The Pits: Best in Film 2018

Editor’s Note: Feel free to post as big or as small of a list as you would like below but please keep your lists contained to these posts and do not open up your own or fill up the OT with them.  The winners will be announced alongside the other winners of The Pits on 12/21 and will be calculated by adding up your lists (10 points for first, 9 for second, etc. with 5 per awarded for unranked Top 10 lists).  Voting will be cut off some time on 12/21 so make sure to cast your ballot before then.  If you wish to change your ballot later feel free to, but please indicate clearly that you are recasting your vote to make things easier to count.

Greetings everyone and welcome to the final category for our annual awards celebration, The Pits.  Once again, I appointed myself most qualified for this thread out of pure narcissism and pettiness, but I also have kept myself busy as the most frequent reviewer of theatrical releases as well as my Month of Horror feature (RIP).

Once again, I gave the last spot to movies because even more so than any of these other genres, the film industry backloads plenty of its most interesting and award contending films.  Countless 2018 films have only just been released, have been unreleased outside of NY, LA, and/or a few major markets, or unreleased entirely.  Even just this weekend (and today!) I crammed in a number of films to try and qualify them for this list and yet my top 25 still feels far from finished.

Last year I said to “ask me in a year and my list may be completely different” and I that is why we are adding a second category this year.  Aside from the normal Robots’ Choice Award for Best Film which will honor the best film from this year, we will also be handing out the Best Film from 2017 Award where you all will be able to relitigate the results from last year (which was won by Get Out although the complete results are here).  I don’t know if the final winner will change, but it will sure be interesting to see the rest of the results.

Some of the films I did not have a chance to screen (or haven’t gotten around to yet) but likely had a good chance to make it include (in roughly declining likelihood they would make the list) Climax, Anna and the Apocalypse, If Beale Street Could Talk, Cold War, Shoplifters, Burning, Possum, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, What Keeps You Alive, Destroyer, Colette, Are We Not Cats, Terrified, and Apostle.  As opposed to last year, I don’t feel as confident in those films making a significant impact on the rankings.

Owing to seeing a lot more films this year, I feel much more comfortable about the last couple spots of this list (not that I didn’t also really like the original set of films in my list last year).  In fact, there were quite a few films I left off that I would have loved to put on.  Documentaries especially felt like they got shafted as more often than not, I wound up leaning towards cutting them.  With that in mind I’ll give Minding the Gap, The Sentence, Andre the Giant, The Price of EverythingKing in the Wilderness, The Two Bills, and This is Congo a little extra love and to complete an unofficial Top 10 docs list.

For the record, I listed seventeen films last time that I hadn’t gotten to and since then I have seen twelve of them.  Obviously, any list of best films from a year is going to continue change over time as opinions of films grow or fade and as I see more films, but just adding those twelve plus countless more not on that list makes for a significant alteration.

As with last year, I considered any film that debuted outside of film festivals in 2018 to be eligible (even if they were given festival debuts in 2017), but it’s obviously a very blurry line.  I’ll leave it up to your own personal discretion for which year you want to count a film that was only released in the US in 2018 but was released in their native country the prior year.


25. Momentum Generation – It was either this or Minding the Gap to slide into this spot here and as much as I appreciated the more personal story of the latter, I felt Momentum Generation ultimately did a superior job balancing its depiction of the actual sport (in this case surfing) with its stories of the generation of surfers who came up in the ’90s and brought the industry into the mainstream.

24. First Reformed – Paul Schrader’s career has been in the wilderness for quite some time and it was not too unreasonable to have written him off.  There’s nothing about First Reformed on paper that is appealing to me from cast to its themes, but despite some groanworthy artistic elements that don’t work, the film is a beautifully shot and compelling title with some surprisingly strong performances.

23. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – I hate to spoil my review, but I guess this has to act as a preview for it.  Full review to come.  The comedy mostly falls flat aside from Nic Cage and John Mulaney doing his best Don Knotts, but the impressive blend of animation styles and action make for at the very least the best Spider-Man film in years.

22. Overlord – This movie’s position this low speaks to some of the missed potential in the premise, a crazy multi-genre mashup that too often defaulted back to traditional war movie.  I love me some B-horror movies and the film is still very fun which is why it made it on the list, but it leaves plenty on the table thematically and in terms of all the body horror and related elements.

21. Cam – A great little psychological horror title centered on a camgirl that may not break a lot of ground, but is far more clever, better executed, and on firmer ground thematically than certain other titles in the genre.  Madeline Brewer is this year’s interesting female horror lead find.

20. A Simple Favor – An uneven and indecisive film and yet one that was nevertheless fun and has stuck with me a bit more than expected.  Paul Feig stylish, 1960s influenced adaptation is anchored by a pair of great performances by Anna Kendrick and a quipping Blake Lively (speaking of surprising).

19. Can You Ever Forgive Me? – The first biopic on this list and probably the most traditional is an actor’s showcase for Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant which effectively balances the need to portray its forgery passing asshole of a lead as just that and to make her just sympathetic and likable enough to care about.

18. Crime + Punishment – A fascinating documentary on the police quota system in New York City, a system that is legally banned and yet apparently still in wide practice there.  Follows twelve cops and a private investigator who file suit against the practice and the discrimination they received as a result of the cops’ decision to not make the arrests just to make quota.

17. Sorry to Bother You – We haven’t escaped the messy films yet as Boots Riley feature debut based on his album of the same name is certainly that.  Not all the satirical elements work, but it’s such an exciting and one of a kind film that those misses are easy to forgive while Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson play no small role in the film’s success.

16. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – There’s better made documentaries and probably more deserving documentaries below this one, but any film that puts a smile on my face and can get me to well up in other spots is doing something special.  Its depiction of Fred Rogers is a worthy, touching, and heartwarming one.

15. Upgrade – Like Overlord, I’m inclined to forgive its faults due to its genre blend which mixes a visceral hand to hand style action with cheesy dark sci-fi, half-baked oft-forgotten philosophical concerns, and some body horror elements in a departure from Leigh Whannell’s usual fare.  Logan Marshall-Green’s chemistry with his constant AI companion and the way it integrates into the plot make for some of the most entertaining elements.

14. Avengers: Infinity War – Half a year later and I’m still not entirely sure where I fall on the quality of the film itself.  As an event, it remains pretty much unmatched in the way it served as the (beginning of the) culmination of ten years and eighteen films worth of build up as we got to watch a whole bunch of characters we like interact and fight in unexpected ways.  Was that enough to make up for the unsatisfying nature of other events with its plot contrivances and awkward tonal changes from the rest of the series?  Avengers: Endgame will probably (fairly or not) impact that answer this time next year, but it’s still a special experience.

13. Incredibles 2 – Pixar’s move into making sequels to more of their films has yielded mixed results, but The Incredibles was the one film of theirs that people were asking for a sequel to.  Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland failure finally led to it being a reality and the sequel managed to successfully deliver.  It is however a much different climate for superhero films and despite still having a place in the modern day, it no longer stands out so starkly.

12. Annihilation – There truly were a lot of films with deep flaws this year in my Top 25 and even outside of it.  It’s perhaps a reflection of their risk taking though, and the premium placed on unique elements when I’m watching 650+ films so that being merely well-executed but unambitious is not enough.  That’s why Alex Garland’s latest piece of thoughtful sci-fi this time with some weird, wondrous imagery should be treasured even with its dreadful dialogue that wastes a talented cast.

11. Black Panther – Marvel’s first of three (or six if you count non-MCU films) titles this year was also the strongest.  Beyond just offering an alternate perspective that comes with giving minority filmmakers and characters a chance to shine, it also gave the MCU a rare compelling villain (a feat which Avengers: Infinity War would duplicate) in Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger with a great score, cinematography, and supporting cast to match.

10. Hereditary – At a certain point in the film I nearly audibly went “phew”.  I was finding the film genuinely unnerving and hard to watch until the film started to veer off course and I was able to sigh in relief and relax because I knew we were in silly modern horror movie land.  Hereditary had the chance to be so much higher on this list and while it doesn’t completely derail itself in its shift from a human horror-drama, it certainly runs right up against it in its ill-advised third act.

9. Leave No Trace – Debra Granik’s long awaited follow-up to Winter’s Bone is an almost picaresque look at a father and daughter (played by Ben Foster and Thomasin Mckenzie existing on the fringes of society as they move between various groups of supporting characters.  It’s slow and purposeful, but not a single scene feels wasted and it never drags, the film at once sad and affirming.

8. BlacKkKlansman – Spike Lee’s narrative career has been iffy for a while (even speaking as someone who liked Miracle at St. Anna), but he rebounded in a big way with his biopic about a black police officer who went undercover with the KKK.  It takes a far more complicated view on race than most films do (both made by Lee and others) with the lead’s optimism (and naivety) for change and entire mission undercut continuously.  The first speech scene (and I know the crosscutting second one gets more credit) is perhaps the scene of the year and manages to make it feel essential and compelling even when by every right it should have ground the plot to a halt and felt like preaching to the audience.

7. Mandy – If it wasn’t clear already from my praise of his role in Spider-Man, I am quite the fan of Nic Cage.  His role choices haven’t always been the best but between that film, Mom and Dad, and Mandy, Cage had a heck of a year.  Jóhann Jóhannsson final score is the best of the year while Cage gets free reign to show off his intensity in a film which demands it.  Panos Cosmatos’s second film is a bizarre and wonderful spectacle that comes just short of being a classic as he’s not able to completely bring some of those other elements together in the end.

6. The Favourite – Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest breathes life into the period drama with some stunning visuals and humor to go along with its trio of fantastic performances by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone.

5. Revenge – The rape and revenge genre is one with a considerable amount of built in baggage, but with first time filmmaker Coralie Fargeat at the helm, she manages to strike perfect balance between the competing elements and deliver something brutal without feeling misguided.

4. Thoroughbreds – This darkly comedic title has unsurprisingly been lost in the shuffle come the end of the year, but undeservingly so.  Perhaps it is because of the difficult to pin down genre that flits between thriller, dark comedy, and drama, never committing to any but blending them more assuredly than something like A Simple Favor.  It also offers a perfect role for the often underused Olivia Cooke and a final role for Anton Yelchin.

3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout – The Mission: Impossible series has improbably become the best action franchise running over its past three installments even as its star is on the back half of his 50s.  Tom Cruise, for all his off the screen issues, is still a magnetic performer onscreen and his stunts continue to get bigger and more exciting.  Even as the story lags behind, the film more than makes up for it with the peerless action setpieces and ability to weave humor into them.

2. Roma – There’s just something about this film that doesn’t scream “favorite film of the year”.  If there was another film to come along and top it, I’d probably still have Roma in the second spot which may not make intellectual sense, but I guess I just naively want something special in that top slot.  Roma is merely an impeccably crafted film filled with naturalist performances and a scope that manages to be both extremely personal and epic with its wide shots filled with activity.  Alfonso Cuarón took a step back from his big budget English language films and even though it doesn’t quite make the impact of Children of Men or Gravity, Cleo’s (Yalitza Aparicio) story is one to remember.

1. Suspiria – While there has been a much wider top tier of films thus far, nothing has reached the highs of Mother! (or the two films that would later join it in that tier) and in general, there’s been nothing that has exactly captured my enthusiasm the way a number of titles did last year.  In the end, the top slot was very much up for grabs from any one of a number of contenders, but this film seemed to be the pick my gut told me to go with.  It’s tempting to just chalk up my pick of Suspiria as picking the film closest to Mother! and there are plenty of similarities in both being visually stunning, challenging, divisive horror films.

Suspiria however doesn’t belong anywhere near in the same class as it suffers from being perhaps a bit too ungainly and from overreaching in its decision to let Tilda Swinton play a second role as a man, a performance which never stops being distracting.  That being said, Luca Guadagnino (who I had not been lukewarm on his past couple films), has remade a beautiful if somewhat hollow original title into something that retains all the impressive visuals (in a different way) and adds plenty of compelling characters (led by the talented Dakota Johnson) and tension.


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25. November – The plot is difficult to follow, whether it was in English or not, but this Estonian fantasy film was far too interesting and captivating with its imagery for that to matter.

24. I Am Evidence– I left this on my DVR for a long time because I just could not bring myself to want to watch the story of unprocessed rape kits.  It’s an infuriating doc and it is hard to recommend to people who know about the issue (as even I had before watching) for the way it just seems to build impotent rage, but the stories told are vital ones and the it’s an effective doc.

23. Columbus – A quiet drama which gains most of its strength from John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson’s low-key interactions.  It manages to be compelling despite containing no big scenes and a sparse soundtrack.  It’s hard to explain what separates this from the countless films of this type which get released every year (hello Liberal Arts), but it works.

22. Icarus – A documentary about doping in sports that is impressive in the way it makes me care about a subject I’ve long since stopped wanting to hear anything about.

21. Paddington 2 – I am decidedly not a family movie person and have no attachment to the Paddington series from when I was a kid, so no one was more surprised than me that the first movie turned out to be pretty good.  Even more shockingly, the sequel improved on it in every way as it’s a nice amiable film that’s cute and loveable and if I have to admit that about any other film, I am going to add three more bleak horror films to my list out of principle alone.  Who would have though Hugh Grant’s best role would have been playing a giant ham and not awkward and stammering.

20. Last Men in Aleppo – An expansion of the subject matter in the previously nominated The White Helmets, feels far more intimate and compelling than that short in depicting those working to save lives in Syria.

19. Kong: Skull Island – A film that’s seemingly and largely been forgotten this year among all the other big name sci-fi/fantasy titles that were released to very mixed success.  The Vietnam era setting certainly plays into its tone and watching Samuel L. Jackson descend into madness is always a pleasure, but who am I kidding.  This film is this high largely because it is very much my kind of film and just so satisfying to watch.  It’s so much better and better looking than Jackson’s King Kong.

18. Colossal – A darkly comedic take on the kaiju genre from the director of TimecrimesColossal has some major issues in characters (aside from the Anne Hathaway’s lead role) and the plot for the most part makes little sense, but it’s such a fun film that I’m willing to overlook these issues.  The film is clever in the way it makes the most of a low budget, but it never feels that way and its money saving techniques are instead the highlight.

17. The Florida Project – 2017’s Moonlight is a hangout comedic drama take on the documentary Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County.  It’s very good but there’s a certain element that felt missing from making me feel too passionate about it and that ending certainly left me with a lesser impression of it (despite it not really affecting the film that came before).

16. Cries from Syria – So many dead bodies and dead kids.  It’s not a pleasant documentary to watch or anything exceptional from a style point of view (though it is well done), but it’s such an effective and necessary one.  It never tries to shield the viewer, giving us a truly complete look at the real-life horror.

15. You Were Never Really Here – I know a number of you may have it listed for this year which is fine, but it was actually released in France late last year (even discounting its Cannes premiere), so I’m putting it here.  Lynne Ramsay latest is a brutal film with a typically intense performance from Joaquin Phoenix that resists its most salacious impulses.

14. Thor: Ragnarok – Sure it felt largely like a Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but Thor: Ragnarok is better than the other Marvel film of 2017 it felt so reminiscent of and it is wonderful to have people finally coming around on one of my favorite performances of the MCU (in Chris Hemsworth as Thor) and the best entry yet in the series (even though I think Thor is the most underrated film in the MCU).  It’s pure fun and charm throughout.

13. Happy Death Day – With a delightful title that evokes the ’80s boom of slasher films seemingly made solely to fill video rental shelves, I had high hopes but low expectations for Happy Death Day.  Thankfully, the movie turned out to be one of the most purely pleasurable filmgoing experiences of the year.  Jessica Rothe makes for the third actress on this list (after Lawrence and Ronan) who is onscreen almost the entire length and who the success and failure of the entire film largely rests on their shoulders.  It’s a smart (if fairly predictable) playing with the Groundhog Day and slasher formulas.

12. Lady Bird – The platonic ideal of the comedy-drama (emphasis on the latter) coming-of-age film is far better than I expected out of Greta Gerwig and leans on Saoirse Ronan to give yet another great performance.  It also felt at times far too realistic both in terms of the experiences of Lady Bird, and even more so in the people surrounding her.  It walks right up to cliché only to subvert or take the more logical path instead.

11. On Body and Soul – For those who want their foreign fantasy films less fantastical than November if no less compelling and plenty of oddness left over.  It’s just a great romantic drama about two lonely people.

10. Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan’s WWII tale about the titular invasion is an experience film.  Not all the stories are equal in quality, but its strength lies in the way it draws you in and naturally ties together the threads running throughout.  I love war films which take an alternate take on the typical format and highlighting the bravery in retreat and certain defeat along with the purely human desperation to stay alive (yet also those brave enough to willing to go into certain danger and nearly as certain doom) is something to be praised.

9. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Martin McDonagh’s latest fits perfectly into his filmography of darkly comedic titles and lived up to my high expectations for it, bolstered by a trio of great performances.

8. The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Yorgos Lanthimos’s last film returns to a psychological thriller tone closer to his breakout film Dogtooth and delivers yet another distinctly him title.  It’s dark and trades some of the more comedic touches for a building sense of horror.  It’s based on a Greek tragedy (Iphigenia in Aulis) and constantly feels like one.

7. Blade Runner 2049 – Denis Villeneuve’s latest is an absolutely gorgeous and slow paced sci-fi sequel that improves on its predecessor with a great cast.  A film that has no reason to exist from either a critical or financial point of view and yet it justified itself and then some at least in terms of quality.

6. Get Out – In most years, this would probably be the defining horror title, but 2017 isn’t most years.  Jordan Peele’s step into horror was another film I was cautious about and while it wasn’t quite the masterpiece some made it out to be, it was still an awesome film with its metaphorical portrayals feeling at once funny and scarily accurate (considering all the “That’s right” at the theater I went to, I don’t think I was alone in feeling that way).

5. Logan – I have never been a big X-Man fan.  I wasn’t as a kid (when the animated series was a thing) and the movies for me typically peaked at “fine”.  They always seem overstuffed and Days of Future Past was the first I really enjoyed, largely because it was more focused with Deadpool following suit last year (though I didn’t think it was as nearly as fresh as everyone else seemed to).  The Wolverine gave me hope since for the first 2/3 it was great before imploding but it took Logan for the X-Men films to find its first classic title.  It’s a perfect example of how to handle “dark” and “thoughtful” without going overboard and it was a perfect conclusion to the mythos.  Letting Jackman, Stewart, and new addition Stephen Merchant do their thing with plenty of space to act and reflect on their characters was the true breath of fresh air with Dafne Keen being a special find for the franchise.

4. John Wick: Chapter 2 – The first film in the series was such a fantastic surprise and as someone who has always like Keanu Reeves, it’s satisfying to see him in a legitimately great movie which utilizes his strengths.  That being said, some of the best things including its tightness, originality, and world building (which made a compelling universe without going into too many details which might render it stupid) made the need for a sequel suspect.  I love being proven wrong though and Chapter 2 built off the first, maintaining everything I loved (for the most part) and while proving that this world was even more interesting than I had imagined it.

3. The Shape of Water – Despite being published last year, this review was far and away my most viewed.  It’s also the first of three films in a top tier of classics from last year.  Guillermo del Toro’s latest is delightful and beautiful and very much worthy of its Oscar win (since I know full well the only eligible film above it had no shot).  Doug Jones turned in yet another amazing performance under so much prosthetics and the romance he has with Sally Hawkins’s mute lead, as easy as it would to be ridiculous, is amazingly sweet.

2. World of Tomorrow Episode 2: The Burden of Other People’s Thoughts – There is not a single animator (and with one possible exception who beat him out in this list filmmaker) more interesting working today than Don Hertzfeldt.  His films are one of a kind and brilliant pieces of art and the first World of Tomorrow film remains one of my favorite films of all time.  The sequel lives up to the hype, building off the story of the first as Emily’s story has become even funnier and more absurd even if the short isn’t nearly as tight.  Still the short flies by and is something truly special.

1. Mother! – It’s not nearly the runaway win it was this time last year, but only because the competition from The Shape of Water and especially World of Tomorrow Episode 2 was fierce.  I’m an admitted Darren Arofnosky fan who puts The Fountain on my all-time Top 10 list and thinks the man has made only one film less than excellent (I thought Pi was merely great) but Mother! may still challenge for his best film in my eyes and one of the all-time great horror films.  No film since Gravity has kept me holding my breath throughout in the theaters and it is just such an amazing build of terror and tension and madness.  It’s filled with fantastic performances including Jennifer Lawrence’s and Javier Bardem’s best, it looks amazing, and I’ve spent more time thinking about the film and all of its many meanings to me than any film I can remember.  At a time when I was struggling with doubts over my love of film and questioning if I could ever regain the passion I once had for it, Mother! was a shining light and brought that passion back.

So please cast your ballots as we vote on the Second Annual Robots’ Choice Award for Best Film 2018 and the First Annual GenCorp Award for Best Film 2017.