Vinnie Mancuso runs down his favorite films of 2018, from ‘Annihilation’ to ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’.
When a Top 10 Films of the Year list kicks off with something like “[X] was such a great year for movies”, it’s hard to quantify that with anything other than the fact that a lot of good movies were released that year. And it’s true, a ton of good movies came out in 2018, but to me what sets this year apart was just how gosh dang joyous it all felt. The world is a bleak place so much of the time, but the movie theater was a safe haven, a place to go laugh, or scream, or gasp, or crack a retainer over Michael B. Jordan‘s truly awe-inspiring trapezius muscles. I don’t even just mean the overtly delightful films like sentient ball of pleasantness Paddington 2, the rom-com perfection of Crazy Rich Asians, or the technicolor whirlwind Mary Poppins Returns. Horror brought us closer together through sheer unpleasantness (Hereditary) or with the terrors that come with caring about other people (A Quiet Place). Action like Mission: Impossible – Fallout reminded us of the breath-stealing potential of a practical stunt. The superhero genre went to weird places (Aquaman), massive places (Avengers: Infinity War), places that people have been waiting decades for it to go (Black Panther). A 54-year-old Nicolas Cage fought a demon with a chainsaw. Lady Gaga hit notes that no human being should be capable of hitting across from possible Best Director winner Rocket Raccoon. Not to name names, but even the absolute dumbest of the dumb this year still rolled in with a sloppy, unexpected joy, like a turd in the wind.
To put it more personally, 2018 was the year I started working full-time for Collider, moved to California, and fell back in love with movies. It’s an honor and a joy to discuss entertainment with you beautiful folks, something I’ll never take for granted. Whether you see film on a big screen, on a laptop, on a TV, on a cell phone, these weird, wonderful moving pictures are always a reminder of all that is good in the world.
So with that said, please remember that the following Top 10 Movies of 2018 is the only objectively correct list. Should you disagree, I invite you to yell at me as loudly and passionately as humanly possible right here.
“They have been given a purpose.”
Overlord is the exact type of film that I wish Hollywood made more of these days, a B-movie throwback to double creature features and bloody makeup on monstrous faces; if Overlord was release in 1977, it would have one of those posters that brags about the elderly fainting in the aisles. Spooky, bubbling laboratories. Mad scientists. Horrific experiments gone terribly wrong. Enough Nazi-punchin’ to make king of the old-school adventure serials Indiana Jones smile. It helps that director Julius Avery‘s action horror flick kicks off with one of the most realistically unsettling depictions of warfare since (and I’m serious here) Steven Spielberg stormed Normandy Beach; a bumpy ride in a tincan plane surrounded by a rainstorm of tracer bullets that’s both claustrophic and wildly terrifying. But once that place crashes down in German-occupied France and the survivors discover the Nazis are changing people underneath the old church, Overlord is throwback grindhouse perfection through and through. The whole cast makes an impression—Mathilde Ollivier is dynamite in only her second feature role—but its Wyatt Russell who especially sticks out, proving to be a charasmatic equal to his father.
“Because no one thinks we have the balls to pull this off.”
Widows is the best heist film in years because it’s barely about the heist at all. Steve McQueen‘s twisty thriller—from a script co-written with queen of the twisty thriller, Gillian Flynn—is far more concerned with the grief, the pure, human desperation that would drive people to commit a life-threatening heist in the first place. Driving this home with devestating impact is the core cast of title widows, each adding their own layer of grit and measured determination to this story of wives paying for the sins of their husbands. If Viola Davis ever looked at me with even the slightest hint of disaproval I would spontaneously combust, is what I’m saying. But there’s also Michelle Rodriguez putting in a career best performance as her character crumbles, and Elizabeth Debicki serving as the backbone to the entire film even with a black eye. Honestly, just go down the cast list and you’ll find an Oscar contender. No spoilers, but we’ll be discussing Cynthia Erivo a bit more further down this list, but she kicks all sorts of ass here, too. Daniel Kaluuya, so good as the reluctant victim in Get Out, makes a terrifying turn here as the enforcer Jatemme Manning; the high school gym scene where McQueen’s camera circles a predator-dangerous Kaluuya is stunning in its tension. More quietly intimidating is 2018’s low-key MVP Brian Tyree Henry, who takes part in by far the most terrifying scene featuring a dog in recent memory.
Overall, Widows is just proof that we should be asking our modern day technical wizards like Steve McQueen to be taking on original ideas, because the results are not only thrilling in the moment, but stick with you long after the credits roll. I still think about Widows, the heartbreak and triumph of the whole thing, at least three times a week.
“When you dance the dance of another, you make yourself in the image of its creator.”
You may notice that we here at Collider do a lot of “Endings Explained” pieces. Following my screening of Suspiria, I immediately hopped on the Collider Slack channel and opted out of trying to explain Luca Guadagnino‘s remake of Dario Argento‘s Giallo masterpiece. Because Suspiria traffics completely in the unexplainable, less a full-on horror story than an uneasy whiff of something indefinably wrong somewhere between sex, death, and magic. The major critiques against the film I’ve seen are that it’s indulgently long and needlessly confusing, but for me Suspiria is long the way a nightmare is long, confusing the way waking up in a strange place is confusing. In his own way, Guadagnino works his own sort of witchcraft with his take on Suspiria, flashes of light and sound and bloodshed that you dismiss as nonsense in the moment but leave you shaken hours later.
Every day of my life, I curse the movie gods for introducing the masses to Dakota Johnson—an unappreciated powerhouse—through the 50 Shades of Grey franchise. Here, as the American dancer Susie Bannon who unwittingly enrolls in a coven of witches, she brilliantly turns beautiful physical movement into something grotesque, all spine, shoulders, and half-fluttered eyes. By the time the film’s explosive, gory conclusion comes around you’re ready to cast your vote for Johnson to lead your own personal coven. And if this all sounds incredibly self-serious, that’s because it is, but you also need to remember that the treasure known as Tilda Swintonalso plays an elderly man, complete with a practical set of prosthetic testicles, basically for the lols of it all. Like the movie’s ending, my love for Suspiria is mostly unexplainable outside of some excited flailing and a definite knowledge that for two-and-a-half hours something took over my body and mind.
“You said nothing comes back. But something has.”
Based on author Jeff VanderMeer‘s Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation works a whole lot like the mysterious Shimmer that a military research crew—Lena (Natalie Portman), Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Anya (Gina Rodriguez), and Josie (Tessa Thompson)—ventures into. You understand it’s something you’re supposed to be terrified of, but the results of its dirty work are just so undeniably, mesmerizingly gorgeous. Annihilation is one of those rare films I’d gladly watch on mute, thanks to the exceptionally unique visuals cooked up by writer and director Alex Garland; shining, technicolor flora weaving its way around a rainbow landscape landscape populated by unspeakably mutated animals straight out of Lovecraft’s worst fever dreams. But without sound, I’d miss the human screams of that goddamn skull bear, undisputably 2018’s best monster. Because Garland leaves so much of his sci-fi mindfuckery unexplained, the viewer comes out the other side of the Shimmer much like Portman’s Lena, having (literally) danced with their own thoughts and, forced to confront what that means, changed in some way forever.
“‘Your mission, should you choose to accept it.’ I wonder, did you ever choose not to?”
It’s incredibly rare that any franchise pops off its best entry six movies in, but no other action franchise has a star as singularly batshit out of his mind as Tom Cruise. The soundtrack to Christopher McQuarrie‘s Mission: Impossible – Fallout should come with the sound of liability lawyers nervously wringing their hands, so determined was Cruise to die for the audiences’ entertainment. The actor made it out with only a broken ankle—on which he sprinted for several days to get the film finished—but the result is still the most perfectly paced set of jaw-dropping action set-pieces since Mad Max: Fury Road. That’s the thing about Fallout; the film gives you no breaks, no chances to breathe. It just builds, topping itself like a daredevil with nine lives and a deathwish. Just when you’re recovered from the (very real) HALO jump over Paris, Cruise, Henry Cavill, and Lian Yang are putting on the best big-screen fight scene of the year inside a bathroom. And then, just when you’ve accepted that Cavill really did pump his arms like a shotgun, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is back on a motorcycle, narrowly missing cars by inches. And then…well, you get the idea. Is it over the top? Abso-fucking-lutely. Did Tom Cruise honestly need to teach himself how to fly, and then crash, a helicopter? Probably not. But Fallout is a full-stop triumph because it’s a reminder of action filmmaking in its purest form, a genre capable of actually raising your heart rate to the point where your eyeing possible drag race partners on the ride home from the theater. In short, characters like Ethan Hunt make you—the average, non BASE-jumping human—feel momentarily like no mission is truly impossible.
“She’s not gone.”
I will never, for as long as I live and/or am brought back as a vessel for a demon king, forget the heavy, thudding silence that fell over the theater after Charlie (Milly Shapiro) was decapitated by an errant telephone pole. “Shocking” doesn’t really do it justice. It’s mind-erasing. Tongue-stealing. And it’s a beat that first-time feature director Ari Aster handles with the soul-shaking patience of a master, focusing not on the more gorey details but instead holding the camera on Charlie’s brother, Peter (Alex Wolff), wide-eyed and sweating; he can’t look in the backseat. We want him to look but also violently do not want him to look. That unbearable patience runs throughout Hereditary, the best horror movie in a year filled with top-notch horror movies. At its center is a mighty performance from Toni Collette—in a perfect world the “maybe” surrounding her Oscar nom wouldn’t exist—who rages, shakes, internalizes, and basically embodies the film’s themes surrounding the grief and neglect that can emerge from the past to destroy a family. Hereditary is a scary movie, no doubt; the image of Collette pounding her head against the attic door disturbed me on levels I didn’t know I had, and I’m still not over that camera pan where it takes you just a few seconds to realize she’s standing on the ceiling. But Hereditary burrows much deeper than just “scary”; Aster’s combination of mourning, regret, and darkly-felt love is something that, much like my dude Paimon (hail him), gets inside you and refuses to leave.
“I want you to hurt them.”
There was a Tweet going around a few weeks ago from VFX artist Todd Vaziri that said, “if you can jump to any random frame of the movie and it looks *good*, THAT’S great cinematography.” To me, that’s You Were Never Really Here in a nutshell. Written and directed by Lynne Ramsey working in tandem with Thomas Townend‘s cinematography, this sleek, sparse drama is like a beautiful painting that got splattered with blood, a work of art that uses its own gorgeousness to highlight just how goddamn brutal it is. It’s odd, I know, to describe a movie where a bearded, PTSD-stricken Joaquin Phoenix beats the unholy fuck out of rich child molesters with a ballpoint hammer as “beautiful”, but there’s such aching realness to the violence Ramsey cooks up, expressed more through plastic bag choking than actual dialogue. That quietness is key; I was astounded by the way Ramsey used silence throughout—the silence of security camera footage, of horrific memories left unspoken, of corpses already lying there dead when a character walks in the room—to heighten drama. Because by the end of the film, with Senator’s daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) saved and Phoenix’s Joe contemplating a bullet in a diner booth, Ramsey is able to find just the slimmest sliver of hope in all that silence.
“Shit happens. Get the whiskey.”
On a list of extremely specific genres, “strangers with secrets arrive at a single location” is so extremely my jam that Drew Goddard‘s Bad Times at the El Royale might as well have been pulled directly from my most intoxicated daydreams. It took Goddard a few years to get back behind the camera for a feature after his 2012 sublime meta-horror mind-fuck The Cabin in the Woods, but the result is such an incredibly fun, rain-slick, neon-lit time in two states I can’t even be mad. Pulpy and noir-tinged as all hell, Bad Times moves its ensemble around that mysterious Lake Tahoe hotel like chess pieces trapped in a game being played by drunks. And God, what an ensemble it is. Jon Hamm was put on this Earth with his inhumanly square jaw to play an FBI agent posing as a vacuum salesman. Jeff Bridges is so disarmingly charming as always that you root for both a forgetful priest and a violent bank-robber in a Phantom mask. Dakota Johnson is such a stellar walking “fuck you” that it’s not even a surprise that’s how she signs her name. Violent cult leader Chris Hemsworth dancing to Deep Purple’s “Hush” significantly changed my life for the better.
But for my money, it’s two relative newcomers that stand out the most, serving as the heart and soul of this wild movie. As the El Royale’s sole employee Miles, Lewis Pullman is jittery heartbreak from the moment he emerges from the hotel’s maintenance room, endearingly and dangerously embodying the horrors that come home from war through a bite of the lip or worried twitch of the eyes. Conversely, Cynthia Erivo—a Tony winner making her screen debut here—is walking dynamite as soul singer Darlene Sweet. Bad Times is set during a storm but Erivo is the movie’s lightning and thunder, with the voice to match.
Over-indulgent, over-stylized, over-long? Fuck yes, on all counts. But when all that excess goes down as smooth as Bad Times at the El Royale, it becomes a sharp drink I’ll be ordering up for many re-watches to come.
“I see this spark in you. It’s amazing. Whatever you choose to do with it, you’ll be great.”
If you said even a year ago that the best superhero movie in decades would not only be a Sony joint, but also an animated Spider-Man flick, you’d be laughed out of the local comic book shop. But here we are, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a genuine miracle of a movie, an origin story so bursting with heart, and warmth, and spirit that it’s practically a 3D movie that you don’t need glasses to see. We live in a world chockfull of movies based on comic books, but Spider-Verse is a straight-up comic book movie, a love letter to the medium, to art in general, to the giants like Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, John Romita, and more who first made costumed heroes pop off the page. The script from Phil Lord, the art direction Dean Gordon, and the work put in from directing trio Bob Persichetti, Rodney Rothman, and Peter Ramsey all work in tandem to pack in several universes-worth of references, explosive sight gags, and radical acid-trip imagery.
But the thing that makes Spider-Verse so uniquely special is that it is huge—that supporting cast of Spider-People like Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), and Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) is the most delightful thing in the world—but it’s still, at its core, entirely the story of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a kid from Brooklyn who happens to get bit by a radioactive spider. That’s what makes Spider-Verse into comic book storytelling at its best; plenty of Marvel movies are about gods and geniuses, about alternate universes filled with countless titans, but this movie manages to do all that while still believing a leap of faith could turn anyone into a hero. I didn’t walk out of the theater, I swung on literal webs of joy.
“Just cause things are happening right now doesn’t mean they’re always gonna’ be happening.”
Movies at their best are a shared experience, they make you feel a little less alone. I’ve never felt less alone than during Eighth Grade, the feature directing debut from Bo Burnham that tore me asunder at least six times. The film follows a 14-year-year-old girl—Elsie Fisher in an astounding, heartbreaking, uplifting performance—but Burnham hits on something so achingly real here that everyone will find something familiar here; an awkward tic, a crush that doesn’t know you’re alive, a pool party where you didn’t feel comfortable in your own skin, much less your bathing suit. Oh lord, the pool party. The pool party. I could discuss the pool party scene from this movie until the world ends, a perfect encapsulation of the discomfort, trauma, butterflies, and small triumphs that came with being young. But that’s the entire film, too. A downright ludicrous R-rating may have kept some people away from this one and that’s a shame, because everyone—men, women, children—will see themselves at some point in this film. It’s a learning experience, a trip to the past, a coming-of-age comedy with heart to spare. Eighth grade might be the hardest time of your life, but Eighth Grade is perfect.
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order): A Star Is Born, Aquaman, A Quiet Place, Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, BlackKklansman, Blockers, The Favourite, Game Night, Mandy, Paddington 2, ROMA, Sorry to Bother You, Upgrade
For the rest of Collider’s end-of-the-year content, go here, and check out some more of our lists below:
Vinnie Mancuso is a Senior Editor at Collider, where he is in charge of all things related to the 2018 film ‘Aquaman,’ among other things. You can also find his pop culture opinions on Twitter (@VinnieMancuso1) or being shouted out a Jersey City window between 4 and 6 a.m.
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Best Movies of 2018 from Suspiria to Eighth Grade – Collider
Vinnie Mancuso runs down his favorite films of 2018, from ‘Annihilation’ to ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’.