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The 25 Best Albums of 2018

So many of 2018’s best albums capture the feeling of trying to keep our heads above water.

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The 25 Best Albums of 2018
Photo: Interscope Records

If there’s one thing on which we should all be able to agree, it’s that 2018 was not a great year for humans. The Trump administration continued to enact policies of undisguised animus toward women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community; the cancerous growth of antisemitism came to a head in Pittsburgh with the deadliest attack on Jews in American history; and even the seemingly unstoppable force of the #MeToo movement, one of the few silver linings of an equally grim 2017, met the immovable object of right-wing backlash during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation. So it’s little wonder that so many of 2018’s best albums, while in many ways equally political to those of 2017, often capture the feeling of trying to keep our heads above water: more the quiet resistance of everyday life than the loud but largely ineffectual #Resistance of the early Trump era.

Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer set the tone early in the year, staking an explicit claim for a queer, black woman’s right to a “Crazy, Classic Life,” which found echoes in other unapologetically queer statements on the Internet’s Hive Mind, Troye Sivan’s Bloom, and Christine and the Queens’s Chris. A host of albums by female artists, from Mitski’s Be the Cowboy to Ariana Grande’s Sweetener, elevated women’s subjectivities in a year when—as the Kavanaugh confirmation grimly demonstrated—they continue to be ignored and undervalued.

This was also a year when mental health, particularly in marginalized communities, was at the forefront of popular culture. One of the biggest pop stars of the past decade, Kanye West, had a very public breakdown, which he addressed on two of the year’s best albums—Pusha T’s Daytona and his and Kid Cudi’s Kids See Ghosts—as well as the worst album of his own career, Ye. While West did his best to make himself unsympathetic in this process, the need for radical empathy, particularly for those on the receiving end of white supremacy, came across loud and clear on Blood Orange’s Negro Swan, an album about the strain and depression endemic to living in an environment of existential hostility.

It’s fitting, then, that 2018’s most uplifting albums, like Robyn’s Honey and Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, were about finding happiness and living your best life in the face of adversity both personal and systemic. Zachary Hoskins

The 25 Best Albums of 2018

25. Kacey Musgraves, Golden Hour

The effortless serenity with which Kacey Musgraves presents her fourth album, Golden Hour, mirrors the country artist’s current romantic contentment. The singer-songwriter offers outright love songs to her new husband in the album’s title track and “Slow Burn,” on which she rejoices in settling down into a quieter, more peaceful life. While the album primarily relies on gentle acoustic guitar and Musgraves’s tender vocal, “Oh What a World” unexpectedly pairs Vocoder with pedal steel and Musgraves deviates from country-tinged folk entirely on “High Horse,” which is infused with a breezy disco pulse. What the album lacks in edginess it makes up for with a dizzying sense of sweetness that’s never cloying. Musgraves wields her voice subtly and precisely, never belting it out like so many of her country contemporaries. A refreshing embrace of simplicity and mindfulness in response to a world that keeps moving faster, Golden Hour hinges on the imperative of allowing ourselves the space to feel happiness. Josh Goller


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

24. Car Seat Headrest, Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)

Thanks to its preternaturally complex song structures and close-to-the-bone recounting of Will Toledo’s sexual awakening, Twin Fantasy has built up a rabid cult following since the singer posted it on Bandcamp in 2011 at the age of 19. Three years after signing with Matador Records, Toledo has re-recorded the entire album with the aid of his seven-piece band, in effect rectifying the ramshackle musicianship and GarageBand fidelity of his self-recorded version. As well-realized as the original Twin Fantasy was, and as much as it’s defined by a specific period in its creator’s life, it’s obvious that Toledo sees the project as a fluid work. On “Nervous Young Inhumans,” for example,” he replaces the original version’s pedantic monologue about the word “galvanistic” with a new, cleverer one, a stoned-sounding stream-of-consciousness rant about the nature of evil and shopping at IKEA. Toledo’s evolution as a musician and as a person is even clearer on “Cute Thing,” on which he changes the crucial line “Give me Dan Bejar’s voice/And John Entwistle’s stage presence” to “Give me Frank Ocean’s voice/And James Brown’s stage presence.” Even as he looks back, Toledo is moving forward. Jeremy Winograd


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

23. Nine Inch Nails, Bad Witch

What it lacks in length, the six-song Bad Witch more than makes up for in power and concision. The title and art suggest a return to Trent Reznor’s pitch-black early work. While there’s plenty of shouting and wall-to-wall guitars, the music both plays to and cleverly subverts that expectation. This is NIN’s most dynamic work in years, relying less on Reznor’s sometimes creepily juvenile lyrical obsessions and more on opening up new spaces in the band’s meticulously crafted sonic landscape. It moves from the chugging industrial beats and turned-all-the-way-up sound blasts of “Shit Mirror” and “Ahead of Ourselves” to the jazz-inflected, deliciously named instrumentals “Play the Goddamned Part” and “God Break Down the Door.” In a year that didn’t offer much of what we in the Obama era used to call hope, his steadfast commitment to nihilism is weirdly refreshing. “You won’t find the answers here,” he says in a seemingly tranquilizer-induced moan on “God Break Down the Door.” Some things really don’t change. Paul Schrodt


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

22. Pusha T, Daytona

The first in a series of hyper-condensed albums produced by Kanye West at a remote Wyoming ranch and released in a five-week promotional blitz, Daytona is in many ways the most immediate in its appeal: just seven sinewy tracks of Pusha T’s patented coke-rap, over samples so jagged it sounds like West chopped them up with a rusty razor blade. As Pusha has been doing this for almost 30 years, he inevitably brings an elder-statesman gravitas to his rhymes. He warns aspiring rappers without the requisite street knowledge that their “numbers don’t add up on the blow” on opening track “If You Know You Know,” and so rankled the usually unflappable Drake with the shots fired on closer “Infrared” that he provoked the younger star’s first dedicated diss track since 2015. But Daytona‘s legacy should extend beyond the breathless blow-by-blow of rap beef as a model of economy and concision in an era of overstuffed playlist albums. Whether or not he really is slinging as many keys as he claims, Pusha’s musical product is as potent and uncut as the stuff he’s built his career rapping about. Hoskins


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

21. Superchunk, What a Time to Be Alive

What a Time to Be Alive is to Superchunk what Accelerate was to R.E.M. in 2008: a long-awaited return to youthful aggression by a legendary alt-rock band, inspired by a challenging moment in American political history. Excepting the acoustic intro to closer “Black Thread,” the album is certainly Superchunk’s noisiest, most uniformly uptempo effort since the early ‘90s. But whereas Accelerate‘s vivaciousness was hindered by Michael Stipe’s thunderingly obvious anti-Bush griping, Mac McCaughan grapples with the Trump era through pure catharsis—with a trove of fist-pumping, heavy guitar-pop choruses to match. By merging feel-good riffs with feel-bad lyrics (“Our empathy weaponized/Our history bleaching out during the day”), McCaughan suggests that while we may live in dark times, we can always fight back—with guitars. This culminates on the penultimate anthem, “All for You,” on which McCaughan invigoratingly succumbs to his baser instincts: “Fight me/Can’t really get any worse so/Fight me/Oh if you disagree just/Fight me.” It’s passages like this that make What a Time to Be Alive not just a great Superchunk album, but an essential document of the resistance. Winograd


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

20. Ariana Grande, Sweetener

There’s no disputing that Ariana Grande has been through a hell of a lot. Having publicly spoken about suffering with severe anxiety as a result of the tragic bombing at her concert in Manchester, England, last year, she didn’t run away from but rather embraced the full range of her headspace on Sweetener. The stunning a cappella opener “Raindrops (An Angel Cried”), “Breathin,” and “Get Well Soon” leave no doubts about her pipes or distress. Likewise, bangers like the Pharrell-produced “The Light Is Coming” and lead single “No Tears Left to Cry” are evidence of her talent in willing of-the-moment pop forms to her own desires, using them to access deep wells of feeling about her personal life and fraught public reception. While she may not be able to save every track on her own (that Missy Elliott verse on “Borderline” is a travesty), Sweetener is a revelation for a 25-year-old artist who has in the past seemed hemmed in by recording via committee. Those days, as she not so subtly suggests, are over. Schrodt


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

19. Sofi Tukker, Treehouse

Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern’s brand of jungle pop—quotable pop hooks and snatches of Portuguese poetry set to club-friendly beats—might have emerged from the dying embers of the EDM movement, but the New York City-based duo’s multi-culti dance tunes owe more to early-1990s house acts like Deee-Lite than David Guetta. The songs on Sofi Tukker’s Treehouse are alternately playful and sincere, intimate and global: “Fuck They” challenges the status quo, while “Baby I’m a Queen” embraces the contradictions and ambiguities of third-wave feminism. Though Sofi Tukker’s mélange of disparate sounds and influences—bossa-nova rhythms, cowbells, castanets, and spaghetti-western guitars—lends Treehouse an air of worldly sophistication, Hawley-Weld and Halpern never take themselves or their music too seriously. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. Sal Cinquemani


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

18. Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!

Described by Austin Brown as a response to the nihilism born out of our current “hateful era of culture,” Parquet Courts’s sixth album, Wide Awake!, tackles such heavy subject matter as climate change, political corruption, government propaganda, gun violence, and police brutality. With producer Danger Mouse’s help, the band has crafted a diverse and intrepid album, stepping out of their comfort zone musically while also exuding a trenchant political posture. But while Savage rattles off a sprawling, rapid-fire litany of socio-political ills throughout the album, the musician delivers his proclamations with occasional dashes of absurdist levity, avoiding outright pontification. Though Savage decries the innumerable times he’s been “outdone by nihilism” on “Tenderness,” it’s clear that the band believes in the transformative power of resistance in the face of a corrosive culture that often mistakes vitriol for virtue and gives credence to the loudest voices. Goller


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

17. Titus Andronicus, A Productive Cough

Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles may have all the makings of a true-bred DIY punk, but he’s always been a classic rocker at heart. On the band’s fifth album, A Productive Cough, Stickles has done away with all the stylistic trappings that buoyed the group’s grassroots rise out of New York dive bars: the mangy guitars, the screaming, the pummeling tempos, and the Seinfeld references. What’s left is a clear and potent distillation of Stickles’s classic-rock influences filtered through the iconoclastic lens of a guy who hasn’t forgotten where he came from. Despite the clean production and largely decreased noise level, A Productive Cough is Titus Andronicus’s freshest, wildest, most unexpected work to date. Anyone can play rote Dylan covers or write facsimiles of Richards-esque guitar riffs, but it takes a songwriter and interpreter of a higher caliber to turn them into something truly surprising. Winograd


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

16. Christine and the Queens, Chris

Though French singer-songwriter Héloïse Letissier has been experimenting with androgyny for years—her band Christine and the Queens was inspired by the uninhibited exuberance of a London club’s drag queens—the cover art of her sophomore effort, Chris, is an expression of flamboyant hyper-masculinity. With hair slicked to one side like a 1950s greaser, Letissier cuts a dashing figure as the eponymous character. Unconcerned with the shackles of a binary gender system, she’s both macho and feminine throughout the album, embodying a disregard for definitions in favor of just existing as she is. She’s smooth, seductive, and virile on lead single “Girlfriend,” commanding producer Dâm-Funk’s luxuriant G-funk soundscape like she might a lover. She unabashedly craves sexual fulfillment on “Damn (What Must a Woman Do),” letting out moans that are as melodious as they are carnal. Unlike most ephemeral pop music today, Chris—like the gender-fluid character at its center—feels consequential and everlasting. Sophia Ordaz


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

15. Blood Orange, Negro Swan

Negro Swan, Dev Hynes’s fourth album as Blood Orange, speaks even more eloquently than 2016’s Freetown Sound to both the richness and precariousness of black experience, and especially queer black experience, in the 21st century. The album’s arc, from justifiable despondency to self-determined optimism, feels both timeless and remarkably of the times—a natural outgrowth of the blues tradition and a part of the contemporary explosion of black consciousness into the mainstream. It’s not always a smooth one: The ecstatic climax of “Charcoal Baby” is followed immediately by the sound of a gunshot, as if to emphasize the fragility of joy in a society that’s systemically hostile to black and queer people. But it’s this ability to capture both sides with equal commitment—the struggle and the resistance through self-love—that makes Negro Swan Hynes’s most assured, accomplished, and significant album to date. Hoskins


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

14. Vince Staples, FM!

The harsh realities of growing up among gang violence have provided fertile creative ground for Vince Staples during his meteoric rise over the past several years, and the Long Beach rapper again returns to the neighborhoods of his youth on his punchy third album, FM! Staples raps about the deceiving nature of the perpetual warm weather in Southern California, articulating in “Feels Like Summer” how rising temperatures can also heat up tempers and send bullets flying. Stylized in the format of a throwback radio broadcast, the album also structurally embodies the overarching theme of lives cut short, 11 tracks zipping by in a scant 22 minutes. With a bevy of West Coast rappers making guest appearances, and even dropping a reference to 2Pac’s death, Staples revels in a locale he both loves and fears. Goller


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

13. Courtney Barnett, Tell Me How You Really Feel

“Sometimes I get sad/It’s not all that bad,” Courtney Barnett sings on “City Looks Pretty,” a track from her sophomore effort, Tell Me How You Really Feel. It’s a simplistic summation of both her current state of mind and her uncanny ability to pair close-to-the-bone lyrics with joyously infectious power-pop melodies. The album is nowhere near as flippant as that couplet might suggest though. It’s a striking manifestation of gnawing anxieties, both internal and external; it may lack some of the instant affability of 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, but that’s by design. On a purely compositional level, the tonal shift between Tell Me How You Really Feel and Barnett’s debut isn’t all that severe, and the singer-songwriter’s impossibly effortless tunesmithing remains a preternatural force. But this time, it’s accompanied by heavier subjects, more personal confessionals, and a sense that Barnett’s cheery melodies exist solely to keep her from being crushed by the weight of the world. Winograd


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

12. Mariah Carey, Caution

“Caution” is an apt warning for those about to consume Mariah Carey’s first album in over four years. While the consummate diva may have botched the rollout of her last handful of singles, and her voice is a reedy version of what it once was, she makes it abundantly clear on Caution that she isn’t to be fucked with in this or any other decade. She wisely relies on the rap-inflected R&B sounds that have been her bread and butter since Butterfly, while bringing in unexpected collaborators like Skrillex and Blood Orange. She also switches up the message: In the aftermath of a highly public breakup, a sense of inevitable heartache hangs over the whole thing, from the delightfully salty lead single “GTFO” (“I ain’t tryna be rude, but you’re lucky I ain’t kick your ass out last weekend,” she quips) to the even more savage “A No No,” in which she summons her verbally gymnastic falsetto for a Gilligan’s Island-related diss. The adoption of patois and clearly intentional use of “irregardless” suggest Mimi (still) has no time for notions of cultural appropriation or grammar, and appearances by Slick Rick and Biggie (via sample) let us know that her heart will always lie in hip-hop. Where it belongs. Schrodt


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

11. Brockhampton, Iridescence

Calling Brockhampton’s Iridescence a work of hip-hop is a bit like calling Jackson Pollock a painter. While technically true, it doesn’t capture the profound statement of a major-label debut from the self-proclaimed “best boy band since One Direction” that has no use for borders of genre or form. The album controls the chaos of contributions from its 13 members in fascinating ways. Messy by design, it incorporates the drilling synth line of opener “New Orleans,” Motown-esque vocal melodies on “Thug Life” and “Something About Him,” and U.K. garage in a nod to London, where it was recorded. None of the members are natural superstars; instead, they support each other and blend together, and much more so than on previous self-released albums, they transcend the sum of their individual parts. On the heart-on-its-sleeve “The Weight,” de-facto leader Kevin Abstract disarmingly raps about growing up closeted (“And every time she took her bra off, my dick would get soft”) before a divine chorus intones, “I don’t want to waste no more time.” The young fans who treat Brockhampton like the Beatles aren’t wrong: They’re experiencing a low-key revolution. Schrodt


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

10. DJ Koze, Knock Knock

DJ Koze’s eclectic third effort, Knock Knock, tones down the psychedelic flourishes of 2013’s Amygdala for a more accessible album that’s inviting and soothing while also, at times, preserving a plaintive sense of yearning. “Music on My Teeth” opens with a sample of Zen Buddhist philosopher Alan Watts intoning that “time is a social institution and not a physical reality.” Whether it’s a Gladys Knight & the Pips sample on “Pick Up” or a guest spot by an Auto-Tune-drenched Kurt Wagner from Lambchop on “Muddy Funster,” Koze seamlessly melds eras and genres to fashion shape-shifting sonic textures. He plays to his guests’ strengths, giving the music the semblance of a mixtape at times, but overall the sound nevertheless remains cohesive. Seamless shifts from trip-hop to R&B to deep house create a multidimensional aesthetic that runs the gamut from retro to futuristic, from analog to digital, all while exuding Koze’s mastery of making the uncanny feel oddly familiar. Goller


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

9. Belly, Dove

Following the 20-plus-year gap since the cultishly beloved Belly’s last release, 1995’s King, the Rhode Island-based band might have been forgiven for turning in a ho-hum retread or an experimental diversion of their sound that no one asked for. But Dove relies on the core strengths of every member, who are as beautifully in sync as ever, while also feeling refreshingly modern. Tanya Donelly’s vocals are layered into bewitching, cooing harmonies on “Mine” and reach a powerful release on the poignant “Human Child,” in which she pulls a loved one out of festering woes (“It’s a beautiful night, I’m here to drag you outside/Pull your ass out of the shade, my sun-blessed babe,” she sings from the bottom of her chest, an earned feeling of liberation). Her ethereal style is anchored by tight guitar, bass, and drum work, while the decidedly less compressed and murky, more expansive post-‘90s production lets every instrument ring out clearly. It’s a reminder that the simplest element of guitar rock can still take us to transcendent places. Schrodt


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

8. Against All Logic, 2012 – 2017

Against All Logic is an apt moniker for Chilean-American artist Nicolas Jaar, since this buoyant collection of tracks is deceptively straightforward. Jaar appropriates the traditional structure of house, but this is no standard-issue revivalism. The title of “This Old House Is All I Have” is something of a misnomer since the track has more in common with the chilled-out sci-fi pop of Air’s Moon Safari). Jaar uses bright piano lines on “Some Kind of Game” and “Cityfade” as building blocks in elaborate, pointillistic sonic collages with unlikely analogue and synthetic background noises. He has a knack for creating tension, at points tweaking the melody of the rousing “Some Kind of Game” to introduce ominous bass notes and cutting vocal samples sourced from funk and soul mid-phrase or even mid-word. “Such a Bad Way” interrupts the song’s action with a panting shriek, unsettling, complicating, and deepening the more obvious hooks. The penultimate “You Are Going to Love Me and Scream” isn’t a bad description for the contradictory 2012 – 2017, which works as well for getting down on the dance floor as it does getting stoned and contemplating the void. Schrodt


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

7. Mitski, Be the Cowboy

Only three of the 14 tracks on Mitski’s Be the Cowboy exceed two-and-a-half minutes, but the Japanese-American singer-songwriter manages to pack so much into those scant running times that they play more like miniature suites. It’s this laser-like focus that makes the album so likeable and engaging in spite of its dark lyricism. Producer Patrick Hyland almost completely avoids adding any effects to Mitski’s voice beyond basic reverb, shining a spotlight on the singer that plays up her vulnerability. This is an effective strategy for the album’s close-to-the bone subject matter, which is often overtly sexual—but not necessarily sexy. Even as she continues to explore the dark parts of her soul lyrically, Mitski sounds more confident than ever. Winograd


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

6. Cardi B, Invasion of Privacy

Cardi B’s debut album, Invasion of Privacy, is drenched in autobiographical detail, repeatedly drawing a line from her humble beginnings to her current role as an in-demand rapper. But the album makes a seemingly recognizable arc feel fresh, in part because of her uniquely female perspective and experience. Hip-hop’s rags-to-riches stories resonate because they allow listeners to imagine themselves as scrappers, fighters, and winners. Cardi knows this, and for as much as this album is about her own celebrity, it also seeks to empower her audience, especially women. “‘Fore I fixed my teeth, man, those comments used to kill me/But never did I change, never been ashamed,” she raps. In a single line, she expresses a particularly feminine vulnerability, acknowledges her own insecurities, and doubles down on her uncompromising tenacity. Cardi climbed her way up from the bottom, and Invasion of Privacy is a soundtrack for anyone who dreams of doing the same. Josh Hurst


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

5. The Internet, Hive Mind

At first listen, the jazz-inflected bedroom R&B of the Internet’s fourth album, Hive Mind, isn’t far removed from that of the Los Angeles band’s prior work. Producer and multi-instrumentalist Matt Martians still specializes in sun-kissed, slightly offbeat neo-neo-soul, laying down lush blankets of sound for singer Sydney Bennett, a.k.a. Syd, to luxuriate in. But the subtle differences this time around are worth noting: Seven years after their debut as an offshoot of alt-hip-hop collective Odd Future, the Internet now sounds more than ever like a musical unit unto themselves. The songs themselves are crucially the work of all five members, not just a vehicle for a charismatic singer. The result is the Internet’s most musically diverse and synergetic album to date. Hoskins


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

4. Troye Sivan, Bloom

A Twitter philosopher once astutely observed that “Gay culture is your life being delayed by 10 years because you didn’t start being yourself until your mid-20s.” For an increasing number of LGBTQ youth, however, that maxim is mercifully becoming as obsolete as compact discs and paying for porn. And you can count 23-year-old Troye Sivan among a new generation of queer people who have come of age in an era where increased connectivity and visibility has, perhaps, saved them countless lost years. If the Australian singer-songwriter’s sophomore effort, Bloom, feels less sonically innovative than 2015’s Blue Neighbourhood, its lyrics offer an unapologetic, if not entirely revolutionary, depiction of queer desire. Bloom might eschew the glitchy production style of his debut in favor of a more accessible dance-pop sound, but the album’s subversion of heteronormativity in a purely pop context is in itself a radical development. Cinquemani


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

3. Kids See Ghosts, Kids See Ghosts

Kid Cudi and Kanye West alternate between haunted-house trappings and candidly confronting their respective demons on the hip-hop duo’s eponymous debut Kids See Ghosts. The seven-track effort is steeped in supernatural imagery that ranges from the cartoonish to the deeply religious. The Louis Prima-sampling “4th Dimension” incorporates both Santa Claus references and a ghoulish, cackling laugh. Amid the driving, militaristic beat of “Fire,” Kanye and Cudi rap about making peace with personal failures and thriving off haters. Kanye’s erratic behavior may persist, but he’s frank about his tendency to make bad choices, rapping on the title track that his Christianity is a necessity due to the fact he’s “constantly repenting, ‘cause, yes, I never listen.” “Reborn” leans heavily into Cudi’s melodic strengths as he sings about past drug abuse and acknowledges that “peace is something that starts with me,” while Kanye’s lone verse on this track finds him opening up about social anxiety and mental illness. Both artists frequently call out to heaven to lift them up, but this seeming reliance on divine intervention belies an overarching approach to self-betterment that speaks of rebirth not as a final destination, but as a constant state of perseverance. Goller


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

2. Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer

Janelle Monáe asserts that sex can save the world on Dirty Computer, and throughout the album’s 14 lusty, hyper-intelligent tracks, she makes a compelling case. “You fucked the world up now, we’ll fuck it all back down,” she sings on “Screwed,” a track ripe with sexual innuendo and a blunt summation of global affairs. Sex is power, Monáe argues, and the expression of sexuality is freedom. Prince obviously serves as an influence (he also reportedly worked with Monáe on the album before his death), and she taps guests like Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder, and Grimes, who adds her synth-pop dynamism and high-pitched vocal to “PYNK,” Monáe’s sublime ode to the vagina. Monáe publicly began identifying as pansexual in conjunction with this album, but Dirty Computer is less about her personal identity than it is a call to arms against puritanical oppressors who would lay siege to the bedroom, and a sensuous rallying cry for universal sexual empowerment. Goller


The 25 Best Albums of 2018

1. Robyn, Honey

Part of Robyn’s cult appeal resides in her ability to package candid, relatable, and often fragile emotions in beats that are the equivalent of Styrofoam peanuts; you might be dancing on your own, but the rush of epinephrine is both the reward and the remedy. In the past, she juxtaposed love songs like “Call Your Girlfriend” and “Be Mine!” with feminist-warrior anthems like “Fembot” and “Handle Me.” But the fembot persona has been scaled back on Honey, as Robyn more fully embraces the flesh-and-blood woman behind it. Or at least a facsimile of one: The way she sings “I’m a human being and so are you” on the tech-pop “Human Being” makes her sound like a cyborg marveling at its newfound consciousness. At nine lean but often seemingly formless tracks, Honey feels raw and incomplete, like a work in progress—and maybe that’s the point. For Robyn, making music is an ongoing exercise in expression, and when heartbreak threatened to silence her, she apparently let the songs do the talking. And the healing. Cinquemani


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Awards

2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions

How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways.

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Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Photo: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

How has Oscar royally screwed things up this year? Let us count the ways. The hastily introduced and unceremoniously tabled (for now) “best popular film” Oscar. The impending commercial-break ghettoization of such categories as best cinematography and best film editing, but most certainly not best song and best animated feature. The abortive attempts to unveil Kevin Hart as the host not once, but twice, stymied by the online backlash over years-old anti-gay Twitter jokes and leading AMPAS to opt for George Glass as this year’s master of ceremonies. The strong-arming of its own membership to deter rank-and-file superstars from attending competing precursor award shows. If these end up being the last Oscars ever, and it’s starting to feel as though it should be, what a way to go out, right? Like the floating island of plastic in the Pacific, the cultural and political detritus of Oscar season has spread far beyond any previous rational estimates and will almost certainly outlive our functional presence on this planet. And really, when you think about it, what’s worse: The extinction of mankind or Bohemian Rhapsody winning the best picture Oscar? In that spirit, we press on.

Picture

Vice

There will be plenty of time, too much time, to go deep on the many ways Green Book reveals the flawed soul of your average, aged white liberal in America circa 2019. For now, let’s just admit that it’s as sure a nominee as The Favourite, Roma, and A Star Is Born. (There’s snackable irony in the fact that a movie called The Front Runner became very much not an Oscar front runner in a year that doesn’t appear to have a solid front runner.) And even though few seem to be predicting it for an actual win here, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman has an almost spotless precursor track record, showing up almost across the board among the guilds. Predicting this category would’ve been easy enough when Oscar limited it to five films, but it’s strangely almost as easy this year to see where the line will cut off between five and 10. Adam McKay’s Vice may be without shame, but you don’t have to strain hard to see how people could mistake it for the film of the moment. Bohemian Rhapsody is certainly lacking in merit, but, much like our comrade in chief, Oscar has never been more desperate for people to like and respect him, and a hit is a hit. Except when it’s a Marvel movie, which is why Black Panther stands precariously on the category’s line of cutoff, despite the rabid enthusiasm from certain corners that will likely be enough to push it through.

Will Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star Is Born, and Vice

Closest Runners-Up: If Beale Street Could Talk and A Quiet Place

Should Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Burning, First Reformed, Let the Sunshine In, and Zama

Best Director

Yorgos Lanthimos

Everyone can agree that Bohemian Rhapsody will be one of the best picture contenders that doesn’t get a corresponding best director nomination, but virtually all the other nominees we’re predicting have a shot. Including Peter-flashing Farrelly, whose predictably unsubtle work on Green Book (or, Don and Dumber) netted him a widely derided DGA nomination. The outrage over Farrelly’s presence there took some of the heat off Vice’s Adam McKay, but if any DGA contender is going to swap out in favor of Yorgos Lanthimos (for BAFTA favorite The Favourite), it seems likely to be McKay. As Mark Harris has pointed out, Green Book is cruising through this awards season in a lane of its own, a persistently well-liked, well-meaning, unchallenging throwback whose defiant fans are clearly in a fighting mood.

Will Be Nominated: Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Alfonso Cuarón (Roma), Peter Farrelly (Green Book), Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite), and Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)

Closest Runners-Up: Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk), and Adam McKay (Vice)

Should Be Nominated: Lee Chang-dong (Burning), Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In), Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman), Lucrecia Martel (Zama), and Paul Schrader (First Reformed)

Best Actress

Yalitza Aparicio

Had Fox Searchlight reversed their category-fraud strategizing and flipped The Favourite’s Olivia Coleman into supporting and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone into lead, the five best actress slots would arguably have been locked down weeks, if not months, ago, unless Fox’s bet-hedging intuits some form of industry resistance to double female-led propositions. As it stands, there are four locks that hardly need mention and a slew of candidates on basically equal footing. Hereditary’s Toni Collette has become shrieking awards show junkies’ cause célèbre this year, though she actually has the critic awards haul to back them up, having won more of the regional prizes than anyone else. The same demographic backing Collette gave up hope long ago on Viola Davis being able to survive the Widows collapse, and yet there by the grace of BAFTA does she live on to fight another round. Elsie Fisher’s palpable awkwardness in Eighth Grade and winning awkwardness navigating the Hollywood circuit have earned her an almost protective backing. But we’re going out on a limb and calling it for the rapturously received Roma’s Yalitza Aparicio. Voters could, like us, find it not a particularly great performance and still parlay their good will for her into a nomination that’s there for the taking.

Will Be Nominated: Yalitza Aparicio (Roma), Glenn Close (The Wife), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Closest Runners-Up: Toni Collette (Hereditary), Viola Davis (Widows), and Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade)

Should Be Nominated: Juliette Binoche (Let the Sunshine In), Toni Collette (Hereditary), Olivia Colman (The Favourite), Regina Hall (Support the Girls), and Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Actor

John David Washington

Take Toni Collette’s trophies thus far in the competition and double them. And then add a few more. That’s the magnitude of endorsements backing First Reformed’s Ethan Hawke. And his trajectory has the clear markings of an almost overqualified performance that, like Naomi Watts’s in Mulholland Drive, cinephiles decades from now will wonder how Oscar snubbed. If Pastor Ernst Toller and Sasha Stone are right and God is indeed watching us all and cares what the Academy Awards do, Hawke’s nomination will come at the expense of John David Washington, whose strength in the precursors thus far (SAG and Globe-nominated) is maybe the most notable bellwether of BlacKkKlansman’s overall strength. Because, as with the best actress category, the other four slots are basically preordained. Unlike with best actress, the bench of also-rans appears to be one solitary soul. A fitting place for Paul Schrader’s man against the world.

Will Be Nominated: Christian Bale (Vice), Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born), Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), Viggo Mortensen (Green Book), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Closest Runners-Up: Ethan Hawke (First Reformed)

Should Be Nominated: Yoo Ah-in (Burning), Ben Foster (Leave No Trace), Ethan Hawke (First Reformed), Meinhard Neumann (Western), and John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman)

Supporting Actress

Emily Blunt

Every Oscar prognosticator worth their bragging rights has spent the last couple weeks conspicuously rubbing their hands together about Regina King’s chances. The all-or-nothing volley that’s seen her sweep the critics’ awards and win the Golden Globe, and at the same time not even get nominations from within the industry—she was left off the ballot by both SAG and the BAFTAs—are narrative disruptions among a class that lives for narratives and dies of incorrect predictions. But despite the kvetching, King is as safe as anyone for a nomination in this category. It doesn’t hurt that, outside the pair of lead actresses from The Favourite, almost everyone else in the running this year feels like a 7th- or 8th-place also-ran. Except maybe Widows’s Elizabeth Debicki, whose fervent fans probably number just enough to land her…in 7th or 8th place. Vice’s Amy Adams is set to reach the Glenn Close club with her sixth Oscar nomination, and if she’d only managed to sustain the same loopy energy she brings to Lynne Cheney’s campaign-trail promise to keep her bra on, she’d deserve it. Which leaves a slot for supportive housewives Claire Foy, Nicole Kidman, and Emily Blunt. Even before the collapse of Mary Poppins Returns, we preferred Blunt’s chances in A Quiet Place.

Will Be Nominated: Amy Adams (Vice), Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Emma Stone (The Favourite), and Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

Closest Runners-Up: Claire Foy (First Man), Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased), and Margot Robbie (Mary, Queen of Scots)

Should Be Nominated: Sakura Ando (Shoplifters), Zoe Kazan (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk), Rachel McAdams (Disobedience), and Haley Lu Richardson (Support the Girls)

Supporting Actor

Timothée Chalamet

The same people who’re curiously doubting Regina King’s nomination chances seem awfully assured that Sam Elliott’s moist-eyed, clearly canonical backing-the-truck-up scene in A Star Is Born assures him not only a nomination but probably the win. Elliott missed nominations with both the Golden Globes and BAFTA, and it was hard not to notice just how enthusiasm for A Star Is Born seemed to be cooling during the same period Oscar ballots were in circulation. Right around the same time, it started becoming apparent that BlacKkKlansman is a stronger draw than anyone thought, which means Adam Driver (who everyone was already predicting for a nod) won’t have to suffer the representationally awkward fate of being the film’s only nominee. Otherwise, the category appears to favor previously awarded actors (Mahershala Ali and Sam Rockwell) or should have been previously awarded actors (Chalamet). Leaving Michael B. Jordan to remain a should have been previously nominated actor.

Will Be Nominated: Mahershala Ali (Green Book), Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Closest Runners-Up: Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) and Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther)

Should Be Nominated: Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy), Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman), Hugh Grant (Paddington 2); Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), and Steven Yeun (Burning)

Adapted Screenplay

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Get beyond the best picture hopefuls BlacKkKlansman and If Beale Street Could Talk, which seem deservedly locked, and A Star Is Born, which is even more deservedly iffy, and you’ll see the screenwriters’ branch deciding just how seriously to take themselves this year, and whether they’re feeling like spiritually reliving the moments that found them nominating Bridesmaids and Logan. If so, then expect Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther to factor in here. If they most definitely don’t feel frisky, then maybe the foursquare First Man has a shot at reversing its overall downward trajectory. If they’re seeking that “just right” middle ground, then Can You Ever Forgive Me? and The Death of Stalin are in.

Will Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Death of Stalin, If Beale Street Could Talk, and A Star Is Born

Closest Runners-Up: Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, and First Man

Should Be Nominated: BlacKkKlansman, First Man, Leave No Trace, The Grief of Others, and We the Animals

Original Screenplay

First Reformed

It’s not unusual for some of the year’s most acclaimed movies whose strength isn’t necessarily in their scripts to get nominated only in the screenwriting categories. First Reformed, which even some of its fiercest defenders admit can sometimes feel a bit like Paul Schrader’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” greatest-hits package, stands to be another of them. But it’ll be a close call, given the number of other equally vanguard options they’ll be weighing it against, like Sorry to Bother You, which arguably feels more urgently in the moment in form, Eighth Grade, which is more empathetically post-#MeToo, and even Cold War, which had a surprisingly strong showing with BAFTA. Given the quartet of assured best picture contenders in the mix, First Reformed is going to have to hold off all of them.

Will Be Nominated: The Favourite, First Reformed, Green Book, Roma, and Vice

Closest Runners-Up: Cold War, Eighth Grade, and Sorry to Bother You

Should Be Nominated: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Bodied, First Reformed, Sorry to Bother You, and Western

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The 20 Best Music Videos of 2018

The year’s best music videos reflect the way we live now: the technology we use, the power we wield, and the places we carve out for ourselves.

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The 20 Best Music Videos of 2018
Photo: YouTube

The year’s best music videos reflect the way we live now: the technology we use (“Vince Staples’s “Fun!”), the power we wield (the Carters’ “Apeshit”), and the places we carve out for ourselves (“Anderson .Paak’s “Til It’s Over”). They also acknowledge the state of the world, from systemic racism (Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”) to institutional corruption (Jack White’s “Corporation”). Notably, a clear majority of the videos on our list were created by or for artists of color, whose stories serve as an act of resistance against a racist regime. The year in music video wasn’t all gloom and doom, though, as both identity and resistance manifested in profoundly joyous ways in Chaka Khan’s “Like Sugar” and Kali Uchis’s “After the Storm.” And Bruno Mars and Migos embraced playful, nostalgic visions of the past—though it’s hard not to question whether even those ostensibly frivolous throwbacks are rooted in self-care and a need to romanticize a seemingly simpler time. Sal Cinquemani

20. Prince, “Mary Don’t You Weep”

There are no guns or mass shootings in the clip for Prince’s posthumously released “Mary Don’t You Weep,” but their absence isn’t conspicuous. Gun violence is, more than anything else, about the aftermath—the loss, the grief, the haunted lives left in the wake of a fleeting shot. Amid politicians’ perpetual handwringing over when the “right” time is to talk about solutions to this epidemic, Salomon Ligthelm’s exquisitely lensed video testifies to the notion that, at least for tens of thousands of Americans this year, it’s already too late. Cinquemani


19. Rosalía, “Malamente”

Barcelona-based collective Canada marries the traditional with the modern—as in an eye-popping freeze-frame of a bullfighter facing off with a motorcycle—in this spirited music video for Spanish singer-songwriter Rosalía’s flamenco-inspired hit “Malamente.” Alexa Camp


18. Ariana Grande, “God Is a Woman”

The music video for Ariana Grande’s sultry, subtly reggae-infused slow jam “God Is a Woman” finds the pop princess bathing in a milky swirl of vaginal water colors, fingering the eye of a hurricane, and deflecting misogynist epithets, a visual embodiment of her declaration that “I can be all the things you told me not to be/When you try to come for me, I keep on flourishing/And he sees the universe when I’m in company/It’s all in me.” Directed by Dave Meyers, the video mixes animation, digital eye candy, and references to classical artwork, as well as a few WTF moments, like a set piece in which a group of moles emerge from their holes and scream bloody murder. Pointed metaphors abound, from scenes of Grande walking a tightrope to literally breaking a glass ceiling. At one point, pop’s original feminist queen, Madonna, makes a cameo reciting the Old Testament by way of Pulp Fiction—with her own characteristic twist, of course, swapping “brothers” for “sisters.” Cinquemani


17. Bruno Mars featuring Cardi B, “Finesse (Remix)”

Bruno Mars directed the video for “Finesse” himself, and its note-perfect homage to the opening sequence of In Living Color shows him to be as adept a visual pastiche artist as he is a musical one. As with the song, however, it’s guest Cardi B who steals the show, dominating every second she’s on camera as the flyest of Fly Girls in tube socks, cutoffs, and larger-than-life hoop earrings. Zachary Hoskins


16. LCD Soundsystem, “Oh Baby”

Featuring masterful performances by Sissy Spacek and David Strathairn, LCD Soundsystem’s “Oh Baby” is a stirring saga of lovers venturing into the unknown. Directed by Rian Johnson, the video follows an aging couple who build a set of strange, inter-dimensional doorways. Enter one, and you can exit out of the other, but it’s never clear what reality exists between them. Simple, cinematic, and heart-wrenching, the clip is the perfect accompaniment for James Murphy’s ponderous, uplifting electro-pop. Paired together, Spacek and Strathairn convey love’s capacity to obliterate all barriers: loneliness, old age, even death. Pryor Stroud


15. Migos featuring Drake, “Walk It Talk It”

Migos’s “Walk It Talk It” takes place on a fictional television program called Culture Ride—a clear homage to the iconic show Soul Train. This isn’t the first music video to conceptually riff on the vintage variety show format; both OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” and the Strokes’s “Last Nite” are set in Ed Sullivan Show-style sound stages. But the video is still a triumph of flashy, vintage style. Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff surround themselves with dancing spectators and major stars, notably Jamie Foxx and Drake, all of whom are transfixed by the music they’re hearing. And just as they are today, Migos is the center of attention. Stroud


14. Azealia Banks, “Anna Wintour”

Yes, those really are Azealia Banks’s nipples. At least according to the New York singer-rapper-lightning-rod’s perennially deleted Twitter account. But the music video for Banks’s single “Anna Wintour” is striking not just because of the artist’s ample bosom. Directed by Matt Sukkar, the clip was filmed in an empty warehouse using understated faux-natural lighting, an apt visual milieu for Banks’s declaration of independence: “As the valley fills with darkness, shadows chase and run around…I’ll be better off alone, I’ll walk at my own pace.” Shots of a scantily clad Banks strutting on a metal catwalk, posing in a full-length mirror, and striking a pose in front of a backlit gate pay homage to Janet Jackson’s “The Pleasure Principle,” an iconic video by another female artist who was once determined to assert control. Camp


13. Flasher, “Material”

The internet has rendered media consumption so isolating that it takes a work of profound ingenuity to remind us that art is inherently a shared experience—even if that experience is one of infuriating data buffering, inescapable clickbait, and micro-targeted advertising. Directed by Nick Roney, Flasher’s meta visual for “Material” proves that YouTube has become so engrained in the fabric of modern life that the simple action of clicking out of a pop-up advertisement is now part of our brains’ cache of muscle memory. Though the video isn’t actually interactive, you just might find yourself unconsciously reaching to take control of what’s happening on your screen. Cinquemani


12. Jennifer Lopez featuring Cardi B and DJ Khaled, “Dinero”

The music video for Jennifer Lopez’s “Dinero” is as over the top as the song itself, which finds J. Lo alternately singing over a tropical rhythm and rapping atop a trap beat—sometimes both—while fellow Bronx upstart Cardi B boasts of their borough-based bona fides. Directed by Joseph Kahn, the black-and-white clip brazenly takes the piss out of Lopez’s dubious Jenny from the Block persona—and she’s clearly in on the joke, bowling with a diamond-covered ball, barbecuing in lingerie and pearls while sipping a crystal-encrusted Slurpee, toasting marshmallows over a burning pile of cash, and walking a preening pet ostrich on a leash. The video also features a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by a Casino-era Robert De Niro. Camp


11. Tierra Whack, “Whack World”

One of the most ambitious music video projects of the year, “Whack World” is a full-length accompaniment to Tierra Whack’s debut album of the same title. Like the album, it’s 15 minutes long, with the Philadelphia-based rapper and visual artist performing a wildly different vignette in each minute. Both album and video make for an impressive sampler of Whack’s versatility as a performer—which, in visual form, translates to her inhabiting a range of quirky and inventive characters, from a facially disfigured receptionist to a rapping corpse in a sequined coffin, a sentient house, and others that defy description. With a highlight reel like this, it’s hard to image there being anything Whack can’t do. Hoskins


10. Janelle Monáe, “Make Me Feel”

Every segment of the “emotion picture” released by Janelle Monáe to accompany her third album Dirty Computer is visually striking and thematically rich in its own way. But it’s the segment for lead single “Make Me Feel” that arguably stands best on its own. Directed by Monáe’s longtime collaborator Alan Ferguson, the video features the singer and 2018 It-girl Tessa Thompson at what may be the year’s coolest party captured on screen. Widely viewed as a coming-out moment for Monáe—her pansexuality is dramatized in her interactions with both Thompson and co-star Jayson Aaron—the clip is rife with references to two recently canonized icons of sexual fluidity, Prince and David Bowie. Monáe’s choreography with Thompson and Aaron echoes Prince’s with dancer Monique Mannen in the video for “Kiss,” while the dynamic of a bold, flamboyant alter ego performing for the singer’s more reserved self is borrowed from Bowie’s “Blue Jean.” As with her music, however, Monáe is capable of wearing these influences on her sleeve (and her silver bikini top) while still making them wholly her own. Hoskins


9. Chaka Khan, “Like Sugar”

The music video for R&B legend Chaka Khan’s first single in five years giddily foregrounds a multiplicity of black bodies via vibrant, kinetic montage. The joyous clip represents a celebration of identity and persistence in the face of adversity, a thread that shoots through many of the year’s best videos. Camp


8. Anderson .Paak, “Til It’s Over”

The music video has always sat at an awkward intersection of art and commerce, having originated as short film clips serving quite literally as “promos” for new singles. It’s thus only a little strange that Spike Jonze’s video for Anderson .Paak’s “Til It’s Over” isn’t a conventional one at all, but rather an extended commercial for Apple’s HomePod smart device. In the short vignette, FKA Twigs comes home from a long work day and asks Siri to play something she’d like. After a few seconds of .Paak’s voice coming out of her HomePod speakers, she discovers that her dancing can make the physical properties of her apartment stretch and shift. Both the simple, human joy of Twigs’s movements and the technical wizardry of the expanding room are so arresting that you’ll almost forget you’re being sold something. Hoskins


7. Travis Scott featuring Drake, “Sicko Mode”

The album cover for Travis Scott’s Astroworld painted a vivid picture of the eponymous theme park as a psychedelic, vaguely sinister landscape, dominated by a giant inflatable model of Scott’s head and decidedly not to be confused with the real-life (and long-defunct) Six Flags AstroWorld. But it’s the video for single “Sicko Mode,” directed by Dave Meyers, that really brings the place to life, turning the bleak landscape of Houston’s inner city into a post-apocalyptic playground of talking train graffiti and video vixens on bicycles while Scott rides past a prowling police cruiser on horseback. Much like the multi-part song, the clip isn’t cohesive, as the scenes during Drake’s guest verse almost seem to be cut in from an entirely different video. But the abundance of bizarre imagery, both menacing and absurd, ensures that it’s never boring. Hoskins


6. A$AP Rocky featuring Moby, “A$AP Forever”

The camera is the star of Dexter Navy’s video for “A$AP Forever”: whirling in dizzy circles above A$AP Rocky’s head and pulling in and out of a seemingly endless series of television monitors, street signs, smartphone screens, and other images within images. In the final sequence, the camera moves one last time into Rocky’s eyeball, revealing a reflected image of the rapper rotating in an anti-gravity chamber. Also, Moby is there. What it all means is anyone’s guess, but the trippy effect is a perfect complement to the strain of 21st-century psychedelia in Rocky’s music. Hoskins


5. Vince Staples, “Fun!”

Directed by Calmatic, the video for Vince Staples’s “Fun!” is both an astute condemnation of racial tourism and a (perhaps unintentional) auto-critique of hip-hop’s exportation of the black experience to middle America. Like Flasher’s “Material,” it’s also a bleak commentary on the ways technology—in this case, satellite mapping—has simultaneously united and divided the human race. Cinquemani


4. Jack White, “Corporation”

Jack White’s “Corporation” is just as oblique, ambitious, and political as the artist himself. Over the course of seven minutes, a series of surreal, seemingly disjointed events occur: a cowboy puts on lipstick, a rave starts in a diner, a little boy steals a car. By the end, you learn that all of the characters are simply different manifestations of White himself, revealing the alt-blues pioneer as someone we already knew him to be: a complex, multifaceted artist whose neuroses are intimately tied to his genius. Stroud


3. Kali Uchis featuring Tyler, the Creator and Bootsy Collins, “After the Storm”

Like the contemporary surrealist photos of its director, Nadia Lee Cohen, the video for “After the Storm” pairs a rich Technicolor palette with a playfully elastic approach to everyday banality: bringing P-Funk icon Bootsy Collins to (animated) life as a cereal box mascot and making rapper Tyler, the Creator grow from a garden like a literal “Flower Boy.” That these whimsical images appear alongside shots of singer Kali Uchis, dolled up in mid-century attire and staring blankly into the distance, suggest that they’re meant to dramatize the daydreams of a bored 1950s suburbanite. This makes the video’s final image, of Uchis and a fully sprouted Tyler acting out an idyllic nuclear family scene while their own disembodied Chia-pet heads look on from the window, as vaguely disquieting as it is humorous. Hoskins


2. The Carters, “Apeshit”

The Carters’s Everything Is Love may not have achieved the same cultural ubiquity as Beyoncé‘s Lemonade, or Jay-Z’s 4:44, but it spawned one of the year’s most poignant videos. In “Apeshit,” the power couple performs in a vacant Louvre, commandeering the world’s most famous museum without breaking a sweat. It’s a radical testament to their influence as artists, business people, and political players, as well as a bold statement about the overlooked primacy of blackness in the Western canon. Stroud


1. Childish Gambino, “This Is America”

Surprise-released to coincide with Donald Glover’s double duty as host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live in May, the provocative video for “This Is America” was already inspiring breathless think pieces by the following morning. Directed by Hiro Murai, Glover’s principal collaborator on FX’s Atlanta, “This Is America” shares with many of that show’s best episodes a knack for getting under viewers’ skins, presenting highly charged images with just enough ambiguity to encourage social media reactions of the “WTF did I just watch” variety. But if the last seven months of critical dissection and memetic recycling have inevitably dulled some of its shock value—and, by extension, its power as a political statement—the video remains an astounding artistic achievement. In a series of long shots cleverly disguised as one uninterrupted take, Glover pulls dances and faces from the intertwined traditions of pop culture and minstrelsy, seamlessly juxtaposed with eruptions of sudden, graphic gun violence. In both extremes, it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him—which is, of course, the point. Like the never-ending train wreck that is American history itself, “This is America” offers entertainment and grotesquerie in equal measure. Hoskins


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The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

These performances share a commitment to achieving emotional vitality by any means necessary.

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The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

This year offered a feast of cinematic acting that pivoted on surprise, in terms of unconventional casting that allowed performers to add new shades to their established personas, as well as in blistering work by newcomers. These performances share a commitment to achieving emotional vitality by any means necessary, shattering the banality of expectation to elaborate on universal feelings that are too easily submerged by us on our day-to-day toils. Which is to say that the finest film acting of 2018 was less indebted to the representational “realism” that often wins awards than to fashioning a bold kind of behavioral expressionism. Like many of their filmmaker collaborators, these actors are master stylists. Chuck Bowen
 

The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Sakura Ando, Shoplifters

As Nobuyo, the default “mother” of an informal family of hustlers on the margins of present-day Tokyo, Sakura Ando enriches Hirokazu Kore-eda’s gentle social drama with her bracing articulation of her character’s self-discovery. Nobuya’s melodramatic arc—a woman with dark secrets whose hard-won redemption is inevitably undone by higher forces—culminates in an agonizing one-shot unraveling, but what makes her fate so devastating is the sense of surprise and liberation that Ando brings to Nobuya’s acceptance of new responsibilities, passions, and her own self-worth. Christopher Gray


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Juliette Binoche, Let the Sunshine In

For all of her versatility, Juliette Binoche has never particularly been noted for her comic skills, but she displays a subtle wit as the middle-aged and single Isabelle in Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In, often dismissing petulant, needy men with scarcely more than a mocking glance or a passive-aggressive comment. Binoche truly shines, though, in scenes that play up Isabelle’s feelings of panic and loneliness over having to date again, such as when Isabelle reminisces about her ex-husband and, in the process, a whole panoply of emotions, including resentment and wistfulness, flit anxiously across the actress’s face. Most moving of all is the outright panic that Isabelle betrays when a wonderful date urges her to take things slowly, triggering an existential attack over her perceived lack of time to find another partner so late in life. Jake Cole


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Emily Browning, Golden Exits

Golden Exits sustains a lingering aura of futility that’s counterweighted by the film’s beauty and by the exhilaration of seeing Alex Ross Perry realize his vast ambitions, as he’s made a modern film about relationships and social constrictions that clears the bar set by the work of John Cassavetes and Woody Allen. Perry also ultimately empathizes with Naomi, who’s paradoxically diminished by her status as the narrative’s center of attention. Regarded by her American acquaintances as a barometer of their own personal failures, Naomi is never truly noticed. She’s the gorgeous woman as specter, played by Emily Browning with an ambiguity that carries a heartbreaking suggestion: that Naomi’s unknowable because no one wishes to know her. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Nicolas Cage, Mandy

Mandy‘s smorgasbord of indulgences is held together by Nicolas Cage, who gives one of the best performances of his career. Director Panos Cosmatos understands Cage as well as any director ever has, fashioning a series of moments that allow the actor to rhythmically blow off his top, exorcising Red’s rage and longing as well as, presumably, his own. In the film’s best scene, Red storms into the bathroom of his cabin and lets out a primal roar, while chugging a bottle of liquor that was stashed under the sink. Cage gives this scene a disquieting sense of relief, investing huge emotional notes with a lingering undercurrent that cuts to the heart of the film itself. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Toni Collette, Hereditary

Flashes of insanity and malaise factor into Toni Collette’s performance in Hereditary, yet Annie cannot be defined by such traits often linked to the trope of a hysterical woman. Instead, Collette’s glares of frustration suggest a world of complicated emotions that extend well beyond pain. Terror and intense focus become indecipherable in Collette’s eyes as Annie, a diorama artist, is torn from her profession by conspiring forces, making the film’s outcome feel even more like a cross between a cruel joke and a rebuke of society’s stacking the deck through maternal guilt and shame against Annie’s aspiring career. Clayton Dillard


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

As Queen Anne and her rival sycophants, Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz, respectively, establish a delicious series of manipulative, barbarous, and poignant emotional cross-currents throughout The Favourite. Stone and Weisz verbally parry and thrust at lightning speed, one-upping one another in an escalating series of duels that inspire the actresses to give among the finest performances of their careers, while Colman expertly operates at a slower, daringly draggy and exposed speed, painting a portrait of a woman imprisoned by entitlement. Collectively, this superb acting also achieves the near miraculous feat of rendering a Yorgos Lanthimos film authentically human. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Matt Dillon, The House That Jack Built

It’s no secret that Jack (Matt Dillon), the viciously misogynistic serial killer at the heart of Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built, is at least partially a stand-in for the director himself, and the genius of Dillon’s interpretation of the character is that he never seems to be sucking up to the man who created it. He plays Jack as ruthless, self-pitying, and disturbingly empty—Hannibal Lecter without the wit or charm. No mere pawn of the Danish provocateur’s autocritical schema, Dillon both deepens and challenges von Trier’s intended self-portraiture with the uncanny blankness of his performance, creating in the process an absolutely chilling embodiment of evil. Keith Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Adam Driver, BlackKklansman

Though BlackKklansman was marketed as the story of an African-American police officer impersonating a member of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, it also concerns a Jewish cop’s efforts to do the same by offering a white face to accompany a vocal charade. As said cop, Flip Zimmerman, Adam Driver deliriously plumbs head-first into a disturbing irony, acknowledging the catharses that can be had by indulging in disgusting epithets secretly at one’s own expense. Or, simply: Flip insults himself, and those close to him, and Driver elucidates the character’s disgust as well as the weird spiritual purging that can occur by indulging one’s basest instincts. One of America’s best and most sensitive actors offers perhaps his finest portrait yet of a soul twisted in contradictory knots. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

It’s a testament to the authenticity of Elsie Fisher’s performance in Eighth Grade that you’d never have guessed she’d been in front of a camera before, much less that she’s been acting consistently for years. As Kayla, the awkward, unpopular tween protagonist of Bo Burnham’s film, Fisher infuses every stammered “umm” and stumbling “like” with a palpable sense of self-loathing and social anxiety. For anyone who ever felt like Kayla in middle school, Fisher’s painfully real performance is liable to induce PTSD. Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace

Finally shedding his tick-laden parlor games, Ben Foster comes to life as an actor, connecting with Will and giving him a fearful thickness of being that’s only occasionally leavened by Tom, whom Thomasin McKenzie invests with the trembling, negotiating intelligence of an unformed prodigy. Will and Tom and Foster and McKenzie’s energies are beautifully in and out of sync, simultaneously. Foster confidently cedes the film to McKenzie, which parallels Will’s gradual relinquishing of authority to Tom. Both characters know that it’s unfair to expect Tom to inherit Will’s alienation, as she has the right to give this potentially doomed society a chance, to fight for it as well as herself. In Leave No Trace‘s heartbreaking climax, a relationship dies so that an individual, and maybe even a society, may be reborn. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Hugh Grant, Paddington 2

Hugh Grant may well be more cartoonish than the animated bear protagonist of Paddington 2. As the film’s villain, a has-been thespian with the world’s most convoluted scheme to finance a one-man show, Grant can scarcely utter a syllable without throwing his head back and exclaiming it to the rafters, and the actor’s body language—a series of shocked gasps, wild-eyed stares, and manic grins—is similarly absurd. As Phoenix dons a series of ever-more elaborate disguises throughout the film, Grant’s acting somehow gets even broader, resulting in a work of giddy panto and one of the finest comic performances in recent memory. Cole


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Regina Hall, Support the Girls

It’s not often that we see decency and level-headedness radiated on screen as convincingly as it is by Regina Hall in Support the Girls, much less a film centered around such a performance. As Lisa, a put-upon restaurant manager enduring a particularly hectic day on the job, Hall suppresses the comic histrionics that she’s become known for in mainstream comedy movies in order to inhabit the delicate naturalism that writer-director Andrew Bujalski consistently cultivates in his casts. Slipping into this mode with grace, the actress conveys the sheer exhaustion and frustration of nine-to-five existence with just the subtlest of disruptions to an exterior of buttoned-up professionalism. Carson Lund


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

As the great blackness of night swoops in, we reach for assurances of “the everlasting arms,” as sung about in First Reformed‘s concluding hymnal. Ethan Hawke’s staggering performance is one of Ecclesiastian sympathy, with watchful longing and hungry silences in between reminders of Toller’s own impotence to change the world. The man’s face suggests a tragic predicament that the only ark to save us from an impending flood is in our illusions. Niles Schwartz


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Bill Heck and Zoe Kazan, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Nearly every actor in the Coen brothers’ newest anti-western is remarkable, but Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck are particularly heartbreaking, partly because the audience has been so expertly rendered vulnerable to the vignette in which they appear. By the time that we get to “The Gal Who Got Rattled” in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, we’ve seen so much brutality and cynicism that we’re hardened for more of the same only to encounter tenderness. As potential lovers who never get to be, Kazan and Heck dramatize the unmooring vulnerability of feeling attraction just when you suspect that you’ve aged out of it, informing the Coens’ florid, beautiful dialogue with trembling pathos. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Brian Tyree Henry, If Beale Street Could Talk

For this critic, the lovers at the center of Barry Jenkins’s newest parable of racism are too gorgeous, primped, fawning, symbolic, metaphorical, and seemingly straight out of a coffee-table book. As a man recently out of prison after serving a stretch he didn’t deserve, Brian Tyree Henry does for If Beale Street Could Talk what he did for Widows and continues to do for Atlanta: informing potentially self-conscious conceits with a jolting burst of common-sense machismo. If Beale Street Could Talk‘s most haunting scene is a monologue that’s hypnotically uttered by Tyree, allowing this film, for a few minutes, to actually capture the brutal poetry of the James Baldwin novel that inspired it. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Helena Howard, Madeline’s Madeline

The center of a film about commitment and disassociation, Helena Howard’s Madeline evidently relishes the opportunity to change identities in the blink of an eye. Director Josephine Decker contrasts the aspiring actress’s easy mastery of improv exercises with Madeline’s harried life outside of rehearsal, where she’s regularly manipulated by her mother and an overeager director as she struggles to control her mental illness. Decker’s film is willfully alienating in its commitment to Madeline’s tortured interiority, but Howard steers it with an undeniable power and confidence, making Madeline’s rootless chaos feel entirely legible. Gray


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Bhreagh MacNeil, Werewolf

Werewolf belongs to the extraordinary Bhreagh MacNeil. The film derives quite a bit of its power from allowing Vanessa to unceremoniously wrest the spotlight away from Blaise (Andrew Gillis), a lost and bitter man whose quest for recovery is probably hopeless. MacNeil doesn’t project Vanessa’s determination in a manner that’s familiar to rehabilitation fables, but rather physically embodies it, and McKenzie doesn’t mar her with any screenwriterly speeches. We see Vanessa’s strength in the steel of her eyes, in her willingness to ask family for help, and in her ability to get a thankless job at an old-fashioned burger and soft-serve ice cream joint, in which she grinds imitation Oreo cookies into pieces with a machine that resembles a sausage grinder. The fierceness with which Vanessa grinds these cookies—or attempts to master an ice cream machine that resembles a liquid methadone dispenser—is haunting. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Rachel McAdams, Disobedience

Esti (Rachel McAdams), at first glance, is another type: an obsequious adherent to orthodoxy. When she passionately kisses Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), you understood the gesture as compensatory, to convey that I’m just not that into her anymore. But then McAdams caps the moment by quickly playing with Nivola’s beard, and the actress subtly communicates the sense of the genuine love that exits between this husband and wife—an impression that’s confirmed when Esti later repeats the gesture with Ronit (Rachel Weisz). Only theirs is a different kind of love, and we finally get a sense of what that is when, during a tryst in a hotel room, Ronit casually sends a stream of her spit into Esti’s mouth. This moment feels organically, almost miraculously stumbled upon—arrived at by two great actors wanting to convey the singular nature of their characters’ communion. Ed Gonzalez


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The pairing of Melissa McCarthy, a Hollywood A-lister, with Richard E. Grant, a sublime arthouse presence, is one of the most invigorating surprises of this year’s cinema. McCarthy avoids the pitfall of comic actors appearing in unusually dramatic material. Rather than restricting her emotional catalogue to a few grim gestures of purposefulness, McCarthy expands her repertoire, elaborating on the sadness that’s inherent in even her blockbuster roles—a sadness that also fuels her comic virtuosity. And Grant is complicit with McCarthy’s tonal dexterity in every way. Together they offer an irresistible portrait of a bittersweet paradox of companionable alienation. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Ben Mendelsohn, The Land of Steady Habits

The Land of Steady Habits benefits enormously from the casting of Ben Mendelsohn as an unexceptionally tormented upper-middle-class guy. Here, the actor submerges the aggression that’s often closer to the surface of his sleazy villain roles, giving Anders a mysterious internal tension that’s compelling and often funny. When writer-director Nicole Holofcener follows Anders around as he drifts in and out of the lives of Helene (Edie Falco) and his grown son, Preston (Thomas Mann), and their various friends, the film has a free-associational piquancy. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Jason Mitchell, Tyrel

Sebastián Silva tasks Jason Mitchell with carrying the weight of Tyrel on the actor’s face; he’s asked to project toughness in reaction shots to aggressions both micro and macro from Tyler’s white bros, then later vulnerability as he steals away for moments of quietude to escape the ambiguous pain of social discomfort. While the scenario and performance is comparable to that of Daniel Kaluuya’s in Get Out, Mitchell’s Tyler isn’t given a catharsis of violent retribution. Mitchell’s expressions and gestures convey the betrayal of a daily life that never lets Tyler feel at ease, let alone at home. Dillard


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Michelle Pfeiffer, Where Is Kyra?

Michelle Pfeiffer’s ferociously vulnerable and intelligent performance elucidates the pain, resentment, and fear that springs from escalating disappointment. Pfeiffer informs Kyra with a fragile mixture of empathy and rage, which is particularly on display when Kyra cares for her mother, Ruth, who’s played by Suzanne Shepard with a wily and commanding dignity. Kyra is understood by Pfeiffer to be taking qualified pleasure in her own effacement, as it implies an escape from a world that has rejected her. Early in the film, we see Kyra preparing a bath for Ruth, and a mirror fashions a prism in which mother and daughter are cordoned off from one another yet simultaneously visible, evoking the punishing intimacy, and the comfort, of caring for a dependent. Bowen


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Meinhard Neumann, Western

Casting is everything, the saying goes, but that’s especially true when filmmakers elect to use nonprofessionals, in which case ineffable factors such as “presence” and “authenticity” become paramount. Meinhard Neumann, the grizzled, mustachioed brooder at the center of Western who director Valeska Grisebach came across on a whim at a horse market, has these qualities in spades, in addition to a seemingly preternatural capacity for playing to Grisebach’s roving handheld camera and finding his light. His taciturn, repressed Meinhard doesn’t have a wide expressive range, but when the character does undergo a few emotional breakthroughs in the latter half of the film, Neumann seems to be genuinely accessing reserves of pain and regret deep within himself. Lund


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Jesse Plemons, Game Night

John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein assembled one of the strongest comedic ensembles in recent memory for Game Night, but a single performer still managed to steal the show: Jesse Plemons as the weirdo Gary, a sad-sack cop with a broken heart whose self-pitying glumness could ruin anyone’s vibe. Pitched perfectly at the intersection of creepiness and pathos, Plemons earns big laughs without really seeming to try. The hilarity arises instead from his expertly discomfiting embodiment of one of those off-putting personality types we’ve all unfortunately encountered: the guy you feel bad for but desperately want to get away from as fast as humanly possible. Watson


The 30 Best Film Performances of 2018

Steven Yeun, Burning

Lee Chang-dong’s Burning is driven by a central mystery of purpose. To what genre does this film belong? Is it a horror film, a romantic triangle, a class critique, or a beguiling fusion of all of the above? Much of this mystery is embodied by Steven Yeun’s performance as a rich smoothie who’s far more appealing than the floundering hero, which strikes up a crisis in the audience’s empathy that resonates with our romantic preferences in real life. Turns out there’s a reason that confident people get all the lovers, because they are, well, confident. Yet Yeun laces his sexiness with the subtlest tint of passive aggression, so subtle that one wonders if it’s even there, investing Burning with a fleeting malignancy that’s worthy of Claude Chabrol. Bowen


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