2018 was the year of surprises, the year of emotional stakes, the year of superheroes and supervillains. A friend of mine likes to quote Roger Ebert, who said that “movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts,” so while this list might not be full of Oscar contenders, here are the films whose “machines” worked the best on me.
#10: Paul, Apostle of Christ
Frankly, nobody’s more surprised than me that a Christian movie cracked my top ten, but this movie was a surprise in many ways. It’s not a great film, but it’s a good film, and it moved me to feel something for my Christian forebears. This film might’ve gone up in my estimation because it was my first review for Reel World Theology, but mostly it “gave me glasses” to see the lives of early Christians a little bit better.
#9: Mission: Impossible – Fallout
I loved Brian De Palma’s first Mission: Impossible with Tom Cruise and Jon Voight. But for over twenty years, none of the sequels could really hold a candle to the original; until Christopher McQuarrie made Fallout. This film was action and adventure like I hadn’t since I was eleven years old, and I was thrilled at every twist and turn. But it really made me feel visceral reactions about authenticity and masks, and about the great suffering that we wreak when we get those wrong.
#8: Please Stand By
Sometimes you just want to feel really sad, and Please Stand By did that depressingly well. Dakota Fanning allows you to get into the head of a woman with autism, a dream, a fandom, and a remarkable drive. The love Wendy felt for her family—and for Star Trek—were particularly relatable to me. This movie made me feel hopeful, furious, and devastated; but mostly, it made me feel driven.
#7: First Man
The film is quite good (as I detailed in my article), but there is one big thing that sends it to this list: the entire Gemini 8 sequence. Putting you into Armstrong’s point of view from the moment he steps onto the gantry over Launch Complex 19, all the way through the Agena capture and the senses-assaulting roll crisis, right to the end of the mission, was an incredible feat of filmmaking; it made me feel the adventure of what I imagine space travel in the 1960s really felt like.
#6: Avengers: Infinity War
What can be said about Infinity War that hasn’t already been said, including in our own podcast? This film did things with the superhero genre that surprised me utterly. I wasn’t expecting Thanos to be the protagonist. I wasn’t expecting the heroes to face such a complete and utter loss. I wasn’t expecting them to look failure in the face so intimately. Infinity War made me feel the loss that the heroes felt in a very real way. Surprisingly so.
#5: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
If Infinity War surprised me with what a superhero movie could be, Spider-Verse left me gobsmacked with what a comic book movie could be. Visually unbelievable, emotionally compelling, aurally remarkable, narratively arresting. Miles Morales had a delightful character arc, and Kingpin provided a wonderful closing act to the incredible supervillains we saw this year. It made me feel the love between Miles and his dad in a heart-filling way.
#4: A Quiet Place
I don’t like horror films as a rule; but this story is beautiful and intimate, the thrill and suspense is palpable and gripping, and the ending is one of the best all year. This film gave me an experience of sound that I really can’t describe in a short blurb (read my review for more on that), and it made me feel a more tantalizing suspense than I thought I would ever enjoy.
#3: Black Panther
Part regal epic, part superhero thrill ride, part high-fantasy quest story, part sci-fi marvel; and yet, somehow, it’s still a coherent and composed story. Excellent characters and a gripping villain (our first truly great supervillain of this year) mean that the action scenes actually feel both meaningful and grounded in their personalities. It made me feel deeply the weight of the crown and the duty it bestows.
#2: Crazy Rich Asians
A genuinely pleasant film with preposterously likable characters, an infuriatingly fun setting, an impossibly madcap plot (which somehow manages to be heartwarming, as well), and a remarkable showing by actors who inhabit every moment of their role. This is one of the few films in 2018 that I left feeling absolutely no negativity toward, during or following the film. It made me feel real enjoyment for its entire runtime, and I can’t wait to watch it again.
#1: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
The most important film of the year. If the point of film is to make the viewer feel something, it’s the most successful film in a long time; in this case, a longing and desire to be a more caring person, to wrestle with the imago dei in everyone I meet (a longing, incidentally, which moved me to tears). I’m also particularly pleased with the pun in the title of my article about the film. It has made me reevaluate the way I treat others and the way I parent my children, and it continues to affect my life over six months after I walked out of the theater. No other film in 2018 can say that.
Whether you agree or disagree with my picks, I look forward to hearing about how these films made you feel. Comment below, or harangue me on the Reel World Theology discussion group on Facebook; and keep thinking about the way movies make you feel as we continue on into 2019.