The end of the year traditionally brings a wealth of best-of candidates, as major studios and studio-affiliated arthouse labels unveil their most austere and decorously appointed films for awards consideration. Yet, a few stray winners aside, we in The A.V. Club film staff found ourselves looking further back in the year for list-makers, including a handful of uncommonly ambitious summer blockbusters, several festival holdovers, and the steady supply of indie and foreign films that slipped in and out of theaters, often woefully unnoticed. Fortunately, 2010 was strong enough in the front end to make up for the back, and we wound up finding plenty of films to rally behind, with such a diverse range of styles, budgets, and themes that it’s impossible to draw a thread to connect them all.
Most movies are about relationships—between law and order, between desire and duty, between the past and the present. But in 2013, many of the great and memorable films—the ones that moved or shocked or stuck with us—were about relationships in the most traditional sense of the word: This was the year of Jesse and Céline, of Adèle and Emma, and of Joaquin Phoenix and his computer. There were mysterious romances, like the pig-related courtship of Upstream Color, and platonic love stories, like Frances Ha and Prince Avalanche. For cinephiles, love wasn’t just in the movies, but also in the air: There was so much to adore—so many fine, unconventional films, a large number of them American—that a list of 20 almost doesn’t do the year justice. Regardless, that’s what we’ve assembled below, joining heads to count down the best of what 2013 had to offer.
The A.V. Club has singled out 90 important, terrific, even canonical movies that weren’t nominated—one for every Best Picture lineup going back to the beginning. Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, but you’d have to be legally blind to ignore most of these films, especially given what often made the cut instead.
When people talk about what a terrible year 2016 has been, they could be referring to any number of things, from virus scares to the death of beloved celebrities to whatever the fuck happened on November 8. What they can’t mean is the movies, though. Only those who spent all their money on the biggest Hollywood product could really complain about the cinema of 2016. As usual, there was no grand unifying element linking all of the year’s finest films, but there were some shared themes and motifs: grief, and coping with it; strained family bonds; the responsibility (and burden) of religious faith; and, of course, cars. More than a few of the year’s best films also took time to highlight the details of normal life, tethering their drama, comedy, or delirious fantasy to something mundanely relatable. The 20 films below all have at least one thing in common: They made 2016 a little easier to bear, either by offering an escape from its nightmares or helping make sense of them.
2017 didn’t improve much on 2016. If anything, the horror and dread of last year only seemed to take root and blossom this year, as some of our worst collective fears were realized and the future seemed to grow dimmer with every bad-news bulletin and misjudged tweet. If there was a constant, at least for cinephiles, it lay with the movies. One can quibble with the cumulative quality of 12 months of cinema. But as the world burned, the films still delivered. There were so many good ones in 2017, in fact, that we surely left out some of your favorites, including The Shape Of Water, Blade Runner 2049, The Post, Faces Places, Wonder Woman, The Disaster Artist, Coco, and Mudbound. Hopefully, 2018 will improve on 2017 in almost every regard. But we really couldn’t ask for much better movies.
A hostage situation is among the most traumatic experiences anyone can suffer through: your life in the hands of a stranger, who threatens to snuff it out for their own nefarious purposes or financial gain. But sometimes, Hollywood asks, isn’t abduction... kind of funny? Hey, maybe a kidnapping is just the sort of wild, unexpected detour you needed to really shake things up, help you learn important life lessons, and even fall in love—or so the movies have suggested over the years. The “hostage comedy” has fallen slightly out of favor since its apparent peak in 1994 (when no less than five films from this list were released) and somewhere after 1996's bleakly funny, yet sobering Fargo finally reminded everyone that, don’tcha know, we’re talking about real people here. Still, the sub-genre is making something of a comeback in 2018, what with the Anna Faris-starring remake of Overboard hitting theaters in April, and FX’s Trust adding a dryly kooky flourish to the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III. Here are some of their predecessors that similarly found the hijinks in hijacking.
Historically and annually speaking, January is a bad month for Hollywood movies. It’s a “dump month,” that time of year when the major studios offload the projects in which they have no faith. Sandwiched between the holidays and the Super Bowl, these four weeks are generally treated like a write-off season, as bad comedies, bad action flicks, and bad horror movies are slipped quietly into theaters to fulfill contractual release obligations, under the assumption that they’ll basically be ignored in favor of December’s holdover hits or expanding Oscar hopefuls. There are, of course, exceptions. Every once in a while, a Hollywood studio will drop something genuinely good onto the winter wasteland, either hoping to capitalize on the dearth of new competition or failing to recognize a special movie when they have it. These are the diamonds in the rough, the silver linings in the New Year clouds, the true January gems.
Lots of movies are obviously patterned after fairy tales, everything from Sydney White to The Beautician And The Beast. There are also a multitude of straight-on adaptations, like Disney’s new live-action Beauty And The Beast, which premieres Friday, March 17. But we’ve noticed that there are some films clearly based on fairy tales that never come right out and express that they are: more inspiration than imitation, if you will. So in honor of Beauty And The Beast, here’s our list of subversive fairy-tale movies, where if you dig a little beneath the surface, you’ll find a golden-haired home invader, a pack of dwarves, a wolf-like villain, and even a real, live boy.
Deceptive movie marketing predates home video—exhibit A: Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, a 1968 Spanish werewolf movie with nary a Frankenstein nor his monster in sight—but it’s on DVD cases and on streaming video services that the practice truly came into its own. We’ve all seen DVD box art prominently featuring a minor character played by an actor who went on to become massively famous, a phenomenon that could easily produce its own Inventory. But there’s also the less common, and equally amusing, technique of repackaging an existing film to make it look like another film that’s enjoying a moment around the time of the rerelease.
Conventional wisdom holds that the best movies of any given year tend to arrive sometime between Labor Day and Christmas—those few weeks annually and unofficially designated as “awards season.” But while the major studios and their indie subsidiaries do tend to hold their big prestige titles until at least early autumn, the truly diligent moviegoer knows that every month on the calendar brings quality cinema. (Yes, even January, provided you’re on Liam Neeson’s aging-asskicker wavelength.) Case in point, we’re halfway through 2018, and there are already enough good-to-great movies to stock a respectable year-in-review rundown. In fact, that’s basically what we’ve assembled below: From Black Panther to Zama, these are the best films that have opened in theaters since New Year’s Day. Rather than ranking the highlights (there will be plenty of time for that come December), we’ve divided them into three tiers: the wide releases and studio blockbusters that opened everywhere; the bigger indie films that slowly rolled out into theaters across the country; and the foreign fare and arthouse acquisitions that popped up at only a handful of venues this winter, spring, or early summer. Consider it a halftime guide to everything you need to catch up with, before attentions inevitably drift to this year’s designated Oscar hopefuls and holiday spectacles.
For about as long as there have been movies, there have been special effects. That’s no exaggeration: The medium was only a few years old when people began finding ways to toy with the reality of what the motion-picture camera was capturing, creating tricks from quirks in photographic science. A century later, the technology has drastically evolved, but the function remains the same: to make the audience believe the unbelievable. Not that it’s all about fooling us. Yes, some of the best effects blur the line between reality and fantasy. Others simply show us something so cool—so wild or imaginative or beautiful—that we accept the new reality they create, even when we know it’s all make believe. So what makes a special effect special? Maybe it comes down to the effect.
Summer, of course, is the unofficial special effects season, and to commemorate the winding down of Hollywood’s annual parade of CGI-heavy blockbusters, The A.V. Club has picked the highlights from a whole history of cinematic illusion, from the Méliès “trick films” of the early 20th century to the superhero phenomena of today. Note that this is not a list of the most advanced effects work, because as anyone who’s sat through an X-Men movie can attest, even the most state-of-the-art spectacles can look shockingly lousy. Furthermore, not all once-remarkable effects achievements have retained their luster, which is why some of the biggest box office hits of all time are absent from our rundown. (Sorry Titanic stans.) Consider this, instead, a chronological cataloguing of the movies that still dazzle and amaze and disgust us; whether achieved through purely physical/organic means, through the digital magic available at a mouse click, or through something as simple as a cut, the effects within them hold a monopoly on our imaginations.
Yesterday’s history. Tomorrow’s the future. Tonight’s the party.” Can’t Hardly Wait premiered in theaters 20 years ago with that tagline, although it could be applied to a number of similar movies about kids having one, momentous day that sets the course for the rest of their lives. In that 1998 film, those transformative experiences—all those hookups and breakups, the victories for noble losers and the comeuppances for unrepentant assholes—play out against the backdrop of one wild house party, a common trope for the 24-hour coming-of-age-movie. But whatever the individual setting, characters, or circumstances, the messages of these films is clear: When you’re young and not yet yoked to the responsibility and predictability of adulthood—and you still have the energy to go out—a single day can change everything. Here are 18 of them.
Matt Damon has a lot of friends. From his auspicious beginnings charming ’90s Hollywood to his A-list blockbuster present, the Oscar-winning actor has been racking up enough cinematic mates to field both sides of a World Cup rugby match. While the Bourne series frequently sees him striking out on his own, more often than not, if Damon’s up on screen, he’s hanging with his guys (and the occasional lady, too). And he’s got a lot of them. There’s a trio of Boston bros, a monster-battling soldier, and an ex-con dealing from the bottom of the deck. There’s a band of brothers, a one-eyed outlaw, and a baker’s dozen of thieves. There are friends with money, friends with guns, and friends with such enviable lives that he tries to take them as his own. He’s got fellow men in uniform, a whole colony’s worth of very, very little people, and, yes, even the world leader who would end apartheid. In celebration of our favorite Harvard dropout’s 48th birthday, we give you 11 movies in which Matt Damon kicks it with some old comrades or finds a few new familiars. Turns out the friends Matt Damon made along the way were... the friends Matt Damon made along the way.
Though it’s always a group effort (misery loves company), The A.V. Club’s list of the year’s worst movies is almost never a true vote of consensus disapproval. Because while we all tend to see the same good movies, we usually watch different bad ones, catching the lousiest dreck on unlucky assignment and learning from (and avoiding) each other’s viewing mistakes. Things were different this year, though. The worst movie of 2018 was more than just a big bomb. It became, in its immensely quotable badness and its defensive anti-critic ad campaign, a cause célèbre of cinematic offense. Which is why, maybe, all eight of the contributors to the following hall of shame not only saw but also voted for the same movie, resulting in the rare unanimous “winner” of our pettiest annual poll. Every movie listed below was painful, in its own special way. But only our No. 1 choice united everyone in disdain. How very 2018 of it.
In a year defined by division, the one thing we could all agree on was movies. Just kidding! If anything, film discourse grew more contentious and fractured than ever in 2018, which began with a battle for the soul of the world’s most popular franchise and moved on from there to debates about the value of Netflix and seeing movies on the big screen, the politics of a biopic about an American icon, the importance of representation in not just cinema but also criticism, and of course picking a side in the big box-office standoff of the year, Lady Gaga versus Tom Hardy as a sexy, slobbering monster. If consensus ever really existed in the thunderdome of movie opinion, the internet has officially slayed it. Hell, even the critical favorite of the year (see our No. 7 below) has its very vocal detractors.
All of which is say that The A.V. Club’s rundown of the best films of 2018 is destined to tick you off. Hell, we could barely agree on it, which is one reason we’ve posted, as we do every year, the individual ballots of contributors. But if the following list is little more than a snapshot of what this particular group of cinephiles loved over the last 12 months, it’s one that acknowledges a spectrum of successes, from intimate documentaries to visionary spins on film noir to one belatedly completed curiosity from a dead master of the medium. (Netflix, it must be admitted, had quite the year, and is accordingly represented.) Because though we might not have been enthusiastic about all the same movies, there were plenty of movies worthy of enthusiasm. On that, hopefully, we all can agree.
Hollywood is not having a banner year. Even if one ignores the recent string of critically drubbed, commercially neglected sequels, the last six months haven’t offered much in the way of exceptional studio movies—though they’ve certainly delivered a few obscenely profitable ones. The good news is that no one has to depend only on Hollywood for a fix of first-rate cinema. As usual, there was plenty of it be found outside of the multiplex, even for those without, say, a Drafthouse or a Landmark in driving distance. (Got a wifi connection? Your living room can become a miniature art house for the evening.) To mark the midway point of 2019, The A.V. Club has gone back chronologically through the last few months, beginning in January, and singled out our favorites, noting how and where they can be watched. The unranked list below, a kind of catch-up guide to the year in movies so far, includes a sex comedy, a Netflix sports drama, an avant-garde essay from a living legend, a famous concert performed by a dead legend, and a space odyssey starring our future Batman. And yeah, we made a little room for Hollywood, too. How big of Us.
The Blair Witch Project, which turns 20 this week, wasn’t the first thriller to present itself as the raw video recordings of a doomed camera crew. The infamous Cannibal Holocaust got there almost 20 years before it, and nearly a decade before that, The Legend Of Boggy Creek blurred the line between documentary and horror. But Blair Witch was such a phenomenon—and in its ratio of shoestring cost to enormous earnings, so profitable—that it essentially transformed a cost-efficient gimmick into a genre onto itself. In the two decades since, they’ve just kept making these terror-tilted faux-home movies, endlessly subjecting a new gaggle of camera-carrying “regular people” to the aliens, ghosts, and monsters barreling headfirst into their viewfinders.
Of course, not too many of the found-footage flicks from this century are very good. Most of them are, in fact, lousy, the amateur-filmmaker scenario providing convenient cover for uneventful and artless schlock—for movies that look bad and go nowhere on purpose. But while none have come within zooming range of Blair Witch’s unholy, snuff-film power, there are a few worthwhile mock-doc chillers made in its wake. Below, we’ve gone to the tapes, reviewed the footage, and uncovered the best this craze has offered in the two decades since audiences came out in droves to see a trio of nobodies pantomime panic in the woods, blubbering directly into the shaky handheld camera.
By the end of 2019, The A.V. Club will have reviewed over 350 movies released this year. That’s a lot of movies—nearly one for every day on the calendar, in fact. But it’s nowhere near the total number that actually hit theaters or popped up on streaming platforms over the last 11 months. It certainly doesn’t account for the whole library of titles Netflix has fed into its content abyss (and recommendation algorithm) since January. This year, like any other, we ignored some cinema—including some really good cinema, slipping through the cracks in our review schedule, creating blind spots in our coverage. And so, an annual tradition: To atone for our oversights, we’ve looked back over the year in movies and identified the very best ones we neglected, creating an unranked shadow rundown of 2019’s finest. Did you also miss some of these unsung-by-us triumphs? Never fear: We’ve supplied info, where available, on how you can play catch-up with them—to gain a fuller vision of the year in movies than the one our critics on the beat offered week by week in 2019.
Deciding which movies to review and which ones to skip is one of the toughest decisions The A.V. Club makes on a weekly basis. Seriously, it can be quite agonizing. In a perfect world, we’d review a much larger percentage of the sometimes couple dozen new releases that hit theaters or streaming platforms every week. Instead, we have to prioritize, starting with the wide-release studio films, moving down to the major indies, continuing to festival favorites and new work from name directors, until we’ve reached maximum capacity of what we can reasonably cover. It’s a tough, mercenary process, and while it often just means that we end up ignoring some Z-grade curiosity that’s never heard from again, there are plenty of times when we miss the boat on a genuinely good movie—on something, in other words, that we should have reviewed.
And so to right our wrongs and address our blindspots, The A.V. Club finds time every December to single out some of the best movies of the year that slipped through the cracks in our coverage. Every one of the movies listed below opened in theaters or premiered on a viewing platform in 2017. None of them received an official review from the site. And all of them are worth seeing and writing about, better late than never.
Hundreds of movies come to American theaters every year. Sometimes they arrive at a rate of 20 per week, at least in New York, where most films that don’t open widely begin their first runs. And that’s not even taking into account Netflix and other streaming services, which have changed how movies are being distributed without really decreasing the total number of them out there. What this means, practically speaking, is that it’s impossible for The A.V. Club to review every new movie available to audiences in a given year, month, or week. The hard reality is that we can’t cover everything, and plenty of films slip through the cracks—not because they’re bad (although some of them are), but mainly because they’re too small to compete with the more high-profile fare we have to privilege.
These oversights do weigh on the conscience, though. And so to atone for our annual sins of omission, we try to carve out a space every December for some of the best movies we missed along the way—the films that deserve to be seen, even though we didn’t review them during their initial release. Below, we’ve singled out 13 such orphan triumphs and identified, best as we can, how you too can play catch up with them. Don’t sleep on these movies, even if we did.
Maybe it’s the impending return of the Jedi, but we here at The A.V. Club believe in balance. Without dark, there can be no light—you know, that sort of thing, except applied to the varying quality of the new films hitting theaters or streaming platforms over a given 12 months. The good news is that the good movies of 2019 were very good indeed; in a few days, we’ll offer our annual ranking of favorites, which ran deep on the cusp of the new decade. The bad news is that the industry, to apparently tip those karmic scales back into alignment, didn’t skimp on bad movies, either. In fact, that’s the whole focus of the list below: a dire rundown of all that really irked us over the year, from lazy studio comedies to pointless remakes of ’90s hits to woeful star vehicles for the stars of Face/Off. We accept these abominations as the price to pay for the triumphs, taking extra consolation in the opportunity to dunk on them. Of course, not every film cited is universally loathed by our contributors. Some may even have their fans, outvoted but acknowledged. That’s balance, too.
About a month ago, The A.V. Club counted down its favorite movies of the 2010s. Even at 100 selections, the list couldn’t hope to capture the full scope of 10 years of cinema—as plenty were eager to inform us, we excluded tons of notable movies, dammit. Who knows how our decade rundown will age from here, but one thing does seem certain already: It will look woefully light on the great movies of 2019. Whether through a reluctance to call something a masterpiece too quickly or because they just hadn’t yet seen all the pertinent triumphs, our contributors went light on films from the past few months. (Call it the opposite of recency bias.) And those absences will stick out, because just one month later, it’s now fully clear what a powerhouse year it’s been for movies—for space odysseys and class-warfare thrillers, for romances fated and doomed, for the anxieties of aging directors becoming very aware of their age. So don’t just think of the list below, reflecting the individual tastes and consensus favorites of our 13 ballot-filing critics, as a salute to what 2019 had to offer theatergoers and streamers. Also think of it as an asterisk on that 2010s retrospective, celebrating the films we knew were great then and—in the case of our late-breaking #1 of the year—the ones we’ve rallied around since.
It’s a rare thing when a PG-13 horror movie actually stands out for its ability to evoke fear. The rating was invented in response to authentically chilling movies like Poltergeist and Gremlins, which lacked the gore or nudity to earn an R, but still clearly weren’t the all-ages fare suggested by their PG ratings. But over the years, the rating has come to mean “embarrassing compromise,” at least in the world of horror; in a genre that’s particularly vulnerable to formula and low but very specific audience expectations, garnering the compromise rating usually means the filmmakers had to water down their content for a young audience, and the results are often halfhearted, vapid, or muddled. Not so with these eight films.
A few weeks ago, the Academy announced that it would be extending the eligibility window for next year’s Oscars by a few months. The reasoning behind this decision was clear: With so much uncertainty about when theaters can open again, there’s no guarantee that the kind of big prestige projects that normally dominate awards season will even open by year’s end. In other words, the Academy would rather bend their own rules for the first time in 40 years than risk having to watch and nominate films that don’t fit the normal profile of an “Oscar-winning movie.” Even for them, that’s pretty insulting.
Because here’s the thing: Though nothing’s hit theaters since March, though countless releases have been postponed, and though many promising upcoming titles may be pushed back until next spring or even later, 2020 has still been a pretty damn good year for movies. It’s a weird one, for sure—we should definitely be complaining right now about another week of bloated July sequels, not arguing over which Netflix original comes closest to looking like the blockbuster of the summer. But plenty of interesting and worthwhile films have made it to streaming platforms over this ongoing home-viewing season, to say nothing of the ones that opened in theaters before they closed their doors a few months ago. Imagine if the Academy actually did limit itself to these less massively budgeted options. It’d be the most fascinating Oscar race ever!
Below, we’ve singled out, in chronological order of release, the 25 best films of the year so far. All became commercially available in the States—on a streaming platform, through video-on-demand, or via the ancient practice of projecting a movie on a giant screen in an enclosed public space—sometime after the first of the year. You won’t find too many likely Oscar contenders in this group, not with the studios and mini-majors eyeing that suddenly lucrative early-2021 window for their major award contenders. These are the Oscar nominees that should be—a list that includes radical American indies, foreign-language triumphs, Hollywood monster movies, form-bending documentaries, acclaimed anime, a bona fide avant-garde feature, and one stirring sports/recovery drama starring Ben Affleck.