• William D. Carl

Best Films Of 2018 -- PERIOD!

2018 was an exceptional year in films with records being broken and taboos being blown off their squeaky hinges. It was a year when people of color were celebrated, and a record number of my movie recommendations dealt with race issues, including the glorious CRAZY RICH ASIANS, the first big-budget studio film with an Asian cast in 20 years. It was also a year that rejoiced in musicals – A STAR IS BORN, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, and MARY POPPINS RETURNS all brought huge audiences to the theaters. And it wasn’t just the indies that brought their best, but the studios also proved they could bring it just as hard, releasing more good films than in many previous years…some of them actually becoming blockbusters! Marvel still creamed DC. Documentaries went mainstream with WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR, RBG, and the gasp-inducing THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS. Historical dramas were turned on their heads. And Netflix blew the gates off their first truly great films. Let’s take a look.


Mellissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant give scathingly honest – sometimes hilarious, always touching – performances in this true story of Lee Israel, an author who found her voice while forging letters purportedly from famous literary voices. McCarthy completely wins you over and the entire movie is whip-smart and brutally witty.


During the second Ice Age, a young man on a quest for manhood is given up for dead by a grieving father. As the boy treks back to his home, he befriends an injured wolf, and the domestication of canines begins. What could have been a cute, twee film is a fantastic, sometimes brutal, adventure film with stunning photography and a cool made-up language used throughout. Catch the Director’s Cut, which reorganizes the movie and tosses out the stupid narration.


Now THIS is how you make a superhero film (a genre that never completely won me over until this year, and with two films, nonetheless). With great art direction, superior, clear action scenes, a throbbing musical score, and a villain just as fascinating as the main character. This Shakespearian story is vivid and colorful wore a smile on my face the entire film. I’m not even going to mention how ground-breaking this movie was . . . oops! Mentioned it!


Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to MOONLIGHT is a beautiful, exceptionally acted (especially by Regina King) adaptation of a James Baldwin novel. When a young black man is thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit, his pregnant girlfriend and her family fight to get him out. The music, the muted palette of the colors, and those beautiful scenes of people just talking and striving to understand this world they are tossed into all contribute to a lovely movie that will wreck your heart by the ending.


Two creep-fests for the price of one! HEREDITARY is an ingenious horror film requiring multiple viewings as it weaves its subtle (until that bloody ending) web around the viewer. Family tragedy following family tragedy forces a mother (the never-better Toni Collette) to re-examine her choices regarding her children. Could they be cursed? This one is not only creepy, but it’s also a wrenching look at grief and the process of recovery. ANNIHILATION is a trippy sci-fi/horror hybrid from Alex Garland that contains the single scariest scene in any movie I’ve seen in ages. But it isn’t just a spook-fest. Like HEREDITARY, this film contains an amazingly talented almost entirely female cast and a final half hour that rivals 2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY for trippy visuals. Once again, multiple viewings are recommended.


Both of these films find humor and tragedy in equal measure in race relations, and both are required viewing this year. In BLINDSPOITTING, we follow a young black man and his untrustworthy white friend, as he tries to survive the last three days of his parole before release. When he witnesses a white cop shoot a black man in the back and his white friend becomes truly unhinged, their Oakland neighborhood becomes a Hell of urban gentrification and gray moral areas. The acting is top notch, truly making you care about these people. SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is another beast entirely. In a free-wheeling blackest of the black comedy, writer/director Boots Riley finds a young black man only successful in business when he plays white. Things get steadily weirder until the kangaroo creatures emerge. Weird, wonderful, embracing of humanity, and with a terrific musical score, this is another low-budgeter to inspire hope for indie films.


Yorgos Lanthimos has (slightly) toned down his usual theatrics for the bizarre to bring us a wonderfully profane historical drama. When a new young woman who has fallen from grace (Emma Stone) comes to the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), she sets her eyes on dethroning the queen’s favorite lady in waiting (Rachel Weisz). All three actresses are amazing in their roles, and the screenplay – for all its naughty goofiness – is biting satire, only realized at the ending, which will have people talking for years. Here is historical melodrama for the new millennium, and I love it!


Spike Lee’s newest film may be his most entertaining yet as well as his most volatile since DO THE RIGHT THING. Everything clicks into place in this twisted story of a young African-American cop who goes undercover as a member of the KKK. Every performance is spot-on, every bit of music is wonderfully evocative, the 1970s are recreated with eye-popping effect, and the screenplay is full of delightful barbs and attacks on America’s so-called morality when it comes to race. The ending will leave you either furious or numb. Possibly both.


Two animated films made my top list, and they are very different from each other. Wes Anderson’s ISLE OF DOGS is a brilliantly political allegory about immigration and the sense of ‘the other’ created with meticulous stop-motion animation. It reels from hilarious to shocking to dark and sad to wild Akira Kurosawa-inspired adventure. The best voice talent cast I’ve ever heard makes it all easy to swallow, especially the wonderful Bryan Cranston as Chief. Yes, I cried. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the deliriously entertaining SPIDERMAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE, which thrills with its pop-art graphics, pulse-pounding effects, trippy colors, the best use of 3-D EVER, and a story that propelled the viewer from one astonishing action set piece to the next. It’s giddy, almost indescribable entertainment that made me so happy I forgot everything for two hours. When they threw the Spiderpig into the mix, I had a huge grin on my face. It also did the impossible – made me enjoy a second superhero movie in a single year…and a Spiderman one, to boot!


Alfonso Cuaron (GRAVITY, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN) recreates the story of a year in his family in Mexico during the turbulent 1970s in glorious black and white cinematography In this Netflix film. Seen mostly through the lens of one of the housemaids (a breakout performance from Yalitza Aparicio), we witness the growth of the children, the loss of a boyfriend, a forest fire, and her own pregnancy. Nothing is entirely as it seems at first; the family is very kind to the maid in some ways, but she is paid so little she is practically a slave to the demands of the children. The images are memorable and stunning. The screen is full to bursting with activity so one doesn’t always know where to look. And every single frame seems entirely real. You will never forget the scene in the delivery room, all in a single emotional long take. ROMA isn’t always an easy film to watch, and some of it may seem tedious, but as a whole, it is a breath-taking piece of work that moved me more than any other film this year.

Runners Up: These were all terrific films that I enjoyed, but they just didn’t quiet make the cut.

A SIMPLE FAVOR (Hollywood thriller done right), CRAZY RICH ASIANS (Hollywood rom-com done right), A STAR IS BORN (gorgeous music and acting), UPGRADE (Now that is how you make a low budget action movie!), WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR (immensely emotional film about Mr. Rodgers, of all things), BORDER (weird, wooly, and with a terrific central performance…plus, icky weird sex!), BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (Netflix and the Coen Brothers make mini-westerns), DUMPLIN’ (Netflix film empowering young women…plus, Dolly Parton music), LOVE, SIMON (a gay rom-com for teens as good as anything in the 1980s), THE DEATH OF STALIN (hilarious black comedy), THE RIDER (fabulous drama of rodeo riders), and PADDINGTON 2 (lovely, adorable, sweet, are there enough adjectives?).

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