Pay no attention to anyone who says movies have gotten terrible or that television has replaced cinema as the premiere American artform. TV has gotten better, but movies haven’t lost a step, and if you haven’t seen any good movies in the first six months of 2018 then you weren’t just looking in the wrong places, you weren’t looking at all.

The first half of the year has given us excellent movies of every size, from massive blockbusters to tiny indies. Some have offered an escape from the horrors of our day-to-day reality. Others have explored that horror with empathy and care. Here are my ten favorites so far (with the caveat that I missed A Quiet Place; I’ll catch it before December, I promise):

Mom and Dad
Courtesy of TIFF

10. Mom and Dad
Directed by Brian Taylor

Between HereditaryTully, and Incredibles 2, it’s already been a very good year for stories about the pleasures and miseries of family. And then there’s Mom and Dad, director Brian Taylor’s shocking horror movie about a world where parents everywhere suddenly turn on their children in a murderous frenzy. Satires don’t come much more extreme, or more wickedly funny, thanks to the performances of Selma Blair and an unhinged Nicolas Cage as the title characters, who are good in the scenes where they turn into frothing monsters, and even better in the flashbacks where they reflect their relatable frustrations and disappointments about the way their lives have turned out.

Read ScreenCrush’s full review of Mom and Dad.


9. Hereditary
Directed by Ari Aster

For a grisly, grimly funny, and terrifying double feature, I recommend pairing Mom and Dad with Hereditary, Ari Aster’s directorial debut about the chain reaction of waking nightmares set off by the death of one family’s matriarch. With confident cinematography, and impressive control of pacing and tone, Aster shows how grief and guilt cascade from one generation to the next. The final act is basically a sustained cinematic panic attack, but in hindsight the scariest moment may be the first, where the camera slowly zooms into one of Toni Collette’s character’s intricate model houses, eventually revealing the cast moving about inside. That suggests we are all nothing more than pawns in the cruel games of unseen, all-powerful forces.

Read ScreenCrush’s full review of Hereditary.

Paddington 2
Warner Bros.

8. Paddington 2
Directed by Paul King

My daughter tapped out about 30 minutes into Paddington 2 (she didn’t like the police arresting Paddington for a crime he didn’t commit, so I guess my plan to watch The Fugitive with her next is out). I finished the film without her, and I was glad I did. This is an absolutely delightful story and one of the most convincing CGI protagonists I’ve ever seen. Calling it just a good children’s film undersells it entirely. It’s a good film period, with about as urgent a message as I can imagine in 2018. Also it is very funny when Paddington tries to give the old man a haircut.

The Road Movie

7. The Road Movie
Directed by Dmitrii Kalashnikov

The voyeuristic underpinnings of all movies are on full and fascinating display in The Road Movie, a 70-minute compilation of Russian dashcam footage, treated here as microcosm of all of life’s bizarre twists and turns. From the terrifying (one car drives through a forest fire so bad it seems like a descent into hell) to the hilariously surreal (another gets stuck behind a slow-moving tank at the car wash), The Road Movie is a truly wild ride.

Read ScreenCrush’s full review of The Road Movie.

The Death of Stalin
IFC Films

6. The Death of Stalin
Directed by Armando Iannucci

After the sudden death of Josef Stalin, his allies, lieutenants, and toadies (played by a cast of comedy all-stars including Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, and stealth MVP Michael Palin) rush to fill the vacuum, and then jockey for control of Russia in a bleakly comic parable with only a million parallels to modern life. The main complaint I heard about this film was that it wasn’t nearly as funny as Iannucci’s previous works like In the Loop and Veep. To that I say: Do you find yourself watching the news these days and laughing? The way the film’s humor gives way to abject horror feels pretty on point to me.

Black Panther

5. Black Panther
Directed by Ryan Coogler

I’ve already seen Black Panther three times, and I imagine that total will rise (and possibly double) by the end of 2018. Even in a Hollywood landscape dominated by superheroes, Ryan Coogler’s Marvel movie stands alone, thanks to its amazing visuals and production design, rich themes, and one of the most complex and compelling villains in comic-book movie history (Michael B. Jordan, killing it as Killmonger). This film’s phenomenal success is not hard to understand. Black Panther is insanely entertaining. I’m ready to go back to Wakanda for a fourth time right now.

Read ScreenCrush’s full review of Black Panther.

Amazon Studios
Amazon Studios

4. You Were Never Really Here
Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t make a lot of movies. It’s easy to forget about him when he’s not around. Then he shows up in something and you’re like “Oh right he’s basically the best actor in the world.” In You Were Never Really Here, he transforms himself into a man who’s like a bomb fuse left next to an open flame; it’s not a matter of if he will explode, but when. (He also has one of the most weirdly proportioned bodies I’ve ever seen, both monstrously huge and weirdly soft, as if his immense physical strength is also the source of all of his weakness.) Though the film takes on the superficial contours of a revenge fantasy, director Lynne Ramsay chooses to explore that fantasy’s impulses rather than fulfill them. She couldn’t have chosen a better star as her partner in that endeavor.

Read ScreenCrush’s full review of You Were Never Really Here.


3. First Reformed
Directed by Paul Schrader

The image above of Ethan Hawke as a deeply troubled pastor in First Reformed is incredible as a still frame, but it’s even better in motion, where we can see Hawke process various emotions as his character, Reverend Ernst Toller, plunges deeper into a mental breakdown. Standing on the edge of a body of water evokes the cleansing of a baptism; that the body of water is a polluted superfund site underscores just how badly mankind has ruined God’s kingdom, and how that environmental ruin has pushed Toller to the brink of madness. And Schrader lingers on the shot so long we eventually we notice the mast of the rotting freighter behind him forms the sign of the cross over his shoulder. This is the work of a master filmmaker.

Read ScreenCrush’s full review of First Reformed.

The Rider
Sony Pictures Classics

2. The Rider
Directed by Chloé Zhao

The best elements of documentary and fiction merge in The Rider, the story of a rodeo rider whose budding career is imperiled by a tragic accident. The rider is played, in an astonishingly sensitive performance for an untrained actor, by Brady Jandreau, a real rodeo rider whose career was ended by a brutal blow to the head. Director Chloe Zhao met Jandreau on the set of her previous film, and when she heard his story, she shaped it into a film featuring his real family (his father and sister play themselves) and best friend (Lane Scott, another former rodeo star with an even more debilitating injury). Zhao’s uncommonly sensitive film captures the harsh realities of life in the South Dakota badlands, and the pain of a dream that’s slipping through your fingers.

Paramount Pictures

1. Annihilation
Directed by Alex Garland

Part sci-fi mystery box, part domestic drama, part body horror, part treatise on mankind’s propensity for self-destruction, Alex Garland’s Annihilation is four or five movies in one and all of them are fantastic. This adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s best-selling novel has immediate terror, with a couple hugely effective jump scares and some of the most monstrously innovative creature design of the decade, and the lingering horror of pondering the characters’ decisions and their implications. Like Garland’s Ex MachinaAnnihilation brings humanity to a tipping point on the brink of extinction and leaves the viewer with a gut-wrenching question: At this point, is there even anything left that’s worth saving? The jury is still out, although movies like the ones on this list represent strong evidence for the defense.

Read ScreenCrush’s full review of Annihilation.

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