The Top 10 Films of 2018 (So Far)

As 2018 hits the halfway mark, we look at our favorite movies of the year to date

The Tale (HBO)
The Tale (HBO)

We’re already halfway through 2018, which would feel like a lot more of a sigh of relief if it didn’t instead fill us with dread about what’s still yet to come. As both the US and the world at large begin to shift in seismic ways, old culture clashes still unsolved and colliding with the new ones born from them, we turn to pop culture for an escape, but increasingly, as a way to reckon with these changes in a safer, lower-stakes way.

At least it’s a safer way sometimes. We’d hardly characterize a number of our favorite films of 2018’s first half as “safe,” but the movies have always allowed us to stare our greatest aspirations and worst fears alike in the face, taking away from them whatever we want, and sometimes, even need. This year has already yielded great superhero movies and great directorial debuts, bold stories from new voices and legendary ones alike. They look to the past and the present, sometimes in tandem, attempting to make sense of all the messes around us from day to day.

Movies can’t solve all the problems of the current world; only we can. But at their very best, they can offer suggestions or a reprieve from the occasional pain of the everyday. The times change, but for almost a hundred years now, the movies have remained a constant, even as they’ve always shifted as a mirror of the world creating them. For these 10 films, and many others we’ve liked or loved so far, it’s hard to consider many of them independently of the current times. But they all stand as proof, in one way or another, that there’ll always be great art even in a fraught era of history. It just has to dream of a time when the world will be less so.

–Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
Film Editor


10. Solo: A Star Wars Story

solo star wars story The Top 10 Films of 2018 (So Far)
Release Date: May 25th

Who’s in It? Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Paul Bettany

You Gotta See This: Like the titular hero himself, Solo: A Star Wars Story defied all odds and became arguably the most enjoyable Star Wars film to be released under the Mouse House. Gone are the maudlin Jedis, the meandering mythology, and the all-too-easy good vs. evil narrative. Instead, Hail Mary director Ron Howard and screenwriters Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan delivered a Western heist tale that thrives in its simplicity, making it feel more like a sequel to the original 1977 Star Wars than 1980’s incredible The Empire Strikes Back. Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t play Harrison Ford, either; he plays Han Solo, looking at this sprawling world with the eyes of a child walking into the franchise for the first time — and it’s a palpable feeling. What’s more, unlike Rogue One, this ensemble oozes with personality, particularly Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, and the deliciously fiendish Paul Bettany. More adventures like this please. Michael Roffman

Extra! Extra! Read Michael Roffman’s full review here.


09. Black Panther

Black Panther movie

Release Date: February 16th

Who’s in It? Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, and Sterling K. Brown

You Gotta See This: Quick PSA on this one? Black Panther has now, as of this publication, made $699 million, domestically, at the box office. SIX. HUNDRED. NINETY-NINE! Surely, this deserves to be a 700 million dollar hit, no? Ryan Coogler’s super-powered extravaganza deserves the money. It was one of those unusual and exceptional blockbusters that managed to make a real mark in the cultural lexicon. Trips to Wakanda and Kendrick Lamar beats aside, Black Panther is a complex hero story with cultural roots and the kind of vivacious life so rarely seen in Disney tentpoles. Coogler fought, delivering something emotionally AND kinetically satisfying, and his movie opened the door for more entertainment like it. So please. Help Black Panther get to 700. No, it’s not a big difference. But it sounds better, doesn’t it? Easier? “Hey that Black Panther made $700 million! What can we learn from that, and how do we make more art like it?” –Blake Goble

Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.


08. Paddington 2

Paddington 2 (Warner Bros.)

Release Date: January 12th

Who’s in It? Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Brendan Gleeson, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville, and the world’s politest bear

You Gotta See This: To know Paddington is to love him, which is true for both the characters in this charming British film series and for its audience as well. A young bear from darkest Peru who finds a new home in London among the eccentric Brown family, Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) lives by a simple life philosophy: “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” That might sound horribly trite were it not so beautifully and thoughtfully brought to life by writer/director Paul King and a who’s who of award-winning British thespians. Like the 2014 original, Paddington 2 still feels like Wallace and Gromit by way of Wes Anderson, Buster Keaton, and Mr. Rogers. But it improves upon the alchemy of the first film thanks to a standout turn from Hugh Grant (giving his best performance in decades) and some subtle social commentary about community building, celebrating diversity, and — no joke — reforming the prison-industrial complex. —Caroline Siede

Extra! Extra! Read Blake Goble’s full review here.


07. First Reformed

first reformed The Top 10 Films of 2018 (So Far)

Release Date: May 18th

Who’s in It? Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles, and Phillip Ettinger

You Gotta See This: Before he went on to pen the likes of Taxi Driver and Mishima, Paul Schrader wrote a scholarly tome about transcendental film that’s still taught to this day. Schrader, however, is more known for gritty, ultra-violent films with a kinetic style than anything resembling the transcendental, so it was something of a surprise when his latest, First Reformed, unfurled with the contemplative crawl of the artists he chronicled 45 years previous. The thoughtful, awestruck pace mirrors the film’s themes, which center around the intersection of religion and revolution in an age that’s commodified Christianity. Ethan Hawke delivers a sad, simmering performance as the lost Reverend Toller who, surprisingly, emerges as a spiritual ancestor of Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle. It’s Schrader’s best movie in decades, and a fascinating fusion of Schrader the artist and Schrader the intellectual. –Randall Colburn

Extra! Extra! Read Randall Colburn’s full review here.


06. The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin (eOne Films)

Release Date: March 9th

Who’s in It? Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Michael Palin, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, and Jeffrey Tambor

You Gotta See This: Armando Iannucci may have finally become a reputable name in the US thanks to Veep, but The Death of Stalin hearkens back to the vicious bite of his British series The Thick of It. But by jumping back to 1953, in the immediate wake of Stalin’s passing (depicted in riotously dark screwball detail here), Iannucci speaks to the present by turning the sadistic past into a barbed joke. The Death of Stalin is all about the ways that hubris consumes powerful men, and a lot of the deliberately idiotic bluster delivered by the film’s A-tier cast throughout has an undercurrent of real menace beneath it. This may be a comedy, but it’s a comedy where innocent people are being abused and murdered in the periphery of almost every scene, because it’s also a potent history lesson. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Extra! Extra! Read Blake Goble’s full review here.


05. Annihilation

Annilhilation (Paramount)

Release Date: February 23rd

Who’s in It? Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, and Oscar Isaac

You Gotta See This: In its finest moments (and there were a lot of fine moments), Alex Garland’s Ex Machina managed a nifty trick: It looked like a million bucks, launched big questions of philosophy, morality, ethics, and being in one’s mind, and appeals directly to that emotional animal brain we each possess, all at once. It couldn’t sustain those heights for its entire duration — what film could? The answer, apparently, is Annihilation. An elliptical, emotional adaptation of the Jeff VanderMeer novel of same name, the film centers on five women (all brought to life with world-class performances), who each agree to enter a seemingly lethal “shimmer” in the name of science, though their reasons for agreeing to the trip are deeply personal and far from scientific. What happens after dances on the edge of reality, and little is explained. Mistrust everything you see, hold on tight to everything you feel, and revel, or tremble, in the world Garland creates. –Allison Shoemaker

Extra! Extra! Read Clint Worthington’s full review here.


04. The Rider

The Rider (Sony Pictures Classics)

Release Date: April 13th

Who’s in It? Brady Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, and Lane Scott

You Gotta See This: Films like The Rider come along but once in a generation. A curious blend of docu-fiction and neo-Western art filmmaking, Chloe Zhao’s barely fictionalized retelling of rodeo star Brady Jandreau’s recovery from a life-threatening rodeo injury infuses a heartbreaking amount of poetry into the everyday tragedies of life on the fringes of forgotten America. Jandreau’s entire family acquit themselves magically on the screen, but Brady himself is nothing short of mesmerizing – an old soul trapped in a young man’s body. When Zhao’s painterly eye isn’t focused on the sunset-draped Dakota plains or the breathtaking majesty of Brady’s steeds, it studies this wounded young man’s every mannerism with a heartfelt intimacy. Through Brady’s eyes (or the extended sequences in which he breaks in real horses with the stoicism and wisdom of a Jedi Master), The Rider finds breathtaking new ways to deconstruct the Western, creating something entirely new in the process. –Clint Worthington

Extra! Extra! Read Clint Worthington’s full review here.


03. Hereditary

hereditary collette 0 The Top 10 Films of 2018 (So Far)

Release Date: June 8th

Who’s in It? Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, and Gabriel Byrne

You Gotta See This: Hereditary’s pre-release buzz might be partly to blame for the horror film’s lackluster reception among the general public, who helped Ari Aster’s debut feature land the rare D+ rating from CinemaScore. A modern Greek tragedy clad in modern horror trappings, the film’s scares aren’t the kind you’re likely to find at the cineplex, which tends to traffic in jump scares, CGI blood, and needlessly mythic redemption narratives. Hereditary sidesteps all of that, drawing its horror not just from Aster’s silent, indelible images and relentlessly probing camerawork, but also the broken bonds strung between its core characters, all of whom have poisoned blood running through their veins. Aster’s film is remarkable because it seamlessly weaves a terrible and sad rumination on the generational effects of mental illness into a rich, uncanny tale of perverse spirituality. Too often, a horror film’s central metaphor will eclipse the actual threat; in Hereditary, however, the stakes remain high as the omniscient reigns cruel. As with 2015’s The Witch, Hereditary’s real monster is the one we never see. —Randall Colburn

Extra! Extra! Read Randall Colburn’s full review here.


02. You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here (Amazon Studios)

Release Date: April 6th

Who’s in It? Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Judith Roberts, and Alessandro Nivola

You Gotta See This: The dread arrives early in You Were Never Really Here, Lynne Ramsay’s first feature since 2009’s similarly apocalyptic We Need to Talk About Kevin. Joaquin Phoenix’s ex-military “tracker” Joe may be a cipher, but the pain behind his eyes is so palpable that his screams for help are apparent long before the film makes them literal. As Joe attempts to rescue a young girl from a sinister, politically tied sex trafficking ring for wealthy clients, his own trauma drags itself to the surface, building alongside a stellar, dissonant Jonny Greenwood score to a climax of primal terror. Ramsay’s film understands well that rage and abuse are bottomless pits, but even in a world as despairing and fully realized as the one she creates, there’s also still the possibility of salvation. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

Extra! Extra! Read Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s full review here.


01. The Tale

The Tale - HBO

Release Date: May 26th

Who’s in It? Laura Dern, Elizabeth Debicki, Jason Ritter, Isabelle Nelisse, Ellen Burstyn, Frances Conroy, John Heard, and Common

You Gotta See This: Often when we call something “meta,” we’re referring to a kind of Family Guy-esque wink, an oh-ho-ho moment designed to make one feel like they’re in on the joke. The Tale does something else entirely with the concept. 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.

It might be easy, before seeing the film, to dismiss this story of survival — survival of a practical, rather than triumphant, kind — as HBO’s take on a Very Special Episode. That would be a mistake. The Tale is 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 it’s difficult to shake for hours, days, weeks after. You may never shake it. I certainly haven’t. –Allison Shoemaker

Extra! Extra! Read Allison Shoemaker’s full review here.