Before we get to 2018’s best films, a year embarrassed with onscreen riches, a quick word about a bear.
The year began with dread, held over from the one before it. The last few years have been great movie years, but especially rough years for reality at large, which makes escaping into movies all the more complicated. Do we want to escape? How often can we, or should we? Is it a copout of a sort to escape into art when daily life is perpetually characterized by the oncoming fear of what’s coming next?
In 2018, realizing that we have to retain our simple pleasures even as we ask questions about them, we started to at least ask the right questions. Why can’t our populist entertainment, our biggest-budget movies, also open the doors that all of pop culture is long overdue for opening? Who are we tasking with making some of our biggest movies? Which stories are we telling, and consequently, which are presently absent or under-represented? Which movies do we value critically, and why do we value those movies?
This isn’t to say that a single question we’ve posed has a simple answer. None of them do, and at its best, that’s the exhilaration that film as a medium uniquely offers. You’re drawn into a space, whether your living room or a movie theater equipped for 70mm projection, for a set amount of time, and asked to engage with an experience different from your own. Sometimes they’re similar, sometimes very much so. But movies, at the very least, ask you to relate to another experience enough to be moved by it, or laugh at it, or be edified by it in some small way, until the credits roll and you move on through life.
One of the 25 movies on the list you’re about to read is about an immovably kind Peruvian bear, and it’s hardly the only unusual choice our film staff found itself considering this year. Yet the bear sets a good example for how we can reflect on this tumultuous year and proceed into the next one, trying to find our better nature as it’s called into question on a nonstop daily basis. We can look out for our neighbors, even the ones we don’t always readily understand. We can believe that even people who’ve made grievous mistakes can be better than they’ve been. We can liberally deliver a hard stare when the provocation calls for it.
The movies felt a lot like reality this year. They were funny and beautiful, painful and personal, animated and oversized and close-hewn and sometimes, against all logic, even quietly lovely. So it then feels appropriate that we follow the bear’s advice as we look back, and then onward: If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right. It might sound simple, but if we’ve learned anything this year, that might be the hardest thing in the world right about now. The most radical thing we can do might just be to try and be nice.
These are the top 25 films of 2018.
HONORABLE MENTION: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND
Who’s In It? John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Oja Kodar, Bob Random, and a party full of hangers-on
You Gotta See This: To paraphrase a colleague, how bleedin’ cool is it that we can boot up Netflix in 2018 and find a brand-new, fully assembled Orson Welles effort? What Welles started nearly five decades ago is now finished, not to mention challenging, and often quite riveting all the same. Death and decay in Hollywood, the transient restlessness of art, Huston versus Bogdanovich in an egotists’ battle for the ages?
The point being, even if this could veer into rambling, Welles’ resurrected effort is something to behold, and to feel grateful about. So while The Other Side of the Wind didn’t quite crack the final list, we have to give it up to producer Frank Marshall, editor Bob Murawski, and Netflix’s obscene spending habits. We got a miracle on this one.
25. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
Who’s In It? Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry
You Gotta See This: That this movie a.) exists and b.) is this good is nothing short of miraculous. Somehow, in the midst of the Marvel renaissance and a pop culture steeped in superheroes, Sony finally got Spidey right with this dizzyingly beautiful, drop-dead funny adventure featuring not one, but six different Spider-People.
More than an homage to the characters’ comic origins, Spider-Verse offers a refreshing reminder that Spider-Man could be anyone. If that wasn’t enough, its frenetic blend of animation styles, a dizzying collage of everything from traditional comics art to 3D to street art, is unlike anything we’ve seen before.
24. THE DEATH OF STALIN
Who’s In It?: Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Paddy Considine, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, and Adrian McLoughlin as the fallen dictator in question
You Gotta See This: Armando Iannucci’s first film since In the Loop nine years ago is every bit as verbose, and every bit as hilariously profane. But what really distinguishes The Death of Stalin is that it’s the kind of dark comedy which pushes the boundaries of how dark one can get before it’s no longer even a comedy.
In a kind of dissonant comic jazz, screwball comedy and pratfalls are undercut by constant executions and “disappearings” in the background of almost every scene. Like so much of Iannucci’s work on television, politics can be funny as hell, but there’s no magical point at which the power such people wield is anything less than terrifying.
23. BLACK PANTHER
Who’s In It? Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Sterling K. Brown, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman
You Gotta See This: Black Panther is big, sincere, and kinetic. It’s also never desperate for a hook, or an obvious YouTube moment. This is adventure filmmaking on a grand scale that should last, because the story is so good. No tricks. Few gimmicks. Just the art and artistry of seeing a charismatic good guy on screen, brought to life with a verve and imagination seldom seen in a constantly growing genre.
It should not have taken this long to have a black-led tentpole comic movie, but instead of being a referendum, Black Panther seems defiantly comfortable with embracing tropes on its own terms. Oh, and Michael B. Jordan? That soundtrack? They don’t hurt either.
Who’s In It? Yoo Ah-in, Jun Jong-seo, Steven Yeun
You Gotta See This: Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, a gauzy, languid adaptation of a 1993 Haruki Murakami short story, isn’t a romance, although the casual viewer might mistake it for one. It begins, after all, with a tryst between a young, struggling writer (Yoo Ah-in) and a schoolmate he doesn’t remember (Jeon Jong-seo), one that becomes complicated when she returns from an international trip with the confident, well-off Ben (Steven Yeun).
What emerges from this triangle, however, isn’t romantic in nature so much as it’s cultural, with Chang-dong emphasizing distinctly Eastern themes of class and confusion. The film’s third act is nightmarish in its gravity, building to a gutting final scene rich in metaphor and pathos. I can’t stop thinking about it.
Who’s In It? Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal, Robert Duvall
You Gotta See This: When people talk about Widows in the decades to come — and mark our words, they will — the first thing they’ll mention will be The Drive. A fiendishly smart setup from director Steve McQueen sees Colin Farrell’s politician travel through an underserved ward, the neighborhood transforming from impoverished to prosperous, reflected in the windshield of his rich-ass car. It’s a terrific shot, but it’s deceptive, because Farrell’s is perhaps the least important voice in this film. Widows belongs to its women.
One hopes that once audiences have marveled at McQueen’s incredible eye, they’ll move on to the screenplay, co-written with Gillian Flynn, which fills its central figures with contradictions and complexity, whether they’re railing at each other, summoning their courage, shopping for guns, or running to catch the bus. And we hope that the film’s final scene — in which a smile spreads, at long last, across Viola Davis’ face — is at least as reverently discussed as Farrell’s commute. The latter may dazzle, but the former lingers, on and on.
Who’s In It? Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, and an acid biker gang from hell
You Gotta See This: On paper, a revenge flick set in the ’80s at a cabin by the lake sounds redundant, if not precious. But Panos Cosmatos couldn’t be precious if he tried, and while some might argue the two-hour fellowship that is Mandy may tend to get redundant, they either have no appreciation for seeing a sobbing man in underwear or they’ve witnessed some serious shit themselves. Because what most can agree about on Mandy, even those who walked out feeling exhausted, is that there’s never really been anything like it.
Granted, that’s a cheap argument, so here’s another one: At a time when ’80s nostalgia is lazily used as a storytelling medium — see: this year’s hollow Summer of ’84 — Mandyactually earns it, wearing its decade in a literal suit of heavy metal armor. It’s brutal, it’s dreamy, but above all, it’s a midnight movie that would actually be a midnight movie in the ’80s. People forget how visceral these bastards used to be, but not Cosmatos, who assembled a surrealist thrill ride that feels of another time and another place … and another world.
19. COLD WAR
Who’s In It? Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc
You Gotta See This: “In his poem “The Testing Tree”, Stanley Kunitz wrote, “I played my game for keeps–/ for love, for poetry,/ and for eternal life–/ after the trials of summer.” Kunitz’s speaker is remembering their childhood and parents, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that Pawel Pawlikowski’s extraordinary Cold War, which captures the on-again off-again romance of his mother and father in post-war Poland and France, resonates so beautifully with Kunitz’s poem.
Captured in black and white with light that renders actors Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot positively lustrous, with a 4:3 ratio that recalls the great romances of yesteryear and allows Kulig to command every inch of the frame each time she steps behind a microphone, Cold War reverently chronicles a tumultuous romance stunted and warped by the shadow of a looming and lingering war. It’s perhaps best summed up by another few lines from “The Testing Tree”: “In a murderous time/ the heart breaks and breaks/ and lives by breaking.”
Who’s In It? Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould, Bill Camp
You Gotta See This: Paul Dano’s directorial debut is full of several things that have come to characterize the American 1950s in hindsight. Soft, melancholic light. A stillness that’s at once pastoral and eerie. The simmering tension of trying to exist in a time that enforces and demands certain performative roles from its men and women. But Wildlife, Dano and Zoe Kazan’s adaptation of Richard Ford’s novel, finds something far more achingly human beneath its trappings.
As the teenage Joe (Oxenbould) watches his father (Gyllenhaal) run off to fight brush fires somewhere in the too-far distance, and his mother Jeanette (Mulligan) begin to consider the life she might have instead, he learns the hardest lesson, and the one we all eventually do: your parents were a great many different, contradictory people before they ever got around to being your parents.
17. A STAR IS BORN
Who’s In It? Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay, Rafi Gavron
You Gotta See This: The $30-50 million dollar adult melodrama seems bygone in this excessive era of filmmaking, but Bradley Cooper found curious new life for an old tale anyway. We got a great, grown-up throwback with his new A Star is Born. In the actor’s directorial debut, he took a staple story about love, performing arts, and other pitfalls, and made an ultra-appealing blend of romance both modern and traditional.
Modern in its glam-slam aesthetic and wheezy, druggy rancor. Old-fashioned in Cooper’s insistence that this simply be a film about a couple in love, surrounded by incredible challenges. And what a debut for Lady Gaga. To quote record industry execs, she’s got the “It” factor. Presence. Affability. And those pipes, wow. If you still have the chance, see this one in a theater with good sound and heavy bass.
You’ll feel it when “Shallow” comes on.
16. LEAVE NO TRACE
Who’s In It? Ben Foster, Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie
You Gotta See This: Leave No Trace, Debra Granik’s follow-up to 2010’s Oscar-nominated Winter’s Bone, is even sparer and sadder than the filmmaker’s previous effort. Its story of a father attempting to live off the grid with his 13-year daughter serves as a quiet reflection on PTSD and the power of community. Ben Foster’s cautious, restless veteran is the film’s empathetic, frustrating anchor, but its real magic comes in watching Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie discover for herself the world that’s so wounded her father.
Refreshingly, Granik’s film doesn’t adopt the same viewpoint as its protagonist; the denizens of this world are compellingly kind and, in short bursts, vividly drawn. That doesn’t mean that life can’t be unforgiving, of course, but it’s a gorgeous, optimistic way of asserting that we all need to find that out for ourselves.
Who’s In It? Lily Franky, Sakura Andô, Mayu Matsuoka, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki
You Gotta See This: Hirokazu Kore-eda is one of the most humanistic filmmakers alive, and his latest, the Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters, is a brilliant case study to that effect. The bittersweet tale of a makeshift family resorting to thankless jobs and petty larceny to get by, Shoplifters showcases a heartbreaking ensemble who get through some atrociously bad times with admirable warmth and laughter.
It’s a brilliant rebuke to the ordered, emotionless nature of some corners of high Japanese society, as our heroes flaunt courtesy to do what makes them happiest. Kore-eda’s work is richly textured and empathetic, making for one of the most understated, immersive stories of the year.
14. THE RIDER
Who’s In It? Brady Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lane Scott
You Gotta See This: What director Chloe Zhao pulls off with The Rider feels almost miraculous, in its modest way. The story of a talented young bull rider forced to confront both his dreams and his manhood when a life-threatening injury takes him off horses, likely for good, Zhao built the feature around real-life injured rider Brady Jandreau, casting him, his father and sister, and some of his closest friends.
It’s a sensitive, considered piece of filmmaking, one which avoids the trappings of small-town hokum in favor of a vision of a fading world both endearing and profoundly troubled. Brady’s story is universal, but as The Rider views it, his story also couldn’t be more personal.
Who’s In It? Sandi Tan, Jasmine Ng, Sophia Siddique Harvey, Georges Cardona
You Gotta See This: Sandi Tan’s Shirkers is like a double dose of courage. Documentarians, take note. What starts as a nostalgia trip for movies and Tan’s ‘90s youth in Singapore evolves in unexpected ways. It takes on a guilt vs. justice quality, as Tan challenges her failings, and why she was set up to fail as a young filmmaker herself. It bends the rules of traditional documentary by challenging form, taking narrative, tonal, and stylistic leaps that so few in the genre are willing to take.
It’s an adventure, a love letter, a mystery, and above all else a testimonial. But that’s the other radical quality of this Netflix documentary: it feels so open. Tan really lets people into her complicated memories and passions, both venting and lamenting for her past, in hopes of finding herself and her love for film again. A daring work.
12. THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT
Who’s In It?: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Riley Keough, Uma Thurman, Siobahn Fallon Hogan
You Gotta See This: The House That Jack Built is an audacious and divisive film, sure, but only because of the context surrounding it. The gore! The violence! The subject material! Oh my! At its core, though, Lars von Trier actually assembled his most accessible work to date. It’s a digestible watch at 155 minutes that doesn’t fuss around with what it wants to say, getting from point A to point Hell without making any creative sacrifices.
Despite his nihilistic meditations and sordid reputation, von Trier delivered one of the funniest films of 2018. It’s darkly comical stuff that gets in your bones, which, of course, is the point. It’s all part of von Trier’s rich subversion, stemming from the conceit that this is entertainment, that these awful atrocities are as equally eternal as anything we may put in museums or celebrate in history books. It’s frightening in its enjoyment.
But it wouldn’t work without Matt Dillon, who never falters once as he thumbs through his rogues gallery of faces. From reclusive creeps to would-be drill sergeants, dickhead boyfriends to ticking time bombs, Dillon nails every turn, exuding an energy that’s at once both addictive and revolting. It’s easy to hate a killer, but it’s harder to love one, and while he doesn’t warrant Valentines, Dillon’s Jack demands your heart.
That’s when it’s von Trier’s turn to laugh.
Who’s In It? Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Sonoya Mizuno, Benedict Wong, Oscar Isaac
You Gotta See This: When five women (Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Tuva Novotny) walk into the Shimmer — a beautiful, alluring name for a beautiful, dangerous place — all the familiar logic of the world is rendered null and void. The nature of writer-director Alex Garland’s adaptation, written from the memory of Jeff VanderMeer’s book rather than adapted page by page, weaves the dreamlike feel of the Shimmer into not just the story, but the creation of Annihilationitself.
Time means nothing. The eyes, ears, and instinct can’t be trusted. Garland uses the beauty of the world to explore the demons and darkness that tear at its visitors from the inside, as well as without. By the time a bear screams with the voice of a dying woman, it’s as though you’ve caught a fever; when Tessa Thompson’s despair sends her wandering through a garden, it pulls you into delirium; and when Natalie Portman moves through a dance of death in a secluded lighthouse, you’re done for. What a way to go.
10. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
Who’s In It?:Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Judith Roberts, Alex Manette, Alessandro Nivola
You Gotta See This: Lynne Ramsey hasn’t made a bad film yet, but You Were Never Really Here is an especially powerful example of the kind of subversive, darkly beautiful work for which the filmmaker is known.
Joaquin Phoenix’s haunting performance as a psychologically scarred contract killer is absolutely transformative. He works wonders with his hulking frame and bushy, ratty beard, a titan with a ball-peen hammer.
Framed by Ramsey’s disquietingly elegant visual style and Jonny Greenwood’s quietly dissonant scoring, You Were Never Really Here will chill you to the bone.
Who’s In It? Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Grediaga, Nancy García García
You Gotta See This: It’s easy to look at Roma and think of it as Alfonso Cuarón scaling back for a more personal story, especially after winning Best Director for literally trotting across the globe with 2013’s Gravity. But that’s not the case. True, it’s a personal tale, a semi-autobiographical take on his own upbringing in Mexico City at the turn of the ’70s, but it’s also one of his grandest productions to date. This is a film that’s just as lush and expansive as its predecessor, if not more so, expanding Cuarón’s palette and cementing his legacy as a true visionary.
No doubt inspired by Italian auteur Federico Fellini, as the title itself alludes to his 1972 film of the same name, Cuarón never wastes a single frame. He patiently allows his story to breathe through black and white portraits so picturesque you’re often too overwhelmed to acknowledge the technical prowess he’s actually wielding. It’s there, though, be it those meditative tracking shots that capture a fiery New Year, or the way he simply leaves us at the sidelines, as he does at an outdoor martial arts training camp. It’s paralyzing in its intricacy.
08. THE TALE
Who’s In It? Laura Dern, Isabelle Nélisse, Ellen Burstyn, Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Ritter, Frances Conroy, John Heard, Common
You Gotta See This: After its Sundance debut, The Tale wound up on HBO. In a way, it’s hard to imagine a release more appropriate for a film like this one, a film so bracingly personal and painful that experiencing it in a movie theater may have been more than some audiences could handle. Director Jennifer Fox, a long-established documentarian, makes her feature debut with her story, the one about Jenny, who was 13 when her equestrian coach and her gym teacher husband “brought her into their love.” Years later, Jennifer is forced to confront the ways in which memory warps and lies to us, the truths that she learned to simply forget for the sake of surviving.
The Tale is unsparing in its depiction of the step-by-step process through which abuse is groomed. It’s equally so in the way that Fox invites the audience to witness something so intimate that it would feel almost violative if she hadn’t extended it herself: the process of acceptance, without a single false suggestion of ease or “moving on”. This is moving, essential filmmaking in the truest sense, but be advised that The Tale may be as hard a film to watch as any you’ve ever come across.
07. THE FAVOURITE
Who’s In It? Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn
You Gotta See This: While The Lobster blew critics away with its pitch-black deadpan look at the messiness of romance, The Favourite lets Yorgos Lanthimos let loose. A droll, riotous high-court farce that sees Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz vie for the favor of the ailing, overwhelmed Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is as witty as it is unexpectedly gorgeous for its measly $15 million budget.
In between the chuckles, The Favourite is a searing critique of the restrictions faced by women in power, while managing some incredible lewks for its cast of ladies and gentlemen. If the Joe Alwyn dance scene doesn’t get you rolling on the floor, nothing else will.
06. FIRST REFORMED
Who’s In It? Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Philip Ettinger, Cedric Kyles
You Gotta See This: Nobody makes movies like First Reformed anymore. Searing, probing, and rippling with pure, undistilled rage, Paul Schrader’s film wraps the faith crisis of its country priest in grand themes that match the commodification of faith with environmental anxiety. As Ethan Hawke’s Reverend Toller finds himself more and more detached from a sense of purpose, so too does he drift out of reality, rebelling against the corporatized church by cruelly indulging in the idea of faith as suffering.
It’s a comeback of sorts for Schrader, who here returns to the transcendental styles that enraptured him before his work on Taxi Driver and Blue Collar helped define the cinema of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Hawke thrives in the quiet, simmering world Schrader’s created, his Toller achieving moments of beauty, terror, and overwhelming despair, the likes of which build to what might be the strangest, most visceral end to a movie this year.
05. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Who’s In It? KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Brian Tyree Henry, Teyonah Parris
You Gotta See This: It’s like the whole world is against Tish and Fonny. For one, they’re too young to be so deeply in love, even if they’ve known each other their whole lives. And Tish, well, she’s expecting their first child. This love is budding in early 1970s Harlem, where stable employment, social mobility, and all that so many take for granted are like boulders up a hill for these two. And Fonny is incarcerated, wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit even if somebody else did.
And yet If Beale Street Could Talk, in its poetically weary, wise, and wonderful way, really makes you believe in them. It is a film about love, tested. Only an open-hearted filmmaker, with a trusting cast and crew, could have pulled this off. Only a writer-director with a sensitive hand, and a true respect for the complex prose of James Baldwin, could have adapted If Beale Street Could Talk for the screen. Only Barry Jenkins could have made a film with this much soul, splendor, and hope. This is a passion project in every sense, one for the ages, a story of life, love, and grief that swings for the fences every time and comes out a champ. This is a new romantic classic.
04. PADDINGTON 2
Who’s In It? Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi, Imelda Staunton, and Ben Whishaw as the good Peruvian bear
You Gotta See This: This is not an ironic choice. It’s not a hip choice, either. We will absolutely die on this hill: Paddington 2 excels both as a movie for children and a film in general, and it has more than earned its spot near the top of this list. A heady combination of rich production design, inventive visual storytelling, and a deeply empathetic computer-generated furry protagonist render it a remarkable technical achievement, and the fact that director Paul King isn’t being talked about more as one of the year’s best directors is enough to make us want to give someone a hard stare.
But what makes Paddington 2 truly exceptional is the seriousness with which it approaches its ideas, and the lightheartedness with which it approaches everything else. In the world of the Brown family, there’s compassion enough even for the dastardly Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, giving one of the year’s best performances), and a stint in the clink can include endless jokes about marmalade and a gentle rejoinder about prison reform, side by side. It’s funny, thoughtful, inspiring, and impeccably made. What more can you want from a film, no matter the age of its target audience?
Who’s In It? John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Alec Baldwin
You Gotta See This: Spike Lee has never stopped, and if BlacKkKlansman is any indication, we should be pretty goddamn grateful. At once Lee’s latest functions like a ’70s crime thriller revival, a greatest-hits compilation of some of the director’s boldest tonal and stylistic moves from throughout his entire career, and a ferociously immediate indictment of the ways in which there’s never been an American moment in which racism was anything less than omnipresent. It’s such a riot of clashing ideas and striking images that only a filmmaker of Lee’s skill could hold it all together.
But as it unfolds into a wearily bitter story of how easily racism can take over every corner of society, BlacKkKlansman distinguishes itself as one of the great films in a career flush with them. Its haunting final montage, as agonizing a piece of film as Lee has ever put together, offers a stark reminder (and admonishment) to its audience: the minute you let up, even for just a little while, the “tiki-torch motherfuckers” are just around the corner again.
Also, remember this one, because it’s the exact point at which John David Washington became a movie star.
02. EIGHTH GRADE
Who’s In It?: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Luke Prael, Jake Ryan, the “Lebron James” kid
You Gotta See This: Bo Burnham stepped the hell up. The kid who came up as one of YouTube’s first major stars has now, at the age of 28, created one of our best, most resonant documents of youth in the internet age. Eighth Grade follows teenage Kayla (Elsie Fisher), in the final week of her eighth grade year, as she struggles to reconcile the confident, savvy girl she is online with the introverted, insecure person she is in real life. Modest in its ambition, Burnham’s film quickly reveals itself to be deeply necessary, its authenticity and empathy making it a unicorn in a field that struggles to chronicle internet culture in a way that doesn’t feel instantly dated. Credit Burnham’s familiar and complicated relationship with the culture that helped create him, as well as Fisher’s lived-in performance, which pivots from giddy sweetness to curdled sourness.
It was a risk to make an R-rated movie that speaks so directly to an audience that can’t technically see it, but ratings have become moot in the streaming age, which Burnham likely knew when he made it. It’s silly, after all, to think one can make a teenage coming-of-age movie that isn’t crass, sexual, and cruel, the hallmarks of any middle school experience. Burnham leans into the muck without indulging it, juxtaposing the nastiness with an unfussy sense of innocence that’s painfully, hilariously familiar. Eighth Grade doesn’t pander to kids; instead, it reminds us that movies about young people are best when they’re made by young people.
Who’s In It? Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Paimon
You Gotta See This: The greatest kind of horror is that what we wish not to see, and not too many people wanted to see Hereditary this year. Upon its release, the film received a staggering D+ on CinemaScore, most likely because those that bought a ticket weren’t expecting to find the anxieties they were ostensibly running away from at home. At the very least, they weren’t expecting something so cynical, so dreary, and so suffocating. Alas, that’s what makes director Ari Aster’s feature film debut a haunting and confounding feat several months later.
There’s a truth to this modern Greek tragedy that shouldn’t sit well with anyone, and it’s how there’s no choice with regards to the past. The past is stonier than a man’s heart, to borrow from a more grizzled veteran, and it will break the best and worst of us, no matter how hard we try to ignore it. Hereditary hinges on that inevitability, offering zero hope in the way of a resolution, and that’s an ugly thing to sit with, all things considered. But, in a year where truths are squandered at every level of society, there’s something freeing about these notions.