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Beatrix Potter died on December 22, 1943, at the age of 77.
On Wednesday night, my friend Tim Grierson and I, for the 28th consecutive year, revealed our Top 10 Movies of the year to each other. (Or “Dorkfest,” as A.J. Daulerio dubbed it years ago, a name that inevitably stuck.) I’ve written about the history of Grierson & Leitch before, but our annual tradition, begun in 1991 with impassioned arguments about The Doors, has gone from something we did while driving my Ford Escort through country roads all night to the most expensive long-distance phone call of the year in college to the one way to make sure Grierson and I never lost touch during the fog of our mid-twenties to, now, an actual podcast that hundreds of thousands of people download and seem actually excited to listen to. My whole career is founded on only working on things I have a legitimate passion for, but there might be nothing I truly enjoy more than getting to sit down and talk with Grierson about movies once a week. I’m very lucky.
The only downside to our Top 10s now is that, well, we don’t have anywhere to publish them. They’ve run on The New Republic and Deadspin and The Black Table and even the Daily Illini, but now, with our focus on the podcast, there’s no specific, G&L-centric home for our end-of-year lists. (We review movies for Paste and write regularly for Vulture, but we’re just a couple of the many critics at both places.) So, I’m afraid, then, that my top 10 list must go here, for you. Thus: Here are my top 10 movies of 2018. It’d recommend listening to the podcast first, but then again, it shouldn’t take you two-plus hours to read this list.
10. BlackKklansman, directed by Spike Lee
Lee is always going to have home-field advantage for me — he’s one of the filmmakers who made me fall in love with movies in the first place, and my interview with him back in 2012 is one of my favorite pieces I’ve worked on — but this movie in particular is urgent and powerful and the culmination of themes he’s been working on for years, and, oh yeah also funny and relentlessly entertaining. He’s got a legit chance to win a screenplay Oscar this year, and I might do a backflip in my living room if that happens.
9. Eighth Grade, directed by Bo Burnham
Funny, awkward, wise and deeply empathetic, Eighth Grade surprised me in every possible way. You want to protect every person in this movie, yet the movie never talks down to its audience or any of its characters. And seeing Josh Hamilton go from Gen X college hypereducated wry wisenheimer to dorky, trying-his-best-but-still-wrong-about-everything Dad hit home in a way that was personally quite rattling.
8. Cold War, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
As I told Grierson on the podcast, I am a sucker for two things in movies: Movies that jump forward years in time without warning, and doomed loved stories. Cold War does both of these extravagantly, but it’s also prickly and coarse and at times absolutely beautiful. And it has some incredible musical numbers as well. That’s a lot to pack into 89 minutes: This’ll be on Amazon Prime soon, and I bet it knocks you out if you give it a chance.
7. Burning, directed by Lee Chang-Dong
A pseudo-love triangle involving three mysterious, almost unknowable young people who are battling with the same insane current world the rest of us are. If you were a Walking Dead fan, you should know that Steven Yeun is amazing in this.
6. Private Life, directed by Tamara Jenkins
Smart and literate, this story of a well-to-do-but-still-messy couple in their mid-40s in Brooklyn trying to have a baby is uncomfortably truthful and a little scary in how dead-on it is at times. Paul Giamatti is great, but in a familiar way: it’s Kathryn Hahn who will runs away with the movie. It’s on Netflix now: If you’re the average age and demographic of this newsletter’s readers, I suspect it will be right up your alley.
5. The Rider, directed by Chloe Zhao
A remarkable movie that’s like a magic trick, in that it uses non-professional actors, playing essentially themselves, and is still somehow a powerful, tragic, uplifting story about family, pride, survival and hope in an area of the United States we often willfully ignore. Also, the best horse movie in a year that actually had quite a few of them.
4. First Man, directed by Damien Chazelle
I am actively angry at America for rejecting this movie. I am drawn to movies about work, and process, and how people can be driven to do great things simply because they are running from something else. And I am also drawn to movies with the ambition to try to recreate the moon landing that not only pull it off, but tear you apart while they’re doing it. First Man is a great American movie, and I don’t know what’s wrong with you people for not realizing it.
3. Isle of Dogs, directed by Wes Anderson
I am open to and appreciative of the arguments some have made about cultural appropriation here, and I’m fully aware that there’s an inherent limitation I have in being able to wholly understand or sign on to them. I do not think, right or wrong (and I suspect they’re mostly right), they take away from what I consider Anderson’s best movie, a dark, often despairing look at injustice and prejudice and how it feels like the world is falling apart. His movies have gotten better as they’ve become less about his little private playhouses: This movie is fully engaged with the world as it is right now, and, thus, righteously furious. But I’m still chewing on all of this.
2. Hereditary, directed by Ari Aster
If I may, for the millionth time, paraphrase a Tweet someone sent me about this movie: For the first 90 minutes of Hereditary, you’re like, “hey, this movie is really creepy, it’s totally getting under my skin, I’m deeply unnerved, this is freaking me out.” And then the last half hour, that feeling becomes “HOLY SHIT SOMEBODY GET ME THE FUCK OUT OF THIS THEATER HOLY SHIT HOLY SHIT.” This is honestly one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen.
1. Roma, directed by Alfonso Cuaron
It’s better on the big screen, but it’ll destroy you wherever you watch it. You can see it on Netflix right now. It’s a full-blown masterpiece, I think.
If you’re curious, here are movies 11-30:
12. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
14. The Favourite
15. The Old Man and the Gun
16. Black Panther
17. Lean On Pete
18. If Beale Street Could Talk
19. First Reformed
20. You Were Never Really Here
21. The Land of Steady Habits
22. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
23. A Star Is Born
24. Mission: Impossible — Fallout
26. Support the Girls
27. Can You Ever Forgive Me?
29. A Quiet Place
30. Paddington 2
And if you’re looking for an inferior list, here’s Grierson’s:
- You Were Never Really Here
- Cold War
- Life and Nothing More
- Mission: Impossible — Fallout
- Let the Sunshine In
Thank you for indulging me my top 10. See all these movies. That’s what the week between Christmas and New Years is for, after all.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)
1. We Will Miss Hating Tom Brady When He’s Gone, New York. A classic “you can tell who read the headline and who read the piece itself” piece.
2. Review: “Vice,” Paste Magazine. Sorry, it’s bad.
3. So Where Is Manny Machado Going? MLB.com. Still feels like the Yankees to me.
4. Illinois Basketball Power Rankings, Braggin’ Rights Edition, Smile Politely. Per Leitch family tradition, we’ll all be around the TV tonight, watching this and screaming.
5. The Best Cuban-Born Ballplayers of All-Time, MLB.com. Always fun to share Jose Canseco stories.
6. Debate Club: The Worst Genre Movies of 2018, SYFY Wire. Egads is Mute ever terrible.
THE WILL LEITCH SHOW
We’re on hiatus until February! Get caught up with the ones you missed on Amazon or on SI TV.
Grierson & Leitch, three shows this week, including the aforementioned Dorkfest. Also, Vice, If Beale Street Could Talk, The Mule and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, no show this week, previewing Sugar Bowl next week.
Seeing Red, no show this week. Also, I am not entirely certain about the Andrew Miller signing, but I will still take it.
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
They keep coming in. I respond to every one. I desperately want to talk to you. Be a part by sending me letters, about whatever you’d like, at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“Strangest Thing,” The War On Drugs. This what people keep telling me Dawes and Dr. Dog are, but aren’t.
Have a great weekend, and a good Christmas all. May you be with the ones you want this holiday season. And may you both nog, and sleep, righteously.