Our film critics pick their favorite movies of 2018

By CLTure Film

December 31, 2018

You know what’s better than a list of the year’s best movies? Six lists.

Because CLTure Film has a such talented group of critics– each with a distinct voice and point of view–  we’ve once again bypassed the single top ten list and instead asked each of our Charlotte-area film writers for their five favorites. Below you’ll find of the perspectives of comic book nerds, bass players, college professors, television producers, and sports fans. They all, like you, love movies and have opinions, so there’s a little something for everyone on the lists below.

Thanks for supporting CLTure Film. You keep reading, and we’ll keep watching and writing.  – Dan Cava, CLTure Film Editor

Dan Cava, CLTure Film Editor

5.) Annihilation — Remember back in February when a riveting, gorgeous, perplexing, and terrifying meditation on evolution and identity was released by one of our great “hard sci-fi” auteurs, Alex Garland? Barack Obama does, and so do I.

4.) Widows — Director Steven McQueen’s heist thriller is cold-hearted but warm-blooded, a masterful ensemble thriller that combines heady social critique with delicious genre pleasure.

3.) If Beale Street Could Talk — The second pitch-perfect tone poem about African American life from Moonlight filmmaker Barry Jenkins, Beale Street aches with beauty, romance, and trouble.

2.) First Man This microscopic look at the first man to the moon is surprisingly quiet, grueling at times, and always riveting. Ryan Gosling is perfectly cast as the implosive Neil Armstrong, and Damien Chazelle’s commitment to subjectivity is exactly the kind of risk I hoped he’d take after winning his La La Land Oscar.

1.) You Were Never Really Here — Lynne Ramsay’s hitman character study is a diamond-cut cinematic masterpiece. Ramsay took a list of perfect ingredients– an ace screenplay she adapted from the already streamlined novella, an overwhelming Joaquin Phoenix performance, a haunting Jonny Greenwood score, and Ramsay’s characteristically precise camerawork– and boiled them down until every ounce of fat was gone and only the very best flavors remained. You Were Never Really Here is a stunner of shots, sound, and fury – the kind of thing only cinema can do.

Douglas Davidson, Senior Film Writer 

5.) Mandy – Director Panos Costatos’s Mandy is not for everyone, but those who are open to a mind trip into the black velvet, heavy metal ride that is Mandy will come out in blood-soaked love

4.) Sorry to Bother You – First time feature director Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You is a tightly written, beautifully constructed, satirical takedown of modern society in the grip of capitalism which is absolutely unforgettable.

3.) American Animals – A unique take on real events, this docu-drama shifts its reality to fit that of who is telling the story at the time. Considering American Animals includes interviews with the real perpetrators of the December 2004 book heist, director Bart Layton rarely holds the controls.

2.) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseSpider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse brilliantly captures the spirit of the medium which first offered readers the chance to swing from building top to building top, while also providing a lesson in how tragedy can be a source of inspiration, rather than toxicity.

1.) Madeline’s Madeline – Director Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline is a story unlike any released in 2018. Combining performative art, discombobulating cinematography and a dream-like narrative, the entire film keeps the audience in the same off-balanced state as the lead character (a breakout performance by first-timer Helena Howard). While some might struggle to find something within the narrative to latch onto due to the heavy reliance on subtext and quickly delivered dialogue, the journey itself is absolutely worth it. If you can view Madeline’s Madeline as a metaphor for self-identity at the crossroads of madness, it becomes easier to process. Either way, it will leave an indelible impression.

Jonathan Shuping, Film Writer

5.) BlacKkKlansman – Spike Lee’s best work in over a decade is timely, clever, and powerful with a breakout turn from John David Washington.

4.) First Man – For a movie about going to the moon, there is surprisingly little scope; that is, until the climactic lunar landing when director Damien Chazelle’s intimate close-ups give way to epic expanse.

3.) A Star is Born – Two pitch-perfect performances, some magnificent music, and a script that’s both humorous and heartbreaking make Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut an unforgettable emotional rollercoaster.

2.) Mission: Impossible – Fallout — I usually try to steer clear of franchise entries for these lists, but this series-best world class spy-stunt spectacular is an exercise in tension that stands (or hangs) completely on its own merit.

1.) Green Book — Peter Farrelly’s first dramatic effort is a comical and clever road movie that doubles as a bitingly current historical drama. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali both deliver peerless performances in this instant classic of hilarity and humanity. A heartwarming crowd-pleaser about societal differences and true friendship, Green Book is the movie Trump-‘merica needs right now.

Ryen Thomas, Film Writer 

5.) First Man — Such a quiet movie that strives to put us in the first person position of Neil Armstrong.  This movie makes us value him and his perspective instead of being overwhelmed with the historical event he lived through.

4.) BlacKkKlansman — Spike’s newest smoothly uses dark comedy to make a strong case for how old problems in regards to race, still haunts us today.

3.) Black Panther — It’s very refreshing to get a touch of Afrofuturism that allows us to not see Blacks as something other than a community in need of help and sympathy. The cultural relevance is a step up for the superhero genre

2.) Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse — The latest Spidey is such a fun ride. It pushes towards diversity with so much finesse because it encourages you to love the characters.

1.) A Quiet PlaceThe Office’s John Krasinski successfully leaps from TV onto big screen in a Hitchcockian treat that masterfully proves that it’s what we don’t see and hear that freaks us out the most. I appreciate how this film manages to pack on the tension and thrills while keeping the narrative tightly focused on the family dynamics, vulnerability and sacrifice at its core.

Bill Mazzola, Film Writer 

5.) Mission: Impossible – Fallout — The endlessly energetic and slightly maniacal Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, in quite possibly the high water mark for the franchise. In its sixth outing, that’s saying something.

4.) A Quiet Place — The most effective horror thriller in years, where noise is the ultimate enemy. Watching this movie brought out a visceral, physical reaction in me I didn’t think was possible.

3.) A Star is Born — Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga shine in this classic tale retold in amazing fashion. It left me hollowed out and emotionally drained.

2.) You Were Never Really Here — Joaquin Phoenix is a force of nature, and his almost mute, ferocious performance in Lynne Ramsay’s dreamlike and very violent thriller is hypnotic.

1.) Avengers: Infinity War — Yeah, I know it’s not the best film of 2018, or any year for that matter. But I grew up escaping into the world of comic books, whether it was to escape my own problems or just to vacation to another world for a while. Despite the age of the superhero we are living in, I truly didn’t think it was possible for the medium to fully capture the huge, company wide crossover events featuring all the characters that Marvel and DC are famous for. I was wrong. Joe and Anthony Russo skillfully weave sixty some odd characters into an entertaining, unbelievable, bombastic – and in the end, very emotional tapestry that was ten years in the making.  

Jessica Owoc, Film Writer 

5.) Bad Times at the El Royale — Mystery, intrigue, and a stellar cast combine to make this an unforgettable movie-going experience.

4.) Crazy Rich AsiansCrazy Rich Asians proved that rom-coms aren’t dead and that representation matters; a fun, colorful ride through the ups and downs of Nick and Rachel’s relationship shows that love can break through barriers, even cultural ones.

3.) Black Panther — It’s hard to believe this movie arrived at the beginning of 2018 but its pop culture impact, outstanding cast of characters, and amazing soundtrack makes the superhero genre feel fresh and exciting again.

2.) A Star is Born — A tale as old as time, told again and again yet the chemistry between Lady GaGa and Bradley Cooper leaps off the screen, sucking viewers into their whirlwind, heartbreaking romance.

1.) Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse — The cast! The animation! The story! The music! Into the Spider-Verse seemed to have it all. Like Black Panther, this version of Spider-Man revitalized the superhero genre. The dialogue was smart and funny, the voice actors were phenomenal (Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicholas Cage and Mahershala Ali just to name a few), and the story was well written. Anytime a plot involves inter-dimensional travel things can get a bit sticky, however even with the multiple Spider-Man’s ( and Spider-Women, Spider-Pig, etc.), Into the Spider-Verse never  missed a beat. The animation made you feel like you were walking into a comic book and was an integral part of the story telling. Not surprising that the producing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie) are behind another groundbreaking animated film that can be enjoyed by all ages.

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