Louisa’s Best Movies of 2018

1. Blindspotting

Owing much to its impassioned artistry and racially charged themes, the indie dark comedy “Blindspotting” comes out swinging. Whatever your expectations are for this film, it exceeds them in every way possible. Its anger is offset with a clearer understanding, and the shrewd balance of organic humor with agonizing intensity left me rattled, shaking, and close to tears.

We’re introduced to Collin (Daveed Diggs), struggling to make it through his last few days of a one year probation after being released from prison. While he’s trying to straighten up and put his life back together, his best friend Miles (Rafael Casal) is hell bent on embracing a more exciting and dangerous lifestyle. The two men have been buddies since childhood, growing up on the same streets of Oakland, California. With the increasing gentrification of the neighborhood, everything they’ve known and loved their entire lives is being wiped away and replaced with outsiders. The men struggle with their own identities in the midst of change that neither of them asked for.

Longtime friends Diggs and Casal co-wrote the film and when paired with first-time feature director Carlos López Estrada, they make a dynamite team. Everything about this project is exciting, from its jolting energy to stylish cinematography. There are Oscar-caliber performances all around, and the spirited screenplay is filled with great humanity and humor. There’s something truly magical going on here because the film is a textbook example of the creative use of art as a social tool.

Heavy themes are definitely at play too, with hot button issues like racism, identity, police brutality, class, and stereotypes presented with a raw and brutal honesty. The film offers a challenging look at the power of race through a blistering critique of white privilege and the turbulent relationship between lifelong residents and culture clashes with the new hipsters taking over “their” city. The realism is unparalleled in a fresh and relevant way, and the film could prove to be a visual 2018 time capsule for viewers in the future. It’s timely, poignant, and uses incendiary humor to forcefully instigate a conversation that many would rather avoid having because there’s no easy answer.

And that’s where the film’s brilliance really shines. If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to experience real life from the point of view of those who are different from you and are struggling to get by, especially if you don’t live your life in the minority, then the mission is fully accomplished here. Things always look different depending on your perspective and by challenging all kinds of stereotypes, the film becomes an even more exceptional (and provocative) piece.

There are uncomfortable moments of discord that manifest in the form of disturbing nightmares or in jarring spurts of brutal violence. Collin and Miles often express their frustrations and fears by launching into spoken-word rap riffs that flow like urban poetry. The passionate creativity reaches new heights here, and nearly everything about the film works on an elevated level without ever feeling gimmicky or forced. It’s a film filled with big ideas, but none are overshadowed by the heart of the story: the intimate friendship and deep level of understanding between the two men.

“Blindspotting” is an emotionally charged work of art that will continue to disturb and challenge me in ways that I’ll never forget. I feel it will prove to be one of the greatest cinematic expressions of racial tension and tumultuous unrest for generations.

2. Leave No Trace

There’s something special about director Debra Granik, a woman who can tell a story like the one in “Leave No Trace” with a certain type of understanding and grace. Her style is perfect for this material, a film that’s reminiscent of “The Florida Project” in that it gives a voice to folks whom society would rather ignore. This film is the textbook definition of intimate storytelling with its complex characters, hypnotic cinematography, and an overwhelming feeling of both despair and hope. This film affected me on a deeply emotional level, and it’s one of the very best of the year.

Former Marine Will (Ben Foster) and his teenage daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), have lived off the grid for years in the forests of Portland, Oregon. Their idyllic life is shattered after they’re discovered and are put into a social services program. After clashing with their new surroundings, Will and Tom sneak out of their new home and embark on a harrowing journey back to their wild homeland.

It’s sad to think situations exactly like this are happening in today’s America, but the film never sensationalizes how society has failed our veterans. The majority of the film’s characters are invisible, unhoused, and living in the woods. To call them isolationists seems unfair: they simply find their own human connections through privacy. Who are we to say what defines a home?

It’s a positive thing if you see this film and think, ‘wow, I’m certainly fortunate to have so many things that I take for granted.’ A warm house, a big screen t.v., a reliable car — these are all possessions that make us comfortable. In this story we are surrounded by characters who have very little, yet they create their own sense of community.

The real anchors here are the two leads. Foster (who elevates every project he’s ever been in) lends an intense yet quiet desperation to a man with serious PTSD. The wisdom and sophistication in McKenzie’s star making performance is nothing short of breathtaking. The two have a natural chemistry and sincere rapport as they work and struggle together as a family, and the conflict that arises after Tom realizes her life doesn’t have to be her father’s feels so raw and authentic that it hurts.

This is a film that will frustrate some casual moviegoers as it is stingy with concrete answers and background on the characters and their motivations. Instead, you’re thrust directly into their world of living off the grid. You never learn the “why” of the story, but carefully placed hints are dropped along the way.

If you’re familiar with Granik’s previous work (“Winter’s Bone,” “Down to the Bone”), you’ll most likely admire her ability to establish a strong sense of place. Every last detail, from the peeling wallpaper of an abandoned trailer to the minutes-long stretches of silence to drops of icy rain, serve a purpose. Michael McDonough ‘s cinematography proficiently captures the harsh and dense Pacific Northwest forest where the pair reside.

The movie is quiet and contemplative in a way that’s so haunting, it sometimes feels as vulnerable as the characters. This is a powerful expression of what it must be like to live on the fringes of the American Dream.

3. Can You Ever Forgive Me?

For those of you who still only know Melissa McCarthy from her “fatty fall down” empty-headed comedy films, please go see “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” so you’ll learn once and for all that she’s a phenomenal dramatic actress. It’s not that she isn’t funny, but McCarthy isn’t often given roles that showcase her serious acting chops. But when she is, she always hits a home run.

To this role McCarthy brings a dejected picture of the human nature of loneliness, with an uncanny ability to create sympathy for the complex, difficult, and disgraced best-selling author, Lee Israel. She also nails a likeable-yet-not sarcasm that comes from her character thinking everyone else is a complete idiot.

The film tells the true story of celebrity biographer Israel (McCarthy), a woman who had her writing heyday during the 1970s and 80s. When the appetite of readers changed from nonfiction to fiction in the early 90s, Lee found herself unable to get published. Facing eviction from her apartment and unable to afford medical care for her sick cat, she turned her art form into deception by penning fake letters she claimed were written by historical figures. Abetted by her loyal friend Jack (Richard E. Grant), the duo sold hundreds of forgeries to dealers in New York City before eventually having to face the music — and the FBI.

It’s a fascinating story that makes for an equally intriguing caper. Director Marielle Heller creates a drama with just the right amount of dark humor that sets a cynical, shrewd tone. The misery and heartbreak (exemplified by a particularly affecting scene in a restaurant) are overshadowed by the warmth and authenticity of Lee and Jack’s friendship. Grant is ever the scene stealer with his boy-toy escapades and self-destructive charm. His performance is balanced by McCarthy’s nuanced sorrow of self-imposed solitude in the soul-crushing city. Both are worthy of awards consideration this year, and I hope they get it.

Screenwriters Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, who adapted the story from Lee’s memoirs, give a touch of caustic wit to the screenplay. It would’ve been too easy to strip all warmth from these characters, both quite the a-holes in their own right, but instead there’s something that draws you closer rather than pushes you away. The same can be said for Heller’s direction. There’s a bonafide personal air of melancholy to her deeply human filmmaking.

Everything about this understated film hit the right notes for me, and it is one of the very best I have seen this year.

4. Avengers: Infinity War

When you sit down and think about it, “Avengers: Infinity War” already has several unfair hurdles to overcome. It’s a highly-anticipated film with a massive budget (rumored to be topping the $300 million range) and even bigger expectations from both the studio and diehard fans alike. By design it’s not made to be divisive, but there will be a built-in contingent of naysayers that will long to hate it.

Marvel fans, I’m here to alleviate your fears. If you take away only one thing from this review, make it this: you will not be disappointed with this movie. This is a prime example of what every successful blockbuster should be: it’s thrilling, surprising, emotionally devastating, eye-popping, and a slam-bang exhilarating ride. What does this movie get right? Just about damn near everything.

Many have been waiting a decade for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to come together in a spectacular fashion, so this review will be purposely vague as to remain spoiler-free.

The film opens where “Thor: Ragnarok” left off and what follows is 150 minutes of pure unabashed fun. As per usual, the fate of the universe is at stake and it’s up to a menagerie of superheroes to join as one to save it (finally they’re working together). Seeing the parade of comic book superstars is electrifying in its own right, but the fact that this massive puzzle has been meticulously assembled in a manner where everything falls into place is an impressive achievement.

Characters cross over from different Marvel branches and mix and mingle with a casual effortlessness, seamlessly entwined while still remaining true to themselves. There is an abundance of characters and loads of intersecting storylines going on all at once, yet the film never feels too bloated. The rapid pacing and unexpected pairings keep things interesting. The individual character traits remain intact, yet they form a cohesive bond when working together. Not one Avenger overstays their welcome. This movie works, and it works on all levels.

The film has Marvel’s recent trademark humor, but here the banter feels organic and unforced. The jokes are actually funny and (unlike other recent outings) not at all distracting. Everything feels natural, from a couple of hilarious macho ‘meet cute’ introductions to the requisite Stan Lee cameo. It’s obvious the actors are having a blast playing off one another and critically, the movie doesn’t forget to have fun.

Another strong element of the film is the real sense of danger that appears in the form of one of the best screen villains in recent memory, Thanos (Josh Brolin). The Avengers face a constant threat from this menacing warmonger who, along with his band of minions, rampage through the universe leaving piles of bodies and destruction in their wake. It’s a dire situation that feels disturbingly real, and no one is safe from harm.

The cast of accomplished actors (including Robert Downey Jr., Tom Hiddleston, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Chadwick Boseman, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Elizabeth Olsen, and Chris Evans, among many others) all bring an effective passion and humanity to their characters with a meaningful rapport. What an absolute pleasure it is to see a big-budget superhero movie come out of Hollywood that shies away from the usual cacophony of visual noise, and instead chooses to focus on real human emotion.

In the interest of preserving the unspoiled discovery for other fans, I won’t confirm or deny that there may or may not be a major death or deaths. My advice is to stay off the internet, avoid Twitter, and watch out for those trolls who relish in ruining this film for others. I will warn you: the story wanders into the darker spectrum of mainstream superhero movies, but I was riding the emotional rollercoaster for over two hours. I didn’t want the movie to end.

The film isn’t without its share of loose ends (there are plenty) and cheap fakeouts (that most modern moviegoers should come to expect by now) and the cliffhanger ending is sure to spark many a late-night fanboy debate. What is certain is that this movie is going to cause rabid mixed reactions which could range from pure anger to uncontrollable sobbing to absolute shock. I have my own theory about what’s going on here, and so will you.

I can count on one hand the number of big-budget action films that have succeeded in completely satisfying me but also left me longing for more. “Avengers: Infinity War” is that very rare breed, a highly-anticipated movie that hasn’t been oversold by its marketing. ‘Go Big or Go Home’ might as well be the film’s tagline, and finally Marvel brings it. This is spectacular entertainment and one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

Be sure to stick around for the stinger after the final credits. You’ll be treated to what is arguably the very best final line ever spoken in a Marvel movie.

5. The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Growing up is hard enough but growing up gay in the early 1990s was agonizingly difficult, a sad truth that’s explored with the utmost sincerity in the lovely, touching, and heartbreaking “The Miseducation of Cameron Post.” Adapted from the novel by Emily M. Danforth, the film tells the story of high school junior Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) who, after being caught in the backseat of a car at the Homecoming dance with her best friend Coley (Quinn Shephard), is sent off to a private evangelical boarding school devoted to “curing” her lesbian tendencies and same sex attraction. Cam is being taught to “pray the gay away” in hopes that she can live a “normal” life and one day “have a family of her own.”

Many of the other teens at the God’s Promise compound are also torn and confused, filled with a self loathing that’s projected onto them by society and the adults in charge. There’s Cam’s perky and perpetually ashamed roommate Erin (Emily Skeggs), the emotionally ruined Mark (Owen Campbell, in a tragically heartbreaking performance), and her two almost instant best friends, the politician’s son Adam (Forrest Goodluck) and Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) (who hides homegrown weed in her prosthetic leg). Each of these characters is fully fleshed out and feels incredibly authentic, right down to every little spoken word and action.

The Nurse Ratched character in charge is Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), a woman who started the camp to reprogram her homosexual brother Rick (John Gallagher Jr.). The duo lead their charges in various exercises of psycho-babble and Christian dogma and strive to pin all instances of same sex attraction on anything and everything from poor parenting, childhood trauma, jealousy, and playing sports. The leaders are never outright cruel and they aren’t even painted in too villainous of a light, they are just trying to do what they think is right through their own brand of brainwashing.

Although the film delivers quite the gut punch from programming teens to hate themselves, it’s also wryly funny and dare I say at times it’s even charming. It’s impossible not to become emotionally attached to these characters and share their struggle as they are forced to live in shame. Those of us who lived through the early 90s remember how it was a different time, especially for queer kids (I was a high schooler in the South at the time and none of my now-out classmates were able to be openly gay, hiding their same sex attraction for decades). Thankfully attitudes have eased up as the years have passed, but this story will likely resonate with those still living in the more backward parts of the country (and in places where conversion therapy is still legal).

The film is slightly reminiscent of “Lady Bird” in its sincere understanding of a young woman struggling to find her footing in the world (and in this case, coming to terms with her sexuality). But instead of a mother and daughter tug of war, Cameron wrestles with societal attitudes that are at odds with every ounce of her being. There’s a wealth of love, pain, loss, and desire, and this genuine story should speak to all ages and orientations, and not just the LGBTQ community.

The performances are stirring and pure (with a career best turn from Moretz); the ending is both sad and uplifting. It’s an impressive feat to find just the right balance in the material, and Desiree Akhavan directs the film with such compassion and care that everything becomes poignant in all the right ways.

The natural, unforced sincerity is the heartbeat of this film, and it touched me on the deepest emotional level. This is a moving coming of age gem that should resonate with those struggling to accept the truth of who they are and perhaps even give them the courage to stand tall and claim their own place in the world.

6. If Beale Street Could Talk

Once in a blue moon a filmmaker comes along that lights a fire of excitement in fans of the medium, and with “If Beale Street Could Talk,” director Barry Jenkins cements his place as one of the most talented auteurs working in the industry today. His extremely personal adaptation of the classic James Baldwin novel is his follow-up to 2016’s Best Picture winner “Moonlight,” and I would be both pleased and not at all surprised if he takes home more awards at the Oscars this year.

The film tells the story of 19-year-old Tish (KiKi Layne), an African-American woman in ’70s Harlem, who is forced to grow up fast. Tish has a child on the way and fiancé Fonny (Stephan James) in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The pair have been friends since childhood, but their dreams of happiness are derailed by a corrupt system. Luckily Tish has a supportive mom and dad (Regina King and Colman Domingo, both excellent here) who help her deal with the pain and tragedy in her life.

Jenkins is the perfect director to tackle Baldwin’s novel. If there ever was a creative match made in Heaven, this is it. His narrative craft is only outshined by the stunning visuals and equally impressive editing. Every shot and framing choice is nearly flawless. The constant intense close-ups embody the idea of young lovers whose worlds revolve around the other, which in turn creates a deeper emotional bond with the audience. The hope, tragedy, and reality of intense devotion becomes beautifully cinematic.

It’s interesting that Jenkins chooses to set the film in the 1970s (the same as the novel) because the story could easily take place in present day. The elements of racial injustice, police corruption, and false imprisonment are an unfortunate truth that many minorities still face today. It’s a sad commentary on the state of the world, but it’s no less thought-provoking. The period setting serves as a warning flag, a somber reminder of just how far society has failed to evolve when it comes to “the other.”

There’s a heated passion that saturates every frame of this film. The cast is astonishingly good across the board. I predict many ensemble acting award wins, and every one will be well-deserved. Jenkins is an actor’s director with a considerable skill to pull commanding performances from his actors. If you thought the group of performers in “Moonlight” was strong, wait until you see this. One of the standout scenes, and probably one of my favorites from any film this year, is an extended bit where Tish tells Foney’s family about the baby. It’s as uncomfortable as it is enlightening, and it’s unforgettable.

The theme of living your best life despite the hand you’re dealt, especially when the two young lovers represent the shattered hopes and dreams of us all, is one that’s as hopeful as it is depressing. Jenkins tackles the heft of the story with a delicate balance that proves he’s not a one-hit wonder. This is powerful, emotional filmmaking at its finest, and “If Beale Street Could Talk” is one of the very best films of the year.

7. You Were Never Really Here

Casting the lead role in a dark revenge thriller like “You Were Never Really Here” is tough because only truly talented and mesmerizing actors have the ability to pull it off. I saw it last year with Robert Pattinson in “Good Time” and now it’s the troubled Joaquin Phoenix stepping into a deeply challenging role. Barely speaking more than a few pages of dialogue throughout the entire film, Phoenix’s reliance on facial expressions, shifting eyes, and hulking yet hunched physical stature is an astounding achievement here. He’s far from subtle but carries the weighty character of Joe by creating a frightening, existential anti-hero that won’t soon be forgotten.

Based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Ames, the film follows a few days in the life of military veteran turned hitman Joe, an emotionally traumatized, quietly savage man who concentrates deep-seated rage into his weapon of choice: a ball-peen hammer nonchalantly purchased at the corner hardware store. When Joe is hired to track down a politician’s missing daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov), he discovers a horrifying sex slavery ring that dabbles in underage girls. Things quickly careen out of control when a high level conspiracy unfolds and Joe finds himself forced to turn his suicidal thoughts into a force for good — relatively speaking.

What follows is a spellbinding exercise in brutality, a dark, meditative, and slow moving tale of redemption and revenge. Joe survived a childhood trauma that’s alluded to in disturbing flashbacks, and he now lives his life in tormented agony with a rage and intense guilt that are mostly left unspoken. The film blurs lines between reality and fantasy, taking viewers into the disturbed mind of a damaged man.

Lynne Ramsay‘s direction is one that’s tailor-made for material like this, full of textured and moody visuals that act like a broken mirror of the brutality that consumes the battered lead character. She films bloody revenge scenes with such an artistic eye that you won’t forget them anytime soon. This film is further proof that cinematographer Thomas Townend  is one of the most underrated working today. Some of the shots, like one particular standout view of an open car door covered in raindrops and reflecting the city’s neon, become an indulgent focus for far too long. They’re beautiful works of art, yes, but it’s unnecessary to keep them on screen for 90 seconds or more. Then again, these are the shots I remember — but not only for their sheer artistry.

The film is slow moving but with purpose. It’s artsy and atmospheric with a desperate sadness. It also features some of Ramsey’s trademark quirks, like one of the most memorable scenes of a singalong between two men as one lay bleeding and dying on the kitchen floor.

This is far from a mainstream film and certainly is not a crowd pleaser but if you’re up for a challenge, it’s one of the more interesting and pessimistically poetic features I’ve seen this year.

8. Crazy Rich Asians

When it comes to standard issue rom-com territory, “Crazy Rich Asians” nears perfection. It’s impossible not to fall victim to the film’s abundant charms. I’d vote this one as 2018’s Most Likely to Become an Instant Classic, especially if you enjoy bubbly, feel good entertainment. This movie has quickly earned a place in my highest echelon of great modern romantic comedies alongside “Love Actually,” “While You Were Sleeping,” “Crazy Stupid Love,” and “Serendipity.”

Based on the novel by Kevin Kwan, the story follows college professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she accompanies her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Nick has kept a pretty substantial secret from his love — he is the eldest son of one of the country’s wealthiest families (and one of its most sought-after eligible bachelors). As native New Yorker Rachel navigates a foreign land, the close-knit community turns on her with a jealous, gossip-fueled rage. Nick’s mother (Michelle Yeoh) disapproves of the relationship, even going so far to tell Rachel that she will never be good enough for her son. The couple become tangled in a battle for true love or familial money, where either choice could have disastrous emotional consequences.

This film is absolutely delightful. It’s a terrific blend of romance, drama, and screwball comedy. It’s fun to long for the lifestyle of the obscenely wealthy, daydreaming about driving rare sports cars or dropping $3 million on a pair of diamond earrings. The movie makes being rich look fun, but also tiring. The characters are all likeable and feel realistic, and their struggles are universal to almost anyone who has ever been in love. The film takes its characters seriously, and it shows. These are far from stereotyped caricatures.

The chemistry between Wu and Golding is nothing short of enchanting, and there are many extremely funny jokes that are worthy of hearty laughter. The strong supporting cast (including Gemma Chan, Chris Pang, and Ken Jeong) effortlessly picks up the slack, including an uproarious turn from Awkwafina as Rachel’s goofy college friend. She proves herself a comedic force to be reckoned with.

I have very few criticisms for this movie because it sets out to create a breezy, lighthearted piece of escapist entertainment and exceeds all expectations. There’s nothing too serious and while far from being a deep thinkpiece, you have to evaluate this film for what it is: a real winner.

9. Paddington 2

“Paddington 2” is a charming, cheery, heartwarming adventure tale of the good-natured bear from Darkest Peru that will please adults (like me) who grew up reading the British book series as well as kids today who are just discovering Michael Bond’s tales of innocent chaos (and marmalade). The film is wildly successful in balancing silly slapstick for the kiddos with some quite funny gags and jokes for the grown ups. This is a rare movie where every single mention serves a purpose and eventually pays off. Pay attention to the little details because they’ll come into play somewhere later in the film, and mostly to witty effect at that.

Another area where “Paddington 2” succeeds is in its casting, featuring boisterous turns from Hugh Grant as villainous actor Phoenix Buchanan (make sure you stay through the closing credits for a wildly enjoyable bit from Grant) and a delightfully amusing Brendan Gleeson as the intimidating, hard as nails prison chef Knuckles McGinty. Sally Hawkins, riding high off a fantastic year (“The Shape of Water“), is so delightful as Mrs. Brown that it’s easy to see how versatile of an actor she truly can be. And then of course there’s Paddington (Ben Whishaw) himself, animated in such a remarkably lifelike, fluid style that you’ll swear he’s an actual bear.

The little bear spreads joy wherever he goes and is beloved by his London neighborhood community, whether it’s from washing the windows on their flats, reminding them to grab their keys, delivering fresh marmalade sandwiches for breakfast, or instigating a romance between the newsstand clerk and a recluse. The plot is simple and straightforward, as Paddington is sent to jail after being accused of a crime he didn’t commit. It sounds pretty serious but of course everything is made right in the end, and the film has an irresistible message of kindness and friendship that’ll warm even the coldest of hearts. Heck, even dear Aunt Lucy makes a cameo!

Take note that there are a couple of genuinely frightening moments where Paddington is in peril that may scare sensitive little ones (including an upsetting close call with drowning), but overall this is a bright and delightful charmer that’s great for the entire family.

10. Never Goin’ Back

Move over Harold and Kumar: Angela and Jessie are in town. In “Never Goin’ Back,” the classic stoner comedy genre is given a lively twist by featuring two teen females as the lead. The result is a refreshing, modern take on a fun best buddy / coming-of-age story.

Angela (Maia Mitchell) and Jessie (Camila Morrone) are high school dropouts who dream of escaping their waitressing jobs at a run-down Texas diner. Jessie’s 17th birthday is only a few days away, and the girls spend their days fantasizing about a luxurious weekend spent at the beach — in Galveston. When Angela secretly spends the last of the rent money on their dream getaway, the pair get into a series of misadventures as they devise schemes to raise the cash they need to keep a roof over their heads.

The easy rapport between the two leads is so natural and unassuming that you’d guess they’ve been lifelong besties. They may be incredibly dumb and immature, but their flawed friendship is filled with a feeling of authenticity and is packed with big-screen chemistry. I loved these two, but I would never want to be them.

First-time feature writer / director Augustine Frizzell has a shrewd understanding of female friendship and brings a lighthearted blend of “American Honey” and “Spring Breakers” to the film. The movie is at times strangely insightful and at others, crude and disgusting. Yes, there are plenty of potty humor jokes that are played for (successful) laughs.

What I really loved about this indie is that its protagonists are two aimless dreamers who likely aren’t facing the brightest future, and it gives a voice to those who are rarely represented in movies. Ultimately no life lessons are learned, but you can’t help but root for these misfits to realize their goal of eating donuts by the ocean.


11. First Reformed

The parallels of the destructive natures of polluters are likened to organized religion, as the poison is nearly one and the same. One may be destroying our planet, but the other could be destroying our souls. Read the full review.

12. Teen Titans Go! To The Movies

This summertime surprise took me from zero expectations to maximum fun in less than 84 minutes. The tone is so all-around good-natured that you can’t help but have a great time at this movie. Read the full review.

13. Den of Thieves

Are there plot points that make zero sense? Yeah, there are. And there are a lot of them. But do the myriad implausibilities ruin the entire project? No way. Just go with it and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good this movie really is. Read the full review.

14. Anna and the Apocalypse

This is a film geek achievement in offbeat originality that delivers a fresh and fun twist on the zombie genre. Read the full review.

15. mid90s

A realistic and raw tale of coming-of-age insecurities with a hearty dose of skate culture nostalgia. Read the full review.

16. The Hate U Give

Here is a strong, far-reaching tale of black female empowerment and dignity, a reminder that love is bigger than hate. Read the full review.

17. Hearts Beat Loud

A beautifully low-key, heartfelt, small scale story of how music aids us in speaking our inner truth. Read the full review.

18. Piercing

Based on Ryu Murakami’s cult novel of the same name, “Piercing” is a shocking, gory, sleazy, wickedly stylized film that seamlessly blends psychological horror with comedy as a bloodthirsty romance blossoms between the closet psychopath and the equally unstable call girl. Read the full review.

19. Lords of Chaos

Films don’t often leave me speechless but after the final credits rolled on “Lords of Chaos,” I was so stunned and shocked that I felt like kicking a baby and running to a back alley to throw up. Read the full review.

20. First Man

The film has a surprising low-budget feel that’s well-suited to Chazelle’s style and doesn’t stray far from his indie film roots. Read the full review.