That's right. Another year is over and everyone wants to know what the best movies were. Most people give you a top ten. But not me—not this year. I'm giving you the twenty-five best movies because it was a great year. I'm not even kidding. Movies that would have been number one in another year were pushed out of the top five. It's totally demented how many good films I got a chance to see this year. So without further ado—
25. Marshall (Dir. Reginald Hudlin)
Yes, it's Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall, starring in a gripping biopic that covers a court case in the 1940s that the NAACP-employed Marshall fought on behalf of a black man wrongfully accused of raping a white woman. Now, a lot of these historical pictures can be ponderously self-important to the point of loosing the engaging, urgent story that really draws the viewer in. This is not one of those.
This quirky noir satire stars Bob Odenkirk as a man struggling in the seedy underbelly of the greeting card industry. The creation of a new holiday, Girlfriend's Day, leads to a web of violent intrigue, and Toby Huss plays a reformed neo-Nazi skinhead in this, but the less I say about it the better.
23. Tragedy Girls (Dir. Tyler MacIntyre)
Smart, transgressive, self-aware horror comedy for fans of Detention, All Cheerleaders Die, or Cooties. Totally original take on the whole teen-killer phenom, where two bloggers decide the way to get more clicks is to create more tragedies with their own hands.
22. The Void (Dirs. Steven Kostanski & Jeremy Gillespie)
A Lovecraftian horror fest with moments of Cronenbergism, this is brought to us by Astron-6, the brains behind Manborg and Father's Day. Truly some of the most fucked-up practical effects we've seen since the 80s.
21. Downsizing (Dir. Alexander Payne)
Matt Damon gets real small and hangs with Christoph Waltz, Udo Kier, and a one-legged Hong Chau in this dramatic exploration of fringe sci-fi, brought to us by the guy who did Sideways and The Descendants, which completely lacked the science fiction element that pushes this into the realm of the very interesting, instead of simply examining the tortured souls of the privileged yet again.
20. Brigsby Bear (Dir. Dave McCary)
The tale of a boy abducted at a young age and raised in a bunker in what he believes to be a post-apocalyptic world. His one true passion is the television program Brigsby Bear, tailor-made for him by his captor-parents without his knowledge. When he is suddenly rescued in his early twenties, he finds that gaining his freedom may cause him to lose the one thing he truly values—Brigsby Bear.
19. Wonder Woman (Dir. Patty Jenkins)
Probably the best WWI movie we've seen in a long time and definitely the most coherent and conventional script we've seen for any of the new DC films. Inspirational, bad ass, sappy when it needs to be. All around, a really good action movie. Gal Gadot does an amazing job as Wonder Woman, and it's kind of a shame she isn't going to win an award for this.
18. Justice League (Dir. Zack Snyder)
Proving again that Zack Snyder's movies aren't for everyone, this film was branded with the comical label of "high-grossing flop," because apparently it's only made $650M worldwide (on a $300 budget). What a tragedy! It surely led to the wild-eyed speculations that DC would be cancelling all future movies and abandoning any hope for their franchise. Because... Thor: Ragnarok made $850, I guess. Anyway, this movie is exactly what I want from the DCU, highly reminiscent of The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians Saturday morning cartoon from 85. Can't wait to see what they do with the Legion of Doom. And dare we hope for Mister Mxyzptlk in the next Superman film???
17. Happy Death Day (Dir. Christopher B. Landon)
This one was a TOTAL surprise. The only reason I saw it was because I had MoviePass and didn't actually have to pay for it. I was expecting a glossy teen scream fest, and actually received a smart, well-paced horror thriller that had a fun twist after a few breakneck turns. And that baby mask! That's the school's mascot, believe it or not.
16. American Made (Dir. Doug Liman)
Yet another impressive biopic, this time a little more gonzo than Marshall. This amazing tale gives Tom Cruise the chance to remind us that he can actually be charming. If you like Contras and cocaine, this is must see. So much better than Blow, which actually made me angry watching it in the theater.
15. The Beguiled (Dir. Sofia Coppola)
Coppola helms this remake of the 1971 film based on the 1966 novel, the story of a wounded Union soldier "captured" in the South by two women and some girls left behind at a boarding school. Classically leaving us to ask "Is Colin Farrel the beguiler or the beguiled?" it does provide us with one definitive answer: If given the opportunity to sleep with Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, or Elle Fanning, do not choose Elle Fanning. (And, I mean, who would?)
14. Split (Dir. M. Night Shyamalan)
Amazing performances from Anya Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy in this story of a teenager held hostage by an unstable abductor with multiple personalities. Really impressive feat by Shyamalan, who had been doing mostly mediocre work for a while. I won't spoil the "twist" for those of you haven't seen it, but I will say that you can expect a "sequel."
13. The Disaster Artist (Dir. James Franco)
I've been a fan of The Room and Tommy Wiseau since about 2010. But you don't have to already be a fan to enjoy this biopic—it makes you a fan by giving you the whole (abbreviated) backstory. James Franco has definitely earned my full respect with this one.
12. Dunkirk (Dir. Christopher Nolan)
I'm not really a big fan of war movies, and more so WWII movies, of which I really only like Saving Private Ryan and this one. But there's something about the bleak and brutal portrayal here that really works. No semblance of honor, or patriotism, or duty. It's pure survival in an all-out retreat. Something we don't normally see. Something primal.
11. Blade Runner 2049 (Dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Veering distinctly from the gritty noir of the much-over-praised 1982 original, this film is absolutely immersive in its atmosphere which tends more toward a grown-up version of Steve De Jarnatt's Cherry 2000, if we are being honest. And that's fine. Look, you've got the whole computer-wife thing. You've got the whole fear of loosing the computer-wife when the protagonist is forced to carry the last remnant of her on his person into the badlands. You've got the whole sand covered Las Vegas. That can't be a coincidence. Anyway, this film is great and touching and anyone who says otherwise has no soul.
10. I, Tonya (Dir. Craig Gillespie)
Look, I never thought a biopic about Tonya Harding would be a film I love, much less something that could make Harding into a sympathetic character. This does just that, with ample black humor and absurdity, all drawn from real interviews.
9. Wilson (Dir. Craig Johnson)
Apparently based on some kind of comic, this is a nice change of pace from superheroes. Wilson is hilarious, and Harrelson proves how he can carry a comedy, in one of the funniest of the year. This story of a misanthropic, neurotic loser made me laugh out loud so many times, I should probably own it.
8. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Dir. Rian Johnson)
Notice the director can't even afford either a real first name (Rian?) or the initials J.J. Despite some notable flaws, this is still a great Star Wars film. Kylo Ren and Rey become more compelling, while Finn goes on a nonsense side-mission just to have something to do. And Poe causes trouble, because that's what little boys do. But if you are looking for that old fashioned world building you might have found lacking in The Force Awakens, get ready.
7. Get Out (Dir. Jordan Peele)
As soon as I saw the theatrical trailer (before a showing of Split) I knew this movie was going to be something special. Just absolutely compelling and relevant in a way that so many heavy-handed socially conscious films miss. I think Peele may be the way forward, for bright, young artists of color to finally find an active voice within genre films, that is both entertaining and enlightening.
6. mother! (Dir. Darren Aronofsky)
This is one of the most bat-shit insane films ever committed to celluloid. You'll be watching it in utter disbelief and reeling from the chaos until you realize there is a pattern: the whole thing is based on the Bible, albeit a rather deranged and inventive take. That doesn't stop it from being one of the most Bizarro films of the year though.
5. The Shape of Water (Dir. Guillermo del Toro)
Where so many other films read to me as sappy, schmaltzy, and false, this one absolutely succeeds in being genuinely emotionally moving. Without being at all "weird for the sake of weird" (whatever that means), del Toro has crafted a wonderfully original fairy tale. Simply beautiful.
4. I Don't Feel At Home In This World Anymore (Dir. Macon Blair)
If you ever find yourself asking, "Hey, what's the exact kind of movie G. Arthur Brown thinks there should be more of," this is pretty much it. It's black comedy, and it's crime drama. It's bleak and gritty, and ridiculous and absurd. It's got David Yow, whom I've loved since I first heard The Jesus Lizard's Puss on the split single with Nirvana; Elijah Wood, whom I've loved since Wilfred; and Melanie Fucking Lynskey, whom I've loved since she killed her mom in Heavenly Creatures. Exactly my kind of movie. And makes think that if anyone ever tries to adapt a Brian Evenson story, it should probably be Macon Blair.
Another great movie that got panned by the soulless critics. One of the most intense films, after mother!, I saw all year. Clooney handled the Coen material with a delicate tension that came off as probably darker than it would had the brothers directed it instead. The trailers made this look like it was going to be an entirely different movie, and I think that hurt it a lot at the box office. But trust me, this will be a cult classic in short order.
2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Dir. Martin McDonagh)
McDonagh has officially arrived, if you had any reservations after In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. A nearly perfect movie, it hits the cultural zeitgeist as well, cleaning up at the Golden Globes. Frances McDormand turns in one of the greatest performances of the year, along with Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, who support the fuck out of her with dedicated passion. I can usually think of at least one thing I'd change about a movie to make it better (even for my number one pick this year). Here, I can't think of a single thing. Except maybe I'd have liked to have seen Colin Farrell in it, even in a small supporting role.
1. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)
Piggy-backing on his previous film, The Lobster, Lanthimos establishes a solid brand of irrealism here that is neither absurd nor surreal, but something completely distinct with a tinge of detached expressionism. Loosely based on Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripides, this is still one of the most original stories I've ever seen. Shockingly so. The beginning is a bit of mystery, trying to figure out who these characters are, what their relationship is, and who is going to be the conflict. Not many movies dazzle me with those answers like this one did.
So that's the top 25. A few honorable mentions should probably go to—
Dave Made a Maze
Definitely the most Bizarro movie I saw all year. It's premise and presentation are astoundingly strange, but it's a little thin on story and thus did not make it to my Top 25.
One of the best art films I've seen in a while, probably because it is a commentary on art. Some shocking and bizarre sequences here.
The Bad Batch
Okay, I haven't actually seen this yet, but from the trailer alone, it's Bizarro as fuck and you should probably see it.
Update 1/11/2019: I finally saw this. It's good, amazingly landing at #26 on my list, so I don't have to edit my top twenty-five. Not quite as bonkers and I'd expected, but very weird. And Jim Carrey is in this (see if you can spot him).