In surveying all that 2018 has given and taken from us so far, at least one patch of blue sky hangs overhead: it has been a dynamite year for movies.
This list of the best includes every genre and mode of filmmaking. It has blockbusters, a rollicking comedy, a documentary, an avant-garde race satire, a few horror and sci-fi thrill rides, melancholy indies and lots of horses. (Truly. So many horses!)
July is as good a time as any to take stock of the must-see gems that have graced our screens, a few of which could still have legs come Oscar season. If life is as alarming in the second half of the year as it was in the first, at least we have these respites to help us escape the horrific headlines.
Spanning January through to the first week of July, these are some of the favourite movies so far.
Which of 2018's tomfoolery-riddled comedies is right for you? You could pick "Game Night
," "I Feel Pretty," "Life of the Party," "Overboard" or "Tag
," but you'd be wrong. The answer is "Blockers," Kay Cannon's well-calibrated lark about three parents trying to stop their college-bound teenagers from losing their virginity on prom night. No lengths are too extreme, including butt-chugging beer. It's what Vin Diesel would do, right?
It makes all too much sense that 2018 is loaded with movies about depression. "You Were Never Really Here" and "First Reformed" offered stylized sprees through the minds of a hit man and a reverend, respectively, while "Tully
" gives us a fatigued mother longing for youth's insouciance. It's the second collaboration (after "Young Adult") involving actress Charlize Theron, director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody, a triumvirate whose sharp-edged humor and graceful melancholy underscore stories so abundant they feel like little morsels of honesty.
Marvel and DC aren't always known for prizing their directors' visions, but the former let Ryan Coogler's acumen blaze all over "Black Panther," easily the superhero factory's politically thorniest and aesthetically richest outing yet. There's no such thing as unquestioned heroism in Wakanda, an African land that has isolated itself from the world to create an ostensible utopia. Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan make excellent figureheads for the first black cast to headline a comic-book spectacle, and "Black Panther" earns its rightful place as 2018's biggest cultural phenomenon
. Good things are still possible!
Great Point Media / Paladin Film
With Michelle Pfeiffer's first lead role in almost a decade, "Where Is Kyra?" proves we can't let her go
so long without another. Pfeiffer plays an unemployed Brooklynite who cashes her late mother's pension checks as her age keeps her from one job after another. To see an actress so poised and beautiful disappear behind a drama that steals her famed dignity is astonishing. The final shot rests on her lonely face, reminding us that Pfeiffer has long satisfied Hollywood's need for someone who exists in the delicate space between ingenue and sage. She'll get more attention this year for "Ant-Man and the Wasp," but it's "Where Is Kyra?" that plays to her strengths.
By a small miracle, "A Quiet Place" marched loudly into the cultural zeitgeist in a way that few nonfranchise flicks manage these days. It solidified John Krasinski as a bona fide director
— his previous efforts, 2009's "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men" and 2016's "The Hollars," didn't help his case — and duped the world into savoring a nearly silent film co-starring his wife (Emily Blunt, masterly). You can prod the plot holes in "A Quiet Place," but why do that when the whole is so much greater than its parts? This tense, apocalyptic thriller about an isolated family evading monsters turns into a meditation on parenting, living on the margins and being muzzled by forces greater than yourself.
See "Hereditary" twice. Or maybe three times, if you can stomach its tension for that long. Ari Aster's family drama turns into a horror fantasia
that borrows the genre's art-house stylings before turning into a blissfully traditional mystic thriller. Along the way, Aster plants clues that congeal using what he calls "nightmare logic
." But we should all be so lucky to awaken from a nightmare that features a career-defining Toni Collette running about in a duster to figure out what the hell is going on with her imploding home life.
Sony Pictures Classics
"The Rider" is the first of three horse movies on this list. It's the smallest of the bunch, which should by no means be a deterrent. Director Chloé Zhao cast nonprofessional actors to portray barren heartlanders whose lives revolve around the rodeo. The lead, Brady Jandreau, plays a version of himself, suffering a vital injury and processing what it means for his already confined future. Zhao's minimalistic elegance peeks at an unadorned corner of the country where an open field is the only thing a person needs to find fulfillment.
The most delicious of the horse movies is "Thoroughbreds," a sleek psychodrama
about two suburban teen girls (Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke) who hatch a murderous scheme to distract from their troubled affluence. The comedy bites and the horror cuts in Cory Finley's directorial debut, best described as "Heathers" meets "Persona."
Debra Granik makes some of Hollywood's most homespun movies
, embedding herself in underrepresented locales to tell stories about forgotten American communities. Her previous feature, "Winter's Bone," tracks the meth trade in the impoverished Ozarks. In "Leave No Trace," she turns her attention to the Pacific Northwest, where a PTSD-stricken veteran (Ben Foster) and his daughter (promising newcomer Thomasin McKenzie) elect to live off the grid. Granik reveals their circumstances with a slow drip, letting us soak in the nature surrounding the duo as we grasp the complexities of their kinship. By the time we do, our hearts are ripped open on their behalf.
The allure of "Three Identical Strangers" is obvious. Who wouldn't take to a shadowy, shocking documentary
about triplets separated at birth under mysterious circumstances? But the film's real achievement lies in its adept storytelling. British documentarian Tim Wardle weaves together a byzantine human-interest saga involving a sketchy adoption agency, science's everlasting nature-versus-nurture debate and the very essence of family psychology. Amid its relentless twists, the movie's most surprising revelation is just how emotionally invested you'll be in its stranger-than-fiction proceedings.
No movie this year is as lovely as "Paddington 2," the rare caper that doesn't let adrenaline get in the way of its heart. With or without our political miasma, there's a lot to be said for the power of watching nice people (and bears) do nice things — but Paul King's sequel goes one step further. Its intricate plot and ornate sight gags (Paddington gets thrown in jail, and it's too delightful) disguise a humanistic dramedy as an antics-clad blockbuster. No superheroes needed.
The best of the horse movies is "Lean on Pete
," an exceptionally sad (that's a good thing!) travelogue about an orphan (the miraculous Charlie Plummer) seeking solace with his equestrian companion. No writer-director working today is better at capturing the gray areas of relationships than Andrew Haigh, who has hit consistent home runs with "Weekend," "45 Years" and HBO's "Looking." Here, he trains his gifts on a coming-of-age tale that evokes "The 400 Blows" and "Boyhood" with a tender resolve often reserved for female protagonists. It's a wonder.
Paramount Pictures botched the release of "Annihilation," worried the movie was too cerebral and angry that director Alex Garland wouldn't re-edit it based on studio executives' notes. As a result, a film that should have sailed to $100 million stalled at less than half that. But Garland, who made a name for himself with "Ex Machina" in 2015, knew what he was doing in adapting Jeff VanderMeer's trippy book about female scientists exploring the Shimmer, an enigmatic threshold where species meld, alien doppelgängers appear and a Kubrickian phantasmagoria unfolds. Man up, Paramount.
" designs one of the richest narratives we'll see on-screen this year. Its director, documentarian Jennifer Fox, dramatizes a critical chapter of her life with a cross-stitched story in which her adult self (portrayed by Laura Dern) and her teenage self (Isabelle Nélisse) interact. Together, they process a sexually abusive episode that Fox experienced at age 13, creating a lyrical kaleidoscope that drifts from the recesses of their memories. It's at once searing and revitalizing — and you don't even have to leave your house to witness it. HBO bought "The Tale" at Sundance, providing an apt home for this difficult but beautiful memoir.
Nestled in a nondescript Oakland telemarketing agency is — what else? — a dystopian corporate labyrinth where the best salespeople ascend to absurdist depths. They can sell their souls, sort of, for boatloads of cash, rails of cocaine and a host of oddities best left unmentioned. (This is a horse movie, too -- just you wait.) Will Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who has been taught to use his "white voice" to succeed, take his scummy boss' (Armie Hammer) bait? Not if his activist girlfriend (Tessa Thompson) and her statement earrings have anything to say about it.
"Sorry to Bother You" is a satire about race, class, bureaucracy, capitalism, art and social mores, filtered through the avant-garde lens of Boots Riley, who turns the so-called American dream into a punch line. The rapper is making his directorial debut with a film so bold and enterprising it's like discovering Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman through "Being John Malkovich." This is the funhouse spin on a reality that is neither just nor logical — the perfect chaser for the Fourth of July.