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The Movies/TV 8 Ball: The Top 8 Films of 2018 (So Far)

July 27, 2018 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Avengers: Infinity War Chris Evans

Top 8 Films of 2018 (So Far)

Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!

The 411 8 Ball Mid-Year in Review concludes tonight as we examine the best and worst in film from the first half of the year. Last week we looked at the worst movies that had been released in the first six months of the year. And now, it’s time to look at a much happier topic. From horror to superheroes to comedy, there have been some strong winners that were released from January to the end of June. Let’s just get right to it and dive into the best of the year so far, shall we?

Caveat: If the film had its domestic theatrical release this year, it was eligible. As you might imagine, I haven’t yet yet seen everything that’s been released thus far 2017; films that I have yet to see which may have potentially made the list include Paddington 2, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, and Super Troopers 2. For those keeping track, I’ve seen fifty-two from 2018 thus far. That puts me behind last year’s sixty-six, in part due to less films coming out in the first half of the year.

Just Missing the Cut

Red Sparrow
Isle of Dogs
Blockers
Love, Simon
Ant-Man and the Wasp

#8: Upgrade

Top 8 Films of 2018 Upgrade

To be perfectly frank, Upgrade has no business being as good as it is. Writer-director Leigh Whannell has as many misses as hits in his career, and this film had a B-movie sensibility all over it. And make no mistake; it’s a pulpy, seedy film, made on the cheap by Blumhouse Productions. But it’s also a ton of fun. Whannell’s revenge tale of a man implanted with an AI chip after being paralyzed in a mugging boasts a surprisingly good genre script with a surprising among of humor. It’s easy to go along for the ride as Logan Marshall-Green’s Grey cuts his path of revenge through slimy transhumanists. Marshall-Green is game for the proceedings; he’s no great thespian but his workmanlike qualities lend themselves well to the movie.

Whannell acquits himself much better as a director here than he did on the average Insidious: Chapter 3. Unconstrained by the necessity of adhering to franchise lore, Whannell leans heavily into neo-noir exploitation sensibilities. Under his guidance, the derivative scenes play like homages and the violence hits home in just the right way. Marshall-Green is backed up by solid performers, including Betty Gabriel as the detective working his case and Harrison Gilbertson as Eron Keen. There are enough twists and turns to keep things moving along briskly here. It may not have the thematic depth of Ex Machina or Arrival, but Upgrade certainly knows how to have fun…even if it is trashy popcorn fun.

#7: Deadpool 2

Top 8 Films of 2018 Deadpool 2

Deadpool was a home run for Fox, who have had varying levels of success with the X-Men. Ryan Reynolds gave life to the fan-favorite, and Tim Miller brought the right humor and action sensibilities. Following up on the film would have been a challenge for anyone. Fortunately, David Leitch was up to the task. True, Deadpool 2 may lack a touch of its predecessor’s originality. But it makes up for that by keeping the original’s tone while introducing some great new characters. Reynolds remains in top form as Deadpool, a role he was born to play. And the rest of the cast is stellar, from Zazie Beets as Domino to Josh Brolin’s Cable. Brolin is great as the straight man to Reynold’s jokes here. The dynamic between the two is consistently funny, and rings authentic to the source material.

With Leitch behind the camera, the action elements of this film were never in doubt. Leitch has cut his teeth on films like Atomic Blonde and John Wick, and he puts those skills to good use. Returning writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese know their audience and pack the film with jokes. But they’re also restrained enough to know when to let a laugh breathe, and they also input some appropriately dramatic elements. Deadpool wasn’t just a great film because it was funny; the film also treated its titular character with respect and gave him emotional weight. Deadpool 2 does the same, which elevates it from being a good superhero comedy into being a great one.

#6: Incredibles 2

Top 8 Films of 2018 Incredibles 2

Pixar’s done a lot of sequels over the years. Toy Story, Cars, Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc. have all seen themselves turned into franchises. Some of those decisions have worked better than others (sorry, Cars). But it took the studio fourteen years to develop and release one of their most demanded sequels: Incredibles 2. Suffice it to say, it was worth the wait. The follow-up to the 2004 animated superhero film represents what Pixar can do with a franchise when it is at its best. Director Brad Bird returns to his winning ways after the failure of Tomorrowland with a funny, poignant and often-thrilling return to the Parr family and their adventures.

For years, Bird maintained that he would only do an Incredibles sequel if he could make it worthy of the original. He does that with a script that flips the tables on Bob and Helen’s roles. This leads to some fish-out-of-water elements for Mr. Incredible that are highlights thanks to Jack-Jack’s developing powers. Tt also gives Helen plenty to do, putting her in a position similar to her husband’s in the first film. Helen finds herself potentially trusting the wrong person, which pays off thematically as well as narratively. The returning cast is great and additions like Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener hold their own. The animation is, of course, stellar as well. Bird’s team make the action sequences exciting and fast-paced, while letting slower moments carry their own. Incredibles 2 is another Pixar film that excels both for adults and kids, ranking it among the best movies of the year.

#5: Annihilation

Top 8 Films of 2018 Annihilation

I know I may lose some people here, and that’s okay. There are a couple of films on this list that I would diplomatically call “divisive,” and Annihilation is the first. Ex Machina director Alex Garland’s second feature film is a challenging watch, to be sure. It plays with perceptions and avoids falling into the traditional zones of a sci-fi action thriller. That can lead to frustration on the viewer’s part. And yet it is also a film that sticks with you in the best ways, with some truly grotesque imagery and terrifying moments amidst strong characterizations and serious themes about grief and self-destructive tendencies. Garland’s script very loosely adapts Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, and his veerings from the source work quite well for the cinematic version.

Garland is helped along by stellar performances all around. Natalie Portman knocks it out of the park as Lena, the biologist brought in by the army to help investigate a strange electromagnetic field. Portman’s Lena is smart, savvy and resourceful, but also vulnerable and crippled with emotional pain. Jennifer Jason Leigh lends her own gravitas as Dr. Ventress. Meanwhile, Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson continue their rises to the top of the industry as the badass paramedic Anya and the intellectual physicist Josie. Each of these characters have emotional baggage that allows Garland to delve deep into his themes in interesting ways. Even those who don’t enjoy Annihilation’s sometimes impenetrable moments will likely be impressed by the sheer terror in a few moments and Garland’s stunning visuals. It’s another exceptional effort from one of Hollywood’s top newer names.

#4: Avengers: Infinity War

Top 8 Films of 2018 Avengers: Infinity War

One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s strengths is the fact that it feels very much like the closest thing you can get to the comic pages being brought to life. Whether you agree with that on the whole or not, it’s hard to deny that Avengers: Infinity War fits that bill. The MCU has been building up to this film in a very real way, from entry to entry. This is the culmination of everything that’s come before. And in that, it feels very much like the best comic book crossover events. Joe and Anthony Russo created a film that, with Thanos’ plan kicking into high gear, hits all the high notes storywise with a balls-to-the-wall series of action sequences and storylines woven together into a thrilling experience.

One of the primary criticisms of Infinity War is that for all its big twists and turns, there are few character beats. I understand that complaint, though I don’t agree. The film absolutely has emotional beats. They are simply ones that have been built up through the previous eighteen films. In a way, Infinity War is the pinnacle of shared universe filmic storytelling that way. It is a different way of filmmaking than the traditional film format. Whatever complaints we may have about how that style of franchise works, Infinity War is exceptional in the execution of it. Josh Brolin’s Thanos makes for the best MCU film villain since Loki, the emotional stakes work and the ending had the world talking for a reason. It’s going to be a long wait for Avengers 4.

#3: A Quiet Place

Top 8 Films of 2018 A Quiet Place

2018 has been a hell of a year for horror. Sure, we’ve had some of the usual crap like Truth or Dare. But there have also been more stellar efforts than usual, particularly this early in the year. A Quiet Place is a perfect example of that. John Krasinski put together a film that sets itself apart from most horror films in the simplest way: it terrifies not by screams, but by silence. Krasinski’s script with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck is simple and straight-forward, without convoluted backstory. That lets him focus on the direction, using the quiet to effectively unnerve the audience.

And in front of the screen, Krasinski is just as good. Playing the father of a family living in a post-apocalyptic future, he carries the weight of loss in every gesture. Emily Blunt does equally good work as his wife, trying to find a future for their family with a baby on the way. Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe give great performances for child actors as well. It gives Krasinski all the tools he needs to make an unnerving film. The pace is nearly perfect and if the ending is a touch convenient, it’s made up for by some fantastic creature design. This one deserves all the accolades it has received, without question.

#2: Hereditary

Top 8 Films of 2018 Hereditary

Hereditary is the other selection on this list that I expect to be polarizing. It’s not shocking to me that, as much as critics loved it, audiences didn’t. Ari Aster clearly didn’t set out to make a crowd-pleaser here. His tale of a family terrorized by grief and legacy is slow-moving, with a climax that borders on absurdism. And yet, it is also one of the horror films that has stayed with me the longest in recent memory. Part of that can be credited to the work of stars Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, and Gabriel Byrne. The four family members are phenomenal, with Collette and Wolff in particular shining as the most tormented of the four. They carry home the chills and the oppressive pain of mourning well in their damaged relationship.

Really though, this is Aster’s star performance from behind the camera. Hereditary takes its time to unfold. For some that can be extremely frustrating, to be sure. But not every horror film has to fit safely within certain lines. Hereditary follows the path blazed by the experimental horror films of the 1960s and 70s, finding non-jump scare ways to build tension and horrify. And horrify it does. One moment midway through the film is absolutely shocking in its imagery. That’s the whole point, of course. The climax may not play for everyone, but it is filmed in such a surreal way that it makes the skin crawl. It’s a film I both look forward to and dread watching again. That should be the sign of a good horror film.

#1: Black Panther

Top 8 Films of 2018 Black Panther

It would be extreme fanboyism to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe can do no wrong. It’s also a lie. Marvel Studios has stumbled from time to time; see Iron Man 2 and Inhumans. But on the whole, the studio has done well in building its shared universe. Still, there were so many ways that Black Panther could have missed the boat. Many were concerned that this Africa-set film would lose sight of its identity — or get so wrapped up in said identity that it forgot to tell a good story.

Fortunately, neither was the case. Ryan Coogler hit this one out of the park by finding the balance between exploring a new part of the MCU and telling a story that still fit in said world. Black Panther is a film that knows exactly what it needs to be, and never diverts from that path. We already knew that Chadwick Boseman was a great T’challa, but Michael Jordan giving us the best MCU villain not named Thanos or Loki was a very pleasant surprise. Letitia Wright’s star-making performance as Shuri hits all the proper notes and the Dora Milaje are all wonderful.

There have been hundreds of thinkpieces about Black Panther’s exploration of black identity, and many of them tackle the subject much better than I could. I will just say that this is a film that aspires to be more than just another superhero, who happens to be black. It’s about globalism and responsibility, about cultural identity and legacy. And in the midst of all of that, it also happens to be a kickass superhero action film. Black Panther is, thus far, the pinnacle of filmmaking in 2018.

And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.