A number of critics have opted for “Favorite Movies of the Year” in lieu of traditional “Best of” Lists. I’m following suit. I’m not a film critic, and I don’t really have the training to tell you why the cinematography of X or the sound design of Y elevates it about this other movie I sure enjoyed a lot.
So with that in mind, here are the 15 films I enjoyed most this year (with the caveat that ‘enjoy’ is defined as broadly as possible). Check out the list, then be sure to tell me what your favorites were!
15. Support the Girls
A day in the life of a woman who manages a Hooters knock-off restaurant seems, at first blush, to be 90-minutes of cheap thrills. Instead, it’s a loving, heartbreaking depiction of what it takes for a woman to succeed in a world built for men. It’s funny, painful and hopeful.
14. Mission: Impossible 6
No surprises in this one, but this franchise keeps the hits coming. We should probably stop Tom Cruise before he kills himself making one of these to thrill us.
13. Game Night
We went in expecting a dumb comedy. We almost died from laughing too hard for too long. Truly hilarious comedies are far too few and far between.
12. Pork Pie
I found out about this one from someone else’s Best Of list and I’m glad I did. It’s a New Zealand film that again is pretty thin, but a tremendously fun time. The car chases are well-shot and thrilling, the three core characters are well-drawn and the script is tight. The third act left me with a big, dopey grin on my face the whole time. Hard to ask for much more out of an action-comedy.
This is the sort of horror movie that aims to disturb by keeping you off-balance. A consistent tone of creeping dread punctuated by flashes of the gruesome build tension and suspense until a horrifying finale pays it all off. The direction is masterful and the dance choreography is striking. Thematically, the film is rich. I saw it twice and couldn’t quit thinking about it, or quite decide what it was saying.
Alfonso Cuaron’s latest film probably deserves every award it’s going to win (I’m looking for sound design, Best Director and Best Actress at minimum). We got to catch it in theaters (it’s available on Netflix now), and it is really amazing. It begins as a day in the life of Cleo, a live-in nanny for a wealthy Mexican family in 1970 in Mexico City (in the Roma neighborhood). Curaon made it as a tribute to his own live-in nanny, and you can tell. The whole film feels like you’re watching his memories, and he has beatified Cleo in much the same way he surely must have his own nanny, to whom the film is dedicated.
9. Assassination Nation
A smart, savvy satire of Gen Z that feels like it was made by Gen Z. The movie oozed attitude and style, and it turned out to be a clever update to the Salem Witch Trials.
8. Eighth Grade
What’s left to say about this film that pretty much everyone hasn’t already said? It’s a beautiful, powerful story of the awkwardness of middle school.
7. The Favourite
The true story of the power struggle between Queen Anne of England, Sarah Churchill and her cousin Abigail at the turn of the 18th century. I never thought I’d laugh so hard at a period piece, but the fact that story is played straight – from the sets to the costuming to the dialogue – brought the absurdity of the story all the more to the fore. Director Yortho Lanthimos makes weird movies (The Lobster, Killing of a Sacred Deer), and this is easily his most accessible. I had a blast with it.
Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy were staggering books. When I heard Alex Garland (director of Ex Machina) was adapting them, my first thought was, “How?” If any books were unfilmable, surely they were Vandermeer’s creepy, abstracted horror novels. Garland treated the books as a jumping off point, giving us a film that is less an adaptation than a riff on the same themes. The film is recognizably the same as the books, but it stands on its own, makes markedly different choices, and is all the better for it. The result is just as strange, just as creepy and sure to become a sci-fi/horror classic.
And if you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, JR. didn’t talk about what this movie is actually about!” you’re right. I’m not even going to try.
5. Sorry to Bother You
I saw this movie having watched the trailer. I wish I had known even less than that (and the trailer really only spoils the first act of the film). This is such a stylish, smart movie that goes all over the place. The twists of the third act had me rolling in the aisles and horrified all at once. The film has a lot to say and I wish we were listening a bit ore closely.
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
This movie shouldn’t exist, but we’re all better for the fact that it does. I can’t believe the same studio who made Venom this year managed to launch this impossible cinematic unicorn into the universe. It’s everything a Spider-man movie should be, and the animation is ground-breaking. I can’t wait to watch it again and again.
This is Spike Lee’s movie for White people. He released this film on the one year anniversary of the White Power march in Charlottsville, the march at which President Trump cautioned there are “many fine people on both sides.” BlackkKlansman is a specific rebuttal to the idea that White Power and Black Power rhetoric are two sides of the same coin. Lee makes his argument brilliantly – by allowing the two rhetorics to speak side-by-side. It’s painfully obvious how different they are.
2. Black Panther
Come on. This movie was a phenomenon. It managed to be origin story-ish without feeling stale. It had an almost entirely Black cast, and too many tough, fierce women to keep track of and one of the best villains in comic movie history. It cemented Afro-futurism as a genre we cannot get enough of. It broke pretty much every record we keep track of in movies.
Horror is my favorite genre, but there are still few horror films I truly enjoy (again ‘enjoy’ here being semantically broad enough to include ‘left me trembling in terror’). Hereditary was it this year for me. The film is gorgeously shot, which only makes the terror more intense. And while everyone in the film is amazing, Toni Colette deserves a Best Actress nomination for her performance, which is riveting, agonizing and heartbreaking.
Read my article on Hereditary here
BONUS: Other Mentionables:
Here’re a few other flicks that deserve some mention.
Best Documentary: Three Identical Strangers
No, I haven’t seen Won’t You Be My Neighbor yet. That said,
Most Fun Bad Movie: Aquaman
I don’t think this movie would be getting nearly as much love if the vast majority of the DC movies that preceded it weren’t really awful. It’s fun, but incredibly dumb. Shut your brain off and have a good time. (That reads meaner than I intend it to. Really, this is a fun, dumb movie, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)
Blew It in the Third Act: A Quiet Place
Seldom have I been so frustrated at the ‘big reveal’ at the end of a movie. This one was so dumb I left pretty disgruntled. It wasn’t quite enough to ruin the magic of seeing this film in a silent, tense theater, but it was definitely enough to keep it off my ‘Best of’ List.
Worst Movie I Saw This Year: Holmes & Watson
This movie is worse than you’ve heard. Only watch this if you want to see a bunch of really talented actors phoning it in.