you sit back and bask in its slobbering, barking glory. – Peter Tabakis
Lynne Ramsay’s latest may garner plenty of comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s seminal Taxi Driver, but it is so much more. The score by Jonny Greenwood? The cinematography by Tom Townend? The editing by Joe Bini? Technically, it’s a masterpiece. And for a film that deals with as much murder, double-crosses and government conspiracies as a Taken movie, at the end of the day these plot elements are all just background noise. No, Ramsay is invested in something far more fascinating: Two people who were never really here, seeing each other and being seen themselves for the very first time. Akin to the trauma its protagonists experience, the film, led by another essential performance from Joaquin Phoenix, assaults you from all angles then strands you to soak in the aftermath, all while reminding you there’s still beauty to be found in life’s brutality. — Greg Vellante
The formal and thematic achievement of First Reformed is so staggering that it single-handedly rescued Paul Schrader from a tragic slide into irrelevance and perhaps even launched him into a pantheon tier he never enjoyed even at his height. Broadly retracing the steps of Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest—down to some of the same painterly shots of the ascetic horror of a doubter attempting to force himself into piety—the film follows Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Toller as he juggles his own crisis of faith with the environmental panic of a parishioner. With stately shots, Schrader establishes the void at the heart of a man who outwardly projects self-denying zealotry, as well as the burning rage of his desire to feel connected to either this world or the one beyond this life. The film broaches topics of agnosticism, the corporatization of American religion, climate change and other topics of faith and doubt, yet it rigorously grounds these lofty themes in Toller’s complex, self-loathing ruminations, ducking didacticism for a timely sense of alienation and confusion that produces equal amounts of sorrow and rage. Not since Blue Collar has Schrader made a film so searingly observant of its time. – Jake Cole
In Unsane, Steven Soderbergh’s latest thriller, Sawyer (Claire Foy), a young professional living in an unidentified city, joins a support group for victims of stalking and unwittingly checks herself into a mental health facility, where she’s required to spend a specific amount of time before she can check herself out. The director shot the film on an iPhone 7 and in the unusual aspect ratio of 1.56:1, achieving a claustrophobic and somewhat disorienting style that heightens the story’s themes of isolation, paranoia and vulnerability. Unlike Sean Baker’s similarly shot Tangerine, which used the iPhone’s camera to situate the viewer amid a storm of fiery character interplay, Unsane takes a fly-on-the-wall approach, shooting from low angles and utilizing a detached perspective that plays into the protagonist’s position as an unreliable narrator. More than just an exhilarating exercise in genre and form, though, Unsane is a timely exploration of the power dynamics between men and women, and the way Soderbergh uses consumer-grade technologies lets the viewer consider the film in more inward and deeply familiar ways. – Drew Hunt
This is a film that dwells inside the viewer, its message and images warping over time. In the Last Days of the City cannot be forgotten, but the way it is remembered transforms, too, changing to coincide with current events. It is a film, after all, about how current events interact with memory and history. This central theme of change is right there in the title. What Tamer El Said’s film ultimately does is ponder what happens when the unstoppable force—humans pushing for sociopolitical revolution in Cairo—encounters the immovable object—Cairo, a massive, nigh-eternal city of 20 million people and 5,000-plus years of continuous inhabitation. Which will endure: the ambition of people wanting a better life or the things constructed by previous generations of people as a way of giving people a better life? This question is not some vague metaphorical inquiry best left to independent art cinema but rather is the central overriding challenge in post-WWII moral and political philosophy. It is a fundamental component of the human condition: the past exists, the future will exist and there is a need to figure out the best way of connecting those two together. – Ryne Clos
An actress (Claire Armstrong) and her playwright best friend (Naomi Skwarna) struggle to find work on Toronto’s conventional theatrical stages. But they find aesthetic fulfillment in a steady gig that most in their field would write off as hackwork: Creating roleplaying sketches for corporate training. The year’s strangest comedy-drama, director Daniel Warth’s feature debut is long, sprawling and utterly fascinating as its leads careen from hilarious deadpan to harrowing emotional nakedness within a single sketch. Armstrong is particularly ferocious, navigating creative differences with her partner and going off the rails in her personal life. As her unstable character falls apart and, in an astounding, extended final scene, breaks down in front of their biggest audience yet, you know you’re watching one of the best performances of the year. Dim the Fluorescents wanders into one subplot too many, but it’s gleefully unpredictable, and you can’t help but follow wherever its director and leads will take you next. – Pat Padua
The world is a mess right now, we know this. So it stands to reason that we need a little fun and sunshine in our lives, and that’s what Ocean’s 8 is: pure fun. The rowdy group of women assembled—including the utterly luminous (and queer icon) Cate Blanchette—seem to enjoy each other’s company, and their heist is unique and wholly feminine. The camera fetishizes gowns and jewels like the male body, allowing the audience to revel in their beauty while creating empathy for these female Robin Hoods trying to liberate them, so to speak. The movie never overstays its welcome, and despite being associated with the Oceans franchise, there aren’t any significant callbacks, which is just fine with me. There’s an IDGAF attitude to this movie, so even if you were one of those guys—and we all know who you are—who decried the female-led Ghostbusters, maybe you’ll like this. Either way, we could all use some joy in life; you’ll find it with Ocean’s 8. – Kristen Lopez
In Antonio di Benedetto’s 1956 source novel, Don Diego de Zama’s journey of dissipated self-destruction begins after he runs across a Spanish noblewoman bathing in the forest, a shocking incident that sparks a dangerous obsession. Here that episode is reconfigured as a larger group of naked natives, who mock the sweaty colonial functionary as he clambers clumsily among the rocks. The equally memorable image of a dead monkey wedged beneath a pier, meanwhile, gets reimagined as a catfish struggling against the tide. These two changes are instructive, signaling the way in which Argentine filmmaker Lucrecia Martel reworks the brilliant source text into a caustic contemporary parable about the grasping desperation of male imperiousness. In doing so, she transitions Zama from a vain social climber, obsessed with the purity of Spanish blood and the corruptive qualities of Native influence, to a man struggling just to stay afloat, his 18th-century world of prim, ritualistic propriety coming apart at the seams. As a result the character becomes less intentional, less creepy and aggressive, a victim of his own drives caught within the cogs of an inherently corrupt system. – Jesse Cataldo