If anything, 2018 was the year movies felt more inclusive than any other year in recent memory (or ever). One could attribute it to the efforts of artists, writers, and filmmakers who have been given the opportunity to tell stories that are rarely distributed to mass audiences, with characters that are not often found on the big screen. Titles like Sorry To Bother You, Crazy Rich Asians, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, The Hate U Give, BlackkKlansman, Searching, Hearts Beat Loud, To All The Boys I've Loved Before, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Love, Simon made their presence known and struck a chord.
And with critical faves like Roma and The Favourite not yet screened as of December 31, here's what left a mark on me this past year:
1. EIGHTH GRADE (RT Score: 99%) - Bo Burnham's directorial debut may be the first (and best) movie about Gen Z capable of resonating across all age groups. Elsie Fisher, a true revelation, plays 13-year-old Kayla, a girl on the verge of graduating from middle school. And every awkward, humiliating, joyful, devastating, and mundane moment leading up to that transition is captured and conveyed with gorgeous poignancy and tender nuance. Burnham proves himself as a keen observer of adolescent life in the late 2010s. Welcome to a world of sniffing markers, shooter drills, and adults pathetically attempting to dab. When Kayla puts herself out there at a mean girl’s pool party — in an unflattering green swimsuit — we follow her along that tense, unbearable walk until she submerges herself, hiding among a group that doesn’t acknowledge her. We see her pain. We feel her pain. We know her pain. Eighth Grade never comes off as an indictment of Kids These Days. It’s a beautiful snapshot of youth and the culture that is rapidly shaping it, whether we like it or not.
2. WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (RT Score: 99%) - Morgan Neville’s sterling doc looks back on the impactful legacy of Fred Rogers and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, simultaneously opening the floodgates of nostalgia and exploring the groundbreaking and powerful ideas that were subtly communicated within the show throughout its decades-long run. It is a beautiful tribute as well as a testament to the power of empathy. Soothing balm we need during our divisive Era of Outrage.
3. CRAZY RICH ASIANS (RT Score: 91%) - In an marketplace dominated by superheroes and YA adaptations, we almost forgot what rom-coms can be capable of -- despite the fact that the term "rom-com" has devolved into something cliched and easily mockable. But Jon M. Chu's vibrant and groundbreaking adaptation of Kevin Kwan's delicious bestseller reminded us of the magic of these films (when done properly, of course). Sure, CRA covers every trope in the genre (scene-stealing sidekick, exotic locales, a fashion-music montage), but it does so with unabashed gusto, uplifting and inspiring audiences when we needed it the most.
4. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? (RT Score: 98%) - Melissa McCarthy wisely trades in her comic chops to inhabit the life of down-on-her-luck celebrity biographer Lee Israel in early-90s New York City, and thanks to Marielle Heller's restrained direction, what almost becomes another movie-about-a-writer turns into quiet yet engaging literary caper.
5. GAME NIGHT (RT Score: 83%) - The plot (a murder-mystery game goes horribly wrong for a group of competitive friends) is deceptively simple. The jokes (that squeaky toy gag, Jesse Plemon's creepy cop) are unexpected and clever. And the writing and direction is razor-sharp, carefully crafted, and surprisingly polished for a modern-day, R-rated laugher. A well-cast (and rewatchable) reprieve from the ad-lib-heavy joke machines that have forgotten what a great comedy is supposed to be.
6. TULLY (RT Score: 85%) - Forget the publicized gimmick touting Charlize Theron's weight gain for her role in writer Diablo Cody's tender ode of motherhood. Instead, focus on the actress's subtle choices and Jason Reitman's beautiful direction in this domestic drama that offers a brilliant twist on movies about nannies.
7. WIDOWS (RT Score: 91%) - An explosive, visceral collaboration between director Steve McQueen and writer Gillian Flynn, Widows is more than just a female-fronted heist story. It is a prime example of intelligent, impactful drama for grown-ups that not only taps into the zeitgeist, it holds a mirror up to it and dissects the sociopolitical and socioeconomic problems that continue to challenge American society. Featuring the best big-screen ensemble in recent memory, it is tight, tense, and tricked-out with twists that never feel contrived -- a manifesto for the demise of the American dream.
8. BLACK PANTHER (RT Score: 97%) - Even those suffering from the worst cases of Superhero Movie Fatigue couldn't resist the power, charisma, and genuine wonder of the latest installment within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. More than just another fantastical epic, Panther brought much-needed black excellence to the big screen in a way that felt effortless -- all while offering a fascinating look at an alternate world in which such excellence is allowed to soar beyond its potential.
9. SEARCHING (RT Score: 93%) - This is the second year in a row in which John Cho appears in my Top 10 (last year he starred in the beautiful Columbus), and this time he plays a father of a teenage girl who goes missing. What makes this familiar story so bracingly original is its execution: the increasingly tense narrative unfolds across computer screens, text messages, surveillance footage, and news reports -- never losing its momentum, rising above the tropes of the found-footage genre -- only to drop one of the best plot twists in years.
10. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUT (97%) - Tom Cruise & Co. have successfully defied the odds, keeping a 22-year-old franchise as fresh and thrilling as ever. This sixth entry is a reminder that not all action flicks need capes and intergalactic battles to keep audiences engaged. This one has both brains and brawn, giving us one breathtaking sequence after another with twists and turns that are genuinely jawdropping.
...AND 7 HONORABLE MENTIONS:
Love, Simon (92%)
A Star Is Born (90%)
A Simple Favor (85%)
Bad Times at the El Royale (74%)