In no particular order, here are my favorite movies, shows, and performances from the last year…
Black Panther: The soundtrack. The villain. The villain’s complicated but understandable worldview. The women. The vibrant world of Wakanda. This is what a solid, live-action superhero movie looks like.
The Favourite: You’ll never hear the words “Rub my legs” the same again. I love a good historical drama, but I especially love a historical drama through the eyes of director Yorgos Lanthimos who turns history into a dark comedy, chock-full of the crass reality of early eighteenth-century life. Darkly lit settings, gross diseases, duck races, and a moment of strange break dancing are just a few of the reasons that make The Favourite a unique film. Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult, and Joe Alwyn make this grim and witty tale about class and power politics even better, and then it leaves you pondering just how far you’d go for (what you think is) power.
Game Night: An unexpected, R-rated delight, full of fun performances from the whole cast. But perhaps Billy Magnussen and Jesse Plemons take the cake for the biggest laughs. Plus, love that Freaks and Geeks alum John Francis Daley co-directed.
Love, Simon: It’s hard to think that before 2018 we hadn’t had a gay lead in a studio teen film. Luckily, Love, Simon changed that with a charming story that gives us realistic young people to root for, even if they’re making mistakes along the way to adulthood. Props to Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel for being the couple and parenting role models that dreams are made of.
Paddington 2: The bear with the most returns in an even stronger sequel to a very strong debut in 2015. Though the plot surprisingly places Paddington in prison (he didn’t do it!), Paddington 2 is cute as hell. Ben Wishaw continues his voiceover work to make Paddington the most earnest and forthright character we’ve seen in recent years and Hugh Grant shines as a multi-talented villain.
Solo: A Star Wars Story: Although time has proved that Solo didn’t really make much of an impact in the cultural zeitgeist this year (as say, Black Panther has), I found this to be an entertaining romp. It’s also a really beautiful looking film. Alden Ehrenreich did the impossible—he stepped into the shoes of Harrison Ford and did a pretty darn good job at it too.
Sorry to Bother You: Sorry to Bother You is a weird, timely, and Black Mirror-esque allegory about race, labor, power, and the media. And for that, it’s unlike anything else this year. It also shows how great a villainous sociopath Armie Hammer can play, undoing the crush you may have developed while watching last year’s Call Me By Your Name.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: Mind-blowing animation. Ace voice acting. Deeply funny and earnest. Spider-Verse gives us thought-out characters and beautiful set pieces, and I came out of the viewing loving teen lead Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore, and Jake Johnson’s Peter Parker. Worth seeing in theaters if you have the chance.
Three Identical Strangers: A different type of documentary, Three Identical Strangers is full of quasi-reenactments and confessionals that make for really interesting storytelling, not to mention the most energetic and fun beginning to a story I’ve seen in awhile. The title gives away part of the story, but there is so much more under the surface that will leave you shocked, heartbroken, and angry.
To All the Boys I Loved Before: Lara Jean is basically a new teen movie and Rom-Com icon thanks to this surprise Netflix film. Lana Condor is a standout as Lara Jean and gives her that relatable humanity that so many young girls (and grown women) crave to see in pop culture. Not to mention, Noah Centineo, also known as Mark Ruffalo’s Looper, is the teen crush that young girls (and grown women) also crave to see. The story is sweet, but perhaps the sweetest moment is Lara Jean talking to her dad, played wonderfully by John Corbett, talking about Lara Jean’s late mom set to Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” Cue the crying.
Favorite TV Shows
American Vandal: Season one of American Vandal was so unexpectedly good that it seemed a second season was going to just be a re-hash of the same sort of thing. Wrong! Instead of focusing on “Who drew the dicks?” in the first season, we go to the main mystery of “Who is the Turd Burglar?” in season two. It might sound like frat-bro humor, but I assure you the whodunit of the Turd Burglar is so much more. The show also creatively incorporates a few past characters of season one and brings them into the excrement-chasing fray of a new school in the Seattle area. The only downside of season two was later learning that Netflix cancelled the series and we’ll never know what crime involving a body part or bodily function season three could have brought us.
The Americans: Farewell to the Jennings family. The final season of The Americans came back in full force after a somewhat lackluster fifth season (although still great by comparison to many TV dramas), and ended on a high note. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys proved again why they are so deserving of their recent Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, while other cast members like Noah Emmerich deserve more love. But all said and done, the series gave fans a satisfying ending that both punished and relieved our leading family. And, on point as ever with their music selections, the show used U2’s “With or Without You” perfectly—even though it’s being used quite literally in one of the season finale’s final scenes, its presence only elevated it to make it one of the best television sequences, perhaps ever.
Atlanta: Two words: Teddy Perkins. Perhaps the most talked about episode of television this year. Beyond that, the second season of Atlanta brought us many great moments, like the mythical “Florida Man” in the season opener, the mythical Drake in a great Van-focused episode, and the hilarious Bibby the barber in the “Barbershop” episode, in what was my personal favorite episode of the season.
Glow: I just think this show is so much fun. It’s like the adult version of watching camp movies as a kid, but with the addition of glorious 80s hair, cocaine, Marc Maron, and spandex. This season, Ruth and Debbie still shine, Bash deservedly gets more airtime (and playing to my heart, makes reference to The Muppets Take Manhattan), and we get a real “GLOW” episode within an episode, which includes a beautiful studio-film era dance set-piece featuring two of GLOW’s lesser-seen ladies.
The Haunting of Hill House: For a show with a lot of creepiness and scares, it sure did make me cry a lot. I especially loved seeing Carla Gugino and Henry Thomas on screen in emotionally developed characters. And a job well done on casting two generations of actors for the central kids that felt fluid and believable.
Homecoming: Not only does Homecoming break the norms of a “drama” by giving us half-hour episodes, making for a breezy 5-hour binge, it also breaks many formatting molds. Without giving too much away about this story involving America’s military complex, pharmaceuticals, government investigations, and ordinary people, there are some really interesting cinematic choices at play here from director Sam Esmail that reflect tone, time, and mood, plus grade-A performances from Stephan James, Julia Roberts, Bobby Cannavale, and Shea Wigham.
Killing Eve: Beyond the excitement of watching charismatic Sandra Oh in an unexpected show, not to mention as an MI5 agent in a British show, Killing Eve introduced us to Jodie Comer as the truly horrifying yet oh-so-stylish serial killer, Villanelle. With other stellar performances that gave this dark show lots of dark humor, we have the great Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the helm of this series as creator and writer to thank. It’s all a recipe for a devilishly delicious 8 hours of primo television as female lead hunts the other female lead, and vice-versa.
Queer Eye: After 2017, we desperately needed something goodhearted. Well, we got it in early February, and then again in June, with the rebooted version of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The later batch of episodes feels a bit more contrived and schmaltzy than the first, but you can’t deny the chemistry and earnestness of this fresh-faced Fab Five and the diverse group of men they work with.
Sharp Objects: For some, this was too much of a slow burn. For me, it was an intoxicating tale with powerful and sinister performances, complemented by my experience listening to Vanity Fair’s “Still Watching” podcast, which explored all the symbolic layers that one could find, say, in a creepy dollhouse. Extra points for rewarding viewers who watch the credits.
Succession: I discounted this series from the initial trailers—I was not interested in watching a rich, media-mogul and his family be rich assholes thanks to our very own rich, media-adjacent family in the White House. Of course, there’s something much more fun about watching a fictional family instead. The devious backstabbing, the ridiculous rich-people traditions, and the ultra dysfunctional family at the center of this dramedy are extremely entertaining, as are the opening credits and score, which craft the right tone. The icing on the cake? My two favorite performances of the year: the very strange character of soon-to-be-member of the family Tom, played by Matthew Macfadyen, and his relationship with cousin Greg, played by Nicholas Braun.
Survivor: David vs. Goliath: It’s hard to believe that we’ve had 37 seasons of Survivor, but here we are. That many seasons later, however, the show has managed to keep twists coming and find new castaways that viewers love and want to see win a million dollars. It’s the characters that developed this season, plus fun editing that we’ve never seen before, that made this a fun season with all first-time players.
Wild Wild Country: Two words that entered the 2018 zeitgeist? Tough titties. This Netflix documentary, which focuses on a subject I knew nothing about, truly is a wild ride. There is no clear side to root for, but it will provoke you to think about what it means to find meaning in something bigger than yourself, as well as what it means to have a way of life you’ve known for decades be turned upside down.
The cast of The Haunting of Hill House
Jennifer Garner in Love, Simon
The cast of Homecoming
The cast of Sharp Objects
Charlize Theron in Tully
Ben Wishaw in Paddington 2 and Mary Poppins Returns
Hugh Grant in Paddington 2
Hayley Atwell in Howards End
Matthew Macfadyen in Howards End and Succession
The cast of Succession
Travis Tope in American Vandal
Jodie Comer in Killing Eve
Sandra Oh in Killing Eve
Lily James in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Jesse Plemons in Game Night
Billy Magnussen in Game Night
Lana Condor in To All the Boys I Loved Before
Noah Centineo in To All the Boys I Loved Before
Alden Ehrenreich in Solo: A Star Wars Story
Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Solo: A Star Wars Story
Thomas Haden Church in Divorce
Molly Shannon in Divorce
The cast of Sorry to Bother You
The voice cast of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse