Best movies of 2018 (so far)

Five movies this year approach a level of profundity in vastly different ways. Together, a scientist, mother, king, cowboy and minister ask about the unknown, answer the unheard and tell the untold.

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5. “Annihilation” - February 23

Alex Garland’s psychedelic sci-fi stunner comes from a long line of influencers (“Solaris,” “Alien” and “The Thing” to name a few), but what he does with this classic genre framework feels fresh and exciting. When Lena’s husband returns home from a military operation acting mysteriously detached, her reaction is to retrace his footsteps inside Area X, a meteor crash site that has begun to mutate its surroundings. Along with a group of soldier-scientists (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson), she struggles to resist an otherworldly transformation. “Annihilation” is a heady horror-fantasy that plays out as if Earth had a form cancer. It’s a must-see for anyone who appreciates the sci-fi classics that it takes after.

4. “Tully” - May 4

Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody reunite for a third feature in what seems to be a series of life-cycle movies from the filmmaking duo. Following the overzealous teen movie “Juno” and the darkly comical “Young Adult,” their latest collaboration is another emotionally honest tale, one that depicts motherhood like never before on the cinema screen. It’s also a reunion of sorts in that Charlize Theron is back from “Young Adult,” this time playing an overworked mother of three who hires a night nanny (Mackenzie Davis) while struggling with postpartum depression. This overlooked indie isn’t always an easy watch, though it offers eye-opening rewards.

3. “Black Panther” - February 16

Ryan Coogler going the Marvel route was unexpected. However, there was no reason to worry because he utilized their resources to make a standout superhero movie, one that includes the best villain of the whole 20-film franchise. Rounding up an all-star cast (including Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong'o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Daniel Kaluuya), the director delivered a Shakespearean tale of blockbuster proportions. It’s easily the best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe because it's driven by themes and motives that are timely, resonant and culturally impactful.

2. “The Rider” - April 13

There is one word that comes to mind after experiencing Chloé Zhao’s movie: true. Not only does it tell the real-life story of an injured cowboy, but it casts that same cowboy as himself. Brady Jandreau stars in the documentary-drama that recounts his rise, fall and recovery in the rodeo circuit of South Dakota. It is a contemporary western that reminds one of the films of Kelly Reichardt in tone and landscape. A captivating and poetic study of a man raging against his own dying light, it is a great change of pace as it tells an age-old story of redemption. “The Rider” played at Columbia’s True/False Film Festival and won the Art Cinema Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

1. “First Reformed” - May 18

“My hands shake as I write these lines,” says Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke). Well, not quite, but Hawke’s portrayal of Paul Schrader’s tormented priest is that good. When Toller writes those words in his diary, he’s deep into an existential crisis sparked by an encounter with an environmentalist and his pregnant wife. This film draws viewers in while backing further away; it doesn’t provide any answers for its overarching theme of spirituality, but validates worldly concerns by asking such questions in the first place. Schrader breaks all his own rules in the third act and the result is a provocative, thought-provoking and even transcendental slow-cinema experience.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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