We’re now ten months through 2018, and most movie fans would agree it’s been a great year of cinema so far. Disney’s three big properties–Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar–all had major releases, but many of the year’s best films so far have come from more unexpected places. Following the huge success of Get Out last year, independent horror has shown that it’s as strong as ever, with a handful of low budget chillers that have earned some of the best reviews of the year so far in any genre. And there have been some distinctive movies from some of the most singular directors working today, including new films from Lynne Ramsey, Alex Garland, and Wes Anderson.
Of course, it’s been hard to escape the huge movies too, but luckily most have been great. Solo might have floundered at the box office but the fans who did see it weren’t disappointed, and Marvel delivered two of its biggest movies ever, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. In fact, these two movies have dominated the superhero genre so completely in the first half of 2018, it’s hard to see how they can be topped throughout the rest of the year, much less in 2019–but knowing Marvel, we’ll be back in 12 months saying exactly the same thing.
Every year throws sequels our way, but 2018 has been stronger than most when it comes to follow-up films. The Mission Impossible movies continue to get bigger and better, Deadpool 2 doubled down on everything that made the first so successful, The Nun became the biggest movie in the Conjuring universe to date, and the Sicario sequel surprised many by being a superb, utterly uncompromising sequel to the acclaimed original. So in order of release, here’s a look at the very best movies of 2018 so far…
The character of Paddington has existed since 1958, but recent movies have brought the iconic bear to a whole new generation of fans. Paddington was one of the best family movies of 2014, and this year’s sequel was even better. As before, a beautifully-animated CG Paddington is surrounded by a cast of great British actors, including Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, and Peter Capaldi. Best of all is Hugh Grant ,who gives a brilliant performance as the villain, a bitter, once-famous actor who conspires to get Paddington wrongly imprisoned. It’s warm, witty, imaginative, and gloriously entertaining.
“Black Panther is a movie that succeeds in challenging that type of preconceived idea, from the gut-punches of Killmonger’s condemnations to the simple reality of seeing an affluent African nation never touched by–to borrow the movie’s own terminology–any of history’s many “colonizers.” The fact that Wakanda isn’t real only emphasizes the point. It’s is a top tier Marvel movie with all the humor, style, action, passion, and fun that the MCU has come to embody. Black Panther is a cultural event that’s going to be hard for Marvel to top.” [read the full review]
The R-rated comedy made a big comeback this year with Game Night, which starred Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman as a game-loving couple who are highly competitive. It’s one of those single-night-of-chaos movies, in which the characters find themselves trapped in an increasingly ludicrous series of events, in this case involving deadly Eastern European gangsters and a stolen black market Fabergé egg. Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein–who also wrote Spider-Man: Homecoming and will direct The Flash for DC–combine raunchy laughs and wild, inventive action, and the supporting cast includes Kyle Chandler, Jesse Plemons, and Michael C. Hall. While most movies like this quickly run out of steam and energy, Game Night remains consistently funny, entertaining, and unpredictable from start to finish.
“Annihilation brings up all the right questions. Its gruesome, unsettling body horror becomes all the more disquieting because it’s layered on top of a core of hard science, and the discussions among the five scientists–who all come from disparate disciplines–as they try to comprehend their experiences are some of the best parts. If you’re looking for a traditional story arc or familiar sci-fi beats from Annihilation, look elsewhere. Alex Garland’s second turn in the director’s chair is a weird, Lovecraftian blend of cosmic and body horror with sci-fi themes and a hokey aesthetic that doesn’t always work. It’s also an incredibly detailed, thoughtful film that will warrant multiple viewings–and, hopefully, an expedition into the absolutely phenomenal source material–for those who find themselves sufficiently intrigued.” [read the full review]“The tone overall is pessimistic, but these few moments of happiness help you empathize with the Abbotts even more. They’re complemented by cinematography that uses equally warm colors, and a few striking reds during particular moments of tension. A Quiet Place does its job well: It clearly establishes ground rules, continually ups the danger, and makes dynamic use of all types of sound. Any hope of progress or safety in this world can be crushed by a dropped object or even the soft crying of a baby. There are precious few seconds where the Abbotts–and you as the viewer–can relax. While it certainly doesn’t shy away from trying to make you jump, it’s the sonic nature of the scares and unending threat of everyday actions that make this film stand tall.” [read the full review]
Joaquin Phoenix will be seen next year as the Joker, in DC’s upcoming prequel movie about the Clown Prince of Crime’s origins. If you want to get a taste of what Phoenix can do with a darker role, then this searing thriller should do the trick. Phoenix plays a former FBI agent turned freelance enforcer, who specialises in rescuing kidnapped girls from some very bad men. Reminiscent of classic movies about urban alienation such as Taxi Driver, it’s dark, violent, and very intense, and is free of the clichés you often find in this sort of movie. Scottish director Lynne Ramsay directs with incredible style, and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood delivers an amazing score.
“This is Anderson’s second stop motion animation film, after 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. That alone sets it somewhat apart from the rest of his movies. But in Isle of Dogs he also foregoes some of the stylistic quirks he usually relies so heavily on, from the frequently deployed slow-mo to the normally Kinks/David Bowie/Rolling Stones heavy soundtracks. Isle of Dogs charges forward toward its conclusion like a dog chasing a ball, and when it gets there you might experience emotional whiplash. The climax comes and goes before you can fully process it, and it’s all denouement from there. At just over 100 minutes, Isle of Dogs could have used a little more time spent on some of its side characters and subplots, and a little more at the end. But there’s a silver lining there: Isle of Dogs is Wes Anderson’s most focused film ever, and you’ll want to go through it again.” [read the full review]
“This is still an Avengers movie, and the payoff really comes from the unions and reunions we’ve come to expect from that name. When the first Avengers movie brought Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye together in 2012, the goosebumps that came from seeing heroes from disparate franchises fighting on-screen together proved that the Marvel blueprint works on a large scale. And that was after just a few movies and four years; Avengers: Infinity War extrapolates that same sensation over a decade and 18 films, and the results are exponentially more fun, exciting, and awe-inducing. It does justice both to the promise Marvel has been riding on for the last decade, and the source material that inspired it. Infinity War reminds us why these characters, one and all, matter, and why they mean so much to fans.” [read the full review]
“The horror doesn’t come from jump scares, of which there are very few. It’s more the sense of reality coming undone–of forces beyond control manipulating the characters into acts of self-destruction. Hereditary isn’t overly concerned with its own metaphors, but it does leave things open to interpretation. Nuanced performances from the leads sell every moment of it. As the supernatural scares become more prominent, those questions get harder to answer. But it’s a gradual shift. Afterward, you won’t know quite how to process what you’ve just seen. But if you love great horror, you’ll be dying to see it again.” [read the full review]
While the ordinary title and basic plot might not suggest that this French movie is going to be anything special, the movie is one of the wildest, goriest action/horror hybrids for a long time. A young woman is brutalised and left for dead in the desert by three men; unluckily for them, she survives and returns to exact her bloody vengeance. Coralie Fargeat’s debut film quickly abandons reality to deliver a hypnotic, exciting, ultra-stylised and hyper-violent thriller. Matilda Lutz delivers a stunning performance as the party girl who transforms into a superhuman killing machine.
“Solo may not have been the Star Wars story every fan wanted. Did we really need to see the Sabacc game that won Han the Millennium Falcon, or find out exactly what the Kessel Run is? Definitely not, but it all turned out surprisingly fun, and there are some really juicy surprises and Easter eggs that connect Solo to the larger Star Wars universe in delightfully unexpected ways. Solo wasn’t an essential story to tell, and some of this might have been better left to the imagination. It’s valid for some fans to wish Disney would devote resources to telling fresher tales that don’t rely so heavily on nostalgia and existing plots and characters. With who knows how many more Star Wars releases planned from now until the end of time, we’ll no doubt get those at some point. But Solo: A Star Wars Story is what we have right now, and if it’s simply an enjoyably well-crafted side story, well, is that really so bad?” [read the full review]
“Deadpool 2 is still hilarious. The character’s best jokes always come from breaking the fourth wall and making references to other superhero movies and characters. Deadpool 2 pokes fun at the DC movies universe, Infinity War, the other Marvel movies, the other X-Men movies, and even certain previous Ryan Reynolds superhero roles. The action is still a stylish blast to watch, too, especially when the new characters get involved. There are some extremely fun cameos, and the introduction, through Cable, of time travel into Deadpool’s “continuity” (such as it is) makes for a collection of fantastically clever gags. Overall, Deadpool 2 mostly works for all the same reasons that the original did.” [read the full review]
“This is the kind of superhero film adults and small children can go to and both find something they’ll love. In a superhero movie landscape where the world is constantly being destroyed by massive CGI abominations, this is a refreshing change. Will Teen Titans Go! To the Movies save the DC Comics movie universe? Not in the least. However, like the recently released Ant-Man and the Wasp, it doesn’t forget how funny and exciting these types of movies can be.” [read the full review]“Sicario: Day of the Soldado is just as violent, tense, and relevant as the original. Without the masterful talents of Denis Villeneuve directing and Roger Deakins on cinematography, it does look and feel a little less special than the original. But director Stefano Sollima and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski do a more than adequate job shaping this sequel in the original’s style and form, and you’ll easily become engrossed in the movie and stop thinking about who directed what. With a gripping climax that focuses on the danger faced by migrants as they risk everything to cross the border, Sicario: Day of the Soldado couldn’t possibly feel more relevant.” [read the full review]
“Incredibles 2 is yet more proof that Pixar is currently at the top of its game. The original is a favorite among fans, and given the state of superhero movies today compared with 2004, it seems downright prescient in retrospect. Making Incredibles 2 now, in a post-Avengers world, no doubt came with a whole new set of unique challenges. It even puts the sequel at a slight disadvantage; Incredibles 2 being a better-than-decent superhero movie isn’t as novel as it once would have been. There are a half dozen of those coming out every year, now. Thankfully, Incredibles 2 is much more than simply better-than-decent–it’s beautiful, creative, smart, funny, and more fun than a barrel full of Jack-Jacks. It was well worth the wait.” [read the full review]
“Like the original Ant-Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp is primarily a palette cleanser in the MCU as a whole. Ant-Man and the Wasp is hilarious, fun, silly, self aware, and creative. Filled with pseudo-science gobbledigook, crazy action, and multiple villains all vying for screen time, it’s one of the most comic-booky MCU movies yet. The fates of all our favorite heroes after Avengers: Infinity War may still be up in the air, but in the meantime, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a welcome distraction.” [read the full review]
July saw the release of two acclaimed social satires set in Oakland, California, both written by hugely talented musicians. While Blindspotting took a more dramatic approach, Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You is absurd, ambitious, hugely imaginative dark sci-fi comedy. Atlanta‘s Lakeith Stanfield plays an African-American telemarketer who discovers that using a white accent on the phone means he excels at his job. Soon he is climbing the corporate ladder but finds himself embroiled in a sinister conspiracy. Riley assembles a stellar cast–including Tessa Thompson, Forrest Whittaker, Terry Crews, Danny Glover, and Armie Hammer–and directs with flair and imagination.
Daveed Diggs was already an award-winning Broadway star for his role in the hugely popular Hamilton and part of the acclaimed hip-hop group Clipping, and with Blindspotting, he made his move into cinema. Diggs co-writes and stars in this outstanding comedy/drama, which follows a paroled man trying to see through his last few days on the tough streets of Oakland before his full freedom is restored. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t all go according to plan. Blindspotting is of the best indie movies of the year, with inventive photography and camerawork from music video director López Estrada and a confident blend of laughs and searing social commentary.
“The action is so unbelievably cool that the rest is mostly forgivable. Convoluted exposition dumps, weepy melodrama, cheesy dialogue, and Henry Cavill’s absolutely terrible American accent are really just filler designed to get us to the next major action climax, of which Fallout has at least four or five. The bathroom fight glimpsed in the trailers is brutally awesome; who cares how implausible it is that the men’s restroom at a packed rave would go unoccupied for long enough to allow it to happen in the first place? There’s a question like that at the heart of most of these scenes, along with a readily available way to dismiss it and just enjoy yourself. On that front, Mission Impossible: Fallout delivers.” [read the full review]
Director Spike Lee has never shied away from controversial material–classic movies such as Do The Right Thing, Jungle Fever, and Malcolm X addressed issues of race and relationships within American society, while his recent Chi-Raq was a musical that addressed inner-city gun violence. BlacKkKlansman is his highest profile movie in years, and is produced by Get Out‘s Jordan Peele. It’s the amazing but true story of a black FBI agent who managed to infiltrate the KKK in the 1970s, and it works both a gripping, hilarious, crowd-pleasing comedy thriller and a powerful indictment of racism. It stars John David Washington, son of regular Lee collaborator Denzel, plus Adam Driver, fresh from his role as Kylo Ren in the recent Star Wars movies.
“The Nun embraces all horror tropes–its tributes and homages to past horror movies are countless. Although it can be inconsistent, silly, and predictable, it’s also terrifying and atmospheric, with a great monster, phenomenal setting, and likable characters you’ll never stop rooting for. It doesn’t quite hit the highs of The Conjuring 1 and 2, but it’s definitely a fun, scary ride that horror fans will enjoy.” [read the full review]“Hold the Dark is a mysterious, uncompromising movie that won’t be for everyone. It’s very dark–there is little humor, and with the exception of Jame Badge Dale’s police chief Donald, the bleak tone keeps us from feeling much sympathy for even the “good guys,” let alone Skarsgård’s psychotic Vernon and his accomplices. The violence is strong and the movie leaves as many questions as it starts with. But for those who like their thrillers to provoke and challenge as well as thrill, it’s an impressive achievement that won’t be quickly forgotten.” [read the full review]