There were a lot of fantastic films in 2018, from massive box office smashes like Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther to artful indies, including a major step up for Netflix when it comes to being taken seriously in the film world (see The Ballad of Buster Scruggs). We’ve all got our favorites, and each of us has no doubt had some heated discussion with friends and family by this point about the best films of the year. That’s half the fun, isn’t it?
Movies are personal, and what’s precious to one viewer or critic may not resonate the same way as someone sitting right next to them in the theater. That’s why we reached out across the offices of Digital Trends to find a hearty list of our staff’s favorite films of the year. We even recruited some folks from our brother site The Manual to get a more varied selection of opinions. Below is our list of the movies that made 2018 memorable.
Rick Marshall – Contributing Editor
Like quite a few other people who grew up during the ‘80s, I’m in the target-demographic sweet spot for Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel Ready Player One. The story’s call-outs to movies, television, and other assorted geekery of that era hit all the right nostalgic notes for me. So, when Steven Spielberg — the man who made most of my favorite films of the ‘80s — agreed to direct the movie adaptation, my hopes were far higher than they should have been, especially given how often projects like this fall flat.
Yet, Ready Player One ended up exceeding my expectations in nearly every way. The film offered up all of the spectacle of the virtual universe OASIS in much the way I imagined it while reading Cline’s novel. When the film diverged from the source material, it did so in ways that added surprises without compromising the story’s heart. Where Cline’s novel felt a bit hollow, Spielberg filled the void with emotional substance and saw the potential in characters like James Halliday, whose deeply personal reasons for creating OASIS resonate with anyone who ever found sanctuary from adolescent stress in a fantasy world.
The Ready Player One novel seemingly rendered itself unadaptable by featuring one crowded battlefield after another populated with famous — and copyrighted — fictional characters, but somehow Spielberg managed to deliver all the epic sights and sounds those climactic moments deserved. Ready Player One might not be the best movie of 2018, but it’s the one that had me cheering the loudest, feeling the widest range of emotions, and the most eager to watch it all over again the moment the credits rolled.
Ryan Waniata – Home Theater & Entertainment Editor
There were a lot of movies on my shortlist this year, including the recent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which was not only surprisingly clever and well-acted but also one of the most aesthetically innovative films of the year. But none of them, not even the Spidey-verse, came close to rocking my world like Annihilation. Directed by rising sci-fi visionary Alex Garland, and pulled from a series of novels from Jeff VanderMeer that many believed to be unadaptable, Annihilation was one of the most disturbing and captivating bits of sci-fi horror I’ve seen in recent memory.
Equal parts thought-provoking, shocking, and breathtakingly beautiful, Garland’s film probes the inner questions we ask ourselves in the darkest hours of self-reflection. What is sentience? What does it mean to be human? What is our place on this terrestrial ball diving through an ever-expanding multiverse? Perhaps frustratingly to some, Annihilation makes no attempt to answer these questions, and instead simply pulls us through the reactionary waves that occur when our solemn world interacts with an external power beyond our comprehension of reality.
The film drives us to question everything inside ourselves, even as it serves up a nightmarish world of malignant creations and mouthless monsters. Was there anything from 2018 as terrifying (and exciting) as the tortured screams of the bear monster? I think not. As with his brilliant film about A.I., Ex Machina, Garland’s latest turn leaves nothing left to do but wait with bated breath to see where he’ll focus his lens next.
Luke Larsen – Associate Editor
To quote Mister Rogers himself, “If you look for the helpers, you’ll know there’s hope.” What person with an internet connection doesn’t need some of that? Mass shootings. Political upheaval. Racial tensions at a high. A quick reflection on this past year might fill you with a hopeless sense of dread. More than ever, we need films like Won’t You Be My Neighbor? to light the path forward.
The documentary is a look at the life and career of one particularly special person in American culture: Our old friend Mister Rogers. The film will instantly remind you of better days, especially if you grew up with Rogers and his neighborhood of characters. But it doesn’t linger in the comforts of nostalgia. Not shying away from difficult issues, we see Fred Rogers tackle everything from presidential assassination and racial injustice to his own upbringing and private life — done, of course, in a way only he could.
You’ll never think of the meek children’s show the same way. But be warned: By the end, you’ll have more than just a renewed sense of hope in humanity. You just might find yourself asking how you can be one of the helpers.
Arif Bacchus – Staff Writer
I never go to the movies, but with Crazy Rich Asians making headlines in 2018, I had to check it out. Starring an all-Asian cast, the film portrayed the meaning and importance of Asian culture like never before. Gone were the stereotypes portrayed by typical films, replaced by a set of Asian characters with well-rounded personalities that made an otherwise cliché romantic comedy an interesting and vibrant story.
Gabe Gurwin – Contributor
I didn’t expect a sequel to end up being my favorite movie of the year, and I certainly didn’t expect it to be about a talking bear from darkest Peru, but Paddington 2 is nothing short of a masterpiece. Building on the kind, heartwarming, and downright hilarious formula established in the original 2014 film, director Paul King doesn’t dumb down the humor or themes to appeal to younger viewers. Instead, “family-friendly” actually means that everyone can enjoy this tale of a bear wrongfully imprisoned for the theft of a pop-up book.
Silly and simple as the premise is, Paddington 2’s entire cast commits to the film completely, with Ben Whishaw once again providing the cheerful and empathetic voice of the titular bear. Newcomer Hugh Grant is brilliant as villain Phoenix Buchanan as well, poking fun at his own career’s ups and downs in a role that serves as a perfect foil to everyone’s favorite marmalade-loving cub.
Jacob May – Copy Editor
During several encounters over the past month, I’ve more or less heard the same thing: Netflix’s original shows tend to be good, but the streaming service lacked its own standout film — until now. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs changed that conception.
With the star power of Joel and Ethan Coen serving as writers and directors, the film uses six vignettes to paint bleak tales of the Old West. Each short story strikes a unique tone, unified under the film’s overarching theme of death.
It may be well-worn territory for the Coens (see No Country for Old Men, Fargo, etc.), but the tonal shifts among the six stories showcase why the brothers’ creations are always worth watching. From a slapstick sociopath to a limbless and loquacious stage performer, you grow attached to each starring character — even if you already have a good idea about their fate.
Riley Winn – Social Media Coordinator
We all remember playing the game tag as kids. The movie Tag is based off a Wall Street article about a real-life group of friends that never stopped playing the childhood game, even after 30 years.
It was easy for me to like this movie for two big reasons: First, I’m almost 26 and my friends and I still “nut tap” each other on the regular and I don’t see it ever ending. Second, the star-studded cast includes Ed Helms, Hannibal Buress, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, and Jeremy Renner. Bringing together all these names with this idea provided for great slapstick physical comedy; Tag is the ultimate man-child movie.
The movie isn’t all fun and games. The reason the game is so important to Hoagie (Helms), is because it’s the last year he’ll be playing because he’s terminally ill. Helm’s performance when it came to the serious stuff fell short for me because I can’t look at him any other way than being the “Nard-Dog” from The Office. Still, the film’s ending provides a sweet sentiment of what it means to be best friends and never getting too old to play.
Chase McPeak – Associate Editor for The Manual
If you like period films with historically accurate costumes and all-natural lighting that stick to the facts, The Favourite is not the movie for you. If you like period films with historically accurate costumes and all-natural lighting that take extreme liberties with early-18th-century English history — complete with screaming queens, manipulative maids, lesbian affairs, and sky-high wigs — then The Favourite is definitely the film for you.
Treading the line between factual and fictional, The Favourite depicts the final years of Great Britain’s Queen Anne (played by the inimitable Olivia Coleman), picking up her story shortly after the death of her husband. Along the way, Anne is alternately cowed and coddled by her most trusted adviser and sometime lover, Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), and manipulated by Sarah’s wily and scheming cousin, Abigail Masham (Emma Stone).
Through it all, Coleman’s gout-riddled Queen Anne is at once pathetic, pitiable, and hilarious, moving from fits of rage to delightfully amusing and slightly demented (My favorite quote from the film: “I’ve ordered some lobsters. I thought we could race them and then eat them.”) Weisz’ Churchill is the perfect straight man to Anne’s comedy, while Stone’s character goes from empathetic to downright unlikeable. You’ll have to watch it yourself to get the full scope of the three characters’ evolutions, but when it comes down to it, just know there is no happy ending — and that’s sort of the point.
Will Nicol – Senior Writer
A genre label is a cage, and a film like Mandy is too wild to be contained by one. Is it horror? Action? Director Panos Cosmatos pulls from both genres, as well as grindhouse, psychedelia, and prog rock for a film that defies easy categorization. Through its first half, Mandy is a slow burn. In the 1980s, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) lives with his girlfriend, an artist named Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). She catches the eye of cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), who employs the aid of a demonic biker gang (think the Cenobites from Hellraiser, but with ATVs) to bring her to him. From there, the slow burn blossoms into an inferno, as Red forges a battle ax and sets out to slaughter Sand and all his allies.
And what a slaughter it is! This is, without a doubt, the most “metal” film I’ve seen in years. Red hacks, bludgeons, crushes skulls; he even takes a breather to snort a hill of cocaine off a shard of broken glass. Mandy is more doom metal than thrash, however. Cosmatos takes his time, building tension until it is unbearable. By the time Red is setting out for revenge, we’ve spent an hour or so watching him and Mandy in domestic bliss — rowing a boat, watching TV, and chatting sleepily about their favorite planets — and his revenge carries an emotional heft. Once the final act began, the camera staring across a red, rocky quarry that looks more like Mars than Earth, I craved justice as much as Red did, however pointless it might be in the cosmic order.
Parker Hall – Staff Writer
This documentary follows rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s 19-day ascent of the most difficult big wall in the history of the sport. But this Red Bull-funded film is more than adrenaline-fueled drone shots and bro-y physical achievement. It’s the story of love, loss, and the search for impossible satisfaction, told through the eyes of Caldwell, a man who was kidnapped by militants in Kyrgyzstan, and later saw the marriage to his only climbing partner shatter before his eyes.
A wiry, quiet genius of the rock, Caldwell channeled his grief into a quest to ascend something that even he thought might be impossible. But after nearly a decade of route finding, bloody hands, and tireless searching, Caldwell manifests his struggle into an achievement that did what the world of rock climbing deemed impossible and, in doing so, brought about an equally profound personal transformation.
The Dawn Wall is an awe-inspiring depiction of the limits of human achievement and a realistic portrait of the personal and physical struggles that it takes to end up in the history books. It is the kind of film I’ll think about for the rest of my days.
Greg Nibler – Contributor
Growing up, I was a huge comic book fan, reading a large variety of superhero tales. As I got older, I ended up moving on to other forms of entertainment, but there is something about a good comic book storyline that cannot be matched. While there have been a few great stand-alone superhero movies in the past, no one has ever really attempted what the Marvel Cinematic Universe has accomplished.
That’s why — after 18 films spanning a decade since Iron Man kicked it all off — Avengers: Infinity War is such a great movie for me. The combination of scores of characters all ending up in the same film, with interweaving storylines, could have easily been a disaster. Instead, it became an extremely entertaining and surprisingly emotional “best of” for the MCU.
The dark undertones only help to underscore how much we’ve all come to enjoy these characters. Sure, some of the movies are better than others, but the superb casting of these movies (and in this case, the incredible directing of the Russo Brothers) more than makes up for it. Although we still have Avengers: Endgame in 2019, and perhaps the passing of the torch to Captain Marvel for the next phase, it will be extremely difficult to recapture the magic of this run of films. Also, it’s just fun to sit back and watch superheroes throw lightning at each other while a big space bully tries to take out half of the universe.
Julian Chokkattu – Mobile & Wearables Editor
It’s not every day that you get to watch a movie from the perspective of a computer screen, and while it’s certainly not the first of its kind, Searching is a refreshingly original idea with plenty of twists and turns that keep you constantly on the edge of your seat. It’s a story about a father (John Cho) searching for his missing daughter (Michelle La), and the mystery is unraveled through a computer screen, security cameras, and online video feeds.
What makes the film relatable is the use of online services and technology we are all familiar with — from Facebook and Venmo to Tumblr, MacOS, and Windows. It can be heart-wrenching one moment, and hilarious the next. There are also plenty of rich details and Easter eggs if you look beyond the action on the screen, a point the writers used to make the world in Searching feel far more real.
Searching is a smart film that understands how the average Joe uses technology and the internet, and the excellent performances elevate it to something you can invest in emotionally.
Jenny McGrath – Senior Writer
Though I’m one of those people who typically have to be dragged to a movie theater, I saw Black Panther within a week of its opening. Not only did I want to see Wakanda in all in its glory on the big screen, I actually wanted to be surrounded by a laughing, clapping, gasping audience. The box office- (and retainer) busting movie was a phenomenon. Just ask the town of Wauconda, Illinois.
While it’s got the explosions, crazy gadgets, and car chases one expects from a superhero movie (not to mention the dazzling costumes), Black Panther also provides complex characters and thought-provoking themes. You may not walk into the movie expecting the villain to make you cry, but Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger had a few people in the theater sniffling by the end.
Genevieve Poblano – Content Manager
A Quiet Place is one of this year’s most unique and entertaining thrillers. From its outside-the-box storyline to its immaculate sound design, it is definitely worth checking out. Watching this family navigate and survive in a desolate, post-apocalyptic world in silence — where death can be caused by a sneeze — is truly terrifying.
Even with very minimal dialogue, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt deliver rich performances. The connection I developed with the protagonists and the constant fear of the mysterious creatures in the fields kept me at the edge of my seat. Like the rest of the audience, I was compelled to follow along on this family’s suspenseful and terrifying journey to discover their fate.
Rob Oster – Copy Editor
Alfonso Cuaron won the Academy Award for directing for his last film, 2013’s Gravity, and the Mexican auteur will likely be in the thick of that race again this year with Roma, a semi-autobiographical and exquisitely realized portrait of a family coming apart amid political tumult in early-1970s Mexico City.
Shot by Cuaron himself in gorgeous black-and-white — he apparently handled everything on this film except the acting and the catering — Roma is a loosely plotted and deliberately paced film that draws you into its characters’ lives by following them as they perform their everyday tasks.
At the center of the story is the family’s live-in maid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio, in her film debut), who quietly strives to hold the household together while dealing with her own personal turmoil. Newcomer Aparicio is a revelation throughout, but particularly so in two scenes that must be among the most gut-wrenching moments committed to film this year. To reveal more would be to rob viewers of the film’s magic, but it’s safe to say that Roma is likely to be regarded as Cuaron’s masterpiece.
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