Photo Edit by Travis Wilker
It’s that time of year folks – the end. It’s that time where we all look back, take a hit of recency bias and make our top (insert number here) films of the year. I do mine a little differently than others. I pick a large number in 25 because I see a lot of great films each year, and if I just did a top 10 then I’d have a long “honorable mentions” section which is pointless – just make the list longer. Please note, this is a list of my favorite films of the year, not a list of what I think are the best films of the year – that’s a completely different list and it’s not as much fun to make so I’m not gonna do it. Also please note, if I have written about the film I will embed a link to said writing in the title of the film.
Disclosure: I haven’t seen a few big titles like If Beale Street Could Talk, Shoplifters and Cold War because they will not be playing in my area until January, and some of them during Sundance which means I won’t see them until February and I’m not waiting until then to do this shit. I’m sure they’re all great and I can’t wait to see them but they won’t be on this list.
Alright, let’s count it down!
25. Uncle Drew
I went and saw this with my dad because he’s legally obligated to support Shaq in any endeavor (Shaq is to him what The Rock is to me – we’re always down for them) and because I was genuinely curious as to how the audacity of making a film out of a character from a pepsi commercial would work. I just had to know. I was expecting something funny because of how bad it is, but I actually got a film that was legitimately funny. Me and my dad were laughing the hardest in the theater we saw it in. I’m not sure if that means it was good, but we had a great time. Also – Kyrie is actually a decent performer. I proudly own an Uncle Drew shirt and headband.
Aquaman is fun enough I guess to not be terrible and it’s making a ton of money, but it is not the truly essential Jason Momoa action film of the year – that is Braven. Straight-to-dvd action films are my favorite subgenre of film, they’re just crazy and fun and always trying to do a lot with a little. Braven might be the perfect DTV action film. It’s got the first and perhaps only legitimately great action role for Momoa, is completely ridiculous and has a bunch of actors who are way too good for this material in supporting roles that are just having fun. Aquaman is fine – Braven is divine.
Yorgos Lanthimos forever. The 2nd hardest I laughed in the theater this year.
22. Eighth Grade
I originally opted out of seeing this at Sundance because I never found Bo Burnham to be funny and so I didn’t want 90 minutes of whatever he had, but then A24 picked it up so I was contractually obligated to see it when it hit theaters. I still don’t think Bo Burnham is funny as a comedian, but he is mighty sharp as a filmmaker. For as funny as this film is, it also features two of the most uncomfortable and horrifying sequences of the year. You’ll know them when you see them. Also, the kid that played Aiden was killing me in every scene of his.
Just wrote about this so I don’t have much more to say other than it’s another masterpiece from Alfonso Cuarón who is only capable of making masterpieces.
20. The Night Comes For Us
Perhaps the goriest action film I’ve ever seen. Indonesian action cinema is just always on another level. The final fight is between Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim, and it’s the stuff of dreams.
19. Paddington 2
If you don’t like the Paddington films then you’re a fucking piece of shit.
18. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
I am personally grateful that the Coen Brothers managed to convince Netflix to give them a bunch of money to go fuck around in the wilderness. I would also like to see Bill Heck in more movies.
While not Jeremy Saulnier’s best work, it’s still a film with several impressive sequences and performances. The police shootout in particular is one of the most brutal scenes of the year.
As perfect a role as Robert Redford could have retired on. And that he chose to ride off into the sunset with David Lowery speaks volumes about his creative ethic.
What happens when a vengeful god returns to punish their non-believers? A great and horrifying remake of a horror classic that somehow succeeds despite the impossible expectations.
Brady Corbet is really developing into a fascinating filmmaker that you should buy stock in. I’ve also been listening to this soundtrack a lot the past few weeks.
Thank God and whatever pagan deity/monstrosity you worship that this film exists. Gareth Evans can do anything. Dan Stevens is batting 1.000 in his genre film performances.
12. First Man
The more I think about this film, the more I am in awe of it. It’s baffling just how much of the space/flight sequences with in-camera/practical effects. Damien Chazelle bucks so many biopic trends so subtly that you don’t even realize it. Ryan Gosling gives one of his best performances in his most understated role. The score by Justin Hurwitz is magical. The moon landing sequence is why IMAX exists. First Man also features the most heartwrenching and cathartic moment of the year. You’ll know it when you see it, your heart will drop right through the floor. Crazy that Chazelle isn’t even 35 yet and has such a historic filmography already. I could go on and on about this film.
I didn’t know John Krasinski had this level of filmmaking in him, I hope he continues to dabble in genre films some more. I will watch Emily Blunt in anything, she is marvelous here. One of my favorite experiences at the theater this year was how tense the audience was while watching it. It was completely silent. People were afraid to make a sound. Even a shuffling of popcorn made people jump.
One of the final images of this film – that I cannot reveal if you haven’t seen it – resonated with me the deepest. It was a shocking, violent rendering of the horrifying truth of being isolated and lonely. Joaquin Phoenix is one of the best working actors, delivering his most physical role to date. Lynne Ramsay is one of the most uncompromising filmmakers out there, delivering another feverish nightmare of a film. Also, another standout score from Jonny Greenwood.
This film is a revelation of storytelling. I’m a sucker for webcam genre films (the Unfriended films) but Aneesh Chaganty’s debut is a transcendent work in the genre. It caught me off guard and wrangled me in suspense in ways I couldn’t have predicted. In a better world, John Cho would be a lock for an Oscar nomination for his work here. This film wouldn’t work for a minute without him.
David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jamie Lee Curtis forever. The kid who plays Julian is a star. A single line from Judy Greer had the best audience reaction of the year.
This is a film I just can’t get enough of. One of the best things about Moviepass when it still existed was I was willing to take a chance on films I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. If they were bad, I could at least still feel like I didn’t really pay for it. Upgrade was one such film I took a chance on, and it was instantly one of my favorites of the year. Leigh Whannell’s work is a ingenious action/sci-fi work, anchored by a fantastic performance by Logan Marshall-Green, channeling a mixture of Buster Keaton and JCVD. I now proudly own Jed Palmer’s fantastic score for the film on vinyl. This is a film I always recommend to people. Not many have seen it, but everyone I know that has, loves Upgrade too. I hope time will be kind to it and raise it to the cult classic heights it deserves.
One of Paul Schrader’s finest hours, a film only he could have brought to life. Ethan Hawke matches Schrader, delivering one of his finest, if not best, roles that deserves all the Oscar buzz it can get. This film has my favorite ending of the year, it just goes for it. Can God forgive us for what we’ve done to his creation?
Believe every bit of hype on this film. I had high expectations, and even those were blown out of the water. It’s everything I could have ever wanted and more. It also holds the title for the hardest I laughed in a theater this year, this film is HILARIOUS. The animation is like nothing you’ve ever seen before, every frame is sublime. This is truly awe-inspiring, groundbreaking work. Shame on you if you haven’t seen this film yet. It’s only the perfect comic book film and one of the greatest animated films ever made that deserves to be seen on the big screen, but hey, sit at home and watch something mediocre like Bird Box, sure. God-dammit. And we wonder why theaters are dying. Spider-Verse deserves to be one of the highest grossing films of the year, and while it’s doing just fine and making money, I can’t help but feel ashamed that we haven’t done better by it.
Me and Huston’s top 3 moments of the year, ranked:
1. Ricky Rubio playoff triple double
2. The Minnesota Timberwolves finally implode
3. The bathroom fight in Fallout.
Christopher McQuarrie forever. I love you Tom Cruise.
As you know, I’m all about the New Americana film movement, and Chloé Zhao’s film is a New Americana masterpiece. It’s a great feeling discovering a new filmmaker that you love and connect with. One of my biggest regrets of the year was not catching this at Sundance, because I made myself wait months for a film that I immediately fell in love with. Zhao effortlessly captures both the ecstatic truth and the accountant’s truth by employing non-actors to play slightly fictionalized versions of themselves. There’s nothing like it. There were several shots that just made my jaw drop, just wondering how in the hell they pulled it off. Several moments of the film just wrecked me emotionally. I could talk about this film forever. I can’t wait to see what Zhao does with Marvel money when she does her adaptation of The Eternals. It’s going to be the most humanly gorgeous superhero movie ever made. Zhao is immediately on my list of favorite filmmakers, I can’t wait to spend my life following her filmography.
This is a once in a lifetime film. You have never seen anything like it, and you will never see anything like it again. Altogether riotously fun, deeply heartwrenching and emotionally crushing while being ludicrously violent. It is a Nic Cage dream I did not want to wake from. Johann Johannsson gave us another essential gem as his final work. After I saw this film at Sundance, I managed to be outside the theater at the same time as director Panos Cosmatos (who is also the son of George P. Cosmatos, who made the 80s Stallone classic Cobra). I told him how much I loved the film and congratulated him on the work, and then I added that Cobra is one of my favorite 80s films. He chuckled and responded with “Me too.”
I wasn’t originally going to see this at Sundance. Then I found out some friends had worked on it, so I considered maybe catching it – just because they worked on it doesn’t mean it’s good. Then A24 picked it up, I had to see it immediately. As soon as the credits rolled, I knew I had just seen my favorite film of the year. Deeply horrifying and unsettling, devastatingly emotional and impeccably constructed, directorial debuts don’t get much more masterful than Ari Aster’s. You watch it and immediately know you’ve got a guy who knows what he’s doing and how to do it. Toni Collette deserves every award possible. This film goes past scary, it’s downright goddamn traumatizing. I have such pride that such a fantastic, singular film was made here in Utah. Hail to the King.