Top 10 Movies of 2018

2018 was packed with a lot of big hits and hidden surprises, and while there are a bunch I saw that I haven’t yet reviewed on here, as well as a lot of movies I haven’t seen, this highlights my 10 favorite films, not the 10 best, that I saw this year. If I see anything new that makes the list, it’ll be updated here. Anything here with a full review will be hyperlinked.

Honorable Mentions:

Roma (directed by Alfonso Cuarón)

Ralph Breaks the Internet (directed by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston)

Sorry to Bother You (directed by Boots Riley)

Black Panther (directed by Ryan Coogler)

A Quiet Place (directed by John Krasinski)

10. Free Solo (directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin)

Credit: National Geographic

Free Solo does a great job digging into the psyche of climber Alex Honnold, and is a stunning portrait of his achievements, and why he does what he does. Not to mention the insane talent required to put this on film. The entire last third will have your eyes glued to the screen.

9. Bad Times at the El Royale (directed by Drew Goddard)

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Bad Times at the El Royale, featuring a star-studded cast, explores a lot of really interesting ideas, and is bolstered up from compelling performances from its entire cast. The plot has a lot of mystery, that you slowly learn more and more about, and this feels really original, and like something that doesn’t get made as often now.

8. Hereditary (directed by Ari Aster)

Credit: A24

First-time director Ari Aster created something with Hereditary that’s truly memorable. There are images, sequences in this movie that I’ll truly never forget. The way he creates an atmosphere and refrains from using jump scares, as well as brings out gripping character drama is incredible to behold. The true highlight of this, though, is Toni Collette, who gives a breathtaking, accurate, and at times frightening performance of a mother in a dysfunctional family. Great also are Alex Wolff and Milly Shapiro, playing Toni Collette’s character’s children. Hereditary works both as a drama about the family and a deeply nerve-wracking horror movie, one that stuck with me for a while.

7. Upgrade (directed by Leigh Whannell)

Credit: BH Tilt

The best Venom movie of 2018 didn’t end up being Venom, but rather Upgrade, with its own Tom Hardy, its own occasionally funny, occasionally terrifying nonhuman being that helps out our hero, and its own awesome action sequences. Upgrade is a blast from start to finish, with brutal action, an exciting, well-paced plot, and a really brilliant ending. Upgrade is super enjoyable without even considering its last few minutes, but its ending brings up some very thought-provoking ideas that I thought elevated this. Upgrade is original, thrilling, and most of all, fun.

6. BlacKkKlansman (directed by Spike Lee)

Credit: Blumhouse

Spike Lee manages to capture a whirlwind of emotions with BlacKkKlansman, but most important of all, makes a statement with it. The cast, specifically performances from John David Washington, Adam Driver, and Topher Grace, all give their 100%, with some really intense performances sprinkled throughout. Some scenes in this movie had me rolling with laughter and moments later at the edge of my seat with tension. The screenplay here is really powerful, and without giving away anything, the ending is especially poignant.

5. Searching (directed by Aneesh Chaganty)

Credit: Stage 6 Films

Searching floored me when I saw it. From the first 10, 15 minutes, I sat there thinking about how much work it must’ve been to put together (most of) an entire movie on a Mac screen. And the amazing thing is, it never feels gimmicky. The movie uses this technique to its advantage and explores the different ways it can show us the plot progressing just using screens. As far as the actual plot and characters, both are really well done. I cared about the family from the very beginning, and this is upheld even more by John Cho’s performance. The plot is twisty in the right ways and I was pretty glued to my seat for the whole thing.

4. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (directed by Christopher McQuarrie)

Credit: Skydance

So much has been said about how real everything in this movie feels, and it will be said again: the entire team here’s commitment to providing a white-knuckles, true action-thriller is something to behold. Just like with every new entry in this franchise, each succeeding set-piece here manages to top the last in terms of sheer scale and insanity, and what makes that so noteworthy is that they did it themselves. Take anything in this, and there’s probably a featurette of Tom Cruise doing it in preparation for this. All of which makes it even more frustrating to rank the entries of this franchise.

3. Avengers: Infinity War (directed by Joe and Anthony Russo)

Credit: Marvel Studios

Acting as the first half of the culmination of 10 years worth of interconnected storytelling, Infinity War did an impressive job. But perhaps what’s most impressive about it is that even though it managed to (for the most part) give each hero their fair share of moments, the villain didn’t have to give up their development, as is so common with MCU films. Thanos will go down as one of the great villains, and the fact that it was in this hero-studded of a movie is all the more credit to the team behind Infinity War.

2. Eighth Grade (directed by Bo Burnham)

Credit: A24

Another incredible movie from a debut director was this year’s Eighth Grade. Bo Burnham, known more for his stand-up and comedy work, took the helm of director, and with the help of star Elsie Fisher and his phenomenal script, was able to capture the essence of middle school. Watching this in eighth grade was a really fantastic experience, and I don’t think I’ve ever related as closely to a movie as to this. Everything here is spot-on, and its more universal themes connect well with its take on today’s generation. Rarely ever before has such an accurate portrayal of middle school been put to screen, not to mention Fisher’s star-making performance. Bursting with humor and heart, Eighth Grade does a fantastic job showing what, in today’s world of technology, middle school can look like.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman

Credit: Sony Pictures Animation

From the moment the first trailer for Spider-Verse came out, I knew it was going to be something special. The animation style, if you even look at one frame of this movie, was unprecedented, and the balance this is able to strike between well-developed characters, a surprisingly ensemble cast, and an exciting plot is growing scarcer in comic book films. The painstaking attention to detail in every shot, and the “comic-book come to life” visual style not once gets old, largely due to how the film finds new settings, textures, and characters to explore and play with. And that’s just the animation style. You can instantly connect with Miles Morales, in part due to the great job Shameik Moore did with the character, and the writing of him. Basically everything in Spider-Verse is a product of an incredibly talented team coming together and truly bringing a comic book to life.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Movie Review

Note: This is an advanced, spoiler-free review of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which opens in theaters this Friday, December 14.

Credit: Sony

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse left a wide smile on my face from the opening credits to the very end of the (hilarious) post-credits scene. This movie manages to be a comic book movie in every sense of the word, but takes the genre to places somewhat explored in The LEGO Batman Movie, something that I really liked, but does it in such a crazy, bold, and above all slick way that you won’t be forgetting this one anytime soon after you watch it.

Slick’s a phrase that would describe this movie pretty well and is a word that kept popping up in my head the first 15 minutes of this because everything in this movie is just so effortless and cool, yet still so impressive to look at. This has been said a million times before, but it’s being said here: this movie is a comic book come to life. Into the Spider-Verse takes the animation format and uses it to turn everything you’re looking at on the screen into a comic book, full with thought bubbles and action noises during fights, both of which blend seamlessly with the format and visual style. There’s also lots of visual comedy that comes with the overall comic booky-ness of this movie. It would’ve been so easy for Spider-Verse to feel overstuffed or like there’s too much to process at once, but somehow it manages to always feel streamlined, while you can still tell the immense style and detail shoved into every corner of this movie.

Credit: Sony

At various points throughout Into the Spider-Verse, I found myself in awe. Not just at what I was watching, because believe me, this isn’t like anything you’ve seen before, let alone in the animation genre. I was in awe at how many different parts of this movie shot a smile straight to my face. This is one of the best comic-book movies ever because everything that makes a good comic book movie is turned up to 11. It’s a good personal story about Miles Morales, works well as a hyper self-aware comedy, and works as a really good animated movie too.

The action keeps in line with the movie of being great on paper, but having the potential to be an overload much on the screen, but, just like the rest of the movie, is great onscreen too. From the very first action set-piece, the film shows establishes what it’s gonna look like, and does a pretty good job of blowing you away meanwhile. The action is fluid and easily to follow even while juggling lots of things in the background. The third act looked truly crazy to watch on the big screen, and wouldn’t be possible outside of the animation, and specifically this movie’s take on animation, format. But another thing that keeps the action grounded are the characters. From each set-piece to another, you’re constantly rooting for the characters on screen because of how good of a job the movie does establishing them. Even the supporting Spider-Men, like Spider-Ham, Spider-Man Noir, or Peni Parker (with a mechanical SP/DR suit), while not given too much actual depth, are given just enough backstory provided with just enough hilarity that you’ll be smiling at every one-liner each of them crack. 

Credit: Sony

Back onto the characters, this movie has a lot but does an impressive job balancing all of them pretty well. Naturally, Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) gets the main focus, but the lazy, worn-out version of Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) is fleshed out super well too. You understand his motivations, and why he’s there, and he has his own style of humor, a key aspect of being a Spider-Man, alongside all of the other Spider-People too. But Miles Morales is the star of this story, and he does a great job showing that. We get a sense of who he is, and why he’s doing what he’s doing, but the movie shows quite a bit of his personal life too, from his interactions with his parents (Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez) to his friends to his uncle (Mahershala Ali), which ties back to a throwaway line from Spider-Man: Homecoming in a way that got me really excited. Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) is also a lot of fun, and her relationship with Miles and Peter is a lot of fun to watch too. John Mulaney and Nicolas Cage both stand out as Spider-Ham, a…  pig-detective who’s also Spider-Man, and Spider-Man Noir, a 1930s vigilante who only appears in black-and white. Both had me cracking up everytime they came on screen and were welcome additions to the cast. 

Especially for an animated movie, Into the Spider-Verse did an exceptional job managing the tone. At times, it was deeply touching and emotional, at times shockingly dark, but most of all, it knew when to take a breath and have a laugh. This aspect of fun and the humor is present throughout the movie, but is never hammered over the head too much, an issue that movies like LEGO Batman and Deadpool run into. When Spider-Verse tries to be serious or emotional, it knocks it out of the park, whereas films like the other two I just mentioned face a great deal of tonal inconsistency. The humor is consistently great, and there are lots of parts that are directed towards fans of the character and his mythology. Some references go by pretty quick, so if you’re a big fan of the character, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for some hilarious references. It’s also meta and self-aware like the aforementioned LEGO Batman Movie and Deadpool, but doesn’t go too far where it’s basically winking at the camera. Written by Phil Lord, who along with Chris Miller, who produces, directed the Jump Street movies and The Lego Movie, Spider-Verse often feels like it was done by them, from the way certain jokes are told to some of the references in the background.

Credit: Sony

However, this never feels like it alienates those who aren’t too familiar with the character, as, at its core, Spider-Verse tells a human story with real characters that you can feel. Its references come from a place of love, whether its from the movie’s heartwarming, truly touching Stan Lee cameo, or the abundance of visual gags hidden in each frame. It has a universal message, furthering hammering down the fact that this can be enjoyed by a variety of audiences, those familiar and unfamiliar with the character, and those of all ages.

The pacing in this is also breakneck. It moves along its rich, concise story like flipping through the pages of the comic book. It takes its time to breathe but also knows when to keep moving and always keeps the audience engaged. Clocking in at just under 2 hours, it feels nowhere near its length, and with most blockbusters, let alone comic book movies, being overlong, this is a breath of fresh air.  Spider-Verse leaves you wanting more of its stunning animation, likable characters, mile-a-minute humor, but most of all, its touching, developed story. This was exactly what it needed to be, and much, much more.

Rating: 9.5/10

Credit: Sony