Who would have thought 2018 would be such a great year for movies?
All signs pointed against it. The previous year saw a slight drop in box-office revenue. The growing dominance of Disney, now churning out both Marvel and Lucasfilm movies, promised an increased homogeneity. One by one, Hollywood's tippy-top stars -- Roberts, Witherspoon, Streep -- have been migrating to television, lured by its ever-ascending quality and massive popularity. Streaming platforms also promised to take a bite out of the movie business: Netflix slated a whopping 80 films for release in 2018.
But look what happened. Netflix produced one of the year's best theatrical releases, Alfonso Cuaron's richly cinematic "Roma." Marvel delivered "Black Panther," creating not just a box-office smash but a cultural watershed. First-time filmmakers came out of nowhere and struck home-runs with "Sorry to Bother You," "Hereditary" and other art-house hits. The space for grown-up, Oscar-quality movies, once occupied by the disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein and his now-collapsed studio, is being filled by relatively new companies such as Annapurna ("Vice"), A24 ("Eighth Grade") and even the horror-factory Blumhouse (Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman").
By New Year's Eve, 2018 just might cross the $12 billion mark -- an all-time record. Either way, here are the 20 films that made this year one to remember.
20. "Unsane" Stephen Soderbergh teams up with Claire Foy to deliver a crackling, brittle thriller about a woman committed to a psych-ward against her will. Shot entirely on iPhones, and looks fantastic.
19. "Upgrade" From “Saw” director James Wan comes a very different kind of movie, a sci-fi noir in which a paralyzed man (Logan Marshall-Green) receives a chip implant that allows him to walk — and to hunt down the men who killed his wife. A little bit “RoboCop,” a little bit David Cronenberg and a whole lot of fun.
18. "Ready Player One" Steven Spielberg gets hip to virtual reality in this lively sci-fi adventure about an online world. It all takes place in a post-collapse society obsessed with the 1980s, which allows Spielberg to name-drop himself and his entire generation of filmmakers.
17. "Mid90s" For his directorial debut, Jonah Hill delivers a deep-reaching, semi-autobiographical story about a kid (Sunny Suljic, stunning) who falls in with a rough-edged skateboarding crew. Moments of bad-boy humor alternate with searing honesty to create an authentic-feeling piece of work.
16. "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse" The first-ever animated Spidey feature, about a black-Hispanic kid who dons the mask, is a dazzler, popping with color and style and clever ideas.
15. "Three Identical Strangers" Tim Wardle’s story of Long Island-born triplets, separated at birth but reunited by chance as teenagers, is a real-life conspiracy thriller with jaw-dropping twists and turns.
14. "Avengers: Infinity War" What makes this Marvel movie stand out from the pack is a computer-generated Josh Brolin as Thanos, a villain with impressive gravitas. The film’s unsettling ending strikes a new note in a usually harmless genre.
13. "Paddington 2" This kiddie franchise is becoming the new “Babe,” with unexpectedly high levels of wit and craft. Hugh Grant, as the film’s lovable villain, is worth the ticket price.
12. "Wildlife" Paul Dano’s adaptation of Richard Ford’s story about deeply flawed parents has something ineffable about it -- a magnified awareness of life and what it makes us feel -- thanks to top-notch performances from Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ed Oxenbould.
11. "Disobedience" Two Orthodox Jewish women (Rachel McAdams, Rachel Weisz) embark on an illicit affair. It’s a richly drawn drama (based on Naomi Alderman’s novel) that tackles a wide range of issues, from religion to family to mortality. It’s also a tour de force from McAdams, a rom-com veteran who delivers an unexpectedly sensitive and multilayered performance.
10. "Science Fair" High school kids from around the world -- including Jericho -- gather to compete at a prestigious science competition. It’s an irresistible documentary (from co-director Darren Foster, of Island Park), full of wide-eyed wonder and hope for a brighter future.
9. "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" In this bitterly funny (and true) story about literary forgers trying to survive in a merciless Manhattan, Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant make one of the best on-screen duos to come along in years: part Stan and Ollie, part Ratso and Joe Buck.
8. "Black Panther" Disney-Marvel’s first black-led superhero film isn’t just a cultural milestone, it’s also tackles issues of oppression and marginalization in an incredibly entertaining way. Michael B. Jordan, as the Oakland-raised villain Killmonger, is the heart and soul of the movie.
7. "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" Morgan Neville’s documentary on the children’s television host Fred Rogers makes you realize that the world has mostly forgotten everything he taught us. It’s a moving experience and a plea for understanding that couldn’t come at a better time.
6. "Eighth Grade" A slice of middle-school life, seen through the eyes of a smartphone-obsessed adolescent (Elsie Fisher). Writer-director Bo Burnham, whose career began on YouTube, delivers an illuminating and empathetic portrayal of an oft-dismissed generation.
5. "First Reformed" Paul Schrader updates his still-prescient classic “Taxi Driver” with a never-better Ethan Hawke as a small-town pastor who becomes obsessed with climate change. A masterful study in sustained dread.
4. "The Favourite" In 18th-Century England, two women (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) vie for the affections of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). This is not your mother’s costume drama, unless your mother goes in for perverse humor, foul language and a black-hearted view of humankind.
3. "Sorry to Bother You" In the debut feature from rapper Boots Riley, a black telemarketer (Lakeith Stanfield) discovers the selling-power of his “white voice” but also stumbles upon a bizarre plot to create semi-human slaves. Made on a shoestring budget and all the better for it, this is a hip-hop “Repo Man” for the new millennium, a torn t-shirt of a movie covered in provocative slogans. Easily the most imaginative film of the year.
2. "Hereditary" Toni Collette plays a woman whose family seems to be cursed in this almost too-effective horror masterpiece from first-time feature-director Ari Aster. Disorienting, disturbing and frequently bizarre, “Hereditary” isn’t for everyone: Critics and art-house audiences adored it, but moviegoers overall gave it a near-failing D-plus CinemaScore. You’ve been warned.
1. "Roma" In Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood, as 1970 turns to 1971, an abandoned middle-class matriarch (Marina de Tavira) and her pregnant housemaid (Yalitza Aparicio, a non-professional in a stunning debut) turn to each other for support. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron in jaw-dropping black and white, “Roma” is an ode to childhood, to mothers and to a vividly remembered time and place.