20 Best Movies of 2018 - Rolling Stone
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20 Best Movies of 2018

From personal black-and-white explorations of the past to ‘Black Panther,’ Lady Gaga to a biopic of the singer of “Radio Ga-Ga” — Peter Travers’ picks for the best movies of the year

travers top 20 best movies

Clockwise from left: 'Roma,' 'The Favourite,' Green Book' and 'A Star Is Born,' from Peter Travers' 20 Best Movies of 2018.

The best movies of 2018 created their own kind of history. The streaming giant Netflix became a major player in the Oscar race with Roma, proving that the future of film-watching will no longer be defined by its delivery system. Marvel made its strongest impact ever with Black Panther, a celebration of diversity and black power that raised the bar on what a comic-book epic could accomplish. That movie — along with A Star Is Born, Green Book and Widows — helped the studio system make a comeback after years of creative lethargy.

There were also wonders of exploration as First Man blasted off to the moon with Neil Armstrong and Eighth Grade took us inside the head of a 13-year-old girl lost in the digiverse. Harsh truth tangled with sharp humor as Spike Lee took on race in BlackKklansman and Adam McKay took down Dick Chaney in Vice. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse started a new revolution in color-blasting animation and inclusive storytelling. And a documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, showed us how children’s TV host Mister Rogers, who died 15 years ago, still had lessons to teach a divided nation about civility. Here are the 20 movies that prodded, provoked and entertained to make a difference this year.

(L to R) Marco Graf as Pepe, Daniela Demesa as Sofi, Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, Marina De Tavira as Sofia, Diego Cortina Autrey as Toño, Carlos Peralta Jacobson as Paco in Roma, written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Photo by Carlos Somonte


What makes a movie the best of the year? See this poetic, profound and resplendently beautiful masterpiece that director Alfonso Cuarón carved from his memories of growing up in the Roma suburb of Mexico City in the 1970s. The filmmaker contrasts the personal drama of divorce and domestic tension with the era’s politics, including a student revolt that ends in violence. Then there’s Cleo (the unforgettable Yalitza Aparicio), a housekeeper who quietly holds the family together while her own life crumbles. Cuarón’s made a black-and-white indie in Spanish that most people will see on Netflix, the streaming service that, thankfully, released this masterwork 
in theaters — both to qualify for Oscars and to give audiences the chance to see his vision in all of its big-screen glory. In the shifting landscape of how we see movies, Roma is not only a great film. It’s a game-changer.

a star is born

‘A Star Is Born’

Bradley Cooper’s all-systems-go liftoff as a director and Lady Gaga’s dynamite movie-star turn powered this fourth retelling of the she’s-up/he’s-down showbiz fairy tale. Under the fine hand of Cooper — acting up a storm, and a surprisingly down-home singer — a remake that many worried might be a dumb gloss on 21st-century rock emerged as intimate and indelible, with an out-of-the-shallow soundtrack that killed. Don’t you just love it when that happens?

Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER..Black Panther/T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman)..Ph: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2018

‘Black Panther’

Marvel dawdled for ages about turning its first black superhero into a real-deal movie franchise, thinking there was no market for it. Ha! Black Panther, with Chadwick Boseman crushing the title role as the crime-fighting king of the fictional African country Wakanda, isn’t only a global box-office phenom ($1.4 billion worldwide) — it’s the best Marvel Cinematic Universe movie ever, period. Director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) led a cast of champs, including Michael B. Jordan as the ultimate badass villain and a quartet of powerhouses (Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett) to give the men a run for their money. What’s that about a comic-book epic not being good enough to earn a spot in the Oscar lineup for Best Picture? The revolution starts now.

Emma Stone and Olivia Colman in the film THE FAVOURITE. Photo by Yorgos Lanthimos. © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

‘The Favourite’

You’ll savor every note of delicious, depraved, comic malice in this hellzapoppin’ period piece from Greek provocateur Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster). Olivia Colman is diabolically funny — and sometimes just diabolical — as Queen Anne, a gout-ridden, body-scarred monarch who grants power to a pair of rivals, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Lady Abigail (Emma Stone), in exchange for sex and shameless flattery. That you come to care for these scheming vixens is a tribute to three marvelous actresses on whom Academy honors should be bestowed forthwith.

4117_D025_13343_R_CROPAdam Driver stars as Flip Zimmerman and John David Washington as Ron Stallworth in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKLansman, a Focus Features release.Credit: David Lee / Focus Features


Spike Lee’s best film in years brilliantly digs into the 1970s true story of Colorado police officer Ron Stallworth (the excellent John David Washington), who called on a Jewish cop (a superb Adam Driver) to help him infiltrate and expose the KKK. Lee invests his considerable humor, heart, smarts and righteous rage to make this real-life incident resonate for the current era, in which race hatred festers in our un-fake news. And it’s hard not to cheer when Lee sticks it to Trump with all he’s got in the movie’s coda. Bravo.

KiKi Layne as Tish and Stephan James as Fonny star in Barry Jenkins' IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK, an Annapurna Pictures release.

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’

Director Barry Jenkins follows his Oscar-winning Moonlight with a tone-perfect, tragedy-tinged, touchingly hopeful adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel about black love and the forces rallied against it. KiKi Layne and Stephan James excel as the Harlem couple at the center of a racial storm, while Regina King is hardcore funny, fired-up and fabulous as the girl’s mother, a fighter 
who’s hellbent on getting her future son-in-law released after he was framed for rape. For Baldwin, Beale Street represents the blues. And Jenkins, a true poet of cinema, uses his wrenching, incurably romantic film to hit you both where it hurts and where it heals.

(L to R) LUKAS HAAS as Mike Collins, RYAN GOSLING as Neil Armstrong and COREY STOLL as Buzz Aldrin in "First Man," directed by Oscar®-winning filmmaker Damien Chazelle ("La La Land").

‘First Man’

Damien Chazelle’s soaring drama about astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), the first man to walk on the moon, didn’t quite find the audience it deserved. Objections have been raised to a 1960s right-wing worship of whitey on the moon. Huh? Chazelle did not make that movie. Gosling shows us the stoic Armstrong coming apart inside. And Claire Foy, in a stunningly realized portrait of his wife, reveals the emotional toll that repression takes on a family when a husband and father straps himself into a death-trap rocket for reasons that have little to do with waving a flag.

first reformed

‘First Reformed’

The main thing about Paul Schrader’s extraordinary, elemental film about a pastor (Ethan Hawke) on the verge 
of losing his faith in a world that’s spinning off its axis is the 
way it grabs you and won’t let 
go. Hawke, in his best-ever screen performance, commits 
totally to Schrader’s cinematically exhilarating vision of existential despair.

eighth grade best movies

‘Eighth Grade’

When people ask me to recommend a film by a first-time director they know nothing about, Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is my go-to choice. It’s about a 13-year-old girl (the astonishing Elsie Fisher) trying to survive adolescent angst in the digital age. It’s also like nothing you have ever seen.

Viggo Mortensen as Tony Vallelonga and Mahershala Ali as Dr. Donald Shirley in "Green Book," directed by Peter Farrelly.

‘Green Book’

In telling the true-ish story of how black classical pianist 
Don Shirley (Mahershala 
Ali) hired working-class Italian-American Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) to drive him on a perilous concert tour through the Jim Crow South in 1962, director/co-writer Peter Farrelly only paints inside the box. 
What earns this reverse spin on Driving Miss Daisy a place on this list is the team of Mortensen and Ali, both flat-out fantastic. Does Green Book sugarcoat the message about race in America? Maybe. But it doesn’t stop these two live-wire actors from pumping the gas and driving it home.

Christian Bale Dick Cheney


Adam McKay’s satiric takedown of Dick Cheney sees The Big Short director examine the power behind Dubya’s throne, tracing a direct link from the puppetmaster to the tyrant now occupying White House. Stupendous is too puny a work to describe the brilliance of Christian Bale (unrecognizable behind a weight gain and prosthetics) as Cheney and Amy Adams as the V.P.’s missus, Lynne — she’s steel wrapped in a sweet-tea smile. Cheers, too, for Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush and Steve Carell as the wily, war-mongering Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

burning best films


What starts as a romance between two poor kids with a dream — Yoo Ah-in and Jun Jong-seo are perfect star-crossed lovers — morphs into a sinister meditation on murder and the class system when a wealthy charmer (Steven Yeun) enters the scene. The former Walking Dead star creates one of the most disturbing characters of the year; his portrayal of a smiling, slick sociopath keeps revealing new layers the longer you let it percolate in your memory. And the searing last moments of this mystery speak to the artistry that reminds you why Lee Chang-dong is considered a world-class filmmaker.

Liam Neeson and Viola Davis in Twentieth Century Fox’s WIDOWS. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.


Steve McQueen, a director who’s scaled the loftiest arthouse/prestige-movie heights with 12 Years a Slave, Hunger and Shame, shocked some folks when he said he was going to take on a heist movie. He then poured all of his visionary talent into making this powerhouse thriller with real-world issues — not the least of which was showing three women, left widows thanks to a failed robbery, taking matters of survival into their own hands. Led by Viola Davis in a dynamite performance matched by Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriquez — along with Cynthia Erivo as the group’s getaway driver — these amateur criminals prove a match for any man. All this, plus Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya as the scariest damn psycho in, like, forever.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as Spider-Man in Sony Pictures Animation's SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE.

‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’

Not only the coolest Spider-Man epic ever, this animated take on the Marvel superhero is a knockout that no one saw coming. Miles Morales (voiced by a stellar Sameik Moore) is the teen son of an African-American cop and a Puerto Rican nurse. But one bite from a radioactive arachnid and guess who’s crawling the walls — and gets dropped right into a meta-universe of alternative Spideys? Eyes will pop, jaws will drop and minds will be blown as this pop fantasia with a mixed-race hero speeds into a funhouse of unleashed imagination. Credit producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie) for tempering the action with heart and making audiences feel there just might be a webslinger in all of us.

the rider

‘The Rider’

If you still haven’t seen how Chinese-American filmmaker Chloé Zhao turned the real-life story of bronc rider Brady Jandreau into a graceful character study and a breakout indie hit, then catch up this gem at once. Her docu-fiction technique, using non-pro actors, also distinguished her striking 2015 feature debut Songs My Brothers Taught Me, set among the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. We watch as Jandreau deals with life after a career-ending injury, trains horses in real time, negotiates family crises and supports fallen friends — and we see how Zhao’s undeniable humanity shines through in every frame.

hereditary best movies


Thanks to debuting director Ari Aster and an all-stops-out performance from the great Toni Collette, Hereditary emerges the most blood-chillingest movie of the year. Which is only appropriate since bloodlines, the poisoned kind, become the focus for grieving family members who find their daily existence invaded by the supernatural. Aster builds his film slowly, but by the end your own mind will be invaded enough to make you scream your bloody head off. It’s a modern-day horror classic.

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‘Cold War’

Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski follows up his Oscar-winning Ida with a love story, based on his parents, that is shot through with political intrigue and erotic sizzle. Starting in 1949 — the year Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) invites blond bombshell singer Zula (Joanna Kulig) to join his musical troupe — and following decades of political-to-personal strife, Cold War drops in and out of the tumultuous relationship between these two sexual battering rams. With music as a constant and world events providing background commentary, this gorgeously stark black-and-white romance stays hardcore to the end. And Kulig is a major star in the making.


‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’

The Coen brothers go West in a six-part anthology about gunfighters, gold diggers and frontier fatalism. Some have complained that the movie is hit and miss, but dig deeper and you’ll find that the themes of each chapter come together like a well-curated short story collection. Joel and Ethan Coen love messing with audiences, but there’s nothing random about this darkly comic and sometimes just plain dark ballad about death. From Tim Blake Nelson’s homicidal singing cowboy to Zoe Kazan’s wagon-train lonelyheart — and a finale where the Grim Reaper himself makes an appearance — this open-range grabbag is a wild, wild ride.

bohemian rhapsody

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

Mercury rises again. Paragraphs could be written about the ways this biopic of Freddie Mercury goes wrong. But Rami Malek’s go-for-broke portrayal delivered of Queen’s quixotic, flamboyant, ferociously talented lead singer captures the stadium-filling, live-wire energy of watching the frontman raise temperatures on stage. The look, strut and fever of the singer who gave us “Radio Ga-Ga,” “We Are the Champions” and that operatic title track — it’s all there in Malek’s indelible performance. But more importantly, so is the soul of the man who was never comfortable in his own skin.

5030.03_cropped_upResFred Rogers on the set of his show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood from the film, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR, a Focus Features release.Credit: Jim Judkis / Focus Features

‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’

In a contentious year, this easy-does-it documentary about the late Fred Rogers — the TV icon whose show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, helped children cope with a cynical world — might be just the pep talk our therapists ordered. The box-office success of Morgan Neville’s timely and timeless film (it’s the top-grossing biodoc ever, with over $20 million on the books) was richly deserved. And as headlines about a world gone mad bombard us at every turn, you can’t watch this gentle giant of a film without saluting the man in the cardigan and thinking, “We need you now more than ever.”

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