click to enlarge The Death of Stalin

The Death of Stalin

A look at some of the best films of 2018 

Caught between the moon and Mexico City

As the year draws to a close, audiences and critics alike are realizing that 2018 might not have a must-see film. But don't let that depress you, as there is a plethora of should-see productions spread across every genre.

It's been a strong year for horror/suspense flicks and documentaries. In the former category, Hereditary wowed us with its Rosemary's Baby sensibility and an unbearably intense Toni Collette. Ghost Stories and The Little Stranger also helped solidify this year's reputation as one of the best for smart spooks. And don't forget The Guilty, a Danish production that impressed audiences at the Florida Film Festival with its quiet tension.

Good docs have been even more abundant. Though none approaches the level of, say, Harlan County U.S.A. or The Sorrow and the Pity, you can't go wrong with biographical offerings such as RBG; Love, Cecil, and the uplifting, zeitgeisty Won't You Be My Neighbor?

If you find yourself too happy after the latter film, why not watch Eating Animals? Perhaps the best of this year's issue-focused documentaries, it will make you take a second look at your lunch plate.

Need a palate cleanser after that last offering? Don't miss Free Solo. It's quite the cliffhanger, literally, and my pick for best doc of 2018 (unless the upcoming They Shall Not Grow Old, by Peter Jackson, changes my mind).

In animation, it's been a year of sequels, with Ralph Breaks the Internet, Incredibles 2, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Isle of Dogs. OK, so the last two aren't really sequels. They just feel like them, thanks to Spider-Verse being the millionth Spidey film and Isle of Dogs mimicking almost every other Wes Anderson movie. (But kudos to all four – plus the Japanese fable Mirai – for their visual imagination and attention to detail.)

The best comedy and coming-of-age films of the year are, respectively, The Death of Stalin and Eighth Grade. And as Poppie from Seinfeld said, "On this issue, there is no debate. And no intelligent person can think differently."

Smart people might disagree on the best musical or music-themed movie, however. The sheer number of them even prompted the Hollywood Foreign Press to place two (A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody) among the dramas, leaving the superior Mary Poppins Returns as the only true musical in the musical/comedy category.

Tackling the topic of race in vastly different but equally effective ways are Barry Jenkins' If Beale Street Could Talk, Peter Farrelly's Green Book and Ryan Coogler's Black Panther. Though the latter is overrated, its originality has made it 2018's biggest moneymaker.

As usual, most of the year's best films are dramas. Marc Turtletaub's Puzzle is an unexpectedly sweet treat; Hirokazu Kore-eda's Shoplifters redefines family values; The Front Runner, by Jason Reitman, is an insightful political document; Paul Schrader's First Reformed, starring Ethan Hawke, addresses climate change and spirituality; and Peter Hedges' Ben Is Back, with Julia Roberts and the director's wunderkind son, Lucas, powerfully deconstructs drug addiction. But the two top dramas are Alfonso Cuarón's Roma, a deeply personal and quietly profound study of social status in 1970s Mexico City, and First Man, Damien Chazelle's uniquely impressionistic trip to the moon via auditory and visual storytelling.

Amid the gut-wrenching drama, disturbing horror and enlightening docs, let's not forget the pure pleasure that movies bring. And no other film of 2018 brought me more happiness than Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One. You won't find it on many critics' top-10 lists, but it should still be embraced for its joyful escapism. And perhaps that's what we need more than anything else in 2018.

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