Somehow, someway, we’ve just about reached the halfway point of 2018, and it’s already been a fascinating year in cinema. There’s been a handful of high-quality films, but no out-and-out surefire Oscars contenders just yet. And while the box office middle class is disappearing, we’ve still been given a few financial titans thus far through the year.
In the midst of all this cinematic chaos, we decided to look at the five best mainstream movies of the year so far. For simplicity’s sake, we’ve restricted the list to only films that received a wide release over the last six months and were generally on moviegoers’ radars. With all due respect to impressive films like Isle of Dogs and The Tale, the average ticket buyer wasn’t even aware you existed.
Shall we jump in?
My love for Paramount Pictures’ Annihilation is well documented, and I championed Netflix’s move to secure the film’s international rights as a massive leap in the right direction for the streamer’s cinematic reputation. It’s perfectly understandable if you left the barely comprehensible Annihilation—which is densely packed with inexplicable happenings and wrapped up without a Hollywood explanation—in a haze of disappointed confusion. You’d be wrong and I’d silently judge you for it, but I’d understand.
What’s great about Annihilation is that it packs so much emotional and psychological baggage into its mind-bending narrative that you never lose sight of its core, even if everything else becomes blurry and indistinguishable. It’s the type of story that stays with you and forces you to mull it over from every which angle for hours after your first viewing. Credit goes to Natalie Portman (with nods to the great supporting cast of Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Oscar Isaac) for holding together what could have otherwise devolved into gobbledygook.
Annihilation is also such an enjoyable cinematic treat because it provides audiences the opportunity to watch a burgeoning auteur find his way in writer/director Alex Garland (Ex Machina). With just two features under his belt, the 48-year-old filmmaker has already carved out room on the exclusive Must Watch list.
Avengers: Infinity War
What can be said about the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s decade-in-the-making culmination that hasn’t already been said? We could discuss all the open-ended theories and predictions for 2019’s Avengers 4, which will bring the current iteration of the MCU to a close. We could focus on Infinity War‘s eye-popping box office totals with $1.96 billion worldwide and counting.
Or, we could just talk about how much damn fun this movie was overall.
No film is perfect, and Infinity War is not without its flaws, but Marvel’s oft-mocked boast that it was the most ambitious crossover event in history isn’t far off the mark. Never before have we seen an undertaking of this magnitude on the big screen, with characters and storylines from 18 different films tied together in one overarching and definitive narrative. The fact that the final product wasn’t a bloated mess overflowing with conflicting tones and continuities is a massive victory in and of itself.
Was it not viscerally thrilling to see The Hulk fight Thanos one-on-one? Was it not dazzlingly entertaining to sift through scene-after-scene of A-list movie stars trading quips? Did we all not receive a gut-punch in the feels when Tom Holland’s Spider-Man began to disappear, despite knowing that he has another solo movie arriving next year?
Infinity War is an exercise in pure cinematic spectacle stationed at the intersection of ambition and popcorn blockbuster entertainment.
One thing is for sure: you can’t knock Marvel’s hustle.
Black Panther proved to be a cultural touchstone as the first modern (hat tip to Wesley Snipes’ Blade) superhero blockbuster centered around a black main character (not to mention it’s nearly all-black cast and black director). With each box office milestone it toppled, you could feel as Hollywood was finally on the precipice of actual change in terms of diversity.
It helps that the movie is a kick-ass cultural action flick that deals with isolationism and global politics as well. Director Ryan Coogler, 32, cemented his wunderkind status with Black Panther, crafting arguably Marvel’s most stacked storyline top-to-bottom.
Chadwick Boseman’s journey as benevolently badass King T’Challa is compelling and weightier than other MCU heroes; Letitia Wright’s Shuri and Danai Gurira’s Okoye are standout supporting characters; and most importantly, Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger may very well be the best MCU villain to date.
We both relate to Killmonger’s inner turmoil and understand how the circumstances of life calcified him to a point of violent revolution. His struggles are directly connected to the movie’s theme of cultural responsibility and that idea, along with the psychology of his character, is perfectly dramatized on the big screen.
It all comes together for one helluva fun watch.
Director Greg Berlanti is one of the most prolific television producers we’ve ever seen with a record 14 series (!) on the air. But even with his impressively packed schedule, he still found time to tell this honest, self-aware, touching and hilarious coming out story.
Main character Simon Spier (Nick Robinson) keeps a huge secret from his family, his friends and all of his classmates: he’s gay. When that secret is threatened, Simon must face everyone and come to terms with his identity.
If Moonlight and Call Me by Your Name are the great but little-seen Oscar contenders in the LGBTQ arena, Love, Simon is the mainstream studio offering. At north of $57 million worldwide off a $17 million budget, Love, Simon earned Fox a nice little profit while delivering one of the most enjoyable romantic comedies of the year.
Watch it, alternate between inescapable laughter and involuntary tears, and pass it on.
A Quiet Place
You can safely consider me one of A Quiet Place‘s early skeptics. I’m not a fan of the horror genre by nature (despite its consistent bankability), and I thought the movie’s gimmick was just that. But actually witnessing the final product is an entirely fresh theater-going experience.
A Quiet Place effectively weaponizes sound in a way no film I can remember has ever done. From Millicent Simmonds’ deaf character to the audibly off-putting perspective of the film’s monsters, director and star John Krasinscki amps up the originality—not only in terms of story but also with its unique delivery. Audiences who thought The Revenant was a near wordless endeavor are in for a shock.
In a sea of formulaic franchises and vanilla mainstream offerings, A Quiet Place is something different than any of its contemporaries. It’s worth seeing for the specialized filmmaking alone, not to mention the exhilarating and suspenseful energy it manages to maintain throughout its run time.