If alphabetical order, here are ten of my favorite movies of 2018:
Spike Lee’s wildly (and disturbingly) entertaining portrayal of Ron Stallworth, a black police officer who, with the help of a Jewish colleague, infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s and lived to tell the tale. What Stallworth found, it turned out, was a gang of rowdy, bloodthirsty dimwits who could be fooled into believing anything so long as it was preceded by refrains like “White power!” or “America first!” Any resemblance to current events is purely non-coincidental.
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
By now, it should not be breaking news that Melissa McCarthy is a first-rate actress. (That Sean Spicer imitation didn’t happen by accident.) However, in case there was any residual doubt that McCarthy can do pretty much anything, as Exhibit A I offer her work here, playing a New York alcoholic who commits widespread literary fraud in order to pay her rent and feed her cat, eventually drawing the attention of the FBI. I’d hasten to add that it’s all based on a true story, but if you know anything at all about New Yorkers, you probably figured that out already.
THE DEATH OF STALIN
If you’ve ever wondered what Veep would be like if it took place inside the Soviet Union in the 1950s, wonder no more! Directed by Armando Iannucci—yes, the very man who created the funniest show on television—this ridiculous political farce about the jockeying for power among Kremlin bureaucrats following the demise of Uncle Joe undoubtedly carries a greater ring of truth than the official record might suggest. Accurate or not, its cast of characters provide more demented laughs than any rogues gallery this side of the Trump White House.
Speaking of demented, here was a similarly-pitched historical rivalry committed ever-so-exaggeratedly to celluloid. In this case, the competition unfolds at the throne of England’s Queen Anne in the early 18th century, and involves an All About Eve-esque usurpation of one loyal servant by another, both of whom vie for the queen’s affections with steadily-escalating, um, fervor. The queen is played by Olivia Colman, her two suitresses by Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. The latter’s suggestion, “Let’s go shoot something!” is possibly the finest line reading in any movie this year.
Rarely am I driven to a movie theater by a New York Times opinion column, but after reading Bret Stephens’ beaming reaction to this documentary about 33-year-old rock climber Alex Honnold, I needed to know what all the fuss was about. I understood quickly enough: In 2017, after months of preparation, Honnold attempted to become the first person in history to ascend the 3,000-foot-tall face of Yosemite’s El Capitan without a rope or harness—a suicide mission if ever there was one. As Stephens wrote in his column, “In a world of B.S. artists—and in a country led by one—Honnold is modeling something else, a kind of radical truthfulness. Either he’s going to get it exactly right, or he’s going to die.”
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
If the idea of the director of Moonlight adapting a novel by James Baldwin doesn’t get you racing to the nearest art house, I don’t know what more I can do for you. Having made the best movie of 2016, Barry Jenkins could scarcely have chosen a richer source for a follow-up than Baldwin’s 1974 novel about love and racism in New York that, like much of Baldwin’s work, doesn’t seem to have aged a day. That’s to say nothing of the divine lead performances by KiKi Layne and Stephan James and the gorgeous art direction, set design and musical score, the likes of which we haven’t seen since, well, Moonlight.
LEAVE NO TRACE
If a man raises his daughter right—teaching her important values, reading her fine books, feeding her healthy food—is it any business of the state that he does it in a tent in the woods somewhere in rural Oregon? That’s the question this movie poses—in a blessedly non-political manner—and it’s to director Debra Granik’s great credit that it provides absolutely no answer. All it offers is truth, realism and a group of people who are all doing the best they can under the circumstances. Isn’t that what a movie is for?
You don’t hear the word “Felliniesque” bandied about much nowadays—particularly not about a Mexican director best known for the third Harry Potter film and for launching Sandra Bullock into space. Yet there is no more succinct way to describe Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma—a semi-autobiographical depiction of Cuarón’s childhood from the viewpoint of his nanny—than to observe how much it resembles—tonally and visually—much of the best work of Italy’s most famous auteur. If Beale Street luxuriates in the most lavish possibilities of color film, Roma does the same for black and white.
SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE
Who would’ve guessed that Black Panther would only be 2018’s second-best comic book blockbuster with an African-American protagonist? While I shan’t say a word against Ryan Coogler’s groundbreaking, socially-conscious cultural behemoth, this animated Spider-Man spinoff nonetheless wins the superhero sweepstakes in my mind by the sheer force of its charm, its wit and—most pleasantly surprising of all—its acute understanding of the awkwardness of being the new kid in school just as puberty is beginning to kick in. (See Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, which just missed my list, for the female version of this.)
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?
I’m generally skeptical about turning human beings into saints, but if Fred Rogers wasn’t a saint, I don’t know who is. In an age when we are (justifiably) jittery about leaving small children alone with kindly-seeming men of the cloth, here was a Presbyterian minister with a children’s TV show who proved to be exactly as gentle and trustworthy as he appeared—perhaps even more so—and who, as David McCullough once argued, probably had a greater educational impact on young people than any human being in the 20th century.