5. Mission Impossible: Fallout
The best big-budget film of 2018 and the best action film of the last five years. Tom Cruise is a madman and we should all be so thankful to him for sacrificing his body on the altar of cinema. Whether speeding through French cobblestones on a juiced-up motorcycle or jumping out of a plane and skydiving ON CAMERA, Cruise proves once and for all he’s no average pretender. He’s the real deal Holyfield of action stardom and director Christopher McQuarrie meets him more than halfway with gorgeous IMAX photography, intense fight choreography, and the most relentlessly suspenseful climax I’ve seen in quite some time. Cruise and bruising specimen Henry Cavill engage in a helicopter firefight, dueling in the skies above miles of European greenage and imposing mountains while an emotionally harrowing challenge unfolds on the ground. Despite a high-octane pace and next-level stunt work, Fallout never forgets the heart of gold beating throughout. McQuarrie’s second outing is hands-down the best in the franchise and a tour de force in action filmmaking.
Sometimes a film comes along and gives you something you didn’t know you needed. First-time director Bradley Cooper’s re-imagining of A Star is Born is one of those films, a densely layered emotional powerhouse whose central stunner of a song “Shallow” will go on to become song of the year or even song of the decade if there’s any justice left in this world. When you find peace or love or that part of life that makes you whole, the world doesn’t feel so shallow anymore. I know that feeling, and Cooper’s film reminded me of the struggle to fill that common void. I could go on about Cooper, or the imitable Lady Gaga, or Sam Elliott as Jackson Mane’s older brother and long-time caretaker, or comedians Dave Chappelle and Andrew Dice Clay in supporting whoppers. I could go on about Matthew Libatique’s grounded yet colorful lensing, or the editing that eschews montage, or its delicate handling of an issue as complex as substance abuse and addiction. However, A Star is Born is not a film you merely watch or critique or wring tears over, it’s a film you experience.
3. First Man
Neil Armstrong is not your typical protagonist. He’s a roiling calm of internal, traditional masculinity as was typical of a man born in the thirties and raised in the forties. Gosling’s performance is reliably intense, palpably so, but director Damien Chazelle is the star here. Utilizing 16mm photography for everything but the moon (where IMAX is employed to spellbinding effect), his lightweight camera captures the back-room politics and space race engineering in all of its painstaking glory. Screenwriter Josh Singer and co. know what to show and not show, what should soar and not soar. Our moon landing was no feat of patriarchal colonialism. Our moon landing was the hard work of many collective bodies, both warm and cold, and for Armstrong, a feat of perseverence in the face of emotional turmoil. Chazelle puts you in the shoes of Neil and every man, woman, and monkey who ever made that perilous trip, simulating the chaos of space flight circa 1969. He and Singer have done it all as seen by a lonely, grief-stricken father of two and husband to one. First Man is an ode to the man and his trauma, as well as a visceral flight simulator of historic magnitude.
2. Eighth Grade
There’s no such thing as “coming of age,” but if we are to zero in on those particularly troublesome teenage years, comedian Bo Burnham’s debut film is the best of that genre since The Breakfast Club. High praise, I know, but this is no hyperbole. Newcomer Elsie Fisher is perfect as the shy girl at school trying to break out of her shell and always just failing to do so, either by happenstance or typical intentional teenager cruelty. She navigates the hallways and haranguing insecurities of her middle school universe, sometimes shirking her loving father’s dorky-sweet attempts at conversation, or losing herself in the cacophony of social media and video content on her phone, on her laptop, in her life. Eighth Grade has a lot on its mind: fathers and daughters, the perils of adolescence, growing up in the internet age, and they’re seamlessly and poignantly weaved together by Burnham’s writing and by Fisher’s astute performance. It’s an important and hugely entertaining film for this great and confusing time.
1. You Were Never Really Here
With this, unheralded filmmaker Lynne Ramsay solidifies herself as an honest-to-God auteur and consummate craftsman. Aided by a suitably ethereal score by Jonny Greenwood and a devastating performance by Joaquin Phoenix, she takes that lone-wolf revenge epic we know and love and turns it on its head. You Were Never Really Here is not about one man saving women from the clutches of evil doing men, it’s about one girl saving one man from the clutches of himself. Phoenix plays a gun for-hire bedeviled by PTSD and the fractured memory of a life spent in the bowels of hell on earth. He only knows violence and therefore he only knows one way out when a job goes awry. He’s a blunt instrument until he looks death and hope in the eye and finds a new way out. Ramsay’s film posits a world of sex trafficking and government secrecy, of a rotting patriarchy at the root of society’s ills, but even in the midst of so much pain and misery and impossible odds, there is still hope. You Were Never Really Here is more than a high-end Taken, it’s the film of the year, for our time and any time that feels hopeless.