Were six months into 2018, which means its time to take stock of everything weve seen so far this year—and determine which films released between January 1 and July 1 stand out most among the crowd. Below, our picks for the best 2018 has to offer, so far, presented in alphabetical order. (Were not ranking them 1-10 just yet; well save that for December.)
Alex Garlands eerie, ambitious follow-up to his Oscar-winning Ex Machina perhaps got more attention for its tortured release—Paramount sloughed the film off to Netflix in all but a few countries—than for its content. Which is a shame, because theres much to be admired in Garlands dark and probing adaptation of Jeff VanderMeers hit novel. Annihilation is hard, weird sci-fi, a ponder of body and consciousness that scares in an immediate, jumpy sense, but more potently envelops the viewer in a primal dread that lingers. Alienly beautiful aesthetics—bodies morphed into ribboning plants, a lonely beach dotted with crystalline towers—are matched by dialed-in performances from Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, and an arresting Tuva Novotny. Annihilation has an almost radioactive quality to it. To spend time close to it is to be altered by it, the mind whirring in new directions, toward troubling existential thoughts. —Richard Lawson
The obvious political and social triumphs of Ryan Cooglers entry to the Marvel canon are enough to make it one of the most notable films of the year. Positioning an African superhero and his family and countrymen at the center of a big-budget spectacular, with a diverse array of talent behind the camera, Black Panther showed millions of people something they hadnt seen before, an awfully late-arriving relief in a series thats now 20-plus movies deep. In addition to important matters of representation, Black Panther succeeds purely as robust entertainment, giving us a comic-book story that is steeped in classical high-drama while mulling a political quandary bitingly pertinent to today. Michael B. Jordan makes for an arrestingly sympathetic villain, an abandoned son shaped by American inequality now looking for retribution that may be entirely just. The film also boasts a roster of dynamic female characters (played by Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyongo, and Angela Bassett), which is an embarrassingly rare occurrence in blockbuster filmmaking. And it sets its scene—a secretive nation resplendent with futuristic technology considering its role in the world order—richly and thoroughly, reflecting a real world in which an American, superhero or otherwise, being the one to save anyone or anything seems less and less likely by the day. —Richard Lawson
Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?
Travis Wilkersons ferocious, startlingly personal documentary is one of the years smallest releases—and one of its most urgent. You could call it true crime: its the story of Wilkersons white supremacist grandfather, who in 1946 killed a black man at gunpoint in Dothan, Alabama—and got away with. Wilkerson uses this event to begin a stunning self-investigation, a tour of family history that takes us back to the setting of the murder and raises a series of devastating questions. We know what became of the murderers family—thats how we have this documentary—but what about the victims family? The irony there is powerful, and Wilkerson rightly feels implicated in the history of that absence. In exploring it, his movie offers one of the best recent analyses of what virulent racism, and how we tell the story of that racism, accomplishes. It eviscerates. It incinerates. It can make entire histories, and the people therein, disappear. —K. Austin Collins
Paul Schrader, the genius writer behind Taxi Driver, is back with another fiery masterpiece in the same mode: a strenuous tale of radicalism in the making. This time its a small-time preacher, Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke), whose own spiritual despair gets a kick in the rear when the husband of one of his congregants takes his own life. The man was a radical environmental activist whose questions become Tollers questions, and whose obsessions—with the impending planetary doom portended by centuries of environmental abuse, for one—become Tollers obsessions. From this seed of a conflict, and with the aid of incredible supporting turns from Amanda Seyfried and Cedric Kyles (a.k.a. Cedric the Entertainer), Schrader spins a shocking, politically agonized descent into moral chaos. Its one of the most surprising films of the year—and, so far, the best. —K. Austin Collins
Let the Sunshine In
A romantic comedy from Claire Denis? Im not sure anyone familiar with the great French auteurs work couldve expected such a thing. But as a career-best Juliette Binoche rips and roars through this movie, which spins a tale of a modern French womans interminable romantic and sexual dissatisfaction, you realize Denis is perfect for the material. What sets Let the Sunshine In apart from films of its ilk is the hot streak of intellectualism coursing through it: Denis has made a movie thats as brutally concerned with how these people talk as it is with what they say, as focused on how desire manifests as on the fact that the desire is there to begin with. Its an awfully funny movie, and thus deceptively slight. Binoche delights in the complexity of the role, giving us a heroine as indecisive and emotionally spontaneous as she is relatably disillusioned with the state of modern romance. Dating is hard—who knew? —K. Austin Collins
A Quiet Place
Logic is strained somewhat in John Krasinskis out-of-nowhere horror film, damaging some otherwise careful world-building and making us wonder if characters we care about are actually all kinda dumb. But, eh; when the movie is otherwise so clever and niftily choreographed, a few pesky plot holes are forgivable. Krasinski, working with a story by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, demonstrates a command of tension and movement his previous two directorial efforts showed no evidence of. In that way, the movie feels like an exciting debut, a suspenseful, rollicking creature-feature that suggests a technical aptitude that could be employed in fruitful ways in further films. We knew there had to be a reason someone of such abundant talent and appeal like Emily Blunt (great here) would want to marry him. —Richard Lawson
Real-life rodeo vet Brady Jandreau plays the sensitive, injured cowboy Brady Blackburn in Chloé Zhaos beautiful second feature, which explores the loneliness of a man who, unable to continue a life of wild bronco-riding without risk of serious further injury, no longer knows what to do, or who he is. The movie is docu-fiction; Zhao films it all with an airy alertness, combining scenes of the novice Jandreau “acting” alongside scenes of him interacting with his own family (who play his family in the movie) and his own friends, one of whom is a paraplegic said, in the movie, to have been injured on the back of his horse. The film is moving and uncondescending. When, saying goodbye to a past life, Jandreau gets on the back of a horse for one last ride, he seems to fly—and with him, thanks to Zhao, the movie flies. —K. Austin Collins
A movie that seems to be about one thing but is really about more and bigger, director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Codys latest collaboration is a return to form for both. Its a sharp and sensitive drama hampered only by a slightly inelegant plot development that arrives at the very end of the film. But even that abrupt turn serves an affectingly bleary purpose, as Tully explores the quotidian pains and redeeming pleasures of raising children, before delving deeper into a melancholy assessment of dawning middle age, roads not taken now forever closed and futures narrowed by choice and circumstance. At the center of this wistful pleasure are Charlize Theron, as a weary mom wondering how she ended up where she did, and Mackenzie Davis, as the soothing young night nurse who arrives to save Theron from her rut. The two are terrific together, managing a tricky and evolving dynamic, wariness giving way to flirtation giving way to bitter understanding. Tully is sweet and sad, but not mushy; Reitmans restraint matches that of Codys writing. The film is unexpectedly profound, if polarizing, and deserved more consideration than it has gotten. —Richard Lawson
One of Steven Soderberghs slender genre experiments, this iPhone-shot film has a bracingly nasty edge. It also has an unnerving timeliness, telling the story of a woman gaslit by her abuser and imprisoned against her will by a greedy, unfeeling corporate institution. So the movie is certainly not some pleasant distraction from the ills of the day—but Soderberghs calm, assured style is slick and winding enough to keep us more than engaged. So is the films central performance. Claire Foy tosses Queen Elizabeths crown in the dumpster and hurls herself into her role, tearing through the movie with thrilling fury. Her American accent maybe isnt the most convincing, but she sells everything else beautifully—particularly a brutal and cathartic confrontation scene in which she says to her tormenter pretty much everything we wish would be said to all the many bad men in the world. Nervy and satisfying, Unsane shows us more of what an exciting actress can do, and reveals yet another shade of a venerable directors abilities. —Richard Lawson
International sensation Lucrecia Martel—one of the best filmmakers now working, both in her native Argentina and everywhere else—is back, after a nine year absence, with the story of Don Diego de Zama (a stunning Daniel Giménez Cacho), a seventeenth century Spanish officer caught in bureaucratic limbo: hes stuck in a colony and wants to go home. It is, in many ways, a story of colonial failure, and of a power that's constantly confronting its own powerlessness. But its also a morbidly funny tale of one mans shame as he slowly wastes away, far from home or family, while his superiors remain deaf to both his loyalty and his constant requests for transfer. Bourgeois waste is a specialty of Martel, but never has it been more uncannily, darkly, humorously expressed than here. —K. Austin Collins
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