We’ve crossed the midpoint of the year, so rather than a Top Ten List, it seems fitting to give a Top Five List of the best movies so far. It’s possible that the Oscar contenders of the fall and winter blow this short list up in the months to come, so watch ‘em while they’re hot. Here are the five best movies of the year—so far!
5The Incredibles 2 — B+
The Incredibles was one of the five best superhero films of all time, animated or not. The sequel doesn’t have as solid of a story as the first film, but the characters and themes are deepened and the action sequences are among the most exhilarating ever.
Brad Bird’s decision to center the film on Elastigirl is a perfect choice for our times. Now it’s mom going on amazing adventures while dad struggles with domestic life. Edna (voiced by Bird himself) is a scene-stealer once again, but it’s polymorph baby Jack-Jack who wins the whole movie. A new star is born.
4A Quiet Place — B+
A near-silent movie with noose-tightening suspense makes the list for its superb storytelling and marks the arrival of John Krasinski as a big-league director who has also written and starred in a Hitchcock-worthy piece of horror art. His direction is so remarkably skillful and confident, you can bet he’ll be in big demand as a feature film director, especially given his background in comedy, drama, and now horror/suspense.
A Quiet Place is a small modern classic that will only get better with age.
3Black Panther — A-
Marvel movies, while always entertaining romps, usually have two big problems: 1) a poorly motivated villain, 2) who wants to destroy the universe.
We know he isn’t going to destroy the universe (add an asterisk to Thanos, however) and his two-dimensional nature eliminates nearly all tension in the story. It’s merely a matter of how the good guys will outpower or outmaneuver the bad guy. We all know how it’s going to end. Then in the midst of that successful but tired formula comes Black Panther with Erik Killmonger, the best villain in the MCU, who not only has a plan and the means to carry it out, but also a motive that adds much more complexity to the story.
Director Ryan Coogler has created a new, fully-realized world with tremendous characters, an awesome story, and a superhero movie as a work of art.
2Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — A-
The best antidote to a hostile time is unapologetic kindness and love. No one in our recent memory embodied that compassionate ethic better than Mr. Rogers. Whether you grew up watching him on TV or not, you’ll be captivated by the tough-minded, tenderhearted kindliness of this marvelous man.
This documentary shows us how courageous and radical he was, even on a show that seemed innocuous on the surface. He washed his feet in a small pool with a black man when African-Americans were being run out of community pools; he talked about assassination after Robert Kennedy was murdered; he talked about divorce and death and all sorts of weighty topics when the moment called for it.
This is essential viewing.
1American Animals — A
This movie not only rings the “I’ve never seen something like that before” bell, but it’s also remarkably good and surprisingly weighty.
The film is a retelling—and a re-retelling—of how a group of young guys decided to steal rare books from a university library. Weaving dramatized scenes with actors together with documentary-style interviews with their real-life counterparts, the film never feels gimmicky or off-balance. The real trick, though, is how the filmmaker, writer, and director Bart Layton, lulls you into believing this is a low-stakes lark where no one will get hurt, then gut-punches you when you realize how high the stakes really were. So far, it’s the best film of the year.
And now the second half of the year seems poised to bring us some great films. We’ll see which of the five best movies on this short list makes it to the final ranking.