It wasn’t until June that the movie year really set sail.You see, that’s when the trailer for “A Star Is Born” overtook the internet. By then, the Avengers had already turned to dust (or something), and “Black Panther” had claimed its still-guarded spot atop the annual box-office rankings. But when Bradley Cooper, the American sniper himself, told Lady Gaga, of all people, that he wanted to take another look at her, 2018 fell off the deep end.The exchange became a meme ― what didn’t become a meme? ― and suddenly all of spring’s lackluster blockbusters (“A Wrinkle in Time,” “Ready Player One,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story”) felt like distant glimmers ready to be upstaged.Blessedly, plenty was waiting to upstage them: Ethan Hunt, a wave of hit documentaries, continued cries of “Wakanda forever,” Cher’s grand entrance, Awkwafina’s comic timing (twice over), a thriller filtered through computer screens, Spike Lee, Netflix rom-coms, Michael Myers’ lucrative return, Tilda Swinton’s bewitching chicken and, yes, Gaga’s Tinseltown baptism. As 2018 barrels to a close, it does so with a spoonful of sugar and a doozy of CGI. “Mary Poppins Returns” and “Aquaman” will be the final tentpoles to flood theaters, arriving amid an Oscar season that once threatened to introduce a popularity prize. If a calendar with record-high grosses and a limitless scroll of disheartening news confirms anything, it’s that our entertainment landscape is more crowded than ever ― which makes the best of the best all the better. For anyone who claims moviegoing as a profession, year-end lists are agonizing. I already have regrets about what was omitted from my latest roster, not wanting forgotten favorites to become casualties. In shaping this list, I prioritized titles with infinite rewatchability ― ones I’d want to take another look at, in other words: rainy-day distractions, haunting enigmas, dizzying reflections of humanity’s peaks and valleys.I’ll change my mind as soon as tomorrow, but that’s part of the fun. The movies remind us that we never have to settle for just one thing. In a darkened theater (or living room), we get the good, the bad and the ugly, sometimes at once. It is, after all, the ultimate escape.20. “A Simple Favor”
Paul Feig turned “Gone Girl” into martini camp, casting Blake Lively (in Uma Thurman vixen mode, and never better) as a bespoke blue blood and Anna Kendrick as the obsequious mommy vlogger who gets wrapped up in her disappearance. Even when the plot careens off the rails, “A Simple Favor” is a pastry worthy of Hollywood’s trash pantheon. As an added bonus, it was the second film this year (after “Crazy Rich Asians”) to treat us to Henry Golding’s charming abs … er, I mean, talents.
Lionsgate19. “Skate Kitchen”
Crystal Moselle made a name for herself with the 2015 documentary “The Wolfpack,” charting sheltered brothers whose connection to the world came courtesy of the movies they watched inside their cramped New York City apartment. Her follow-up, “Skate Kitchen,” has a similar docu-sheen, but here Moselle fictionalizes a female skateboarding collective she encountered on a subway. You’ll grin ear to ear throughout, soaring alongside the girls (plus Jaden Smith) and their too-cool wheels. With vibrant cinematography and dialogue that sounds unscripted, the film is “Kids”-lite for the Instagram age, at once street-smart, glossy and splendidly raw.
Magnolia Pictures18. “Thoroughbreds”
“The only thing worse than being incompetent or being unkind or being evil is being indecisive,” a sociopathic teen (Olivia Cooke) tells her sorta-friend (Anya Taylor-Joy) in “Thoroughbreds.” So they make a firm decision to kill the latter’s vicious stepfather, a crime nuzzled amid the idylls of suburbia (think “Heathers”) and the hubris of uncanny companionship (think Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona”). Cory Finley’s satire is a slick psychodrama that’s alternately hot and cold, amusing and bloody.
Focus Features17. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”
The derring-do of Scientology’s patron saint should have grown stale now that “Mission: Impossible” has seen six spotty installments. Somehow, the opposite happened. In a dazzling long take, Tom Cruise (or Ethan Hunt, rather) parachutes from an aircraft 25,000 feet in the air, the camera plummeting alongside him — and that’s just the beginning. Christopher McQuarrie stares other blockbuster directors in the face, daring them to conjure half the integrity he does when staging action sequences. In today’s CGI malaise, rarely is big-screen frenzy this crisp. And rarely does it include Angela Bassett making nuclear commands sound like Shakespearean verse. If there’s such a thing as Hollywood tentpole nirvana, it looks like “Fallout.”
Paramount Pictures16. “The Rider”
“The Rider” takes place amid poverty but finds great riches in its South Dakota vista. Our taciturn but sensitive hero (Brady Jandreau) takes refuge in the rodeo, or at least he did before an injury threatened his sanctuary. Chloé Zhao’s beautiful sophomore feature captures paradise lost, wondering how someone with limited means can rebuild an identity in an America whose resources don’t always abound. Hope and despair intermingle, forever one gallop away from peace.
Sony Pictures Classics15. “Support the Girls”
“Support the Girls” screams into the void in all the right ways. Andrew Bujalski’s winning slice-of-life dramedy follows the tight-knit women who run a Hooters knockoff in Texas, where a corporate chain’s arrival threatens their livelihood. Despite personal strife, they skirt the clientele’s sexism and racism with a can-do spirit that speaks to the resiliency of the American heartland. Boasting a first-rate performance from Regina Hall, who plays the sports bar’s tireless manager, this sharply observed jewel is an indie that cannot go ignored. It has far too much to say, and far too charismatic a way of doing so.
Magnolia Pictures14. “Hereditary”
The devil’s in the details, and the details are probably sitting in your attic. Diorama artist Annie Graham (Toni Colette) finds out the harrowing way: first by mourning her mother’s death, then by watching her family — and its eerie secrets — unravel. “Hereditary,” written and directed by first-timer Ari Aster, joins the many horror staples that filter grief through supernatural and demonic specters (“Don’t Look Now,” “The Others,” “The Babadook”). Loss, after all, haunts victims much as a ghost would: It is slow, bizarre and sometimes fatal. But Aster also looks beyond his characters’ maladjustment, actualizing the occult elements that another storyteller might render metaphorical. You’ll be clucking in your nightmares.
A2413. “The Tale”
HBO nabbed “The Tale” at Sundance, providing it an ideal home and sparing us box-office reports about how few people would pay to see a portrait of sexual assault. With exquisite grace, Jennifer Fox’s lyrical memoir places its protagonist (Laura Dern) in conversation with her younger self (Isabelle Nélisse), confronting once-treasured memories that are, in actuality, anything but. The results play like a tone poem: introspective, gutting, elliptical and ultimately life-affirming.
HBO12. “Paddington 2”
The hype is real. Many kiddie movies aim for the grown-up rafters, but few reach them as triumphantly as “Paddington 2.” The gentle bear’s pratfalls make for the year’s cleverest sight gags, and his mishaps its most sophisticated whimsy. Prison breaks! Hidden fortunes! An evil Hugh Grant! Director and co-writer Paul King, besting himself after 2014’s predecessor, achieves an earnestness that is open-hearted instead of cloying — exactly the distraction we needed in a hellish 2018. This marmalade glaze is a perfect spread.
The greatest fear is that of the unknown, which Korean director Lee Chang-dong mines in this seductive thriller about an ambling wannabe writer (Yoo Ah-in) and a love triangle involving a former classmate (Jeon Jong-seo) and a mysterious interloper (Steven Yeun). With a lilting build, “Burning” kicks into high gear at the midway point, when Miles Davis’ horns serenade a hazy sunset that could lead to anything: dancing, disrobing, disarmament, utter disorientation. Lee’s source material is a Haruki Murakami short story, so alienation remains a constant villain. “Burning” wonders how much we can ever really know another person. Its inability to answer that question makes the film all the more searing.
Well Go USA10. “The Old Man & the Gun”
“The Old Man & the Gun” doesn’t have any actual gunshots, but it can claim the ultimate weapon: Robert Redford. The 82-year-old actor, who says he is retiring after 58 years in the business, went out with a bang, reteaming with “Pete’s Dragon” director David Lowery for the whimsical story of career criminal Forrest Tucker. Redford’s blue eyes and big smile make Forrest a charming crook, the kind you hope the law won’t catch. He’s not killing anyone, after all — just robbing some banks to pass the time and courting Sissy Spacek along the way. This lovely, memorable film doubles as an ode to Redford’s career, cementing his position as one of the last great stars from a bygone Hollywood epoch.
Fox Searchlight9. “Roma”
Alfonso Cuarón based his latest film on the nanny who helped raise him, an autobiographical flourish both intimate and grand. Set in early-1970s Mexico City, where sociopolitical upheaval roams through prosaic neighborhoods, “Roma” captures a short period in the life of Cleo (gifted newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), an indigenous maid working for an adoring middle-class clan. We see events through Cleo’s eyes, trading domestic-work clichés for a rich diary bursting with dreams, desires, regrets, loss. Photographed by Cuarón himself in luscious black and white, it’s a mood piece that avoids sentiment but still achieves breathtaking heart.
A pearly electromagnetic valance is all that stands between female scientists and the mutated creatures, doppelgängers and memory gaps that have invaded the United States’ southern coast. In they go, Natalie Portman leading the charge alongside Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny. What they will find, as first envisioned in Jeff VanderMeer’s novels, is some sort of netherworld where the uncanny emanates through trippy science fiction, ornate horror and domestic drama to balance the scale. Paramount Pictures botched the release of “Annihilation,” which should have been a global smash, but make no mistake: Its director, Alex Garland (“Ex Machina”), has confirmed his position as a premium technician dedicated to the metaphysical mystique.