2018 Movies to Watch

Though I had planned for more, a hectic schedule and a cross-country move made watching all of the films I had on my list in 2018...interesting. I was still able to catch quite a few and I built on my 2017 record by seeing 55 new releases this year and 30 classic films.

I've been following along with the Unspooled podcast through the American Film Institute's top 100 list - building my repertoire of classic films and watching some old favorites. My personal ranking is on a Letterboxd list. We've still got about half of the list to go, so it's not to late to catch up! For a good dose of humor and thoughtful discussions about some of the greatest films ever made, check out the Unspooled podcast!

You can also see my comprehensive, ranked list of 2018 films on Letterboxd.

I think I'm in the minority when I say that 2018 wasn't my favorite year for film. The Golden Globes ceremony on Sunday night was, in my opinion, a reflection of the offerings and bizarre praise for mediocre films this year. I was disappointed more than I was wowed in the theater. Regardless, there are some treasures in the mix and I'm excited to share my favorite 24 with you. 

Cheers to 2019! I hope you're able to catch up on some of my personally recommended stories that inspired and delighted me last year.

1. ROMA 

(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%, Metacritic Score: 96)

No other 2018 film stood a chance competing for my number one film of the year against Roma. The story is set in Mexico City, near the neighborhood I grew up in. The story has a woman at the center, and it is some of the most stunning technical work I've ever seen.

I'm not the only one who loved it. The film has received nearly 60 film critic association wins, two Golden Globes, and even more nominations. Many are praising Alfonso Cuáron, calling it his best work - a masterpiece that is deeply personal and also universal. I imagine the film will go on to win more awards, but besides that, it is one of the most moving cinematic experiences I've ever had.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. The film follows Cleo, a domestic worker who is inspired by the woman who worked for Cuaron's family during his childhood.

  2. Yalitza Aparicio, the actress who plays Cleo, is a first-time actor who lives in a rural part of Oaxaca, Mexico working as a school teacher. She responded to the casting call for the movie after her sister encouraged her to audition.

  3.  The film has won awards for Best Director, Best Cinemetography, Best Actress, Best Film, Best Editing, Best Foreign Film, and several others...

Where to Watch: Netflix and in select theaters


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%, Metacritic Score: 82)

I love Wes Anderson films. His work speaks to my quirky, creative sensibilities. It's a no-brainer that a beautifully crafted stop-motion animated film by one of my favorite directors about one of my favorite subjects (dogs) would make the top of my list.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. The voice acting in Isle of Dogs is phenomenal. With a cast lead by Bryan Cranston, Anderson included some of his favorite collaborators like Bill Murray, Jeff Goldbloom, Tilda Swinton, Francis McDormand, Edward Norton, and more!

  2. "Isle of Dogs" is a play on words. Say it five times fast and you'll figure it out :)

  3. It took a team of 670 people to create this unprecedented stop-motion masterpiece.

Where to Watch: VOD, Redbox, and HBO


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%, Metacritic Score: 82)

This post-apocalyptic thriller packs way more than jump scares. While  the film centers around a family trying to survive in a world where monsters hunt sound, the story is thematically rich, while also keeping you at the edge of your seat.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. John Krasinski not only wrote, produced, directed and starred in A Quiet Place, he also played the monster in a motion capture suit for a few scenes.  

  2. Stephen King called A Quiet Place "an extraordinary piece of work."

  3. The daughter in the film is actually deaf and she helped Krasinski understand what the world is like for someone who is hearing impaired.

Where to Watch: VOD & Redbox


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%, Metacritic Score: 86)

Believe or not, it is possible to tell an incredible story and develop familiar characters in an action movie package. Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie were just the duo to pull it off in this sixth installment of the Mission Impossible franchise. Mission Impossible: Fallout is the perfect follow up to everything Ethan Hawk's character arc has been building up to and it has some of the best action sequences of any movie. Ever.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. The skydiving stunt sequence was performed by the actors sans CGI and took a year to plan out.

  2. As per usual, Tom Cruise did all of his own stunts (and nearly died trying).

  3. Henry Cavil was more intimidated by the stunts he had to perform in this movie than when he played Superman. So basically the stunt work is crazy impressive.

Where to Watch: VOD & Redbox


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%, Metacritic Score: 83)

This movie left me in tears. Not only was it a deeply affecting commentary on racism, Spike Lee was able to draw a connection between a true story about a black cop infiltrating the KKK set in the 1970s to the devastating race-motivated events that are still a reality for us in 2019.

Don't worry, though it's not all tears and awkward moments. A stunning performance from John David Washington (yeah he's Denzel's son) will have you doubled over laughing too.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. BlacKkKlansman is based on the 2014 memoir Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth. Stallworth originally wanted Denzel Washington to portray him but was equally excited when his son, John David Washington, took on the role.

  2. Director Spike Lee received a six-minute standing ovation when the film premiered at the Cannes film festival.

  3. John David Washington's first role was as a six-year-old in another Spike Lee film, Malcolm X, in which his dad, Denzel, starred. 

Where to Watch: VOD & Redbox


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%, Metacritic Score: 87)

When the trailer came out for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse I couldn't help but roll my eyes. But then the reviews started rolling in...

I saw this film on Christmas Day and while I have to admit I was feeling pretty good after enjoying my boozy eggnog milkshake, it didn't take me long to realize I was watching something unrivaled. The movie is a big leap forward in animation and it's a fun and engaging story - a great pick for the whole family.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. This film was Stan Lee's final voice-acting role after he died at the age of 95 a month before the film was released.

  2. This is the first Spider-Man film to feature Spider-Woman.

  3. The film has received 22 wins from critics groups, a Golden Globe, and 30 nominations from critics groups and awards shows combined.

Where to Watch: In Theaters


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%, Metacritic Score: 65)

Hearts Beat Loud is the unsung (no pun intended) movie from 2018. The film is an endearing story about a single dad (Nick Offerman) trying to adjust to the idea of his daughter going off to college. Both musicians, they record a song together that receives marginal attention and they start to connect though music as they grapple through life's ups and downs.

Burgeoning star, Kelsey Clemmons, plays Offerman's daughter and wows with her performance and singing talent. The soundtrack and film are worth checking out.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. Ted Danson plays a bartender. I mean, come on.

  2. The songs were performed by all of the actors and their vocals were recorded live.

  3. The director, Brett Haley, responded to my tweet praising the film and said, "some people really pick up what you're laying down" (and yes I freaked out and told all of my family and friends).

Where to Watch: VOD & Hulu


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%, Metacritic Score: 85)

I knew I was going to be an emotional wreck watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor? when the trailer brought me to the verge of tears! I know I'm just one of so many people who has been impacted by Fred Rogers' life and legacy and this documentary about his life does that legacy justice. 

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. Though not highlighted in the documentary, Yo-Yo Ma told director Morgan Neville that Fred Rogers taught him how to use his fame for good.

  2. The film was released a few days after the fiftieth anniversary of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. The show still has far-reaching effects like the spinoff Daniel Tiger.

  3. Rogers' wife is in full support of the film, even promoting its release on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

Where to Watch: VOD & Redbox


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%, Metacritic Score: 88)

I'd be lying if I said that The Death of Stalin wasn't bordering on the offensive and cringe-worthy, but what else can you expect from Veep creator Armando Iannucci? He has a special way of pointing out the absurdity in the world of politics and this film is his crowning achievement. I don't think I laughed out loud during a 2018 movie more often than while I was watching this film.

More Reasons to Watch: 

  1. Jeffrey Tambor, Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, and the rest of the cast maintained their English and American accents, making the movie all the more absurd and hilarious.

  2. The movie is based on the real-life power struggle after Stalin's death, which is once again, absurd and hilarious.

  3. If you have a twisted sense of humor, you'll likely enjoy this movie :)

Where to Watch: VOD, Showtime, Redbox


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%, Metacritic Score: 87)

Barry Jenkins is without question one of the most talented directors working today. Every frame in this film is more gorgeous than the last. Out of all of the films that deal with race relations and injustice in 2018, Jenkins' followup to his Oscar winning Moonlight kept the beautiful love story at the forefront, while not muddling the important message.

More Reasons to Watch

  1. If Beale Street Could Talk is based on James Baldwin's book. Baldwin was a black novelist and social critic who was a prominent voice in 20th century America

  2. If Beale Street Could Talk is Kiki Lane's feature film debut. She's the female protagonist in the story and is stunning in her first major role.

  3. Regina King, who plays Tish's mom in the film, has won 25 film critic awards and a Golden Globe for Supporting Actress.

Where to Watch: In Theaters


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%, Metacritic Score: 93)

Shoplifters was my favorite surprise in 2018. I knew it had won the Palm d'Or (the top prize) at the Cannes Film Festival earlier in the year, so it was on my radar, but I did not expect to enjoy it so much. It packs an emotional punch and has a sneaky way of tugging at your heart strings. 

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. Shoplifters is the first Japanese film to win the coveted Palm d'Or prize since 1997.

  2. To do research for the project, director Hirokazu Koreeda visited an orphanage and met a little girl who inspired one of the characters.

  3. Koreeda had been considering the idea of "what makes a family?" for 10 years before working his ideas into the finished project.

Where to Watch: In Theaters

12. INCREDIBLES 2 (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%, Metacritic Score: 80)

After a long hiatus, Brad Bird reintroduced us to the Incredibles family, and it was worth the wait! With timely themes and a fun story, it was easy to get swept back up in the world Bird created for us over 14 years ago. While not as strong as the first film, it's still a very worthy watch in beautiful Pixar fashion.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. Incredibles 2 is one of a handful of Pixar sequels where a side character takes on the main protagonist role. In this case Mrs. Incredible takes center stage while Mr. Incredible takes a backseat.

  2. The film has a killer score. Composer Michael Giacchino scored this film along with other Pixar favorites like Inside Out, Ratatouille, and Up.

  3. This film holds the record for the most viewed animated teaser trailer of all time.

Where to Watch: VOD, Redbox


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%, Metacritic Score: 88)

If there was a movie in 2018 that represented the best parts of this cultural moment we are in, Black Panther would be it. Ryan Coogler made the jump from directing independent films to taking on this massive feature and he was the perfect guy for the job. The movie is an absolute blast and if you're suffering from superhero fatigue you don't have to worry, it breaks the mold.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. This movie became the top-grossing film in history.

  2. Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis who both star in this film as well as The Hobbit were affectionately referred to as the "Tolkien White Guys" on set.

  3. To create the film's score, the composer used a 92-piece live orchestra, a 40-person choir, and over 40 different musicians playing African instruments. 

Where to Watch: Netflix, VOD


( Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%, Metacritic Score: 83)

It requires incredible vulnerability and honesty to portray a personal struggle on such a widely consumed medium like a film, but that's exactly what Tamara Jenkins did when she wrote and directed Private Life. Jenkins doesn't pull any punches in this story based on her own struggles with infertility. Kathryn Hahn and Paul Giamatti are the perfect duo for these raw performances. It's my favorite female-directed film of the year and it's criminally underrated.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. It's been seven years since Tamara Jenkins wrote and directed a film. Her previous film, Savages, was also based on her very real struggle to care for her aging father.

  2. This film tackles a rarely talked about phenomena, infertility, that many couples struggle with.

  3. The film is available on Netflix, so it's a easy to access and discuss the poignant story with friends or family afterward.

Where to Watch: Netflix


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%, Metacritic Score: 88)

Quite simply, Mary Poppins Returns, is exactly what you would want from a continuation of a beloved story. Rob Marshall did a superb job tying in elements from the original movie, while also delivering something fresh. Emily Blunt does justice to the character and I think I had a smile on my face during the entire film.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. Dick Van Dyke dances in the film and it nearly makes your heart burst it's so adorable. When given an option for the choreography, he chose the hardest routine and didn't receive any help from any of the crew or cast members.

  2. At the age of 93, Angela Lansbury sets the record for the oldest woman to ever appear in a Disney film.

  3. As with the original, all of the animation is hand-drawn and a sweet nostalgic touch.

Where to Watch: In Theaters


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%, Metacritic Score: 90)

When you put three amazing actresses in a movie together, the results are bound to be magical. In this loosely adapted story about Queen Anne, three female protagonists own each scene and play off each other beautifully as a power struggle ensues for the entirety of the film. Yorgos Lanthimos is not the most conventional director, and while The Favourite is his most palatable work to date, it's still edgy but not lacking in darkly funny moments and beautiful production design.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. Olivia Coleman won the Golden Globe for her portrayal of Queen Anne.

  2. Rachel Weisz, who plays Sarah Churchill in the film, compared the film to All About Eve but said it was funnier and more sex-driven.

  3. Two of the three women who star in the film have won an Oscar for their past work (Rachel Weisz for The Constant Gardner and Emma Stone for La La Land)

Where to Watch: In theaters


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%, Metacritic Score: 88)

Bradley Cooper's directorial debut has been much-anticipated and whether or not you've seen the three previous versions of A Star is Born, Cooper's take on the story is refreshing and his talent behind the camera shines through in this adaptation. While I can appreciate the artistry, I don't love the second half of this film. The first half is so visually stunning and the characters are so rich, I couldn't keep it off my list. 

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. Cooper went through extensive vocal training so that he could sing live along with Lady Gaga.

  2. Many of the scenes were filmed at Coachella were Gaga was a headliner. She was the first female headliner for the festival in ten years.

  3. Cooper was taught to play guitar for this film by Willie Nelson's son, Lukas.

Where to Watch: In Theaters


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%, Metacritic Score: 90) 

I was filled with dread when I saw the first trailer for this Eighth Grade. I've lived through 8th grade once. I didn't want to do it again. But, when critics and audiences started praising this film and Bo Burnham's amazing feature debut, I had to check it out. After the screening I enjoyed a Q&A with Burnham and rising star, Elsie Fisher. I'm so glad I did because Burnham's personal struggles with anxiety and brush with fame influence every frame of this film and it was a treat to hear how the story has resonated with so many people. It's a true triumph. Especially for a first-time filmmaker.

More Reasons to Watch: 

  1. Filming began only a week after Elsie Fisher graduated from eighth grade, so the experiences Kayla goes through are all too familiar and inform performance in this film.

  2. Many critics have likened this film to the teen comedies of the 1980s like Sixteen Candles.

  3. Elsie Fisher helped Burnham accurately portray the ways teens interact with one another and the world around them.

Where to Watch: VOD & Redbox

19. 22 JULY 

(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%, Metacritic Score: 69)

22 July is a true story about the deadliest terrorist attack in Norway's history flew under the radar when it was first released on Netflix and it's a real shame.

The film is a beautiful telling of what real strength and resilience in the face of terror looks like. It's a timely film for our age and a great opportunity to learn about real-life heroes.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. Director Paul Greengrass also helmed United 93 which followed the events on September 11th.

  2. The attacks were so prolific a survey showed that one in four Norwegians knew someone affected.

  3. Norway responded to the attack with many efforts to change policy and governmental leadership, including a significant interest from young Norwegians in running for office.

Where to Watch: Netflix


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%, Metacritic Score: 84)

After a successful run with La La Land most people had high expectations for Damien Chazelle's follow up film. While Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission is a familiar tale, Chazelle is able to tell the story from Armstrong's perspective in a uniquely cinematic way.

Though First Man hasn't received as much love (or money) as anticipated, it's a beautifully crafted effort with great performances, amazing cinematography and an impressive soundtrack that won Justin Horowitz another Golden Globe.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. Neil and Janet Armstrong's sons, Mark and Eric, have said that First Man contains very accurate portrayals of their parents.

  2. Some of the voices heard in the film are actual recordings from the space program at the time.

  3. Chazelle was fiercely committed to accuracy with this film. His incredible attention to detail made for near-perfect recreations of the space shuttles and representation of what space looked like.  

Where to Watch: In Theaters


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%, Metacritic Score: 88)

The follow up to Paddington, the clumsy, cuddly bear based on the book by the same name was the first film I saw in theaters this year. It's hard to believe, but the Paddington 2 is still holding at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Paul King's adaptation is endearing and well-told and has a criminally underrated performance from Hugh Grant. It's a shame the movie didn't carry through the whole year to earn more recognition. Regardless, if you're looking for a lighthearted watch it's a great pick.

More Reasons to Watch

  1. Books about Paddington Bear by author Michael Bond have sold more than 35 million copies throughout his career. He passed away at the age of 91, six months before the release of this movie.

  2. The movie boasts the "best-reviewed" title on Rotten Tomatoes of any film.

  3. The first film was the highest grossing family film of all time in the UK in 2014.

Where to Watch: VOD, HBO, Redbox


(Metacritic Score: 90)

Far from a lighthearted watch, The Tale premiered at Sundance in early 2018 and made waves. Not only is it a unique storytelling technique that straddles a documentary and narrative style, the story follows the true-life story of Jennifer Fox (who also directed) who was molested as a young girl.

Laura Dern is phenomenal. She captures all of the complicated emotions that accompany sexual abuse. Fox's courage for telling her own story and the way she portrays adult Jenny communicating with young Jenny helps us feel the angst along with her. It reminds us of the powerful medium that film is and how it allows audiences to experience empathy and understand a weighty topic from another perspective.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. Laura Dern was nominated for an Emmy for her role in this film.

  2. HBO acquired the film and it's the only place you can watch, but it allows audiences to take the story at a pace they feel most comfortable given the sensitive topic.

  3. Jennifer Fox has only worked on Documentary films. This is her first foray into narrative storytelling, which is why she blends the two so beautifully.

Where to Watch: HBO


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%, Metacritic Score: 71)

Searching is the perfect film for our media-saturated age. The entire film takes place on a screen of some kind and follows a father who is searching for his missing teenage daughter. From laptops to cell phones, the way this story is presented is unlike anything I've ever seen and it's entirely engaging. The storytelling is unique, but the story itself is compelling and the perfect compliment to this technique. John Cho gives a stellar performance.

More Reasons to Watch:

  1. The film was shot in only thirteen days, though it was a full 2 years to prepare with editing, animating, etc.

  2. This was the feature film directorial debut for Aneesh Chaganty who was only twenty seven when he wrote and directed the movie.

  3. The film won the "Best of Next" award at the Sundance Film Festival.

Where to Watch: VOD, Redbox


(Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%, Metacritic Score: 88)

Leave No Trace is a quiet stunner and one of the best-reviewed movies of the year. Debra Granik is one of the most important female filmmakers of the past decade and sadly has not received her due yet. The story follows a war veteran and his teenage daughter who live in the forest. The movie is based on a true story of a young girl and her father in Oregon. It's a beautiful piece about trauma and the pains of growing up. 

More Reasons to Watch: 

  1. Ben Foster was trained by a professional to learn the survival skills necessary to make his character more believable.

  2. This is Thomasin McKenzie's first major role in a feature film and she has been praised by several critics group for her performance.

  3. The last third of the movie was filmed at a "family-oriented" nudist encampment in Oregon where many residents starred as extras.

Happy Watching in 2019! Stay tuned for more reviews, discussions, and recommendations.

Hannah LorenceComment