It was a record-breaking year at the movies in 2018. Blockbusters such as “Black Panther,” “Incredibles 2,” “Deadpool 2” and “Avengers: Infinity War” drove ticket sales past $11.383 billion, according to Comscore, more than the record of $11.382 billion set in 2016.
Alas, for every “Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom” success, there were also some massive bombs, including the “Mortal Engines,” “Robin Hood” and “Nutcracker and the Four Realms” debacles.
But it was also a year filled with some great films. Here are my picks for the year’s best.
1. “A Quiet Place” — This had a pretty out-there premise — a family lives in silence so as not to attract monsters that hunt by noise — but it defiantly worked on many levels, driven by actor John Krasinki’s urgent direction and his wife Emily Blunt’s riveting performance. The film rises above the horror genre to become something as original as it is nerve wracking. And now everyone has a new appreciation for movie sound designers.
2. “Ready Player One” — I’m the first to admit that I’m a geeky fanboy, and it was a delight to see the “Shining” sequence within Steven Spielberg’s pop culture odyssey, as Tye Sheridan’s Oasis avatar searched for clues within the Overlook Hotel movie “set.” But the film overall was a blast and a loving tribute to pop culture from the ‘80s and ‘90s.
3. “Black Panther” — Sure, it was a cultural phenomenon, but it more than made history. It elevated the superhero genre to new heights, delivering a smart, breathtaking adventure that was equal parts funny and exciting. Wakanda forever! (Or at least until the inevitable sequel.)
4. “A Star is Born” — I have a whole new appreciation for Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper after seeing this film. Gaga’s performance is dazzling, and when she sings for the first time onstage with Cooper it’s an absolutely breathtaking moment. The film overall is a stunning achievement for Cooper, who directs himself to one of his best performances and injects new life into a familiar story of stardom and the pursuit of it that never feels like a retread.
5. “Green Book” — This crowd-pleaser about a Brooklyn bouncer who is hired to drive a black classical pianist on tour through the south in the 1960s would be nothing without the buoyant charm and charisma of stars Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, who will no doubt get Oscar nominations for their vibrant performances. The film tackles racism in a “primer” sort of way, but without glossing over it or being too heavy-handed.
6. “Eighth Grade” — Never before has a film captured the pain, confusion and uncertainty of adolescence so beautifully and honestly as in Bo Durnham’s breakout film. And he gives us an astonishing, star-making turn by the young Elsie Fisher, whose performance is brave and heartrending.
7. “BlacKkKlansman” — Don’t call it a comeback, director Spike Lee insists, because he’s never really been absent and continually worked through the years. But this is a return to his confident directing and pointed storytelling, about an African American police officer who successfully manages to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. Lee and his cast are clearly having a great time while dealing with important themes — and so are we.
8. “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” — This six-part Western anthology film wholly feels like the Coen Brothers’ work, fused with black humor, and it gets things off to a rollicking start with the wacky, musical “Buster Scruggs” segment then goes to some surprisingly dark places. Not every segment worked as well as others, but watching the film as a whole is like experiencing The Coens’ entire body of work in one feel swoop.
9. “Bad Times at the El Royale” — In a year filled with superheroes and sequels I thoroughly appreciated this original and simple story, about strangers with mysterious pasts who meet at a secluded hotel. It’s smart, stylish and I love how it stops and starts over from different perspectives. It’s another interesting outing for director Drew Goddard (“The Cabin in the Woods”) who attracted a starry cast with Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson and Chris Hemsworth, showing that that level of talent can only be attracted to such a cool script.
10. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” — This heart-warming documentary about the life and legacy of iconic children’s TV host Fred Rogers left me bawling like a baby. But it’s also ultimately, supremely inspiring and will make you want to fill the world with kindness and hugs. And there’s nothing wrong with that.