Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

My favorite saying I heard this year was “every movie is somebody’s favorite.”  It is true that cinema is a subjective art and I know that I cannot even pretend to tell you what the “best” or the “top” movies of 2018 were.  What I can offer is a list of my favorites, the ten movies I saw this year that I am most excited about recommending.

#10 The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man
In truth, this spot could have gone to as many as ten movies (see Honorable Mentions below) and so I thought I would use the opportunity to recommend a favorite that I don’t think many people saw or even heard of.  There were bigger budgeted, more polished documentaries released this year, but this was the one I enjoyed the most.  Writer/director Tommy Avallone seeks the truth behind the urban legends of actor Bill Murray randomly showing up to wash dishes at house parties, tend bar at the local pub, or read poetry at a construction site.  This movie was such a joy to watch and only cemented my affection and admiration for its subject.

#9 A Star is Born
If it were just the first half of this movie, A Star is Born would probably be much higher on this list.  I loved how the two lead characters came together and developed their relationship, leading up to the crescendo that is the “Shallow” performance, perhaps the best five-to-ten minute sequence put on screen all year.  The movie struggles in its second half, however, with some lackluster musical numbers and a plot that suffers from familiarity as this story has already been seen on screen three times.  But the first half, the music, and the performances of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga were still enough to make it one of my favorite movies of the year.

#8 Ready Player One
Every once in a while, a piece of art or entertainment comes along that feels like it was specifically designed for my personal enjoyment.  The book Ready Player One certainly fit that description and I was absolutely thrilled to find that the movie had the same impact on me.  I always enjoy when my favorite things in pop culture are referenced in movies or television and this movie is essentially porn for that kind of enjoyment.  When the characters used the Zemeckis Cube, for example, and we got a brief sampling of the Back to the Future score, I about lost my mind.  And don’t even get me started about the cameo by Adam West’s Batmobile.  The movie also has some unique, exciting set pieces—that crazy race, the Shining sequence—and a good, don’t-forget-to-unplug message that works, even if it does feel a little tacked on at the end.  And who better to direct a film like this than Steven Spielberg, which is essentially a reference in and of itself?

#7 I, Tonya
This is officially a 2017 release, but it did not hit Seattle-area theaters until January 2018 and so I have been saving a spot on this list for it for almost a full year now.  This is a unique biopic about former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding, documenting her life and career leading up to what the characters in the film refer to as “the incident.”  The incident, of course, was the assault on Harding’s competitor Nancy Kerrigan one day before the skating championships in 1994.  The movie takes a very Scorsese-like approach to the story, playing around with the narrative in a sort of faux-documentary style.  Margot Robbie and Allison Janney were both Oscar-nominated for their performances as Tonya and her mother, respectively, with the latter taking home the prize for supporting actress.  The movie is an entertaining romp and a fascinating examination of its central character.

#6 Game Night
It takes a lot for a broad comedy to bring me back.  Usually, I watch the film once, laugh at the jokes, and then move on.  A large part of the fun of the jokes for me is the surprise in their delivery and so when the surprise is gone, it just doesn’t have the same impact.  Not so with Game Night.  I have already watched this movie 3+ times (including twice in one week) and I laugh just as hard at the gags every single time.  Whether it be Max and Annie’s attempt to remove a bullet that isn’t there, Annie’s instant joy followed immediately by remorse after a character’s sudden death, or Kevin’s fascination with the surprising strength of glass tables, I am bent over laughing every time.  I give most of the credit to the performers, most notably Rachel McAdams, who sells every single one of this movie’s endless comedic delights.

#5 Mission: Impossible – Fallout
This is the best action movie I have seen in years and when it comes to epic stunt work, Fallout is perhaps second to none. The movie bounces from one incredible set piece to another.  I have seen it multiple times now and still cannot pinpoint which action scene is my favorite.  Is it the brutal bathroom brawl? The thrilling motorcycle and car chase scenes through Paris? The rooftop chase in London? The climactic helicopter chase?  It’s too tough to pick just one and I haven’t even mentioned the HALO jump sequence!  Fortunately, I don’t have to pick just one because this movie incredibly manages to include it all in one terrific package.

#4 Widows
Of all the movies that underperformed in theaters this year, Widows is the one that I am most disappointed about; mostly, because I want Hollywood to be encouraged to keep making movies like it.  Perhaps the best movie of its kind since Michael Mann’s Heat was released over 20 years ago, Widows follows four women who must pull off a major heist in order to pay off the debt left behind by their late husbands’ criminal activities.  It is a genre movie given a little extra flair by its auteur director Steve McQueen, five years after his 12 Years a Slave took home the Oscar for best picture.  From the thrilling opening chase scene to the shocking twists of the final heist, Widows had me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.

#3 The Old Man & the Gun
There are movie stars and then there are MOVIE STARS.  Robert Redford is the latter.  And The Old Man & the Gun is a star vehicle built for a movie star, a perfect way for the actor to end his career (although after announcing it would be his final film, he did reopen the door a crack).  Redford stars as aging bank robber Forrest Tucker, a career criminal who has escaped from prison more than fifteen times.  Focusing on the end of his bank-robbing career with the “Over-the-Hill Gang,” the movie is a breezy, fun flick in which Redford is as charming as ever.  As is Sissy Spacek, who plays the love interest he might be willing to finally give it all up for.  It is an incredible story—made all the more incredible by the fact that it is true.

#2 Paddington 2 
I was a latecomer to the Paddington franchise, not even watching the 2014 original until just before watching this sequel, but you can bet that I will be standing in line on day one whenever the next one comes out.  What a truly delightful film.  This is one of those perfectly constructed films in which every detail that is introduced along the way comes into play during the movie’s exciting final act.  It is also one of the most visually unique movies released in years.  But most of all, it is just an absolute joy to watch.  And Hugh Grant is absolutely fantastic as the most comically devious villain I have seen in a long time.  Make sure you stick around through the credits for his musical number.

#1 If Beale Street Could Talk
Without a doubt, this is the movie that had the biggest emotional impact on me in 2018.  I never really connected with Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-winning Moonlight, but this follow-up had me hooked from frame one.  It tackles the inherent racism and flaws in our legal system, not much improved since 1974, but it does it so from a lens of love.  I always enjoy stories of love conquering all, even when love is facing a stacked deck.  The film’s incredibly lush visuals echo the love felt not only by its lead characters, but also of Tish’s family, who are willing to do whatever it takes to help their daughter prove her lover’s innocence.  The movie features some incredible performances by Stephan James and newcomer Kiki Layne in the leads, who are given incredible support by the likes of Regina King and Brian Tyree Henry, each of whom completely steal the movie in certain sequences.  If Beale Street Could Talk is my favorite movie of the year.

Honorable Mentions

  • American Animals
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
  • Black Klansman
  • Black Panther
  • First Man
  • A Futile and Stupid Gesture
  • A Quiet Place
  • Searching
  • Upgrade