25. Let the Sunshine In
dir. Claire Denís
What would it be like for one woman to have to endure all of Woody Allen’s misanthropic, terrible leading men, concentrated in one movie? That’s the question Claire Denís seems intent on answering in the heart-warmingly funny Parisian comedy. Juliette Binoche brings a weakness and frailty to the role that is something to behold, constantly offering herself up for damage in the pursuit of love. Then, as if a capper to having to deal with so many terrible men, Binoche must sit through the credits (the credits!) listening to Gérard Depardieu come on to her as a horny fortune teller. The final, dark as night, joke.
24. Her Smell
dir. Alex Ross Perry
I would argue that the odious title for Perry’s newest film is fitting, given how disquieting and stomach turning three-fifths of the movie is. Trying to keep up with the relentlessly Shakespearean Elizabeth Moss, Perry’s camera is constantly sweeping, lolling back and forth through backstage or studio. His knack for punk rock styling is stuck in the late-90s, but everything else here feels brutally real, a messy account of addiction and coping mechanisms and how we never really overcome them. Props to Moss for the beautiful piano cover of “Heaven.”
dir. Jason Reitman
While the focus problem of Diablo Cody’s newest film is motherhood and postpartum depression, the reason Tully works as poignantly as it does is MacKenzie Davis’ role is hardly a reflection of the specific central issue. Instead, Davis’ (SPOILER) ghost of a younger Charlize Theron serves as a pallbearer for all our younger selves. The more adventurous version of us, where the issues were less finances or survival and more about personal drama and which way the world was going to be changed by us first. It’s a clever trick, made all the more punchy by Cody’s trademark third act wallop.
dir. Panos Cosmatos
The idea of a midnight madness movie starring Nic Cage that wowed at early 2018 festivals was enough to propel Mandy to ungodly levels of hype. And while it’s not the greatest movie of the year, Mandy is a psychedelic freakout that plays as weird, obsession-worthy and slightly tiresome as the mid-80s metal concept albums it gleefully references. Yes, Cage fights in a chainsaw battle, but the best scene is far earlier – a disturbing crossfade between Andrea Riseborough and Linus Roache’s eyes.
dir. Carlos López Estrada
Although he can’t fully make Daveed Diggs’ slam poetry work every time, López Estrada grounds a story about the gentrification of Oakland in the kinetic conflict and partnership of Diggs’ Collin and Rafael Casal’s Miles. Both are masters of playing off of each other, constantly feeling inches away from freestyle battling, even when the stakes are deathly serious.
dir. Daniel Goldhaber
At the risk of seeming hyperbolic, and understanding that at this point it’s probably already dated, CAM is one of the first movies to fully understand this contemporary internet moment. Seamlessly weaving Twitch, deep fakes, cam shows, account snatching and internet celebrity stalker culture into a horrifying movie about identity, Goldhaber and Madeline Brewer (as Alice) make a clean statement that no, the internet isn’t inherently un-cinematic. The people that are saying that just don’t understand the internet.
19. Happy As Lazzaro
dir. Alice Rohrwacher
A parabola of a movie that furtively dodges around its central timeline break, Rohrwacher’s dusty tale about the promises and betrayals of capitalism plays like a tragic fable. Newcomer Adríano Tardiolo plays Lazzaro with beatific wonderment, allowing the beleaguered visages of everyone else around him to fill in the gaps and serve as audience surrogates to his “powers.” Perhaps the end of the movie is completely fake, a dream. Or, perhaps, Lazzaro’s appearance to his friends, so much older now, is reminder that no matter their circumstances before, capitalism’s promises will always be hollow.
18. Never Goin’ Back
dir. Augustine Frizell
Perhaps this movie couldn’t have happened without Spring Breakers first plumbing the depths of contemporary deviant dropout beach trip culture. But I choose to believe that Augustine Frizzell crafted this masterful paean to being young, stupid and together with the singular purpose to show that yeah, there are better versions of Spring Breakers and Superbad. Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone play Angela and Jessie’s grossly blissed-out mission to get to the coast with gleeful pissantry, never once pausing to bother to answer for the audience whether they are romantically entangled or not. It doesn’t matter — what matters is that sweet cash that’s a short jump out the door of the burger place you just robbed.
17. You Were Never Really Here
dir. Lynne Ramsay
The “hitman with a heart of gold” genre is such a tightrope to pull off, being that its worst versions are incredibly condescending and exploitative. Yet Lynne Ramsay and Joaquin Phoenix walk the tightrope so expertly (peep the security camera break-in) as to make the exercise seem easy, and everyone else just incapable. Phoenix’s nervous, PTSD-riddled anti-hero portrayal of Joe is unsparing and painfully grounded while the corrupt, disgusting world around him spins, unimpeded by Joe’s minor successes. Then, as if the audience could gain any respite from a happy ending, Ramsay pummels her diner ending scene so beautifully into submission that it’s unthinkable another hitman movie for a while could do better.
16. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
dir. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsay, Rodney Rothman
Lord & Miller’s writing team does an amiable job of reframing Spider-man’s core ethos into a character arc, even if they pound it a bit hard towards the movie’s conclusion. Every performance is game and enjoyably over-the-top (props to out-stunt casting Mandy in getting Nic Cage). Yet the thing that makes Spider-Verse possibly the best animated movie since Wall-E is the uninterrupted, unimpeded, joyous explosion of color. The three directors masterfully use color, sound, camera motion and comic books to tell the story during their action sequences in a way no movie since Scott Pilgrim has. A true animated achievement.
dir. Ari Aster
The plot points of Aster’s debut horror flick are less important than the way they are portrayed: direct, blunt, excruciatingly terrifying. Everyone from Toni Collette down is doing their slack-jawed best just to survive the parade of horrors brought upon an already grieving family. The third act is one of the most consistently terrifying finales of any post-Get Out horror movie, refusing to give any of the dwindling survivors any time to breathe as the demons circle closer and closer. A masterful horror about the way familial disease invades a home and will not let go.
dir. Alex Garland
Mutating Jeff VanderMeer’s original source material to his own dastardly ends, Garland crafts a story of loss and obsession as less a disease that needs to be reckoned with, and more a evolutionary process that deals inexorable damage to our former selves, leaving any human in its wake irreconcilably different. Confusing this elegiac journey with a dour philosophical treatise does Portman, Thompson, Jason Leigh, Rodriguez and the rest of the cast a disservice, in that their heavy-lidded performances are more rooted in the weight of an evolutionary change being brought upon their individual selves. A slow, biological, fittingly excellent fellow-up to Ex Machina.
13. Black Panther
dir. Ryan Coogler
In many ways, it feels like Black Panther has existed for eons. Much in the same way as Get Out, Ryan Coogler’s entry into the MCU (the best, by the way) establishes itself as an altogether new yet obvious form of storytelling, removing the “default white” fallacy and interjecting a beautiful, multi-cultural palette to every frame. Nowhere is this more apparent than the movie’s soundtrack, which darts around traditional African instruments and Kendrick Lamar verses to achieve an eternal, yet of-the-moment exhilaration in Coogler’s enrapturing Korean car chase. A movie that seems like it had to have existed before now, but, thankfully, will influence a generation of superhero movies now that it finally does exist.
12. Paddington 2
dir. Paul King
No. It’s not a hipster pick. The follow-up to the pleasing but conventional first Paddington paints the same conventionally agreeable portrait, yet adds a wholly unhinged Hugh Grant performance to the mix. Oh, and the best deconstruction of the prison industrial complex as a destroyer of lives that could otherwise be salvaged by an empathetic community that’s been put into cinema in… a quarter century? While managing to effectively ape Wes Anderson production values, everything about Paddington in prison is aces metatextual storytelling, and makes this sequel a very close to Movie of the Year candidate.
11. The Sisters Brothers
dir. Jacques Audiard
A Western made by a Western fan, Jacques Audiard’s first English-language film is an ode to and deconstruction of the American West, that romantic frontier. This time, it’s not Cowboys vs Indians. This time it’s the free accumulation of wealth, that wretched siren that, according to Audiard’s vision, has been poisoning the Silicon Valley long before the denizens of Web 2.0 descended upon the land. Phoenix, John C. Reilly (playing his Paliacci to masterful effect), Jake Gylenhaal (hamming, hilariously) and Riz Ahmed expertly wander the untilled land, looking for money, power and justification for their horrific actions. Finding none, the choice is presented: continue, or relent?