It’s that time of the year again: holiday vacation time when you can finally catch up on all the movies of the year you promised your friends you’d go see, the ones that had you feeling left out about because you couldn’t participate in party conversations. But you only have so many paid time-off days and so much time between familial obligations to catch up on gems that are actually worth it. So, let us break it down for you. Out of all the mini-masterpieces that came out in 2018, these ten are our standouts.
(And if you have any extra time—perhaps if you’re stuck on a plane out of the country for 14 hours—we implore you to queue up these honorable mentions: Hereditary by Ari Aster, Leave No Trace by Debra Granik, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? by Morgan Neville, The Favourite by Yorgos Lanthimos, Skate Kitchen by Crystal Moselle, Support the Girls by Andrew Bujalski, and Duck Butter by Miguel Arteta.)
10. Black Panther (dir. Ryan Coogler)
On top of impressive storytelling for a major studio superhero movie, Black Panther deserves a spot on every single best movies of the year list for its sheer impact alone. Marvel’s perceived “gamble” became, arguably, the most talked about and game-changing blockbuster of all time; as it grossed over a billion dollars worldwide, it not only proved profitability in diversity, but validated millions of voices out there starving for this kind of massive representation. You already know the story; you’ve seen this movie 70 times because that’s how tremendous it is.
11. Sorry to Bother You (dir. Boots Riley)
Sorry to Bother You’s mind-bending originality is the kind you’d only find from a fresh young filmmaker who’s been dying to shout from the rooftops—let alone have access to them. Here, he contemplates corporate culture, late-stage capitalism, and race relations, as his main protagonist (played with such groundedness in a whimsical world by Lakeith Stanfield) finds success in the corporate world by adopting whiteness. What makes this film different than all those indies cropping up with social commentary aren’t the themes it tackles, however. It’s the fantastical absurdity—you honestly never know what’s coming—by which Boots Riley conveys his first message. We already can’t wait to hear what else he has to say.
8. The Rider (dir. Chloe Zhao)
It takes a brilliant director with an endless well of empathy to direct non-actors in a deeply, deeply personal story. That’s exactly what filmmaker Chloe Zhao achieved with this quietly breathtaking and heartbreaking western. Set in the rodeo world in the heartland of America, the film follows an injured young cowboy (played by real-life rider, Brady Jandreau) as he recovers from a devastating injury that derails everything he ever dreamed of for himself and his family. Here is a story about the search for identity within oneself when every external hook you’ve ever hung onto becomes irreparably undone.
7. Crazy Rich Asians (dir. Jon Chu)
When was the last time you had good clean fun at the movies? That’s the question this decadent, vibrant, and aspirational rom-com answers so brilliantly for its viewers. Jon Chu kills it with this long-time coming movie—the first major American studio film in years to showcase and tell the stories of an all-Asian cast. Based on the Kevin Kwan novel of the same name, the film follows an American professor (Constance Wu) as she discovers her boyfriend’s (Henry Golding) family is among the richest in Asia. It’s a feast for the eyes like you haven’t seen in years, and that alone makes the movie unforgettable. The second part of the trilogy (which this novel kicks off) has already been green-lit by Warner Bros.
6. Minding the Gap (dir. Bing Liu)
This is not a skateboarding documentary. In fact, you don’t need to know jack shit about the sport to appreciate the sheer magnitude of this one. Rather, Bing Liu’s first feature—which started as an experimental skate video built on 12 years of footage—is a devastatingly honest picture of how the mere, inevitable act of growing up can unravel decades worth of friendships. Without judgment, Liu turns the camera on himself and his friends, chronicling not only their coming-of-age in their Rust Belt hometown, but throwing into the spotlight for scrutiny the conventions of masculinity, traditional family relationships, and perceived markers of success.
5. Roma (dir. Alfonso Cuaron)
On the surface, Roma seems like simply another slice of life film: the story follows the day-to-day of a housekeeper to a middle class family in 1970s Mexico City. But if you know Cuaron’s other work (Gravity, Children of Men), you know you’re in for something much, much more devastating. Cuaron’s almost documentary-like approach to capturing the grief, joy, and loss of his main protagonist Cleo (played with a marked poignancy by first-timer Yalitza Aparicio Martinez) underscores the truth behind the story, which was inspired in part by Cuaron’s own early memories. Any more description would do the film an injustice, for it is a tale not to be told and heard, but to be experienced and felt. Do yourself a favor and seek this out if you want to feel something.
4. If Beale Street Could Talk (dir. Barry Jenkins)
Leave it to Barry Jenkins to turn a James Baldwin masterpiece into a cinematic marvel. Based on the novel of the same name, the film is, at its core, a love story set in Harlem in the 1970s. But more than that, it’s a tale of the power of that love despite the grave realities of the world—one marked by systemic racism and a broken criminal justice system—threatening to tear soulmates apart. Here, Jenkins stuns again with colors that feel like a comforting embrace, character close-ups remind you of the soul, and a sweeping score by Nicholas Britell that will breathe new life into the speechless viewer.
3. Burning (dir. Lee Chang-dong)
A virtual shoe-in for an Oscar foreign language film nomination, South Korea’s entry is impossible to forget. In the film, Steven Yeun (best known for The Walking Dead) heads home to star as Ben, a condescending, Gatsby-like figure with a sinister secret. What transpires is a maddening love triangle between an aspiring author, his unrequited love, and this mysterious man who not only throws his psychological soundness into question, but the viewers’ as well. Based on the short story “Barn Burning” by Japanese fantasy writer Haruki Murakami, the film is a surreal puzzle for viewers who love cinema that’ll challenge their sanity, safety, and personal sense of reality.
2. Mid90s (dir. Jonah Hill)
Los Angeles, this one’s a love letter to you. Jonah Hill’s directorial debut chronicles the coming-of-age of a kid (Sunny Suljic) trying to define himself outside of his circumstance. He finds his tribe among a group of skaters off Fairfax who spend their days bombing the Hollywood High stairs, smoking weed at the shop, and kicking it at house parties with the coolest girls. It’s semi-autobiographical for Hill, who captures the pre-hypebeast era of L.A. with rose-colored, heart-shaped glasses from the local thrift shop. Even in the film’s most uncomfortable and brutal moments, the nostalgia here is palpable and deeply felt, especially if you were lucky enough to be a Lost Boy or Girl during mid-’90s SoCal.
1. Blindspotting (dir. Carlos Lopez Estrada)
There is no movie more lyrical, personal, unexpected, and yet so exceptionally relevant to come out this year than Blindspotting. Written by its two leads, Daveed Diggs (a Tony and Grammy-award winner for Hamilton) and Rafael Casal (an accomplished slam poet), the film follows a man named Collin (Diggs) on the verge of being free from probation, which is constantly at the mercy of his unpredictably explosive white best friend Miles (Casal). As Collin also deals with the with the trauma of witnessing another black man suffer at the hands of police just days before his freedom, his sense of self-worth and future are thrown into question. Estrada, a first-time feature filmmaker here, lets Casal and Diggs dictate the flow of the film, which truthfully captures the nuances of biracial friendship in today’s America. What results is essentially poetry on screen that’ll leave you shook and dissecting its scenes for days.