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  • 2018 is shaping up to feature a bumper crop of films, capable of winning over the hearts

  • of audiences and critics alike, using craftsmanship and artistry along with the usual loads of

  • action and spectacle.

  • From quirky historical comedies to unexpectedly brilliant animated offerings, these are the

  • very best films 2018 has to offer so far.

  • Thoroughbreds

  • Young actress Anya Taylor-Joy has been busy carving out a niche for herself as a modern-day

  • scream queen, earning starring roles in critically acclaimed fright flicks The Witch and Split

  • in just the last few years.

  • So, it's no surprise first-time writer-director Cory Finley recruited her for his debut black

  • comedy-thriller Thoroughbreds.

  • And with the help of his clockwork script and understated, tension-generating direction,

  • he was able to score a winner on his first outing.

  • The plot follows a pair of reuniting friends as they scheme to assassinate one's stepfather,

  • and critics were impressed with Finley's ability to bring a classical feel to the film, which

  • had a nice balance of darkness and humor about it.

  • "The technique."

  • "Holy s---."

  • After Thoroughbreds, it's clear auteur Cory Finley will be one to watch.

  • Annihilation

  • Writer-director Alex Garland has made a name for himself with dark, cerebral sci-fi thrillers

  • that aim for a realm beyond simple entertainment.

  • After penning the screenplays for such well-received flicks as 28 Days Later and Dredd, he made

  • his directorial debut in 2015 with Ex Machina, which earned him his first Academy Award nomination

  • and a whole lot of interest in what would come next.

  • His sophomore feature Annihilation proved that the buzz surrounding his first outing

  • was not a fluke.

  • Adapted from Jeff VanderMeer's 2014 novel, the mind-blowing, genre-subverting story makes

  • good use of Garland's talent for atmosphere - not to mention its roundly excellent cast.

  • Headed up by Natalie Portman and featuring Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac, and Jennifer

  • Jason Leigh, Annihilation follows a team of scientists who dare to explore the Shimmer,

  • an anomalous area in which the very concept of reality doesn't seem to apply.

  • The film received massive praise for its stunning visuals and sweeping metaphors, and it was

  • celebrated for being a film that challenged expectations that left viewers perplexed and

  • still massively entertained.

  • Isle of Dogs

  • Animated films don't get much quirkier than Isle of Dogs, a stop-motion feature from the

  • King of Cinematic Quirk, Wes Anderson.

  • The film follows a young Japanese boy in a near-future dystopia on the hunt for his dog,

  • who - along with all other dogs - has been quarantined on an island after an outbreak

  • of disease.

  • The film features voice performances by Bryan Cranston, Ed Norton, Frances McDormand, Harvey

  • Keitel, Tilda Swinton, and Yoko Ono, to name just a few.

  • Apart from a few stray dissenters, reviewers were generally won over by the phenomenal

  • work of the cast and by the film's meticulous artistry.

  • "Thank you."

  • Even if Anderson's works aren't necessarily your cup of tea, Isle of Dogs is a must-watch

  • - if for no other reason than to witness Bryan Cranston channeling Walter White in dog form.

  • "Me?

  • Uh, I don't care."

  • Love, Simon

  • Whether or not it was any good, Love, Simon was destined to be important, since it was

  • the first major studio Hollywood film to focus on a gay teen romance.

  • Fortunately, director Greg Berlanti delivered a film that's notable for more than just that

  • reason - it's also a funny, disarmingly sweet rom-com that had audiences bawling and laughing

  • out loud.

  • Working from a 2015 YA novel, the script is populated with strongly drawn characters,

  • and actor Nick Robinson earns praise for his leading role among a cast that includes Jennifer

  • Garner, Josh Duhamel, and Alexandra Shipp.

  • The film has been noted for its modern soundtrack, diverse cast, and uplifting, feel-good storyline.

  • Journey's End

  • This 90-year-old World War I story about British officers pinned down in a dugout over several

  • days has been brought to the screen many times over.

  • But while Journey's End might not seem like the kind of movie that might interest modern

  • audiences, director Saul Dibb and screenwriter Simon Reade, along with an amazing cast, have

  • crafted it into a meditation on war and death that feels surprisingly timely.

  • Asa Butterfield stars as Raleigh, a young officer under the command of Sam Claflin's

  • alcoholic and unstable Captain Stanhope, as the soldier grapples with what it means to

  • follow orders under the specter of near-certain doom.

  • Claflin's performance was widely praised, as was that of Paul Bettany as a mild-mannered

  • officer who exhibits grace under pressure.

  • The film's period production design was also deemed excellent, as was Dibb's command of

  • mood and atmosphere.

  • It might be a movie we've seen plenty of before, but Journey's End is still as riveting today

  • as it was in its original incarnation.

  • The Death of Stalin

  • Scottish writer-director Armando Iannucci is perhaps best-known stateside for his work

  • on the HBO series Veep, and he's taken that penchant for political satire to a whole new

  • realm with The Death of Stalin.

  • This adaptation of a French graphic novel provides an inside look at the chaos, humor,

  • and horror surrounding the demise of the Russian dictator.

  • "How old are you?"

  • "I'm old."

  • "You are not old!

  • You're not even a person, you're a testicle!"

  • It may seem an unlikely subject for a farce - but the pitch-black comedy has been garnering

  • the kind of eye-popping reviews normally reserved for prestige pictures, with some reviewers

  • labeling it a masterpiece.

  • Featuring a stellar international cast which includes Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev

  • and Michael Palin as the title tyrant, the ambitious film hit the sweet spot with critics

  • who praised it for being surprisingly timely and whip-smart.

  • A Quiet Place

  • John Krasinski might be best known for his comedic timing in The Office, but he's proven

  • himself to be much more than just quick-witted, thanks to his directorial debut of the unnerving

  • original horror film A Quiet Place.

  • Directing from a screenplay by the writing team of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, Krasinski

  • stars alongside his real-life wife Emily Blunt in the tale of a family plagued by mysterious

  • creatures which hunt using sound, forcing their family into a tense and silent existence.

  • The film has been widely praised for its daring conceptual framework and the cast's creative

  • and strong performances.

  • Most importantly, the film is searingly bleak and maddeningly scary, so even beyond its

  • pure ambition, the movie is a treat for horror junkies of all stripes.

  • Black Panther

  • After ten years of blockbuster features, it's no surprise that Marvel Studios is still churning

  • out quality superhero movies, but Black Panther took things to a new level altogether.

  • Director Ryan Coogler joined forces with writing partner Joe Robert Cole to create a story

  • that, with star Chadwick Boseman in the lead, managed to surpass even the highest creative

  • expectations and stunned even the most optimistic box office watchers with its massive ticket

  • sales.

  • The film has been heralded for its importance to black audiences in offering a representative

  • hero and celebrating African culture, and on top of that, the story structure was astonishingly

  • good.

  • Black Panther explores themes of alienation and loss more effectively than a comic book

  • film has any right to - particularly by way of Michael B. Jordan's conflicted villain

  • Erik "Killmonger" Stevens, who has been cited as the MCU's best villain ever thanks largely

  • to Jordan's towering performance.

  • Paddington 2

  • Based on the beloved children's character, the first Paddington film was a surprise critical

  • darling and a moderate hit at the box office.

  • Its success made a follow-up inevitable, but Paddington 2 does not suffer the sequel slump

  • - thus far, the film has not earned a single negative review, which gives it the rare distinction

  • of a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

  • Some reviewers couldn't help but marvel at the fact that the film outdid even its formidable

  • predecessor.

  • With the talented Ben Whishaw reprising the title role alongside an appropriately British

  • cast that includes Hugh Grant in many, many disguises, Paddington 2 ramps up the whimsy,

  • adventure, and earnestness of the original - and with comparable box office returns,

  • a third installment is all but assured.

  • Avengers: Infinity War

  • Even the eye-popping box office success of Black Panther was only a warm up act for Avengers:

  • Infinity War, which has shattered as many box office records as it did hearts.

  • As the first part of the culmination of Marvel's three phase mega-arc, the powerful Infinity

  • Stones are collected by the Mad Titan Thanos with the goal of eradicating half of all life

  • in the universe.

  • Infinity War brought together nearly every important character introduced in the MCU

  • thus far - and fans responded by putting up the kind of box office numbers which made

  • it one of the top worldwide hits of all time.

  • While the movie didn't earn the widespread critical adoration enjoyed by Black Panther,

  • positive reviews recognized it as a singularly Herculean feat of storytelling, one which

  • takes time to deliver meaningful arcs for characters we've come to know and love over

  • the years - and, notably, for its villain.

  • Josh Brolin's motion-capture performance as Thanos moved some critics to declare the Mad

  • Titan the MCU's best villain ever, and - especially given the film's amazingly dark cliffhanger

  • ending - the only one to ever pose a true threat to Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

  • Said ending was a sticking point for some reviewers, who dubbed it a half-movie, but

  • perhaps their tune will change when the as-yet untitled Avengers 4 debuts in May of next

  • year.

  • Tully

  • Jason Reitman is a man who knows his way around thoughtful, engaging comedy.

  • The director of hits such as Thank You For Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air returned

  • in 2018 with Tully, which reunited him with screenwriter Diablo Cody.

  • With her famously quippy dialogue, the story centers on Charlize Theron's overburdened

  • mother figure, who forms an unexpected bond with her unusual nanny, played by Mackenzie

  • Davis.

  • While even positive reviews were quick to point out the screenplay's contrivances, critics

  • were uniformly won over by another outstanding performance from Theron, whose comedic chops

  • and chemistry with Davis carried the film.

  • Even negative reviews had to give the actress credit for her passion and skill, and most

  • reviewers agreed that Tully was a welcome return for the dream team of Cody and Reitman.

  • While the film may not have burned up the box office, it seems like a candidate for

  • a strong second life once released to video.

  • Deadpool 2

  • Fans of Ryan Reynolds' Merc With a Mouth eagerly awaited the sequel to 2016's ridiculously

  • huge, comparatively low-budget R-rated hit Deadpool - and Reynolds, along with incoming

  • director David Leitch didn't disappoint.