This summer, moviegoers took part in an annual ritual, flocking to theaters for entertainment, emotional experiences and an escape from the heat. As usual, caped crusaders and franchise fare dominated the box office, but 2018 saw a number of unconventional runaway summer hits, most notably the romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians” and the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” All in all, it was an excellent time to seek refuge in the comforts of cinema, even when it forced us to contend with the world around us. What follows are the 10 best films I saw this summer in alphabetical order.
After spending the past few years on jaw-dropping art house pictures, director Spike Lee returned to the mainstream with “BlacKkKlansman,” which stands among the best of his films. Based on a true story, Colorado Springs detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan, calling into their headquarters while sending a white officer in his place. Lee, one of the greatest American filmmakers, crafts an entertaining procedural that drips with style, but thoughtfully confronts the white supremacist history of cinema in the process.
Starring and co-written by the Oakland, Calif., duo of Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, “Blindspotting” is a triumph of independent filmmaking. Focusing on the friendship between Collin (Diggs) and Miles (Casal), the film takes aim at gentrification, the justice system and police brutality. Employing a few hip-hop musical numbers, buddy comedy and powerful social critique, Diggs and Casal are a cinematic dream team for the ages, and their empathetic, eye-popping passion project is a testament to indie cinema’s crossover appeal.
A radical standout of contemporary filmmaking, Dominican filmmaker Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias’ “Cocote” is one of the summer’s most thrilling films. Winner of the 2017 Locarno Film Festival’s Signs of Life award, Arias focuses on an Evangelical gardener’s struggle with familial obligations. Led by stage actor Vicente Santos, along with a cast of local non-professionals, Arias combines the revenge thriller and cinematic ethnography to create a dazzling mixed-media portrait of religious and ethnic conflict in the Dominican Republic.
“First Reformed” was the latest directorial effort from Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese’ longtime screenwriter and one of American cinema’s boldest voices. Small town pastor Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) endures a crisis of faith when faced with a parishioner’s radical activism. It’s a career high for Hawke, and the 72-year-old Schrader writes with the poisonous tongue of a world-weary young man, railing against the ongoing destruction of the environment. It’s a transcendent, deeply alienating dive into questions of faith and martyrdom in the modern era.
If there was one film this summer that raised more questions than answers, it was Josephine Decker’s beguiling “Madeline’s Madeline.” An experimental look inside the mind of the titular actress (Helena Howard), Decker’s film is a knotty, unclassifiable piece of dramaturgy with a quasi-documentary formal rigor. It’s one of the year’s most challenging films, and a rewarding one at that. In a time when representation in storytelling, as well as the toll of mental illness, are at the forefront of popular discourse, it may also be one of 2018’s most essential works of art.
As far as unadulterated summer entertainment goes, nothing could beat “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.” The sequel to 2008’s smash hit jukebox musical, in which a star-studded cast dances around a Greek island to the discography of Swedish band ABBA, this follow-up takes things up a notch with bigger, better numbers. For the cherry on top of this tooth-achingly sweet sundae, Cher stops by for a last minute sendoff that blows everyone out of the water. It may not be particularly original, but it’s a pure pleasure meant to be consumed again and again.
The “Mission: Impossible” series is the strongest movie franchise to emerge in the past two decades, and “Fallout,” the sixth installment, will regain your faith in big budget spectacle. Christopher McQuarrie, Tom Cruise’s chosen collaborator, returns to the director’s chair and tops his work on “Rogue Nation.” The stunts are staggering and the twists even more thrilling than before as Ethan Hunt (Cruise) races against time to save the world from foes new and old. Simply put, it’s a triumph of movie magic, one that deserves to be seen on the big screen.
The debut film by rapper and Occupy Wall Street organizer Boots Riley, “Sorry to Bother You” brought a trenchant Marxist critique to multiplexes in July. Down-and-out telemarketer Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) ascends the ranks of his job to become a “power caller,” a coveted position that sends him down a rabbit hole of corporate exploitation. It’s a near-miracle that such a fresh film was a success, and Riley deserves the accolade. His film is a viciously hilarious, devastating satire that sinks its teeth into the complex relationships between race and labor.
“Summer 1993” is 2018’s best-kept secret, a movingly understated reflection on childhood and summertime boredom. Spanish filmmaker Carla Simon turns her eye to Frida (Laia Artigas), a six-year-old orphan who spends the summer at her estranged family’s country home. Rich, multilayered sound design wraps around you like a blanket, keeping unspoken tragedies out of explicit view. Based on episodes from Simon’s own life, her film cuts through the anger and noise of even the summer’s best films, and its quietude was more than welcome.
Lastly, Mumblecore founder Andrew Bujalski’s comedy “Support the Girls” helped end the summer with a bang, albeit a quiet one. Set in a sports bar called Double Whammies, the film follows a day in the life of manager Lisa (Regina Hall) as she scrambles to put out a comic tsunami of pitiless fires in her workplace. It’s an open-hearted wonder, a funny, concise confection with a lot on its mind. Bujalski and his actors place remarkable attention on every character, creating a familiar atmosphere of working-class funny business.