Do you have Movieitis?
Movieitis is a year-round condition, and thus it’s always an ideal time to honor the best of the current movie crop. Now a fair distance a way through 2018’s midpoint, a wide range of awesome releases have illustrated that, no matter the genre, potential greatness abounds at both the multiplex and the art house. With seasons to go until the calendar once again turns, this rundown will undoubtedly transform in a variety of unexpected ways before reaching its final form in December—a situation almost guaranteed by the fact that works from the likes of Steve McQueen, Robert Zemeckis, Damien Chazelle, Richard Linklater, and Barry Jenkins are still on their way. But for the time being, these are the 10 best movies that 2018 has had to offer, thus far.
The prolific Steven Soderbergh is at it again; a horror film shot entirely on iPhone 7 Plus? That’s a helluva hook. The film, which finds a woman battling with her own sanity after a stalker forced her to uproot her entire life, is bigger than that initial hook. Claire Foy does a lot of heavy lifting, having to battle what could easily be seen as PTSD-induced mania resulting from the trauma brought on by the stalker, finding herself effectively trapped in a mental institution. She befriends a man who says he’s a journalist doing a story on the hospital—it’s a surprising performance from Jay Pharoah, who brings humor to the film without detracting from the true terror of the situation. If only the final act didn’t lose the plot, this would’ve been a true triumph for a horror genre that’s continuing to shine.
It took Brad Bird 14 years to give us the sequel to The Incredibles – and it’s totally worth the wait. Superheroes are still illegal, but the Parr family is eager to change minds. This time, Mom/Elastigirl (voiced by the sublimely feisty Holly Hunter) does the heavy lifting while Dad (Craig T. Nelson) stays home with the three kids. Timely much? All the voice acting is strong, but the MVP turns out to be the one with the least amount of dialogue – Jack-Jack, who absolutely steals the show. The fact that visual effects have developed so much over the past fourteen years only adds to the immersive experience, as each character and eye-popping action is brought to life in stunning animation. Writer & director Brad Bird believed in waiting for the right story to tell, and that decision certainly pays off in more ways than one as Incredibles 2 proves to be an Incredible amount of fun! Geddit?
Ready Player One
A gloriously geeky ode to the last 40 years of pop culture wrapped up in a thrilling old-school adventure tale, Ready Player Oneis tremendous fun, a just reward for spending way too much of your life camped out in front of your television.
Steven Spielberg directs this exuberant celebration of the movies, video games and hobbies several generations have grown up on, with a Gen-X sweet spot that hits squarely on ’70s kids raised on first-gen Atari games. Know the Easter Egg hidden in “Adventure?” Congratulations, this movie is exactly for you. But for those who just want to romp through an index of pop culture references from A (A-ha) to Z (Robert Zemeckis), Ready Player Oneis for you, as well.
The Shimmer looks like the liquid you make bubbles with, but instead of it being innocent fun for children and adults alike, the soap in Annihilationwill slowly change the DNA of everything it touches until it evolves or dies. I’m still not sure what happens at the end or if there’s going to be a sequel. What I do know is that this movie is a mindfuck and was fun as hell to watch—it’s what movie theaters were made for.
Natalie Portman puts on a stellar performance as she tries to figure out what happened to her husband (played by Oscar Isaac) after he returned from a stint in the Shimmer. She then decides to go in herself and this is where the movie turns into a horror show complete with bumps in the night and monsters eating people. Once you go into the Shimmer, it connects onto your DNA and you’re forever changed whether you make it out or not. The same can be said for anyone who watches this movie.
A Prayer Before Dawn
Thai prisons are best avoided at all costs, and Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s adaptation of Billy Moore’s autobiography is disturbing proof of that fact. After a life of selling (and abusing) drugs lands him in the notorious “Bangkok Hilton,” boxer Moore (Joe Cole) struggles to survive a new world for which he’s not prepared. Acts of rape and violence are omnipresent in this ramshackle environment, which Sauvaire brings to horrifying life through blistering handheld cinematography and equally jarring sound design, replete with Thai dialogue that’s left un-subtitled for maximum disorientation.
Tracing Moore’s rocky path from wanton self-destruction to uneasy transcendence, the film is as unsentimental as it is brutal, especially in its pugilistic sequences, which the director shoots with an astounding measure of up-close-and-personal viciousness and an apparent lack of choreography, as combatants wail on each other with reckless abandon. Cole’s go-for-broke performance as this out-of-control man—all crazy-eyed desolation and battering-ram physicality—is the stuff that turns actors into stars.
You Were Never Really Here
You Were Never Really Hereis about a tortured hitman named Joe, played with typical lacerating mastery by Joaquin Phoenix, who finds himself hunting for a teenage girl who’s gone missing. It plays out like noir, with Joe uncovering brutal corruption along the way. Director Lynne Ramsay uses an expressionistic approach to put us deep into Joe’s state of mind, and the result is ferocious and unforgettable.
As a movie that centers on the slow death of Earth, it’s a certified downer—A24’s marketing strategy included the “First Reformed Challenge,” aka drinking a cocktail of whiskey and Pepto Bismol in reference to the habits of the film’s main character—but it’s also a transcendent, ultimately hopeful feature. Think of The Lord of the Rings—you know, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world besides the will of evil.” And if you, unlike me, don’t have a crippling soft spot for movies about religious conundrums, the end of the world, and put-upon priests, just know that Paul Schrader’s latest film also features an incredible turn from Cedric the Entertainer, and an ending that’s wilder than anything else you’ll see all year.
Documentarian Jennifer Fox’s first feature-length narrative film is an adaptation, of sorts, of a story she wrote when she was 13 about her first sexual experience — with her adult running coach. In this film, Jennifer Fox (Laura Dern) comes to terms with the fiction in the story she told herself in order to survive, as Jenny Fox, age 13 (Isabelle Nélisse), is manipulated and abused by the adults charged with her care. Because Dern’s Jennifer Fox is also a documentarian, the film relies on the trappings of documentary to remind us of the story’s basis in reality, but like other great works of art, it also uses the conventions of storytelling to heighten the truth that sits at its center.
The Taleis quiet but frank, shattering in a way not designed to shock, but to lay bare the facts. It’s impeccably acted, carefully wrought, and so grounded in truth that I was literally shaking as the credits started rolling.
A Quiet Place
By a small miracle, A Quiet Placemarched loudly into the cultural zeitgeist in a way that few nonfranchise flicks manage these days. It solidified John Krasinski as a bona fide director — his previous efforts, 2009’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men and 2016’s The Hollars didn’t help his case — and duped the world into savoring a nearly silent film. You can prod the plot holes in A Quiet Place, but why do that when the whole is so much greater than its parts? This tense, apocalyptic thriller about an isolated family evading monsters turns into a meditation on parenting, living on the margins and being muzzled by forces greater than yourself.
Krasinski, working with a story by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, demonstrates a command of tension and movement his previous two directorial efforts showed no evidence of. In that way, the movie feels like an exciting debut, a suspenseful, rollicking creature-feature that suggests a technical aptitude that could be employed in fruitful ways in further films. We knew there had to be a reason someone of such abundant talent and appeal like Emily Blunt (absolutely magnificent here) would want to marry him.
And the best movie of the year, so far, is…
Upon its release, Black Pantherquickly became a global box-office smash with massive cultural impact, proving that almost 2- year build of unprecedented social media traction was well deserved. I’ve already seen it 4 times, and I imagine that total will rise (and possibly double) by the end of the year. It’s hard to overstate the importance of a movie that so radically diversifies the Marvel Cinematic Universe, introducing not only an ensemble of iconic black characters, but strong, self-reliant female ones as well.
Black Pantheris not only the best superhero movie since The Dark Knight, but has an intelligence and gravitas that such pathetic DC offerings as Suicide Squadand the truly vomit-inducing Batman v Supermancompletely lacked. Director Ryan Coogler and his team imagined a whole new world, steeped in its own culture and politics and history – one untouched by colonialism. They populated it with some of the most vivid characters ever seen in the Marvel universe, played by some of the finest actors from our own universe. They seized this opportunity to wrestle with thorny dilemmas far beyond the usual hero-versus-villain tropes. And they did all of this while delivering a damn good motherfucking time.