Garrett's Top Ten Films of 2018
2018 was the longest year in recorded history and 2019 promises to be even longer. But one of the benefits of an interminably long, never-ending year is the sheer amount of movie releases that allows for. I'm not sure if it was the lengthy feeling of the calendar year or that the quality of movies that I happened to see this year truly were of a higher caliber than I'm used to, but I ended up giving a 5-star rating to five movies this year, which is more than any prior year since I began writing about movies. Maybe it's how the tumultuous nature of living in America makes me feel right now or maybe it's the kind of art that such a landscape produces, but I found a lot of solace at the theater this year. I also found myself more entranced with the music and sound of this year's movies than I have in the past, and would note that while I don't always address it in these little capsule reviews, each of these films has a fantastic score that deserves a spot among your vinyl collections. And so, with that minor preamble out of the way, I present to you my favorite movies of 2018. Best be damned, these are my favorite.
10. Damsel (dir. David Zellner, Natahn Zellner)
Probably the biggest surprise of the year for me, this story of an incel in the old west caught me off-guard in the best way. Both Wasikowska and Pattinson shine in their roles in this absurd (and absurdly relevant) comedy that's as gorgeous as it is ridiculous. It's also one of the many movies this year that is about male entitlement and the poison that is to the world. I hope people will discover this movie in the coming years and give it its due, I absolutely loved it.
9. You Were Never Really Here (dir. Lynne Ramsay)
This is my first experience with Ramsay and I was absolutely blown away. Fellow Cinema76'er (and my co-host on I Like To Movie Movie) Dan Scully and I had a sprawling 2-hour conversation about this movie while walking through South Philly, and it's one of my favorite 2018 memories. It's a deceptively simple and straight forward movie that leaves viewers with much to parse regarding intent, fantasy, memory, and trauma. Phoenix gives one of the best performances of the year and Ramsay boldly directs the hell out of this thoughtful thriller. And the score by Johnny Greenwood continues to cement his position as one of the most interesting, unique composers of modern movie scores.
8. A Quiet Place (dir. John Krasinski)
Far and away the best experience I had in a theater this year, if not many years. I've never before seen a movie where the audience actively tried to protect the protagonists, in this case by being perfectly silent. If someone started to chew popcorn, you could actually hear them chewing as slowly and quietly as possible, and during the film's most tense scenes, people were audibly holding their breath so as to make as little sound as possible. This is truly one of the most inherently cinematic movies of the year; Krasinski and his cast have much to be proud of.
7. Revenge (dir. Coralie Fargeat)
One of 2018's most difficult triumphs. What starts as an uncomfortable and seedy grindhouse movie builds to a genuinely satisfying and artistically mesmerizing finale of metaphorical guts and literal gore that had me straight up screaming in my seat. If A Quiet Place was my best theatrical experience with an audience, this was my best personal experience, as I clung to Dan Scully's t-shirt and shrieked in his ears with both disgust and delight in equal measures. Fargeat comes out of the gate swinging with one of my favorite feature debuts in recent memory, accompanied by an excellent score by Rob (Robin Coudert).
6. Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland)
The fact that this movie, an obtuse science fiction film about trauma and adaptation, starring women, and featuring a finale that would make Kubrick jealous got a wide release in 2018 is maybe the most remarkable thing to happen in theaters this year. I only wish more of us went to see it so we could continue to get bold, bizarre, and brilliant films like this into theaters everywhere more often. The score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow is one of the most memorable of the year and promises to take over 2019's movie trailers in the way Zimmer's "brauuum" did following Inception. And Garland directs one hell of a cast to some of the most emotional peaks of 2018 in a movie that will mean many different things to many different people - my absolute favorite kind of movie.
5. Eighth Grade (dir. Bo Burnham)
If you told me at the beginning of the year that one of my 5-star movies of 2018 would be directed by the kid that wrote "New Math", a comedic song my teenage friends and I passed around our dorm to many giggles in the aughts, there's little chance I would have believed you. That's not because I don't think Burnham has it in him; his live shows are some of the most extravagant, yet exquisitely directed comedy shows I've ever seen. But rather that it would never occur to me that a young male stand-up comedian could make such an insightful and impactful film about a teenage girl, let alone on his first outing. And yet here we are, with one of the year's best lead performances being directed by Burnham, and from a breakout actress (Elsie Fisher), no less. Also of note is Anna Meredith's excellent score for the film, which is used to great effect in the sound design (the music is so loud in this movie, to its benefit). This was also one of my big cries of the year which has become a pretty decent standard by which I can judge movies in recent years.
4. The Witch in the Window (dir. Andy Mitton)
I've already addressed a few of my favorite theatrical experiences of the year, but I'd be remiss if I didn't recount my favorite theatrical MOMENT of the year, when Simon and Finn finally make contact with the titular Lydia. Not since Neil Marshall's The Descent have I seen an entire theater of people leap out of their seats simultaneously. And it's not even the most unnerving moment of this absolutely stellar film. Alex Draper and Charlie Tacker give two of the most outstanding performances of the year and sell Mitton's vision of a relatable family drama wrapped in horror movie packaging incredibly well. It's both the scariest and most heartwarming film of the year for me, and it is no small feat to combine those two generally opposed modes of filmmaking to such great effect.
3. Blndspotting (dir. Carlos López Estrada)
I do not wish to throw any other movies under the bus this year in my praise of this, but there were a lot of movies about social and racial politics this year, and specifically about code-switching, where those two arenas meet, and this is my favorite of them. I absolutely adored all of the films I'm vaguely referencing here, but Blindspotting somehow synthesizes all of the various ideas and arguments those other movies were making into a sharper, more focused movie that is as entertaining as it is harrowing. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal are fantastic in this and did double duty writing the screenplay, which is a deft examination of where we are with identity politics right now, today. And while the finale may not work for everyone, I truly think it's one of the most powerful moments in any movie this year, literally begging us to commit to self-expression over violence, and to recognize the difference between the two.
2. First Reformed (dir. Paul Schrader)
Another 2018 movie that's more about what you bring to the movie than its own baggage (of which it has plenty), and featuring my favorite performance of the year in Ethan Hawk's Reverend Toller. What do salvation and damnation actually look like? Is it possible they don't appear to be that dissimilar? And what glory might there be in martyrdom, especially if one already wishes to die? This is a movie that is in argument with itself about the forces in our world, both real and imagined, that anchor or move us. It's also the first movie I've seen that genuinely wrestles with both the physical and metaphysical implications of environmental collapse. And while that all sounds pretty heavy, it's a truly gripping film with excellent cinematography and sound design that kept me fully invested, both wholly unique to this movie. I am grateful that we got such a pure expression of an artist's thoughts and feelings about the state of the world this year.
1. Mandy (dir. Panos Cosmatos)
Speaking of pure, artistic expressions. Mandy is what happens when a filmmaker somehow glimpses inside my brain and turns what they find there into a movie. If you know me at all, I shouldn't need to explain why this is my favorite movie of 2018. But if you don't know me then please reference the following formula:
Nic Cage the actor + Rage Cage the meme + Psychedlic Stoner Rock + Fantasy/Horror/Metal aesthetics + pop-tart visuals = a perfectly tailored Garrett movie.
I think this film is beautiful. It simultaneously leaves me with melancholy feelings and a racing heart each time I watch it. This movie understands something about the value of relationships that I can't quite explain but know deep in my soul to be a truth about living. It is not just a Nic Cage revenge movie (though it's one of the best of those) as some people have dismissed it; it's a spiritual journey through the wretched darkness that befalls us all at some point on our journey to the grave and the black beauty that lies beyond it. It also rips and fucks simultaneously, and so well that both of those terms were immediately retired upon its release.
I also need to give a shout-out to Jóhann Jóhannsson's gorgeous and perfect score for Mandy. It's one of the best albums of the year by any artist in any genre, and it's a shame he's no longer here to read this praise. Every note shook the theater I saw this in, resonated in my chest, and lingered in my ears for weeks after. RIP to a truly brilliant artist.