Home > Year in Review > 2018 IN REVIEW – My Favorites of the Year

2018 IN REVIEW – My Favorites of the Year

I honestly didn’t know I ended up liking so many damn movies from 2018. Who knew? There’s a lot of reading here, so I’ll just cut to the chase… here are the 60(!) films I loved most from what turned out to be a pretty fantastic year of film, divided into categories, since I usually can’t seem to pit certain genres of movies against others. Consider this a roughly ordered list of the best films for any of your present moods!


WESTERN

The Sisters Brothers                       9/21/18

An odd film that I watched on an odd day – a Monday morning after having a bit of a panic attack and calling into work for a sick day. I decided to calm myself by going to where I almost always am on my days off: the theatre. Lucky for me, they were playing this quirky… comedy?… western from French directorJacques Audiard, who I hear has made some great stuff and makes his English language debut with this film. The titular brothers are Eli and Charlie Sisters (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, respectively), hitmen hired by an enigmatic man called “The Commodore” to take out a scientist, Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed), for reasons they aren’t fully privy to, but they are more than willing to collect the paycheck, regardless. Assisting them is bounty hunter John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), who ingratiates himself to Warm as the brothers catch up, though Morris increasingly begins to find himself charmed by Warm and, once he discovers the true reason for why The Commodore is targeting Warm, the two instead agree to help one another and attempt to achieve Warm’s dream: founding a utopia free from greed and need.

The Sisters Brothers is a strange film, to be sure, and its humor is decidedly dry and prone to highlighting some of the film’s bleaker elements. It’s actually in good company with the next movie in this category, as it absolutely feels like a Coen Brothers film. The actors are all fantastic, however, particularly Reilly and Phoenix as the brothers – one a surprisingly gentle and nurturing soul, the other a hotheaded and troubled man, but both indebted to one another and undeniably lethal with a gun. It’s hard to recommend the film because it’s just so hard to put a finger on any one thing – it’s really the sum of all its smaller, quirkier parts that makes it such an entertaining flick.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs       11/09/18

Originally speculated to be a TV series developed by the Coen Brothers for Netflix, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs instead presents itself as a series of strange, humorous, and sometimes very dark tales from the Old West – think bank robbers, prospectors, gunfights, wagon trains, and even singing cowboys, though you might find yourself shocked by how a lot of it plays out. As an anthology, viewers may naturally find themselves enjoying some segments more than others, but it’s hard to be bored with the concept, and each one feels right at home in the Coens’ work, even if it’s not immediately obvious whether or not anything is meant to be connected between them beyond the brothers feeling the need to tell these stories and finding no better place than putting them all together here. And that’s totally fine by me. I didn’t think there was a bad story in the whole lot, though I kinda wish the film maybe had more singing cowboys. And that’s something I never thought I’d say.

The Rider            4/13/18

This was the first film by director Chloé Zhao that I have ever seen, and… wow, was I blown away. The Rider is a borderline docudrama, with Zhao casting an actual family in roles that closely mirror their reality, centering on Brady Blackburn (real last name Jandreau), a rodeo cowboy and horse trainer who lives with his autistic sister, Lilly, and emotionally distant father, Wayne, (both played by Brady’s real sister and father, Lilly and Tim Jandreau) and who is recovering from a severe head injury that threatens to mark the end of Brady’s career for good.

The Rider is not just one of the best Westerns of the year, but one of the best movies of the year, period. Immaculately shot and at times beautifully warm and heartbreaking, The Rider is one of those profoundly intimate films that lets you get to know its lead character so well and feel so much of what they feel that you just wish would’ve gotten more attention on the awards circuit because you know it deserves so many of them (though Marvel has already reportedly tapped Zhao to direct their Eternals film, so that’s something). Of course, awards aren’t everything, and regardless, this is a film that anyone who appreciates cinema should see. Brady Jandreau himself experienced much of what his character does, with the footage in the film being his actual incident, so it’s no surprise that a lot of the emotions he goes through feel authentic. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean the performance is going to be good, but luckily, even though it’s his first performance in a film, Jandreau’s performance is pretty much perfect – there’s so much subtlety and authenticity in his performance that, once again, you’ll forget that this is not a documentary.


THRILLER

Searching            8/31/18

It seems as though the idea of playing out an entire movie through computer screens is one that’s beginning to stick, and not just in gimmicky horror films anymore. Featuring cuts, a score, and largely just allowing for itself to show whatever can be shown on a computer screen, Searching breaks a lot of the rules of 21st century cinema verite that the Unfriended movies are actually quite clever and strict about adhering to, but that it’s still an interesting experience, watching as David (John Cho) an overprotective father sets out to help the police investigation into the disappearance of his teenage daughter, Margot, as much as he reasonably can – sometimes taking things to a bit of an extreme. The film can be a bit hokey and perhaps feels a bit too much like a cautionary tale ripped from a naïve, elderly relative’s Facebook feed, but the movie still works amazingly well with this relatively new medium, and I found myself drawn into the search for Margot, thanks in large part to Cho’s great performance as David and the effective storytelling that keeps you on edge and lets you slowly get to know Margot through videos she’s recorded and the material that David discovers on her laptop. We’re finally making good, inventive use of our technology in filmmaking, so I suppose it’s only a matter of time that we are all fawning over a movie shot entirely in vertical mode through Snapchat. … I’ll try to keep an open mind.

Ocean’s 8            6/08/18

At first, it may seem as though Ocean’s 8 is a cynical cash-grab of a film, capitalizing on the goodwill and love for the first Steven Soderbergh remake and shoehorning in a gender-bending aspect that was greenlit sometime around when the prospect of a Ghostbusters movie starring only women was enough to set certain people off in fits, and… yeah, that is pretty much how it feels here, too, but, thankfully, we have a film that’s still very entertaining and features a cast of talented ladies – Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, and Helena Bonham Carter – who are more than capable of carrying the same type of film on their own shoulders, in heels and gowns, and with 3-5 fewer people in their crew to boot.

Widows               11/16/18

Widows doesn’t quite bring itself to the level of director Steve McQueen’s other films, but for an attempt at a blockbuster crime thriller, Widows is still pretty damn fantastic and features an equally – if not more – fantastic ensemble cast that includes Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Daniel Kaluuya, Cynthia Erivo, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell, and Robert Duvall, with Davis, Debicki, and Rodriguez partnering up alongside Erivo to carry out a heist in order to pay off their husbands’ debt to a crime boss, Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry), who isn’t about to let a little thing like the death of a few former employees stop him from obtaining the money he demanded. There are excellent performances and plenty of exciting sequences throughout Widows, which shows us that McQueen is capable of more than just straight-up serious prestige dramas. Hopefully his next blockbuster attempt will be able to make a bit more money next time.

The Clovehitch Killer     11/16/18

What would you do if you suspected your father was a serial killer? That’s the basic, simple premise of The Clovehitch Killer – so named because the killer uses a clove hitch knot at the scene of his crimes. Tyler Burnside’s father, Don, is decidedly one of the more respected men in their community, leading Tyler’s scout troop and being an all-around goofy father of two who loves his wife, their kids, and God. But is it possible that he’s hiding something dark from his past? Tyler slowly begins to uncover signs that his father may be the killer, still at large about ten years after the discovery of his most recent victim. The answers come fairly easily to the audience, but what makes this a thriller more than a horror film is that it’s far more concerned with how all this begins to affect Tyler himself and his once close relationship with his father, and how much it would take to convince someone that a person close to them could be so evil, and determining how they will carry on now with all this information in their head. The film also shakes things up about halfway through that some might either love or hate, but I personally loved it, and it kept the film from growing stale. I won’t say anything more to avoid spoiling things, but definitely give this film a go, as it’s a fascinating movie with some really great performances from Charlie Plummer and Dylan McDermott.

A Simple Favor                 9/14/18

Paul Feig proves he’s more than capable of creating something other than improv-heavy, female-centered silly comedies like Ghostbusters, Spy, and Bridesmaids by making this darkly comedic thriller about two very different women – Stephanie, a timid perfectionist and host of an online homemaker show, and the other, Emily, a glamorous career woman who takes a special interest in Stephanie after their sons become friends. Emily is everything that Stephanie wishes she could be – not just rich and outrageously fashionable, but assertive, candid, and bold, and she relishes the opportunity to be Stephanie’s friend, despite a number of red flags that all lead up to Emily’s sudden disappearance. A Simple Favor is a sleek, stylish comedy thriller with a revelatory performance from Blake Lively as the intimidating Emily and Anna Kendrick’s natural effervescence giving way to a more deranged side as Stephanie becomes more involved and obsessed with Emily’s life. I was seriously left totally engaged with all the twists and turns that the story takes – like the best trashy soap opera with a touch of intentionally deranged humor here and there. One of the best times in the theatre I had this year.

You Were Never Really Here     4/06/18

This movie had Oscar buzz surrounding it all year. People we were convinced it was a shoe-in for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Lead Actor nods, but, sadly, it seems as though it was possibly both too bleak and too early in the year for anyone to want to pay attention or revisit it, which is a shame, because director Lynne Ramsay and Joaquin Phoenix really created something intense and visceral without being exploitative and too graphic – it’s mostly suggestive. Phoenix plays a troubled man named Joe who spends his nights rescuing girls from human trafficking rings and his days caring for his elderly mother. Joe struggles with PTSD due to his own history of abuse as child and having witnessed so many horrors during his years in the military and as an FBI agent. After rescuing a girl who has gone mute from her experiences, however, Joe begins to unravel further the further he goes into his investigation, uncovering just how deep and how high the corruption goes. Many have compared this film to Taxi Driver, and that’s definitely apt, but the film still feels largely its own thing – more distant, less sensationalized, and driven more or less on performance over dialogue. (Perhaps I haven’t seen Taxi Driver recently enough, though?) Regardless, it’s a true feat of filmmaking and performance, and it’s a shame it didn’t get the recognition it deserves.


SUPERHERO

Deadpool 2 / Once Upon a Deadpool     5/18/18

The X-Men’s filthy-mouthed spin-off continues to entertain, albeit with the laws of diminishing returns factoring in in some ways, but not by much – unless you watch the PG-13-rated Once Upon a Deadpool cut, in which case, you’re going to lose a lot of the fun and humor with the trade-off being some admittedly pretty funny sequences with Fred Savage, but not much else, and not worth it at the sacrifice of the film’s better moments. Shockingly, the film is a lot more serious than you would expect, with Deadpool setting out to rescue a mutant kid who’s bent on revenge for the persecution he has faced. Throw in Cable, who’s come back from the future to exact his own revenge for mysterious reasons, and you’ve got yourself a pretty fun sequel with some surprisingly moving moments amidst all the potty humor. And, for the record, that’s not what makes Deadpool 2 inferior to the first – it’s just that it squandered some opportunities and also just wasn’t QUITE as funny as the first, regardless of serious moments. Just a bit. Still great, though, and definitely want more. (We all do, Disney! Please!)

Teen Titans GO! to the Movies       7/27/18

Yep, I’m rating DC’s for kids answer to Deadpool over Deadpool 2, if only because it’s so much more unexpected than that sequel. I was a mild fan of the original Teen Titans TV series, despite it not being as good as its contemporary, Justice League, but I had never once watched a full episode of its own spin-off, the wackier, sillier, and more juvenile-looking Teen Titans GO!, which eschews the usual superheroics by focusing more on humor. But their theatrical release strangely drew me in, even more when it started to get good reviews. The movie is the very definition of irreverent, with jokes going surprisingly dark when you stop and think about them before laughing at the audacity to play so loosely with some of DC’s bigger heroes – namely Superman (Nicolas Cage, getting to play yet another superhero and one he very nearly played in live action, I might add) and Batman (Jimmy Kimmel) –  while having some fun with rival Marvel, too. The Titans here are very concerned that they aren’t getting a super high-budget film based on their lives like everyone else, and so they set out to challenge their greatest enemy, Slade, and hopefully inspire a studio to take them seriously enough to greenlight a major motion picture. Naturally, the inept heroes’ antics winds up having serious, unintended repercussions on the universe that they must then set right. It’s a silly, fun little flick that comic book fans looking for a less serious take on the usual material will likely enjoy.

Incredibles 2      6/15/18

Fourteen years is a long time to wait for a sequel, and yet, here we finally are, with a second Incredibles movie directed by original director Brad Bird and picking up right where the last one left off. I would argue that the second film doesn’t offer up too much new stuff, but that’s okay – it’s still very well-made and has a pretty compelling villain in the mysterious Screenslaver. This is also Elastigirl’s movie to shine, taking on a position where she is attempting to demonstrate publicly why the government needs to reinstate the legality of superheroes in a world that is increasingly needing extraordinary people to face off against extraordinary dangers. The movie even bucks the trend of incompetent dads, at least eventually, with Mr. Incredible learning to stop being jealous of his wife being selected as the face of the movement before him. (His powerset tends to result in collateral damages, so the organization they work for wants a literal soft launch.) Eventually, all of this does come together in a satisfying and entertaining fashion. I do wish the film were a bit meatier, thematically, with the kids being able to move on to new story arcs (or have one at all, in Dash’s case), but what’s there is still really good, and it has some seriously great action sequences, too. Also… Pixar, you’re really angling for being the older-skewing crowd with this one, aren’t you? Perhaps trying to differentiate yourself more from Disney? I mean… mild swearing? Naughty, naughty… (Then again, it’s nothing new for Brad Bird animated features.)

Ant-Man and the Wasp                 7/06/18

I love the Ant-Man movies because they don’t necessarily focus on end of the world scenarios and instead present a more lighthearted and comical side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, kinda like a really cool, action-packed family sitcom. Scott Lang once again teams up with Hope van Dyne and Hank Pym to potentially locate Janet, Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife who disappeared into the quantum realm decades prior in order to save a city from annihilation. They seek out a means of gathering the technology they need to send a vehicle to retrieve her back, but of course have to do so covertly, as it’s not exactly sold on the streets, and Scott still has days left on his house arrest for his participation in the events of Captain America: Civil War. They retrieve it, but not without complications, as a mysterious figure, able to phase in and out of objects and visibility, shows up and tries to sabotage their plans.

There’s a lot to love about this second outing. Hope in the Wasp costume is quite awesome, that’s for sure, and Hope is now a lot less reserved than before, too, which is fitting since… I mean, why wouldn’t she be? They’re going to save her mom! Paul Rudd is as lovable as ever, too, and I like that the movie lets him be a bit goofy without being treated like an idiot savant or anything. His buddies – Michael Peña, T.I., and David Dastmalchian – are all still quite entertaining, perhaps more so, in this movie. And then there’s the Ghost, who is probably one of the more sympathetic antagonists the Marvel films have had. She’s not exactly villainous, though it’s clear she’s on the brink of desperation that may cause her to do something a lot more destructive. I like that the film doesn’t center on not even necessarily stopping the antagonist but also coming to understand what it is that is affecting them and figuring out what to do with that knowledge. Seriously, this is a great, fun little part of the Marvel universe. My only really big complaint is that with the growing ability to play with now, we didn’t get as many of the same kind of inventive shrinking scenes as in the first. Also, this is an aside, but if you’re trying to catch up still, definitely see this one after seeing Infinity War. They take place almost concurrently, and you don’t want to have things spoiled for you.

[Note: The following movies are borderline equals with one another, and I honestly have a hard time placing one above the other. As a result, I have merely ordered them in order of how much my personal anticipation levels were satisfied by the ultimate satisfaction levels I felt in the wake of their release. All three are great superhero films, and I am not saying that one is more important than the other or anything like that.]

Black Panther    2/16/18

The first superhero film, period, to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. It was bound to happen and, frankly, should’ve already happened ten years ago (yes, I do mean The Dark Knight), but after that egregious snub resulted in the Academy expanding its list of potential nominees to 10 and began incorporating more popular films in the lineup – not to mention the later efforts to diversify the Academy membership – it was bound to happen one day, and that day is finally here. I personally don’t necessarily think Black Panther is one of the best movies of the year, but I’m not exactly mad that it’s nominated, either, particularly when it’s up against far less deserving movies like Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody. But it’s arguably one of the most important super hero movies of all time and definitely one of the more well-thought out, so, yeah, it’s a pretty fantastic film.

Taking place not long after the events of Captain America: Civil War (that movie had a lot of consequences), T’Challa is preparing to take his father’s place as the King of Wakanda. Unfortunately for him, a spectre from his father’s past has come back and haunt him and his kingdom in the form of Erik “Killmonger” Stevens – also known as N’Jadaka, the cousin of T’Challa and estranged nephew of the now dead king, T’Chaka. How and why Erik is here and seeking revenge is best explained by the film, but I’ll just say that this was definitely the year that Marvel wanted us to understand its antagonists as complex people who may or may not have a good point to make, not just take over the world. Erik may not be as sympathetic in his actions as Ghost was in Ant-Man and the Wasp, nor is he driven by insanely pragmatic altruism in his own mind as Thanos, but director/co-writer Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan set out to make him one of the more genuinely tragic figures in the MCU – it’s borderline Shakespearean.

Though it has no bearing on its quality, Black Panther is also the highest grossing film of 2018, which should hopefully help send a signal to Hollywood that, yes, movies that feature casts that are not predominately white will most definitely show up to give you money so long as they’re, you know… good. Shame about some of the CGI being kinda crummy compared to what we know Marvel is capable of, though.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse         12/14/18

Okay, Venom may have been awful, but with Into the Spider-Verse, Sony set out to remind us that they also made the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films that helped lead us into this wonderful age of superhero flicks… both for better and for worse. (Yes, Sony has also not forgotten Spider-Man 3.) Handing the reigns off to their animation department and putting Chris Miller and Phil Lord behind the scenes as producers and, in Lord’s case, co-writer, they not only successfully sidestepped the messiness of this existing as a franchise alongside their other Spider-Spinoffs and Marvel’s take with Tom Holland, they embraced the messiness by deploying one of the comics’ more insane elements: the multiverse. Not only that, they also refreshed the story by relegating Peter Parker into the role of mentor and introducing us to a brand new hero at its center: Miles Morales.

Like Peter, Miles starts off his superhero career as a teenager who is bitten by a spider, this one genetically altered by the shady Alchemax corporation. He doesn’t really know what to do with these new abilities, and they’re only causing him to be even more awkward at his new, preppy school than he was before. Of course, it’s not long before he begins to realize the extent of what his powers mean, and, as the saying goes, “With great power…”

The events that lead up to Miles teaming up with various Spider-… men?…people?… … beings?… from other dimensions I’ll leave to you to find out, as it’s going to not only spoil things, but I’ll probably make it sound terribly generic and maybe a little stupid to the more skeptical among you, and that’s not at all what this film is. It’s familiar, yes, but it’s presented in a refreshing way – in its story and in its incredibly stylized, comic-inspired animation. The film is funny and heart-warming and even a little tear-inducing. Miles is a fantastic protagonist and makes a compelling argument for why we shouldn’t be so beholden to the idea that what’s always been is how things always should be. Do we need Peter Parker to always be Spider-Man? Does he even always need to be a man at all? Or even human? Or even set in contemporary times? “Our” universe? What about other heroes? It’s a great message in a great film, and, of all the animated feature nominees, this is probably the most deserving of the two most deserving contenders. (The other being Mirai, though I’m giving this one a bit of an edge just for its bold animation style alone.)

Avengers: Infinity War  4/27/18

Okay, so I’m technically putting this at the top of my list of superhero films, and while that may be controversial, let me just reiterate that this was a very tight list, and I had a very hard time picking one out of three. My rationale for putting Infinity War at the top was, again, all about anticipation and expectations, and, for me, there wasn’t going to be any way that Infinity War wasn’t going to at least be a little bit of a disappointment, just based on the hype levels alone. I knew that Black Panther was going to be good particularly because Marvel has almost always done great things with their standalone films, plus it had such an incredible cast, a great look, and Ryan Coogler directing it, so I always knew that movie was going to meet my expectations. Infinity War, on the other hand, was the culmination of 10 years of buildup and 19 movies coming together to this one point, and it really had to make sure that it was going to deliver or else inspire riots. Man, did it ever deliver.

Between juggling the massive cast (including much of the great cast from Black Panther) and introducing characters who had never worked together to one another, and… that choice at the end… to just… end it that way in such a huge, anticipated film and not get pushback but praise. Best of all, though, is that despite all the fan service and huge cast, Infinity War is most definitely Thanos’ story. After fleeting glimpses of him in previous movies, starting with the first Avengers in 2012, Thanos really had to deliver on expectations, and it helps that much of his motivation is connected to one character in particular. His connection to them is the catalyst for truly getting to understand his motivations and the distance he is willing to go to ensure that he accomplishes his goal, which he truly seems to believe is altruistic. He is the hero in his own mind, and he even has acolytes who see him as a savior to do his bidding.

I’ve always considered the Avengers movies to be victory laps, and even though the third was originally announced as the first of a two-parter film, it still feels like a complete, albeit unexpected film. Endgame is really going to have to deliver now…


SCI-FI / FANTASY

Ralph Breaks the Internet            11/21/18

Not quite as good as the first, but still good, Ralph Breaks the Internet easily could’ve ended up like The Emoji Movie, and, to be perfectly honest, it does indulge in a lot of the same bad habits that that film did, such as the big corporate product placements and such. Luckily it still retains a lot of the heart that comes from having Ralph and Vanellope at the center, this time facing the unplugging of Vanellope’s game after one of the expensive steering wheels breaks off from the cabinet. Luckily, a wifi router was recently plugged into their hub, enabling them to access the internet and seek out a new one.

You kinda have to fortify your suspension of disbelief on this one, because the plot involves Ralph “breaking the internet” (ugh) through a series of viral videos in order to earn enough money from the real world people watching his videos. Meanwhile, Vanellope finds herself drawn to the dangerous, fast-paced world of a more mature racing game. The concepts here will make your mind melt if you thought about what kind of chaos is going on in the real world. Who’s suing whom when Vanellope suddenly finds herself a guest star in this Slaughter Race? Are the developers who own the Fix-It Felix game that Ralph is the villain of wondering who the heck is running this ad campaign featuring their character?

I seem to be criticizing the film a lot, and that’s only because I love the first so much, and I kinda wish they didn’t go the internet route on this one and instead further developed the purely video game concepts we know and love, as I’m positive a lot of this will age poorly. As it is right now, though, it’s still a fun and funny sequel (I absolutely love the satirical, self-aware song that the characters break out in) that families will most certainly enjoy. … Except for my 3-year-old nephew, who got terrified at the climax and had to be escorted out by my sister.

Solo: A Star Wars Story                 5/25/18

Screw the haters. We weren’t going to get another Star Wars movie with Harrison Ford, and you know what? It might not have been better had we gotten a more Harrison Ford-lookalike in the role since it would be that much more uncanny when the actor doesn’t resemble him enough. Alden did a fine job, and Solo is a really fun spin-off that is a welcome respite from the big stories that the Star Wars theatrical films have covered so far. It’s a big galaxy, after all, and while I would most definitely rather have had another Rogue One-style film with all new characters in a part of the galaxy largely still unexplored in the films, if this is the Han Solo origin story we get, then that’s absolutely fine.

Troubled though the production may have been, and controversial as the casting and just concept in general was to a large portion of Star Wars fans, this is a very fun adventure film that gives us insight into the early life of one of the more beloved characters in the original movies, ticking off the boxes of explaining to us how he became that untrusting, cocky scoundrel years later. Most enjoyably, we get to see his rivalry with Lando begin, how he met (and, hilariously, understands) Chewbacca, and even what the hell he means when he brags that he “made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs” in an exciting action sequence that, much like how the ventilation shaft on the Death Star was handled in Rogue One, finally puts to rest the logical discrepancy that existed in the original film. Sure, this universe has had its share of overly explained things that didn’t need explaining (cough, midichlorians, cough), but in this case, Solo doesn’t ruin anything in the process beyond maybe thinking the origins of his last name being kinda hokey. It’s a fun romp through the galaxy, and I honestly wish to have more young Han and Chewbacca adventures in the future.

Annihilation      2/23/18

So, this wasn’t a banner year for straightforward sci-fi movies, as most of them were also superhero films, which I have chosen to give their own category this year. Both of the previous entries in this category could have easily fit into other genres – Star Wars is arguably a fantasy franchise as a whole, but Solo arguably avoids a lot of the fantasy elements of the main films, and so I chose to put it here for the sake of padding out the category. Also, I decided to also merge the fantasy genre into the mix, as I only have one of those, the next movie, and so, if you like, you can also consider this my number one entry in the sci-fi genre… though it’s also kind of a horror film, but… anyway.

Luckily, Annihilation isn’t just near the top of this list by default, as the film is a genuinely terrifying but also beautiful film that can largely be read as an allegory for how depression manifests itself in the minds of people and affects the world around them. Here, the inciting incident is a meteor crashing into the planet and unleashing strange alien DNA onto the world, causing a “Shimmer” to begin slowly encroaching on the surrounding areas. A group of soldiers go in but largely disappear, with only one coming back, Kane, albeit very different from how he was before. His wife, Lena (Natalie Portman), a former fellow soldier and professor of cellular biology, goes to the military to find out what happened to him and winds up volunteering to join up with a group made up of fellow scientists, a soldier, and a paramedic (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny) to go on another mission into The Shimmer and see for themselves what’s behind it.

The film is haunting in its imagery and even sound, and while there’s little here that anyone would find uplifting, such is one of the effects of depression. The world in the shimmer has begun to merge into one, like cancer cells mutating both animal and plant alike. It’s at once enticing and almost poetic but also horrifying and deadly. The performances are all fantastic, but what will grab you most is the atmosphere. This was one of the more arresting films you could just look at in 2018, and it all serves a purpose to continue its story that, from what I could tell, was presenting the terrifying enticement embracing oblivion. Summarizing it here doesn’t really do the film justice. Go watch it.

Mirai     11/30/18

This was the most recent film I saw that I put on this list, and initially I wasn’t even going to put it since… well, I just never had a chance to see it until my local theatre suddenly had it screening in anticipation of the Oscars, where it has been nominated for Best Animated Feature. Suddenly this movie I saw nearly two months into 2019 became the best fantasy film of 2018 I had seen in theatres. Go figure.

The story follows a young boy named Kun, who is having a hard time after the birth of his little sister. His mother is impatient and inattentive, his father too panicked and out of sorts due to the pressure, and suddenly Kun is no longer the center of his parent’s love and affection, so he begins to act out. One day, however, after an especially bad fit, he suddenly begins to have visitations from family members, past and future, who begin to put a new perspective on his situation – one of them his own sister, Mirai, but now all grown up and willing to knock some sense into her older brother while he’s still little.

Mirai is a wonderful film, beginning with plenty of comedy but building up to a truly stirring climax that will leave you pondering the importance of family and the effect that theirs and our decisions and experiences make in shaping our past, present, and future. Hardships come and go, but it’s how we move forward and deal with them that makes the biggest impact on the world. Its presentation and animation are predictably gorgeous, as well – anime is largely the only medium where you still find traditionally drawn animation, and it’s so nice to see it on the big screen again, too. I honestly have a hard time picking whether this or Into the Spider-Verse deserve the Oscar, and while I said that I would give the edge to Spider-Verse, if only for its animation style, I wouldn’t begrudge Mirai a win for a second, either.


MUSICAL

Mary Poppins Returns   12/19/18

This was never going to live up to expectations set by the original, so the best you can do with this movie is sit back and enjoy the ride. Upon leaving the theatre with my friend, we both turned to each other and basically said the same thing: This was a really fun, happy movie.

That isn’t to say that it glosses over more serious matters, but it does so in that… most delightful way. A lot of films released lately have been dealing with trauma and grief, and, surprisingly, Mary Poppins Returns is no different, but it’s not overly morbid or sad, but rather gently acknowledges the pain of experiencing such things and the power there is in being able to find a way out – largely through appreciating what you still have, including the simpler pleasures, and loving those still around you.

The songs may not be as memorable as those of the original, but let’s not pretend like they’re bad, either. “The Place Where Lost Things Go” is this movie’s most notable song, and it’s a lovely one that may not be as lush as “Feed the Birds” but still deals with some really heavy subject matter that’s presented in a way that’s palatable to children. On the brighter side of things, Lin-Manuel Miranda makes for a very fun Dick van Dyke surrogate as the lamplighter Jack, but it’s Emily Blunt who shines as Mary Poppins, never doing a Julie Andrews impression but still feeling like the character and making it her own. What can I say? I loved the movie.

A Star Is Born     10/05/18

The third remake of the 1937 film of the same name and first since 1976, you’d think that people would be tired of the same old story, but nope. Now, obviously, most of today’s audiences likely haven’t seen any of the preceding ones, at most maybe one of them (I’d personally only seen the Judy Garland one from 1954, but I honestly barely remember much of it), so it’s still pretty much new to them. But which one’s the best? Well, obviously, I can’t say because I only have fuzzy memories of one of them… but, yeah, it’s probably this one. And I fully expect whoever has fresher memories of the inevitable next remake will also say the same about theirs.

It’s a timeless story, really, and one that can easily transcend and adapt to new times and industries: a veteran, troubled entertainer is facing a decline when, suddenly, he discovers a hot new talent – someone who’s not just gorgeous and talented, but truly special, and he’s convinced that she will capture the world’s attention the same way that she captured his. Her star rises as his declines, and yet they stay in love throughout, and…

Seriously, go watch the movie. I told a coworker recently that, yes, the hype was valid, and so he rented it and was apparently pretty blown away. Lady Gaga here is appropriately cast in the central role and does a phenomenal job portraying the timidity of stardom, the genuine appreciation for succeeding, and the adoration she feels for Jackson Maine, the man who discovers her in a drag bar after he drunkenly stumbles in. But it’s Bradley Cooper’s movie, for sure, having written, produced, directed, and starred in the film, not to mention having a hand in writing, producing, and performing many of the songs in the film, too. He’s so freaking good here that you almost don’t mind that he’s actually kind of hogging the spotlight from Lady Gaga. That and maybe some of the editing are my biggest gripes in this film, but that’s about it, and they’re very easy to overlook when the film is so freaking good. I was moved to tears in the middle of a crowded theatre. Didn’t even try to resist it. I couldn’t! And yet…

Hearts Beat Loud             6/08/18

… this was my favorite musical of the year. It may not be as flashy, prestigious, and nostalgic as the previous two films, but that’s entirely why I liked it so much. It’s an indie musical that is just so joyous, charming, and simple, I couldn’t help but put it higher on this list.

The film stars Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons as a single father, Frank, running a failing record store and his teenage daughter, Sam, who’s on her way to study pre-med after the summer is over. Frank’s not ready to let go, however – neither his store nor his daughter – and so he devises a plan to appeal to Sam’s musical side, distracting her from her studies to record an album. “We’re not a band,” she insists, but he’s a stubborn and winds up posting the album on iTunes, anyway. It’s not long before their creation gains some attention, and with a new romance in development for Sam, the question is whether or not she will decide to set aside her aspirations and perhaps live the dream of becoming a rock star… who just so happens to be part of a duo that includes her dad.

The film is sweet and not at all melodramatic, and the music is genuinely good, too. Toni Collette also shows up as the record store’s landlord, and she has a lot of great moments with Offerman, here playing sweet but aloof rather than typecast as yet another Ron Swanson type. (I love Ron, but there can only be one Ron – and that goes double for Eagleton Ron, dammit.) Clemons is also great – genuine as someone who clearly adores her dad but is genuinely frustrated by his antics and torn between a fanciful dream with the potential for financial disaster and the more guaranteed and safe but hard route of pursuing the less glamorous and musical route of working in medicine. In many ways, it’s the antithesis of A Star is Born, and while both are fantastic movies, Hearts Beat Loud is the more refreshing one.


HORROR

Mandy                  9/14/18

I’ve faulted movies before for being yet another avenging spouse flick, but, then again, Mandy is hardly your typical avenging spouse flick. Grimy, perverse, and metal AF, Mandy is like the most intense, action-packed nightmare you could ever enjoy. It is possibly the best catalyst I have ever seen for Nicolas Cage’s more insane moments as an actor, basically handing him a chainsaw prop, covering him in a layer of fake blood, and telling him to go nuts – and he’s the hero of this story, mind you. The villains are predominately made up of ghoulish fetishist cultists who make cenobites look tame by comparison, lined up one after another for Cage to mow down in righteous revenge. It’s really something, and while I’m not about to claim it as one of the best movies of the year, as many have, it’s basically already become one of the more remarkable cult flicks to come out of 2018, for sure.

Assassination Nation     9/21/18

Crucify me, I actually really liked this movie. Taking the modern era of online bullying and the toxicity of social media to its most extreme, this is a world that resembles our own but is, in fact, instead some kind of parallel dimension where our most primal instincts, our irrational outrage, and our prejudices exist and results in situations where, when everything we post online gets laid out for everyone to see, it seems perfectly logical to rally a posse to kill those who have been declared responsible without due process. Basically: “My boyfriend cheated on me with Reagan? That bitch! I’m going to take a bat to her head!” Cue the applause from those who think it’s about time someone did something to encourage people to stop stealing boyfriends, right?

Yeah, the movie’s pretty outrageous and ridiculous, but that was kind of its main draw for me, and while I acknowledge that its indulgence in teenage lingo and borderline obnoxious leads can be a bit much, I also appreciate that it goes full steam ahead in embracing this kind of lunacy. I don’t know if it’s going to change any minds, but if all it’s good for is to be a marker for the beginning of the era when social media became our downfall, then that’s good enough for me.

A Quiet Place    4/06/18

As I said in my review, I really think John Krasinski’s turn away from melodramatic comedies towards artsy horror with A Quiet Place may have revealed the man’s true calling as a filmmaker. Simple, tense, thematically sound (pun), and capably performed, A Quiet Place was so good and had such a great hook that it managed to captivate audiences in theatres enough to keep their mouths shut over several long periods of time without any spoken dialog. My only real complaints are that it seems rather convenient for the plot to take place over such a short period of time once the prologue is finished, and the film also could have used less obvious visual exposition than the sensational newspaper clippings strewn about.

[Much like with the superhero category, I’m really torn between the top three films on my horror list for favorite of the year, so consider this a semi-disclaimer stating that each of these next three films are really great at what they do but satisfy different kinds of horror itches. As such, I’m laying them out in order of release.]

Hereditary          6/08/18

Scariest movie of the year? There’s a good argument for it, that’s for sure. Dealing with the subject of mental illness through what seems to be a family curse, Hereditary definitely earns my medal for most shocking and unnerving film of the year. The advertising infamously presented this as yet another creepy child movie, but it really pulls the rug out from under its audience and then just goes crazy with what transpires next. To spoil it would be a crime, so I’ll just summarize my views real quick before moving on: I don’t think it’s meant to be taken literally, but I don’t think it takes place entirely within someone’s head, either. It’s meant to be both literal and metaphorical, as what is perceived by the characters is very much real, even if it’s not technically physically manifested. And I’m only saying that because I think a lot of people were let down by the ending, and I think that this reading of the film makes it so much more satisfying. This isn’t a movie where you piece things together and characters figure out the mystery of what’s happening and things are solved with definitive answers. This is mental illness, after all, and it’s a complicated, messy thing that isn’t easily understood, and, you know… isn’t that kinda terrifying in its own right?

Halloween         10/19/18

Throwing away all the sequels and remakes, this 2018 sequel to the original John Carpenter Halloween presents a Laurie Strode who survived her encounter with Michael Myers, but who was left permanently psychologically scarred by him, living in constant fear that the spectre that killed all her friends and threatened to kill her and the children she was protecting will return and do it all over again.

It’s a great setup and brings to the forefront the concept of what it means to be a victim haunted by a traumatic past, presented here through one of horror cinema’s most famous final girls and portrayed by one of the most famous scream queens, Jamie Lee Curtis, returning once again but most triumphantly to the role that made her famous all those years ago.

Halloween also does not disappoint in the area of being an entertaining, albeit more intensely scary, straight up slasher film. You can’t help but marvel at the suspense and execution (phrasing!) of these frightening scenes, and yet they’re some of the more disturbing and resonant slasher kills I’ve seen in a while. This movie makes it clear from the beginning that it’s not screwing around. Nobody is safe – not even characters we like. The film has a couple missteps, such as the psychologist studying Myers who stands in for Doctor Loomis, but other than that, this is yet another longtime coming sequel that lives up to its predecessor – only this one just had to do a little bit of housekeeping first and throw out all the trash.

Overlord              11/09/18

I never played them myself, but I confirmed with my friend that this is pretty much what people would likely want out of a Wolfenstein movie: a fun, gruesome horror flick set during World War II and following characters you can genuinely care about taking down some Nazis and the unholy abominations they’ve been creating in laboratories hidden beneath a rundown castle.

The opening to this film is one of the more intense war sequences I’ve seen in the theatres since – and I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but it’s an apt comparison – Dunkirk. The rest of the film is largely a creepy B-movie funfest with gory action and villains you love to hate. And I couldn’t be more pleased to have seen it in the theatre. Seriously, anyone who watches the previous movies on this list and finds themselves wanting for something a bit more fun in the genre of horror should look towards Overlord. It’s great.


DOCUMENTARY

Three Identical Strangers             6/29/18

The story behind this documentary is one that seems completely unbelievable – the kind of thing made up in fiction and left to the lighthearted comedies about reuniting some divorced parents – but apparently it did happen, and the truth behind it is so odious, it only seems unbelievable that nobody has suffered any consequences for what happened here.

As the title suggests, this is the story about how identical brothers – Edward, David, and Robert – who were separated at birth and adopted out to different parents, finding each other only several years later through mere coincidence of two of them winding up going to the same college – albeit one year part, causing many to think that the dropout had returned. What at first seems to be a happy discovery for the brothers, however, winds up becoming a nightmare, as they uncover the truth behind their separation. If you haven’t heard the story already, do yourself a favor and watch the documentary first. The truth is probably more nefarious than you would expect, like something out of a comic book, really.

The film does a great job of laying out the course of events and letting us feel the initial elation at discovering you have long-lost brothers and using that to become rich and famous, but then the bombshells come. It’s not exploitative in the slightest, mind you, but it does a really great job of telling the brothers’ story and how this affected them and their own families in a fairly short amount of time.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?     6/08/18

For a while, this was the only documentary I had seen for the year, but I was still more than satisfied with calling it my number one documentary of the year, all the same, and it may still very well be, depending on what day you ask me.

The subject of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Is Fred Rogers, benevolent host of the decades-long running Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood TV series, a man whose very nature can often seem too unbelievably warm and kind to have ever existed in modern times and yet, it seems, actually did live up to all preconceived expectations. This was simply a kind man who had a gift for speaking to children in a non-patronizing but gentle manner and a need to help them understand the world around them and bring light and kindness into it through that understanding. The film doesn’t portray him as any sort of saint, either, explaining that, yes, Mr. Rogers sometimes got angry about things and could be a bit of a perfectionist, and despite being a minister (and not a tattooed former WWII sniper, as your aunt’s chain letters and inspirational Facebook postswould have you believe), it seems that Mr. Rogers even enjoyed a dirty joke now and then, so that humanizes this oftentimes mythological and saintly image people have of him quite a bit. This only serves to show just how incredible as a human being he was, though, and even when he had issues with people close to him, they remained close because that’s just the sort of loving person he was determined to be. It’s a documentary that will make you cry happy tears, and also sad ones because it seems hard to believe we’ll ever have someone like him on TV ever again these days.

They Shall Not Grow Old              12/17/18

Directed by Peter Jackson as a pro-bono restoration project for the Imperial War Museum, this is one of the few times where technological aspects come to the forefront of a documentary’s impact and power, with Jackson and his team at Wingnut and Weta taking the century-old footage and not just sprucing up the footage a bit, but using technology and extensive research to slow down the unnatural framerates of the old hand-cranked cameras at the time, colorize the footage, and even bring the vocals to life through professional lip-readers and voice actors, and employing firsthand narration via interviews with survivors of the first World War recorded a long time ago.

The effect is stirring. While the efforts to adjust the speed of the footage to a more modern 24 frames per second from contemporary speeds of about 13 – 17 fps isn’t perfect, eliminating the barrier of those frame rates’ frequently comical high-speed motion effect makes the reality of the first World War feel far more real. Along with the cleaning up of debris and damage, suddenly the faces on the soldiers become more familiar to us – men and often just boys, goofing off in their free time, being sent off to face previously unseen horror on an unprecedented scale. The colorization was also meticulous – keyed to match that of the actual surroundings today and based on actual uniforms owned by Jackson himself, who is a bit of a WWI historian thanks in large part to his grandfather’s participation in the war. Jackson and his crew restored more than 100 hours of footage from all fronts and sides of the war to the best of their effort and at no profit to themselves, and this effort and passion shows in the final product. If you have a chance, the shorter mini-documentary about the processing and research they did in crafting this film and working on this footage is almost as fascinating as the main one itself and was even played in the theatre right afterward. Overall, this documentary is quite the achievement and grants considerable new perspective on a war that’s all too often ignored in favor of covering the, dare I say, more glamorized second.


DRAMA

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society         8/04/18

Set primarily on the island of Guernsey shortly after the end of World War II, this film (I’m not going to keep track of a digital clipboard, let alone type its title out every time) follows a young writer named Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a man on the island who claims that one of her books was partly to thank for keeping him and his friends’ spirits alive during the Nazi occupation of Guernsey. The title of the film comes from the book club they form out of desperation for a semblance of normalcy – the potato peel pie being a recipe that is completely awful but still an indulgence under the occupation. Juliet, inspired by their story, heads to Guernsey to meet them, including the man who sent her the letter, Dawsey Adams. And, wouldn’t you know it? He’s pretty dang handsome.

There are quite a few plot threads in the film, and, yes, it’s admittedly very much a period romance drama with a bunch of questions that might seem to have obvious answers in the end, but it’s still a well-made, pleasant film that’s beautiful to look at and has likable characters you get to spend time with.

Mario    10/30/18

I only saw this movie because there was a sale on Vudu, and it was literally cheaper to buy it than to rent it, and I thought I had free time but clearly did not since I’m still writing this article. Basically, my thought process went, “Hey, that looks like two guys in love. Does it have good reviews? Yes? Okay.” Such is the mindset of a lonely gay film buff.

Luckily the film is more substantial than just a will-they-won’t-they romance. The film, hailing from Switzerland, is about Mario, a rising star in the soccer world who finds himself rooming with the new guy on the team, Leon, a transfer from Germany. Leon isn’t quite fitting in with the rest of the team, and Mario himself isn’t too keen on the idea of him being there, either, but mostly because he’s such a distraction. The two eventually hit it off, however, hanging out off the field and proving to be a good pair on the field, too. Before long, the friendship begins to blossom into a secret romance – one that is noticed by one of the players, who attempts to blackmail the two men. Basically, it’s about the challenges of facing homophobia in sports, something a lot of Americans believe doesn’t exist in cosmopolitan Europe but… well, here’s the supposedly neutral film attacking that very subject in a fairly serious manner. And doing a pretty decent job of it, too, as I didn’t really see where it headed coming, and I absolutely appreciated it, all the same. The performances are excellent, and the film not too exploitative, either. I could easily see this being remade in the US sometime in the future, perhaps with American football at the center? … Or has that been made already?

Disobedience    4/27/18

Oh boy, and other gay drama, this one centering on – gasp – two women! (See? I don’t watch these for perverted reasons. Girls are icky.) Rachel Weisz plays Ronit Krushka, a Jewish woman who returns home to London after years of being away when she’s informed of the death of her rav father. The reunion proves to be as uneasy as she fears, not just because Ronit has been away for so long so as to become the talk of the community, but because this also puts her back in touch with Esti (Rachel McAdams), her longtime friend and former lover, who is now married to their other best friend growing up, Dovid, an incredibly devout man who was like a son to Ronit’s father.

Disobedience presents a unique perspective on the whole religious dogma vs. homosexuality debate and the struggle these once and current Orthodox Jewish women experience once reunited with their true love. Ronit has learned to embrace it, but Esti seems conflicted about how this will impact her life, particularly since she teaches at a religious girls’ school. Weisz and McAdams are fantastic in the film, with McAdams in particular still showing that she’s one of the more underrated actresses of our time. I really think this deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Blue is the Warmest Color – particularly since it tells its story in a much shorter amount of time. (I’m sorry, but that movie just way too long for me…)

If Beale Street Could Talk            12/14/18

I liked Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight so much better, but If Beale Street Could Talk is still a really great film with some truly superb cinematography. The film jumps between different points in time to show us the developing romance between Tish and Fonny in the early 1970s, a romance that leads to the two of them living together and conceiving a child together – something his religious mother is not too happy about. Fonny, unfortunately, finds himself imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, accused largely based on his proximity to the crime and the fact that he is black. The film can be, at times, a bit too ornamental for its own good, and there are a few side characters whose casting can take you out of the story that’s unfolding (oh hi, Dave Franco…), but when this movie is firing on all cylinders, it really soars, and Regina King in her Oscar-nominated role as Tish’s mother is just fantastic.

Creed II                                11/21/18

Without Ryan Coogler at the helm, as he was busy filming one of the year’s best and most profitable films, I admittedly adjusted my expectations for the sequel, but luckily, I didn’t have to do too much adjusting. Creed II embraces its legacy themes by pitting Adonis Creed against Viktor Drago – the son of Ivan Drago, who infamously killed Adonis’ father, Apollo, in the ring back in Rocky IV – while also showing Adonis and Bianca moving on in their lives and starting a family of their own.

Adonis is shaken by these new developments, however, and shaken by the very thought of facing down the son of the man who put him perpetually in the shadow of his father’s glory by also taking away the father he never had a chance to know. It’s a logical, satisfying continuation of the story set up by the first Creed, and while it doesn’t live up to that first film, particularly lacking any of that film’s engaging fight scenes, it’s still a very good film in its own right, and anyone who enjoyed the first should find a lot to like about this film, too.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?           10/19/18

Melissa McCarthy took somewhat of a beating on my worst of list, so I am happy to say that 2018 brought us yet another role for her to sink her teeth into and show us what she’s got when she is herself given good material to work with. Here, she plays Lee Israel, a real writer (who happened to write the book the movie is based on) who largely went most of her career unappreciated for her talents and struggling to make a living as a result. As someone skilled in the art of imitating other writers, she takes notice of the market for letters written by famous people and begins to start forging some originals, making enough to get by, often with the help of her scoundrel friend Jack Hock, a charming but crafty wanderer with a propensity for indulging himself a little too often and getting himself into trouble.

McCarthy can really bring out the warmth and humanity in even the most troubled people – a skill that is too often confused for just being likable in roles that are inherently unlikable – and this movie puts that talent to great use. Lee is understandably frustrated with her situation, and it’s her desperation for security and companionship in these times, as both a struggling writer and a lesbian in the 1980s, that is largely what motivates her to become a forger. Richard E. Grant, too, is fantastically entertaining as the frustratingly knavish Jack Hock – someone who is easy to love from a distance but is even harder to tolerate in large doses. You can still see why Lee is drawn to him, however, as he is perhaps the only one who understands her desperation, because he is perhaps even more desperate than she is.

It’s a great film that doesn’t get too caught up in its melodrama and misery to not have a few comedic moments, but they’re moments that spring out naturally from the characters’ stories and relationships and not, like… exaggerated pratfalls when something catches on fire. Even when facing yet another new low in their lives, it’s pleasant to still see these two just barely manage to get by.

First Reformed          5/18/18

Bound to go down as one of Ethan Hawke’s most impressive roles, First Reformed has been called one of the best films of the year that isn’t getting enough praise, and… man, do I want to agree with that sentiment, but I can also totally see why this movie may put off some viewers.

Hawke plays Pastor Ernst Toller, a man who is quickly beginning to lose his faith in the church and has begun to document his thoughts in a journal in order to help him process it. He primarily works and lives at the First Reformed church in Snowbridge, New York, a building that is about to celebrate its 250th anniversary. It’s a bittersweet ceremony, as the church has become more of a tiny tourist destination than it is an operational church, with only a few regular congregants coming to Toller’s Sunday sermons. The church has also fallen under the ownership of Abundant Life, a charismatic megachurch that is largely concerned with the usual megachurch nonsense more than they are the actual spiritual wellbeing of people. As Toller becomes more and more disillusioned, the more the issues of his few congregants begins to affect him, as well – particularly one young man who has become gravely concerned about the state of the environment. Toller gradually becomes more tolerant of entertaining ideas largely considered taboo within the church, particularly in regards to political activism and addressing the general ambivalence of people who are more content to just believe they’re going to heaven and getting money while doing so.

First Reformed dips into surreal territory, and by the end of the film, you’re also almost not certain whether to side with Toller and his actions, even if you might agree with the general moral conclusions he begins to embrace, and the changes he goes through are presented as pretty much a transcendent, religious experience. His frustrations are understandable, and his passion is palpable, but the film seemingly challenges him and the audience to examine the means through which change is affected. T put it basically, it’s really fascinating stuff and presented in a truly compelling way.

Lean on Pete     5/04/18

I have a feeling that Charlie Plummer is one day going to be a big deal. Between The Clovehitch Killer, King Jack, and this movie, he’s proven to be one of the more soulful young actors getting regular roles, and it would be a shame if somehow, should he choose to keep going, he nonetheless ends up disappearing over time. Lean on Pete follows Charlie as Charley Thompson, a teenager living with his troubled single father who finds work at a horseracing track to help support the two of them. He begins to grow fond of an older horse called Lean On Pete, but when Pete begins to show signs of no longer being able to race, Charley decides to save him and travels across the country with him to find them both a new home.

This isn’t a terrifically happy nor fanciful film, as one might expect from one about a boy and his horse friend, but while their journey may lack the sort of fanciful, light-hearted moments and lots of new friends to make along the way, as would be the case were this a family film, there’s something much better and more honestly compassionate in this film than something like that could ever provide. Definitely one of the more underappreciated movies of 2018.

First Man             10/12/18

Oh boy, is this ever an undeservedly infamous film. It seems as though there are people out there who actually believe that director Damien Chazelle purposely scrubbed all references to and images of the American flag from the film in order to revise history and present the first moon landing as something achieved by the entire world, and you couldn’t mention the film online without someone mentioning their boycott or acknowledging the boycott others were carrying out. It got to such a point that apparently one such moron decided to pay IMAX ticket prices to go to the same showing as me and, upon Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon, he shouted out in protest, “Make America great again!” so that the whole theatre could hear him. Moments later, the American flag was shown, planted on the moon, as it always was going to be depicted. Thanks for ruining the emotional climax and the pivotal style change from 16mm to IMAX digital there, though, dude. Point taken: you’re an idiot.

Yes, First Man is not some communist, globalist manifesto against the United States but rather an intimate, untold portrait of the life of Neil Armstrong’s life leading up to his becoming the first man to set foot on the moon. (You see, Chazelle meant that this was a human achievement, because while acknowledging that it was spearheaded by the Americans, Chazelle wished to portray the moment as a pivotal moment for humanity in general and how it impacted the man who achieved it, so, yeah, they chose not to focus on the usual scene of planting the flag that so many other depictions focus on. But I digress…) The film begins during the period of time when Armstrong and his wife, Janet, were dealing with the illness and subsequent passing of their daughter, Karen, who was suffering from a brain tumor and only two at the time of her death. The film shows this as a major event in the Armstrongs’ life that loomed large over their marriage, his relationship with his sons, and Armstrong’s mission to the moon, which was only made more harrowing after the deaths of his friend Elliot See and his friends in the Apollo 1 crew. This emphasis on the sacrifice and the human loss is a big point of the movie in order to illustrate the kind of determination and bravery that went into each mission, knowing that human advancement doesn’t come easily. If anything, the film’s greatest flaw is that it does perhaps focus entirely too much on this, as if there were no moments of elation for the man and his family after the death of Karen, but once you get to that cathartic moment when the mission’s goal is achieved… man, it’s really something… and probably much better when you’re not watching it with an asshole.

Blindspotting    7/20/18

Collin Hoskins is on his last few days of probation, but his white best friend, Miles, is seemingly determined to see him get put back in prison, if only thanks to his ignorance and lack of consideration regarding Collin’s situation, often keeping him out later than his probation allows. Unfortunately, on one such night when Collin is attempting to arrive home in time, he witnesses a white cop shoot and kill a black man who is running away. Shaken, he, too, flees the scene and spends the next few days processing what he witnessed while still dealing with Miles’ seemingly privileged way of life, flaunting guns around like it’s no big deal when someone like Collin, who is black, would likely be shot on sight.

Blindspotting is co-produced, co-written (along with co-star Rafael Casal), and stars Grammy and Tony Award-winning former Hamilton actor and rapper Daveed Diggs in the lead role of Collin, and… man, is he is just fantastic. Collin is probably one of my favorite characters this past year, and that would be the case on the basis of Diggs’ likability in the role alone. Collin’s troubled past belies his intelligence and artistic spirit. He mostly just wants to get on with his life and, perhaps, get together with Val, the secretary who greets him every morning at the moving company he and Miles work for. But will the world be as forgiving as they are towards the hot-headed but white Miles, or will he always be judged as the thug and felon, just based on appearance alone?

Wildlife                               10/19/18

Yet another actor makes an impressive directorial debut this year, with Paul Dano at the helm and co-writing with partner Zoe Kazan. Set in the 1960s, Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenaal, and Ed Oxenbould star in this film about a sensitive teenage boy, Joe, who initially believes in the sanctity of his family and his parents’ marriage until his father is forced out of yet another low-paying job. His mother offers to return to the workforce while he seeks out new work, but his father’s ego is severely bruised. His father begins to lash out and, in a moment of desperation, takes on a dangerous job fighting a nearby wildfire that moves him out of the home for a period of time, leaving Joe to deal with his mother’s subsequent breakdown.

The film is brutal but honest, portraying a family at the end of the 1950s idealism and coming into the more liberated modern era where, yes, marriages don’t always last and fights aren’t resolved with cookies and milk at the end of the day. The film definitely captures the look and feel of the era, but it’s the performances that really shine, with Oxenbould breaking out of his awkward adolescent roles as Joe and Mulligan in particular reminding everyone what a brilliant and nuanced actress she is. This was a fantastic debut, and I can’t wait to see what Dano might direct next.

Leave No Trace                 6/29/18

Troubled by his years as a soldier, a father, Will, decides to raise his daughter, Tom, in the woods and teach her survivalist skills, only venturing into town when it’s absolutely necessary. They are caught by social services, however, and Tom is forced to question whether or not how her father is raising her is truly the ideal one for either of them, let alone one that will allow for Tom to pursue a life that she wants rather than one that she’s been led to believe is best.

It’s a sensitive film, and one with yet another revelatory performance from a relative unknown, New Zealander Thomasin McKenzie, as Tom. The film is also famous for having pretty much exclusively women behind the scenes – directed and co-written by Debra Granik, produced by Anne Harrison, Linda Reisman, and Anne Rosselini, who also co-wrote the screenplay, adapted from Peter Rock’s book My Abandonment, itself inspired by the true story of a 13-year-old girl who spent four years living with her father in a park in a homemade shelter. The film is also the second most reviewed film on Rotten Tomatoes to get a 100% approval rating, behind Paddington 2, and despite both getting major buzz upon release, neither of them got much love in the major awards ceremonies, which just helped promote the idea, in this film’s case, that women-centered and made films just don’t get the attention they deserve. This is easily one of the best, more understated films of the year, so don’t let the lack of attention it got deter you.

Boy Erased          11/02/18

This was one of those movies that I was most looking forward to upon seeing the trailer. Based on the true story about a man who, as a teenager, was forced into gay conversion therapy under the guise of Christian obedience by his religious parents, I couldn’t have been more moved by the final product than what we got here. Somehow the film manages to be sensitive towards the parents, even in light of their actions, likely because the book’s author, name slightly changed in the film, still loved his parents in spite of their actions and wanted to be with them.

The film doesn’t shy away from the horrors and spiritual and psychological damage that this kind of program inflicts upon its participants, however. Usually, if not exclusively run by individuals wholly unqualified to be providing psychological help to people who have often suffered serious traumas, as was the case with Jared in this film and Garrard Conley in real life. The performances – Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe – are well-observed and nuanced. But, yeah, for me, personally, having grown up in a religious environment all my life and harboring that secret for myself for 27 years and having the unspoken threat of this kind of thing held over me by people who suspected my “temptation of same-sex attraction,” this film meant a lot to me, and I didn’t hesitate to purchase it upon release. Anyone who is dealing with the conflict of religion and having an LGBT+ relative should seriously watch this film. And probably read the book, which I am currently going through now.

The Hate U Give              10/05/18

Amandla Stenberg escapes YA purgatory with an incredibly moving performance in The Hate U Give, based on the novel by Angie Thomas about a young black girl, Starr Carter, who is torn between two worlds – her home in a low-income neighborhood and the upscale private school she attends – and who is traumatized by the death of a childhood friend, shot in front of her during a routine traffic stop by a white cop who doesn’t even administer proper medical attention at the scene of the incident. The film, much like Blindspotting, deals with the complexity of identity, perception, and reality, as well as the subject of code switching – the practice of changing the way one communicates to fit into one group and shifting to another when in another community. It’s something that all people do, really, but in the case of minorities, particularly black people in America, it can mean the difference between success and failure, even life and death.

Starr, previously satisfied with how her life was going and successfully juggling these two worlds, finds herself thrust into the spotlight as the sole witness to the police brutality, the two worlds colliding and her friends not exactly understanding why she’s offended when they tell her, for example, that she’s “not like the others,” a perception that Starr can’t help but feel partially responsible for perpetuating by not speaking out for her community, even if it meant being an outsider.

Stenberg is amazing as Starr, brave and vulnerable and inspirational all at once. The film does an excellent job at communicating its message without ever feeling like it’s making any one group out to be an enemy. Allies are identified, even when they are themselves conflicted and not always fully understanding of the harsh realities, and people who purport to call themselves allies but actually believe ignorant and harmful things are also called out. The film is a rhetorical accomplishment and a great film in its own right to boot.

Roma                    11/21/18

Alfonso Cuarón is seriously one of my favorite directors, basically well-versed at almost anything he sets out to make, be it whimsical childhood fantasies, intimate Spanish-language dramas, or grandiose sci-fi parables. Here, he tackles a much smaller subject in the infamously Netflix-produced drama about a young housemaid named Cleo, an indigenous Mexican, who works for a wealthy, white Mexican family that’s going through some issues. The father is aloof and frequently absent, his wife – the mother of four energetic children – increasingly frustrated by his lies, frequently taking out her anger on the kids and Cleo. The kids are themselves very close to Cleo, who treats them like they were her own, spending more time with them from the morning until night than their parents. Cleo does have a life outside the house, however – which becomes all the more obvious when she becomes pregnant, which will only bring more complications to her life and the life of the family she works for.

Roma is beautifully filmed in black and white, and it’s very much intertwined with the history and sociology of Mexico, which is potentially alienating to those not well-versed in the subject. I by no means am, but I can thus also tell you that it’s seriously one of the most well-made movies of the year, tying with The Favourite with the most Oscar nods (including for stars Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira), and its brief appearance in theatres shouldn’t detract from your viewing it, particularly if you have a Netflix account. I mean… it’s right there. The film is a tribute to mothers and mother figures, particularly the women who helped raise Cuarón during his childhood, and it’s not one that necessarily has a beginning and an end so much as it is a film with the goal of creating empathy for these characters and leaving you more compassionate in the end. It’s a fantastic film and a modern masterpiece.

Shoplifters [Manbiki Kazoku]    11/23/18

This film is seemingly a meditation on the quandary about whether or not it’s moral for someone to steal a loaf of bread to feed his starving family and all the grey areas in between and all the extremes that this question can bring up. For example, is it kidnapping if the child you’re kidnapping is not only neglected and abused, but not even noticed to be missing by her parents in the first place? That’s the position the family at the center of the film faces when they decide to take in a small, malnourished girl who is left out on a balcony in the middle of winter as her parents fight inside. The family, it turns out, isn’t a biological one, but rather a band of misfits who have come together to form a family unit – the Shibatas, consisting of father figure and shoplifting extraordinaire Osamu, mother figure Nobuyo, cool aunt Aki, grandma Hatsue, and the only other kid, Shota, who works as Osamu’s partner in crime and reluctantly shows the young girl they call Yuri how things are done.

The film is an amusing, compassionate portrayal of people who are all longing for a deeper connection with someone and only find it with each other, each of them coming from some troubled background but finding solace in this time and place. Naturally, their latest lift – the kidnapping of this little girl – will eventually be noticed, and it’s only a matter of time before their bond is tested.

I had a very bad experience at the theatre with this movie. After weeks of hearing its praises online, it finally showed up at a single theatre within several miles, and it was the tiny one that just so happened to now find itself neighbor to a restaurant with dedicated, massive speakers for each of its outdoor tables. The restaurant decided to start blasting Top 40 radio so loudly that it was as if the walls of the old, tiny theatre didn’t exist, right at a pivotal emotional climax towards the last quarter of the film and did not relent. So, I might very well rate this higher on my list were it not for that, which I fully acknowledge is not a fault of the movie but did affect my attention span and perception of it, and I haven’t yet had a chance to rewatch it in the safety and comfort of my own home now that it’s available as a rental. That the earlier parts of the film are so fantastic that it still made it onto my list is a testament to the quality of the film, nonetheless.

Eighth Grade     7/13/18

Again with the gift of unexpectedly great movies from unexpected sources outweighing the gravitas of the more obvious and insistent movies. Who would have thought that the spiritual successor to 2017’s Lady Bird would come not from a female director but rather a former YouTube star turned standup comedian Bo Burnham, making this – yes – yet another fantastic directorial debut from yet another performer.

The biggest get for Eighth Grade has to be Golden Globe-nominated star Elsie Fisher, who was encouraged by Burnham to interpret the script she was given in her own way and speak how she would normally speak rather than in some affected Hollywood manner. The result is an endearing and authentic performance that truly makes you care for this awkward girl, Kayla, who’s dealing with a lot of pressure to grow up and fit in more than ever now that she’s nearly in high school. It’s not a heavy film, and it even has some welcome bits of comedy and warmth, but it does deal with heavy themes and is very honest about the struggles that a young girl would face at this time in her life in 2018. Luckily, there’s always the safe haven of Kayla’s father, who just wants to understand his daughter despite her emotional aloofness. Josh Hamilton is the second best thing about this movie – truly a portrayal that will go down as one of the most likable and realistic dads in cinema.


COMEDY

Game Night       2/23/18

It’s about time we got a David Fincher parody, particularly of one of his nuttier films, The Game. Game Night stars Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman as Annie and Max, a fiercely competitive couple who regularly host a game night with their group of friends – but not their neighbor, who has become just too awkward after his wife left him. When Max’s rich, hotshot brother, Brooks, comes to town and crashes the party, he invites them all over to his new place the next week, promising a game night that they won’t ever forget. Of course, the planned fake kidnapping goes terribly, terribly wrong when Brooks’ secret life as a smuggler comes back to bite him in the ass, his guests thinking his kidnapping is all an elaborate part of the game, as can be expected from Brooks.

Obviously, the reality does eventually set in, but the film is luckily funny enough to not be reliant on the need to keep its characters in the dark for a majority of the film. It’s just enough to make them look completely insane to the actual perpetrators and then make everyone involved justifiably freaked out when they realize just what they’ve walked into. The cast is all really great – Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Brunbury, and Jesse Plemmons costar and each get their own little side plots that help flesh them out as individuals and not just supporting players to the two leads – who are admittedly great, McAdams in particular stealing her scenes as Annie. This is easily directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s best film.

Sorry to Bother You        7/06/18

Another film that deals with code switching, this time in a far more satirical perspective, setting its eye on corporate America and how it treats its workers at the bottom of the ivory tower. Sorry to Bother You was one of the most buzzed about indie films this year, and for good reason. It’s completely insane, unnervingly hilarious, and brings with it a style that hasn’t really been seen before, thanks in large part to director Boots Riley, yet another first time filmmaker making his debut.

The film starts off as the story of Cash Green (Lakeith Stanfield), an artist forced to get a job in telemarketing in order to pay his rent. Cash, being a black man, is dismissed constantly during his calls until he is advised to use a “white voice” (which winds up sounding a lot like David Cross) by an elderly coworker (Danny Glover). Cash quickly begins to make his bosses proud, but in the midst of a worker crisis that will lead to protests, he suddenly finds himself tempted to rise up in the ranks, offered to him by his white bosses, who basically expect Cash to perform only as black as they’re comfortable with, demonstrating their wokeness by inviting him to rap for a bunch of guests but still expecting him to speak in his white voice elsewhere.

People who won’t appreciate or agree with its anti-capitalist perspective – as I know many of my friends and acquaintances will likely be – will likely not fully enjoy the movie (I’m not exactly up on economics but am thus open to hearing all sides), but I think there’s still some benefit to seeing it, even if that’s the case. I won’t say look past some of its eccentricities and strangeness, though, as the uncomfortable truths it’s attempting to present through all the layers of WTF are kind of the point. Just learn to embrace it and consider it on its own merits and at least appreciate that you’ve been able to witness one of the most original movies to come out during the year.

Love, Simon       3/16/18

If Boy Erased is the potential reality that I faced growing up, then Love, Simon was the potential fantasy I had hoped to have during that period of time. Purported as the first mainstream teenage film release (meaning, not indie-produced, but rather big, corporate studio-funded film to be deemed potentially financially viable for mainstream audiences) to feature a gay romance at its center, Love, Simon would admittedly be a pretty mundane romcom if not for that one aspect, but, again, this isn’t your typical teenage romcom. What I loved most about this movie is that, even amidst the plot of finding out the identity of the other gay boy that Simon is secretly corresponding with from his school, there was an emotional honesty that not even many straight romance-focused films are able to achieve. That the film also presents a gay teenager who isn’t your typical Hollywood portrayal of a gay teen also spoke to me, while also acknowledging that the confidence that comes from being oneself when you don’t blend in like Simon isn’t easily achieved through the character of Ethan, a more effeminate boy and only “out” boy at school. The film does have your typical melodrama, but it avoids other convenient tropes such as the high school dance finale. Simon himself is an imperfect person who actually makes some pretty catastrophic errors that the film doesn’t just excuse with the wave of a hand just because he’s gay, even if his anxiety is proven to be justified, noting that even Simon’s open-minded family must adjust to his outing. It’s a pleasant film, one that will have you maybe even crying a few happy tears. Watch it as a chaser after Boy Erased, perhaps?

Crazy Rich Asians             8/15/18

The big year for minority representation kept on rolling with the year’s biggest romantic comedy, Crazy Rich Asians, a title that most definitely has a double meaning.

Adapted from Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel, Crazy Rich Asians is the kind of wish-fulfillment fantasy romance that only a few years ago you’d likely only see the likes of Reese Witherspoon starring in, likely in a fish-out-of-water comedy about just how crazy these Asians are she’s marrying into! Instead, the film focuses on Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) an Asian-American who finds herself on a trip to Singapore with her boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding), who turns out to be very wealthy, in order to meet his family and attend his best friend’s wedding. Rachel struggles to fit in, however, her American ways looked down upon by the proud women of Nick’s family, who have themselves endured much hardship, despite their current, considerable wealth.

Much like with Love, Simon, without this minority aspect, the film would largely play out as a rather mundane romcom no different from the countless others, but, luckily, that’s not the case here. It’s a funny, refreshing take on the genre that addresses some very relatable issues about what it means to be part of a certain ethnicity – something that I, who is technically a quarter Korean but who was raised more with Japanese culture due to an adopted mother, have often pondered, particularly when confronted by other Asians who have told me that I don’t count. (That a lot of the controversy surrounding this film is largely lobbed from the Asian community for its casting of biracial actors and Asian actors playing Asians of different heritages from their own is definitely something I empathize with the film over.) When my sister (same genetic makeup) finally saw it, she said she even cried from how it affected her. It’s not often that you can say that about your typical run of the mill romcom.

Isle of Dogs        3/23/18

Wes Anderson returns to the stop motion medium nine years after his previous animated effort, Fantastic Mr. Fox, with this film about a boy, Atari, seeking to rescue his dog, Spots, after a canine influenza outbreak results in Japan exiling all dogs to an island made entirely out of garbage out of fear that it will become transmittable to humans. Atari crashes on the island in a small plane and is aided in his search by a pack of local dogs who might know where Spots is. Chief, however, their leader, is reluctant to follow, not having had the best experience when it comes to interacting with humans. Back home, Atari’s cause is spearheaded by a long-distance admirer, an albino American exchange student named Tracy, who begins to suspect there’s a conspiracy going on within the Japanese government that goes deeper than a fear of disease.

The film is, of course, your usual, reliably quirky Wes Anderson film, and features a cast of usual suspects from previous films while adding a few more to his flock, such as Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig (somehow her first film with Anderson), and Courtney B. Vance. Here the main theme seems to be one of communication, the language barrier between the dogs, Atari, and Tracy proving to be one of the bigger hurdles in getting things resolved. But I don’t think it’s necessarily trying to be a film with a big message, either. I honestly have a hard time articulating just what it is about this movie that’s so great. Just know that, if you like Wes Anderson, give this Oscar-nominated film a go. How about that?

Tully      5/04/18

Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody reuinite once again with star Charlize Theron, here telling the story about a mother, Marlo, who is suffering from postpartum depression and exhaustion, particularly after the birth of her third child. Seeking out some kind of respite, she hires a woman named Tully to take care of the baby while she sleeps. Tully is not only attentive towards her kids’ needs, but also towards Marlo’s, and the two quickly form a bond that’s deeper than anything Marlo has seemingly had in a long time.

Tully was the focus of some backlash for not supposedly not treating its main character with the care it needed, showing her seeking proper treatment for her mental health, but… this is an art medium, and sometimes the reality is that people don’t seek the medical help they often need. In fact, that’s almost the point of the movie, which is itself a funny, compassionate look at a woman who’s in desperate need of understanding and clearly not getting it, even from her own husband, whom she loves but doesn’t feel she can reach out to. The comedy of everyday motherhood frustrations eventually gives way to something deeper, much like how things played out in Juno and Young Adult, both films where the lead characters faced real struggles with varying degrees of maturity, to also varying degrees of comedy, and Reitman and Cody, along with Theron and Mackenzie Davis, are all up to the challenge of playing out the increasingly complex relationship between Marlo, her family, and Tully.

BlacKkKlansman               8/10/18

Based on the memoir by Ron Stallworth, Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman retells Stallworth’s autobiographical story about infiltrating the KKK as a black man with the help of a white surrogate, whose true identity has to this day not been revealed. The film dramatizes the events by incorporating a bombing threat into the story, one inspired by something the KKK actually carried out: the 1965 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, so… fair enough. Some might argue that taking such liberties with the truth hurts its point, but here’s my perspective: the film isn’t so much a depiction of reality as much as it is a depiction of the ideal situation when faced with such a threat: Cooperation between people of multiple races within the department to take down a mutual enemy that represents hatred and genocide, regardless of whether they are the targets of their hate.

This idealism does give way at the very end to reveal some sobering truths about the world as it actually is (some would say it’s heavy-handed and manipulative to encourage a strong reaction to the film as a whole, but I really don’t think that’s the case – its point is very much taken and appreciated by me), but until then, Spike Lee actually creates quite an entertaining and amusing buddy cop flick, like a low key Lethal Weapon only with more social consciousness. Lee does depict police corruption, but he even refuses to claim that all cops are bad, even in 1972. (The actual investigation took place in 1979, but for the sake of rhetoric, the film’s setting takes place closer to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, among other major milestones of the 1960s.) John David Washington (son of Denzel – I had no idea) and Adam Driver have a great camaraderie in the film, and if perhaps you found some of Spike Lee’s films in the past to be too preachy, you’ll probably only have an issue with this film if you actually identify with the politics of the KKK. (Believe me, they exist. A now-fired coworker who also saw the film after the buzz it generated came back the following Monday and told me that it made him feel guilty to be white and dismissed any argument I had in the movie’s favor because white people were the only demographic portrayed as enemies in the film, and he wanted it to have a more level playing field by at least including minorities who were depicted as equally bad. Needless to say, he wasn’t a fan of the film’s ending, either.)

The Death of Stalin         3/09/18

I kept hearing about how this was one of the most underappreciated movies of the year and couldn’t help but think that its concept – a comedy about the chaos and political backstabbing that ensued in the wake of Joseph Stalin’s passing – sounded insufferably pretentious. And, indeed, it has been adopted by many a self-appointed expert on economics as being one of the best cases for capitalism and all that, but ignore all that and enjoy the dark comedy that is watching a bunch of wannabe tyrants squabble about who deserves to be in charge more than others and the lengths they will go to in order to ensure they come out on top in the end. It’s petty, silly, and definitely hilarious. You’ll probably never have a chance to justifiably laugh at a series of executions the way they’re depicted here.

The Favourite    11/23/18

Speaking of political power struggles, here’s yet another deranged comedy based on a reality. Starring Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone, The Favourite (and, yes, you simply must spell it that way – it’s the Queen’s English, you know), details the complex (and speculative) relationship between the troubled Queen Anne (Colman), her adviser the Duchess of Marlborough Sarah Churchill (Weisz), and Churchill’s younger cousin Abigail Hill, who is taken in by the court as a favor, employed as a servant after her father disgraces the family name. Abigail gains the attention of the queen due to her gentle, attentive servitude in contrast to Sarah’ loving but brutal honesty when confronted by the queen’s neediness. Before too long, the two cousins are caught up in a nasty feud with one another that begins to fester into murderous intentions and near treason.

I went to go see this movie on a day off, paying a large sum of money for my ticket since at the time it was only playing at the hoity-toity theatre with a full bar, food, and reclining luxury seats in the nice mall in the nicest city in the area, so I was damn well expecting a good flick. My expectations were certainly met. I don’t know what the heck the audience was expecting. I think it was fairly clear from the advertising that The Favourite would not be your typical mannered period film in which you can admire the landscape and period costuming. Yorgos Lanthimos is largely known for his often outlandish films, including the divisive critical darling The Lobster, so perhaps they didn’t do their research? Hmm… so it seems. Regardless, I’d argue that this is much more accessible than The Lobster (I haven’t yet seen his other films, which include the acclaimed Dogtooth and The Killing of a Sacred Deer), but I guess people just really think that everyone was prim and proper and didn’t, for instance, use the “c-word” at each other profusely.

For my money, this was a hilarious film, albeit one that’s definitely an acquired taste. Along with Roma, it’s one of this year’s most acclaimed films, including one Oscar nod for each of its stars, its director, its screenplay, cinematography, and Best PIcture, and I would say it’s honestly well-deserved.

Paddington 2     1/12/18

Yes, this sequel to the movie about a talking bear is my favorite comedy to come out of 2018. A decided improvement over its already near perfect first film, Paddington 2 has the distinction of being the most well-reviewed film on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing, having the greatest number of positive reviews at a 100% approval rating. And it’s easy to see why. In a year packed with big important features coming out in the midst of political controversies and so much noise, it’s wonderful to see a film about a little bear who not only believes that “If you’re kind and polite, the world will be right,” but also puts this into action, as evidenced by how much he’s become an integral part of his community in London and how much goes wrong, if only in subtle ways, when the bear is wrongfully accused of trying to steal a book from a local bookstore and imprisoned. The real perpetrator? Phoenix Buchanan, a formerly well-recognized actor who is now forced into performing in dog food commercials. Buchanan is portrayed by Hugh Grant, who even more so than Nicole Kidman in the first, is having the time of his life playing the eccentric master of disguise. It’s seriously so entertaining to watch. Grant is the best thing in a movie already filled with great things that are presented in such a beautiful way.

If you’re in the mood for something to lift up your spirits amidst all the chaos of the world, put on the Paddington movies. You will most likely come away from them being a much happier, potentially even better person than before.


ACTION

Mission: Impossible – Fallout     6/27/18

2018 may have been a great year for films, but in terms of great action films that weren’t superhero-related, there was a surprising dearth of options to choose from because, honestly, it just wasn’t a great year for the pure action flick. Thankfully, what we did get was possibly a new contender for being one of the greatest action films of all time.  And, somehow, it’s the sixth entry in the long-running Mission: Impossible movie series.

I don’t know how they did it, but they really managed to top themselves after the excellent Ghost Protocol and Rogue Nation. Were this a finale, I would have basically called it one of the greatest finales of all time, and yet, somehow, the announcement of not one but two films coming our way in the near future, both directed by Rogue Nation and Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie, has only gotten me more excited to see this series continue.

Fallout isn’t just an action film – it’s an action epic, and while it’s always pointed out how the stunts were often practical stuntwork with Tom Cruise frequently performing them himself, it can’t be understated how much this affects the look and feel of the movie. It could no doubt be achieved effectively through CGI (and still is here, absolutely), but there’s just something about the way in which the reality of the situation adds to the overall tension. You just don’t see it like this anymore. Come to think of it, I don’t think we ever actually did before, either.

I haven’t even really talked about the plot, mostly because it’s largely a catalyst for the action. Mcguffin… something something… betrayals… nuclear war. Sure, great. I appreciate the effort that goes into it, for sure, but let’s be honest – we aren’t watching these films for the complex plots anymore. I love that first movie to bits – I waited until the 4K 6-movie box set release to update my DVD because I heard the first movie’s Blu-ray transfer was terrible – but there’s no questioning that these films have only gotten better as they go along… with the exception of that second movie, of course. Thank goodness they’ve learned from their mistakes.

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