Scott Menzel’s 18 Best Films of 2018
Before I begin to countdown my favorite films of 2018, I wanted to take a brief moment to reflect on all of the films released in 2018. While I wouldn’t say that 2018 was a remarkable year for film, I do believe it was one of the most consistent in terms of overall quality. In addition, 2018 was without question one of the most diverse years of cinema shining a bright spotlight on culture and important themes such as racism and violence.
To be completely honest, the vast majority of the films released in 2018 fell somewhere between good to great in my opinion. I feel like there were very few films this year that I absolutely hated. Sure, there were a few *cough Red Sparrow *cough but there weren’t nearly as many as in the previous years. However, with that being said, there were a lot of films that disappointed me this year. First Man, Welcome to Marwen, and Beautiful Boy are just three of several huge disappointments this year. But, this list isn’t about what films disappointed me but rather which ones really struck a chord with me and spoke to me. So, without any further rambling, here are my 18 favorite films of 2018.
18. Private Life
Private Life stars Paul Giamatti (Richard) and Kathryn Hahn (Rachel) as a married couple who desperately want to have kids. However, after trying nearly everything including multiple attempts at artificial insemination they cannot conceive. Feeling defeated and incredibly upset, Rachel and Richard begin to weigh their options and begin to seek out an egg donor. As one of the opening night films of the Sundance Film Festival back in January, Private Life is raw, comedic, and heartbreaking. It shines a light on a difficult topic yet makes for such a rich and powerful tale that feels unbelievably personal and true to life. Private Life is my new favorite film from Tamara Jenkins and I must admit that I am a bit bummed that it has been incredibly overlooked this award season.
17. A Simple Favor
After seeing the strange yet intriguing trailer for A Simple Favor, I had a sneaking suspicion that this film was going to end up being one of the biggest surprises of 2018. Because I attend Telluride and TIFF back to back, I didn’t get a chance to see A Simple Favor until several weeks after it opened. This Paul Feig directed whodunit mystery comedy is not only one of my favorite films of the year but one of the sexiest films that I have seen in a very long time. Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick are spectacular together and play off one another with such skill. These two actresses are playing characters that neither of them has ever played before with the result being something that is isn’t just entertaining as hell but deliciously dark and comedic.
16. Sorry to Bother You
Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You is the most ambitious and original film of 2018. I can completely understand how some viewers won’t like or appreciate the film because it certainly does get extremely nutty in the 3rd act but I loved and truly embraced the insanity of it all. I want more original ideas being made into films and I want filmmakers to take risk regardless of whether or not, I like the movie or not. I can tell you that Sorry to Bother You isn’t a flawless film but not many films are. In fact, even though I love every single film on this list, I wouldn’t label any of them perfect. There is something special about Boot Riley because he had a vision and brought it to life with people who he knew. This was one of the most talked about films to come out of Sundance as well as the most discussed indie films of the year. I think that says a lot about the creative talents as well as the overall movie itself. There is a lot to take away from the film but that is all up to the viewer as to whether or not they can appreciate and embrace Boots Riley’s “out there” storytelling and filmmaking.
15. Eighth Grade
I skipped the Juliet, Naked premiere at the Eccles Theater to attend the Eighth Grade premiere at the Library back at Sundance. Even though I really enjoyed Juliet, Naked when I saw it later in the fest, I still believe that I made the right choice seeing Eighth Grade instead. I was one of the first critics to see and review Eighth Grade because whenever a film premieres at the library, it seems to take a few days for it to build up momentum. I remember telling my friends Scott Mantz and Mara Reinstein that they have to make it a priority to see Eighth Grade because they are going to love it. As it turns out. I was right. Eighth Grade has gone on to be praised by almost everyone who has seen it. The film has become so popular because it is a coming of age story that resonates with women of all ages while feeling incredibly true to life. I have heard so many people say that they cried during this film and any film that can spark that the type of emotion is definitely the mark of something brilliant. Bo Burnham directorial debut follows Lady Bird as one of the best Coming-of-Age films in recent memory.
Another Sundance 2018 gem. Jason Reitman’s Tully which he is co-wrote alongside Diablo Cody is easily one of the most overlooked and underrated films of 2018. Charlize Theron’s performance as Marlo is one that should be on everybody’s list for Best Actress as it is her finest performance since she won the Academy Award for Monster back in 2003. Reitman and Cody have a proven track record whenever they work together and Tully is yet another terrific dark comedy about the struggles of motherhood. The themes found in this film are ones that will resonate with anyone who is a parent regardless of gender. I wish that Tully was released closer to the end of the year instead of back in May because it deserved to have an audience. Instead, the film was buried amongst all the popular mainstream releases that kicked off the summer movie season.
13. Boy Erased
Boy Erased was my favorite film from the Telluride Film Festival this year. It also happens to be the first of two films starring Lucas Hedges on this list. Boy Erased is based on Garrard Conley’s memoir and is all about his experience with being sent away to gay conversion therapy. The subject matter here has been a topic of two films this year; The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Boy Erased. While I thought The Miseducation of Cameron Post was only ok, Boy Erased made me physically sick to my stomach while I watched it. I got a real sense of how these facilities work and how they try so hard to push their ideologies onto anyone who identifies as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Boy Erased is an eye-opening film with several spectacular performances including Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe.
12. Paddington 2
While audiences don’t seem to love the Paddington franchise as much as critics, I must admit that Paddington 2 is nearly impossible not to love. Paddington 2 is somehow even better than the original, which is remarkable because the first is pretty much perfection when it is compared to other family films. The second one works once again because it is interesting, heartwarming, and entertaining. Paddington 2 was praised by critics because it is a family-friendly film that doesn’t treat adult viewers like idiots. In fact, I would even argue that the Paddington franchise even though it is made for families is loved by adults just as much, if not even slightly more, than by children. You just can’t help falling in love with this cute little bear with an obsession for marmalade.
11. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies!
Sorry, Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse, I enjoyed Teen Titans! Go to the Movies more than you. I laughed a lot while watching this film, probably more than any other film this year. It reminded me of a combination of Looney Tunes meets Animaniacs. The jokes are meta, self-aware, and I love that the entire film was almost a parody of not only the superhero genre but the entire Hollywood system. The film is so high energy and the humor works just as well for adults as it does for children. I think 2018 was a very strong year for animated films with Ralph Breaks The Internet, Spider-Man Into The Spiderverse, and Isle of Dogs, but Teen Titans Go! to the Movies was so unexpectedly great and hilarious that no other animated film this year has been able to top it.
10. Bohemian Rhapsody
After hearing nothing but negative buzz about Bohemian Rhapsody for the past several years, I had very little faith that film would end up being good. However, despite all the production problems, Bohemian Rhapsody ended up rocking its way into my top of the year list. Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury is just magical. There have been a lot of remarkable performances in 2018 and seeing Malek transform into Mercury was definitely one of them. I must also add that for a mainstream biopic about the band Queen, it did a great job touching upon much of their career leading up to Live Aid. I did not want nor did I feel the need to have this gritty R rated version that most of my colleagues hoped the film would be. I was happy that as a biopic it celebrated the band, the music, and the man that made it all a reality. Bohemian Rhapsody is a real crowd pleaser and one that worked for me from beginning to end. Plus that Mike Myers cameo and the Live Aid recreation at the end of the film, are easily two of my favorite scenes of the year.
9. Anna and The Apocalypse
And the award for the most original and entertaining musical of 2018 goes to Anna and The Apocalypse. This musical coming of age zombie horror dramedy delivers the goods. It isn’t a flashy musical with elaborate sets or extravagant costumes but it is fully aware of what it is and embraces it all from beginning to end. Ella Hunt as Anna is this year’s new talent to keep an eye on. The musical numbers in this film are all catchy and help move the story forward instead of stopping the film dead in its tracks (yes, I am looking at you Mary Poppins Returns). Anna and the Apocalypse has it all; humor, heart, drama, blood, and lots of zombies. It is bound to become a cult classic that will be watched over and over again every holiday season.
8. Ben is Back
My wife Ashley Menzel and I have decided that we are going to launch the Lucas Hedges fan club because at the age of 21, Lucas Hedges has taken on such a wide range of projects that have simply blown us away. Ben Is Back is written and directed by Peter Hedges, yes, that is Lucas Hedges’ dad, who along with writing and directing films, also is a playwright. Ben is Back takes place over the period of 24 hours and follows Ben (Hedges) who comes home from rehab to spend Christmas with his family. No one besides his mother Holly (Julia Roberts) seems to be thrilled with his return and sadly, they are right. This powerful and emotional little indie is not only being overlooked but is being completely snubbed for Best Actor and Best Actress race. Out of all the films about addiction that were released this year (and there were quite of few of them), I found Ben is Back to be the most hard-hitting and effective. It also needs to be said that Ben is Back is a real rarity as the film becomes even better on second viewing.
7. Instant Family
If you ever wanted to see me break down and cry and you weren’t at the screening of Instant Family that I attended, well, you missed your chance. I am absolutely shocked that Instant Family managed to be decent, let alone be one of my favorite film of the year. As heartwarming as it is hilarious, Instant Family managed to get me to feel things that were buried deep inside. I found myself reliving parts of my own life while I was watching this film. There are so few films about the foster care system and if you have seen the film, I can tell you that what is shown is very true to life. Sean Anders’ own experience with adoption was what initially inspired this film and then he reached out to other foster families to share their experience for the film along with his own. As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of Mark Wahlberg, I have to say that he blew me away with this performance. It is my favorite film of his by far. The rest of the cast which includes Rose Byrne, Octavia Spencer, Tig Nagaro, Isabela Moner, and many others are all around fantastic as well. There isn’t a weak link in this one and I am happy to report that Instant Family ended up not only being one of the biggest surprises of the year but one of my favorite films.
6. A Quiet Place
There is starting to be a tradition in Hollywood where each year a horror film ends up surprising the hell out of almost everyone who sees it. This year that horror film was A Quiet Place. I saw A Quiet Place at SXSW and I went into it not knowing what to expect. John Krasinski along with writers Scott Beck and Brian Woods have created something truly original and horrifyingly effective. This film proves that less is more with a total of five cast members and little to no dialogue. While there are some creatures, they are rarely shown yet the film manages to have you on edge from start to finish. A Quiet Place is an atmospheric, tension-filled, and non-stop thrill ride that will leave you begging for more.
I have seen BlacKkKlansman more than any other film this year and that says something. This latest Spike Lee joint is easily one of his best films to date. In fact, I would say that BlacKkKlansman is in my top three of all the films that Spike Lee has directed. What makes BlacKkKlansman so great is that everything about it works from the fantastic performances to its powerful ending that brings the entire thing full circle. I am so glad that audiences and critics alike have embraced this film and that it is getting a lot of love this Award Season. There are plenty of laughs to be had but there is plenty to think about as soon as the end credits start to roll. BlacKkKlansman is truly an exceptional film that only a filmmaker as talented and dedicated like Spike Lee could have pulled off.
Searching premiered at the Sundance Film Festival which is where I first got to experience this fascinating feature debut from Aneesh Chaganty. At Sundance, the film was called Search before it was picked up by Sony Pictures near the end of the fest. Searching is a mystery told entirely through various Apple products and technology. It is a revolutionary piece of cinema that doesn’t feel gimmicky at all. The film stars John Cho and Debra Messing who deliver two of the best performances of their careers and I am glad that Cho was recently nominated for Best Actor at the Spirit Awards. There has been a lot of films made recently using technology but none of them are even close to the awesomeness that is Searching.
3. Green Book
After seeing so many heavy films at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, I attended the World Premiere of Green Book fully expecting another heavy film that would tackle difficult themes and leave me feeling depressed and angry. To my surprise, Green Book was not like that at all. Instead, Peter Farrelly was able to create a film that tackled tough and difficult issues such as racism and social class in a way that was light-hearted and entertaining. Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali are absolutely delightful together in this oddball road trip dramedy about self-discovery and self-worth. I have seen Green Book twice now and still think that it was one of the most touching and entertaining films of 2018.
2. Won’t You Be My Neighbor
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is not a film that will anger or upset audiences but instead make them feel good. This wonderful documentary about the life of Fred Rogers is as inspiring as it is heartfelt. Morgan Neville’s takes the audience on an emotional journey that shows the audience all the different sides of Fred Rogers and what his goal was as a media personality. Neville’s touching documentary proves that Fred Rogers was one of a kind. He was a good person with morals which is sadly lacking in the media nowadays. While Won’t You Be My Neighbor? reminds us of a simpler time where social media didn’t even exist, it shows how one man stood up for what was right and what he believed in. He wanted to treat everyone as equal and never talked down to kids but rather communicated with them in ways that were very unorthodox but ended up helping them and inspiring them to communicate and ask questions. I called Won’t You Be My Neighbor? one of the best documentaries of all time and I stand by that quote. When was the last time you watched a documentary that made you laugh, cry, think, and feel good?
If you want to read more about my thoughts on Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, you can check out my full review.
The Hate U Give
I saw The Hate U Give at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September. As I exiting the theater, my gut was telling me that I just saw my favorite film of the year but at the time I thought it was too early to say for sure. In a year where there have been so many films focused on important themes such as segregation, inequality, racism, and police brutality, The Hate U Give was the strongest one of them all. Not only does the film perfectly capture what it is like to be a teenage of color in today’s America but it is told from a female perspective, which in my eyes is what makes this film stand out from the other films released dealing with similar topics. With its ever so powerful depiction of violence, racism, and hate, I do believe that this film has the ability to ignite social change as more and more audiences continue to discover it. Rising star Amandla Stenberg delivers a career-defining performance that is emotional, multilayered and impactful. Stenberg’s character Starr lives two separate lives, for reasons that I don’t want to spoil, but this subplot is as realistic as it is entertaining. For all these reasons and a whole lot more, please seek out The Hate U Give when it hits digital and Blu-Ray on January 22, 2019.
In addition to the titles above, I do have 18 honorable mentions which in no particular order are Set It Up, Black Panther, Love, Simon, Flower, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, The Year of Spectacular Men, Summer 03, Free Solo, Three Identical Strangers, Alpha, A Star is Born, Hearts Beat Loud, First Reformed, You Were Never Really Here, Isle of Dogs, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Vice, and Stan & Ollie
So those are my 18 favorite films of 2018. Feel free to let me know whether or not, you agree or disagree with my choices.