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Virtue and Vice: The Best Films of 2018

December 26, 2018

2018 was a strange year in cinema: The best movies seemingly grouped themselves to represent several fascinating trends. Rather than compiling a traditional top-10 list, I’ve gathered my favorite films into a few categories, organized by theme — along with one delightfully unclassifiable anomaly.

Remarkable sequels. It’s the Godfather, Part II rule: sequels rarely surpass the original. Yet The Incredibles 2, Creed II and the criminally underrated The Equalizer 2 brought new depth to the characters while displaying the bravura filmmaking skills of directors Brad Bird, Steven Caple Jr. and Antoine Fuqua. I’d gladly line up for a third installment of each of these surprisingly robust franchises.

Exhilarating documentaries. The two previous words aren’t often grouped, but RBG, Itzhak and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? restored my faith in humanity with inspiring portraits of the deeply humane Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Itzhak Perlman and Mister Fred Rogers. Kudos to directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen, Alison Chernick and Morgan Neville for proving protagonists don’t need to be dark to be profoundly compelling.

Independent spirits. Stories of rebels who refuse to conform to societal expectations provided some of the year’s best drama: Ethan Hawke as a tortured pastor in Paul Schrader’s First Reformed; Carey Mulligan as an unfaithful wife and mother in Paul Dano’s Wildlife; Robert Redford as an unrepentant bank robber in David Lowery’s The Old Man and the Gun; and Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams as taboo-shattering Jewish women in Sebastián Leilo’s Disobedience thrilled me in wildly different ways.

Actress showcases. Ms. Mulligan, Weisz and McAdams weren’t the only female performers who blew me away in lead roles. Melissa McCarthy, Nicole Kidman and Kelly Macdonald brilliantly reinvented themselves as a misanthropic literary forger in Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, a haunted former undercover cop in Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer; and a mousy housewife-turned-jigsaw genius in Marc Turtletaub’s Puzzle, respectively. In each cases, all the pieces fit together perfectly.

Black power. The three greatest films I saw in 2018 dealt with race in bracingly head-on fashion. Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, Spike Lee’s Black KkKlansman and Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You could hardly be more diverse tonally. Panther is a simply marvelous superhero movie. KkKlansman is a devastating social commentary hiding beneath the guise of a buddy-cop movie. Sorry is an audacious comedy with a truly radical soul. Each, in their own way, is genuinely revolutionary.

And then there’s Vice. Adam McKay’s hellzapoppin’ Dick Cheney biopic throws everything against the wall, and it nearly all sticks, from a profane opening disclaimer to fake-out end credits. Christian Bale’s transformative performance must be some kind of acting alchemy; he’s subsumed into the character. Somehow McKay and Bale convince us that this man of many heart attacks actually has a heart, then they break our hearts by showing us that he really doesn’t. It’s the very definition of a Dick pic.

What were your favorite films of 2018?

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One Comment
  1. You nailed it – these movies make watching worthwhile

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