Best Movies of 2018

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CREDIT: Courtesy of the Studios

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

I saw nearly 200 new movies in 2018, a personal record, and yet, there were still a couple dozen that I wish had more time to see. If you had told me just three years ago how many movies I would see this year, I would assume that everything would be crossed off my 2018 cinema checklist. But as I get deeper and deeper into the world of film journalism and analysis, I become ever more aware of just how seemingly limitless the cinematic landscape is. Despite my shortcomings, I am confident that I managed to put together a top 10 list that at the very least hints at all the storytelling diversity that the medium had to offer this year.

But before we get to that, here are some more 2018 movies that I loved: Assassination Nation, Bad Times at the El Royale, Boy Erased, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Commuter, The Death of Stalin, The Favourite, Gemini, Green Book, The Hate U Give, Hereditary, Instant Family, The Old Man & the Gun, Paddington 2, Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Searching, A Simple Favor, Suspiria, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, Three Identical Strangers, Tully, and Venom.

10. Unsane – Claire Foy gets totally gaslit about her mental state, while Steven Soderbergh captures the whole charade on an iPhone. It’s more than a gimmick, as he expands his cinematic language, and a disturbing scam gets indicted in the process.

9. Isle of Dogs – Wes Anderson’s Japan-set animated canine adventure navigates some tricky business about cultural appropriateness, but it’s still a whimsical, yet thrillingly dangerous tale with delightfully quirky animation and an evergreen warning against tyrannical government.

8. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – The best superhero movie of 2018 was molded by the baggage of history while managing to also be revolutionary in a way that didn’t seem possible anymore in this era of comic book movie overload. Every Spider-Man story has partly been about how we all have the capacity to be heroic Spider-Beings; few prove it as imaginatively as Into the Spider-Verse.

7. Eighth GradeEighth Grade is basically anxiety distilled into its purest cinematic form. How could it not be? It focuses on a teenage girl in 2018 whose life is inexplicably tied to her screens, and it’s directed by Bo Burnham, who has captured his own anxiety for the raw material in his live shows. It sounds like a nightmare, and it kind of is, but it is also singularly exhilarating and inspiring.

6. BlacKkKlansman – Colorado Springs’ first black detective picks up the phone and cold-calls the KKK, setting off a batty infiltration that comments on the persistence of bigotry and the inspiration of blaxploitation. If Ron Stallworth’s story weren’t true, would Spike Lee have to have created it? He certainly had to do something to get us electrified in this still-way-too-discriminatory real world.

5. Widows – A trio of women lose their criminal husbands and are left to pull off a multimillion dollar heist in their (dis)honor. Meanwhile, Chicago’s political machine keeps dirtily chugging along. Steve McQueen’s top-notch skills elevate the message and thrills of every single frame.

4. First Reformed – The movie of 2018 that I’ve thought about the most since seeing it. Ethan Hawke plays Ernst Toller, a reverend counseling a man who has grown profoundly fatalistic over the state of a world ravaged by global warming. He catches something from this member of his flock – is it a disease, or perhaps an epiphany? If you’re alive in 2018 and cannot relate to Toller, you’re not paying attention.

3. The Endless – Two brothers are living on their own after escaping from the cult they grew up in, but they cannot quite escape the pull of its gravity. Upon returning for a visit, they discover the elliptical truth of what is really going on, and a new landmark vision of sci-fi horror comes to fruition.

2. Sorry to Bother You – Cash Green uses his “white voice” to become a successful telemarketer, and that’s only the start of capitalism taking him for all that he’s worth. Boots Riley’s incendiary clarion call to workers’ rights is bold, everything-AND-the-kitchen-sink filmmaking.

1. Annihilation – A group of scientists and doctors (who all happen to be female) head into Area X, where a bunch of weird goings-on confound and entrance them. All forms of life in this realm are more or less cross-bred with each other, creating utter strangeness, terrifying abominations, and above all, sublime beauty.

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This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Endless’ Upends Tropes About Cults and Then Melts Your Brain

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CREDIT: Well Go USA

This post was originally published on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, Tate Ellington, Callie Hernandez, Lew Temple, James Jordan

Directors: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: Not Rated, But I Would Peg It at PG-13 for General Eeriness and Some Unhinged Behavior

Release Date: April 6, 2018 (Limited)

I am writing this review about a month after seeing The Endless. I knew that it was probably going to be a while before I got around to this write-up, so to remind myself what I wanted to say, I left myself the note “Big ideas that might or might not be fully fleshed out.” And now that I have had extra time to mull it all over, I have come to the conclusion that those big ideas were indeed successfully fully fleshed out. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, who co-directed and co-star, are a dynamic duo here to upend your genre expectations.

The pull of religious cults has been a major part of American culture and history, and its portrayal in film and TV has been more or less codified into a particular routine. And at first, it seems like that is what The Endless is going for. Benson and Moorhead play brothers Justin and Aaron Smith; the actors and characters sharing the same first names lends a sort of faux true-life docudrama feel that low-budget indies often aim for. They grew up in a commune that has survived living off the grid by brewing and selling its own beer. Justin eventually wised up to the brainwashing that he was certain was going on and pulled himself and Aaron out of the commune and into a life on their own. But that has come to mean frequent joblessness and dire financial straits.Aaron yearns to return to the bonhomie and relative security of the commune, questioning whether or not it really is a cult. Nudging him along is a videotape they have just received featuring a woman from the commune (Callie Hernandez) prophesying the imminent arrival of “the Ascension,” the type of mysterious, perhaps apocalyptic event that cults tend to prophesy about.

Justin concedes to Aaron’s request, with the firm caveat that this will be a quick visit. Justin’s warnings are seemingly confirmed by the cultish welcoming vibe spiked with an undercurrent of creepiness and manipulative tests of character. But a few foreboding signs that could just be illusions – a tossed baseball stuck in the air, a rope pulled by an unseen force, two moons in the sky – suggest that something stranger and more sinister is actually going on. Some of the phenomena that takes place cannot be explained by human trickery, and at a certain point The Endless swerves hard (but naturally) into a completely different movie – something much more mind-bending and uniquely satisfying. The commune appears to have established in another realm of existence where the laws of time and space have been folded in on themselves. To go into more detail would ruin much of the fun of discovery, but suffice it to say this is a sort of Twilight Zone of indie film, and perhaps the best example of that description that I have ever seen.

The Endless is Recommended If You Like: The pipes from Super Mario World, Another Earth, Primer

Grade: 4 out of 5 Multiple Moons