Aaron’s Superb Top Ten Films of 2018

It’s the end of another year, and for whatever difficulties there have been, I certainly had a lot of movies to consider for my year-end list of favorites. I had a lot of fun putting together this final top ten list, knowing full well the strong set of contenders. Given that I’ve watched around 200 2018 releases theatrically and via Netflix and Amazon Prime, there was a lot to narrow down from, but here we are. Some films were instant favorites for me, some grew in my opinion over time, and a few lost a bit of their luster as the year went on. All of that in mind, here is the set of films that resonated with me the most in my official list for the Top Ten Films of 2018, complete with runner-ups, honorable mentions, and more. (Reviews are linked when available and, as per usual, I’ve also linked lots of Easter Eggs in all of the pictures, so enjoy that as well.)

Runner-Ups (Ranked 25-11):

25. Lean on Pete

24. The Sisters Brothers

23. Eighth Grade

22. Isle of Dogs

21. You Were Never Really Here

20. Leave No Trace

19. First Reformed

18. Annihilation

17. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

16. Thoroughbreds

15. Vox Lux

14. Sorry to Bother You

13. Roma

12. The Favourite

11. Minding the Gap

The Top Ten:

10. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

“It always fits, eventually.”

In a year that featured many distinct and mostly pretty solid superhero movies, a couple truly stood out from the pack. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a blast. It’s an animated feature that looks unlike anything I’ve seen on such a large scale from a big studio. There’s also a terrific story being told, which works as an irreverent dissection of the superhero genre, as well as an emotionally-grounded look at a mixed-race teenager dealing with newfound power and responsibility. Additionally, the movie chooses to embrace the 70+ years’ worth of Spider-Man comics, movie, and TV for the sake of bringing in other Spider-People (and animals) from other dimensions, let alone present so many references and in-jokes that work to inform the character history. An excellent vocal cast only adds to the level of quality seen here. Spider-Verse is a visual treat that pushes this popular genre forward in a way that makes me hope other franchises consider for their upcoming entries.

9. Free Solo

“Let’s hope for a low-gravity day.”

As I’ve made clear many times over, Free Solo is the best thriller of the year. It’s also a fascinating documentary about rock climber Alex Honnold, who was on a quest to climb El Capitan without the aid of any ropes or harnesses. Those with anxiety when it comes to heights will be gripping their armrests, while on the edge of their seats, as this movie’s breathtaking cinematography does everything necessary to highlight just how insignificant Alex is compared to the 3,000 ft piece of granite he has chosen to climb. Plus, a great job is done to show what kind of person Alex is. We learn about his personal life, his philanthropy, and even the evolution of him as a person, knowing that he can’t just live out of the back of a van forever. Matching these human elements with his historic achievement was a real adventure to watch.

8. The Death of Stalin

“Nod as I’m speaking to you. People are looking to me for reassurance, and I have no idea what’s going on.”

While there were several contenders, The Death of Stalin was the funniest movie of the year. In the Loop and Veep’s Armando Iannucci made a pitch-perfect political satire that shows just how desperate, childish, and deadly men in power can be when they are after even more power. Death of Stalin puts focus on petty rivalries, one-upmanship, blackmail, and backstabbings, so of course it’s based on actual events. Moreover, Iannucci didn’t just rely on his hilarious dialogue to make a film like this work. There’s a fine handle on how to show 1950s-era Soviet Union and all the darkness that comes with it. Executions are used as a running gag, though the film manages to take its twisted sense of humor and build to a more serious finale than some may expect. Steve Buscemi makes for a terrific leader of this amusing ensemble as well, which is quite suitable for a film that finds a bunch of Brits and Americans diving into this story, without any care for putting on Russian accents. That stylization makes this film work all the better, adding to its hilarity.

7. Black Panther

“You’re a good man with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be king.”

A Marvel Cinematic Universe film finally makes its way onto my top ten, and for a good reason. While part of this standalone superhero feature has to deal with the usual studio franchise stuff, much of the film has everything I’d want, while also adding a real meaning to it for me, and many who look a lot more like me than they do Captain America (whose first film still ranks incredibly high for this series as well). Rather than hold onto generic motivations for all involved, this is a film that addresses various cultures and the state of society head-on, while maintaining blockbuster quality in terms of action, scope, and larger-than-life characters.

Ryan Coogler remains one of the most exciting young directors out there, and it shows in the cast he’s assembled and the story he’s built around them. Whether it’s having the most compelling MCU villain, a strong cast of female characters to add to a movie already more diverse than anything we’ve seen on this scale, or the killer soundtrack and score, there’s little in the way of weakness here. Best of all, Black Panther introduces Wakanda, a fictional African country that I found fascinating and genuinely cared about, which is more than I can say about most worlds built for these sorts of films. This is a movie that works at being culturally significant, while not shying away from wild stuff like bringing warrior rhinoceroses into its final battle.  That’s a comic book movie I can get behind.

6. If Beale Street Could Talk

“Unbow your head, sister.”

Few recent films have conveyed a sense of loving through the filmmaking in the way that If Beale Street Could Talk manages to. Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to Best Picture winner Moonlight is another triumph as far as a small-scale drama with personal stakes, and almost as affecting. Based on a novel by James Baldwin, this adaptation features wonderfully human performances from all involved, and it truly makes a difference. As we watch KiKi Layne’s Tish and Stephan James’ Fonny stare into each other’s eyes in the opening minutes, it says everything about their connection, making the story all the more tragic, consider what these characters must go through.

And yet, James Laxton’s warm cinematography, and Nicholas Britell’s amazing score (my favorite of the year) present a feature that wants the audience to breathe comfortably with these two as we see flashbacks showing why they are great together, to go along with the narrative following a wrongful imprisonment and a welcome but unexpected pregnancy. Expertly crafted in every way, here’s another film that works at examining black culture, while presenting an absorbing drama.

5. First Man

“When you get a different vantage point it changes your perspective.”

When I learned Damien Chazelle was making a biopic focused on Neil Armstrong, which would build up to his landing on the moon, I was ready to embrace this movie fully. Chazelle is another exciting filmmaker with a good handle on subverting expectations. Rather than make a film that attempts to evoke classics such as The Right Stuff or Apollo 13, Chazelle opted to lean on Terence Malick, of all filmmakers, creating a very naturalistic display of life in the 60s for pilots and astronauts.

Keeping the focus on Armstrong, where Ryan Gosling delivers one of his best performances, we have a film that has to revolve around a very introspective man’s state of mind, letting the film hold back from relying on recreating significant events leading up to the Apollo 11 mission. It allows for an experimental quality in all aspects that is quite exciting to watch, culminating in a brilliant finale, as we are finally taken to the moon. Chazelle utilized IMAX cameras for this sequence, and it is a truly out-of-this-world experience to behold. Turning a well-known historical event into an emotional and character-focused finale could only register as strong as it does, with filmmakers who knew what they were doing, and First Man was clearly made with those who had the right stuff.

4. Paddington 2

“Aunt Lucy said, if we’re kind and polite the world will be right.”

The whole world could be a better place if everyone bonded with Paddington. As it stands, this spectacular sequel does well to not only work as a charming and clever story, but factors in wonderful characters, bountiful moments of humor, and a remarkable understanding of how to properly use visual effects. Paul King is doing tremendous work in bringing the stories of Paddington Bear to life, adding all the right levels of joy and wonder, showing just how affecting films made for the whole family can be, and making it look easy.

It certainly isn’t though, as one can’t just stumble into making such an expertly crafted feature that makes everything connect and sells the dry British humor so well. On top of it all, and I only have so much space to mention things such as the brilliant work by Hugh Grant, Hugh Bonneville, and Brendan Gleeson, you have the pure sweetness that comes from James Whishaw’s vocal performance as Paddington and the accompanying visuals. Caring about him, a foreigner who only wants to help, means so much considering his journey and his ultimate goal to get a present for his Aunt Lucy.

3. Cold War

“Are you interested in me, because I have a talent or in general?”

Following up his Oscar-winning Ida, another film I heavily championed at the time, Pawel Pawlikowski is back with another 85-minute Polish drama that works as a romantic epic. Here’s a film that uses its time very wisely to make for an engaging watch about the challenges of wanting to be together and how to come back together after being forced apart for various reasons. Taking place over a 15-year timespan, Cold War is one of the best-edited films of the year by way of efficiency. Pawlikowski asks the audience to follow along, and fill in the gaps of times themselves, which works thanks to careful construction and the two incredible central performances.

The film is also among the most striking of the year, wonderfully utilizing the black and white cinematography and letterbox framing to create an enclosed feeling around characters who cannot escape each other. Inspired by the lives of Pawlikowski’s own parents and even adding in a musical element, there’s plenty of ambition to be found in a feature that harkens back to another time, and doesn’t waste a moment in conveying some level of emotion.

2. Blindspotting

“I’ve got three days left on this probation Miles, so let me out of the car, and you can continue with your gun deal.”

This brilliant slice-of-life comedy-drama has me wishing for great things to come from the cinematic collaborations between Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal. There’s also a great case to be made for director Carlos Lopez Estrada, who has stepped up from the world of music videos to deliver a striking feature that takes the script by Diggs and Casal and builds an interesting, heightened world around their characters. One of a few films to give the city of Oakland plenty of love this year, watching a story about two friends dealing with how their hometown has been rapidly gentrifying, in addition to tackling topics such as police shootings, and the life of modern people from urban societies, made for one of the most impressive films I saw this year.

I was floored by this movie the first time I saw it, and have been shouting from the rooftops about it ever since. There’s humor, drama, thrilling elements, clever use of poetry and rap, an authentic portrayal of Bay Area living, and several great performances to hold it all together. Balancing the right level of tone, adding stylish touches to the editing and colorful look of the film, there’s nothing that feels out of place in Blindspotting, and it could just as well be my number one movie of the year.

1. BlacKkKlansman

“If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am for myself alone, who am I? If not now, when? And if not you, who?

Spike Lee has never fallen off the radar for me as a filmmaker, as he delivers consistently interesting films that combine both his love of cinema and the desire he has to create movies that don’t take the easy way out. True to form, BlacKkKlansman is one of the most exciting premises Lee has taken on in some time, as it uses the constructs of a few different kinds of films (biopic, buddy cop movie, satire) and works as a painfully funny display of how racism has and continues to affect America. John David Washington is terrific as Ron Stallworth, a man who manages to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan, using unorthodox methods. Thanks to supporting work from a just as great Adam Driver, the two portray characters challenged by the nature of hate in the form of dimwitted and unenlightened men (and women).

Making this film all the more effective is the amount of restraint Lee has in his depictions of the Klan members. The dialogue they have does all the heavy-lifting in a way that no overly elaborate filmmaking needs to enhance. Still, Lee does get plenty of mileage out of his 70s setting, working with some skillful editing techniques and allowing Terence Blanchard’s score to bring out the powerful messages in the most effective of ways. All of that and BlacKkKlansman also manages to be one of Lee’s most mainstream efforts. Some of the characters work on all levels for an audience, there is plenty of comedy to be found in the situations presented, and the drama hits all the right marks to make sure this crazy, outrageous, incredible true story finds a place for not just those who study film.

Of course, there’s also the film’s tie-ins to today’s reality, complete with a tragic final coda to go with what seemed like a triumphant climax. People like to associate Lee with the word “controversial,” but it’s hard for me to see it that way when the filmmaker is merely addressing things that are very much a part of the country’s social fabric. When Lee doesn’t have to make films automatically deemed “controversial” based on what continually relevant topics are out there, I’ll be happy to follow him on his next venture. For now, BlacKkKlansman delivered an entertaining and rewarding experience. So much so that it’s my number one movie of the year.

Honorable Mentions (Ranked 50-26):

Night Comes On, Burning, Overlord, Tully, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Monsters and Me, A Star Is Born, All About Nina, Suspiria, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Mary Poppins Returns, Beast, Ready Player One, Mandy, The Rider, The Endless, Avengers: Infinity War, Widows, Hereditary, The Hate U Give, First Match, American Animals, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Incredibles 2, Madeline’s Madeline

Films I Missed:

22 July, Blaze, Border, Borg vs. McEnroe, Capernaum, Dogman, Happy as Lazzaro, The House That Jack Built, The Guilty, Let the Corpses Tan

And that’s a wrap for 2018. I’m done making worst-of lists, as I’ve just dealt with too much negativity and struggles this year to care about such things. That said, good things did happen to me film-wise, including my inductions into the Online Film Critics Society and the Black Film Critics Circle. My work has paid off in some ways, so why not also enjoy some other lists I’ve also put together, including my picks for the best Blu-rays of the year, along with my favorite movie scenes of 2018, published over at We Live Entertainment. Feel free to hear more of my thoughts on the year’s releases, along with others via the podcast I’ve co-hosted for seven years and counting. And, because why not, feel free to check out my post for why Michael Jackson’s Thriller is one of the best horror movies of all time, as after seeing it in a restored 3D IMAX presentation, that short film may be the best movie I saw this year outside of new releases. Regardless, feel free to leave comments and check out the lists all the other folks at Why So Blu have put together. I’ve been happy to continue contributing what I can here, and it doesn’t hurt when you have so many good releases to talk about. So, here’s to seeing more, as 2019 is packed with big and small releases, and I’m sure I can count on a lot of surprises as well.


Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

7 Responses to “Aaron’s Superb Top Ten Films of 2018”

  1. Brandon Peters

    Your list is awesome! Beyond the fabulous easter eggs, there’s something i love more about it. Its totally YOU. And i don’t mean that in a bogus way. I mean that, if you talk to or follow Aaron Neuwirth throughout the year, its TRULY reflective of what you’ve enjoyed and championed all through the 12 months. I feel like many get too caught up in the final 2 months of the year despite saying things like “All the months count” and their list not showing any signs of walking that walk. Yours does! At the start of the year, people wouldn’t shut up about Paddington. End of the year, I’ve seen a lot of lists pretty quiet about it.

    I dig your list, as its a very accurate portrayal of the full year from films big and small, adult to family. And most of all, its completely honest!

  2. Brian White

    I think probably the 2 biggest shockers for me in this list were FIRST MAN (as I had no idea you were such a big fan) and THE DEATH OF STALIN, which I still want to see.

    I’m happy to see Sorry to Bother You not crack the Top 10 as the “black” voice was done incredibly well in your #1 and I’ll leave it at that 🙂

    I agree with BP up above that earlier this year people were saying Paddington 2 was the second coming of Christ and then you don’t see any mentions of it on people’s lists (hope Jordan proves me wrong) anymore.

    I feel left out down here in Austin with no screenings of Vox Lux, Destroyer and Suspiria. The two movies I regret not seeing last year were Bohemian Rhapsody and Spideyverse, which I will finally rectify that this weekend. I got The Mule out of the way and could have done without it. LOL

    Finally, your Easter eggs this year were great. In particular I loved the last one, 2018 Cinema Supercut – The Year In Movies, so much I’m going to post the link here for all to see: https://youtu.be/lF3qKpFPhxs

    Miss you here on the site. Blockbuster movie reviews haven’t been the same. Great collection and post here as aways. A million thanks!

  3. Aaron Neuwirth

    Thanks Brandon, I always find it funny when some are surprised, as I know I keep my list a big secret, but it’s not like I don’t talk all about the films I’m a big fan of when they are coming out.

    Brian, Sorry to Bother You is right there at number 14. And I don’t know what “black” voice you’re talking about, but the “white” voice made plenty of sense in that film’s heightened world. That said, happy you enjoyed what I’m putting out there and that you’re digging the easter eggs.

  4. Gerard Iribe

    Wow, great list! I’ll have to bookmark a ton of those. Like you mentioned about not talking about your selections in-depth, like, I knew BlackKklansman was going to make it but I did not realize it would make it to #1. I need to watch Blindspotting and Death of Stalin.

    Fun fact: Blindspotting, Sorry To Bother You, and Black Panther complete the “Oakland Trilogy.” 😉

  5. Aaron Neuwirth

    Oh yes G, I’ve spoken much about the OCU in recent months. 🙂

  6. Brian White

    Oops. Typo. Was trying to comment and rush off to work. See I put you first in my life Aaron. I meant “white” voice. Apologies 🙁

  7. Aaron Neuwirth

    I’ll just add that the difference between the two is that Ron Stallworth is just using his own voice, highlighting just one of the many reasons David Duke is a horrible person in the context of the film (not that he’s not a horrible person in reality, which he, of course, is). Sorry To Bother You has Cassius going out of his way to blend in for the sake of corporate culture. It’s called code-switching, which is a very real thing – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code-switching