It was a year when we sought heroes at the movies, but found even they couldn’t handle everything that was thrown at them.

In 2018’s biggest hit, “Black Panther,” a king battled the rebellious exile of his country who argued — correctly, though with questionable methods — against isolationism. In the No. 2 movie, “Avengers: Infinity War,” Earth’s mightiest heroes were helpless in the face of a megalomaniac who sought, and achieved, ultimate power at the snap of his fingers.

In those and the rest of the top five — “Incredibles 2,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and “Deadpool 2” — storytellers grappled with issues of racial identity, the obsession with power, heroes being cast as villains, the amorality of unchecked capitalism, and the ripple effects of bigotry and child abuse. So much for turning off one’s brain and enjoying the show.

Two of those movies were not only among the biggest moneymakers of 2018, but the best movies overall. They join a list of films whose creators fearlessly and inventively dug in deep on topics such as racism, class divisions, cultural gaps, the pains of adolescence and adulthood, and the misfortunes of one exceedingly polite bear.

Here are my top 10 movies of 2018:

1. “Sorry to Bother You” • A divisive movie for a divisive year. Rapper-turned-filmmaker Boots Riley’s comedy threw everything into the mix — racism, capitalism, art snobbery, television spectacle — in a take-no-prisoners satire about a telemarketer (Lakeith Stanfield) who discovers success when he finds his “white voice.” The outlandish finale is not for the squeamish; neither is Riley’s razor-sharp argument that stereotypes cut both ways.

2. “Roma” • Alfonso Cuarón’s memory play allows him to look back fondly on his childhood in a middle-class Mexico City family in the late 1970s, and also to comment on that bourgeois lifestyle by showing it from the viewpoint of the family’s loving but observant maid. Shot in a warmly nostalgic black and white, “Roma” boasts some startlingly intimate scenes of family life and solitary death.

3. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” • The late Stan Lee’s greatest co-creation gets the ultimate makeover in a dazzling animated tale that doesn’t just deploy comic book characters but highlights the Wham! Biff! Pow! of comic-book art. The crossing of parallel universes allows the film to jump seamlessly through animation styles — from noir to Japanese anime to Saturday-morning cartoons — and celebrate the endless variety of the comics genre.

4. “Black Panther” • Watching the first half of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most immersive movie yet, one might be ready to book that vacation in Wakanda, whether it exists or not. As good as director Ryan Coogler’s world-building is, his sense of story structure is even better, pitting the chosen King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) against the prodigal Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) for a battle where the line between hero and villain is more tenuous than ever before.

5. “Minding the Gap” • What starts as a fun, and ferociously edited, look at three skateboarders in Rockford, Ill., turns into something far more serious. Director Bing Liu shows how skateboarding was a refuge for himself and his friends growing up — but that it can’t protect them from the damage done by domestic abuse, or keep the cycle from repeating itself for one friend. In a year loaded with great documentaries (“RBG,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” “Three Identical Strangers”), this one was the best.

6. “Paddington 2” • “If you’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” Isn’t that the message the weary world needs now? And how wonderful that a scraggly bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) could deliver it, even to hardened convicts when he’s sent to prison for the crimes of a vain actor (Hugh Grant). Director Paul King’s endlessly inventive and kind-hearted movie is perfect for children from 1 to 100.

7. “The Hate U Give” • For all those who thought “Black Lives Matter” didn’t affect them, director George Tillman Jr.’s adaptation of Angie Thomas’ young-adult novel is an urgent corrective. Amandla Stenberg shines as Starr, whose double life — living in a poor black neighborhood, going to school in a rich white private school — is rocked when she witnesses her childhood friend being gunned down by police in a traffic stop. Russell Hornsby’s soulful portrayal of Starr’s father, fighting to keep his cool when his neighborhood is about to catch fire, is the best undiscussed film performance this year.

8. “Incredibles 2” • Pixar’s first family of superheroes returns, 14 years after its debut, for a funny and clever story that slyly subverts the male-dominated super-lore by putting Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter) on the crime-fighting beat while leaving Mr. Incredible (voiced by Craig T. Nelson) home with his super-kids.

9. “Eighth Grade” • Adolescence is always awkward, so director Bo Burnham and his teen star Elsie Fisher deserve some sort of medal for translating that awkwardness to the screen. Fisher’s Kayla wishes she were as confident as the persona she puts forward on her underwatched YouTube tutorials, as she navigates friends, boys and the prospect of leaving middle school for the treacherous world of high school. Fisher’s performance, zits and all, is not just revelatory but heroic.

10. “Crazy Rich Asians” • The happiest surprise of the movie year was America’s embrace of this fizzy and groundbreaking rom-com. A Chinese-American NYU economics professor, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), is thrown into the deep end of the Singapore social swirl when she learns her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), is part of one of Asia’s richest families, headed by an imperious matriarch, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). Culture clashes and conspicuous consumption make for a comic feast.


The second 10 • Here are my runners-up: Ari Aster’s feverish made-in-Utah horror thriller “Hereditary,” Spike Lee’s ’70s police drama “BlacKkKlansman,” John Krasinski’s white-knuckle suspense drama “A Quiet Place,” John McPhail’s deliciously deranged Christmas horror musical “Anna and the Apocalypse,” Tim Wardle’s fascinating documentary “Three Identical Strangers,” Lee Chang-dong’s Korean psycho-thriller “Burning,” Crystal Moselle’s teen-girl urban slice-of-life “Skate Kitchen,” Steve McQueen’s intense heist thriller “Widows,” Brett Haley’s warm-hearted father-daughter musical “Hearts Beat Loud” and Marielle Heller’s thoughtful forgery drama “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”


The Worst 10 • Think about them one more time, then never think about them again.

1. “Life Itself” • Dan Fogelman tries to cram a season’s worth of “This Is Us” cliffhangers into one movie, mostly proving he’s a cruel and capricious god to the characters he creates.

2. “Green Book” • In a hamfisted attempt to tackle racial tensions in the 1960s, director Peter Farrelly insults his audience, the memory of pianist Don Shirley and the talents of Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.

3. “Boundaries” • Shana Feste’s road movie, with Christopher Plummer as an elderly con man frustrating his neurotic daughter (Vera Farmiga), is dreadful in every way imaginable.

4. “Book Club” • Four great actors — Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen — trapped in an idiotic sitcom plot.

5. “Mile 22” • Seeing Indonesian martial arts star Iko Uwais forced to fight Mark Wahlberg to a draw is the silliest kung fu fight since Bruce Lee faced Burt Ward on the 1960s “Batman.”

6. “Robin Hood” • While the hero robs from the rich, the filmmakers rob from much better action movies.

7. “The Happytime Murders” • On paper, having R-rated puppets banter with Melissa McCarthy sounds like a winner. The final product fell far short of that potential.

8. “Rampage” • Memo to Dwayne Johnson: You’re allowed to say no to projects.

9. “Flower” • Zoey Deutch will be leaving this lurid bad-teen drama off her résumé, I have no doubt.

10. “Death Wish” • The only interesting thing about this remake of the equally repellent 1975 vigilante drama is how the movie studio suddenly removed gun references from the marketing campaign after the Parkland shooting. Maybe that’s a sign of hope for the future.