10 2018 Movies and Performances That Need to Be Remembered During Awards Season
It may only be June, but we’ve already seen some of the best movies and performances of 2018. We’ve had a radiant turn from a veteran of French cinema, an audacious indie sci-fi mind-bender, a heartwarming doc about a beloved TV host, the year’s funniest comedy, and so much more.
But a huge chunk of those titles and performances are at risk of being forgotten once fall movie season arrives to dominate the conversation. By the end of the year, we often narrow our focus to major awards contenders, favoring films in recent memory and dismissing the less buzzier projects released before September. But just because these movies may not shout Best Picture Winner from the top of their lungs doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of acclaim. Read on to see my picks for 10 great films and performances from the first half of 2018 (in no particular order) that deserve to be remembered by year’s end.
From Let the Sunshine In
Juliette Binoche is one of my favorite actors, but even I didn’t expect she’d give my favorite performance of the year so far. In Claire Denis’ offbeat romantic comedy Let the Sunshine In, Binoche is exquisite playing a single woman venturing through the highest peaks and lowest valleys of the dating world. Her painter Isabelle hops from one fling to the next, dating a dirtbag banker, a moody actor, a lonely everyman, a pretentious art world colleague and even falling back into bed with her ex-husband. On her unending quest to find love, Isabelle swivels from extreme elation to heartbroken despair and back again. It’s a performance that emphasizes what makes Binoche so captivating to watch: her ability to show everything she’s feeling on her expressive face. One fantastic scene in a restroom captures it best when Isabelle tosses her head back in laughter, telling a friend what makes her orgasm with one man, before her smile suddenly sours as she crumbles into tears. It’s an earnest, moving, and funny portrait of a woman who’s hopeful enough to strap herself into the crazy rollercoaster of romance, inviting us to feel it all along with her.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
The real world can be a pretty awful place to live in at the moment. Thankfully Morgan Neville’s documentary about Fred Rogers feels like the giant cinematic hug we need. Won’t You Be Me Neighbor? charts the life of the beloved children’s TV host, from the darker aspects of his childhood to the three decades he spent putting on cardigans and tying his shoes on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. While watching it, I kept asking myself how it was possible that a man like Rogers’ existed: a genuinely good guy who cared about children, furthering education, and fostering empathy. Neville’s documentary may be a hagiographic approach to its subject, but there’s no denying he was a man deserving of loving praise; there really was no one like Mister Rogers.
Filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are best known for their horror romance Spring, a clever genre hybrid that brings inventive sci-fi twists to a traditional boy-meets-girl story. With their latest feature The Endless, the duo – who write, direct, star, produce, and split cinematography and editing duties – have once again made a wildly audacious indie sci-fi feature. Benson and Moorhead play brothers who decide to return to the desert cult they escaped from years ago. From there, things take a series of mind-warping twists and turns as the two uncover chilling mysteries. The film doesn’t quite land its ending, but Benson and Moorhead leave you transfixed throughout with a mix of eerie cult mythology, haunting supernatural flourishes, and some impressive visuals. If only more sci-fi films were as a daringly original and cryptic as this one.
After giving birth to her third child, Charlize Theron’s beleaguered Marlo sits down for a brief moment of rest in Tully. A moment later, her son spills a glass of juice all over her, and as she pulls off her sopping-wet shirt her daughter loudly remarks, “Mom, what’s wrong with your body?” In the third collaboration between Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, Theron radiates the utter exhaustion of motherhood in every fiber of her being. Seriously, you feel in desperate need of some peace and quiet just watching Marlo, bleary-eyed and on the verge of collapse, as she juggles the needs of three kids and a distracted husband. On top of all that, she’s wallowing in postpartum depression. Her Marlo pivots from total depletion to jubilant liveliness once she magically comes back to life after a night nanny (Mackenzie Davis) waltzes into her life to help restore order. Theron is as magnetic as ever, whether she’s losing her s– during a chaotic school drop-off or belting out Carly Rae Jepson at karaoke.
Read our full review of Tully.
Lean on Pete
Out of all the great films that have opened in 2018 so far, I worry Lean on Pete will be the one most quickly forgotten. Andrew Haigh’s drama is slow-moving and quiet, and it doesn’t have the kind of loud performances that guarantee a film will dominate awards season conversations. But it’s one of the most poignant things I’ve seen so far this this year. Charlie Plummer, in an exceptional and heartbreaking performance, plays a shy Pacific Northwest teen who bonds with an aging race horse. This isn’t the usual boy-and-his-horse drama you may be expecting, but a sensitive story about loneliness and survival. Haigh creates a fully realized world where even the smallest supporting characters, including performances from Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny, Travis Fimmel, and Steve Zahn, feel like people you intimately understand. Lean on Pete is further proof that Haigh is one of our most emotionally insightful filmmakers.
Read our full review of Lean on Pete.
From You Were Never Really Here
The most devastating thing about Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here isn’t the mounds of bone-crunching, blood-splattering violence, but Joaquin Phoenix’s tormented hired gun. Sent on rescue missions to save young girls from sex trafficking rings, his Joe is both a perpetrator of violence and its victim. He may be calm and detached when he bashes in skulls with a hammer, but he’s also haunted by traumatic flashbacks of his own childhood abuse. We watch Joe’s psyche deteriorate as he fights off repressed memories, suffocating himself inside plastic bags and channeling the wrath of his abusive father before he embarks on his own killing sprees. Phoenix does some of the most staggering work of his career in Ramsay’s film playing a broken man seduced by the thrill of violence. We’ve seen countless actors play hitmen in movies, but nothing like this.
Read our full review of You Were Never Really Here.
All I know is that after seeing teasers of Rachel McAdams play non-stop before every single YouTube video I watched in February, the last movie I wanted to watch was Game Night. Months later, I figured I’d give it a try and boy do I regret my initial reservations. John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s Game Night isn’t just good, it’s the funniest comedy of the year so far. McAdams’ Annie and Jason Bateman’s Max are a competitive gaming couple who host game nights for their friends. But when Max’s older, richer brother Brooks (a perfectly smug Kyle Chandler) decides to host next game night, trivia and drinks are swapped for a wild, real-life kidnapping mystery. A concept this silly could easily turn obnoxious. But led by a pair of charismatic and lively performances from McAdams and Bateman and packed with more than one solid twist, Game Night is a delightful blast.
Toni Collette has always been incredible, it just took a great (if somewhat flawed) horror movie to finally get people aboard the Give Toni Collette a Damn Oscar train. (If you haven’t watched United States of Tara yet, do yourself a favor and get on that.) It’s not hard to see why; Ari Aster’s Hereditary gives her ample opportunities to take her dramatic talents to the next level and then some, as well as burn a series of horrified scream faces into our minds. As Annie, Collette plays a woman whose family is catapulted into a series of unimaginable horrors after the death of her mother. Her standout moments come during a thunderous dinner table scene when Annie lashes out at her teenage son, and an earlier monologue about her tragic family history. Hereditary may be remembered at the end of 2018 as the year’s best horror movie, but let’s not forget Collette, whose performance as a tormented mom makes Aster’s film unshakeable.
Read our full review Hereditary.
From First Reformed
First Reformed is one of the best films of the year so far, with one of the most extraordinary performances. Ethan Hawke is Reverend Ernst Toller, a Protestant minister who runs a quaint, historic church in Paul Schrader’s meditation on faith, despair, and the imminent destruction of the planet. But Toller’s worldview becomes inverted after he counsels a radical environmentalist who would rather take a life than bring one into the world. That sows seeds of doubt in the minster’s head, leading him to wrestle with his faith and question his role in the impending environmental apocalypse. Most remarkable is how Hawke brings the interiority of Toller’s suffering to the surface in First Reformed, through both his voiceover readings of the Reverend’s private diary and his physical embodiment of a man plagued by a spiritual and physical sickness. It’s a measured and unsettling performance that leaves a startling impression.
You know that feeling when the credits hit and you already know you’ve seen one of your favorite movies of the year? That’s how I felt when I first saw Thoroughbreds at Sundance, a twisted dark comedy about two wealthy, bored teenage girls who decide to plot a murder. Cory Finley’s slick and stylish directorial debut is charged with icy humor – much of it via a great performance by the late Anton Yelchin – and a double-dose of unnerving wickedness from its two female leads. Anya Taylor-Joy is Lily, a popular, preppy teen who’s talked into killing her wicked stepfather (Paul Sparks) by Olivia Cooke’s Amanda, a girl known across town for euthanizing her own horse with a knife. This gleefully deranged thriller is elevated by a demented score from Erik Friedlander that crawls under your skin and stays there.
Read our full review of Thoroughbreds.
Gallery - The Highest Grossing Movies in History