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The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

This list recognizes games many of us love, but it devotes as much space to ones a few of us are passionate about.



The 25 Best Video Games of 2018
Photo: Nomada Studio

In video game journalism, the desire for consensus is often wielded like a cudgel in an attempt to silence dissenting voices. Calls for so-called “objective” analysis—for a number-crunching product review rather than a thoughtful critique of what a game means, or doesn’t mean, to say—suggest a desire for the process to be all but automated. The cycle can be disheartening, especially when it suggests that what is said matters less than whether it lines up with impressions gleaned from marketing materials, or when it demands that a review score remain in the ill-defined bounds of an industry that feeds on hype and demands flattery.

But, then, it’s easy to conflate how people weaponize consensus with the concept itself, meaning it’s easy to overlook its uses. In such a loud, dense, and expensive medium, where everything seems to be crying for our attention all the time, it’s indispensable to be able to cut through the noise. It’s invaluable to see a handful of games everyone else is pointing to as something you should consider spending your money on. Those games—God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and even smaller but no less beloved titles like Celeste—are on this list, the ones that captured our imaginations and dropped our jaws just the way they did for thousands of players.

Just as useful, though, is to be able to champion the unsung in the face of consensus. We can laud the expansive world of Red Dead Redemption 2 and the underwater alien vistas of Subnautica in the same breath. This list recognizes games many of us love, but it devotes as much space to ones a few of us are passionate about: the outsider art of Arbitrary Metric or Hidetaka Suehiro, the RPG-mirrored journey of a man named Gary, a cooperative prison break, a pulsating neon-tinged platformer. We prefer to think of consensus less as a means to silence dissent than as a way to hack away at the brush and clear a path for our own individual passions, as well as leave space for you to find your own. Steven Scaife

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

25. Forgotton Anne

Players waited for ages to see a game that captured the visual imagination and deep, earnest emotion of Hayao Miyazaki, and after Studio Ghibli helped work on Ni No Kuni, well, they were left waiting. Whatever magic the game contained was drowned out by one clunky RPG mechanic too many. The specific thing players yearned for has finally been conjured by Forgotton Anne, which goes beyond doing an admirable job of aping the look and feel of Studio Ghibli’s animation. Yes, the concept of a girl finding herself the orphaned enforcer of a world made by and for every forgotten object the human world has ever lost is ripe for the exact kind of emotional allegory that Miyazaki himself is famous for. Even still, Forgotton Anne has a power all its own when it comes to how it uses player choice against the player. The narrative sinks its teeth deep into exploring the idea of people struggling with being able to see immigrants as human, even despite the fact that Forgotton Anne‘s immigrants are very much not, and it’s soul-crushing how relevant that plot element became this year. It’s even more so when our heroine’s choices and hypocrisies and so-called altruism comes back to haunt her later on. Forgotton Anne goes to beautiful, unexpected places, and while it wears its inspiration on its sleeve, it’s very much its own remarkable creature. Justin Clark

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

24. A Way Out

What’s fascinating and successful about A Way Out is its insistence on a forced split-screen—even for online co-op. The game wants you not only to do your job, but to be aware of how the other player has gone about doing his or hers. This choice mirrors in players the begrudging trust that’s built between Leo and Vincent when the game’s prison-break narrative forces these two strangers to work together. You’ll chisel a hole in the wall while your partner in the next cell stands watch for guards. Then, it’s your turn to return the favor, by causing a distraction or breaking up a fight, knowing that you may need to rely on your partner later to do the same for you. But A Way Out actually shines brightest in its action-free sequences, which focus less on familiar cooperative activities and more on illuminating how players think—what they choose to focus on interacting with and how they respond when the stakes aren’t necessarily a matter of life and death. Aaron Riccio

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

23. Donut County

Donut County is an absurdist comedy game about a raccoon inexplicably gifted with a phone app that causes mass destruction via remotely controlled holes in the ground. Similar in tone to cult classics Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy, the game’s abstract concept is executed via simple gameplay wherein the player moves an ever-expanding hole around familiar settings to suck furniture, people, and buildings into the earth. There’s a sense of accomplishment in successfully annihilating everything in sight, from smaller items such as fence posts and pot plants, to larger ones like animals and gardening utensils, then cars and entire buildings. Nothing can escape you and your inexplicable instrument of doom. Donut County matches its one-of-a-kind gameplay with clever comedy writing, best demonstrated in an in-game encyclopedia—with its detailing of the raccoon’s ludicrous beliefs, such as cliffs being an alien-created trap—that satirizes the overused video game trope of collectables. Ryan Aston

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

22. GRIS

At the heart of GRIS is the idea of recovering from anguish through coping strategies and empathy. As the game commences, a girl has undergone some kind of devastating trauma. Then, the player avatar, Gris, falls through the world and into a derelict and hopeless place devoid of color. A first, Gris can barely walk, her movements seemingly encumbered by her psychological tolls, but she perseveres through barren wastes to find a monument where she restores the first ounce of color to the world and gains the ability to jump. From here, each wordless and strikingly artful section of GRIS symbolizes a different aspect of dealing with a psychological trauma, which is represented here by predatory animals that manifest from black ink. Crushing depression is exemplified by gray colors and empty landscapes, which Gris brings color and form back to as she helps others, as well as reforms the girl’s fractured psyche. That the narrative is intentionally ambiguous is important, as the game would not have the universal appeal that it does if it only dealt with a specific traumatic event. GRIS is a triumph of deeply affecting interactive poetry. Aston

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

21. The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memory

When The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories starts, it’s a bog-standard indie platform-puzzler—albeit with an eye-catching, fluid animation style—starring a girl trying to save her missing girlfriend on an abandoned island. The very second lightning strikes, frying the girl to cinders, and a moose in a lab coat brings her back to life, The Missing takes a hard left swerve into the realm of the surreal and never looks back for most of its play time. Death isn’t a teacher in the game, but a most morbid, all-purpose skeleton key that fits every lock to every door if you’re creative enough. It’d be a bonkers gimmick worthy of stunned applause by itself, and then it becomes clear exactly what all this suffering was meant to represent, and suddenly, it’s the most progressive and affecting game of the year, an exercise of excruciating sympathy toward the marginalized that has absolutely no parallel in gaming. Clark

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

20. Paratopic

Breathe it in, the grime and the decay and the desperation rendered in Paratopic‘s stark, lo-fi polygons. The game’s world is ambiguous and anonymous and empty, leading you through wilderness and concrete sprawl. It pulls you into garbled faces, pushes you down highways with no company but a suitcase and a distorted radio. You become disoriented as the game cuts away, throwing you into other perspectives and then back again. Are you in control? Is your fate truly your own? The long, still moments between cuts leave space for the dread of this world to seep in and build anticipation for something terrible. It seems inevitable. A short, experimental game from designers Jessica Harvey and Doc Burford and composer BeauChaotica, Paratopic is the nightmare version of so-called walking simulators, revealing the existential horror simmering just beneath their constraints. Scaife

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

19. Yoku’s Island Express

It’s tough to picture how a game could mix pinball with Metroid-style exploration, and even tougher to visualize how it might be pulled off well. But any skepticism melts away after just a few moments with Yoku’s Island Express as its title character, a postmaster beetle attached to a ball, careens across the screen. Instead of jumping, he’s propelled by pinball flippers seeded throughout the beautiful island environment, and the pinball/platforming combination immediately feels so fluid that it becomes less a strange gimmick than a natural extension of Yoku’s delightful journey. It’s a warm, friendly game filled with moments guaranteed to win you over from as early as the very first upgrade: a tiny party horn for Yoku to blow on and get a character’s attention. He might need it in-game to compensate for his short stature, but even in this crowded exploration-platforming subgenre, the blissful mechanics of Yoku’s pinball adventure ensure he stands tall as the rest. Scaife

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

18. Legendary Gary

It’s no secret that the game industry attempts to exploit our desire for escapism, and most developers seem fine with reinforcing this dubious status quo. But Legendary Gary, created by Evan Rogers, addresses the tension between art and responsibility with a tale about a young adult who spends hours playing a computer game called Legend of the Spear in order to forget about his duty of supporting his mother and girlfriend. As the titular protagonist advances further in Legend of the Spear, he notices weird connections between the game’s world and the real world. While the line between fiction and reality crumbles, Gary is forced to face the hurdles of life—a friend overdosing, the emotional hole left behind by his dead father, shady managerial politics at his supermarket job—as a man and human being. Many years ago, filmmaker François Truffaut famously asked, “Is the cinema more important than life?” The touching conclusion of Legendary Gary seems to respond, “Of course not.” Jed Pressgrove

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

17. Dandara

Dandara is the most distinct platformer of 2018, as it involves no running or jumping. Instead, you must shoot the protagonist to select sections of floors, walls, ceilings, and suspended platforms from myriad angles. This fact alone puts the game in less-traveled territory, but developer Long Hat House doesn’t stop there. Sometimes when you travel from one surface to another, the entire screen rotates, giving the action a beautiful yet disorienting rhythm, especially when you’re evading the attacks of adversaries. Dandara is also built around unlocking segments of an interconnected world, but the game frequently subverts one’s expectations, as when you discover an area that’s plagued by an unhittable, bullet-firing enemy that chases you from one screen to the next. In another case, opening new paths comes with the catch of having to navigate around suddenly activated obstacles in previously completed sections of a level. After playing Dandara, you may never look at platforming or Metroid-inspired exploration the same way again. Pressgrove

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

16. Red Dead Redemption 2

Told from the perspective of a cowboy wrestling with a cultural shift in society, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a philosophical take on the American frontier. Arthur Morgan is a lawless man wanting to be lawful, but he’s too mixed up in gang affiliations to believe his life can ever truly be redeemed. Especially in its profoundly heartbreaking depiction of the demise of the Van der Linde gang, Red Dead Redemption 2‘s theme of loyalty in the face of hopelessness rises to the forefront of the gameplay experience. Just as impressive as that feeling of heft to the kick of revolvers is the level of detail that went into rendering all the towns you come across, each and every part of these locales informed by its socioeconomics. But what makes the game something truly special is how it examines its main character’s moral dilemma. Red Dead Redemption 2 tells us that sticking to our guns may leave us deader than a deer on a riverbank, and assimilation doesn’t always mean defeat. Jeremy Winslow

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

15. Into the Breach

This turn-based gem certainly lives up to the ominous implications of its title. From beginning to end, the goal of protecting cities from hostile aliens that burrow out of the ground frequently appears downright unmanageable. After much frustration and incredulity, you realize that trying to eliminate every threat is a fool’s endeavor and that the key to victory is a stingy, uncompromising, and cerebral defense; performing a non-damaging shove on a foe in order to block the entrance of another pest often guarantees more success than trying to outmuscle the existing opposition. Every decision is ultimately critical here, so to survive a tough battle is to feel an immense relief that’s nearly unparalleled in a video game industry that tends to reward and encourage more simplified approaches to problem solving. Into the Breach is the most chess-like video game in recent memory, an intense rebuttal to the titles that spoil and satiate us with their frequently meaningless choices. Pressgrove

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

14. ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission

Every console has had a game like ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission, some sort of instantly giddying title that astounds with the world it conjures and the control within it that you’re afforded. This being a VR title, however, it seems safe to say that ASTRO BOT goes a bit further than most with its immersion. There’s no fixed camera here to rotate about. Instead, it’s you who has to stand on tiptoes to see what lurks atop a construction site’s high-up girders, or crane your neck around in order to look—from cliffs or behind corners—for your missing robotic crewmates. At times, you even have to literally use your head to interact with in-game items—to break down barriers obstructing your miniature, controllable character, or to blow apart a giant white dandelion to reveal a new path. But the most wondrous part of ASTRO BOT comes when, after spending most of a freeform level swimming beneath the ocean, you surface and find your view partially obscured. A well-placed mirror reveals your robotic, controller-wielding self—and the bright yellow snorkel you’re wearing that now has seaweed stuck in it. It’s a brilliant nod to one’s desire to truly be a part of a game. Riccio

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

13. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Conventional logic says that a game as enormous as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate should be collapsing under its own weight like a dying star. It feels like the Mr. Creosote of video games, a title almost disgustingly distended with content. The series roster has grown enormous beyond belief, and already another announced DLC character—Joker from Persona 5—threatens to be the wafer-thin mint that makes the whole thing explode. And yet, it’s undeniable that the title lives up to its name beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Not just an all-inclusive compilation of nearly every piece of content from its predecessors, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate uses standard Smash Bros. fight mechanics as the foundation for a full-blown RPG. It also beefs up the series’s familiar Classic single player romp from being a bunch of random fights with LittleBigPlanet-style recreations of entire games and their most iconic moments. Even after cramming in everything you’ve ever seen in a Smash Bros. game, Nintendo still has a plethora of surprises to spring on the player—tiny delights waiting to be unlocked hundreds of hours down the road for any player of any skill level. Clark

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

12. The Messenger

Though The Messenger may resemble classic side-scrolling platformers like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Ninja Gaiden, it’s more than just a nostalgia trip. This boldly colorful title is consistently entertaining in both its gameplay and storytelling—challenging the player in ways that never feel gimmicky or punishing. But this Metroidvania is most impressive for the way it seamlessly leaps from 8-bit to 16-bit. The increase in pixel count allows Sabotage Studios to play around with player expectation: A stage that required a simple jump here and a well-timed dodge there in 8-bit may suddenly require avoiding swinging spiked balls across a series of slow-moving platforms in 16-bit. Even after multiple playthroughs, it feels as if the memorably scored The Messenger isn’t done finding new ways of throwing exhilarating curveballs at the player. Jeremy Winslow

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

11. Dead Cells

Everyday it seems another miserable, demoralizing roguelike hits stores, trying to be the next Dark Souls but utterly oblivious to the specific recipe of tone, timbre, and ethos that makes Dark Souls work. The success of Dead Cells comes from beckoning its players onward. You wake up a formless blob of organic matter, squeezed into a suit of armor. The game then promises power, answers, and awe, and though it refuses to offer these things for free, Dead Cells is rightfully confident that these things are worth it. It’s an impressively grotesque, gothic world that our unnamed hero has to make his way through in order to achieve freedom, but it never puts mastery over one’s environment or the enjoyment of the journey too far out of arm’s reach. There will be a whole class of games we dub “Cells-like” in the near future, and it would be folly for us not to honor the one that got the trend started. Clark

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

10. Octahedron

Octahedron is a rave in video game form. Here, you create your own platforms as you attempt to climb shafts filled with electric neon obstacles and viral creatures that scrabble about on their glowing fibrous legs shooting sound waves at you. Each level adds some new interpretation of the electronic soundtrack’s thumping beat, layering on the complexity until you’re contending with missile-launching turrets spinning in unison, avoiding platform-eating piranha plants, or manipulating blocky speaker-like cannons so that their streams of sound no longer block your path. This synesthetic experience feels like a close cousin to that of rhythm games, though Octahedron affords the player more freedom, since you’re restricted only by the number of platforms you can create before needing to land on a fixed surface. Hypnotically satisfying, the game is the song you can’t—and don’t—want to get out of your head. Riccio

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

9. Hitman 2

In the exclusive VIP room of the Isle of Sgàil castle, the five members of the Ark Society council gather to discuss their plans to hold power over the world. During this Illuminati-esque gathering, the members of this privileged elite wear masks to conceal their identities—to discuss how they will profit from fixing the climate change disaster they created. But unbeknownst to them, one member isn’t who he seems. The elusive Agent 47, having earlier tossed member Jebediah Block over a balcony, has infiltrated their ranks, and he sets out to murder them all, dishing out his unique brand of darkly comedic justice. The game, a fusion of escapist wish-fulfillment and satire, has the player deploy its familiar and new stealth mechanics across inventive scenarios. Whether in an exotic jungle or a Vermont suburb, 47 exploits the hyper-detailed nature of his surroundings to complete his executions, and frequently in hilarious disguise. Hitman 2 gives players the tools to make their own amusing stories within the game’s open worlds, from choking an F1 driver while disguised in a flamingo outfit, to blowing up a Columbian drug lord using an explosive rubber duck, to reprogramming an android so it can gun down an MI5 agent turned freelance assassin played by Sean Bean. Aston

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

8. Celeste

The dash jump of Celeste‘s protagonist, Madeline, is one of the great platforming mechanics of recent years, but it’s not what makes the game remarkable. No, what makes Celeste remarkable is context. In the hands of Matt Makes Games, the familiar framework of ultra-hard platforming becomes an affecting narrative about mental health as naturally as if the subgenre had been building to it all along. Thoughtful character interludes punctuate Madeline’s dangerous climb up Celeste Mountain, moments of dialogue or anxiety that show her journey to be more than a physical one. She controls a monster, concludes a boss battle with an embrace, and all but flies while Lena Raine’s excellent soundtrack pulses in the background, as the game tosses off mechanics as satisfying as they are thematically resonant. Best of all, the difficulty-adjusting Assist Mode frames Celeste‘s narrative as one of triumph accomplished by any means necessary rather than through the lone correct path to the summit. Scaife

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

7. Guacamelee! 2

Guacamelee! 2 is the best-paced action game since 2005’s Resident Evil 4. This sequel just never takes a breath as it throws every possible type of challenge at Juan, the player-controlled Mexican wrestler hero who picks up various skills throughout the game at an absurdly rapid clip. Unlike the references in the first Guacamelee!, the allusions here to game history and trends don’t feel obligatory, instead serving as a way to satirize everything from player empowerment to convoluted plot structure. All of this wild material is anchored by some of the most flexible mechanics of any era; throughout, punches, slides, body slams, flying techniques, and more must be performed in succession to overcome numerous platforming and combat tests. DrinkBox Studios has delivered one of the better video game sequels with Guacamelee! 2, further cementing itself among the most exciting developers working today. Pressgrove

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

6. Subnautica

Subnautica‘s open world, an expansive ocean on an alien planet, is frightening and mesmerizing in equal measure. As a survivor of a water landing, you must manage your oxygen wisely as you delve deeper into a sea full of never-before-seen life. As you uncover resources from caverns, long coral tubes, ship wreckage, and more, you will create more sophisticated forms of technology that can help you advance the game’s unobtrusive story or grant you access to the darkest corners of the underwater setting. No stretch of water in video game history has offered such an enlivening and humbling experience, from when you first lay eyes on the majestic alien equivalent of a whale to when you struggle to swim to the surface on zero oxygen. Drowning in Subnautica leads to gaming’s most existentially provocative moment of the year, as the protagonist’s slowly fading sight is so convincing that you might find yourself believing that you’re crossing over, in an unexpectedly peaceful fashion, to an undiscovered dimension. Pressgrove

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

5. Florence

Florence relates the story of a twentysomething woman who falls in love with and ultimately separates from a cellist she meets in a park after her phone dies during her commute to a dead-end job. The narrative-focused game unfolds, and without a single word of spoken dialogue, as a series of puzzles. Though they may be rudimentary, they effectively capture the complex, overwhelming, and often warring feelings—frustration, joy, nervousness, and wonder—of people in love. Ultimately, Florence‘s message is one of self-acceptance and self-discovery. It’s easy to settle into a routine, especially after acquiring a comfortable gig, but the game illustrates that by doing so we sell ourselves short, turning our back to an even more fulfilling life. As Florence Yeoh spreads her wings and takes a chance on her dreams, players get to see the fruits of her commitment. It’s a subtle nudge from the Australian video game developer to do the same, because you’ll never know the outcome unless you try. Winslow

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

4. Iconoclasts

While Iconoclasts‘s bright and imaginative 2D pixelated graphics would look right at home on a 16-bit console of yore, its themes and ideas are very much that of the modern day. The game’s silent protagonist, Robin, is trapped in a fascistic society ruled by fundamentalist dogma, where her skills as a mechanic are outlawed, positioning her as a criminal and counterforce in a setting that opposes scientific advancement and free-thinking. Robin’s journey to escape execution and expose the truth of her society’s dominating political organization aligns her with other well-crafted characters who oppose the tyrannical theocracy both in ideology and ability, and it’s through its characters’ unique facilities that Iconoclasts demonstrates a kind of Ludonarrative harmony, as the gameplay and themes are in lockstep, crafting an experience that tackles important issues of faith, religion, and totalitarianism. Throughout, Iconoclasts‘s varied gameplay mechanics directly serve the narrative. Consider Robin’s special tool, an illegal wrench, and how it not only symbolizes suppression of science and personal freedoms, but is used as a weapon against enemies and a means of controlling technology and traversing obstacles, often directly modifying and rearranging objects in the world. It also pushes Robin toward her ultimate goal of fixing the broken world for good. Aston

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

3. Return of the Obra Dinn

The Obra Dinn is silent, with the ship’s crew either dead or disappeared. Gifted with a kind of supernatural pocket watch, you observe freeze frames of each person’s last living moments, looking for clues to their name, occupation, and cause of death to jot down in your little book. For insurance purposes, of course. Lucas Pope’s follow-up to Papers Please places soulless, dehumanizing record-keeping on a collision course with unimaginable horror, morphing the story of the crew’s last days into a logic puzzle as an indictment of capitalism. Many games have flirted with crime scene investigation in a guided capacity, but Pope actually turns you loose to sift through myriad, missable details on your own. Tattoos, accents, crew assignments, blood trails, and more must all factor into your calculations in one of the most satisfying, complex detective games ever created. One scene finds you jammed into a narrow space that restricts your movement, forcing you to only peek through a hole in the wall at the frozen terror beyond. It’s one astounding composition among many, proof that Return of the Obra Dinn is as meticulously wound as the pocket watch that sets it in motion. Scaife

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

2. Marvel’s Spider-Man

This was the year Insomniac Games taught us the crucial difference between inhabiting a superhero and actually being one. Heroes rarely get to relate to the people they save on a personal level. In gaming, it’s even rarer to see a hero who saves a specific person’s day for no reward, and in ways that don’t involve breaking bones. Video games excel at letting players wield great power, while ignoring the great responsibility that comes with that. Marvel’s Spider-Man, miraculously, excels at both. As breathtaking and awesomely kinetic as it feels for Spider-Man to swing through Manhattan before taking out bad guys in a wild death-defying mid-air dance, the game’s most daring feat is when the acrobatics take a sidestep to poignancy and humanity. The inherent coolness of being Spider-Man never overwhelms the portrayal of every character as human beings trying desperately to accept or transcend their problems, their sworn duty, even their mortality, and Peter Parker showing nearly infinite empathy in coping with his and their mistakes. Spider-Man, the webslinger, is cool. Spider-Man, friend of an entire city, is phenomenal. Clark

The 25 Best Video Games of 2018

1. God of War

The eighth entry in the God of War series is full of classic, epic combat, as you’ll slay your share of elemental trolls, winged dark elves, and giant thunder dragons throughout the game’s campaign. But whereas its precursors placed mindless violence front and center, this game brings a new weight to protagonist Kratos’s every move. It’s in the heavier Leviathan Axe that he wields this time around, as well as in the lessons his actions convey to his son. The new Nordic setting also refuels the franchise’s creative roots. The game overflows with ideas and fresh locations throughout Kratos’s journey across the Nine Realms, with some side quests so expansive that they don’t just introduce an extra area, but an entirely different dimension with its own set of rules, like fiery Muspelheim or poison-fogged Niflheim. The regions that remain on the main path are central to Kratos’s literal and figurative journey: a witch’s autumnal sanctuary speaks to peaceful isolation; a giant’s frozen corpse, perilously climbed, illustrates the bitter results of war; and Helheim, the green-hued land of the dead, gives a firsthand demonstration of the implacable calling of the dead. Even God of War‘s central hub is something more than it immediately appears: The water level recedes multiple times over the course of the game, each time exposing new islets and interconnecting pathways to existing ones, much as Kratos’s taciturn surface is gradually stripped away to reveal his deeper nature. There’s a double meaning to everything, especially the more visceral combat, which forces players to think about how to best engage foes, but about what they’re teaching their in-game son. This collection of mythic stories is made more relatable, not more mundane, through the lens of parenthood. Riccio



2019 Oscar Nomination Predictions

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



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.



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?)


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.




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.




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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