It was, happily, a pretty good year for movies, including — but certainly not limited to — those of the studio blockbuster variety. Strong releases from A24, Amazon, and Netflix gave the majors a run for their money, with memorable entries across the board. From superhero (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War) to action (Widows) to horror (Hereditary, A Quiet Place) to comedy (Game Night, Blockers), there was lots to enjoy. Hell, there were two movies about Ruth Bader Ginsburg (On the Basis of Sex and RBG) alone, and both were really good.
Look, you know how this goes. I'm going to drop a top 10 list on you (in no particular order, and with excerpts from my reviews, where applicable), and you're going to disagree with some or all of my choices. This will seem like a big deal until you realize all art is subjective and you should just lighten up.
The plot itself isn't really all that surprising: a great deal of what you suspect is going on will probably turn out to be exactly that, but it's how Aster and company get there that makes the movie so brutally effective. What's the saying; it's the journey, not the destination? Here, both are equally harrowing.
And for all their power behind the throne, the two women's place in society still remains tenuous. When Sarah finds herself injured and far from the castle, she's told she'll need to prostitute herself in order to compensate those who nursed her. And the scene where Abigail plots aloud against Sarah while giving an indifferent hand job to new husband Samuel (John Alwyn) is hilariously on-the-nose. It's the early modern spin on "backwards and in high heels."
More than that, First Man alternates Armstrong's personal conflicts with some of the best space action sequences ever filmed. Chazelle keeps the focus of these scenes — the near-disastrous Gemini 8 mission and Apollo 11 especially — almost wholly within the capsule's cockpits. The results are intensely claustrophobic, and combined with the accuracy of the technical details, provides perhaps the most fantastic and gripping vision yet of how quickly tragedy can turn to triumph, and vice versa, in the vastness of space.
Annihilation is many things; it’s a gorgeously realized (the Shimmer itself is like a tactile acid trip), thoughtful science fiction film that balances meditations on the fragility of life with sequences straight out of Bosch’s worst nightmares. It’s touching, mysterious, ambiguous, and sinister, as the motives of whatever’s behind the Shimmer are impossible to deduce. But is it "too complicated?”
You Were Never Really Here
It's time to start paying attention to Lynne Ramsay, if you weren't already. The helmer of Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, and We Need To Talk About Kevin has a knack for going for the emotional jugular, and this tale of a PTSD-suffering vet (Joaquin Phoenix) who wages a vigilante battle against child sexual predators is brutally economical and almost hallucinatory (helped by Jonny Greenwood's score). Phoenix has never been better, and Ramsay is in command from the literal jump.
I don't use the word "harrowing" much (maybe in my Hereditary review), but even if you only have the vaguest memories of junior high school, Bo Burnham's directorial debut will bring back the dread and desperation to fit in. Elsie Fisher's lead performance is heartbreaking in its authenticity, and only the meanest of mean girls (or boys) will come away unaffected.
The Hate U Give
Reflecting the horrid realty in cities across America, crimes against black people made several appearances in theaters this year. Amandla Stenberg plays Starr Carter, a high school student attempting to walk the line between two vastly different worlds, until a tragic event forces her to choose sides. The story threatens to veer into cliche near the end, but strong performances from Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby (as Starr's parents) and a chilling turn by Marvel fixture Anthony Mackie don't let us disengage.
Spike Lee's latest joint reminds us what the filmmakers behind Do the Right Thing and 25th Hour is capable of. It tells the story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), Colorado Spring's first black police officer, who infiltrated the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan with the aid of his white partner (Adam Driver). It's a literal case of a story that's too weird to be true, yet is. And while it's set in the 1970s, the message is as resonant as ever in the age of Charlottesville and Trump.
Three Identical Strangers
There were a ton of great documentaries released this year, and this one edged out the likes of Free Solo, Minding the Gap, and Won't You Be My Neighbor? thanks to its nigh-unbelievable set-up and stunning twist. There's nothing new about saying 'the less you know about a movie, the better,' but in this case, don't read anymore about this until after you've watched it yourself.
Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Gonzo stunts aside, Cruise seems almost laid back in the M:I movies. And Fallout's plot, like those of most of the series, is as ridiculously nonsensical as the idea of a tax dodge masquerading as a church signing people to billion-year contracts. The IMF has gone from relatively innocuous objectives like obtaining a list of secret agents to preventing shadowy cabals staffed soley by mustachioed Euros in designer suits from ending civilization as we know it. And yet Fallout teases catastrophe so often, it actually keeps you guessing.